31 July 2022
“You deserve to die! I will pull out your entrails with my bare hands!” Hafsa’s frenzied shriek echoed across the tiny house as she ran towards her only son Abdallah, a strapping young man of thirty-two years. She darted across the room, brandishing a kitchen knife in his face.
The revulsion was writ large on her face.
Abdallah’s dark eyes flashed in anger, slowly giving way to sorrow and resignation. He stood there unflinching, his impressive physique in stark contrast with the hapless vulnerability on his face.
“Mother” he called out softly. Hafsa stopped in her tracks as if hit by a bullet. She let out a heart-wrenching wail that emanated from somewhere deep within. It was shrill and eerie, and Abdallah collapsed on the floor, sobbing. His mother bent down and kissed his face. Hafsa was spent. She closed her eyes and Abdallah cradled her while her rasps metamorphosed into gentle sobs.
“I wronged you all my life, my son. Forgive me if you can. “ She whispered. Shame and remorse shrouded her face.
“You are my magic, my moonbeam,
You are in darkness the only gleam,
My Child, who can your life redeem?
I wish our sorrows were just a dream.”
She hummed softly.
Abdallah’s eyes were pools of anguish. He felt a rush of anger against wars waged by countries on women’s bodies, minds, and lives. He hated himself for who he was. He hated what had become of them for no fault of theirs.
“Is a life of dignity too much to ask for?” He thought.
“I must avenge my mother’s ruin. My cursed life must have a purpose.” The unfairness of it all infuriated him, and his clenched fists drew blood into his palms.
31st July 1990
Twenty-three-year-old Hafsa glowed in her new red and green salwar kameez. It was the only new dress she owned. She proudly wore the matching dupatta around her torso. She stood within the humble dwelling that she shared with her mother and two sisters, admiring herself in the chapped mirror on the peeling wall. Her hazel eyes looked back at her, innocent and smiling. Her brown complexion was smooth as silk, and her tiny nose ring glowed on her small, pert nose. Her cheeks were flushed with the vigour of youth. The dress made her look beautiful she thought with a little smile.
Her mother cradled her face with her overworked hands. “You were just seven when father passed away. You are our only hope now. But you will go so far away, my daughter. You must work hard and save our family.” Hafsa nodded, feeling the weight of the responsibility on her young shoulders. She slipped out of the house to the wooded area behind the local school. Salim stood there patiently, the sadness visible in his eyes.
“Hafsa! He whispered urgently. “How can I live without you? You will cross the seas and I may never see you again!” His sadness brought a lump to her throat.
“Don’t go Hafsa, I will find a job and let us get married.” Said Salim, with a desperate urgency in his voice.
“It is the dream of our life together that will keep me going in Kuwait, Salim.” Said Hafisa tenderly. “How can I let my family die? You know they depend on me.” She added softly.
Hafsa thought of her love for nursing and how grateful she was for the scholarship that saw her through the three-year Diploma Course. She was selected at her campus by a Kuwaiti Hospital as an intern. She was the first educated woman and qualified nurse in her village.
Hafsa boarded the train to Delhi where the employment agent would meet and escort her to the airport. She had her passport and ticket in hand, and the address of the hospital she was joining in Kuwait. She put away the precious few Kuwaiti Dinars that she had exchanged with money borrowed from neighbours.
Hafsa boarded the large aircraft, terrified of her first flight. She shut her eyes tight and prayed hard. When she dared to open her eyes, she was relieved to find herself quite comfortable. She relaxed and the wonder of flying like a bird excited her young mind.
She woke up with a start when the aircraft touched down. A bus picked up her and some interns from other countries at the arrival lobby. She was overcome by a wave of homesickness as the bus sped away into the desert. The miles of desert sands on both sides as they left the city behind, brought on a wave of loneliness.
They were dropped off at a prefabricated accommodation facility where she was given a large room to share with three other girls.
1 August 1990
Hafsa was at the lobby of the residential facility with the other interns at sharp 8 AM. The desert air sent a shiver down her spine. Following the guard for a few minutes brought them to an enormous hospital. The nursing supervisor met them, and the day started in a flurry of instructions and activity. She silently thanked her good sense for doing a basic Arabic course before leaving for Kuwait.
Hafsa returned after the ten-hour shift, tired but relieved that the day had gone reasonably well.
