When I close my eyes, I can still see your sparkly brown eyes, unruly black curls with a touch of grey, rosy cheeks and a smile dancing on your thin lips revealing a few golden teeth. I don’t know whether you were aware of it or not, but I listened in into your conversations with grandma a lot. You asked her advice about everything – from how to cook to how to survive an abusive husband. She knew a lot about those topics and shared generously.
As a child, I thought your life was better than my mum’s. After all, you had a husband, and you seemed to do well. Except, sometimes I had my doubts.
I remember a summer day when you came to our garden, sipped a glass of tea we offered to you and sighed with satisfaction.
‘Ah, I’m so happy,’ you said.
I was livid with curiosity. I wanted to know what made you happy that day.
‘Well,’ you answered my question, ‘I fed my boys and sent them off to school, Mirza is at work, I’ve done the washing, cooked lunch, tidied up the house and even have time to have some tea with you.’
I was shocked. Was that the cause for happiness? Surely, there was more to life than cooking and housework? From looking up to you, I started fearing your plight. I didn’t want to end up with life like that. At some level, I knew it was my predicament. That was what the girls were for, right? The fact that you were deeply unhappy with a husband who cheated on you and beat you up when you were seven months pregnant to kill your baby were none of anyone’s business. My heart broke every time when I realised how stuck you were. You had no one to turn to. Nowhere to go. No home. No money. No career. No allies. No family to take you back – after all, you and your child would become a burden on them. If you went to police, your husband would spend your last savings (if you had any) to bribe an official and you would end up worse off. Neighbours would blame you for being a bad wife, for telling on your husband, for bringing shame on all of your family.
So, all you could do is to come and cry your eyes out in front of my grandma. I was a silent witness of your suffering. Perhaps, at some level seeing your pain motivated me to take a different path in life. I wasn’t willing to live what you lived through. I had my own pain and I don’t know which one was greater… I realise now there wasn’t an easy way out.
At any rate, I’m writing this to say thank you. Thank you for showing me how my life could have turned out. When I write my books I always dedicate them to you. This dedication may not find its way onto the front pages of my books, but in my heart, the purpose of my books is to give you a voice.
Our last encounter still haunts me sometimes. I was visiting my grandma in April 2014. You were walking down the road, well actually, limping because you could barely shuffle your feet. Your head was covered with a shawl. We embraced and tears trickled down your face.
‘Damn that man. My mother was right. I wish I listened to her,’ you said.
‘What’s happened to you,’ I asked without wanting an answer.
‘My breasts… They cut them…’
I had no idea you had cancer. Seeing you overweight and in pain broke my heart.
You’ve been calling me on skype in the last few months. I never answer. Please, forgive me. Perhaps I’m a wimp, but I don’t know whether I can handle so much pain. Every time I speak to you, I think – this could have been me. And it hurts, it really does.
I still love you, Amalia. Perhaps, I’m running away because I want to treasure that image of you with curly hair and a smile dancing on your lips, sipping tea in the shade of Sharon fruit trees in our front garden.