This short story is based on true events in the lives of four women I met in the US.
I am posting 25% of my short story here on my blog, as a marketing experiment. This is my first work of fiction and more shall follow soon, depending upon the response this one receives.
The complete story would be available on Smashwords and Amazon, on Friday i.e tomorrow for only 99 cents!
I look forward to your comments on this work!
I look forward to your comments on this work!
An Arranged Marriage
Reem sat in a grand auditorium of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office. She was feeling lost amongst the hundreds from all parts of the world, whose faces beamed with joy. An Asian American lady sitting next to her, smiled at her as she asked her “how many years in America?” Startled, Reem looked at the lady who seemed to be from very humble beginnings. Reem managed half a smile. She recalled it had been exactly three years since her divorce, and counting four years of her marriage, she added them together to speak out “seven.” It dawned on her at that moment, that her divorce had become the pivot of the timeline of her life. Her response was barely audible, amongst the loud humming sound created by hundreds of ecstatic voices. The Asian lady leant closer, and spoke a very colloquial Asian expression which conveyed non comprehension, and Reem repeated herself loudly this time, “seven years”. The Asian lady was taken aback, as she pointed to herself saying, “18 years.” Then she turned to her husband, and said something to him, which Reem understood as her timeline relayed. His face spoke of hardship, but it beamed with goodhearted joy, as he turned to her and said “only seven years, you very lucky.” Reem smiled back at the kind old man for whom she felt genuinely happy. She could call herself lucky, she thought. At barely 30, she had joined a job eight months ago, that paid a few hundred thousand dollars a year, as a doctor in rural Virginia. A job she planned to continue for the next 15 months, up until she joined a fellowship program in Indiana. In the next hour, her citizenship would also change.
Her train of thought was broken by the commencement of the ceremony. The mayor of the city present at the occasion, began his speech. Reem’s mind wandered off. There are atleast 200 people here today, she thought, including family and friends who have joined their loved ones to make the occasion special. The seat to her right, was occupied by the Asian Americans, and she hazarded a guess that they were Koreans. On her left, sat two teenagers, who were accompanying their mother. So this is how one feels alone in a crowd, she realized. Doctors are not supposed to be philosophical, are we not supposed to be able to converse only about diseases? She mused. Perhaps solitude is philosophical, but loneliness is a state of being, which is not lost on anyone, since it sometimes even causes physical pain. If its physical pain, then who can know better than a doctor, she tried to take it the lighter vein, herself.
To distract herself from her melancholy, Reem tried to absorb the happy vibes all around her. It felt like mini United Nations with Africans, Latinos, Asians, Arabs, Indians and a few Europeans all around her. This was America! It seemed so natural to see such great diversity. No wonder it truly was the land of opportunity. Reem recalled seeing this face of America for the first time. Landing at John.F.Kennedy Airport, after her very first international flight, she excitedly entered the lounge to clear Customs. Iftikhar had been visibly embarrassed at her wearing a Pakistani outfit. She recalled her clothes, a pale pink Georgette outfit, one of the few clothes of her dowry, she had designed herself. It had looked simple and elegant back home, but in the US, it was just a foreign outfit. The fabric was best suited for long hauls, but Iftikhar was not happy with her eastern wear. In a week of marriage, it had started to dawn on her that he did care for her in the least. At various times, he found her dressing, behavior or mannerisms unappealing. He had snapped at her during the flight, to show his irritation at her excitement over many things new to her. Reem saw herself standing at the airport again, and then she recalled seeing a flight that had arrived from some African country, which stood out due to its ladies with expanded waistlines dressed in brightly colored large floral prints. Reem’s first impulse had been to smile at their wardrobe, until it occurred to her, that in America every style was foreign and perhaps comical-including her own. It had felt very strange not to be part of the mainstream, for the first time in her life. That was the beginning of a series of changes in her, which are termed “assimilation”.
A vision of her and Iftikhar disturbed her. He was a painful memory best forgotten on a happy day. Reem stopped to think, was this a big day for her, did it merit untold happiness? She had woken up late, quite unlike herself. Driving like a maniac to make it on time, she felt no joy or excitement. A sense of unease was stirring deep inside her. It was a strange day, when it was supposed to be a big milestone in her life. She had received jubilant congratulations from her hospital friends, as she took a day off to make it to the oath taking ceremony, which would officially make her a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. To them, it was the triumph of the downtrodden Muslim woman in the land of opportunity. Reem recalled the condescending congratulations of her head nurse. Hollywood had taught the nurse that women in “that part of the world” wore black tents and rode donkeys. It had always amazed Reem, how the nurse reconciled a medical education juxtaposed with a woman in a mini tent riding a donkey. The image it conjured, usually managed to bring a smile to her lips. Her work was her pride and joy, which was also a tremendous source of strength in the darkest of days. Her innate compassion and intelligence, made for a good doctor.
The closing sentence from the mayor’s speech brought her back to reality “once again my heartiest congratulations, to you and your families on this special day.” Family, Reem thought of her parents in Pakistan and a tear escaped her left eye, which she quickly wiped off. Her father was a retired Police Officer who had led a very honest and scrupulous life. He had suffered a stroke six months earlier, and was now recovering. Reem could barely manage a short visit to Pakistan, as it had only been a few weeks since she had joined her current job then. Her youngest sister and mother were managing as best as they could. Her married middle sister, also visited as often as she could. Reem was his first born, a doctor who was not able to help her father when he needed her the most.
Reem’s mind returned to the reason she was in US, Iftikhaar, who had caused so much pain in her life. Was it not strange to suffer even after doing everything right? I always did all the things that a nice girl is supposed to do. I was not one of those who wreck their homes, Reem told herself. Who was to blame? Fate? Her parents, for being in a hurry and choosing him? or Iftikhar, for being an utter jerk? Perhaps the answer lay in all of them partially, or perhaps Iftikhar alone, was the sole reason. In the three years since her divorce, she had experienced a range of emotions about him: Anger, resentment, sadness, apathy, pity and even empathy. No one could understand the roller coaster of emotions she had felt in her free time. The mind wrecking pressure during her residency, and the insane 80-hour shifts, were a blessing in disguise. Grief strikes harder when the mind has time to think. Since the last three months, she had a lot of time at her hands, as a doctor working in a small community in rural Virginia. It was then that the divorce felt fresh. It sometimes became very hard to stop the “what if” scenario from torturing her. Anger from putting up with it for so long, self pity, hopelessness and sorrow alternated in her mind. They said forgiveness was a pre-requisite to healing, but forgiveness seemed too onerous an undertaking.
It had never felt right, she recalled. Everyone had thought I had married at the right age, to the right guy, in the right way. Everything was just too right, maybe that was the cue for something to go wrong. One picks up quite a few aphorisms living in US, even from movies, Reem thought. Didn’t Forrest Gump say “life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get”. But life is not a movie, where one is allowed retakes, it takes no prisoners, Reem got sarcastic with herself.
Her attention went back to the ceremony as the audience were asked to stand up to take an oath. Hundreds raised their right hand and repeated in unison “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…………”.