She had a meal at the cafeteria and felt intense fatigue overwhelm her. The thought of the money she would save and the home she would build for her family cheered her up. “I will then make a home that I can share with Salim!” The thought of him brought a warm smile to her face. She drifted off to a deep slumber.
Hafsa woke to gunshots at 0200 hours. There was panic everywhere and the air smelt acrid. His heart raced and there was terror in her beautiful eyes.
2 Aug 1990
The cries raged around her. “The country has been betrayed. We have been attacked! Iraq has invaded us! “
Hafsa was terrified. She wanted to rush home to her mother and sisters. She no longer wanted to be in a strange country. She sobbed quietly as people rushed around in panic. She had no idea where to go. Gunshots were heard all around, and peeping out of the window, she could see artillery trucks and fierce-looking armed soldiers.
The door of her room flew open and a bunch of soldiers barged in. The glint in their eyes terrified the four girls as they huddled together. Two men dragged the first girl without a word and slapped her across the face when she screamed. Another dark-haired soldier dragged the second one and disappeared. The third one looked at her and grinned. This one is pretty and will keep me energized while we take over this country, he laughed, dragging her.
“ I am not a Kuwaiti.”, Hafsa mumbled stupidly. “You are a whore and I will do as I wish with you!” He laughed again his eyes piercing through her clothes as he dragged her away.
She screamed but he kicked her hard in the stomach. She collapsed on the floor of the room he had dragged her into. He lost no time in raping her brutally. “No more Kuwaiti children in this country!” He hissed as he threw her down and walked away.
He locked the door behind him and she knew she was a prisoner. She lay there dulled by shock and pain. She could sense the metallic smell of blood. He came back a few hours later and raped her again. She had no idea how many times he came in and walked out and how many days had passed by. His thick brown hair, his reddish beard, and his black beady eyes were seared into her soul. His white, sharp teeth were simply a tool for some of the innumerable cuts and bruises on her body.
Somewhere, unknown to her, a dark cloud had shrouded her sanity forever. Each time she saw him walking in, she wanted to kill him just as she wanted to kill herself. She saw the lust for power in his evil eyes and a deep loathing and disgust for him overpowered her senses.
Hafsa lost count of the days but suddenly he stopped coming. She had survived on biscuits and water that the soldier left for her to keep her alive.
The door opened. Multiple hands picked up her bruised body and took her to the hospital. The badly maimed and bleeding patients in the crowded room shocked even the nurse in her. After four days of being in a crowded ward, she was moved to a villa where she was housed with other women. Hafsa went into a stony silence. She stared with vacant eyes and refused all food. She had thirty other vacant-eyed women for company., battling their demons. A harried psychologist spoke to them in turns.
A doctor examined her.
“You are pregnant”, he said. His voice was compassionate, but his voice held no hope.
“Can I terminate it? Hafsa pleaded in panic.
“Not here, and legally you cannot leave the country. “ There was sadness in the doctor’s eyes.
With the little money she had, she called her mother on the telephone number at the neighboring shop.
“Mother, I want to return home.” She sobbed out her story.
The long silence chilled her. “Don't come home to ruin our lives Hafsa. The phone went dead.
A madness overwhelmed her. She called Salim.
“I told you not to go. There is nothing I can do Hafsa. My family will disown me.”
The Allied forces stepped in. The invaders left the country but scarred the psyche of those they left behind.
Hafsa and other women who had nowhere to go were given asylum by the country and small homes to live in. They formed a reclusive, battered, fringe community who were the collateral damage of war.
10 April 1991
Abdallah was born on 10th April 1991. The psychologist gave him his name. Hafsa vacillated between rocking him to sleep, and almost throwing him out of the window. Her mind fluttered like a caged bird through the labyrinth of her demented state.
She would need medication all her life, the doctors said.
Hafsa’s madness grew with Abdallah. The neglected young boy was fearful, sullen, and raging inside. He loved his mother, but her revulsion and disgust toward him always broke his heart. That was when he hated her.
He went to the local school for a while.
“Enemy! Bastard! Kill him before he kills and rapes our people.” The words tore his heart and the cruel words haunted him long after he got home.
“I will not go to school, Mother.” He declared one day and never went again. He worked at a small grocery shop for a living.
