“Don’t Cry Like A Woman If You Can’t Stand Your Ground Like A Man!” – Tania Umar

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My father’s words resonate in my ears as I run my hand over my right cheek, remembering the sting of his hand as he struck me, not for the first time or the last. Even through the haze of twenty odd years, that day seems to stand out fresh in my mind as if memory had allocated a special part of my brain for it. Shaking my head, I take the last cigarette out of the packet and throw it aside feeling a twinge of guilt at littering but that passes quickly as I sit down on the cold, smooth marble surface. I grin at the thought of my mother seeing me now, seeing where I was sitting, her indignation, her eyes full of rage but her tongue unable to reprimand her son.

I wince as the cold begins to seep through the thick material of my jeans but decide to stay seated and start looking for my lighter instead. I fumble around clumsily, feeling my pockets for the gold-plated monstrosity with fingers stiff with cold. Frustrated, I pull off my useless gloves and throw them aside where they land in a pile of slush and continue to search my pockets before I finally locate the thing in my breast pocket. I grimace as my bare fingers touch my heart through the three layers of clothing, just a simple brush but it still sends shivers down my spine. I flick the lighter a few times to no avail before giving it a rough shake. I decide to try one more time and turn the wheel down harshly, snagging my thumb on it.

The flame bursts to light suddenly, dazzling me momentarily before I quickly press the cigarette between my lips and set it alight. I let the flame burn for a few minutes near my face, feeling the warmth defrost my face. But like all good things in life, the stupid lighter too flickers and dies as soon as I begin to enjoy the warmth on my face. Flinging it away in disgust, I hoist my legs up on the marble slab so now my feet are splayed across the white rock, the soles of my shoes just barely inching over the edge.

Closing my eyes, I reminisce about the day again. That day. That horrid or beautiful day, depending on how you see it. Taking three long drags in quick succession, I extinguish the flame against the side of the stone box and throw it away. ‘Don’t cry like a woman if you can’t stand your ground like a man!’ My father’s voice fills my ears again, almost too painful to ignore. Almost. Closing my eyes, I place my hands behind my back and raise my face towards the heavens, the stone stinging my hands before turning them numb completely. I could never cry like a woman. I hardly ever cried after that day. Always afraid of my father.I… I shake my head to clear it before I lose my train of thought completely.

Quickly sitting bolt upright I dig into my coat’s pockets. I grab hold of my jewel-encrusted ball-point pen and a pad of paper. I cross my legs and balance the pad on one knee and begin to write: ‘Lord Father, By the time you read this, it will be too late. I don’t even know why I bother to write to you but I do so more for me than for you and that’s what will keep me going until the end. Even right now, My Lord, I can feel the numbness spread through my limbs. I know what they’ll say. Hypothermia. He died because he got too cold. But I think. I think, father, that it’s only fair that my outside should be as cold and dead as I am inside.

So, here, wait, let me take my coat off. There. That’s better. Now I’ll have even less time to write. Because if there’s one thing I hate, father, or, rather, one thing I hated, it was to listen to your constant drivel. Always so full of pride. I…. I don’t know what to say. Oh, I don’t know why I have to bring you into this. I would have burnt this if I hadn’t used up your precious gold-plated lighter. Yup. I finally used it all up. You’d be proud now, wouldn’t you? Your son, your worthless son, the one who could never become Sardar like you were. The son who couldn’t even light a hookah properly, he used your precious gift up once and for all. But since there is no lighter and I can’t burn this, I might as well write ahead, eh, old man?

Father, though there are a lot of instances in my mind, a lot of questions, stupid little events I’d like to discuss with you, I won’t do that. Because as I write this, my sister prepares for her wedding. She will wake up tomorrow to a dead brother but I wonder if you’ll tell her. I like how you never approved of me but you downright hated her. What is it about women and tears that you just can’t stand? ‘Don’t cry like a woman,’ you’d say. You’d point at ammi and shake me until my teeth chattered, banging against each other until sometimes I’d accidentally bite my tongue, the blood flowing freely, staining my shirt until you’d be satisfied that you had driven the point home. DO. NOT. CRY. SON. OF. SARDAR. HASHIM.

But father, had you ever bothered to look at mother whilst you were shaking me? Probably not.It takes a special type of man to comfort a crying woman, father. A man who isn’t made of his moustache or his stark white clothing or even his pagri. My hands grow numb, father and my vision grows blurry. My body is shaking and at this time, I’ve never felt closer to being a woman because right now, I am crying but no, NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY, I couldn’t take your tyranny any day and every day. I couldn’t deflect your blows on my bare back. I couldn’t wash away the bruises and bitterness of years upon years of cruelty with saltwater from my eyes. OH CRY LIKE A WOMAN, FATHER I COULDN’T IF I TRIED.

Apa is getting married tomorrow, Abba. Or was anyway. Ahh… There we go. You thought I didn’t know. You thought it was just a foolish boy’s plea to save his sister. But father. I don’t know when you’ll read this letter or if at all but imagine a boy, packing a bag, noble and heroic for his sister, he’ll take her away. She won’t have to marry that middle-aged man. My apa, my sweet, fragile apa, apa who had asthma as a child. Who cried until I had to sedate her when she heard what you’d done. Who you’d thrown to someone else because you didn’t like seeing her. Amman was so smart, wasn’t she? Always hiding her children away in front of you. So you wouldn’t see her child grow? Grow a bosom, grow her hair out long, grow tall and feminine.

Oh, apa, apa, apa, slender apa, fragile apa, I’d count the bones in her feet when she used to get tired and had me rub them. Apa with a pale face but a smile that could light the whole village for months. Apa who won’t ever smile again, Abba. Imagine a little boy going to rescue his apa. Only to find her hanging from the ceiling. Apa who was so thin. Did you notice how much weight she’d lost? She didn’t even need a rope. Just her dupatta. She hung herself by her dupatta. I didn’t cry then, my Lord. I took her down. She was so light. Light enough that a little boy could lift her down. I lifted her in my arms for a last time. Kissed her tears away for the last time and now I’m here. And now I cry. And you can’t stop me, Abba. But, Abba, the needy boy has one final request. I’m resting with ammi right now. That’s where they’ll find me. I’m resting with ammi but put me to sleep with apa. Khuda Hafiz, Abba. You’ll need Him.’ -Another Nameless Investment Of Sardar Hashim.

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