- 09 Feb - 15 Feb, 2019
Don't Count Your Chicks Before They Hatch
- 16 Dec - 22 Dec, 2017
Life as we know it is just a hoax and yes, truth is stranger than fiction. This fact hit home a little too unexpectedly. I was not prepared for what would follow in the next few hours.
A few months ago, I had insisted my boss to recommend me for a vacancy in our company abroad. I felt that I deserved that much. Working with them for several years now and being an extremely competent employee, I considered myself a good contender for this position.
Today, my boss walked in and told me that I had gotten the position, and that I should get ready for the move now, which was a few weeks down the road.
For a few minutes, I did not know if I heard her right. I was in a daze and experiencing a moment of surrealism. When I realised that I had been lost for too long, I hastily got back to work.
I wondered if I could get an early off, as I could not wait to share the news with Saima. But then I quickly overruled the thought. Asking for a half-day off on the same day as getting promoted might not leave a very good impression on my boss.
A part of me was also hesitant to tell Saima so quickly. She was very old school and patriotic, and had no intentions of moving out of Pakistan.
On several occasions, she had categorically told me that she never wanted to live anywhere else. I had already had so many arguments with her over this issue.
“People would die to move out of here, Saima. Why aren’t you like them? Don’t you want better experiences, too? Don’t you want to make something of your life?”
But all my words would go to waste. She had made it clear to me that she would never agree to migrate. She had her reasons and would not budge.
However, I, being a relentless optimist, knew that when I would tell her that I was the chosen one, one of the few individuals in the company that were being blessed, I knew she would change her decision. And on top of everything else, it was England that we were going to. She would not object to that, right? Being a teacher of literature, how could she not want to go there?
I was extremely confident for my own good. In retrospect, I felt that I should have prepared her for the news beforehand. I should have at least told her that I had asked for a recommendation.
In a marriage, we need to think of both partners. No? As much as she did not want to go, I wanted to.
I wanted to experience that lifestyle. I wanted to live abroad even if only for a few years.
My contract would hardly be more than two years long. I felt that, that duration was enough for her to make her place in the new country, and then I would push for a renewal. In the worst case scenario, the renewal would be rejected but at least I would come home to a job and financial security; that too after having experienced foreign lifestyle.
My case was a solid one; I hoped Saima would see it like this, too.
Oh, how wrong I was! I probably underestimated her willpower and her direction in life. But I discovered it the hard way. At that moment, I was just extremely happy.
I love my country, don’t get me wrong. But the political unrest, the constant economic tug of war of prices and lack of financial security always disturbed a mathematical mind like mine. I really could not see myself in this unpredictable situation for too long. Plus, the grass is always greener on the other side. The western world seems to promise so many unimaginable possibilities. Why could I not be one of the lucky few to migrate? With a sound job at the other end with accommodation, I would not have to struggle like an average migrant and make a huge leap of faith. We could enjoy prosperity, take vacations and save for our future, as well.
Saima was being stubborn and her one-sided view needed a change. I needed her to change.
I sent her a quick text to set the pace.
“Good news to share tonight! Be ready for a celebration!”
At least I would find her in a happy state when I get home.
I thought I would buy something meaningful; a token of sorts, something that represented England.
I became engrossed in winding up for the day when my boss walked in and handed me a file. “Need to get this done before you leave tonight,” she said curtly.
“It’s already 6pm, madame,” I reminded her, politely. “Can’t I do this tomorrow?”
“I need to forward it to HO early next morning. I’ll be here before you come in and I can send it through. Finish it and leave it on my desk. It shouldn’t take you too long.” She walked away with a smile.
This will take me at least two hours! I sighed. The perks and privileges of a promotion, I thought to myself. No pain, no gain. My heart sank.
I messaged Saima that I would be home latest by 9pm. Work. I have to finish an assignment.
She messaged back with a thumbs up and a smile. She always understood. I knew she would have things to keep her busy while she waited for me. She was my back, my spine. I really hoped that she understands this one time, too.
