Jamilah parked her scooter in Vijaynagar Market, the most crowded street in the city where she was fortunate enough to have her shop. Every morning she drove past the questionable glances and piercing eyes of her neighbors. In this small town everyone, especially someone with a story tailing their back were well known. The hushed tones didn’t bother her as she made a habit of leaving the futile thoughts at the threshold of her shop. Deluxe Avenue – a variety shop that nestled comfortably between a bakery and a fabric store was what she considered home. The glittering blue lights around the signboard never failed to make her heart swell with pride. Deluxe was the result of many tears and fights. When her father died leaving the tiny stationery shop in a state of disarray, Jamilah was the one who jumped in and took control. Over the years, she gave the shop a new facelift by stocking unique products and attracted a different clientele. Hameed would be squirming in his grave if he knew his daughter was in charge. Although he was aware of his daughter’s bustling nature, his conservative attitude felt compelled to ignore it.
“Good morning, madam!” a voice from a group of boys nearby called out to her.
“Good morning, Ravi! Are you ready for school?”
“Yes, madam. I want to stay and help you today, but Amma said that I have to go to school.” the boy frowned.
“Amma is right, Ravi! Once you complete your studies I will give you more duties than just arranging the display. But promise me you will score good marks this term too.”
“Okay, I promise!” Ravi shouted gleefully and ran to rejoin his mates.
Priya is so lucky to have that boy, Jamilah thought to herself, if only her drunkard husband realized it.
“Good morning, Jamilah!” came a voice from the desk at the entryway. The voice belonged to Kumar Uncle, the 55-year-old manager whose help Jamilah enlisted to run the shop.
“Good morning, Uncle! So are we ready for today?”
“Yes, yes. Someone from AM Industries called me last night and said their representative will be here at 10.”
“Okay, that’s good,” Jamilah nodded “I will show you the presentation I’ve created. Did you clear out the meeting room?”
“Yes, I did. You can take a look upstairs.”
Jamilah inhaled sharply and climbed up the stairs. There were three moments in her life so far that she considered noteworthy: reopening the shop, her daughter’s birth, and her wedding. Each day had changed her life drastically. Today would go down in the list as the fourth day. A few months back at an exhibition, she had met someone who had presented her with an opportunity that was too tempting to ignore. AM Industries was a huge company that dabbled in investing and promoting small businesses. Jamilah promised herself she wouldn’t be swayed by just the promise of expansion but she would weigh her options fairly.
Just like the previous events in her life, she was exceptionally prepared for today. All her documents were in order, the presentation was on her computer, the room was clean and she had spent last night researching the company.
Just then there was a knock on her office door.
“Hey..”, Ismail entered carrying a bag of files that Jamilah had forgotten at home in her haste to leave.
“Ismail! What are you doing here!” Jamilah was surprised at her husband’s rare presence at Deluxe. Most times he left her to her own devices so she was curious about this sudden visit.
“I just felt bad about our fight and thought I’d come see if you are free for lunch later?”
Jamilah looked at her husband, and instead of the suave, young man she saw this morning she only saw a desperate man craving for company, craving for a purpose. He searched everywhere to find his purpose and always returned to his wife after many fruitless attempts. Ismail knew that no matter what he did he could always count on Jamilah. She was the stability to his fiery impulsiveness. Although he knew his wife was aware of his dalliances, he was always defensive when she brought it up.
“Don’t you have to go see the builder in the afternoon?”
“I do. But Majid Uncle is there. He said he would let me know what happens.”
Ismail’s long breaks from work never had a deadline. Majid was trustworthy enough and as long as he kept things afloat Ismail did not see an issue in letting his uncle run things.
“It’s been three months since you’ve visited the site. Three months, Ismail. Majid Uncle has been going to every one of those meetings and is returning with requests, which you keep satisfying without question. God knows how much money he-“
“Enough, Jamilah!” Ismail bellowed. “Please stop talking badly about my family.”
“I’m not! I am just asking you to-“
“You know, if you get down from your high horse and step into my shoes for a second you would know what I deal with.”
“Fine”, she held up her hands. “You do what you want to”. Today was an important day and Ismail, Jamilah decided, no matter how hard he tried, was not going to ruin it.
“I won’t say a word against your uncle, Ismail”, she held his arms “You can calm down. Thanks for bringing me these”, she said, taking the files that Ismail had brought.
Ismail let out a heavy sigh and turned away.
Jamilah knew going into this marriage that her husband needed to be treated like a child. His wild temper and fluctuating moods preceded his reputation. The family gave in to the whims and fancies of this man-child. Man by way of his vices and child by his erroneous nature. Jamilah was the only person who could handle him. No matter what mood he was in, she could mold him and calm him. Many mistook this for love but Jamilah knew that this was the only way she could survive in this marriage.
“You’re right, Jamilah. I have to keep a watch on Uncle. Even Abu was saying that his quotes were unreasonable. So I guess I should better start paying attention huh!” Ismail sat down holding his head in his hands, “It’s so hard for me to care about these things, Jay.” his voice shook.
“Or anything..” Jamilah thought.
