One of my earliest memories is from when I was about a year old, wriggling to try to escape my mother’s arms as she held me close to her chest. We lived in my grandfather’s house at the time, and it was the biggest house we ever lived in. It was a three bedroomed house. My grandfather took one room, my uncle, aunt and their two daughters took the other room and my widowed aunt and her son took the third room. My father would sleep on the couch, and my mother, my five sisters and I would sleep on a charpai outside. As the youngest, I would sleep on my mother’s chest. I recall constantly reaching for the door to go inside, even at such a young age I seemed to realize the injustice of making my mother and asthmatic sister sleep outside in the heat, mosquitos surrounding them. I’d reach and wriggle all I could, but my mother held me close, making sure the door was out of my reach.
When I was six, my grandfather died. The only two male blood relatives of my grandfather, my uncle and my cousin, got nearly all of the inheritance. After my grandfather’s passing, my uncle and aunts completely turned the other cheek, evicting us from the house. My mother sold the little jewelry she had, and we managed to buy a small two bedroomed apartment. My parents would sleep in one bedroom, and we six sisters would all cram into the other, staying up late and telling each other stories. Those were probably the best years of my life. Despite all the social implications of sending girls to school, my parents were determined to educate all of their daughters. My sisters and I slept together on one king sized bed, and I recall climbing out of the bed in the middle of the night and trying to open the door to get to my parents’ room. My eldest sister would scold me and bring me back to bed before I could ever get to the door. They began making me sleep on the opposite side of the bed, next to the wall, so I couldn’t escape and wake my parents. I’d always try to escape nonetheless, but it was futile. My sisters made sure the door was out of my reach.
When I was twelve, I fell ill with the flu. I had a raging fever and my father convinced my mother to allow me to skip a day of school and stay home. I had just finished my glass of Sprite and ORS when my mother found out. I heard her fall to the floor, staring at the TV in shock, weeping endlessly. The TV was opened to a news channel, and the newscaster was speaking of a bombing in Lyari’s charity school- the school my sisters and I attended. My eldest sister was the only one to survive, but I had a feeling a part of her had died that day too. My mother had seemed to dissolve completely. My sister would do nothing but study, sleep and stare at the wall. All my mother would ever do was pray and cry. My father would stop coming home early. He would no longer bring us home gulaab jamuns on Fridays. Eventually, my father decided we had to move. Over the years, my father had collected some money, and we earned a bit more from selling the apartment. We bought a three bedroomed apartment. I was given the smallest room, and my door had a lock only at the very top of it. As much as I wanted to lock myself away from all the pain and tears and suffering in my house, wanted to lock myself away from my mother’s sobbing and my sister’s blankness and my father’s silence, the lock on my door was just out of reach.
At age sixteen, my mother developed coronary artery disease as a result of her high blood pressure. We ignored it as much as we could, unable to afford treatment, but when she had her first heart attack, my father put his life savings to put her in the hospital and save her. My sister and I stayed the night with my mother at the hospital. She only had to stay overnight one day. My father was on his way to the hospital after work to take us home when a truck slipped on the uneven road. The crash killed fifteen people. My father was one of them. My mother’s condition rapidly deteriorated when she heard of what had happened. She flat lined the next day. As soon as their funerals were taken care of, my sister and I sold the apartment and bought yet another apartment. This one had two bedrooms. My sister was twenty one at that time, and had already begun to study at one of the city’s best colleges, having gotten a full scholarship. I was still in a charity school. This was the time when I prayed. Constantly. Prayed for forgiveness for not being a better child, not being a better sister. Prayed for help for me and my sister, two young women living alone, unemployed. Prayed to thank God for everything we’d been given, to thank Him for giving us parents who had educated us. Prayed for the sake of praying, prayed to distract myself from the reality of the situation. I prayed for help, and help I received. My sister was given a job at the college library, and I managed to get a job tutoring younger children at my school. We didn’t earn a lot, but we earned enough. My sister and I were closer than we ever had been, yet I don’t think we’d ever been more distant. We never spoke. We rarely ate. We didn’t even seem to be alive, we just went through the motions. My bedroom door had two locks on it. I locked them both, needing to be alone. After all, why would I not lock them? They were within reach.
Slowly, very slowly, over the course of years, we healed. We both got married, though we never moved apart. We stayed in the same apartment, our husbands moving into the apartment with us, something that was considered utterly unheard of at the time. My sister and I continued to work. Eventually, I stopped keeping my bedroom door locked. A few years later, I couldn’t keep my bedroom door locked anyways. My niece would constantly be running into my room at night and cuddling into me and my husband, complaining that her parents’ weren’t warm enough. It was at the age of twenty nine that I finally realized. I was happy. I no longer ever locked my bedroom door, despite the lock being right within reach.