Mama walked ahead of me while my aunt trailed behind her. They were holding shopping bags in their hands that were filled with old t-shirts, pants, and shalwar kameez, my siblings and I refused to wear.
“We shouldn’t have bought her with us,” my aunt said as she threw an angry glance at me. I gladly gave one back. I loved my aunt and she loved me, but sometimes she didn’t understand that I couldn’t stay home all day long. I was a cage-less spirit who needed to breathe.
“It’s okay,” Mama assured herself more than my aunt.
“Maybe we could leave her with our cousin Meher.” My aunt stopped walking as she pointed to their cousin’s house. In our village everyone knew everyone; Ironically, we were all somehow related. By either blood or unwritten promises.
Mama didn’t say anything, which meant either she was thinking of abandoning me, or she would take me along with her. She decided to do the later.
Our village was like a maze, and Mama knew the way inside out. She grew up here, in these streets, among these people. We walked through the lanes and ended up on a narrow pavement. We walked until my mom stopped in front of an old house made partially of bricks and mud. A gate stood in the middle, but parts of the walls were missing. There was a hole on the left side and through it, I could see the brick house inside.
Mama stepped forward, knocked on the door and gracefully stepped back. A boy no older than me opened the gate. He had a bald head with mud smothered on his cheeks. Part of his kameez from the top pocket was ripped. He smiled at Mama as if he knew her, and Mama did the same.
We stepped inside and on the right, I saw a small garden with wilting plants. The vegetables were dying like they hadn’t been watered for a very long time. The house on the left looked more like an old shack.
A woman just as old as Mama came forward. She embraced Mama and Aunty, then led us into one of the rooms inside. We sat on the cots that were draped with old bedsheets. A few kids came and asked me if I wanted to play with them. I politely declined, not because I didn’t want to play but because I was really shy.
The woman came back with tea. Mama and Aunty picked up the cups and I watched them slowly takes sips. I wasn’t allowed to drink tea.
Mama gave the woman the old clothes, telling her she brought them for her kids. Mama also handed her some money, convincing her that if she needed anything she could come over to Nana-Abu’s house or she could call Mama any time.
She tried to smile, but thick drops of tears cascaded down her cheeks. She wiped them away with her chador and looked out the veranda at her kids.
“I was cooking outside on the clay stove. He kept asking me what the date was, and I kept telling him. I was reminding him that his pay wasn’t due anytime soon. Then all of a sudden, I hear a gun-shot. I didn’t know what happened and I ran inside, in this room and there he was laying on the floor with a bullet in his head. There was blood all around and… and…” the woman cried.
Mama got up and hugged the woman. I didn’t understand what the woman was talking about, and I was too afraid to ask.
The woman pointed to the metal crate placed on the side of the room. It had words in Urdu written on it. “If it’s a boy,” the woman read, “name him Ahmed. If it’s a girl, name her Ayesha.” The woman cried uncontrollably. “How am I supposed to take care of these kids all by myself, and what about the one that hasn’t even stepped foot on this earth-”
“Go outside, make new friends.” My aunt kicked me out of the room. I did as I was told but I didn’t play with the kids; I sat on the steps and wondered what it meant to die, but my ten-year-old self couldn’t grasp the concept of death. For me, death was closing your eyes in one world and opening them in another. Death wasn’t a bad thing, and I wasn’t afraid of it. I was intrigued by it. But watching that woman hopelessly cry made something in me crack. It made me realize that death wasn’t exactly opening your eyes again.
That day when we went back home. I laid on the bed next to mamma at night and asked her about that woman.
“She’s my best friend and we used to play together when we were young. Her husband recently died,” Mama said, whispering so she wouldn’t wake up my grandma and my siblings.
“He killed himself?” I asked. Mama didn’t say anything, so I asked her why. Mama didn’t have an answer, or maybe she thought I was too young to know. Either way, it was frustrating. I laid awake that night wondering why someone would do such a thing. I hated that man because he was a coward. Because he didn’t understand the beauty of life. The beauty of love. How could he leave behind his family? How could someone do such a thing? Did he know what he was doing? Would he regret it? Did it hurt? Would God be angry with him?
Years later, when we moved to America, Mama told me about that woman again. Mama was surprised that I remembered her. She still doesn’t know why her friend’s husband killed himself. The woman at that time was pregnant. The man wrote a message on the metal crate for his wife with a permanent marker.
Mama also told me that the woman’s brother recently died because both of his kidneys failed. This time I didn’t understand why life was so cruel to some people. Why was it that some people had so much while others were completely empty? But this incident made me question the validity of suicide. What if it was done to remove pain and suffering. But why do we fail to realize that while doing so, we’re causing pain and suffering to those around us? It’s like transferring pain to those whom we want to see happy. We all suffer, don’t we? Maybe some more than others. Undoubtfully suicide is wrong because you never know what will happen tomorrow. The sun will rise again, it has to! Life is too precious to waste it on self-harm. You need to fight your demons no matter how strong they are. Miracles exist because we’re all breathing miracles.
The memory I had locked somewhere in my unconscious mind came crawling out. The boy who opened the door for us was probably my age now. I bet he never had a chance to go to school because he had to work to feed his family. Was he okay? Does he remember me? Maybe as the girl with the pretty dress. Maybe I wasn’t someone important in his story. How does he feel about his father?
The thought of suicide just ricocheted in my mind. I had hated that man because I did not understand why he would kill himself but now I did. The hatred transformed into anger, then to guilt. I had judged him without knowing anything.
How desperate and hopeless do you have to be to take your own life? To end everything. To close your eyes forever. The empty feeling of nothingness is like a black hole, everything just disappears into it. You don’t feel sadness or anger or despair. You just feel hollow like a huge chunk of you is missing, and the worst part is that you don’t understand what you’re supposed to feel. You hold everything inside because you’re afraid that you’ll drown everyone else around you, and you don’t want that.
After thirteen years I understood why the man did such a thing. It wasn’t right, but we live in a world where accepting your flaws is a taboo. Where saying, ‘I’m not okay,’ is a sin. Where breaking down and crying for help is worse than suicide. The man didn’t kill himself, this society we live in did.