She was madly in love the first time I met her. You just had to mention her husband in the conversation and she would blush. I thought it was so cute. She was so young and innocent.
Mira came to work for us as a maid, after the birth of her second baby girl, but then had to leave when she was expecting her third child. She finally gave birth to a baby boy, but unfortunately for her, he was born with a slight disability. It took her a long time before she could come back to work for us again because of her poor child’s handicap. Once the boy was a toddler she decided to leave him with her sister while she went to work. She didn’t want to leave him behind, but had to earn otherwise her two daughters couldn’t go to school. Her family couldn’t or wouldn’t afford it.
She was 22 now and still in love with her husband. It was so lovely to see someone so happy. That, however, changed very quickly as all good things must come to an end. Well, it seems things were not as great for her as she portrayed or as I thought.
I heard her talking to her husband one day, with the speaker turned on and I was shocked at the way he was speaking to her. It raised a red flag in my head, but I ignored it because after all, he could have been having a bad day.
Over the next few weeks, things started moving in a downward spiral. She started missing work more frequently and would be in a daze all day. She would forget to clean a surface or leave the laundry room in a mess.
One day, she told me that there had been a big fight at her house between her husband and his family. It started with a fist fight between the brothers and ended with her husband beating the crap out of her, for no good reason. I remembered the way he had spoken to her over the phone and thought that he was a complete scoundrel.
Life went on like this, and the fights and the beating incidents kept increasing in Mira’s life. The quality of her work kept decreasing as well. I felt bad for her and didn’t reprimand her much for all the mistakes and the forgetfulness. Maids are often not treated like human beings in Pakistan and that always makes me feel terrible, so I tried to behave nicely with mine. I wondered how long this could go on though since I had to make up for her tardiness and short attention span.
Finally I decided to talk to her about what was going on to see if I could help in any way. What she told me made my heart sink. Her husband was interested in her sister! He was in love with the sister and wanted to marry her. He didn’t seem to care that he had 3 little children and a beautiful, loving wife. His whole family knew about it and had told Mira to stay put and not get a divorce. And on top of it all, her mother was not playing a very responsible role. According to Mira, she was in favor of getting her other daughter married to Mira’s husband. This I couldn’t understand.
In fact, I couldn’t understand any of it. How could he bring home the sister of his wife as his second wife? What religion allows this? What culture allows this? How could the guy’s parents and Mira’s mother accept or even encourage this? And what could Mira do for herself in this situation?
Mira told me that she had decided to stay with her in-laws and not get a divorce. When I asked her why she would do that to herself, she said that she had nowhere left to go with three children because her own mother was a part of this unfortunate fiasco.
Mira’s whole life had been turned upside down because of a selfish person’s fleeting desires. Of course the sister was just as much to blame as the father of her children. Mira had no support system other than her in-laws, whom she could stay with as long as she didn’t get a divorce. If she left, how would she raise her children in a society where no one would even rent her an apartment, in a decent neighbourhood, without a man present? She was a maid and couldn’t afford to live in an area of the city where no one would ask her any questions and let her live on her own. And even if she could find a place to live with her children, it would be a very difficult life, especially for a pretty young girl.
Our society doesn’t provide space for women who want to get out of a bad situation. Mira is not alone in her plight – there are many others like her; and for the time being that is her only consolation.