The rusty water
In the utmost silence of the dark room, he pulled the journal out from the drawer trying not to make a sound. The dust on the jacket of the cover forced him to scrunch up his nose as he withheld a sneeze. After recovering, he sat on his bedside with the journal in his lap. Under the dim moonlight beaming through the window, he began reading.
June 9, 1946
I think we will finally be able to stay permanently in Khushkot. Our dear uncle came last night with some official papers and Abbu had signed them. This is great news! I was beginning to get used to the yard work around the house. The air is cleaner here and the crops grow taller and stronger. I have grown fond of it.
Last night, father called me downstairs when uncle was there and asked me to make tea for him. I put in all my effort to make the best tea that I possibly could. I owe him that gratitude.
There are still nice people in this world, believe it or not.
August 2, 1946
It’s almost the end of summer and autumn is around the corner which means my birthday will come in a few weeks. I don’t feel excited because I fear I will be married off at 16 like my mother was. I have barely finished my Quran and I don’t have time to go to madrassas, because of all the work I have to do in the field. I would at least like to finish the Quran before I get married.
This also worries me. If I get married, who will help Abbu and Amma in the fields?
Our generous uncle is making frequent trips to the house now. Amma calls him a conniving dog. I don’t know why. Uncle gave us this house after all! I think she’s wrong.
September 14, 1946
Yesterday was my birthday. It was my 16th. I was very excited. I had planned on calling my friends from the madrassa. I asked Shumaila to come over and she had said yes.
But life has other direct plans for us, I guess.
When I went down as I do every morning to pump the water from the tube well for the cattle, Amma and Abbu were nowhere to be seen. Instead, uncle was sitting in the dining room eating some porridge I had made for myself last night. I was alarmed. I did not have my dupatta over my head and I was at the age that he shouldn’t have seen me without one.
Uncle was nice though. He told me it was okay and asked me to sit with him for breakfast. I sat quietly in his presence as he munched down the porridge. This will be mean to say, but he looks like a pig while eating.
After he was done with his meal, I asked him where Amma and Abbu were. He told me they went out. He asked me to follow him upstairs as he was tired from the long and tedious journey he had made to see us today.
I immediately cleaned up the guest room, refilled the bucket for his sanitary uses and that’s when he called me to my room. He had already made himself comfortable in my bed. He said his feet were sore and asked if I could massage them. Of course I hesitated a little, but he said it was okay and I would be given the blessings of God for helping a traveller.
His feet were gigantic and his toes were thick. I tried my best to relax them but both my hands were too small for even one of his ape-sized feet.
Soon after his feet were not sore anymore, he produced a small glass container from inside his kameez and began drinking from it, ordering me to stay in the room. The glass container had water that must’ve gone bad because it was of a rusty colour, but he chugged at it as much as he could. The whole room reeked of its smell.
I stood there in my room as my uncle lay comfortably in my bed. I tried not to look at him too much while he drank. I peered outside the window and wondered how late I would finish my work today because Shumaila was definitely going to come over soon.
My uncle grunted and called me forward. I obliged and sat beside him. He ordered me to take a sip of the rusty water but I hesitated. It did not smell good and I did not want to get sick. I refused his offer but uncle tightened his grip on my hand and ordered me to drink it.
I was scared, so I did. The water tasted worse than it smelled. I sipped a few sips from its narrow mouth and it burnt as it went down my throat. I tried to keep it down, it was hard but I managed. After a few minutes uncle asked me to drink some more and then some more after that.
I soon realised the water uncle was drinking was some kind of a potion. It made my knees feel weak and my head dizzy. I found myself standing in the room and felt everything around me spiral out of control. I asked uncle if I could sit on the bed to calm my spinning head and he smiled widely and said yes.
He had warmed the bed quite a lot for me and I sat with my head in my hands. When I opened my eyes it was dark and I fell helplessly on my bed, unable to move. In the flashing glimpses of light that shone through my eyes, I saw uncle undress in my room. He is a rather large man.
The man heard a creak outside his room and almost jumped. Upon realising it might have just been a mouse under the floor, he continued to read on.
October 20, 1946
It has been a tough few weeks for me. I have made a terrible mistake and I feel really guilty. I should have never made that mistake. I know better. I feel ashamed and struck with fear at the same time. Working on the field has gotten much tougher because my mind tends to wander on the lonesome soil. I cannot control my mind, it is what it is.
Uncle has made his stops more frequent. He comes in every week since my birthday now. He always carries his container of rusty water and he always finds a reason for me to drink it. Abbu and Amma are never in the house at the time and I don’t know where they are. Sometimes I feel like telling them that uncle comes and leaves without them knowing and I am afraid of him.
Uncle tells me otherwise and threatens that he would tell Abbu that I drink from his bottle of rusty water. I guess I wasn’t allowed to drink from it in the first place. I am very frightened sometimes and I have no one to talk to except you.
December 5, 1946
Something happened last night!
Two doors down from us live the Noor family. They have a son named Anwar who is two years older than me. They came over with a proposal from him.
