Chapter 1 “No no no! Please, I am unwell today. Have mercy on me.” “Save your tears for some other time sweetheart. I ain’t going to budge. So, it would be simpler for both of us if you just cooperated.” The antique silver rimmed alarm clock buzzed with all its fury at 7 am. It was the same nightmare again and again. And her reality too! She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all of seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse. Shoving the cat aside, she got up from her otherwise beautiful bed which was now completely blood stained. She wobbled to the mirror and examined her face. A black eye adorned it while her mouth was caked with dried blood at the corners. Her jaw still hurt and she cringed due to the pain. “How on earth did I let him do this to me? And that too for all these years?”, she questioned herself and a feeling of disgust engulfed her immediately. The previous night’s incident was a still a haze to her. She remembered smashing a vase; one of her favourites, on his head after he gave her a blow on the jaw. She had almost blacked out but, managed to hold on till she did some damage to him. She wasn’t going to break another promise which she made to herself. She raised the vase high up in the air and with all her might landed it on his head. There was a trail of blood leading to the entrance. “Maybe he escaped soon after or better yet, must be dead somewhere on the streets. That sounds exciting”. The thought of having killed him gave her a sadistic pleasure and she couldn’t help but, break into a smile. “But first, let’s get this mess sorted.” She got into the shower and washed herself off the stains on her body and her soul. Ashima was liberated! Chapter 2 Ashima was a simple, timid girl belonging to a middle class orthodox Muslim family. She was conditioned to revolve her life around studies and helping her mother in the household chores which would automatically honour her with the title of a good housewife. She had barely graduated and was already flooded with alliances for marriage. One of her father’s colleagues at the bank had taken it as his life’s only purpose to get Ashima hitched. Every now and then, he would come up with a new alliance. “Firoz ji, your daughter is very beautiful. I have a cousin who stays in the USA and his family is looking for a match for him. If you agree, I can fix up a Skype meeting with them. Your daughter will lead a luxurious life like every other person in America.” Firoz had dismissed most of his proposals giving him various reasons but, he had started realising that it was time for his daughter to marry. He gave it a thought and the next day told his colleague to arrange a meeting with the boy’s family. “You will absolutely not regret this decision Firoz ji. Your daughter will rule. She will have all the world’s riches at…” and Firoz cut him off mid sentence. “Enough Mr. Hussain, it’s just a meeting. I will decide only after speaking to them. You don’t need to be so melodramatic.” The meeting was fixed on the following Sunday at 8 am indian time, keeping the time zones in mind. Firoz invited Hussain for breakfast as he was an integral part of this set up. Firoz had borrowed Ashima’s laptop and had a Skype account created the previous night. Curiosity was getting the better of both Ashima and her mother but, they did not dare to ask Firoz about it. They never had such conversations. Rather, they rarely had any. Firoz decided and both of them quietly obeyed. It was the norm of their house. Women were always kept away from important conversations. Soon enough, the meeting commenced. On the other side were the boy’s parents – the father and mother sitting on the couch of a swanky, well decorated living room. Firoz quickly scanned the house, or whatever little of the house he could see through the medium sized screen. The thought of conversing with the boy’s mother didn’t go down well with him. “Women should not be involved in such affairs”, he murmured in a low voice but, brought back his focus on the screen again. “Maybe that’s how it works in America”. His mind was racing and he had already labelled the boy’s father as ‘hen pecked’. Hussain, looking at Firoz’s hesitation took over the conversation. He exchanged pleasantries and introduced both the parties. They started discussing about all the topics that mattered like their origins, the family name, their business, their son’s education etc. The boy’s mother seemed a little too over enthusiastic to show off their house and swirled the screen across the house from time to time. “Show off”, Firoz mumbled. He learnt that their family had been settled in Chicago from the past thirty years and they rarely visited India. The boy, Ashfaque had completed MBA and he too, had joined the family business. They were financially well settled and against all the other qualms that Firoz had, this one thing had mightily impressed him. “We do not want anything from your end Firoz ji. We have everything with Allah’s blessings. We just need a well mannered, cultured girl. There is a dearth of these kind of girls nowadays”, Ashfaque’s mom was going on and on. She finally stopped and said that they liked Ashima and Firoz could think over and revert if they were interested. Hussain had a hearty breakfast and left Firoz to his thoughts. After alot of reconsideration, he decided to go ahead. “The mother talks too much but, Ashima will at least be financially sound.” Ashima and her mother were then notified and much against Ashima’s will, the dates were fixed. She