She was 20 and very sweet. I was fond of her, but it was very annoying when I would find her talking on the phone for what seemed like hours. Maybe it wasn’t one long call but a series of calls throughout the day. I remember asking her a couple of times who she was chatting away with and she mentioned some cousin of hers in Lahore. Stella had been our maid for almost a year now and was responsible for all the housework and cooking.
One day she was running late so I called to find out if she was planning on working that day, but I couldn’t get through. Her phone was turned off. I had saved her mother’s number, who also worked as a maid in our neighbourhood, so I called her. I let it ring for a bit but then decided to get on with my day as I didn’t want to be late to work.
I had noticed that the frequency of calls had been increasing which was getting in the way of her completing her chores on time; and I had a good mind to talk to her about it. I was already annoyed with her and now that she hadn’t even bothered to call was the icing on the cake.
The next day she walked in on time but with a big bruise on her face. I just stood there at first, not sure whether or not to say something. Suddenly she started crying. I sat her down and asked what had happened, and that is when she told me her story.
At 18, Stella had been married off to a physically and mentally challenged man, at the insistence of her father. Her husband was like a child who needed constant attention and care. He was, by no means, a suitable life partner for the poor girl. She had left him, but because she was Catholic, her religion didn’t allow her to divorce her childlike husband. I felt helpless because I didn’t know what to do for her.
The bruise had appeared on her face because she had refused to go back to her husband. This had made her father very angry and he had resorted to violence, which is a rather common occurrence in the families of all the maids who have worked for me. There had been a big fight at her house. Her mother tried taking her side but got kicked in her ribs for doing so.
As Stella continued with her story, I found out who the person on the other end of the phone conversations had been. It was her boyfriend in Lahore whom she wanted to get married to, but her father wouldn’t have any of it. He had told her that he had spoken to the family of her husband and that she was to return to him on the coming Sunday, which was 2 days away.
I wondered if I should offer to speak to her father. I asked her if my talking to him would buy her more time to convince him, but she said it wouldn’t help. I felt so upset for the poor girl that I couldn’t sleep all night. She was so young and inexperienced and I was afraid she might do something she’d regret later on. But what could I do? The situation was out of my control and what business did I have dictating terms to her father in any case?
I anxiously waited for Stella the next morning and heaved a sigh of relief upon seeing her at my doorstep. I was so worried she would leave her home without a word to anyone; never to return again. But I was wrong and once she started her day’s work, I stood on her head trying to explain to her that she must be very sensible and not take any drastic steps. She assured me she wouldn’t.
There was no way we could avoid Sunday, so it arrived. I made myself some coffee around 10am and as I was reaching for the newspaper, the doorbell rang. There were some raised voices so I stepped out to see what the ruckus was all about. Lo and behold! It was Stella’s frantic father asking if his daughter had come over to our house. Later that day, we found out that Stella had eloped. Just as I had feared, she had caught a train to Lahore. I wondered if the guy in Lahore was someone who had been taking a serious interest in her or if he was just playing with her emotions.
A few days later we were told that she and her new husband had changed their religion to Islam in order to get married. I was relieved to know that she did actually get married and was not left with nowhere to go after leaving her home like this. It is a huge step for a Pakistani girl to take.
I didn’t hear from Stella for a few months, but then one of her relatives informed me that things were not rosy for Stella as her new husband was not all she had imagined him to be. I wasn’t sure what to make of this incomplete information, so I didn’t think too much about it.
Another 6 months went by before I met Stella again. She had moved back to Islamabad with her husband and they were now living with her parents as she was expecting. Later that same year we found out that she had given birth to healthy baby boy. She came to visit with him. She was smiling the whole time but her eyes told a different story; a sad story.
She never told me herself that her husband would get drunk, ever so often, and would beat her. He would threaten to leave, with their baby boy. I felt awful at hearing this. She had run away from one bad situation into another. And though she was living with her parents, she really didn’t have a support system and her husband knew that. How else could he have gotten away with mistreating her in her parents’ home?
Sadly, this time Stella can’t leave; she has a child. There is no where she can go because there’s no space in our society for a girl who wants to leave her husband and live on her own.