Sisters No More
Sisters No More12 mins 221 12 mins 221
'Rabia tell me that story again.'
'That one about seeing me in the hospital.'
'Again you want to hear the same story?'
'I love that story so much!'
'From the beginning?'
'No from where that nurse handed over the pink bundle to you.'
'Ok. The nurse handed over the pink bundle to me. It was light as flower and soft like a rabbit.'
'Then what happened?'
'I held the bundle delicately, not knowing what to do with such a precious looking little bundle.'
'Then I opened its folds and realised that the most beautiful fairy in the world was wrapped up in the bundle.'
'I immediately fell in love with the fairy and kept looking at it for a very long time.'
'Then the fairy opened her eyes and looked back at me as if trying to recognise me.'
'Then she thrust her tiny hands in the air.'
'Then what happened?'
'Then I placed my index finger in her palm and the fairy quickly closed her fist around my finger.'
'Yes very tightly. She refused to let me finger go.'
'Who was that fairy?'
'That fairy were YOU!!'
‘That was me!!’ four years old Husna embraced her eleven year older sister Rabia and smothered her with wet kisses. As Rabia tried to free herself from the embrace Husna said, ‘wait I want to tell you a secret’.
‘What’s is it?’
'Promise you won’t tell Mumma.'
'I love you more than I love Mumma.'
‘That’s not a secret my fairy.’ Rabia lifted up Husna and planted a massive kiss on her cheek.
‘Not a secret? Who knows about it?’
‘Everyone including Mumma knows’
‘Doesn’t Mumma feel bad?’
'On the contrary she is really happy about it.'
'How can she be happy if I don’t love her best?'
'Mother’s are happiest when their children love each other the best.'
For a few moments Husna delved deep into contemplation then she nodded and extended her arms towards Rabia, to be lifted up. Picking her up Rabia swirled her around and Husna shrieked with fear laced excitement.
A lot had happened in the twenty five years that elapsed between that day and this. Husna was now twenty nine and Rabia was dead. Husna had all her life inherited Rabia’s hand-me-downs sweaters and pants and shalwar kurta. Upon Rabia’s death she inherited her husband as if that was the most obvious and perfectly natural thing to do. When Rabia succumbed to undetected dengue four months ago and left behind a set of ten year old twins and a distraught heartbroken husband no one asked Husna if she was willing to take Rabia’s place and bring some solace to the motherless children and their clueless father. In fact even Husna did not ask herself. The only thought that came to Husna when her father suggested the matrimonial alliance between Mansoor and Husna was of how she would dress at her wedding. Should she be the bejewelled decked up bride in red like she had always dreamed or should she be a sister-in-mourning, a reluctant bride, taking up her sister’s place in the face of dire necessity like a spare part in the absence of the original.
Husna’s father decided the date of wedding; her mother decided the dress she would wear. It turned out to be the light pink gharara Rabia had worn at her engagement and then bequeathed to Husna because Husna had taken a fancy for it. Did Rabia ever refuse her sister anything she asked for? Not ever, not once. Had Husna asked for the moon Rabia would have found a way to procure it for her. When Rabia’s twins were about to be born their relatives teased Husna that she was about to be replaced as the recipient of Rabia’s unbound affection. At fifteen years of that unsettled Husna but soon they were proved wrong. Even the birth of Zain and Zooni did not make a dent in Husna’s bastion. To her own surprise Husna soon realised that she would not even have minded been replaced by these two. Arrival of Zain and Zooni unleashed the reservoirs of selfless love Husna never knew she had. The twins reciprocated without reserve.
The moment Husna entered Mansoor and Rabia’s bedroom as Mansoor’s wife her eyes fell on a framed picture of Rabia on the side table. Ever since Rabia’s death Husna had avoided looking at her pictures for pictures renewed the ache. This unexpected appearance of this picture almost lethally sharpened the knife of permanent loss that stabbed her heart every now and then. She averted her gaze from the picture and hoped that repetitive exposure would dull the impact for there was no way she would live much if the picture continued to stab her with the same intensity it just had.
