The child looked up at the sky, lips parched with thirst. She was worried that someone might find where she kept her secret, but that was not urgent. First, she needed to indulge in the ice Popsicle the vendor sold, just around the corner. She even had money today, what luck. The lady coming from visiting the graves in the graveyard, walked past her took pity and thrust a five rupees note in her direction looking aversely at the shabby piece of shirt the child wore to hide herself. Zooni, although was 9 years old looked like she was in kindergarten. The polio attack left her handicapped; destroying her left side completely, including the left portion of her brain. So when she walked she partially dragged her left feet, and the left arm inevitably hanged in the air like it was in a cast.
Daughter of a poor mother who ran away from her house to marry a worker in the factory, Zooni was treated extremely
badly by her father but her relation was quite the opposite with her mother. She not only was trouble for her parents due to her mischievous mind but a cause of constant fight between them. The child was frequently beaten by her father, a man who had lost his respect in his family’s eyes when he married Zooni’s mother, Ruksana, out of love. Poverty, hunger and quarrels were now what shaped his life.
The love he felt so strongly for Ruksana vanished soon after the birth of three daughters one after the other. He wanted a male off-spring to share his burden in managing the house hold but alas, not everything we wish can be ours. Ruksana worked day and night in different houses as a cleaning lady to support her husband and to somehow win his affection back. But no amount of effort would bring it back. And she knew that only the birth of a son would help the matter, dearly praying for that miracle to happen soon.
Zooni ran up to the vendor and ate not one but two popsicles, ah! what a delight. After gorging down her treat, she focused her mind on what was really important to hide – her secret! She knew that someone will find it hidden under the bushes. She ran up to the bushes, near her house, to make sure her treasure was still there and it was. She sighed with relief and ran up to the tree near the graveyard where she played with the children from all around the village. Stomping her right foot around the basement of the tree to find a soft spot of sand, she went round it. Finally she found one. She looked around for a stick to h
elp her dig the ground but she realized it might take forever. Digging hard with her
hand and nails she managed to make a small hole within an hour, and then she ran up to the bushes dragged out her treasure and buried it in that hole.
In the evening when her dad came back Zooni’s two sister ran up to meet him; he hugged them and swung them up in the air. Zooni sat in the corner looking at the sight of the three of them with wishful eyes. She knew the moment she will try to do it her father will look upon her with disdain. A glistening sheen came to her eyes when she thought of her treasure, at least none of her sisters had that! Nevertheless she hoped for the day when her father will truly owe her like the rest of them.
It was after a week of complete silence between her parents that a household quarrel woke Zooni up from a deep slumber. Her father was shouting something to her mother which to her innocent ears meant nothing but a series of loud shrieks. He raised his hands when her mother retorted back and slapped her hard on her face. Zooni ran up to her mother to save her from the misery and looked angrily at her father; this earned her a harsh shove bringing Zooni on her knees. She stood up once again, not losing her bravado, and came in front of the man who beat her mother shamelessly. This time her father hit her so hard that the poor child fainted, wetting her already soiled clothes.
Seeing that the Ruksana grabbed Zooni and started wailing clutching her unconscious child; looking accusingly at the man who caused them so much misery. Habib after realizing what he has done looked around disbelievingly and strode outside the house. Ruksana carried her child to the room, laid her on the charpoy and prayed with the all the will she had that her daughter opens her eyes soon. After waiting for a couple of minutes when Zooni didn’t come about, Ruksana picked her up and ran to the only doctor’s clinic in the village. Fortunately, the lady doctor was just at the door closing down the clinic. Ruksana with panic-stricken face pleaded the doctor to just have a look at her beloved child. Checking the girl’s vital signs the doctor claimed that she was semi-conscious. Then she prescribed a glucose drip for Zooni and assured her mother that her child was going to be all right.
