by Zohray Ajaz
  • 03 Feb - 09 Feb, 2018
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

The poverty stricken life of Nafisa could not limit her exposure to the luxuries enjoyed by the richest. As the fourth daughter of a housemaid and no brother to provide for the family, she remembered her mother answering an endless string of questions about the state of their lives. It seemed as though everyone in town understood her mother’s plight of not having a male offspring.

Nafisa’s father was a factory worker and her mother worked part-time, serving as a housemaid among the most affluent societies of Lahore. Their own house was situated in a poor locality in the outskirts of the city. Not a day passed by when they didn’t thank God for their little parental inheritance. With her parent’s meager but regular income and additional favours provided by her mother’s merciful mistresses’, their survival was made possible. Left-over food, used clothes and unwanted home articles brought ease to their lives. Nafisa and her family eagerly waited for the holidays as her mother’s employer would entertain relatives from abroad that brought home extravagant gifts. In addition to generous tips, their gratitude added to her mother’s self-esteem. From living in the west, they understood the importance of having a housemaid as it was a luxury one could only afford in their motherland.

Though Nafisa’s parents hardly saw eye to eye with each other, they both wanted their daughters to pursue basic education. Nafisa was nine years old while her older sisters were aged of 16, 14 and 13. While their parents had not given much thought about marriage prospects, things quickly turned around. Soon enough, two of her eldest sisters received marriage proposals from within their cast once they had passed matriculation from a nearby government school. With minimal dowries that only comprised of basic necessities, they were soon married off and left for Faisalabad with their husbands. This gave Nafisa the chance to bond with her sister Saima, after which the two grew very close. Life went on and on. Saima often mentioned to Nafisa how earnestly she wanted to attend college after completing matriculation. The two often accompanied their mother to lend her a hand and that’s where the sisters would see young college girls flaunting the best accessories and clothes, very much unlike the dress restrictions the sisters had to follow in their own school. Sadly, Saima’s wish was not able to come true as she was married off as soon as she completed matriculation. She too left home as quietly as Nafisa’s elder sisters, leaving her alone. Her elder sisters visited quite a few times while Saima stayed in Lahore. Apart from expressing casual dissatisfaction about their in-laws and husbands, Nafisa figured her sisters had adjusted well to their circumstances. It made her happy but she enjoyed nothing better than spending time with her two childhood school friends. Over the years, the gang had become inseparable. Together, they had shared every little joy and sorrow including the problems that came with teenaged years. Most of them had old television sets which had been long discarded by the opulent upper crust of the society. The girls enjoyed watching dramas which aptly highlighted the positive and negative aspects of society.

Nafisa’s simple mother often told her stories about the places she worked for, it seemed as though these families were devoid of all problems. She noticed how her mother seemed more relieved now that her sisters were married off. Relatives and neighbours found every opportunity to tell her mother how fortunate she was in this regard. As Nafisa prepared for her matriculation exams, her father was approached by a family nearby. Since Nafisa’s hand in marriage was being offered by an acquaintance, it seemed as though that was enough to decide her fate. Her parents seemed both happy and sad but alas, Nafisa was married in the winter following her exams. It was a small family affair like her three sisters, not to mention her mother’s employers had yet again bestowed monetary generosity when they were in need. She didn’t have much time to think about the affair as it all happened very quickly. Her parents displayed solace, after all, their youngest daughter was getting married and so, as an obedient daughter, that too brought satisfaction to Nafisa.

Marriage meant leaving her home, living up to the expectations of seven new family members and experiencing motherhood at a very young age. Very soon, she found herself engaged in household chores that she saw her mother do from a very tender age. Her husband was more of a loner and mostly kept to himself. Nobody was particularly fond of him because of his temperament and she somehow felt the same way. Years passed by in a blink of an eye. With very few gaps in between, she gave birth to four children, this kept her fully occupied and then there were in-laws to be served too. She didn’t complain about the things she disapproved of in her new life and instead made it a point to devote all her attention to caring for her babies. The carefree days she spent watching television dramas seemed to be far from reality now.

After five years, her husband’s second marriage came as a total shock to the entire family. He shamelessly left the city, indifferent about everybody else, though his actions affected the innocent lives of many. Nafisa’s parents felt as if they had fallen back a hundred years. Her moving back to her parental home as a divorcee with her children was the most unfortunate event the family had come across in their entire lives.

Her mother’s health only allowed her to manage the household work of two families. One was home to a couple where the owner was gravely ill while her other employers lived alone with all their children abroad. She witnessed how the tenants grew helpless day by day. During her mother’s first month at the job, Nafisa was accompanied her to look for work. Her heart sank as she thought about her children back home who were under the care of their neighbours. During their half hour ride to their workplace, both mother and daughter would stare at each other. Life had become more of a wait and see situation. Nafisa thought about how life would unfold for her children and herself. Her mother kept thinking about all the different scenarios she was surrounded by and the wait involved in them. She thought about the old couple and how they longed for happiness, how the old man waited for death, tired of all the different cancers racing in his body. Here, Nafisa thought how a long journey with four children awaited her. •