Husna was right. Barely two week had passed when the smiling Rabia by the bedside became irrelevant and ineffective. There were more pressing concerns in her life now. Rabia’s children did not like Husna’s cooking and Husna on her part could not bring herself to terms with the many peculiarities of Rabia’s husband. For one, he worked late into the night and was up before the muezzin had called out the Azaan for fajr. He expected the same from Husna who had in all her life never left the bed before seven.
‘Amma, Mansoor bhai is a workaholic, a maniac’
‘He is not your bhai anymore’
‘Yes whatever he is, my point here is that he is a maniac. He doesn’t sleep and expects me to stop sleeping too. How is that possible Amma, you only tell me.’
‘If it was possible for Rabia it is very much possible for you to do as well’
‘But I am not Rabia’
‘Then become Rabia’
While a part of her resented her mother’s statement with all its might another part of her made her oblige. She began to drag herself out of bed at five every morning not because she found any value in making lunch for kids who were sure to bring it back untouched but because for some reason she felt duty bound to transform into Rabia. Transform and bring consolation to everyone suffering from Rabia’s demise. That included her parents, the twins and Mansoor.
Of them all Mansoor was proving to be the trickiest terrain to tread. He was a man of few words and one could never tell if a thing had made him happy or unhappy. Mansoor’s sole intent of marrying her was the upkeep and smooth functioning of his household. Husna didn’t mind her ‘spare part’ status. Her own intent after all had been to bring normalcy to the twins’ life after their massive loss. She had negligible interest in Mansoor and she wouldn’t even notice his existence if he did not intrude with his occasional comments highlighting her short comings. To add salt to wounds he constantly compared Husna to Rabia. Zain and Zooni took cue from their father and Husna began to sense the dispersal of the love and affection the twins formerly had for her.
Once again Husna reached out to her mother.
‘Earlier they only disliked my cooking. Now they make a fuss even in getting up for school. They refuse to change after coming back and when their father finds them in school dress in the evening, what a look he gives me.’
‘It’s not easy for children to accept anyone in their mother’s place. Give them time’
‘But I am not ‘anyone’. I am their khala. Isn’t that why this marriage took place? To prevent them from the perils of a real step-mother’
‘That’s right, but try stand in their shoes and see things from their perspective. You have become their father’s wife within four months of their mother’s death. You have effectively replaced their mother in their father’s life. Don’t expect them to take that nicely and normally.’
‘And what about their father? Why does he have to point out my short comings all the time? Why does he constantly compare me with Rabia? See Amma this comparison, it really unnerves me.’
‘He loved Rabia so very much. He appreciated everything about her. He is so used to her. It’s only natural that he wants you to become like Rabia. I know comparisons hurt but please have patience Husna. You embarked on this daunting journey of your own volition. Now only patience will see you through.’
After hanging up on her mother Husna picked up her sister’s picture from the side table and gazed at it for a long time. She placed it back on the table when the bell rang. The twins had returned from school. Zain was in a particularly foul mood and Zooni wasn’t in good spirits either.
‘Is anything wrong?’
Something is definitely not right. Tell me what happened?
Zain went to his room without responding. Zooni followed him inside and before Husna could join them she slammed the door shut. Husna’s nose barely missed the impact of the door. That made Husna furious but her mother’s advice of patience prevented her from banging angrily on the door. A few moments later the door opened and Zooni emerged.
‘Where is Iodex?’
‘In the drawer, over there. Who needs it Zain or you?’
Zooni didn’t reply but when Husna walked into their room she found Zain lying shirtless and facedown. His back was red and bruised. Husna was aghast.
‘What happened to you?’
‘Tell.’ Husna instructed.
‘I will tell Baba when he gets back.’ Husna felt another stab of rejection but for now concern overpowered all other emotions. She gently placed a hand on Zain’s forehead. He had fever. Husna called up Mansoor in his office.
