- 09 Feb - 15 Feb, 2019
To London, With Love
- 09 Jun - 15 Jun, 2018
Tickets, check. Passports, check. Money, check. Bags packed and locked, check.
The day for the trip had finally arrived! We stood at the airport terminal early in the morning, having said our goodbyes to our loved ones the night before departure. I was excited. I had put in a lot of energy into this trip and there was no way that anyone could take this away from me.
We had not fully healed but we were on the right route.
The flight was comfortable and leisurely. Being taken care of seemed like a luxury to me. I suppose most women enjoy the attention of being asked and served because for the most part women only slave for others. Ironically, I suppose that men take that kind of attention given to them believing it’s their birth right and possibly even take it for granted. I could see Fawad taking all of the above as his birth right for being a man and also for taking these things for granted. He didn’t even look up to reply to her queries on whether he wanted tea or coffee?
I felt like nudging Fawad to at least make eye contact with the friendly hostess and say thank you a little more decently than just a quick gruff but then I stopped myself. It would seem bossyish and nagging and I had a bigger fish to fry. Thus, I politely thanked her with a smile covering up for my husband’s rude behaviour.
From the word go, Fawad had been immersed in paperwork. He had to attend several things before we land and I didn’t want to disturb him. I very well knew that he had been using his work to hide from all his other mental preoccupations but the flight to London was not the place to hash out these issues. By the time breakfast was over and everything was cleared up and I had already sufficiently listened to enough music, I decided to break the ice.
“Fawad,” I said in a loud enough voice to catch his attention.
“Yes?” he replied subconsciously.
“Fawad, you’ve been working ever since we got on this flight. The whole purpose of going to London before the weekend was to give you a chance to settle in and get your work done. Can’t we enjoy this flight and each other’s company for a while? Or have you completely forgotten that I even exist?”
I felt mildly hurt. I was making such a big effort on my part and Fawad was acting as if I was mere furniture. This entire trip was a huge leap of faith for me. I could’ve chosen to stay and sulk at home. I could’ve fallen into a deep depression, mourning over the loss of my child, my only child. But I didn’t. I chose my marriage. I chose being next to Fawad, in sickness and in health; for better or for worse.
Yet he was just finishing off one task after another, looking out the window, gobbling his food and barely even talking to me. It was like we were strangers. A thought struck me, have I waited too long? Been in my own world far too long and now Fawad and I are strangers to each other?
I shrug off that thought as quickly as I got it. It was never too late to undo things, to activate damage control, to save myself and our marriage.
However at this point in time, the friendly hostess seemed like my only ally and I enjoyed watching her as she came down the aisle with her pleasant and cheery smile. I felt like getting out of my seat to give her a big hug. She was such an angel.
After my public display of irritation I could sense Fawad shifting in his seat. He began to collect all his files and papers together and I heard him putting them all away neatly and carefully.
After that he scribbled a few pointers on his notepad and once everything was kept aside, he cleared his throat to get my attention. I pretended to be listening to something on my headphones.
I decided to stay put and to see what he would do next. He tapped me on the arm and then when I turned around to look at him he was grinning ear to ear with the ear phone plug in his hand. I had forgotten to plug it in and there went my ruse and act of pretense. I began to laugh loudly.
And that’s all it took to disarm me and him too.
We were back on track. That’s all we needed. An opportunity to laugh at something silly and everything was perfect again.
I missed our conversations and I missed this ease that we had with each other. He was my soul mate, my second self and I knew I was his. Why did we let ourselves forget that?
We enjoyed the rest of the flight immensely after that. We even watched a few ridiculously funny movies and let ourselves fall into the holiday mood.
I could visibly see the difference that it made in Fawad’s persona. He was looking happy and that was the look I missed on him. It had been a very long time. Too long.
Landing at Heathrow was both surreal and dramatic at the same time. I liked airports. They always held an aura of something new and something old. They held mystery. I liked looking at my fellow passengers and wondering about their stories.
We had a story too I thought to myself as immigration gave us the all clear and we walked out finally into the London air.
“Finally,” I sighed loudly.
“Yes, finally. Are you happy Saima?”
When I said yes and I meant it I could see that he looked a shade happier too.
Did it rest on this? Was this the only thing that mattered? Did Fawad only need to hear this from me whether I was happy or not?
Well, at that point in time I was very happy and immensely grateful too.
I repeated the word “finally” under my breath while Fawad hailed a taxi to take us to the hotel.
The Freudian slip
I woke up early. This damned jet lag. I glanced over at Saima still asleep. I got up and went into the washroom to freshen up. I really wanted a cup of tea but when the hotel clock confirmed that it was around 4am in the morning I resisted the temptation to call room service.
