As soon as Abid came to know of Humera's pregnancy he asked her to abort it. But when Humera refused he held her hand and drove her out of their house, angrily shutting the door as she stood aghast in the corridor of their apartment building. She waited there, intermittently knocking on the door, hoping for her husband's anger to cool down, but when the door didn't open even after an hour she took the stairs and exited the building. She crossed the road and as she stood waiting for an auto to pass by she saw the lights of their room go off. Her husband was going to the bed while she stood on the roadside with nothing more than the clothes on her back; he hadn't given her the opportunity to grab her wallet or phone as he threw her out of the house. His insensitivity and irresponsibility shocked her and for the first time in her life, she felt something resembling hatred for the man she had spent sixteen years of her life with. They had had their fair share of fights in the past but being thrown out of the house was something she had never imagined. That behavior belonged to the husband's of other women - the drunkard on the first floor did that, often; her friend's drug addict husband had done that soon after their runaway marriage and her economics lecturer at the university had been thrown out by her rich, sophisticated and influential lawyer husband after she refused to get him ten lacs rupees from her father. But her husband wasn't like any of these men. He was neither an addict nor a cunning money grabber with a sophisticated exterior. He was a simple hard-working man, out of job since the first covid lockdown but not one to shrink away from responsibility or give into despair. Although it was Humera who completely owned the virtues of patience, perseverance, and courage, Abid did not lag far behind. For years now the two of them had been bravely struggling against insurmountable physical and financial obstacles in bringing up two terminally ill sons - one born with a heart abnormality another with excessive mental deficiency whose diaper expenditure alone ate up almost a fourth of their income. The arrival of a third child was unacceptable to Abid and terminating it at twelve weeks of fetal age was unimaginable for Humera, who, at the doctor's sonography chamber, had heard the beats of his tiny heart with her own ears.
It was almost midnight when she rang the doorbell of her mother's house. Her arrival at that ungodly hour and her distraught condition shocked her mother and brothers. Humaira's mother, Saghira, a deeply religious woman although terribly scared about her daughter's future, supported her decision to keep the child. Her brothers united in their anger towards their brother in laws' treatment of their sister were divided on the issue of abortion. The older one, Suhail, an out-of-job school teacher, believed that his sister must immediately get rid of the baby in her womb. Even without birth anomalies, this one will be an unbearable financial and physical burden. And in case he turned out physically or mentally compromised like the older boys, Humera's life would become more hellish than it already is. Humera's younger brother, Kashif, a young entrepreneur struggling to keep alive his dwindling enterprise sided with his sister. Life, he maintained, was sacrosanct and no human had the right to terminate the life of another human.
'We aren't talking about humans here. This is just a fetus,' said Suhail.
'What else is a fetus in a human womb, with a beating heart called, if not a human?' asked Kashif in a tone that projected utter surprise at his brother's approach.
'Twelve weeks is hardly life!' exclaimed Suhail.
'It got a brain, it got limbs that move and it got a heart that beats. If that's not life, then perhaps your and mine arent lives either, because the difference in our and his functions,' Kashif said pointing to his sister's belly,' is only of degree, not of kind.'
'Do you not see how badly this child is going to affect Humera's already troubled life? Even her husband wouldn't stand with her now the way he has all along,' argued Suhail.
'Isn't Humera adult enough to decide what troubles she could bear and what cost she would pay to avoid them? You propose that Humera should become a murderer in order to please her husband and get rid of additional responsibility!' Kashif said loudly.
'Her husband is being practical and Humera is being an emotional fool like all women are and you are being utterly dramatic,' Suhail said sharply.
'An emotional fool? Really? You mean that not wanting to kill your child is foolishness?' Humera asked angrily.
'You are oversimplifying,' Suhail said
'No, I am not!' shouted Humera, 'It is, in fact, a very simple matter that insensitive, unfeeling men like you and my husband are blowing out of proportion!
And you have the audacity to equate a mother's love with foolishness when the truth is that in the hands of calculative, practical
intelligence, and logical men like you and my husband, an infant won't survive the first two weeks of its life. Yes, it's on a woman's emotions or foolishness as you call it that the survival of this species depends. Deal with it!'
