“A girl,” the nurse had said and the mother had frowned.
“A girl,” she turned those words over in her head, mumbled them slowly. “A girl,” she said to the nurse, “I hope the world would be fair to her.” The nurse looked motionless as if she heard those words coming out of every mother's mouth.
Then came the time when she finally met her girl: a little human being sucking on her thumb and looking at her with dense black eyes. Those innocent eyes could either hold dreams or an endless amount of tears. She hoped for the former. “Your father will be happy to see you, Asmah.” She'd decided on that name on her own. “Asmah means a strong girl. Be your namesake. Be strong,” she whispered to her baby as her husband entered the room. He sat at the foot of the bed, looking away. He wasn't happy. Asmah was their fourth girl. He wanted a boy. She remembered the exact same words that he had spoken, “I need a boy.”
Tahira called out to her husband, desperate to hear his voice. Every time she went through labour, she wanted him more than ever. It was a craving she didn't quite understand. She should hate this man, despise him. But she couldn't. He wasn't good but he was better than most of them. She knew that her elder sister Anisa was beaten up for every little thing. Her husband just needed an excuse to vent and Anisa would be lying bloody on the floor. Her sister-in-law, Jamila, wasn't happy either. Jamila was married off to a wealthy man right after Waalid and Tahira's wedding. The dowry from Tahira's wedding had paid for the ceremony. Jamila's husband was always craving for more. More money, more beauty, more pleasure, more property, more wives. He had married a girl much younger than Jamila a few years after Jamila gave birth.
“It's okay. Just another mouth to feed, we'll manage.” He said with his voice as calm as ever, all the while looking away from her.
“Look at her once. She has your nose. Come here.”
He didn't look at Asmah. She continued, “We'll call her Asmah. She'll grow up and she'll read and she'll look after us when she's a woman grown. She's good for us, 'iinaha niema. She's a blessing.”
He looked at her then. He felt sorry for the child, sorry for himself, sorry for his naïve wife. He got up, put his hand on Tahira's head gently as if to soothe her pain, the way they pat an animal the night before butchering it. Then he lowered himself, peered at his newborn and whispered, “Asmah, You're a curse.”
Tahira couldn't believe he had actually said that, actually muttered those words in his child's ear. What would he have done if it were a boy? Recited Adhan in his right ear? At that moment, she didn't see her husband anymore. All she saw was a monster peering at her innocent girl. “Get out,” she said. He looked shocked. “Get out,” she yelled at him. He didn't even move. He turned his face to her and said, “Tahira, she's a curse. Not for me. For you. Get ready, we're going home and you have to prepare for a Nikah.”
A wedding? Whose wedding? Then everything was clear. Her hatred for him left her eyes and the void was filled with disbelief. “When did you decide?”
“It was always decided, Tahira. I had given word to my mother that if you gave birth to another girl, I'd get married to a girl of her choosing.”
“But we have children. What about them?”
“You've given me four girls, Tahira. What am I supposed to do with four girls? All you've given me are liabilities. It is time I looked for my own benefit.”
She wanted to scream, wail, and yell. She wanted to break something, tear something to pieces, tear him to pieces. But in her world, women didn't do that. They didn't scream. They cried. And that's exactly what Tahira did. A solitary tear rolled down her reddened cheeks.
A week from Asmah's birth, Waalid got married. The girl he wed was pretty but suspiciously young. She was barely a few years older than Waalid's firstborn daughter. Why would anyone marry off such a young girl? Her name was Mariam. A year after their marriage, Mariam gave birth. A girl. It was a wicked thought but Tahira couldn't help feeling a little happy.
“A girl,” Tahira was the one to bring Waalid the news. There was a sly smile on her face.
He took notice of that and suddenly all the rage, all the frustration flooded and overflowed every ounce of humanity in him. He lunged forward, grabbed her by her hair and started beating her. “You wrench, it's all because of you. You're the bad luck that never leaves my household. You ate up all my fortune,” he shouted while punching on whatever part of her body he could find.
In a few moments, people gathered all around them. Some men pulled Waalid away from her. But those few moments were enough for him. Tahira was bleeding profusely from several places. There was a sharp pain in her side. Her vision was blurred with tears and even though she couldn't see through her tears, she knew that Waalid could clearly see the smile of content on her face. And with that smile, she fainted.
When she woke up, her elder sister Anisa was sitting next to her. She looked around, she wasn't in a hospital for sure. She wasn't in her room either. She felt dizzy as she struggled to sit up. Her sudden movement caught Anisa's attention. But Anisa didn't help Tahira to sit up, didn't tell her to stop struggling either. She just blankly looked at Tahira and then looked down at her hands again.
Tahira immediately knew something was wrong. She wearily looked around, took it in and recognized the room she was in. It was her parent's house. “I am home,” she thought. “That's what happens when someone tries to squeeze the life out of you,” Tahira thought to herself as she caressed the bruised skin on her throat. The pain was still there.
Anisa let out a laugh. “You almost died.”
“Yeah, we girls are hard to kill. I see your husband hasn't managed to kill you either.” She said as she leaned back.
Anisa let out another laugh, this time a genuine one. It made her shoulders bounce.
“What happened back there?” Tahira cautiously asked.
“Waalid doesn't want to keep you in his house anymore. You will have to stay here until he calms down. Once the situation cools down, Baba will go and talk some sense into him.”
“Where are my girls?”
“Where do you think? He wasn't going to keep them either. They're playing outside with my boy.”
“Apa, I don't want to go back to that slaughterhouse.” She looked into Anisa's eyes and saw her own thoughts being reflected.
“Well, you've always been the rowdy one. But here, in this world, a wife needs a man. You need to go back and keep quiet. Let them have their way. Besides, Baba can't afford to feed you all.”
What she said made sense but her voice didn't sound like her when she said that. It sounded like their mother's.
“Apa, will you keep my girls with you? The eldest two? They are good kids. You have only one son. They wouldn't be trouble.”
“What are you saying? Of course, I'll keep your girls. I'll keep all of them.”
She couldn't help smiling. She knew Anisa's husband was a raging bull but he was good to kids.
“Apa, the nurse that delivered Asmah, she was there at the hospital the day Mariam gave birth. She told me she could give me work. It wouldn't pay much but I guess it will be enough to keep us together if we combine Baba's income with it." She paused, took a sharp breath before finally saying it, "I'll work. I am not going to that slaughterhouse again.”
Anisa opened her mouth to say something, to protest, but she couldn't find the words.
Tahira has been contemplating leaving that damned house for a long time now. Ever since Asmah's birth, she just wanted out but she lacked the courage. But, as Waalid broke her ribs he broke her shell too. Now, she knew what needed to be done. She'd make life fair for her girls so that years later when it'd be her girls' turn to be a mother and when the nurse would say, “A girl,” the mother wouldn't frown anymore. She'd smile with the brightness of a thousand blazing suns.
Tanjila Talukdar is a student of Govt. M. M. City College, Khulna. She is an avid reader, an ardent stargazer and a new writer who tries to put her heart in every single piece that she writes.