I laid out my files at the small coffee table and began to do my work.
As far as I was concerned London was just a change of location. My work and the commitment that I put into it would not be any different if I was still in Karachi.
I looked at Saima’s peaceful face and felt a pang of guilt. My attitude to her was completely unfair. She was being very reasonable with her expectations. And this was her first trip to London, a city that she had been in love with for probably her entire life. Being a reader of Literature she had always dreamed of visiting England one day. And here she was.
I also felt that she was handling the loss pretty well. A little too well. Humph. Maybe that was unfair but it’s how I felt. She had fallen into routine so quickly. I know she was hurting but she didn’t give us much time to grieve. I needed more time. My wound was as fresh now as it was on that dreadful day they told me that my child had died. The words were like a knife that cut deep into my heart.
No one understood what I was going through. Being childless in a country like Pakistan had more dire consequences than I imagined other places would have. My family had told me to marry another woman countless times in the initial years. When that phase ended we started a long and tedious process of the medical treatments. These were not only painful for Saima but extremely expensive. They were also at times embarrassing procedures for the both of us but we endured them for the rainbow at the end of the tunnel. We were desperate to have a child.
After being disheartened and physically exhausted by them we gave ourselves a resting phase. The emotional roller coaster was even more painful than the physical torture.
The waiting, the expectation, the anticipation and suspense, followed by the disappointment. Result: negative. “I’m sorry. You’re not pregnant.” Each time, every time. I hated going into the clinic and I only went to give Saima the emotional support that she needed.
We both had our work to sponge the gaps and fill up the interludes of tears and grief. I sometimes wondered how we even survived as a couple. Was it love that kept us going? Or was it the shared emotional burden? Misery needs company and we were our best companions. There was no blame as long as we were together. With anyone else there would be a long line of questions and explanations and blame games and what not.
Saima had been a stronger soldier, particularly. She had been my strength and she had to be strong for herself too and now when she needed me the most, I was turning my back on her. I was making her feel like the enemy, when in fact, she was the victim.
How could I be so selfish?
I was a hostage to my own feelings. I was a victim to my unconscious mind. Humph. Thank you Sigmund Freud for explaining why we are so messed up as human beings.
As hard as I tried I could not get out of this self-punishment. I was punishing Saima and I was punishing myself. I couldn’t accept what had happened to me and I couldn’t move on.
I couldn’t bear the sympathy, the pity. I couldn’t stand the fact that my friends’ children were almost old enough to be married. I couldn’t stand their Facebook pictures of birthdays and graduations and engagement parties. I couldn’t bear the endless questions and I had no one to blame except question destiny or punish myself. And Saima was quickly becoming collateral damage of my internal war.
As a woman she soaked up all the kindness and emotional support that she got from her family and friends. She could call a friend and break down in tears even months after the incident or even years later, she would be okay. As a man I couldn’t show any signs of tears or have an emotional catharsis of any kind. In fact, a man’s catharsis is generally dished out as a burst of anger. Thus I had to hold it all in. I had to be strong; I was a victim of the social constructs of reality, the cages that we put around our gender identities.
And I was angry and hurt and all of the above ten folds over.
I knew both Saima and I were not ready to try again so soon. I knew the pain was too strong and the fear too great. So when will we ever be ready? When will we ever be blessed? When will we ever be a family?
Why me? Why Saima? Why?
It’s very hard to accept what fate hands out to you. It’s very hard to be back in control after a blow so hard.
As I was running all of this through my head while robotically finishing my work, Saima began to stir.
“Hey!” I sounded cheerful. Hasn’t she suffered enough? I thought. I forced myself to be kind for once.
“Hey…” She sounded groggy and drained. I missed her smile and her energetic morning greetings. I knew I did this to her. First fate and then me. Saima deserved better.
“It’s Sunday. What’s the plan for today?” I asked with rigour. I wanted to make it up to her.
I decided that we could spend the day sight-seeing and just being two regular tourists because tomorrow is full time work. We could cover a major portion of London today and Saima could continue on her own tomorrow. Then in the evening we could be together for dinner and enjoy some of the night-time entertainment that London had to offer. Maybe watch a movie or play. I knew she wanted to watch a few plays by Shakespeare. It was a win-win for both of us.
“What do you want to do?” I asked her.
She got out of bed and sat with me on the couch.
“You’ve seemed out of sync. Work has been tough.”
Always my understanding wife. Always by my side.
“Work is work. You’re my family. I will always be in sync for you. For us.”
With that she smiled and began the routine of getting ready for a busy day ahead. •