It had been raining incessantly. As we walked the distance to the dental clinic, the rain descended in huge torrents, and we had to struggle, maneuvering our way through the slush and the puddles of water, clinging to our umbrellas.
We stepped into the clinic with relief. While my mother went through a series of outpatient procedures, I stole a few minutes to collect a document from the college office. The rain had stopped briefly. As I walked across the yard, my phone rang. It was Fousiya. I answered the call. “Turn around!“, she said. I turned around to see her chubby, cheery face at the window- the face of a little child. She waved to me. I waved back, signalling that I would get back in a while.
As I walked, I felt guilty. I hadn’t called her in a long while. I hadn’t even bothered to tell her I would be coming today. Only a couple of months had passed since her husband’s death. The last we had spoken, she had told me that she had resumed work because it made her feel better.
By the time I got back, my mother’s consultation was through. I made her sit in the waiting area and I went up to meet Fousiya, contemplating on what she might have thought of my long silence. How was I to make her understand my predicament and my reasons for not being able to keep in touch with her? Would she believe the fact that I often thought of her, but never found a minute to connect? As I walked with these thoughts playing in my mind, I saw her approach with a broad smile.
For a moment, I was taken aback. I could imagine her current situation. But that had not erased the smile from her face or the glow in her eyes. This is how she was when I met her first, about seven years ago. And that had not changed, despite the fact that her life had changed by a huge measure. She was as thrilled as ever to see me, and she never once asked me why I hadn’t bothered to keep in touch. Instead, she asked me about my life and empathized with the current phase of my life. She seemed to understand it all; I needn’t have elaborated on it. Her responses were proof of how she could relate to my journey. That was the moment I felt truly ashamed of myself. Here she was, traversing a particularly difficult phase of life and yet, she had kept that aside to know how my life had been. She was still so fond of me, but I wasn’t sure I deserved it anymore.
I steered the conversation to her life. I was moved by the manner in which she always spoke of her life. She would talk about the difficult moments. And then find her own reasons to justify the unfairness of life.
She was the sort of woman that life was persistently trying to break, but had never succeeded at. She would talk about her dreams in serious tones, and then laugh at their apparent foolishness. She would talk with great maturity, and then switch to childish humour. That she had seen the worst of life, and could yet preserve the child within, was her greatest victory against life. I was in awe of her.
“I want to study. I want to either complete my BA English or get into General Nursing. I want to stand on my own feet and give my son a good education. That is the only goal I have in my life now“, she suddenly said to me.
And then, in a more mellow tone, she added, ” My son is so young. He knows nothing of the tragedy that has befallen him. His world is so simple. He is always smiling, unaware of what it means to not have a father. Unaware of the complexities of life. Unaware of the bitter facts he must face as he grows up. When I see his smile, I can’t help wishing I could always keep that smile on his face. I do not want him to feel the absence of a father.”
“Does your brother come home?“, I asked
“Yes, he does. But he has his own family to look after. He had to take up the burden of our family so early in life. He deserves a life now. He has his own dreams, and he is entitled to them. I cannot beg him for anything more.”
“What about the money? How are you going to pay for your course?‘ I asked her.
“That is the tough part. If it is distance education, I could continue working here, and though this salary wouldn’t be enough to take care of all the expenses, I can at least think of taking a loan. But if I have to quit this job, I have no source of income. And yet, this job cannot give me a future. I have to take up a registered course of value- one that will ensure a job.”
I nodded. I suddenly remembered Hashim ikka. He had mentioned a Trust. Could they finance her education?
Here was a human being- a single woman, so young, so intelligent and capable. Her only dream was education for a better job. Just so that she could secure her child’s life. At any cost, I wanted to help her out. If I had a stable job, I would have given her the money myself.
She walked with me to see my mother. We then said goodbye and parted.
I had spoken to Hashim ikka and he had put me through to his friend, who had in turn, given me a contact number. This had taken some time. I sent her the contact number. She had instantly followed up. That evening, I called her to check on the response.
“I spoke to him. He took all my details and said he would see if I am eligible for the sponsorship“, she said to me.
“I will call him in a couple of days and check on the status“, I said to her.
“I wish this world would come to an end“, she suddenly said.
And laughed aloud.
I know her well by now. I could see the connection between the intensity of her laughter and the amount of pain she hid behind it. Laughter had become her natural reaction to pain. I suppose when you have cried and cried, you are tired of crying, and you decide to laugh instead.
“Fousiya, so many people in this world complain about things they have to do- study, write exams, carry out work assigned to them, and so on. They probably don’t realize how fortunate they are. Here you are, with a simple goal- you want to study. Just so as to get a better job and be able to provide for your child. But to study, there are all these hurdles that you have to work your way through- from finances to your current job to the care of your child. Isn’t life so ironical?” I asked her.
“A woman’s life is fragile. It is so subject to the mercy of others. Unless there is a strong man in her life- a father in her early life, and a husband later, her life is sealed. I had neither. So I have to accept this as my fate. You see, I can take up the registered ANM course in Kasargod, but I will have to travel every day. I don’t mind that, but I will be spending very little time at home. Somebody has to stand behind me and tell me- ‘Go ahead. I will take care of everything.’ If an unexpected situation crops up, especially one involving my son, and there is nobody to back me up for this course, I will have to quit. I cannot imagine enrolling for a course, going through all the hardships, and quitting midway. All my courage drains off when I think of that.”
I could have cried.
“People are still asking me to marry. They ask me- ‘Why should you study more? This is not the age to study.’ I have a neighbour next door- a young girl, who is the mother of two children. Her first husband divorced her after her first child was born. They married her off again, and she had a child from the second marriage. And look at the play of destiny, her second husband left her too. Now she lives with her grandmother who does odd jobs to take care of them. The girl is mentally unwell now. People see this, and yet, they tell me to marry. Are they blind?”
“Children are always the victims of such marriages. Look at my sister’s children. Their father is very much alive, but he never bothers with them. As children, they have dreams. They like to go out, see places. They want somebody to take them out. Such simple dreams of theirs, remain unrealized. What hope do they have? If a husband and wife cannot get along, and if they do not have the potential to be heeding to the needs of children, they should not have children.”
I was speechless. Perhaps some of the most educated people I knew did not have such insights.
“I have only one dream. To be independent. To be free from these petty people who cannot think beyond their small world. Some day, I shall be free from them. I shall live in a small house of my own- just me and my son, in a world of our own, where there shall be no intruders to kill the simple peace of our life. I want to be responsible for my son. I want to give him all that I never had. A parent’s love, companionship, education, and everything I never had in my life.”
I couldn’t help thinking of the stark contrast between this woman and other women I knew, who regarded themselves as strong and independent, without understanding what it meant to be so.