- a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit.
- all the descendants of a common ancestor.
Ahmed never wanted to talk about what was bothering him. Rather, he preferred calling it the void. I thought we’d be really good friends when he took the dust off me; guess my lonely self mistook an act of basic kindness as friendship.
Isn’t that what long period of isolation and despair does to you?
Anyway, it’d be unfair to progress into this story without introducing myself. I am a part of every family: Rich or poor, progressive or orthodox. I am the silent witness to all family drama: Where boundaries are unclear and mindsets are grubby. I’m the curtain hanger.
In my long life full of enlightening and often depressing experiences in this room, Ahmed was like the Sahara: A river that had dried into a vast desert. Yet that night, as the world slept, someone tried intruding into the sandy tales he had guarded all his life: One page at a time.
The next morning, the sun was nowhere to be found. His mother was standing right at the door, a glass of milk in her hand. As he put on his glasses, Ahmed could see the heavy clouds of misery on her face. Another fight. He gestured to the study table and seemed glad when the uncalled shadow had passed by his doors. He was used to being alone. It was not what he wanted, but what he had to live with: An adult with no motherly love.
He put the thought aside and settled himself in the trusted corner of his former study table, ready to indulge himself in a bit of reading while gulping down the dairy. The howling wind made me creak, my spine aching with age and service. Ahmed pressed between pages he had hardly marked the day before. He leaned his head back and placed the book over his eyes, allowing them the solace of affection. He seemed to be in the introductory pages of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. A smile crept and the air grew thick with a tenderness that couldn’t help but make him breathe slower, deeper, and happier. So, someone was after his heart again.
Things weren’t flowery, I figured from his antics up at midnight. He’d scrolled through previous messages but made no effort to reignite the flame of connection they felt on the very first day. Quarantine was getting tougher. The next few days were a whirlwind. He was angry — repressed teenage angst bubbling along the hard surface. It all went south on the day he dreaded the most: Mothers’ Day.
His mother was there, always in the house, mostly grumbling about the lack of money. His father was everything a woman might want, but yet, he was not enough for her. His mother wanted more, she would stop at nothing. Ahmed craved the love his peers would get when their mothers came to their graduation and cheered loudly; he was a valedictorian, yet no claps or pats on the back. Instead, his mother would rebuke him for not being a source of income already.
Family was what Benazir, the girl whose name he had carved on me, lived for — it seemed Ahmed couldn’t wait to escape. Her parents seemed supportive, loving, and understanding, everything that he had never experienced in his life. He was jealous of her and everyone who was loved. Yet, it was Benazir who made him feel loved and wanted: The alluring light at the end of his tunnel of misery.
That night, he avoided her calls and texts. He didn’t call back, and felt guilty; guilty of not being there, guilty of somehow being happy that he didn’t call back because he was increasingly afraid of becoming attached to her. It was a new feeling, not entirely foreign, but somewhat forgotten. His life was so full of variables that he couldn’t make space for a constant. He drifted back to Roy’s book for comfort, but he had delved too deep and the book had lost its magic. He checked his phone again. No messages.
His sleep was already scarce when his ringtone blared at 3am. He didn’t bother checking the name because his intuition told him who it was. He, however, wasn’t prepared for what followed. Benazir had had a fight with her dad, my frail brain can’t remember the details, but as Ahmed kept comforting her, he found himself in her. He told her how no family was perfect and it seemed to echo in his mind.
“Humans, the most intelligent creatures, often underestimate how fragile and vulnerable we are. We do not realise that the notion of being ‘perfect’ is inherently incorrect, as it means ‘without a fault’; and you know who’s flawless? God.”
Chuckles from the other side.
“And so,” Ahmed continued in a hushed but audible voice, “there’s nothing called a ‘perfect family’. We, humans, love using our imagination to bring out the best and worst of every circumstance, because it feels better to be the best, even though it’s just in feeling miserable. Family is an intimate, domestic, resilient group that has survived and adapted the torments of time. The sharing of a common blood line is, indeed, an excellent incentive to stay together as a ‘unit’, and it works, well, most of the time. But it’s our responsibility to take control when we realise that family isn’t our strongest suit, and sing a song or two about the inevitable feeling of despair.”
Benazir doesn’t reply. An awkward silence prevails until she softly speaks, “So, Ahmed, do you want to meet me after quarantine?”
I could feel, I swear, I could see his spirit waver for a split second, but he soon followed up with a simple and sweet, “Yes, baby,” and like the character in Roy’s book, he too realised that there was nothing rewarding in inflicting trouble upon oneself for arbitrary things people had no control over. What better way to feel that than through the complex dynamics of a family, where sometimes love is scarce and at other times bountiful?
Sarika Saiyara likes to describe herself as “a glowing ball of passion and persistence”, and devours conversations on anthropology and physics.