After a few hours Ruksana who prayed frantically for her child’s well being was relieved to see those angle eyes opened in confusion. After this incident, Zooni who was touched deeply seeing her mother in such a deplorable condition, stopped speaking the only few words she knew. Polio had taken her ability to speak properly years ago, and now it was her father who stole the only some sentences she formed to communicate. Ruksana tried to cheer her up with every effort she could put in but to no avail. Taking her to the swing on THE tree, just she and her daughter, which always brought a bright spark on the child’s face but never a word, was uttered through those lips. Taking her along to the houses she worked in as a cleaning lady, not leaving her alone even for a second. Buying her little treats with whatever money she could save but it seemed like the child simply lost the will to speak. Ruksana just waited for a miracle!
Then one night Zooni woke up from a bad dream. In her dream the demonic character of her father was once again beating her lovely mother savagely. Zooni decided that it was time to give up on the only thing which always kept her head high – her treasure. She knew if she would give the soul important thing in her life, apart from her mother, to her father then maybe he’d never hurt her mother again. How was she to tell her father that how important the treasure was to her? With the cunningness she was born with, she decided to teach the man a lesson. By hiding the most beloved thing, or rather person, in the world to him her younger sister Amaney, yes that would do that trick! Amaney was only three and won hearts of who ever laid eyes upon her!
Following morning Zooni ran up to the vendor on the corner to get a strawberry Popsicle, Amaney’s favorite. She lured Amaney to the tomb near the graveyard. She gave her the Popsicle and lulled her to sleep. Ensuring that her sister was sleeping comfortably, she put some water and bread to soothe her when she realizes the room was locked. An hour later when Ruksana found Amaney was missing she started searching for her in places she might have gone. Word got round to Habib who loved his daughter more than anything at that point. He took leave from the factory, and came home. Finding Ruksana in hysteria, he realized it was indeed a moment to console her. He hugged her, and told her everything was going to be alright. In that moment the love that was lost to him came crashing back with a poignant feeling in his heart. It made him feel like an ignorant child who has neglected his toys for too long.
After a few hours, when Zooni thought she had given her father enough worry plucked up her courage and walked with slow steps to him. He was waiting for the constable to show up and tell him some news of his adorable daughter. Zooni looked at her father with imploring eyes, and the man couldn’t help but feel something for the child he loathed for no reason at all. Seeing the softening look in his eyes, Zooni took hold off his hand and tugged him to follow her. After repeated tries, Habib finally got the signal that the child wanted to show him something. She took him to the tree, found the spot where she had buried the treasure and started digging.
Habib was shocked to see his child digging in the earth was left speechless, for a moment he thought that it might be dead body which she was going to deliver. Blood surged in his veins but he tried to calm himself thinking that he shouldn’t be too judgmental when it comes to Zooni. Getting impatient he started helping Zooni dig the earth. After a few minutes his hands came about something solid, he pulled it and found himself looking at a soiled doll. Zooni’s treasure.
The child wasn’t done just yet; she tugged at his sleeve again and took him to the room where she had locked her baby sister. She opened the door with her right hand, and there was Amaney. Still sleeping like a doll with bread clutched tightly in her hand. Zooni looked up at her father and said with all the courage she could muster “Doll.. mine” pointing to her heart and then pointing to her sister said “Amaney… yours” and pointed to her father’s heart. Then she said with tears in her eyes “Take doll…not hurt mommy”.
For the first time Habib took Zooni in his arms and cried uncontrollably. These tears were of joy from finding that Amaney was safe and of sorrow from realizing that this ten year old was the point of his hatred for so long. He realized just then how special this child was. Just how intelligently she conveyed her message for the love of one person, her mother. Such is the power of true love. That day was a new beginning of their lives.
Days passed and the household quarrels lessened and they were eventually gone. Habib realized it was important to love all three of his daughters equally. Having a son in no way can compensate for the short-comings they faced. It was all a matter of fate. This realization not only made his life happier, but it seemed destiny was waiting just for his acceptance, Habib started earning comfortably, sometimes working two jobs at a time. Though always with a contentment in his heart!
So when they say love is the most powerful of weapons ever, they say it right!
Posted by: Haleema Saadia