had a million questions in her mind but, was unable to conjure the courage to speak up in front of her dad. She even wanted to study further but, in her heart she knew that none of that would happen. So, with a heavy heart she embraced her uncertain future and got married. Chapter 3 She shifted to America a few months later. A new place came with a promise of new beginnings. But, unfortunately for Ashima that wasn’t the case. She was in for a rude shock as soon as she entered the plush villa. The house rules were laid out before her and she was expected to follow them without uttering a single word of objection. Even then, she held on to her hopes and thought that Ashfaque will shower her with all the happiness in the world. Little did she know that she was in for a bigger shock. Ashfaque was a raging alcoholic and spent most of his time drinking and the rest of the time laundering his dad’s money. He mentally and physically abused her every night and none of the inmates came to her rescue. One fine day, Ashima broke down. She never expected to land into such a mess. Worse yet, a month after her arrival, her passport was confiscated and was kept hidden. She wasn’t allowed to talk to her parents and to her surprise, her parents too dint bother to get in touch. She was completely cut off from the social circle. The entire family went away over the weekends to attend various high profile parties or for stay overs or picnics but, she was never taken along. Most of the time, she was never informed as well. The rest of the house help had also been given strict instructions to avoid any kind of unnecessary interaction with her. So in a house bustling with people, Ashima still felt terribly lonely. In the meanwhile, her relationship with Ashfaque was deteriorating. There were months when she only saw him in the middle of the night, lying next to her, completely passed out. And then there were days when he did show up surprisingly early, only to force himself on her and beat her mercilessly. Ashima had reached a point where his absence was more welcoming to her. Chapter 4 Months dragged along and she had completed 5 long years in this futile relationship. On their fifth anniversary too, she was alone just like the previous ones. After having a third cup of an extra strong coffee in a failed attempt to get rid of the hammering ache in her head due to the recurrent nightmares, she sat and pondered over these 5 years. “It’s extremely disappointing that I don’t even have a single memory to cherish”. A stream of tears started flowing down her face. The nightmares had begun a year after the marriage. After a few hours of crying incessantly, she straightened herself and stood near the small window of her room which overlooked a beautiful meadow. The peace, the serenity and the calmness of the rippling water was very inviting. At that precise moment, she vowed to exit from her meaningless life. “I’m not sure how it will work out or how am I going to pull it off but, I have to do something for sure. And the first thing that I need to do is to get hold of my passport.” She tried on various occasions to rummage all the closets and shelves in the house which were accessible to her but, failed in every attempt. She had no clue as to where her passport could be. But, she dint lose hope. The last place left was her in laws’ bedroom. Her gut strongly told her that it was hidden there. She just had to hatch a plan to break in. A few more weeks passed in her unproductive life in the mundane household chores but, when she was alone, Ashima’s brain was ticking continuously. She jotted down the various ideas that were popping in her head to execute her escape and that’s when fate opened its doors. Her mother-in-law stormed into her room and announced that she and her husband were going away for the weekend to Europe to one of their relative’s places and ordered her to pack their luggage. It was a beach party. Beach parties were very common in her husband’s family. Especially at the onset of summer the entire family went to soak in the warm, welcoming weather. Ashima never understood this concept as she was born and bought up in India, a place where there was an abundance of sunlight which was not at all celebrated. With a smile that portrayed sarcasm, she sprang up from the bed and went to pack. This was one trip where Ashima dint feel the regret of not being taken along. That night she dint have a nightmare. In fact, it was the best that she slept in those 5 years. She had secretly started planning everything and was going to escape the same night her in laws left. And to her luck, she also chanced upon her passport which was safely hidden in her mother-in-law’s Victoria Secrets lingerie drawer. She made a humongous effort to control her laughter when she saw the skimpily clad two piece beachwear sets which her mother-in-law had asked her to pack. She imagined her short and stout mother-in-law in the attire and another bout of laughter overtook her. Keeping her thoughts aside, she quickly finished packing, picked her passport, slipped it in her jeans’ back pocket and left the room to pack Ashfaque’s bags. Chapter 5 The next morning was a very eventful one. Ashima woke up at her usual time and as she left her bed, Ashfaque grabbed her by her waist. This time his touch was different. It was delicate and passionate. He sat in front of her and apologized for his behavior assuring that he will change and win her heart. Saying that, he gave a peck on her cheek and went for a shower. Ashima was