Series 2: “Checkmate” Part 6 Shhh... No one needs to know anything
It wasn’t long before we got serious enough to talk about getting engaged. We planned on going to the same college and then getting married after four years of undergraduate studies. We didn’t tell anyone and continued spending a lot of time together; more than we should have.
Then Usman started hearing back from the colleges to which he had applied. As expected, he had been accepted into some of the very good ones like the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of Southern California (USC) in California, New York University (NYU) in New York, and Brown University in Rhode Island. He was elated. It was while he and his family had gone to take a tour of the colleges he was seriously considering that Ammi jee decided to take me to a doctor.
I remember arguing with her vehemently.
“Ammi jee I’m fine and you know it,” I told her. “You know I hate doctors.”
“I don’t care if you hate them or like them,” she replied. “You’re studying too hard. You’re pale and your stomach is always upset.”
What the doctor told her was enough to open the ground right beneath her feet. As for me, I thought I had died and gone to hell. For surely, this is what hell must feel like. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I would choke.
She didn’t say a word to me on the way home. Ammi jee was a strong woman and had faced many adversities in her life. But she had probably never counted upon a catastrophe as malicious and evil as the one she was facing now. She was strangely quiet, probably trying to figure out where she had gone wrong. Her silence was hugely disconcerting. I wished she would yell and scream at me.
But no, Ammi jee wasn’t a person to bemoan the reasons behind the problem. She was a person who immediately started thinking of a way out.
“Is it Usman?” she asked me in an emotionless voice, staring straight ahead, as soon the car stopped in the driveway. These were her first words since the doctor’s office.
“Yes,” I uttered in a hoarse voice.
I could barely talk. I was surprised I could talk at all because dead people don’t talk. And I was sure I was dead.
“Go to you room,” she said, still looking ahead. “I’ll talk to you later.”
I wished she would curse me. Anything would have been better than this. I knew why she never did any of those things. It was because she blamed herself equally. She was the mother and she had failed to protect me. Therefore she was to blame too.
That day from my first floor window, I seriously contemplated jumping out and ending the intense misery which I was experiencing and putting my parents through. It probably wouldn’t have ended my life, but it might have ended one of the two lives that jumped out that window. But I was a coward. I knew I was a coward otherwise I would have had the courage to stop Usman. I would have had the courage to say ‘no’ when I should have. It was too late to prove my gallantry now.
Abba jee told Ammi jee that he didn’t want to see me or talk to me at all. The next visit to the gynaecologist three days later confirmed Ammi jee’s worst fears. I was too far along to do anything about it. Given my age, it was too great a risk to take. Even if something could be done, Ammi jee and Abba jee had decided by then that they couldn’t abort a baby deliberately, regardless of the consequences. I was devastated. I had stopped going to school and answered no phone calls. I awaited Ammi jee’s verdict on the case.
A week later, Ammi jee had a short, serious talk with me.
“You are to tell no one about this, especially Usman,” her tone was business-like.
It was like she was telling the gardener how to trim the hedges in our front yard.
“I don’t want anyone to find out.”
“But Ammi jee… shouldn’t I call Usman?” I stammered, eyes down.
I still couldn’t face her.
“Why,” she demanded.
“So that you can blame him? So that you can tell him how he ruined your life?”
She was letting out her rage and frustration for the first time.
“No, Marium, it is not his fault. It is your fault. And it is my fault. We’d be fools to blame anyone else.”
She stopped to catch her breath.
“And even greater fools to allow the world to point fingers at us and judge us.”
“But what do I do now?” I was aghast.
My dark mind was groping at some semblance of hope.
“You have done what you had to do,” she was in a cold fury. “We are going to clean up the mess now.”
She paused for a minute before continuing,
“Your Abba jee and I have decided that I will move with you to River Ridge in Louisiana. It’s a small city. You and I will rent an apartment till the baby is born, put it up for an anonymous adoption and return.”
“But how can Abba jee live here alone?” I asked.
I was more concerned for the disruption of family harmony than for the storm forthcoming in my own life. I was subconsciously shutting out reality.
“If he can live through the pain of watching the life of his only daughter go to ashes, he can live alone too,” she answered.
She had switched back to her emotionless voice, again devoid of anger or frustration.
“Abba jee will tell everyone we have to go to Canada to be with Khala jaan for a while. You will take a long break from school. Start packing.”
We left that week before Usman and his family returned. In my absence, I found out that Usman had selected to go to Brown University and his family too had decided to move to Rhode Island.
I spent the worst five months of my life in Louisiana, hating not the child inside me but myself. My youth suddenly vanished. I didn’t grow wise, I grew ‘old’ and tired. I spent nearly all my time indoors reading, studying and contemplating. Ammi jee and I spoke very little. I knew she was making a supreme effort to heal. I made no effort to make her feel better. There was nothing I could do. I had done enough damage already.
The child was born two weeks early. It was a very difficult birth. Whoever said that a mother never forgets her child regardless of circumstances of birth must have been a mother who had lost her child. Because she was right. I might have been able to put the child out of my mind, but I hadn’t been able to get it out of my heart. My parents preferred to forget, and perhaps they had.
I understood that talking about the adoption agency brought back memories for Ali. But it brought back memories for me too. Memories I didn’t want to share with anyone and which were as dear to me as life itself. How could I not wish to know where she was and what she looked like? This desire had only grown stronger over the years. Working at the agency was also a very fledgling of an effort to try to locate her, even if it meant just looking at her from a distance.
Enjoyed this? You will not believe what happens in the Part 7 of this eight part series! Stay tuned!