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Mud, Family, And Walking In Your Underwear
I was four and faced with a dilemma that I don’t think was beyond anyone else’s understanding but my own. At my aunt’s house, nothing much ever happened, other than a regular game of tag until someone got hurt and we’d be put aside for time out. Once the adult who had commanded us to sit aside left, we’d be back on the run; the person who got hurt would be it this time. It was almost always me and really, I didn’t mind.
I’ve grown up in Faisalabad, which is a developing city in northeastern Pakistan. I was the youngest in the house and it wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. I have two wonderful sisters, both whom I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs with. When I turned out to be the third girl born, a couple people were rather disappointed. My parents had expected, or maybe even wanted a boy. This seems irrational because many people believe Muslim women do not get what they deserve with the exception of the fact that Pakistan is a conservative country. Women are given rights, but it is important in my country that they also get respect. This doesn’t mean that women are enslaved or forced to marry some random guy, which are assumptions I often hear. It just means men and women have their own sets of responsibilities in life. This is in fact part of our religion, Islam. If women want respect, they are to avoid being seen as a form of an object to a man. That was easily managed by living a simple life, getting married when you’re ready, be a good wife, and a good mother. Men did the working, carried on the business passed on by generations. Sometimes, people misinterpret this method. And those people don’t get anywhere with that, like I.
I came from two completely different families. My father’s side had the wealth from a cotton fabric mill that my grandpa proudly owned. I myself, got my father’s beige brown skin, rarely controllable curly hair, and his appetite for food. My mother’s side lived a simpler life and came with the women who were all cooking geniuses. With that we got a family that never stopped being dramatic. From my mother, I got the habit of taking everything personal mixed with dramatic instincts and none of her cooking abilities, just more appetite for food. In appearance, I’ve turned out to look exactly like my mother, and attained my father’s way of thinking which is constantly looking for something wild to do.
That is probably where this one wild idea came from.
From the very beginning, I was young and easily driven down unknown roads with my carefree mind. Jealousy, being my weakness, I started dressing up like my cousin, Ali. At the time, he was the only boy born in the house and got all the attention he needed from my grandfather. Seeing this, I began acting like him, and even got daily haircuts that often made women misinterpret me as a boy in local restrooms. I was really convinced that appearance was the problem. As drastic as it seems, this became a major part of my personality. I was a proud tomboy whereas I thought boys only knew how to do one thing: cause trouble. I was actually causing trouble back at my aunt’s house.
I had been outside with my cousins playing around. It was mid spring and it had been raining almost all season. The streets had been overflowing with polluted water that had gathered in the depths of the cracked roads. There weren’t many people in sight so it was easy to avoid strangers and therefore claim it our territory. The clouds were beginning to turn from pearly to a dusky gray. I’m sure a flood warning was being given out but everyone was probably watching reruns of overdramatic TV shows. I was dressed in knee cut shorts which repeatedly slipped off my waist and a black t-shirt with a logo of a green car. My shoes were blue, green, and red, which made them look like I’d borrowed them from a fellow clown.
We were playing a game of good old tag when it started to rain. It wasn’t a big deal to most sane people but for some reason we believed a myth that lightening would most likely strike whoever wore the darkest colors. I was the only one wearing black, so everyone panicked. My cousins noticed I was wearing black and bolted away from me. Everyone thrashed through the road, back towards the house. I couldn’t believe I was the youngest in the crowd, probably the tiniest of them all, yet the rest were running swiftly from me like I had some sort of contagious disease. I was so busy cursing at everyone that I lost balance and toppled over a curb, landing in a fresh squash of mud. I yelled for my cousins who reluctantly retreated back to save me. I was completely caked with mud and couldn’t move fast enough because my clothes kept sticking together in globs. We moved fast, still concerned that the lightening would strike me.
After crossing the street, we passed the opening of the house, into the foyer. My aunts ran in to dry off their children and gave me stern looks, relieved I wasn’t their child to clean up after. I was immediately rushed to the closest bathroom and told that I was going to live. Aneela and Sameena are the two girls my mother hired when they were very young, only so she could find a reason to support them for their education. They had taken care of my sisters and I since we were born and I had become the most attached, specifically to Sameena. The news spread of what had happened, and Aneela came to the rescue.
