Artwork done by Tala Alkhaldi
I would have never guessed, that a solution of chemicals would be the biggest horror of my life. Perhaps it wasn’t the solution that sealed my throat with fear, but rather the man who threw the pail of acid on me. I thought solely about my children in the few seconds I had 6 months ago, before the acid drenched my body and every single molecule seeped through the thin layer of my skin. How can I as their mother protect them when I cannot protect myself from the injustice I face?
I have three daughters, and one son. I am happy with four children. All of them laughing with a head full of coarse hair, dancing in the wind and playing blissfully in the dust of the roads near our broken home. The wood protruded from one of the walls of our shack, leaving a huge gaping hole that I had to fill with a wool scarf I knit two years ago. I used green yarn because my youngest daughter adores the colour. When we watched the night sky, she’d tell me how many shades of green the stars were. She would cling to the flag of Pakistan on our way to the market, yelling, “Look mama! It’s green! Just like the trees and the stars mama!” I am so proud that I named her Noor the day she was born. Her beautiful name means, “light” in Arabic.
Although I can’t see from my right eye after my attack, Noor provides for me all the sights in the world. She is my vision, and she is my hope. Even if she shows me the world in only green, it is more beautiful than viewing nothing at all. The electricity ran out every half an hour from the heat, and the mosquitoes bit us dry, but it was still a home; was my home. It was the only thing that was to save me from the evil outside, yet it was the only place evil was being done to me.
I felt a massive aura of darkness wrap around my soul, starting from the tip of my toes and gradually wrenching at my neck. I was suffocating and I couldn’t get out of my misery. I was burning and yelping like a fish out of water, but no one could help me. I heard people in our neighbourhood whisper that it is a family matter, that they should not bother with the issues that I face. How atrocious of a destiny this was. I kept looking out somewhere, and reaching for something but nothing came into my grasp.
How come one son was not enough for my husband? He has been forcing me to have another son for months, and I am pregnant again; but with yet another girl. That unborn fetus, that is one day to breathe and see the world will be drained down a pipe as my blood off the insides of my thighs. I am scared to tell him, because once he knows my baby’s gender, I will lose yet another part of me. Bit by bit, he has chipped my insides, and he has gotten away with it.
I cannot be the product of his need to fulfill his self-induced honour. Neglecting Noor and my other two girls was horrible enough, throwing acid on me was horrible enough, taking away my full sight of the world was horrible enough, and leaving my hands to shake every time he walked through the door was horrible enough, but now he will threaten to take away the baby girl inside of me as well. I will not stand for this.
Embracing my tiny belly, I pack up my clothes, and lock my bags with courage. His words keep taunting me: “You have disgraced me. You have dishonoured me, and you don’t deserve happiness in this world”, but I keep forcing the words to stream down with the salty tears on my face. I grab the hands of my four children while he works at night, and I run. It was my home but now I am running. My children are running with me, and we are all gasping for air, but we are running as fast as we can to a place far away from misery, to a place with no fear or anxiety, to a place where all the trees and all the stars are green. To the place in Noor’s dreams, yes, we are running there. My feet are going numb and I can’t feel my legs moving anymore, but I keep running. And even though my lungs are crying for air, this is the first time in 15 years I have been able to breathe the most. Oh how sweet the feeling of freedom is.
Now I understand why my papa always cried as he saw the flag of Pakistan quivering in the wind. That feeling of freedom and peace was unlike any other. The tears running down our faces aren’t of fear anymore. These are tears of freedom. These are the tears my body has cultivated for the past 15 years and my eyes have finally released them. My tears feel free, my body feels free, my children are free, I am free. I am perhaps more excited than Noor, to see the green stars, and the green birds. We are all going to be fine, in the place of green.
Written by: Hareem Ashraf