shell shocked. This was totally uncalled for. Here she was, waiting to execute her fool proof escape plan and this revelation happened. “Why are you putting me in such a fix god? Now what am I supposed to do?” Though she was confused, she didn’t completely abandon her plan because trusting people dint come easily to her after her experiences. Ashfaque returned to their room and told her that as a first step towards making up, he had arranged for a party at their place on Saturday evening and Sunday they would be together all alone in the house. He grinned and said, “I have given a day off to the entire staff. I want it to be just you and me. I have a lot of things planned. It would be the perfect summer weekend.” Ashima’s world came crashing down. She was supposed to flee on Saturday and yet, she was reconsidering staying back as she was starved for love and she could see a small spark of it now. She thought over it the entire day and decided to stay back. Everything began on a perfect note. Her in laws left in the morning and at 7pm, the guests started pouring in. Ashfaque introduced her to all his friends and their wives. Something which he had done for the first time and Ashima was all smiles. She was the perfect host; interacting and making everyone comfortable. In the midst of all this, she also noticed a few odd looking men. They were dressed in the finest suits, yet there was something weird about them. Ashfaque didn’t introduce them to her and she too didn’t make much of it. The party wrapped up and almost everyone except for those few men had left. The staff too, took leave to enjoy their day off. Ashfaque told Ashima to wait in their bedroom for him while he had to discuss some things with his business associates. She obliged and did as he said. She went to her room, changed and waited for him eagerly. An hour had passed and there was no sign of him. After a few minutes, the door opened. It was one of Ashfaque’s business associates. “I’m sorry, Ashfaque isn’t here. You have come to the wrong room”, she said now getting a bit tense. “I’m at the right place darling. Your stupid husband lost all his money to us and has traded you to repay us. I loaned him the most so, I get to go first and then there are three more waiting outside.” Ashima froze. She felt all the pent up emotions coming back to her at once – hatred, betrayal, anger and helplessness. She realized that all this was a farce. ‘This’ was the real motive. To win her trust and then exploit her. The tall, medium built man started advancing towards her, slowly undressing himself. Ashima didn’t know what to do. Her senses started numbing and she was rooted to the ground. The man reached close, grabbed her waist and pulled her towards him. At that precise moment, out out of nowhere Ashima screamed, pushed him, picked a pen from the stand and jabbed it in his eye. He wailed in agony and ran out of the room. Ashfaque was in another room alone, enjoying his drink when he heard the ruckus outside. He gulped the rest of his drink in one go and went out. One of the men was shouting something illegible and all of them left. Furious, he stormed into the room where Ashima was curled on the bed wailing inconsolably. Without any warning, he removed his belt and started whipping her. Ashima took a few whippings and then got up, tall as ever. With the pen still held tightly in her hand, she jabbed it straight into his chest. Ashfaque roared in pain and fell on his knees. After that followed a terrible bloodbath and when he couldn’t take it anymore, he gave up and started to leave. He never thought that his docile wife would turn into a demon overnight. His head was bleeding profusely and he knew that he will not survive this one. Cupping his injured head, he stumbled and fled for his life. Ashima too, fell on the bed unconscious. Her wounds were too much but, she had decided to not endure any more of this torture. She awoke in the morning and cleaned up. It took a few minutes to gather herself but, once that was done she was clear in her head. She picked up her bags which she had kept packed, just in case things went wrong, went to her mother-in-law’s room, gathered enough cash to purchase a flight ticket and left the godforsaken house forever. Once at the airport, she settled down at a cafe and bought herself a few sandwiches and a coffee. It dawned on her that she had hardly eaten in the past few days. After wiping up the plate in a few seconds, she proceeded to complete the check in formalities. Once she boarded the flight, she was finally at peace. She was clueless about what she was going to do when she reached India but, was determined to figure things out. She had decided to not go to her parents as she knew they would never help and they could not be trusted if Ashfaque’s family contacted them. She wanted no one to know about her whereabouts. With all these thoughts, she drifted into a deep, peaceful sleep and woke up only when the plane touched down at Mumbai. Taking in the beauty of the airport, she hailed a cab, went straight to the Haji Ali Durgah and sat there for a long time. Her dad used to take her there whenever he was stuck in his life and wanted answers. She too prayed and kept her faith that something will surely work out. She was finally free! THE END. This blog is a part of a lovely birthday blog train hosted by Neha and Gunjan. I would like to thank Amarjeet for introducing me. You can read her blog here. It gives me utmost pleasure to introduce you to Zainab. You can read her superb blogs here.