Some countries are luckier than others. Some girls are luckier than others. Some girls are luckier than others because they live in the luckier countries. I am not one of those girls. I didn’t grow up in a country where girls start school at the age of five, or where women have jobs and can make their own money. I never got the opportunity to read a book, or properly learn another language, or understand at least one of the sciences. Besides recognizing the parts of my own body, I would never be able to explain a single piece of biology to anyone. I was born in Pakistan, and I lived there for fifteen years with my mother and father until we moved to America about a year ago.
So I live in America now, but that hasn’t changed anything for me. I still don’t go to school. My job is to follow suit of my mother’s job, which means I take care of our house, cook, clean, and listen to my mother complain, mostly about me.
“If we were still living in Pakistan, you would be married by now,” she huffs, marching around me to get to the dishes.
I roll my eyes, but I have to hide it. “Well we don’t live in Pakistan anymore, we live in America now,” I exclaim, furrowing my brows a little, “and we have been for a good amount of time, I would think that you would be used to it by now.”
“So what if we live in America now!” my mother cries, lifting her face to the ceiling as if she’s talking to God. “You’re sixteen! I say it’s about time your father and I find you a good husband. You’ll finally have someone else’s house to clean,” she smirks.
I almost bite my tongue, but the words slip out just like they always do at the most inconvenient times, “If I’m sixteen, maybe I should go to school.” I mumble the last three words, hoping to catch myself before I step too close to the endless pit of my mother’s rage. It’s amazing how much anger can come out of a woman that is actually quite small.
Her head snaps around. Her eyes meet mine. She’s glaring at me, shaking her head slightly. Whenever she does that, I feel like she’s planning to put a curse on me. In that case, I feel like I’m about to be cursed quite often. “I was certain that you had given up on this ridiculous topic,” she says. “Women do not go to school,” her voice lowers, becoming more stern, “it is not right. It is not what we do. We have our rightful responsibilities. You are to do your work in the house like I have taught you, like my mother taught me, and like her mother taught her.”
I hold my temper. Raising my voice at my mother would do me no good. “All girls in America receive an education,” I explain calmly. “Here, women are encouraged to go to college and apply for jobs. They don’t have to, but they are given the choice, and many women take it. I’m not saying that you have to get a job, but I would like to, especially since I won’t get hurt for it now. I want to learn about the world, I want to read.” My supposedly strong argument comes out instead as a desperate plea.
My mother isn’t swayed at all. She raises her eyebrows, “Read,” she scoffs, “Kamila you can’t read! You mix up your letters, scrambling the words. I’ve seen you trying to teach yourself to read, but you can’t get past the first few sentences. You know what that means? That means God is telling you to stop trying.
I wince when she says that. My parents named me Kamila because it means “perfect”. Ironic isn’t it? That my name means perfect, but I’m dyslexic, which means my oh-so perfect brain mixes up letters. Mine’s a pretty serious case, but I’ll never stop trying to read. I know I can improve, but I need help. I need a teacher. Of course, my parents refuse to believe that dyslexia exists. If I can’t read properly then it’s obviously because God is sending me a message.
My frustration bubbles up and bursts open, “It’s a disorder!” I cry out, “and now that we live in America it’s not something that should be ignored anymore! I don’t want to be stuck in the house all the time, it’s not who I am. There’s so much to see and learn about the world, so many things I could do. It’s not fair that you won’t let me. It’s not fair because I’ll never be happy living the life you force on me!” My words pour out with my tears. I hate fighting with my mother like this, but I also hate having to pretend that I’m satisfied with my personal prison when I’m clearly not.
“You’re not unhappy Kamila, You are ungrateful!” my mother shouts. “Your father and I make the decisions and that’s the end of it. What on earth happened to ‘respect your parents’? Your attitude is utterly disgraceful. You think you deserve a rightful place as an American student? Well I think you should learn your rightful place as a Pakistani daughter first.”
I can’t stand it anymore. Arguing with my mother any further is a waste of energy. I don’t gain anything from it. It drains me. Her accusations dig deep into my brain, snatching any dreams I’ve ever had for myself, and toss them out into oblivion. I turn away, party because I’m embarrassed of crying, but mostly because it’s too painful to keep looking at my mother’s infuriated yet superior expression. Suddenly, I bolt out of the kitchen. I trip over my feet as I hustle up the stairs, rush into my room, and swing the door behind me.
When my father walks through the door two hours later I listen to my mother approach him immediately. They don’t even say hello to each other, they start their “daily Kamila conversation” instantly.
“Kamila was completely out of line today,” exclaims my mother, spitting her words. “She had the audacity to yell at me! To complain about how bad her life is because we won’t let her go to school. It was unbelievable!”
“School?” asks my father. “Is she still talking about that absurd idea?”
Absurd. My father thinks it’s absurd that I want to be educated. I know that it’s because of “tradition”, but quite frankly, I think the tradition is absurd. But then I hear this:
“I say we don’t let her out,” my father decides. “Who knows what she’s up to when we don’t have our eye on her. From now on, Kamila doesn’t leave this house until I say she can, and I don’t care if that winds up being forever.”
My eyes widen. My mouth hangs open. I push away from the spot on the wall where I was listening to their conversation, but my head starts to spin a little. I clutch onto my bed, forcing myself to concentrate. I search my brain, trying to figure out what to do next, trying to come up with a plan. But my mind is blank. Except for one thought. It keeps popping into my head like a mantrum. Two words over and over. Run away.
For the first time in my life, I listen to my conscience. I embrace it. The ends of my lips curl upward just slightly, because I realize that welcoming my own ideas and not shoving them away is something I’ve never done before, and it feels incredible.
“Run away,” I whisper out loud. I’ve never done anything so risky, I’ve never gone on an adventure. My heart is leaping out of my chest, ready to escape its confinement. I decide to do the same.
Forty minutes later I’m carrying a backpack. Inside it is some money, a few garments of clothing, and a small amount of food. I didn’t make an extensive escape plan. I only threw some things into my bag and wandered around my room a few times. Finally I stopped here, in front of my window. I was certain that if I spent just a few seconds longer contemplating my idea I would never follow through with it. So here I am, about to climb out of my bedroom window. So I can see the world the way I should without my parents breathing down my neck the entire time.
If I travel far enough, maybe I will discover a public school that I can enroll into easily. A public school that’s easily accessible for teens to enroll in without parent consent will not be the best school there is in America, but it’ll be the best to me. I’ll take any opportunity I can get. After waiting for so long it’s impossible for me to be picky about the school’s size, teachers, or departments. It’ll always be better than what was available to me in Pakistan, which was nothing. It will always be better than what is available to me with my traditional parents, which is nothing. I’ll take a torn textbook over nothing. I’ll take pen-covered desks over nothing. I’ll take slow computers, malfunctioning calculators, and early start-times over nothing. In fact, I’ll take them pretty happily.