“I was told you were beautiful!” He screamed in my face, yanking the dupatta off my head.

It was my -our- wedding night. The red sea of cloth alive with glimmering stones and sequins lay disheveled at the foot of the bed. He was furious, politely put. Our marriage was arranged a year from that night. My sister had informed me over the phone about the agreement my parents made with his family. I was past my prime according to the customary standards, and my parents found the match fitting as well as a blessing. I too found it immensely exciting. The thought of finally being free from the burden of earning to run a household had me sold. I had been working from salon to salon since the tender age of seventeen, climbing ranks ever so gradually. After working in Karachi for what seemed like a lifetime, a friend proposed to join her at a salon based in Dubai. Again, I was overwhelmed and besides myself. Never had I stepped out of this city, let alone country.

I arrived in the UAE shortly after my twenty fifth birthday. Here, I found life demanding and adventurous. I was cooking , working, traveling and making ends meet. I was finally living. However, soon things changed. My family would demand more and more of me. I am the eldest amongst a sibling litter of three brothers and two sisters, all married. But, suddenly I had earned the position of the breadwinner. Not only was I providing for my parents, my siblings need grew with time. Three years went by in a smoke of family drama and increasing dependency. I hadn’t been to Pakistan ever since that day I landed in UAE. Little did I know, I should have rooted my feet in to the burning Arabian soil and never returned.

After that phone call, I had handed in my resignation, gathered my belongings and made my way home. Home; I learned is the place where you can feel yourself breathing and not counting the breaths left in you.

I did not meet my prospective husband but we had been talking on the phone for the past year. He sounded like a dream to a woman who had slept to utter emptiness night after night for as long as she could remember. We were married in the traditional sense, dowry and all. The night of my wedding, I was elated, excitable, nervous and possibly the happiest I had been. Until, the moment of revealing. I never claimed to be a beauty, ironically I had been named so since birth. My dark complexion, uneven eyes, and a stubborn knob nose, made my face appear as hapless as my fate.  However, my husband was no eye candy either.

Days swelled in to months, with little or no interest sparking in our relationship. My in laws weren’t an intolerable lot which I was grateful for but my husband was a whole different story altogether. There were times when he wouldn’t come home for days, phone unreachable, and return with a muted explanation. He was verbally abusive when he was home, so I found myself wishing increasingly for his absence. One day, I finally decided to resume work. I had my in laws approval, it was just a matter of my husband. In the months following our marriage, the day I suggested working was the day I saw light in his eyes.

“I forgot you worked in Dubai. You should return and apply for my visa.” He said. I explained it was not an easy process but he refused to listen to reason and was convinced his plan was nothing less than brilliant. With that I was finally home. My friend helped me find a job in a salon run by an Indian lady. This place has been by far my favorite one to have worked. Of course, like my family in the past, my husband began his string of demands. There were endless phone calls to wire so and so amount within a given time. I complied, he spent. His tone softened with every call, he even grew romantic, praising me and confessing how my absence pained him. I believed, he lied.

One day I hurried to recharge the etisalat balance on my phone to surprise my husband about a job he would be perfect for. I skipped the niceties of the conversation and jumped right to the point. To my disbelief he went grim and disconnected the call mid conversation. He said he did not want to leave his parents alone in Karachi in their old age. He played the role of a son with satisfactory efforts so I did not doubt his reason. The next call, he confessed having a massive debt which could cost him his life if it was not repaid soon. There onward,  his calls came frequently and fervently. I began saving as much as my salary abled me, transferring money with an almost religious intent. I wanted him pleased above anything. May be through subliminal means I was trying to bribe him into loving me, or at least to spare tatters of affection.

My world collapsed by the next and final call. It was short, cold and calculated. He had married for the second time to a woman he had been involved with from the first week of our marriage. The money scented by my sweat was invested in pleasing her. He did not divorce me, he will not he said. I am bound to him and it was my decision to either provide him a monthly pocket money or have my name shamed amongst the people I knew to be family.

I chose shame. I chose exile. I chose me.

Disclaimer: The events transpired in the story are based on true events. To protect the privacy of certain individuals the names and identifying details have been changed or kept anonymous. No religion, race, or countries were slandered in producing the above post.         

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