When Mansoor arrived Zooni narrated the chain of events that had led to Zain’s bruised back and even more badly bruised emotions. During the recess Zain and Piyush who was two years senior and went in the same bus began to have a discussion about who is more important between a father and a mother. The discussion escalated into a debate and the debate graduated to an argument when Piyush contended that fathers can never love as much as mothers.
‘My father loves me as much as my mother did.’
‘You think he loves you when he has done the most terrible thing to you?’
‘My father has never done anything terrible to me.’
‘My mother says that the most terrible thing that can happen in a child’s life is a step mother. If your father cared about you one bit he wouldn’t have got you a step mother.’
‘How dare you suggest that my father doesn’t love me?’ Zain pushed Piyush as he said that.
In return the two years older Piyush pushed Zain harder. He fell on the stony boundary of the flower bed circumscribing the school field. As Zain got up to his feet Piyush prepared to deal him another blow. Just in time Piyush’s his friend Sara intervened and saved Zain . As Zain turned to go he heard Sara pacifying an agitated Piyush. ‘Be kind to him. God knows what he has to bear at home with that step mom of his.’
After Zooni finished narrating the incident she looked accusingly at Husna. The look suggested that Husna’s presence was the cause of all miseries in their lives. In that moment of concentrated frustration Husna could have done either of the two things. She could have fixed a nice tight slap to each of the twins for handling the matter with such clumsiness or she could have walked away. Despite an over powering urge to do the former she choose the later.
As Husna walked out of the room Mansoor followed her.
‘Husna’ he called out.
When Husna turned around her eyes were brimming with tears.
‘Please don’t behave like a child’ Mansoor ordered, except that there was a shiver of helplessness in his ordering voice.
‘When ten year olds learn to stare like adults isn’t it only right that adults should start behaving like children?’
‘Don’t you understand that they are going through a very rough patch?’
‘My ability to understand is about to cease altogether.’
‘I think I should talk to the teachers at school.’ Mansoor said changing the subject.
‘The only people you need to talk to is your children. Talk to them and tell them to be thankful for their situation.’
‘What do you mean by ‘your children’? Are they only my children? Don’t you consider them your children too?’
‘Don’t please pick words out of context. I think it is from you that they derive all their insecurities and doubts about me. If you showed more trust and respect they would too. As for me I love them enough to waste my life with a man almost double my age.’
Although it was the last sentence that stung Mansoor like a venomous snake it was the second last that he chose to base his argument on, at the moment.
‘Are you suggesting that I don’t trust and respect you?’
‘That is what you suggest with your constant fault finding and nit picking that too in front of the kids all the time.’
‘That’s because I want you to become better than what you already are.’
At that point Husna sank into a chair, buried her face in her hands and began to sob uncontrollably.
‘I have already invested myself hundred percent with the kids. There is nothing that I can do better than how I am doing at the moment. When we meet in the hereafter I will apologise to Rabia for not being good enough for her children.’ She said between sobs.
Mansoor walked up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. Husna looked up, her teary eyes large and beautiful.
‘Please don’t cry. I am sorry I have been too insensitive towards you,’ as Mansoor spoke he placed himself at the edge of the bed by Husna’s chair and stroked back rebellious strands of hair away from her face. Husna leaned forward and allowed her head to fall on her husband’s shoulder. That moment marked the beginning of Mansoor’s transition from being Rabia’s husband to becoming Husna’s. Next morning Husna woke up not next to her deceased sister’s husband but her own.
When the kids began their usual fretting over breakfast, much to Husna’s relief Mansoor did not join them. Instead he cheerfully counted to them the benefits of eating an omelette and made them finish their breakfast.
After the kids left Husna turned to Mansoor and thanked him.
‘Thank you for the support Mansoor. If you continue to support like that I think it will not be long before the kids accept me fully.’
‘You are welcome but my support alone will not do that. If you want kids to accept you completely you will have to introspect, reflect and make concrete efforts to become like Rabia in all aspects of your life. The kids are used to Rabia’s ways. So am I’ he patted Husna on the back and walked inside the house.
When Mansoor went into his bedroom a few minutes later he saw Rabia’s picture missing from the frame. He later found it in the garden torn to pieces.