I heard their muffled voices from the top floor as Amma and Abbu ordered me to stay up. Usually I am the one who makes the tea for the guests but this was a different occasion, I guess.
It did not end well for either the Noor family or me. They left knowing a secret I wished was a lie.
I am barren.
December 6, 1946
Anwar came to me this morning when I was filling up the buckets with water from the tube well. He told me he heard that I was barren and felt that his family had insulted me when they walked out hearing the news. He also said that the proposal was still there if I wished to accept it and it made me giggle. I believe my giggle made him blush.
I asked him what he liked about me and he turned bright red and would not look at me when he talked.
I like Anwar, he seems like a nice guy but I told him the truth. He cannot handle what I have.
My answer was no.
December 14, 1946
I am told by Shumaila that the rusty water uncle drinks is haram and that he will go to hell for drinking it. Shumaila is a good friend. I told her all about the incidents with uncle and I also told her that I rejected Anwar’s proposal.
She was furious at what she had heard and I was shocked that she was. She asked me to tell my parents immediately but something makes me think they already know. No one just leaves their daughter at home at the same exact time every week for hours. No one also announces their daughter’s weakness without talking about it to her first.
I am afraid that if they don’t know, they would be shocked and disappointed to find out.
Shumaila says to accept Anwar’s proposal and that is the only way out. I hope my parents aren’t liars.
I don’t know what to do. I wish you could reply.
December 16, 1946
Uncle came already intoxicated by his drink this morning. I woke up with the sound of broken glass coming from the kitchen and immediately knew he had stumbled in our humble home once again. Shumaila had told me to resist if uncle made me drink anymore and I had worked up my courage to do so. But I realised there was nothing to drink so I was relieved.
When uncle saw me as I stepped downstairs, he rushed towards where I stood and ordered me to wait in my room. He was very aggressive and I was scared he would hit me so I did as he said. As I waited in my room, the doorbell had rung and uncle went to receive it. I heard Anwar’s muffled voice coming from beneath the wooden floors and was almost relieved. I thought he had come to save me.
I was wrong because only uncle came alone into my room. I think that was the point where I realised I had had enough. When uncle came into my room, I told him I am going out to mend the field and that he was not allowed to sleep in my room. Uncle did not take my stand very well and he hit me across the face. Blood started pooling up at the corner of my lips and water flooded my eyes.
I pushed uncle as hard as I could and ran downstairs in retreat. He stumbled behind me, unsteady and off balance. I ran to the kitchen to find something of use against him but in panic had forgotten where all the knives were. I found a china plate and decided to use that against him. When uncle came near me, I threw the plate at him and threatened him to stay away.
Uncle was big so he charged my way regardless. I grabbed another plate and smashed it on his shoulders as I frantically ran back upstairs. I figured I would lock myself in my room till Amma and Abbu came. They’d see the damage that uncle caused and would banish him from our home forever.
In my room, I moved the furniture around in frenzy and tried to push it towards the door but the drawers were heavy and the closet immovable. So with all my might, I managed to move the side table drawer from my bed and boxed myself in the corner, making it difficult for him to reach.
Shortly after, uncle had managed to get himself upstairs and started banging heavily on my door. I screamed at him to go away but he insisted on coming in. Every punch he threw at the door grew louder and heavier when finally, the door gave into the thunderous banging and off came the hinges still attached to the door.
I knew then I was done for and I had nowhere else to go. This man would kill me, I thought. Would my parents even miss me? Surely they’d miss me when they had to do the tedious yard work themselves. These were the thoughts that circled my mind when uncle walked slowly towards me. In a desperate attempt, I screamed once more for him to stop but he did not listen.
But someone had, as Anwar crept behind him, holding my Abbu’s spading fork. Crying out again for my uncle, I saw Anwar unwillingly change the sides of the fork, so the sharp ends faced the wall smashing the stick end of the spading fork into my uncle’s back. Uncle turned, only to be hit across the face knocking him out on my bed.
He walked over to me and offered his hand as I lay crouched up against the wall. I refused his kind gesture, not knowing why, but knowing I did not want to be touched. I did not know how or why he was there but I was glad he was. I found myself wetting my kameez with my tears, my hands and feet continued shaking uncontrollably.
He took me downstairs, and we talked after I had calmed down. He explained to me how he got an uneasy feeling from my drunk uncle and how he lurked around the back until he saw me throw a plate at him. It was then that he grabbed my father’s fork and came running to save me.
He also told me he loves me, and really does not care if I am barren but I did not know how to reply.
I might consider marrying Anwar.
He heard a woman walk out of the other room and quickly managed to slip the book under the bed before she stepped in.
“What are you looking at,” she inquired with her face widening up in a smile.
“Oh nothing,” the man replied. “It’s just a really dark night.”
“But a pretty one indeed,” she said. “Come Anwar, let’s lie down.”
Anwar looked at Saira as she walked around the room.
“Is the baby asleep?” he asked.
“Sound asleep,” she replied and embraced him in his arms.
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