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      /  Literature   /  The Barren Woman

    The Barren Woman

    Written by Gohar Malik

    Translation by Fazal Baloch

    “Get out of my house! You’ve ruined my life! Accursed was the day I married you! Tell me, in all these ten years have you ever brought me a moment of happiness?” He gave her a slap and then a kick. She fell down. The barrage of invectives surged out of his mouth like a flood. As mute as a statue she received his kicks and blows; not the slightest complaint came from her mouth. She had been on the receiving end of his invectives, kicks, and slaps for more than a month now. But today he’d added the rod.

    She knew that any protest, even verbal, would only fuel the fire of his anger. He would lose his temper even more. He thrashed her until he had drained all his rage and desire for vengeance. He threw down the rod and went to the door, but turned back and warned her: “You must leave before I return, otherwise you will see the worst of me.” Then he went out the door.

    She lay on the floor like a corpse, with racking pain in every bone and joint of her body. She closed her eyes: “Hamza says I haven’t brought him a single moment of happiness. I don’t know what he means by happiness. I’ve done my best to stay on good terms with his family. Cooking and cleaning, washing dishes and doing laundry, entertaining guests, showing love and care – I’ve worn myself out trying to make him feel at ease. I haven’t even visited my parents without his permission. I don’t know how he measures happiness. What are his parameters for happiness? He hits me. But who can fight with God?”

    Then she recalled her childhood. When her brother Wali used to beat her and she cried, mother would protect her in her arms. Mother would ask Wali how he could have the heart to beat his sister. She would say: “Your sister will not stay with us for long. Don’t you know she is a 72 guest in your house?” She would embrace her mother, wipe her tears on the hem of mother’s scarf and say: “Mother, I will not leave you and Father and Wali.” Mother hugged her and kissed her head.

    Time passed swiftly. They say a girl shoots up fast, like a plant. The months and years sped by.

    Like other girls, it had been inculcated in her mind that a husband’s house is a girl’s real home. So she began to decorate her house in her dreams and fantasies. She waited for her “lord” to come and take her to her true abode where she would enjoy the status of being the “mistress.”

    And at last the day she had been dreaming of arrived. Looking forward to prosperous days ahead, she prepared to accompany a stranger to his house, a decorated house that would be her own. Her friends bedecked her in bridal dress. It is said that fairies lend their beauty to a bride for three days, but her face was already glowing like the full moon, illuminated by happiness over her coming good times and happy fortune.

    Her friends told her to close her eyes or otherwise a famine would strike the area, but she had already closed them lest her dream of a bright future should slip away. Now she shut them all the more tightly. The Holy Quran was placed before her, along with green leaves and water in a white bowl. “Now open your eyes.” She said a prayer, then opened her eyes and read a passage from the Quran and prayed for a happy life. She looked at the water and prayed that with the water Allah would purify the relation between her and Hamza. She looked at the green leaves and prayed for the fecundity of her womb. Then locking away her love for her parents and siblings in a corner of her heart, she went to Hamza’s house in search of a new and prosperous life.

    When she found out how hollow her parents’ and everybody else’s words had been, it shattered her to the core. She wanted to go grab her mother and ask: “Mother, why do you lie to your poor daughters and throw them out of the house? Father says a husband’s house is a girl’s real home, and the husband says: ‘Get out of my house. It’s my house. You have no right to make decisions here. A wife is a commodity. She can be easily purchased. Just as I keep or get rid of other household items according to my own will, in the same way I do what I want with a wife. If I don’t like her, I’ll kick her out and replace her with a better one.’”

    She recalled Shahgol and Zinat, and started up in terror as if she had been struck by lightning. Every year Shahgol gave birth to a child, yet her lap remained empty. None of her children survived. The doctors said that her 73 and her husband’s blood did not match. But her husband refused to get treatment. He said: “I’ll take the money I would have to waste on treatment use it to get a new wife instead.” So he threw Shahgol out, and she went mad with grief. Zinat’s crime was that she gave birth to daughters, and her husband divorced her. But me…? How am I at fault?

    The door opened with a bang. The tangled thread of her thoughts snapped. Hamza shouted: “Are you still here, barren woman?” Her patience finally giving way, she turned to her husband and addressed him: “Why do you thrash me? Fight with the sovereignty of God who rendered you ‘ineffective’. Impregnate me first and you can be sure that I will bear you a child. You men always blame women. But you too are human. Don’t you ever fall ill? Cannot God render you impotent? Why are the men never blamed for what God does? Do you think I’m unaware of what the doctor told you? You blame me for what is your fault. She stood up and faced Hamza. “You can divorce me and marry another woman, but will you accuse her of being barren too?”

    Hamza almost went mad with rage and shoved her with both hands. She flew some distance and fell. “How do the doctors dare? They just talk nonsense. They are damn liars, these doctors. Couldn’t you have proven them wrong? Did you have to be so self-righteous? Why do you think I introduced you to my friends? You couldn’t even secure the slightest happiness for me from them. I deliberately left you alone in their company, but you…”

    Whatever was coming out of Hamza’s mouth, it was not words. It was molten lead being poured into her ears. It was a bolt of lightning. The tears dried up in her eyes. She had a bitter taste in her throat, and her eyes bulged in their sockets. She heard Hamza’s voice as if coming from the bottom of a deep well saying: “Go away. I have divorced you, divorced you, divorced you.”

    Now she is the mother of four girls. She also gave birth to a boy, but he died.

    Hamza is a religious fellow now. He has performed the pilgrimage and all the people address him as Hadji Sahib. He also leads the prayer in the local mosque. Hamza remarried. But to his bad luck, his second wife also turned out to be a “barren woman.”

    Courtesy: Unheard Voices