I glanced at my wristwatch, as I added last minute touches to the paperwork. Already 8:45pm.
Good enough, I thought. No time for a momento or token, though. In my haste, all I could think of was a coloured print out of the London Bridge. I picked a daytime picture – I needed every possible light to brighten my news.
At the back, I wrote with hand, “Imagine yourself here in a few months, walking hand in hand with me!” I made a smiley at the end of the text and left a heart too. I picked up my stuff and left the file at the boss’ desk.
As I walked out of the building, I felt a surge of adrenaline. Finally, I will be able to enjoy the good news. I was planning to call my parents after I told Saima. I could not wait to get home.
I would not be exaggerating if I said that I practically waltzed up the stairs to my house.
I opened the door with my own key, wanting to creep up to Saima with my print out; not a lot but I felt it was significant. She loved England. This picture would really set the mood.
She heard me come in.
“I’m here,” she called from the bedroom.
Dinner was laid out and the smell told me that she had gone out of her way to prepare our meal. She really was ready for a celebration. I felt good. I was happy. It’s now or never, I thought.
“Hey! How are you?” I walked in, with the surprise in my hand.
“You sound happy! What’s the news? Tell me.” She got up to take the piece of paper from me.
“What’s this? “A picture of the London Bridge. I don’t follow,” she turned it over as she said this and read my handwritten message.
The smile was wiped off her face. She just looked at me, as I continued to smile a little awkwardly.
“What does this mean?”
“The company wants to promote me to their office abroad. I got the news today!” I said, almost like an excited child. Her reaction was intense. She managed to turn from happy to stone cold in the blink of an eye.
She just stood there in a state of shock.
“Say something, Saima!” I said with emphasis, almost pleading.
She replied slowly after a while, “You know I don’t want to move out of Pakistan. Tell them you can’t accept. Now, let’s have dinner. I made something special for us,” she said this, as she walked out of the room without emotion.
Suddenly the world around me turned black, while I stood all alone.
Truth is stranger than fiction
I gradually collected my thoughts. I could hear her clinking and clanking at the dinner table. I was brought out of my reverie and quickly began the ritual of freshening up for dinner. I felt very hurt, confused and quite devastated.
The same news would have been followed by a huge celebration in a normal household. Why did Saima have to be so different? Why could she never think out of the box?
Her arguments for not moving abroad were not so complicated but they were set in stone. She would say that being brought up in America, she realised that it wasn’t all that it appeared to be. Yes, we could go on a short vacation to beautiful places and yes, we could savour the benefits of the good life, but the grass root reality was the isolation from kith and kin, the alienation from society, living the life of a second class citizen, the enslavement to the capitalistic world living on credit and the dilapidation of a ‘happy and contented’ home life due to the constant desire for more and more. A young couple like ours would fall victim to such greed and then, nothing would be enough. Our existence would spiral down to being a money making machine. To maintain that glamorous lifestyle, we would have to work to the optimum and more, and eventually the very substance that defined us would be secluded from our being, leaving behind an empty shell.
Plus, there would be lack of spiritualism. Okay, so her arguments were strong. I just had to make my case stronger.
“Besides, what about our parents?” she would often ask. “We would be so far off and hardly be there for them when they need us.”
I know she made sense, but I had a few comebacks up my sleeve, too.
I quickly went into the dining room, trying to be as cheerful as I could be. She was sitting at her usual spot, waiting for me. I would let us eat before I began. I knew she would be hungry and I didn’t want to ruin her meal.
I was very hungry, too. The gurgling from my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten all day in my excitement and then my boss kept me back for an extra two hours. I was famished.
Saima had made my favourite: chicken gravy with rice. I did tell her earlier that I had good news and that I wanted to celebrate. I felt almost guilty.
But I really had to try and turn this around. I kept the mood cheerful. “I love what you’ve made today. Thank you!”
“This is your favourite. I wanted to do something special.” Her voice was empty.
She was eating her meal with gusto, though. That was a good sign. If she turns away from food then that’s basically the end of everything.
