My eyes have been locked on a gate, not rightfully mine, yearning for a day when the wind might bring a whisper of it to my face and, just maybe, the arrival of that sturdy man. It’s been more than 35 years, both in my homeland and in exile, as I’ve waited for him, yet there’s no sign of his return. All these years have not allowed me to compose a lament for his absence or find the chance to free the searing pain within my heart. Life, for me, has dwindled to a mountain I’m perpetually descending.
You might wonder, “What about the joyful moments in your life?” Those moments were so brief, like a fleeting breeze, that they’ve faded into the distant past. I can’t even recall where I discovered happiness. Perhaps the happier days were when I reached my youth, surrendering my heart to a man stronger than the rest. That marked the beginning of our story, and thereafter, my dark days descended upon me. But as long as he was by my side, no darkness could terrify me to the extent of engulfing me. In every pit I tumbled into, the comforting presence of someone to grasp my hand kept me from feeling alone.
In those times, our days commenced with the thunder of bombings, and the night wrapped us in a lullaby of mortar sounds. To put it simply, the shadow of war loomed over everything. In a world drenched in war’s horrors and painted in shades of blood, there was no concealing, not even one’s love. My brother wasn’t an ordinary man; he was a soldier, leading a band of warriors. My sisters and I were at their constant service. While most sought refuge from the terror of war, we toiled to ensure the food was seasoned just right with salt, to make it taste like home.
In the midst of this chaos, a man I believed would become my husband proposed to me. I got wind of his proposal a few days later.
Our encounters were few and distant. There were moments, such as when he visited our guesthouse, conversing with my brother, or when I spotted him on the mountain path with a rifle on his shoulder. From a distance, I had fallen head over heels for him. Maybe he felt the same way about me, as he decided to propose to our home. When I heard of his proposal, it felt like the world had transformed, and I was filled with uncontainable joy. I yearned to prepare a feast for all of my brother’s comrades, take to the mountains, and dance like a wild spirit. Dancing was my passion, and it still is.
My worst fears came true. I dreaded that my brother might reject his proposal, and it unfolded just as I had feared. My brother commanded great respect, and people regarded him with a sense of reverence. They sought his counsel for every matter. To this day, when conflicts arise within our community, they will bring them to him for resolution. But for me, there was no one to intercede with my brother and make amends.
From the very first time my brother rejected their proposal, silence became our unwelcome companion. I, too, couldn’t muster the courage to confront my brother. I’m not sure how it transpired, but one day, I found myself in the company of my suitor at his uncle’s house. He was there with me. I was enticed, and I offered no resistance. That marked the commencement of a series of dark chapters in my life. My brother insisted that we relocate, and so we did. We left our home and possessions behind, all to ensure that my husband’s presence didn’t cast a shadow on my brother’s reputation and to avert a potentially horrifying incident.
Amidst the chaos of war, our displacement grew even more profound. While my husband stood at the war’s frontlines, I, a new bride, returned to my in-laws’ home. Sadly, his departure marked a one-way journey. Numerous wars ebbed and flowed, regimes came and went, but his homecoming remained elusive. Not even the birth of our daughter could beckon him back. Throughout all those years, I never allowed the thought that he might be gone to take root. He was just one of many who, on a fateful morning, shouldered their burdens, grasped their weapons, and marched away, destined never to return.
Their reappearance is not a resurrection, but a state somewhere between life and death. I’ve witnessed countless mothers who, each night, cling to the clothes of their sons, labeled as “the disappeared,” and come morning, they sit by the door, yearning for their return. There are even those who refuse to abandon their old homes, nurturing the hope that one day, their sons will return to recognize the familiar abode. War robbed us of our lives, shredded our existence into fragments, and left us utterly broken.
I’ve become a mere shadow of myself, aged and worn, with silver strands adorning my hair. Perhaps it’s unconventional to voice these thoughts, and I’ve never shared them before, but today, I will. People often say that time heals and that the pain fades within five years, but they can’t comprehend what it’s like to lose someone for whom you’ve sacrificed everything. The day I eloped with him, I turned my back on the world, and when he departed, he turned his back on me. I was left all alone. At times, I find myself whispering, “I wish he were dead, I wish I had received word of his demise, so I wouldn’t have spent my entire life waiting for him.” For him and a few others, they held a symbolic funeral for the missing. After two years, they solemnly beat the drums of death for them. But how could they? Where he had disappeared, there was no war and many other factors made his death hard to fathom.
As my daughter learned to express her laughter and tears, recognizing me, I sensed that my husband’s home was no longer where I belonged. Her family had no room for me, and they rejected not only me but my daughter as well. I sought refuge in my father’s house, a place where my presence was barely tolerated. I would retreat to a room that belonged to my brother, and he would turn away from me. This pattern persisted as we moved from one place to another, our homes crumbling under the relentless assault of bombs and gunpowder. We lost not only our possessions but also many dear ones. Yet, that gaze, the same gaze that guided me when I was lost, remained. I carried a heavy burden of guilt for a long time, tormenting myself. On one side, my husband’s absence haunted me, while on the other, the family’s embittered and disdainful perception of me, was compounded by the presence of my daughter.
My heart ached for my daughter and myself, but I persevered and carried on. My brother’s lingering resentment slowly ebbed away, and his behavior improved. I dedicated myself to serving him day and night, a role I still fulfill. In this household, my service extended to my brother, his nephews, and even his stepchildren, and it continues to this day. You might wonder, “What about your daughter? Why didn’t you go with her?” My daughter was my light and my hope. I married her off, but I couldn’t be with her. For a time, I believed I could live with her and not be a burden on my brother, but I soon realized I couldn’t bear residing in my daughter’s home.
My daughter isn’t the kind who looks after her mother. Despite pouring my energy and life into raising her through all sorts of situations, now, in her adult life, she holds me close in my last days. These days, as I grow weaker and closer to the end, this thought haunts me more than ever. But what can I do? I feel that in the final moments of my life, especially these days, I yearn to see my husband. I tell myself that perhaps one of these days he will come to visit, or maybe others are right, that the war took him years ago, and now it’s my turn to rush to reunite with him.
Note: The author of this story has written it from the perspective of the victim.