The Unborn Daughters - Bakhtawar Tayyab
Updated: Sep 28
Nita took a slug from her 7up bottle that she had refilled with water a few many times as she scurried up and down the narrow corridor of the Doctor’s Plaza. She weaved her way through the creaking desks, clutching the corner of her muslin dupatta tightly into her fist, her nails digging deep into her skin as she constantly muttered a prayer. The pungent smell of pyodine permeating the air brought her back from her thoughtless trance as she crossed past the operation theatre, headed towards the ultrasound department. A few moments later, the state of disorientation returned - her conscience kept diving into flashback. She could feel her heart pacing and sweat beads trickling down her neck, her pale lips quivering in repetitive fashion, exhausted from reiterating the same prayer since the last two years.
The cracked walls of the ultrasound room seemed to close in on her, a faint beeping noise in the background stung her head as she shut her eyes and clenched onto the crisp white sheet beneath her, forcing her mind to stay in the present but it kept spiralling back - she could hear her husband, Aswad, cursing as he flung a dinner plate at her, wiping the crockery off the table with a swish of his arm, her hands subconsciously covered her ears as the noise of the dishes clanking to the floor echoed in her head over and over again. She recalled how Aswad had hurled her across the bedroom and tossed her into a corner, locking the door and leaving her to bleed behind him. Nita still did not know what was her fault that day, she had been trying to find an answer since the past two years. She could not comprehend how the little fetus in her belly decided her status in society - if she bore a son she was an honour for her husband and if a daughter she was only good for being spat on.
Aswad had forced Nita into a miscarriage while she was expecting her first child; ‘gurya’ (the name she liked to remember her by) because he wanted a son. After two years, when she was pregnant for the second time Nita desperately yearned for a baby boy so that she could finally push the mute button to Aswad and his family’s taunts that pierced her heart each day. It wasn’t that she did not want a daughter, but things weren’t in her hands. She cried herself to sleep every night since she lost gurya, there was not a single day that she did not miss her, that she did not dream about being a mother to her little doll, a dream Aswad never let her fulfil.
Nita froze as the nurse entered the room. ‘Mubarak ho, beti hai” (Congratulations, it’s a girl), she said hastily, handing over a tissue and a glass of cold water to Nita, gesturing at the blazing sun outside as she let out a sigh and walked over to the next room. The hot weather had little to do with Nita sweating profusely - had the nurse peered through the layers of her patient’s plain face she would have witnessed the whirlpool of fear she was drowning into, the panic that seized her as she heard the word ‘beti’, the twisting sensation in her body shrivelling her innards and almost choking her. Nita could not speak, nor scream, nor cry- her eyes were all but dead with no tears left to shed. She sat still as a statue throughout the bumpy rickshaw ride back home, her fragile body tense with fear, her ears oblivious to the whirring noises and honking of cars that surrounded her, and policemen yelling at motorcycle riders dodging their way through the red traffic-lights. All she could think about was how she would break the news to Aswad and the torture that awaited her once he found out. The scene from two years ago played in her head once again for the hundredth time since this morning. She did not want to be devoid of motherhood again, she did not want to lose another child. She wondered why giving birth to a daughter was so undesirable in the part of the world she lived in, she had been searching for a logical answer since the day she lost gurya, but she could not arrive at an explanation that justified how her society worked - how men divorced their wives if they were pregnant with a female child multiple times, how mothers conveniently asked their sons to remarry because of their undying wish for a grandson, how relatives gathered to rejoice at the birth of a boy, but wore pitiful masks on their hypocritical faces when a girl was born. Nita wanted to flee far away from these sick minds and lead a peaceful life with her daughter, but where could she even go? She had never stepped out of the radius of her neighbourhood.
“Rani” (princess) she mumbled as she stroked her belly, wondering how her baby would look like. A smile flickered on her face as she imagined bouncing her in her arms all around the house, hearing her coo and singing her nursery rhymes, dressing her up in dainty little lace frocks and making crochet hats for her. However, the reality was very painful, Nita knew her husband would never come through with the idea of having a daughter. Her heart raced and her mind rambled, she did not know what was coming her way, the hope of a male child was the last straw holding her marriage together - an abusive, oppressive and torturous marriage that she was in because of societal norms. Nita was on the cusp of screaming, she was hating every bit of her life, the thought of spending the rest of her years with her children’s murderer disgusted her, the sexist world around her was not letting her breathe, she wanted to be in control of her life for once, she could not be the society’s robot anymore, she could not suppress her thoughts and feelings by continuing to blindly accept the illogical patriarchal trash that surrounded her each day. Nita knew that she could not live like this anymore!