Humera's outburst scared him. 'Ok, ok, let's talk in the morning,' he said gently, then quickly rose and left the room.
'What's wrong with him?' Humera asked Kashif.
'Ever since he lost his job he is spending most of his time on Twitter,' Kashif said, 'that's where he is deriving his latest values from.'
'Oh! From people who support the abortion of helpless babies but oppose the death penalty for rapists.' Humera said sarcastically.
'That's an extremely valid point,' Kashif said, impressed.
'Their moral compass is so screwed up that while rallying for human rights and women's rights they end up advocating for the more powerful party in both the cases, instead of the wronged one,' Humera said.
'You should also come on Twitter. With your logical arguments you can shut up almost anyone,' Kashif said.
Humera smiled sardonically but said nothing. A woman, she thought, who had been thrown out of her own house by her husband and could do nothing about it was in no position to shut anyone up. She felt betrayed, and foolish - for trusting the man so blindly, for being unable to foresee such an aspect of her husband's temperament even after being married to him all these years. Inability to earn, as her mother had said, made men behave strangely and irrationally. Humera agreed that it was in fact the financial uncertainty that was driving her husband insane but that did not justify his behavior in her eyes. If just financial constraints could make him want to kill his child and throw out his wife then perhaps she had been with the wrong man all along. What good is a believing man, she thought, if he couldn't face the trials and tribulations of life without breaking down? But when she said the same to her mother, she chided her for being excessively idealistic, saying that humans were made weak, they are liable to err and God forgives the repentant. At that point, Humera corrected her mother by telling her that when another human has been wronged, then God does not forgive until the wronged person has forgiven the wrongdoer. To that, her mother said that good wife don't hold grudges against their husbands, and Humera must forgive him and patch up with him immediately. That made Humera roll her eyes and sigh.
For the remainder of the night, Humera lay awake beside her mother. She didn't mull over her husband's behavior anymore. She thought of her children. What if the younger one woke up and looked for her? And what if he soiled his diaper? Her husband wasn't used to cleaning up the child. Humera thought of calling up and instructing him on how to change the boy's diaper in the morning. She picked up the phone, opened her husband's contact, then changed her mind. She wasn't prepared for any more rejections tonight. Have patience, she told herself and tried to sleep. Sleep evaded her. She saw her mother's chest rise and fall and imagined herself within her womb, secure in its warmth. Then she placed a hand on her belly to assure her child that it too was secure with her. That it would live, even it meant the cessation of their relationship with her husband. But the thought of divorce made Humera so nervous that her palms and forehead became sweaty. Her heart rate increased and she threw up.
Early next morning, Humera's husband appeared at her mother's door with his two disabled sons. Hearing her husband's voice Humera felt almost joyous. But the joy wasn't meant to last. Despite Saghira Bi insisting that he come inside and sit he handed over the children to her and left without a word. Humera hugged the children and just by looking at their faces she could tell that they had not had breakfast. At the moment Saghira Bi was visibly upset. Her son-in-law had never been so disrespectful towards her. Her husband's behavior towards her mother made Humera even angrier. Humera resisted the urge to run into the balcony and call after her husband to tell him what she thought of him - an ill-mannered irresponsible coward. But such an act Saghira Bi would definitely disapprove of. Besides if the neighbors came to know of the trouble brewing in her marriage they would come calling and enquiring. No amount of virtual sensation comes close to the sensation happening next door.
A week, then a month, and then two months passed and Humera heard nothing from her husband. The children's initial excitement at finding themselves at their grandmother's eventually wore out and they started to get impatient to get back to their house. Suhail offered to talk to Humera's husband and reluctantly Humera agreed.
But when Suhail talked to him he found him steadfast on his previous conditions - Humera could come back only after she got rid of the child in her womb. Hearing that, Humera buried her head in her mother's lap and cried. 'It's a man's world, my dear daughter,' Saghira Bi said, stroking Humera's hair.
Humera raised her head. 'No mother this is as much mine and my child's world,' she said, defiantly wiping her and promising herself to never ever cry again.