Gulsom: The Tale of Breaking Free from a Lifetime of Misery

By: Tamana Rezaie

At first sight, Gulsom may have seemed elderly, her sunburnt face, weathered skin, and cracked hands belying her youth. These outward signs bore witness to the years of silent suffering she had endured. She carried the weight of fatigue, the toll of countless grueling days etched into her once-strong shoulders. Her journey began at the tender age of ten when her father and stepmother coerced her into a marriage with a middle-aged man battling mental illness. From that moment, her childhood and adolescence were spent in the harshest of circumstances. Through all those years, Gulsom held onto a single dream: to break free from the confines of her family’s home and escape the clutches of her husband. After enduring years of oppression and injustice, she had finally taken that crucial first step towards her liberation.

Gulsom’s life took a harsh turn with the untimely passing of her mother when she was just ten years old. She hadn’t yet tired of her mother’s warm embrace and gentle, moon-like face when it was cruelly taken from her forever. With her mother gone, Gulsom’s carefree childhood and happy days faded into distant memories, replaced by the grueling reality of child labor. Her once-rosy cheeks now bore the marks of toil in the fields.

As she struggled to cope with the profound grief of losing her mother, another tragedy befell her. Her father, seeking solace in a second marriage, inadvertently brought immense misfortune into Gulsom’s life. Her stepmother, a stern and unkind woman, took her mother’s place. From the moment she stepped into their home, she unleashed a torrent of cruelty and injustice upon young Gulsom. She imprisoned her within the four walls of the house, forbidding her from playing with her friends or enjoying the innocent games of childhood.

Instead, Gulsom, who should have been playing and learning like any other child, was forced into ceaseless labor. Some days, she wasn’t even granted her rightful share of bread at the dinner table, a harsh reminder of her stolen childhood.

Gulsom’s father, a stern and uncaring figure, never stood up against his wife’s cruel treatment of their daughter. Instead, he readily accepted his wife’s words, placing blame on Gulsom and subjecting her to punishment. With her mother’s passing, Gulsom became the sole responsibility of her father and stepmother.

They compelled her into relentless toil on the farm, where the weight of her chores weighed heavily on her young shoulders. The loss of her childhood innocence amidst grueling labor from dawn till dusk cast a shadow of sorrow over the hearts of the villagers.

Gulsom yearned to join school like her friends, to grasp a pen instead of a sickle, and to dream of a brighter future. Sadly, these were unattainable dreams for her. Farm labor wasn’t her preference; it was her only option. The tasks assigned to Gulsom stretched her capabilities to their limits, and her hands were too small for the heavy burden of a sickle.

At the farm where she toiled, many women engaged in peasant tasks. Among them, one woman consistently observed Gulsom, bombarding her with questions. Gulsom found this woman’s behavior peculiar, unable to comprehend her relentless curiosity. What terrified her most was the intimate bond between this woman and her stepmother. Occasionally, Gulsom’s stepmother visited the farm to monitor her progress, and she engaged extensively with this woman, their eyes exchanging secret signals during their conversations about Gulsom. Those eyes filled Gulsom with dread, yet she remained clueless about their intentions and discussions concerning her. With each passing day, the interactions and lengthy conversations between her stepmother and this woman escalated, and it appeared impossible for the woman to distance herself from the farm. Eventually, the growing closeness between Gulsom’s stepmother and this woman thrust Gulsom into an unrelenting torment.

Gulsom’s father and stepmother exchanged her for a sum of ten thousand Afghanis, marrying her to a sick man of her father’s age. They treated her like a mere commodity, with no regard for her opinions or desires. To them, the only thing that mattered was the money they could make by selling her.

When Gulsom received this news, her world plunged into darkness. Her breath hitched, and cold sweat coated her body. It was hard for her to grasp the situation fully, as she had no knowledge of what it meant to be a wife. She had always known her father and stepmother were not kind, but the idea of them selling her to a middle-aged, sick man for ten thousand Afghanis was beyond her imagination. Gulsom cried out in desperation, tears streaming down her face as she begged them not to do it, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. No one paid any heed to the desires of a ten-year-old child.

Against her wishes, they compelled her to go to her husband’s home, a place where she would face even harsher days than at her father’s house. Her life in her husband’s home descended further into darkness. As a young child, she embarked on a life shared with a man three decades her senior, a man who struggled with life’s basic necessities. Besides his physical disabilities, he grappled with mental challenges that left him unable to comprehend the essence of marriage.

Her husband’s family primarily tended to livestock, a job far more physically demanding than working in the fields. On top of her household responsibilities, she endured the grueling tasks of hauling heavy loads of straw and grass from the farm for the cattle and sheep, milking the cows, and maintaining the stables. Her life revolved around servitude to the unforgiving demands of village life, from the break of dawn till the day’s end. The relentless hardships sculpted her into someone who distanced herself from the innocence of childhood, assuming the mantle of an adult. Her once vibrant hopes and dreams faded, replaced by a relentless focus on mere survival, to the point where she even grew skeptical of each new sunrise after a night.

Time marched on, and Gulsom blossomed into a young woman. Alongside her physical growth, her thoughts and beliefs also matured. Slowly, her view of life deepened and became more reasoned. Childhood’s innocent gaze gave way to a wisdom born of experience. She comprehended the hardships she’d endured and the misfortunes she’d weathered. At that moment, her perspective on life underwent a transformation, and a glimmer of hope took root in her heart once more. During her youth, she realized that all these years had been spent under duress and coercion, and she had adapted to this life. Consequently, she resolved to alter her destiny and embark on a genuine fresh start. After enduring years of tyrannical existence, she no longer believed herself deserving of such a fate. But she knew that reshaping her destiny wouldn’t be a simple feat.

All of a sudden, a door swings open, and a glimmer of hope floods into her heart. This newfound light casts a radiant glow within Gulsom, infusing her with a renewed resolve to alter her destiny. In her neighborhood, there resides a cruel man, a tormentor of his wife who remains unrepentant for his brutal conduct. Like Gulsom, this woman has suffered years of oppression.

Gulsom, resigned to her fate within the clutches of her husband’s illness, had come to terms with her circumstances. It was during this period that the neighbor woman’s endurance of her husband’s cruelties finally reached its breaking point, leading her to seek a divorce. The concept of “divorce” was entirely foreign to Gulsom until this moment. Witnessing her neighbor’s separation from a man for whom she had dedicated her childhood and adolescence, caring for him, toiling tirelessly, and shouldering the household’s financial burdens, made Gulsom contemplate her own path.

After months of deep reflection and internal turmoil, she resolves to part ways with her husband. However, she grapples with uncertainty about how to initiate the divorce proceedings. Moreover, the dread of her husband’s family discovering her intentions further tightens its grip on her. Nevertheless, Gulsom makes a resolute decision that transcends the relentless hardships she’s endured; she is determined to break free from the shackles of her miserable existence and embark on a new life, liberated from her ailing husband.

Gulsom has embarked on a treacherous journey, aware that success could bring salvation, while failure could mean her demise. Despite this grim prospect, one morning she ventures into the fields to gather grass and vanishes without a trace, never returning home. Her mysterious disappearance baffles everyone, leaving no clue to her whereabouts. For months, her husband’s family has scoured every corner in search of her, even involving the local Taliban authorities in their pursuit. The Taliban, adhering to their draconian laws, are relentless in their pursuit of Gulsom, aiming to capture her and subject her to a cruel punishment – stoning – for fleeing her husband’s home.