Star literature eid special issue, 2018
Is this Normal?
Her bedroom door burst open. She was silently crying on the bed when her mother stood in the doorway of her room. She didn't dare to look at her mother. She knew what she would see there, annoyance. Her mother is annoyed with everything she does. If she is happy, sad or worried, it doesn't matter. Her mother, Suraiya will always be annoyed with her.
Her mother took in her state for 1 minute. Sarah almost thought Suraiya would sit beside her and comfort her. Maybe apologize to her because all the tears in her life were due to her mother. She wondered for a moment, is this normal? She guessed not.
"Go and bring dinner to the table." Suraiya said and seemed to reconsider herself. "And why was the door closed for so long?" Suraiya asked tightly. She knew that voice. It meant any given moment she would start screaming.
"I was changing my clothes." She hated that her voice cracked.
Her mother left. She woke up from the bed and did what she was asked to. She couldn't eat. But she still had to sit at the table. It was apparent that she had been crying. Her eyes were swollen and red.
But no one asked her why she had been crying. She could feel her younger brother staring at her and wondering what to do, what to ask. Ryan is 10, and she feels sorry for him. He shouldn't have to watch this, but they are a screwed up family. There is nothing she could do to protect him.
Ask me, ask me what's wrong, why am I crying? She silently begged her father to ask her. But he didn't. He believed his wife. Always. There wasn't any reason not to.
Sarah stared at her empty plate for a long time. Tears started to gather and threatened to spill from her eyes. She gave up. She was done being strong and done finding excuses for her parent's behavior. She was sobbing openly, and no one said a word.
She nose filled up, and she was crying so hard that she couldn't breathe. She went to the washroom and cleaned her face. She stared her herself for a long time. She tried to remember who she was.
She was 19; she was done with her A-levels exam. She was a good person, orshe tried to be. She was 'The subservient and obedient daughter.' She was compassionate unlike Suraiya and strong. And her best friend left the country. She started crying again. She couldn't even say goodbye. Or hug her friend for the last time. All because of Suraiya.
She was trapped. She didn't know what she could do anymore. She couldn't remember the last time her mother hugged her or patted her head. Is that normal?
No, it wasn't. She has seen other mothers. She had seen her friends' with their mothers. They loved each other. Her mother cared, but she cared about how to hurt her daughter. Sarah didn't need saving from the world. She needed saving from her mother.
She was sitting in her dark room and wondered. Wondering, she did that a lot. She was so much in her head. Whenever she was home, she escaped in her head, in her fantasy world. A world in which she was free, a world with a mother who loves her.
Or even a world without a mother would do.
Suraiya was 19 when she had her. Same age as Sarah. How would Sarah feel is she had a baby now? And a husband and household to take care of?
She paused for a moment. No, she wouldn't have preferred it.
Would she be angry at her child? Make that child's life miserable?
That doesn't sound like mothers. Mothers are supposed to protect you from the miseries of life, not make your life miserable.
Her mother really hates her, she concluded. But why?She had nothing to do with her being born. She didn't ask to be born. How is it her fault?
"Ughhhh," she cried out in frustration. It is always like this. Her mother destroys her and then she looks for reasons. Reasons which will show its Sarah's fault. And then she can be at peace. Her mother's mental tortures would make sense. Her mother's indifference to her would make sense. It's like a vicious circle. She is tired of looking for her own flaws.
This time it is her mother's fault. There is no other reason. Suraiya hates the life Sarah has, is envious of Sarah's life. Sarah has freedom, Sarah has the privilege of options. Perhaps Suraiya never had that?
Is it Sarah's fault that her mother got married early?
Why should Sarah suffer? It is her mother's parents who got her married at the age of 13. Her father was 24. She doesn't know what kind of a couple they were when they got married. She doesn't know what kind of a husband her father was at that time. He seems like a nice husband now but what happened when she wasn't there? Was she the result of a terrible incident?
She stopped herself. Her father at least cares a bit about her. Her father is the only parent who sometimes sits with her and tries to pay attention to her.
Whatever happened in the past is none of her business. It happened before she came into the picture. Or is it?
Her father knocked on her door and came into her room. 'Eat something, aren't you hungry?' He said from the doorway as if he didn't want to enter and didn't want to know what happened.
"I'm fine," she lied. She stared at her father, willing him to ask her what happened, willing her to ask why she was crying.
He stood at the door uncomfortably for a few seconds and started to leave.
Sarah couldn't help herself. "Arya is leaving the country. She is going to the USA forever. I wanted to meet her today. Mom didn't let me. She is leaving with her entire family tonight. Maybe she will never come back to this country."
She waited for her father to say that her mother was wrong to do so. She waited for her father to say that it will be okay. She waited and waited. Her father just stared at her and said, "Oh they are leaving? I didn't know. You should have told me. I would have taken you. You know your mother doesn't like all this. Stop crying now. Come and eat something."