Saima often joked, “If I stop eating then consider that a national emergency, a crisis of the greatest magnitude. I only turn away from food when I am terribly sad or upset.”
She brought up the great news, as we were finishing our meal.
“You know that we’re not going. You can tell your boss tomorrow. I’m sure they can send someone else.”
She said it all matter-of-factly. No questions asked. Only statements. This triggered something in me. She was not giving me any validation or considering my feelings at all.
I put the last morsel of food on my plate in my mouth to stop me from starting off in a tirade.
But I could feel the flood gates bursting. My mind felt like it would explode. I was a person, too. I wanted to go abroad. Call it a childish whim but I wanted it. I wanted the new toy. The experience. The adrenaline rush was flooding my eardrums and all I could hear was a hum that I couldn’t ignore.
“What about what I want?” I said with intense seriousness and clear-headedness.
“Okay. So while you work and accomplish your dream career, what will I do?” she asked.
I didn’t have an answer to that. I knew that besides doing some odd jobs, she wouldn’t be able to achieve the same status in her teaching career there as she had achieved here by now, even if she secured a Teacher’s Accreditation. Starting from scratch would mean asking her to go back 10 to 15 years back in her career.
“And what about my dream? I want to set-up a language and tuition centre. I want it to grow into a proper school one day. I want to improve the teaching culture in our country and for that, I would have to start my own institute. I am already saving up for that. If I leave now, how will I culminate that dream into reality?”
She had been talking about going into business for herself; in fact, she wanted me to consider teaching, as well.
“You’d love it. You always complain of monotony at your desk job. There is zero monotony in teaching. In fact, it’s thrilling all the time!”
I always told her that she had my support if she wanted to start a business but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Me teaching? How ridiculous!
I knew this wasn’t a good time to joke how she always wanted to work at a library or coffee house, but given the circumstances, I knew that those might be the only jobs she could bag abroad.
“Maybe you shouldn’t work. I will support both of us. I can do that even now. You work because you want to. Why don’t you take this as an opportunity to study ahead? Or just think of it as a cultural vacation? You’ve always said how much you want to discover England. Maybe now is that time!”
I really wanted to win her to my side. I would not give in.
She began clearing the table. I helped. The day was not ending like I had wanted it to. I was getting increasingly restless and Saima increasingly serious.
After dinner, we sat in our lounge in complete silence. I was really happy to have the television for company because I seriously felt like I would vaporise under Saima’s glare.
She could exude the darkest of emotions when she wanted to.
The same woman who filled my home, my heart and my soul with so much light and happiness had the capability to fill it with so much darkness, sorrow and emptiness. Saima never failed to surprise me. She could also fill my heart with fear so easily!
With determination, I continued, “We need to talk about this.”
“How can we? I don’t want it but you do. I really don’t know what to do. If you make me choose between this and staying back, I will choose staying back. If you make me choose between you and staying back, I will still choose staying back.”
“Are you ready to live in a long-distance relationship? An empty-shell marriage?” I threw in my last hook in a meagre attempt to save this situation. I had saved it to use as a last resort.
I felt that there really wasn’t anything else to say or do. I had to give an answer to my boss tomorrow.
Saima got up. “I’m going to bed now. And to answer your question, yes. I will choose to live alone.”
When she left, I knew what I had to do. The decision was made for me. I had no choice.
I called my parents and told them the great news. They were very happy for me and showered me with their blessings. There was no doubt that Saima would be moving too. In fact, it was a given.
“The wife will go wherever her husband takes her.” My mom’s voice echoed in my head.
I never thought that Saima and I would have to live in a long-distance relationship. But every relationship reaches a turning point where it requires compromise. If she was being so rigid then I would just have to go without her.
I walked into the darkness of our room and I could hear her crying softly. My world was already so empty.
Life as we know it is just a hoax and yes, truth is stranger than fiction. These words came back to haunt me. My worst nightmare had happened. Nothing could change it now. I was going to get what I wanted, at any cost.
to be continued...