A gentle breeze blew across the rooftop, ruffling my hair. I hopped on to the boundary and swung my legs to the other side. My feet dangled twenty stories above the streets. I embraced the adrenaline rush. This building was the tallest in town, which gave me the opportunity to watch the sun set over the horizon, and city-lights twinkle into existence without any grey structure blocking my view.
I had lived in Semira for twenty-two years, and was considerably attached to the town. It was almost perfect for post-retirement settlement. It was home to a beautiful park, ideal for a rendezvous. There was a Public Library, run by a seventy-year-old gentleman who kept a separate recommendation list for avid readers, so they could discover new books. If there was anyone who tainted the warm temperament of the town, it was the family that lived in a small, blue house on Walter Street: a married couple and their daughter. The parents were cold, rigid and controlling, too traditional in their understanding of the world. Laughter was amiss within the blue abode and tension a constant.
I was their daughter.
I had not stepped out of the house till age six. Upon succumbing to social pressure, my parents enrolled me into school. It dawned on me that my peers’ parents were nothing like my own. The six hours spent in school, six days a week, were an escape from what I had come to understand was a strict, inhuman lifestyle. Had the school not allowed older students to travel to the Public Library during Recess, I would never have been introduced to books.
Initially, I tried to make my parents see reason. I believed I could assist them transition into a new lifestyle. I failed.
My cultural education is the result of my mates’ attempts at preventing my transformation into my parents. I was careful to not let what I learnt at school, be visible at home. My parents believed they were raising their child right.
The misunderstanding cleared away, when, after finishing school, I asked them if I could pursue a degree in Journalism. If the School Principal had not feigned how significant college education would be for marrying into a decent family, for my sake, my parents would never have agreed.
Now that the last semester of college had begun, my anxiety about my future, under their reign, had reached unbearable levels. I wanted to leave and go someplace they couldn’t watch me. When I expressed this subtly, it was not received well.
I wiped away a tear. My heart felt heavy, and my shoulders slumped. I wanted to scream. “May I join you?” I would have been startled into falling off the building, had I not expected the arrival of the speaker. I nodded and a girl my age sat next to me, her wrongly-knotted blue sneakers almost touching my black sandals.
After a moment of silence, she asked, “Shazia, what did he say?” I studied her. Even in the twilight, I could easily make out the startling green eyes that had caught my attention at the Public Library. The worry and love in her gaze made me ache. Looking back at the cars whizzing past each other, I said, “He said he’d buy iron chains and lock me in my room, if I objected to his plans for me.”
She did not say anything. She could always sense when someone wanted to vent and would not say anything until they were done. I loved her for this. I continued, “I couldn’t even bring myself to tell him that I wanted to go to New York, study some more and then, work for a newspaper. He wants me to actively search for an acceptable guy. The sooner I settle down, the sooner I will be able to grow accustomed to being a… homemaker. I would finally do them proud. After everything that I have achieved, starting a family will make him proud.”
I held back a sob. “I have dreams. I want to reach for the stars. I want to live a life where I do not need to beg my teachers and my friends to shield me from my parents. They keep holding me back. The cord is pulled taut.”
Fatima tapped her fingers against the cemented platform. “He feels powerful, when he holds the reins to your life. Emancipating you would mean losing the fuel to his ego. There are no right or wrong answers here. You need to ask yourself what is important to you.”
It required no thought. “Writing is important to me. You are important to me. But, how do I choose between what I want, and the ‘happiness’ of my parents?”
“Babe, do you want to spend the rest of your life in control of the people whose happiness is not in yours? Don’t live your life for someone else. Live it for yourself. You’re too good to shoot down your dreams, because two individuals, any two individuals, do not agree with them.”
“What about Semira?”
“Semira would understand. Your parents will not.”
I knew she was right. But I did not know how to face them. I was afraid of what they might do to me. I leaned slightly, putting my head on her shoulder. “What if he tries to hurt me?” I felt Fatima stiffen.
“Do you think I would let him?”
We sat on the roof for a long time. Making up my mind, I raised my head and in one quick motion, got off the boundary wall, my boots landing softly on the rooftop gravel. “Will you help me plan it?” Fatima smiled.
She jumped down, next to me and kissed me. The reassurance in the kiss revived me enough to go back home. “A few more days. A little more planning. We’ll run that way,” she pointed Westwards, “and keep running…”
“…till our dreams find a worthy home.”
This work has been published in Beetle Magazine's August 2020 Issue.