By Midhat Zaidi
August 18, 2013
It was an ordinary day, like any morning when I would wake up – wake the children, send them off to the washroom and lay their clothes out so they won’t have to shout for every vest or sock they could not find. And yes, I called them both children – my husband, Raza and my son Hussain. They both act the same. Sometimes Hussain seemed like he was the adult in our house, not Raza.
Then I would sleepily make my way to the kitchen to make breakfast – something ordinary for Raza and myself; and for Hussain, I’d make whatever he fancied that day.
He is my only son, born to me at the age of 30, and since then, every day has been a celebration. Five-years-old now, Hussain is an exceptionally well-mannered child – against everyone’s expectations, who thought our devotion to him would leave him spoilt rotten. Maybe, his maturity stems from being limited to adult company at home.
I come from an ordinary middle class family from urban Pakistan – the type which gives its women the independence to study and work. The reason often is an uncertainty on part of the parents, who don’t know if they can find a match and save enough for a dowry to marry their girls off in style. So ours is a clan of highly educated, financially independent women, still bound in societal obligations. To add to it, we come from the Shiite faith, and being comparatively less than Sunnis in Pakistan, we often cannot find an appropriate match.
Thus, I got married a few months after I had turned 28, advanced years by Pakistani standards.
Hussain was born just before I turned 30. By this time, most of my friends had their kids in junior school, while I made professional leaps. They looked on at my independence and success with well hidden envy, as I envied them for having children.
When at Majlis, where the tragedy of Karbala is narrated, I cried over stories of pain and sacrifices made by Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) and I prayed to Allah (SWT) to give me a child whom I could nurture to be a true Hussaini – a follower of the righteous path.
That is why I have named him Hussain. He is my offering to Allah (SWT); I will raise him to be a true follower of Imam Hussain (RA).
By the time Hussain was born, my motherly instincts had been craving a child for so long that I just could not stop showering him with love. My husband and I were both professionally well settled by this time and we had no financial restraints to keep us from giving him all that we did not have as children.
Hussain is five; he goes to a school where the country’s elite send their children. I am already starting a college fund for him. He must go to a fancy college. Maybe a foreign university, if I could muster up the courage to let him be away from me one day.
So on that ordinary Friday morning, I woke them up and sent them off to their school and office before I settled down with a glass of orange juice for myself.
Last night I had read Hussain his weekly dose of Duas, a ritual in most Shia families on Thursday night. This was all part of bringing our child up as a true Shia. I cry a lot while offering supplications, as my son and husband look on humbly. I could blame my crying bout on the hormones. I was eight weeks pregnant with my second child – another miracle, as the doctor told me I never could conceive after Hussain was born.
Soon it would be 8am and I would have to rush to my room and prepare to leave for work.
“Five more minutes to rest my back and settle my quivering stomach, before I turn into the efficient working lady people think I am,” I tell the clock ticking on frantically. “I should take a sabbatical now, in a couple of months, so I can raise my children devotedly”.
Ammi had been very helpful with Hussain. She had assumed his responsibility with more enthusiasm than I could have anticipated. When he was little, I (who had been dying to have a baby), was petrified on seeing such a tiny little creature. He could just break with a harsh touch! Ammi had come forward to look after him, wash and bathe him while I looked on frightfully. It had taken me six months to learn how to deal with my own baby.
I keep mixing the past with the present; my thoughts are no more as streamlined as they used to be. Life was a clear set path ahead after I got married and Hussain came to my life; it was complete – a home, a loving husband and child, a family.
I went upstairs, got dressed for work, looked wistfully at my bed, still undone from last night and decided to fix it when I return. The guys had to go for Jummah, so they would be late… ‘Good thing, there is no one else to notice!’
I am not a much organised soul myself – not prim and proper, as my mother would have liked me to be. Years of study and work, with little or no responsibility at home, had left me what she would call ‘unladylike’. However, after my wedding, I had lived in my susraal (in-laws) for four years. During that time, I had made utmost effort to never give anyone the excuse to call me uncivilised or unladylike.
We had moved to this house only two years ago, when Raza’s younger brother got married and the family home became too small to accommodate all of us. Our house is small and newly built in the suburbs. We are still paying off the instalments to gain full ownership.
So I left for work, with the bed unmade and the dishes still in the sink. The maid would come later in the evening to clean up the mess.
At office, I spent the day in a quiet struggle between my professional self and the physically weak pregnant woman. I told myself that a sabbatical leave was in order for the hundredth time, as I ignored my aching back and sat back against the back care cushion on my office chair.