The day’s colours slowly dissolved into shades of grey. The sun sunk lower into the sky and so did Nita’s heart as she put the saucepan on the stove to prepare tea - Aswad would be home any minute. She stared at the flames flashing and flickering like a free soul as she mewled under her breath, tears trickled down her face, and her body jittered. She envied the freedom of the fire in that moment, the way it danced at its own will, uninterrupted by the world around it.
The ring of the doorbell made Nita’s heart leap into her stomach. She quickly brushed her tears away and headed to the door trying to look as unflustered as possible. She could not let Aswad find out. She could not have him beat her up again till her baby died inside of her, not this time!
With shaky fingers, she poured tea for him and herself, praying that he did not bring up the topic she feared and just as she sat on the couch with her steaming cup he asked; “Clinic gayee thee aaj?” (Did you go to the clinic, today?) gazing intently at her. She evaded his eyes, nodded slightly and moved her hand to brush the cushion besides her pretending to remove the dust on it. Her stomach coiled and a sharp pain rose inside of her; her chest seemed to press in on her lungs, squeezing them, till she was almost out of breath. She hurriedly lifted the cup to her lips in an attempt to cover her gasps. “Kya hua” (What happened), he asked, his eyes fixated on Nita, growing larger and more intimidating by the second. Nita gathered herself together, all that was left of her wrecked body and uttered “abhi kuch pata nahi chala” (we don’t know anything yet) in a broken voice. There was silence in the room, Aswad moved closer, peering at Nita’s face with utmost concentration. Nita’s heart raced with nervousness, she felt like she would not be able to mask the truth any longer. Her mind numb with a staccato of thoughts, apprehensions and questions - what was he doing? , what if he found out already?, what was her plan B?. Nita’s heart stopped as Aswad clutched her hand tightly, there was a fierceness on his face and ruthlessness in his grip, Nita shut her eyes as he twisted her arm and said “iss dafa beti nahi chahiye!” (I don’t want a girl this time!). She managed a silent nod, indicating affirmation as she winced in pain. In that moment, her heart tore into a million pieces and her eyes blinked away a flood of tears. She picked up the tea tray and walked towards the kitchen, she could not cry in front of Aswad, she could not risk slipping a hint of the truth, she had to hold herself together at least till Aswad went to bed.
Nita did not get a minute of sleep that night, she sat by her window trying to work out different plans in her head, staring at the trees undulating with the cool night breeze as the moonlight shone on her tearstained face. She longed to show this beautiful sight to Rani - a delicate crescent moon surrounded by sparkling specks of light. She envisioned what it would be like to carry her in her arms and sing “twinkle, twinkle, little star” to her as her curious little eyes would explore the sky. She wished she could escape to some place where it would just be her and her child, uninterrupted by stares, taunts and sexist norms. Divorce was not an option for her. She knew her parents would never support her if she went down that path. This concept was never to be considered by women in the part of the world she lived in no matter how miserable they were. If she cut off ties with Aswad, she would have nowhere to go, no roof over her child’s head.
Nita was engulfed in loneliness - she had no one in this world who she could really call her own except for her daughters. There was no one who really understood her and loved her back for who she was. Who could she go to with an unborn baby in her belly, she wondered. There was no one who would take her in, no one who would let her stay over more than a few days before forcing her back into Aswad’s life, back into their abusive marriage as a result of repeatedly reminding her that she should not abandon her home till she would finally give in. Nita did not understand why a woman solely carrieds all the responsibility of being a ‘homemaker’ when she is not even supposed to breathe without the permission of the ‘man of the house’. The people around her would never realise that she was not the one breaking her home.There never really was a home in the first place! It was wrecked a long time back when Aswad took away Gurya’s life.
Nita could no longer live a life of helplessness and despair. She did not want her daughter to grow up in the world she had seen, a world where a woman is nothing but a slave. She knew she had to be brave this time if she did not want to be separated from her daughter once again. She had to be willing to go to any length if she wanted to be with her child. Nita took a deep breath and wrapped her arm tightly around her belly, hugging Rani as she plunged a knife into her chest. Her lips widened into a smile as the colours of her face escaped. She was taking her little one with her, they were going to see Gurya in heaven. She could finally be a mother to her unborn daughters.
This fictitious short story aims to highlight the issues of selective sex abortion as well as female infanticide and preference for sons. These horrific practices are unfortunately still prevalent in the subcontinent.
Bakhtawar is an eager reader of fiction novels and is particularly interested in stories of women and children of the subcontinent. She wants to raise awareness about the battles they fight everyday through her heart wrenching articles and short stories. She has done LSE’s international degree programme in economics and management, and looks forward to write about the new age marketing landscape and e-business as well.