Amna’s story is one of six winning stories of the #WeToo competition, a collaboration between Stories To Action and Daastan, where young people shared inspired by COVID-19’s impact on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“Assalam-waalaikum!”, Farhan said in a loud voice as he entered.
“Waalaikum-assalam, my boy!”, Rizwaana begum replied with vigor
He placed his laptop bag at the table and walked up to his mother, lowering to get a kiss on the forehead. Sitting on the sofa, he looked at the direction of the kitchen but Fizza was nowhere to be seen.
“Farhan, your phopo is coming to visit. Now, do remember to pick her up from the airport. And when you’re done with lunch, come to my room. I have something important to discuss with you.”
His mother kept on talking as she switched channels on the television but Farhan was distracted. He couldn’t take his eyes away from the kitchen.
“Is everything alright? We can talk now,” he asked a bit skeptical.
“Somethings are to be discussed peacefully. We’ll talk after lunch,” his mother used her philosopher voice. “Oh, and I took Fizza to a doctor today”, she continued.
Farhan was now realizing the situation; Fizza had still not brought him a glass of water. Everyday, when reached home from work, it was routine for Fizza to welcome him with a glass of water. On days, that she didn’t, she was either upset from him or something had happened at home. Worried, Farhan started walking towards his room.
Fizza wasn’t in the room either. Farhan was now growing more anxious, when the washroom door opened and Fizza stepped out. She stopped in her tracks as soon as she saw him.
“When did you arrive? I didn’t realize— I’ll go get the water.” Fizza took off at speed and left the room.
But he has seen her swollen eyes and had noticed the way she hadn’t looked at him. Something serious had happened, the intensity of which was now dawning upon him.
All throughout dinner, Farhan felt Fizza’s silence. As soon as they were done, she started picking up the dishes and Farhan went to his mother’s room without stopping to talk to her.
Watching him enter his mother’s room, Fizza was more scared than ever. She knew what was going to happen. As she saw the door close, rooted to her spot, her eyes welled up again.
“Amma, is everything okay? I’m getting worried,” Farhan asked as he closed the door.
“Come sit with me, I’ll tell you the whole story,” Rizwaana begum ushered him to sit at her feet.
“Tell me already.” Farhan was getting annoyed.
“Beta, after careful thinking I have decided that I should get you married,” she said, grimly.
“Are you feeling okay? I’m already married and very happily so.” Faran was shocked at hearing what her mother was saying.
“You might be happy now but you won’t be for long. When loneliness takes over, happiness means nothing,” said Rizawana begum, dully.
“What loneliness? I have Fizza, I have you.” He was confused.
“And children?” she asked
“When God wills, He will bless us, Insha’Allah.”
“You won’t have kids; not from her atleast.” Her tone was nasty and filled with hatred.
“Why not? Look, I know you don’t like Fizza a lot but if someone’s going to be the mother of my children, it’s her. No one else.” He made his point clear.
“Oh really? She will be a mother? She’s barren! And women who are barren are hardly woen, let alone mothers!” She burst.
Farhan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He could only look on, shocked.
“I took her to the doctor today, she continued. “Got her checked. I was told that she has some disease.” She struggled to recall the name, “What’s it called, P— yes! PCOS. The doctor said Fizza can never become a mother.”
Rizwaana begum kept talking while Farhan felt like his heart was sinking. On the other side of the wall, fear, shame and pain had wrapped Fizza up in a storm. She kept crying, all the while reliving the worst memories of her past.
The class was in disarray. Some girls were trying to suppress their laughs, with their hands over their mouths; other were confused. Why did they take Amber away from the class? Fizza too was confused. She kept thinking why there were blood stains on Amber’s clothes. She hadn’t been injured. She wasn’t sick either. Question after question swirled in her mind.
“Rukhsaana’s daughter’s got them too. And Uzma, who lives in the other street? Her daughter’s been having them for four months,” Halima informed Nusrat. “I think you should take FIzza to the doctor, before people start asking questions.”
“My Fizza is still a child, Halima baji. Everything happens in its own time,” Nusrat replied gracefully.
“The time for it has passed already! All the girls her age have now reached puberty. She is the only one left,” Halima said in a cutting voice. “You have explained it to her, haven’t you? Do it on time so she doesn’t go through as much trauma.”
“I will, she’s just a kid,” Nusrat replied dully.
Fizza, who was doing her homework outside, was listening in to her mother’s conversation with Aunty Halima. She wondered what they were talking about. What was it time for? What was it that had happened to all her fellows but not her? Her innocent mind was trying hard to understand.
After the episode with Amber, the school had arranged a special class for the girls of that grade, educating them about menstruation.