“I need to start taking a walk in the evening; it is good for me and the baby. Also, I should have proper meals at timed intervals like the doctor prescribed,” I made a mental note, only if I could remember it while gathering the stuff I had left scattered at home.
Thank God it’s Friday. I will be home in a few more hours and then its weekend! No social event on this one, mercifully. I had meticulously avoided getting into any such arrangement, during the week. Now I was free to spend the day at home with the boys and watch a game of cricket, or spend the day seeking their attention while they killed alien predators on the PlayStation. Perhaps I could plan just a mandatory visit to my in-laws’ house, and may be have a quick tea at Ammi’s place.
I left work at around 12:30pm, while my male colleagues made their way to the local mosques for Jummah prayer.
Back home, I went upstairs, picked up the clothes lying around and asked the cleaning woman to get the laundry going. I made both of us a cup of tea and decided to order pizza for lunch as I was in no mood to cook. My back hurt too much!
It is difficult for a 35-year-old Pakistani woman to carry a child. We are generally weak and the lack of sports or any physical activity except for house hold chores makes our bodies internally weak.
“If it’s a girl, I will make sure she participates in sports,” I make another mental note, as I turned on the television set.
There it was, written in bold red: A blast at a Shiite mosque during Friday prayers in my city.
Raza goes there, I come to a dreadful realisation, and he takes Hussain with him
I don’t know when the call came. It was Raza’s younger brother, he told me that they were injured and he was coming to pick me up.
I cry a lot, did I tell you? But my eyes were dry. I was afraid to cry for them.
“They are all right, how can any harm come to them?”
What would there be? A shrapnel maybe or just a scratch! The guys are going to be just fine!
The pizza delivery guy came, right after the call. Raza’s brother came to pick me, he looked scared and shocked. The maid had sensed that something was wrong; she also saw all the gory images of death and chaos on the television. I locked the house, or maybe she did. I told her to take the pizza home to her children and to leave with my brother-in-law, Husnain.
We did not talk to each other on the way, too afraid to say anything, “They will be fine,” I kept telling myself.
My stomach is turning once again, but I have hardly had anything to eat all day, what would I throw up?
He takes me to his home, not to the hospital.
We have reached just in time, with the ambulance’s arrival. There is a hush over the house – the kind that comes when everything goes silent at once. They are all looking at me and I wonder why.
There was nothing wrong with the clothes, my new red dress that I had worn in honour of Friday. The makeup I had put on this morning was still in place; I had not shed a single tear. I must look like a very professional and composed woman, I think, still conscious of the self-image I wanted my in-laws to have.
But the ambulance?
I turn around, in time to see them carrying in two stretchers, covered in white sheets, splattered with blood – white and red, just like the new dress I had been wearing today.
I run towards the men setting them down in the middle of the living room, which had all its furnishing removed, I vaguely notice.
But someone held me back.
I turned around and blindly scratched at my captor, Husnain, my brother-in-law. He was calling out to his sister who was in ruptures. No one came to his aid, to hold me back. How could they not let me see who was under the sheets?
“I would die if you hold me here, let go off me, Husnain!” I plead, but he hugs me tight instead.
“They are gone, Bhabi; they are no more”
I am not sure what happened next; I remember seeing them cleaned and shrouded in white, when they took me to look at them for the last time.
They looked like they were sleeping peacefully.
My beautiful boys were gone.
Seven months later, Sukaina was born.
I still have a career. My office offered to give me a long leave following the ‘tragedy’. I had gone by life like a zombie after it, until Sukaina awakened me to the realities. I have to bring her up strong and firm on her faith, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.
That is why we are born Shia in Pakistan – to fight a constant war for survival and offer sacrifices, until the last drop of blood.
My friends and colleagues had offered sympathy, and condolence, some of them openly cursed the killers, while others came with only words, and advice of keeping strong. This lack of hatred for the killers was so loud; it felt like they were silently applauding the killers of my son and husband.
In my own community, I am hugely respected for being the widow of a martyr. Outside of it too, there are people who sympathise with me for having gone through a tragedy and for raising my daughter alone. When they come to me with words of sympathy, I have a quiet thought, if they actually hate the killers as much, or not because they believe the killers came from the same shade of religion as them?
If so, they too are feasting on the blood of my martyred son, who had gone to the mosque holding on to his father’s hand.
My offering to Allah (SWT), my Hussain!
NOTE: Poetic license is a blog space for fiction writing. The fictional story above is inspired by real events.