Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Short Story: Chromosomes XX

Not-so-dear husband of mine,

The clock claims that it’s only an hour and a half since the alcoholic storm began. It must be lying, since it feels like aeons to me. An eternity of punches and slaps and kicks, of cuts and scratches and bruises.

And I did not scream, not even once.

I know that frustrates you. Maybe that’s why I remain silent throughout the daily tortures – I like to think it as my only way of rebelling, though it only serves to infuriate you further. The pleasure of not giving you the satisfaction of knowing for sure that you’d hurt me, that’s what sustains me through the night. But today, you went too far: You slapped Asha for crying loudly.

“Shekhar’s boy is nice and well-behaved! Why can’t this accursed brat just shut up!” you growled. As if my brother-in-law’s spoiled betaa hadn’t bawled when he was four months old. I would have said all that, and much more, but I was too fond of my life and that of my daughter’s to test your patience. But it was as if your slap had jolted me, not Asha, out of my stupor. It brought me to my senses and now I know what I have to do.

Even the full moon is finding my actions blasphemous; it has stormed away behind a cloud, trying to deter me with darkness. But nothing, nothing, will stop me from taking this chance.

Because I can easily see my daughter  growing up into a beautiful woman, only to get caught in that vicious cycle that I, my mother, my grandmother and great-grandmothers all lived… only to replay the sorrows we had to live through. 

I can see her, eight years old, draped in an old red cloth, eyes lined with kohl and hands daubed in mehendi, adjusting the countless bead necklaces around her and flashing a pretty smile at the imaginary onlookers at her “wedding”. Her naïveté makes me want to cry. 

I can see her grow and discover all what she had missed in the hullabaloo of hide-and-seek and hopscotch: her father’s icy indifference towards her, the pitying looks her parents received when people learned they had a girl, the disapproving creases in the elders’ foreheads  as she studied diligently while skipping a chore or two…

I can see her glowing with pride as her teacher praised her work and said, sadly, that she was destined for greatness. I can see her, at fifteen, eyes flashing in anger as she was placed under house arrest while the boys went off to the city for higher studies.

I can see her watching her father bargaining with the ladkewale over the dowry. I can see that bitter smile on her face as she thinks how uncannily he resembles her mother haggling with the greengrocer over the prices of the vegetables.

I can see her getting married for real, her destiny knotted with that of a burly man she’d never even seen before.

I can see the terror and grief on her face as she sees her father’s lifeless body hanging from the rafters of her childhood home. On the floor, her mother lies, spread-eagled, an empty bottle of rat poison clutched in her cold hands. A crumpled piece of paper proclaims about a loan that could not be repaid.

I can see her kneeling in front of the temple, praying fervently for her unborn child not to be a girl. Please let it be a boy, she will plead as the camphor seeped through the morning air, I’ll do anything, anything, to prevent a child sharing my fate. If she was lucky, she would be lead a better life, compared to enduring the taunts and the scathing comments about giving birth to a girl. I can see her wondering how her mother-in-law could forget that she herself possessed XX chromosomes. (You’ve forgotten the lesson on Genetics, back in tenth standard, haven't you? I thought so.)

I can easily see history repeating itself. And as Asha’s tiny fist close around my little finger as a grapevine coils around a support, yearning for strength, I realize it’s time I became her greatest support. It’s time someone rewrote the storyline that has been parroted for generations. It’s time I earned my freedom. It's time I just left.

And, for once, I want to scream out loud. I want to scream in wild joy, scream without inhibitions.

Refusing to be yours,
A woman, and proud of it.


  1. Wow! This is fierce and powerful!
    I especially liked your usage of metaphors...subtle yet hitting the spot.
    Keep up the good work, Zainab!

    1. Coming from you, this is high praise! I'm delighted that you found it powerful. Thanks for reading!