My father was working in the city at that time. He had last seen his pregnant wife months ago and was now getting worried as there was no news from home about the child. So he decided to go to the village taking a few days leave and found out that I was born. He wasn’t angry at all, there were no bitter words said to my mother instead he picked me up when he saw me and gave me all the love he had inside him.
“I was hidden from the rest of the world for months after my birth. My mother had given birth to two other beautiful daughters and no sons before me, which according to the Bangladeshi society’s standards at that time was an unforgivable deficiency on her part. So she found it sensible to delay the ridicule and hurt she would surely face from her husband and everyone else by hiding me for as long as possible.
Growing up I was an intelligent and curious child. I was lanky and small but what I lacked in size was more than made up for with my courage and vigor. I spent my days roleplaying characters from the “thunder cats” and spent my nights worrying about whom I can marry off my dolls to. I took apart the cassette players and put it back many times. I learned how to make a tiny fridge to store food for my dolls. I liked school as any good student does and I felt as if I was destined for great things.
When I was 9 I would often visit my friends’ weddings. Friends from my class, girls were also 9 like me. It was common practice to get one’s daughter married as soon as they had their periods. And 9 was a common age to get your first period. In the weddings I found the husbands to be mostly repulsive. They were old and hairy and looked like Monsters to me. I never once wanted to get married to them or anyone like them. My father somehow understood that and he promised that he wouldn't marry me off before I was ready.
During my teenage years, my father had to move away from the family for work. I was still going to school then still it's brilliant as ever. I still adored my dolls and taking apart household electronics was still one of my favorite hobbies. But during that time I remember that I was attracting a lot of unwanted attention from boys and men. Most of the times I knew how to handle them and I could definitely hold my own but my parents were worried. After all, there was no man in the house to protect me and there was no telling what was going to happen if something wasn’t done about it.
One summer a man came to visit the village I was living in at that time. I think he was visiting my neighbors. During his stay he would stare at me from afar, observing my every move. But he never came up to me to talk or do anything else. He just stood there and stared. I wasn't frightened but it didn't feel right. He left after a week and I decided to go over to my neighbors and ask a little bit about him. Who was he? Why was he staring at me this whole time? They said that he was a relative from the city, a well-respected man and only 30 years of age. They said that he found my personality fascinating. That he enjoyed watching me do the housework and he thought that I was beautiful. I was 14 at that time.
Some time went by and the strange man was out of my mind. One day I was getting ready for a feast to be held at my uncle's house. Feasts were rare and a good place to show off one’s clothes and new jewelry and act like a grown up so I enjoyed them quite a bit as any teenager does. So I wore my Saree and makeup and for some reason, my family was feeling extra generous and made me wear more gold than usual. I didn't think too much of it, it made me happier if anything. When I reach there all eyes were on me, everyone was kind of clearing my path and suddenly I realized I was being led to the stage. By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late to take any actions. I went up to the stage and simply sat and wept as my friends and family put turmeric on me. It was my “gaye holud”, a pre-wedding ceremony. All the people there were gathered for me. And I was realizing all that just then and there on the stage. I also met my husband for the first time, the guy from my neighbor’s house, who had stared at me all summer without saying anything. I was being married off to that guy, I was still 15 at that time.
What had happened was a few months earlier the man had arrived with 200 kgs of sweets and gifts for my whole family and a proposal for marriage. The man met with my father and mother and expressed his admiration for me. I was not present at the meeting and I knew nothing of what was going on. My father had decided it was time for me to get married. It was becoming too risky for me to be left alone, without a man's protection. To him, Sagor seemed like a decent man and good proposals might be hard to come by. So my parents decided that I was to be married but out of fear that I will reject the notion no one told me their plans before I sat at the stage of my pre-wedding ceremony.
I spent my wedding night at my own house with my new husband. I sat on the couch while he sat on the bed. He gently asked me to join him but I refused. He didn't seem to be offended by my refusal but instead spent the whole night talking to me, getting to know me better. We spent the night maintaining a distance that I deemed was appropriate. The next morning he left for the city and I stayed back home. I was to join him a month later after he had arranged the necessities for me to live at his house. Over the next month, we talked over the phone but we didn't see each other at all. The talks were pleasant and mostly about our future together.
After a month I left my father's house and went to my husband’s. My suitcase was mostly filled with the dolls that I made myself and played with every day. I could not imagine a life without my dolls and some of them were not even married off yet. After unpacking my new family showed me to my new room. There were three men other than my husband lying in different positions in the room. I was taken aback when my husband casually mentioned to me that I will be sharing my room with them. There were his brothers and cousins and now mine and I had to share because the family could not afford separate rooms for them. And that was that. On that night I didn't have a couch and a safe distance to protect me, I had to lay with him and he had sex with me with the brothers and cousins lying not 2 feet away from us. Like the holud day, I didn't think I had a choice to protest so I just lay there weeping silently.
For the longest time, I had to share my space with my brothers-in-law. Till the time I got pregnant with our first child. When the child was born I was only 16. It was a beautiful baby girl.
