Night had fallen; the sky was velvety, as black as my heart at the moment. Cars drove past, flashing lights everywhere, and pedestrians walking swiftly to their destinations. I felt cold and numb despite the weather being temperate. This was the busiest road of Karachi. Me and my three children, two sons and a daughter, stood on the roadside, as helpless as birds in a cage.
“Maa, why are we here? Please let’s go home?” said the eldest of the three.
I had no answer to his question. I couldn’t tell them anything. Our house, the last thing we had, was now taken over by its proprietor. They pushed us out because we hadn’t paid the rent since my husband died five months ago. My husband had left us almost empty-handed; the little that was left had been already spent on feeding our stomachs during the past five months. I had even sold out all my possessions. My kids were too young for me to leave them alone and go looking for work. Yet I had stood on traffic signals and begged people. The little I got from there wasn’t at all enough for even one meal a day for the four of us. All relatives went cold-hearted. I went to my only brother and begged him to let me and my children live at his place until I found a shelter for my kids, but he himself being jobless could not afford to do so, however, he could keep only me for a few days, which meant that I had to leave my children elsewhere. I had no choice left. We had already spent two nights sleeping on roads; my children had not eaten anything since then. My youngest son, less than three years old, had started crying out of hunger. His face looked anemic, and eyes lifeless. I grabbed him and hugged him tightly, crying uncontrollably, for this was maybe the last time I ever saw him. I had already made my decision. I could no longer feed my kids. And I could just not see them dying like this.
I circled them around me. “Listen to me carefully now all three of you, I have to go on some really important duty now, and I can’t take you all there with me, you guys have to wait here, and if anyone comes to you and tells you to go with them then…just go, okay?”
“But maa, you always told us not to go anywhere with any strangers!”
“Sara, just do what you are told to.”
“Maa, why can’t we come with you? Why are you leaving us like this?”
“No Ahmed, I will be back dear, just take care of your sister and brother, you are the eldest and I’m leaving them on your responsibility, do not let Sara or Ali go anywhere without you, you get that?” Ahmed nodded uncertainly. “Here, keep this money safely in your pockets and use it only when you really need it.” I put a 10 rupee bill in their pockets each, clutched the three pieces of my heart one last time, and started walking away from them, hoping someone would take them and feed them for the rest of their lives. I could hear all three of them calling me with wavering voices. I kept walking rapidly, until the horns of the cars drowned their voices…
The next thing I knew was guilt and terror. I couldn’t sleep at nights. I would wake up in the middle of the night with horrible dreams of my little Ali crying for me hysterically, of Sara hungry, of Ahmed’s bloodstained face. I screamed and screamed, the remorse of throwing away my own kids eating me from the inside, my heart aching for them, my lips endlessly praying for their safety. The room would suddenly become claustrophobic, as if the air was being sucked out of my body and then everything would go black… I would then again wake up sweating and shivering from head to toe, yell for them, and try to shut down all the terrifying images that haunted me every single second of my life. I went back to where I had left them countless times, but they were never there. I yearned to die but the guilt wouldn’t let me. How was I supposed to face Allah? What would I say to my husband? He would never forgive me for being callous to my children. He loved them more than me!