“Do you want me to take those shoes off?” She cooed at me. I didn’t show any emotion. I really wished she didn’t baby talk in such a serious matter. I unlaced what used to be my beautiful shoes. I was aware that I would be cleaned up quickly, so I didn’t bother crying. I didn’t cry when I fell either, I figured if I’d made it this far without crying, I could make it all the way through. I was peeled out of my clothes and washed down by Sameena. My hair had caught most of the mud so my head was pounding in result of Sameena rubbing Head and Shoulder’s shampoo in so veraciously. All in all, I stepped out of the shower shimmering and gleaming, glad that this was almost over.
I couldn’t wait to join my cousins and again and be able to continue the chaos. There was plenty of activity going on in an occasional gathering at my Aunt’s. Adults were sparsely divided in different rooms among the house, usually by age and rarely by interest. Kids were not locatable unless put on a leash. Food was always freshly made by workers or the hosts of the house after the guests’ arrival so people were there for more than five hours at the least. Everyone moved around way too much until it was time for the food. Eating, the only organized part of this family gathering. Adults and children were usually split and everyone watched their manners until they were too busy to notice each other. We all talked super loud, almost yelling our conversations, even though that wasn’t necessary. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of burps. At the end, everything fell into place. That was my family.
I liked this chaos but what I didn’t like was what my aunt told me next after my little near death experience.
“Dear, everyone is really busy right now and we couldn’t find time to wash your clothes. Someone’s going to be on it as soon as possible.” She knelt down and combed my hair back with her fingers and crooked a smile at me. I looked at her like she was nuts. “How about you wear my daughter’s clothes? You both are after all, the same age, you must be the same size!”
I was bewildered to hear this but before I could make my point, she trudged off into the massive army of people scrambling past us. I didn’t stop her, only because I knew if I made a scene, I would be handed to Ami, my mother. I changed my posture at Aneela and Sameena to show that I meant business if this didn’t work out. I was a lousy child, really.
“It’s going to be okay,” Sameena assured me as she smiled. I almost believed her too. My aunt reappeared with what seemed to be a stupendous pink balloon. When she got closer, it was a peach pink dress, complete with ruffles and bows. That’s when I began to cry. I cried oceans. I don’t know how long I refused to wear that dress, but a whole wardrobe that belonged to my cousin was presented for my approval. I’m pretty sure I denied a completely reasonable outfit at one point but just that image of the pink dress had been engraved into my memory and I couldn’t agree on anything anymore. My Ami had been informed of the situation and I didn’t know whether I was going to live after this one day.''
She came out of nowhere, like a hawk, with a firm look on her face.
“Put these on, now. And stop crying over a small pink dress for God’s sake.” She said sternly, handing me a purple sundress. There was no question to it, I had to put the filth on me. I couldn’t argue with that, but I didn’t grab the dress either. I leapt past everyone and locked them out of the bathroom as if that would solve the problem. I stood in my towel, studying the bathroom and wondering what the heck I was thinking locking myself in there. There was knock on the door and I took my sweet time opening up.
“Here you go, at least you have something to cover your pee pee!” Aneela’s hand stuck out through the door with my underwear. I didn’t care much about my pee pee as I did for my dinosaur but I really didn’t have a choice. “Your clothes are drying on the rails outside the living room. I don’t think they’ll be dry yet so just put on the sundress until then. You’ll look adorable, don’t worry.” She said.
And just like that, she left. I just couldn’t understand why of all words she chose to say “adorable”. Just the sound of it made me sick. I looked at the purple sundress. It felt delicate at my finger tips, with intricate flowery patterns outreaching to the frilly bottom of the dress. I grimaced at the thing. After that, I made my choice right away, following after Aneela and closing the door behind me.
It’s not that I’m so crazy to follow through with the wild ideas I think of. There’s some things I believe need a loud response, in order to be heard. I believe in, my tomboy personality and my intentions to never change it or hide it and since a young age, I wasn’t going to let one thing ruin it. It starts at one small thing right? And then builds up to another. I figured if I had worn my cousin’s dress, there was a small possibility that I might have grown into liking it. There’s nothing wrong with liking dresses or wearing them either, I wear dresses today. The difference between today and that day is that back then I might have asked for my mother to start buying me things that wouldn’t define me, such as dresses. I might have lost the person I was right then and there. I was young, but my dramatic actions such as my next decision paid off at the very end, with the personality I have today.
For the rest of the evening that day, I walked around in my underwear. I do realize how childish it is to walk in your undergarment to represent a point but I personally missed my shorts and t-shirt. That’s the day I realized, there was no way I was ever going to really belong in a pink or purple sundress.