In the years that followed it felt as if Sagor had developed a taste for abuse. A single day didn't go by where I was not verbally abused to psychologically tortured or beaten. When I was pregnant with our second child Sagor rejected the idea that the child was his. He believed that I had been unfaithful and slept with one of my cousins and the child was his. I still don’t know where he would get such an idea. I was forced to get an abortion when the embryo was 3 and a half months old.
I took care of the child mostly by myself while Sagor was out. It wasn't something that was unexpected in a marriage. The mother takes care of a child and the father works for a living that's how the society works. But it is a handful to take care of a child by yourself when you are 16. One particular day was especially challenging. My daughter was sick he had a fever and diarrhea. At the same time, I got very sick too. I too was burning with fever. Despite that, I did my best all day taking care of the child by myself, and by night I was exhausted. Sagor arrived quite late that day I wasn't sure why he had been and I didn't ask. I was just getting ready for bed after I had cleaned the baby when she started throwing up and crying again. I lost my temper and shook her and was about to clean her again and suddenly I felt blinding pain at the back of my head. Sagor had kicked my head with all his might and by the time I realized what was happening he had already landed a few blows. Then he pulled my hair and slammed my head against the floor. He started shouting at me and saying that I had not taken good care of the baby. The beating only stopped when he got tired. I spent that night in the balcony and I finished a whole pack of cigarettes in hours. It was my way of protesting I guess. This was the first time anyone had ever laid a hand on me. The next day there was no remorse on his part he went about his business as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I wanted to leave but I was only 16 and my baby was just a month old so I stayed.
After this incident, I was locked out of the outside world. For years I was not allowed to step out of the house or interact with anyone other than my parents and siblings. I was pregnant with our child again and this time Sagor allowed me to have the child because he was surer of my fidelity. It was another beautiful daughter.
Between our second child and our third child, my life was pretty uneventful. My days were spent listening to verbal abuse and the nights were spent getting beaten up. I could never go back to my father or tell him too much about what was happening to me. In Bangladesh divorce was not socially acceptable at that time and it could be a devastating end to my children’s social life. So I decided to endure, for the sake of my daughters, so that one day they too can have a chance of getting married and have a happy life.
The day my father died I was devastated. The loss of someone who loved me the most in this world was unbearable. My whole world was falling apart and I didn't know where to look for consolation. After the funeral I went back to Sagor’s house and to my surprise, his whole family was present there. I had not expected them to show me any kind of support so I was pleasantly surprised. But the family was not there to support me instead they were there to be judges to an accusation Sagor had made about me. He said that I was having an affair with the pharmacist at the hospital my father was in before his death. I sat there Numb still reeling in from my father's death as they took turns shaming me. After all, was said and done I stood up, went to the toilet and got down a litter of disinfectant. Sagor's family didn't let me die because they feared a police case.
After my recovery, I was thrown out of the house. My husband punched me and slapped and dragged me by the hair and threw me out of the house. I cried for my children but he did not let me take them. My father was dead and my mother would not take me back so I sought refuge at my aunt’s house. I contemplated suicide many times but I couldn't take my own life in the hopes that I may see my children again. But self-mutilation became a daily habit. One of my favorite things to do was to take a syringe and pull the blood out of my body, then I would spray the walls with that blood. It gave me a strange sense of satisfaction. At times I felt that if I was uglier I would be less miserable, Sagor wouldn’t suspect me and we would live a happier life. So I would smash my own face against the wall deforming it in the process.
One day while I was out shopping for groceries I was kidnapped. A group of men pulled me down from my rickshaw, blindfolded me and took me to an empty garage. The men were gangsters from my husband’s neighborhood and had brought me to the garage to find out if I was a morally correct woman. Sagor didn’t send them. They came of their own accord when they noticed that I was not living with my husband. They thought it was bad for the neighborhood’s image and they would have none of that. They asked me many questions mostly regarding my marriage and my relationship with my husband. After the interrogation, they decided that I was innocent and let me go. They also decided that my husband was in the wrong in throwing me out so it was their duty to go to Sagor and make him aware of his mistakes and ask him to do the right thing and take me back.
A few days later I went back to Sagor and most importantly my daughters. During my time away my husband had been having an affair with the maid. This was not the first time he was unfaithful. There was the actress, the colleague who later died of cancer and now this, the maid. Once I was there the maid had to go and I got my family back.
Things didn't change much from what it was before. There was no remorse from his part no apologies were given no expression of guilt. But my daughters were now a bit older and they could protest on my behalf whenever he tried to abuse me. All of a sudden there were three of us and one of him now so the abuse became less frequent. It completely stopped after our fourth child was born. It was a baby boy.
Nowadays I don't have to face physical abuse anymore. I still face neglect and lovelessness. But for me, it doesn’t even compare to what it was before. I often see our dead daughter, the one I had to abort playing around the house not in my sleep but in my waking hours. A pair of eyes in the sky always follow me whenever I step out of the house alone. When I sit down to pray a pair of hairy legs wraps around me rendering me motionless. But none of these monsters scare me as much as my lover does.”
From interviews with Alo (Not her real name). The names of the characters have been changed and their faces are hidden upon their request to do so.