I read that during COVID, the domestic violence cases were on the rise. However, affected women had nowhere to escape. From that piece of news, I thought what if during the lockdown someone finds freedom? By sheer stroke of luck someone is able to escape a horrible life.
This is a work of fiction.
THE LIGHTED TOWER
My husband is dead, and I can’t stop laughing.
I sit daily by this tiny broken window that overlooks the main road and stare at the lighted tip of the tallest tower while wiping my wounds. Life that high up must be covered in diamonds and gloss. In all these years, I have never been there. But the tower is a reminder of what I could have been in another lifetime.
I have heard that there are dancing fountains around the tower that are soaked in colours and music. After he is finished with me and the blood has stopped oozing from my wounds, I always crack open the window to disappear in a small piece of sky that hangs through my broken wooden window. I stare at the tip of the tower piercing the clouds and wonder if I will ever get to see it in person. If I will ever be able to leave this room that has no exit.
This broken window is my only gateway to the world. Somedays I wish I was a bird. Fly at will, live as you want. It must be exhilarating to have wings. That means there is a way to escape.
This room has been my home for four years. Well, if you can call it a room. The cheap green wall paint has peeled off. An old window AC rattles when pigeons sit on them during the day. The small bathroom remains clogged 24 x 7. A bunk bed, two trunks and a small stove is what I am married to. This is my life; living in a box without a key. There are many rooms in this building. Each one is filled with broken dreams. We all live under the shadows of the big city. You can find many like us on these unnamed streets and forgotten by lanes. We are needed to run the city but we must remain invisible.
Today I sit patiently with my heels tucked under my hips as if I am sitting to pray. I have to look serious. I can’t show that I am happy. My yellow hijab has a a big hole behind the right ear which I have tried to stitch up. The top button of my pink shirt is missing but remains in place through a safety pin.
The room has very little space to move around. The bed has a pile of clothes on them. I have had no time to sort the washing from last night. Sakina is hiding behind the pile, afraid of the strangers. She is wearing a red dress that I can see through the pile. She is very tiny for five years. Dreaming of good food does not help in adding on weight.
A tall man with a mask and gloves is standing outside the door and talking loudly in Arabic on the phone. He is here to tell me that we are not infected and wants me to sign some papers. I try to look sad. I keep my head down and pretend to cry. The man is waiting for me to sign the documents, so that they can bury him. I still can’t believe it. He is dead.
MY HUSBAND IS DEAD. How wonderful is that!
The short man who smells of cheap perfume and talcum powder reappears and talks to me in Urdu, making me understand what will happen next. Once 14 days are over, the social service people from my embassy will contact me to see when they can send me back home. Until then, they will bring groceries every few days and even give me some money to survive. I am surprised at the turn of events. Things can change rather quickly, just like cooking kebabs on a very high flame.
This COVID is not that bad at all.
I scribble my name where he points. Once done, they bow their heads and leave.
I close the door with a thumping heart. It has finally happened. My hands are shaking. The sweat from my hair is now sliding onto my back. Sakina jumps from behind the pile and starts playing with a doll that has a missing eye and an arm.
He is dead and I am elated.
The thought is simmering. There is a knock on the door again. I quickly wear a mask and open the door to find the two carpenters living next door. They express their condolences for losing a teammate. I simply nod, mumble something and shut the door again. I finally collapse on the bed. Along with the sweat I now feel the tears rolling down.
Is this really happening?
I slowly remove my hijab and run my fingers through a scar on the left temple. This was for forgetting to iron his shirt. If you look closely you can see the purple outline of a black eye. The long hard line at the back of my neck is where I had got the stitches. I take some time to look at my body, inch by inch and realise that bruises have remain hidden under my crumpled clothes but not disappeared. These wounds have created a unique road map of all that has happened to my soul.
I sit on the bed not knowing what to do. And out of nowhere I feel a whirling sound escape my throat that eventually turns into a laugh. I just can’t stop laughing.
Have I gone mad?
I look outside the window to find the tip of the tower lighting up once again. But today it looks different. The lights around the tower seem brighter than usual.
Now only one thing remains to be done. I quickly find my worn-out black sandals. Grab my purse. I have total of 50/- dirhams left. It will do for today. They are allowing people to go out now. I don’t need to be afraid anymore. He is not alive. I grab Sakina and get her to wear her shoes. We are wearing gloves and masks. I glance at our reflection in the cracked mirror behind the door. Sakina looks tiny in her oversized dress and tight blue shoes. My shirt and pant are almost hanging on my bones. We look like skeletons dressed for a fancy-dress competition. We both look funny. But I don’t care. Not today.
Sakina looks at me and asks, where are we going ammi?
I smile opening the door, Burj Khalifa!