Hafsa watched Abdallah grow into a replica of the face that she despised most. The face that haunted her nightmares. The man who crushed her dignity and her dreams. The monster who ruined her life. In her troubled mind, Abdallah morphed into the monster, and the monster into Abdallah. It was an unending, maddening cycle of involuntary self-destruction.
Occasionally, in a rare moment of lucidity, she recognized Abdallahas her son. Her disgust would then give way to a pang of terrible guilt and sorrow. She hated herself for what she had become.
1st August 2022
Hafsa sat at her window, gazing at the crimson hues of the beautiful Kuwait sky. Tendrils of her thoughts made their way gently through the insanity of her mind. She unconsciously adjusted her veil and drew her robe tight around her with a violent gesture. The gentle breeze ruffled her veil as if to gently awaken her sanity.
Abdallah walked into the room. She looked at him and suddenly her vacant eyes glowered. Her face grimaced with terror and loathing as she shrieked. The scream came from somewhere deep inside her and would not stop. She picked up a bottle of water and flung it at him. “Go away! Murderer! Rapist! Abdallah clutched his bleeding forehead.
Her neighbor Saifa rushed in and held her tight. “Calm down my sister. What is the boy’s fault?”
Hafsa looked at her friend of thirty years and wept.
“I have been the worst mother to him.” Saifa just held her hands.
“Abdallah is your son, dear sister. Please try to make peace with yourself unlike me who tore out my womb to cleanse myself of the enemy’s seed. I have none to call mine today.” Saifa sighed.
Abdallah turned his face away as he wiped his tears. His feeling of wretchedness was a leaden weight on his mind. He looked at himself in the mirror and a wave of unbearable resentment surged through every pore of his body. How he hated this face and these eyes! He was a cursed child of destiny.
“Why could she not have died and killed me too ?” he asked himself.
He looked up. His mother came out, her face calm and her eyes shining with deep love. He grimaced, fearing the turn of tides soon. She embraced him tightly. “My son!”
Her face darkened. “Get out, you evil soldier! Demon!” She screeched.
Abdallah ran out of the house.
Saifa helped Hafsa with her medicines and let her fall asleep before she tiptoed out.
Abdallah walked in at midnight and lay down on his bed. He had been meeting some people who were training for secret missions in Afghanistan. He had made up his mind to join them tomorrow and never return home.
His goal was to travel to Iraq and find his monster father.
“I will kill him slowly and painfully.” He told himself. He had no idea how to find him, but he had to do this. For the first time in his life, he had a purpose. He wanted to live.
Slumber claimed his tired body and mind and he slept like a baby.
2nd August 2022
The sky was turning pink. Abdallah woke up with a start. He sensed her sneaking in stealthily. She hovered above him with a knife, a murderous expression on her face.
“Mother”! He cried. “Let me live! I will avenge what he did to you! After all these years, I have found my purpose.” He pleaded.
She plunged the knife into him, the screams of the mother and son merging into a terrifying crescendo. Hafsa kept thrusting the knife into her son’s lifeless body in an unending, possessed frenzy.
Saifa rushed in hearing the commotion.
“Hafsa!” She screamed. “Oh my God, what have you done, sister?”
“I killed the monster, he will never torment me again. His red beard and hair, his beady eyes, and his disgusting, ravaging hands will never touch me again.”
Blood pooled at her feet as her crazed eyes darted around, the dripping knife still in her hands.
She looked down and saw Abdallah’s ashen, lifeless face. She was quiet and then started humming.
“You are my magic, my moonbeam,
You are in darkness the only gleam,
My Child, who can your life redeem?
I wish our sorrows were just a dream.”
The lullaby turned into a dirge. She touched his face softly and looked up at Saifa. “My child is gone Saifa. I have no reason to live anymore.”
Saifa tried to move closer to her friend.
“Go now, Saifa. Thank you for being my family. Goodbye, and may God bless you sister. I must be alone with my son.”
Hafsa plunged the knife into her chest and collapsed beside her son. Her arm fell over her son’s body as if protecting him.
The blood flowed freely, merging into a single, senseless stream.
His and hers.
Kuwaiti and Iraqi.
Crimson human blood that looked all the same.
The blood that had bound them together.
The blood that had kept them apart from each other.
A festering wound of thirty-two years.
Hafsa’s face was serene in death as it never was in life. Abdallah was safe at last in his mother’s arms.
Saifa knelt in prayer.