“After Appa’s death Majid took over and I didn’t have to worry about anything. Now it’s work, construction, you, Ma, our daughter and it’s all coming down on me together.”
You forgot the college girl you’ve been hanging out with, Ismail. Remember her? Why isn’t she what’s worrying you? Or is she your comfort?
“It’s all too much and I just want to run away.”
“THEN GO!” her insides screamed. Just leave me, leave everything and please just go! I can’t take another minute of your pathetic cry for attention if you can’t help yourself, her heart pounded as it contained itself inside her. When Jamilah first met Ismail she gullible enough to think that her husband was hers and that together they would reach new heights. But every wish and hope she had on him came tumbling down the moment she saw his true nature. The storm inside her chest had been long forming. It raged and raged, gathering momentum, collecting all the injustices done to her, swirling for years, waiting to be set free.
Jamilah had been taught from a young age to internalize her feelings. Her mother always taught her that nice girls don’t retaliate when subject to disapproval.
“When Appa shouts at you, don’t talk back! Just say sorry and go.”
“If Sara maami says something nasty about you clothes, just smile.”
And then on her wedding day Sara maami, the purveyor of marital guidance took her to a corner and advised her, “Listen to your husband, ponnu. Don’t bother him with meaningless conversations. Whatever he does, it’s for your own good.”
Whatever he does, it’s for your own good.
Whatever he does, it’s for your own good.
“Are you listening?” Ismail’s voice jolted her from her daydream.
“Sure, of course, I am,” she said distractedly “You don’t have to run anywhere”, she held his hand. “With just a bit of effort, we can change things around here.”
The forced sincerity in her voice did not surprise her anymore. Sara maami was right; she was not going to bother Ismail with meaningless conversations. She would dispense her feelings and words to him, as empty as his promises were, whenever he was in need. This way she could conduct her dealings and keep her husband hanging on too. And if time allowed it, she might even be happy.
“Yes, yes, we can try”, Ismail was growing restless. “So what’s happening here?” he asked looking around. “Are you ready for your presentation?”
“Barely. AM Industries is a pretty big company. I’m not sure if I want to be a part of it.”
“Well, maybe partnering with them will give you more free time.” he said as he walked to the door.
Yes, that’s exactly what she needed. MORE free time to sit at home and wonder with whom her husband was.
“Let’s see what they say.”
“Good luck and oh, maybe we should cancel that lunch after all. I’m sure you will be busy with work. Perhaps next week.” he smiled “Bye.”
Jamilah was exhausted and it was barely 9 am. Just as she was about to look through her presentation, her phone rang.
“What do you want, Afreen?” she said wearily.
“Wa-alaikum-salam to you too, little sister. What’s the problem? Why do you sound so tired?”
“I’m not tired. Just..busy. Anyway, what do you want?”
“Do you know the date today?”
“It’s the 15th, isn’t?”
“Oh wow, I never realized it’s been what.. nine years?”
“This is the tenth year, Jay”, said Afreen quietly. “Have you called Ma?”
“Call her,” the elder sister commanded, aware of her younger sister’s bristling relationship with their mother.
Ever since she was a child Jamilah was always detached from the rest of her family. Peculiar in her dreams, and not practical as her mother would have liked her to be, Jamilah was a stranger in her own home. Her family couldn’t understand her aspirations. This more often than not brought a rift between mother and daughter, both so different from each other, yet forced to relate to each other. Her mother forced a sense of belonging, which Jamilah naturally resisted. The dreams she had for her life made her a stranger in her family’s eyes. Her aloofness was only cemented ever since that fateful day ten years ago. The disaster had ripped her family apart and none of them were ever healed again. But considering how she felt right now, Jamilah thought that maybe she was already healed.
“Yes, yes, I will call her today.”
“Okay, take care. And good luck for your meeting. Salam!”
“Salam”, Jamilah hung up her phone and walked to the calendar that hung in the corner. March 15th was circled in red.
How could she forget today? Every year she approached the month with apprehension. Her mind was in a tizzy and she couldn’t help but relive those days. The closer she got to the date; a sense of dread enveloped her. But this year was different. Jamilah didn’t feel anything, let alone remember that the day was approaching. Maybe I’m finally over it, she told herself. But is it ever possible to get over death? It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, ten years, twenty years, thirty years. Regardless of how long a person has been dead, their life leaves an imprint on our soul. And when they are gone, the imprint lingers, hidden from the surface but occasionally bursting through, until it’s our time.
But is it ever possible to get over a suicide? When death occurs prematurely and is enforced so fiercely. Was the burden they carried so heavy that it couldn’t be shared? Was the pain so intense that it cut through their heart? Was it this, was it that? If only the dead could answer these questions, then maybe we wouldn’t spend our lifetime searching for the answers.
Jamilah was too preoccupied with her own thoughts to fake concern anymore, so she made a mental note to call her mother later.
“Jamilah, he’s here!” Krishna Uncle burst into the office. “He’s early”, she gasped looking at the time. Jamilah grabbed her things and ran down the stairs to welcome the unplanned detour that would change the course of her life.