“Kids, puberty is that stage after which boys and girls become adults and observe changes in their bodies. For girls, this happens between the ages of 10 and 13. For boys, it takes place between the ages of 12 to 16. Puberty becomes the reason for physical changes and affects boys and girls differently. “
“This is a normal process, which prepares the female body for childbirth. Every month, an egg is formed in the ovaries, which bursts if not fertilized. When the egg bursts, women experience their period. Blood is discharged from their body, for 3 to 7 days. Now the important thing is the discharge. Those who do not experience it cannot become mothers in the future. And a woman who cannot become a mother, is not a woman, as it is our purpose in life to further the human race.”
The teacher kept on talking while Fizza’s tried to wrap her mind around all these concepts.
“Fizza is 10 now. Not just her age mates but girls who are younger than her are getting their periods. You should really take her to the doctor now,” Naima explained lovingly to Nusrat. “Everyone has started talking now. My own Rabia got hers at the age of 10. Why don’t you take Fizza to the doctor? At least, your doubts will be cleared.”
“What doubts?” asked Nusrat
“Doubts whether Fizza is okay or not. Is she complete or has Allah—” Naima stopped.
Her conversation with Naima had worried Nusrat. She took Fizza to the doctor Naima had recommended.
Fizza was reading Quran with her cousins. There was an annual milaad at her maternal grandmother’s home, that everyone had come to attend. Some of Fizza’s older cousins were helping out in the kitchen— they had been exempted from reading the Quran on account of menstruating.
Naima’s sister who was watching Fizza read the Quran, spoke up.
“Are you reading the Quran?”
“Yes, I’m at the third paara,” Fizza answered innocently.
“Don’t you get exempted from Quran and Namaz once a month? Like Zara and Saman?” Naima’s sister asked.
“What do you mean? I’m sorry I don’t understand.” Fizza got scared.
“You do understand, don’t act so innocent. Tell me, what did the doctor say? You are a girl, aren’t you?”
Fizza didn’t know what to say. A 15-year-old had been questioned about her identity by a 35-year-old. Scared and confused, she looked around her for help. All around her were girls her age and older, who were now looking fixedly at her. Fizza was so scared that she had started shaking now.
“Get up and get out of there. Go sit with the men. You’re not a girl.” Naima’s sister spewed venom. “Come to think of it, what would you do among the men? You’re not one of them either.”
Fizza got a hold of herself and taking small steps, she exited the room. Today, in front od everyone, her identity had been questioned and she had no answer to give. Who was she? A girl? A boy? Or maybe…” Her questions were never-ending and she didn’t have a single answer.
“Fizza, beta, why are you sitting in the dark?” Nusrat turned the lights on.
Fizza kept still, with her head in between her knees. Nusrat saw her shaking and came to sit down with her.
“What happened, dear? Did someone say anything to you?” She asked lovingly, caressing her hair.
“Amma, I— that aunty—” Her words were broken and she was crying. She gathered herself and spoke.
“Amma, am I not a girl? And if I am not, then who am I? Who, Amma?”
“You are my beautiful, little doll! And of course, you are a girl!” Nusrat replied.
“No! I am not a girl! That aunty said that I don’t get exempted from Quran and Namaz once a month, so I am not a girl! She said I wasn’t a boy either. Then who am I?!” Fizza was broken.
Watching her daughter in this state, Nusrat got scared. She calmed Fizza down and asked her to explain everything that had happened. After listening to her, she realized the extent to which her daughter’s innocent mind had been traumatized.
“Hello, bhabi, how are you? How are the kids? Nusrat asked Naima, on the phone.
“Alhumdulilah! How are you? How is Fizza?” Naima replied.
“She’s doing great and with Allah’s blessing, she’s also gotten her period and has become an adult. Do inform all those around you who you have misinformed, about my daughter’s condition,” said Nusrat. “Oh, and yes. Tell your sister to never make the mistake of showing her face infront of me or my daughter in the future. She would be responsible for the result.”
“And I do pray that Allah never blesses her with a girl!” Nusrat slammed the phone without listening to Naima.
His conversation with his mother had left Farhan rattled. As soon as he came out of the room, he left the house. Watching him go, Fizza broke down. To calm herself, she prayed Isha and prayed to Allah.
“O my Lord! What test have you put upon me? I am too weak for your tests. Look, they are questioning my identity again, today. Just like your creation had once asked me about my body, my identity. They had asked me who I was. And today, the same question has again become a wall for me to face! Who am I?” prayed Fizza, crying.
“You made me a woman and today they’re asking for its prove. His mother says that if I cannot have children, I am not a woman. But You are the one who blesses those with children, whom you wish to bless. What is my fault then? Why do they always ask me? Is a woman not a woman if she cannot give birth to a child? Are children a condition for someone to be considered a woman? What if she can’t? What will that make her? What does that make me? Tell me, Allah! Answer me!”
In our society, at every stage, a woman is faced with tests. These tests don’t consider her age or status. No stage in life can be overcome without passing these tests. And unfortunately, it is women who stand up against other women and make them suffer.