"You weren't home! I told you yesterday to talk to her so that I can meet Arya today! Why didn't you tell her?" Sarah wailed.
Her father was uncomfortable with this conversation. He sighed and left the room.
Her mother entered to take away her phone for the night. Sarah knew very well that her mother would check her messages, her call logs, and her phone balance. Then probably the next morning will refuse to give her phone at all. Then she would know her phone had been seized.
If she would try to ask why, her mother would reply, “How dare you to ask me questions? I will do as I please, don't you dare to ask me this question.”
Logic and reasoning fail Suraiya. Sarah would then gently remind her mother that her mother didn't buy her phone. Neither did her father. It was a gift from her uncle. She was 19; she really didn't have the right to seize her phone anymore.
Then Suraiya would verbally abuse her. Say all kinds of curses which mothers shouldn't say to their daughters. And she would bow her head and wait for God to do something. But God was always too busy to help her.
“Don't take my phone tonight, just let it stay with me for one night.” Sarah said in a small voice. She tried not to beg because according to her mother if you want something badly, that's enough of a reason not to give you.
“Arya's flight is at 3 in the morning; she might call me before she boards the plane.” Sarah added, hoping her mother's heart isn't hollow.
“Might call me before she boards the plane?” Sneered her mother. She took her phone and walked away with it.
Sarah stared at the place her mother was occupying. At that moment she could not hate her mother any less. She hated her mother and herself.
She took the small knife from the kitchen and tried to cut the veins in her feet. She needs to put a lot more pressure. She tried to increase the pressure on her knife. Her skin cracked, but that's it. She stopped. She couldn't do it. She wasn't brave enough. She despised herself so much. She was a coward.
She silently prayed to God, “If You can't make my life better, then don't keep me alive. Give my time of life to someone who really needs it.”
She waited, waited for something to happen. Waited for a miracle to happen or lightning to strike her down.
She stared blankly at nothing and something at the same time.
Waiting. Is this normal?
Is it normal to wait for your death?
Is it normal to want your death?
She could vaguely feel a small voice in her head, reminding her that there are people much worse off than her. She tried to think of things she is grateful for, but she failed.
When the days are good, she could think of a million reasons. Today she can't even think of one. The tears in her eyes blurred her vision. They silently fell on her lap. The family picture on her wall came into her view. She isn't in the picture, but everyone else is in it. She was behind the camera. Maybe that was how it was supposed to be. Maybe she was never meant to be born.
Her eyes slowly traced all the people in the photograph. It was a good click by her; it was a good day. There wasn't any screaming or shouting. Whenever her maternal grandmother is present, Suraiya keeps herself in check.
She could feel her brain slowly waking up. She forgot her grief for a moment and started to think. Suraiya behaves with her grandmother exactly the same way Sarah behaves with her mother! Suraiya is the epitome of 'The subservient and obedient daughter.'
All these years, she had missed something. There was something off about the relationship of Suraiya and her mother. Now Sarah knew what was wrong. Suraiya and her mother lack the same thing Sarah and Suraiya lacks, love, warmth, compassion and understanding.
Maybe Sarah is not that much different from her mother. Perhaps there is finally something common between Sarah and Suraiya. They both have horrible mothers.
How old was gramma when she got married or when she had Suraiya? Sarah wondered.
She remembered gramma was 17. Didn't she say that on her seventeenth birthday? She could clearly remember that conversation because it gave her chills.
“Happy birthday Sarah. Seventeen years old! Time really does fly fast. Why I was seventeen when I had your mother! Suraiya, the girl is all grown up. You should start looking for a groom!”
“I don't think so, mother. Sarah is still a child. Getting married early is a stupidity. I am not going to make her make the same mistake I did.” Suraiya replied firmly.
“Wait till she finds a groom for herself. Then don't come to me for help!” her gramma replied smugly.
“When did I ever come to you?” Suraiya muttered softly, it was like she was talking to herself. Then she repeated firmly, “It will never happen. My daughter will marry whoever I choose. She will not bring disgrace to our family.”
That night, on the eve of her birthday, her mother would seize her phone. Sarah would cry herself to sleep, all the time wondering what she did wrong.
Suraiya is spiteful without an ounce of love for Sarah. But why?
It is because Suraiya doesn't know how to be a mother? Or is it because Suraiya, like Sarah, has never known or seen what a mother's love is.
Is this normal?
Everybody knows about child marriages and the adverse effects it causes physically on young mothers. But what about emotional effects? Scarred by trauma, do these mothers, like Suraiya despise their children because motherhood limited their lives?
Is Sarah just another shackle on her mother's feet?
Nazia Zabin recently graduated from North South University. She is inspired by J.K. Rowling and Kristen Hannah.