and Nothing to be done about it — Noor Us Sabah Tauqeer Ahsan

Rosary beads, in Feroza Bibi’s house, usually came out for two reasons: for prayer in life, and for prayer after death. When praying in life, they asked for peace in death. When praying after death, they asked forgiveness for life. Today, however, Feroza Bibi’s fingers spun bead after bead, and not for life or death. Feroza Bibi was hard at prayer for what lay in between: puzzlement.

For days she had observed, while rolling out chapatis and doling out gravies, the states of her daughter. There she was, the daughter, crying to herself in a corner. There she was, the daughter, red in the eye and heavy at heart, making her way to work. There she was, the daughter, standing in the kitchen as if she wanted to say something, but didn’t.

Feroza Bibi wondered what it was. Was it one of those depression things the people on TV talked about these days? What could possibly be wrong in her daughter’s life? Feroza Bibi wondered and wondered. And when she could wonder no more, she brought out her rosary beads, and began praying.

Sometimes, the daughter sat next to Feroza Bibi, angling as if yearning to get in a word. No word was got in, no angles were angled. But prayers were made. To and fro, back and forth, whip and lash, Feroza Bibi swayed on her prayer mat every night. “God,” she said, “please make my daughter’s unhappiness go away!”

When, over a course of some three months, her daughter could still be heard crying in corners, awake through the night, nibbling at her food, Feroza Bibi decided she had had enough. No mother could see her daughter weep and waste away her young life. Feroza Bibi fetched, from a drawer daily dusted, the velvetiest prayer mat she had saved (from that time Qudoos bhai went for Umrah) and from the fridge a beautiful bottle of Zamzam (from that time Shamim bhai went for Hajj). Every day, she was hard at prayer for hours on her mat. Every day, she exhaled these prayers into the Zamzam. Every day, she made her daughter drink the draught.

“Do you,” Feroza Bibi asked her daughter one day, while portioning out Zamzam, “have any tension?”

“Mama…” the daughter said. And thought for a moment. And thought for many moments. And said nothing more. The daughter sighed. And sipped. And sighed. Mama. That was her first word and last.

“Well,” Feroza Bibi said, “stop having too much tension in your life. Every day I pray for you.”

Feroza Bibi watched her daughter sip and sigh and say no more, lips atremble, eyes awash. This made Feroza Bibi’s heart as heavy as her daughter’s, and she wished something was to be done about it.

“God,” Feroza Bibi said to God in a prayer that night, “Please make my daughter’s tension go away. Give her peace.”

The next morning, she found her daughter in bed, dead. It was a scandal. The rosary beads came out, the Zamzam was bottled again, the evidence of suicide was concealed. But word got out. Word always gets out, and sometimes angles also get angled. So they were, all these angles: Feroza Bibi’s daughter killer herself over a boy, tauba tauba. Feroza Bibi’s daughter was depressed, Astaghfirullah. Feroza Bibi’s daughter had been possessed by a djinn who kidnapped her soul because he wanted to marry her, La hol Walla!

Feroza Bibi herself had no words in her, no angles, no prayers. Suicide was forbidden. Those who did it went to hell. Should she pray for the departed soul—the parted daughter? Was there nothing to be done about it? Had she not done her part—not done enough?

“If only,” Feroza Bibi said to anyone who would listen, “if only I could talk once. I have so many questions. If only I could talk once.”

“To your daughter?” they would ask.

“To God, of course,” she would answer. “To God.”

Noor Us Sabah Tauqeer Ashan s a writer-translator from Pakistan. Her children’s novel A Quest with Kaaf was published by the Oxford University Press Pakistan in 2020, and she is currently working on literary translations of texts from Urdu to English. Her work has appeared in Karachi University-based literary magazines Zau and The Falconer, and her poetry was published by the English Department at Karachi University in a recent anthology. Twitter: @the_nust