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Shackles made of gold

Ambreen Hamadani

She sat in her plastic chair delicately, as if ensuring it would not break under her weight, knowing fully well that she was more fragile than her chair. A soft cool breeze blew about her, more freely than she ever would have dared. The croaking crows and the chirruping sparrows made her want to sing too but she was unsure of her tune, having never tried in years. Today was just like the many other days of her life; she sat in her pretty little lawn, not moving a muscle, while other people galloped about on their horses. The only active part of her body was her brain; a little too active in her opinion, for she tried to silence its mutinous mutterings without success.
Why was she here, she asked herself again for a millionth time and knew the answer almost instantaneously- there was nowhere else to go. She was trapped within this magnificent cage. Just as her body was trapped in the house she would not leave; her spirit was trapped in a body that refused to agree with anything she said. Silently, she took the first sip of her coffee. A strange warmth passed over her body as if she had swallowed a ball of fire. Her mind became more organized now.
She looked up at the flock of pigeons flying overhead and wondered where they were going. This made her marvel at the number of possibilities that lay untouched at her feet. If only she could summon the strength to lift them up, throw them in the air and watch them skyrocket.
She had never been ready for this, but the decision to get married had not been hers anyway. She had never been asked whether she wanted to do it or not. They had all loved him and had unanimously said yes on her behalf. Their qabool hai had drowned all her assertions. He was everything that a perfect guy could be. Her brother had ever compared him to Mr. Darcy; rich, famous, and kind-hearted. He sure was everything that any girl would look for in a husband. But she had not been looking for one at all. He had been forced upon her at a time when she was looking for a superhero within herself.
She took another sip of her coffee. It was starting to get cold. The chill was freezing her fingers and feet. She shivered slightly but did not move. The chilliness outdoors was nothing compared to what she felt when she went inside the house; her new home. She looked at her hands and the gold bangles they were shackled in. She hated bangles, but he had insisted on her wearing them. He thought they made her wrists more lady-like. Her skin was dry and cracked.
“Why don’t you look after yourself?” he had told her this morning. “You are such a beautiful creature. Show your gratitude to God for making you beautiful by maintaining yourself.”
The gift of beauty which needed to be maintained! She had internally sneered at his idea of nurturing a gift. He had not meant any harm, but she wondered why he did not admire her other gifts. He had generously offered that he had no objection if she wanted to pursue higher education provided, she would not neglect her domestic duties. She wondered how he would feel had she shown this kind of generosity in allowing him to pursue his dreams on her terms. His objection to her not playing cricket anymore, was reasonable, as all her wise relatives often reminded her.
“It is a man’s game. Frolicking a little before marriage is fine, but to make a career out of this sport after marriage is funny. Don’t you think?”
She wanted to say no. She wanted to tell them that she did not think so at all but didn’t say anything. Her application for team selections for Ranji Trophy never left her bedroom and that was the end of it.
However, her benevolent Mr. Darcy had, in his ever so generous gesture, told her more than once to not waste her time at home. She should get a decent job or even start her own business. Amused, she had asked him with a straight face what business he thought was appropriate for a married woman who could not neglect her domestic duties. He had told her equally seriously that opening a woman’s boutique was the best job. She had cringed at the idea. The adventurer within her had wanted to slap him, but she had let silence ring within the room instead. To make her change her interests, he had brought her dress materials (of his choice) to show her that the real grace of a woman lay in behaving like one, wearing beautiful dresses and looking pretty. She had yet again swallowed the retort that if he had some perfect woman in mind, that perfect model of femininity, he should have married her instead.
Mr. Darcy was in office now and her story was mundane, she knew. For many months she had done nothing remotely interesting, though she had never neglected her domestic responsibilities. Her neighbours and friends were perfectly satisfied with her behaviour and rated her a first-class wife. Most people believed her to have turned over a new leaf under the influence of her charming new husband. He brought her gifts, gave her freedom and never hit her. She was indeed very lucky.
“But I return his gifts, cook for him free, give him real freedom and do not hit him either. Does that not make him luckier?” she had wanted to say. They would have been horror stuck had the words, that never left her mouth, reached their ears. But she had just smiled.
Her coffee was cold and her reverie almost over when a crow got stuck on the high-tension wire running near the house. She looked as it struggled to break free, doing nothing to help. Nobody was helping her, why would she help anybody? She thought the creature should be grateful that there had been no electricity since morning or it would not have survived at all. After all, people kept telling her to be grateful too. For a long time, the creature croaked and writhed, and she watched it. It was as if she and the bird were the only creature left on earth and everything else was a blur; a distant dream. She saw herself perched on the wire. The only difference was that she had given up struggle. She wanted to laugh at the bird, tell him to stop trying. It was so useless to struggle against the hurricane of life.
After what seemed like an eternity, the crow broke free. It’s claw was bleeding, but the wings were powerful and strong. As it geared up to take flight, it glanced her way.
“Why are you reproaching me? I didn’t do that to you!” she laughed. Her voice seemed odd. When had she last used if to say things she felt? She did not remember. Her own voice made her wonder if she threw her relatives and friends the same reproachful look, wouldn’t they respond in a similar manner?
“We didn’t do that to you. You brought it upon yourself.”
It was her silence that had given them permission to distort her story. It was only after she sat on the back seat, had they taken the steering wheel of her life. She emptied the remnants of her coffee into a flower bed and rose from her chair to her full height.
When her generous husband returned that evening, he looked at his house with satisfaction. Bed made, tea ready and everything sparkling. His wife had neglected no duty except one; she had not asked for permission before leaving and had left the gold bangles behind. It was time to break free and take flight.


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