Ali Salami

Someone Else’s Child By Jalal Al-e Ahmad

What could I do? My husband was unwilling to take care of the child with me. The child, from my previous marriage, was not his, and my ex-husband had refused to take the child. What would someone else in my situation have done? I had to live my life too. If my current husband also divorced me, what would I do? I had no choice but to make the child disappear somehow. As a blind and deaf woman, I couldn’t think of anything else. I didn’t know any places, nor did I know of any solutions.

I knew I had the option to leave my child in a nursery or entrust him to someone else in need. But how could I be sure they would accept my child? I was plagued with doubts: Would they make me wait, tarnish my reputation, and label me and my child with a thousand derogatory names? How could I possibly know for certain? I didn’t want our story to end like this. That same evening, when I was discussing this with the neighbors… I can’t recall who exactly said it, but one of them remarked, ‘Well, woman, you could have taken your child to the nursery. Or you might have taken him to the orphanage and…’

I don’t know what else she said, but at that moment, my mother interjected, ‘Do you think they would have accepted it? Ha!’ Although I had also considered this, hearing that neighbor woman’s words made my heart sink. I thought to myself, ‘Well, woman, have you ever gone there to get rejected?’ Then, I told my mother, ‘I wish I had done that.’

But I was clueless. I wasn’t sure if they would accept the path I’d chosen, and by then, it was too late. The woman’s words weighed heavily on me, as if a world of sorrows had descended upon my heart. All the sweet moments with my child flooded back to me. Overwhelmed, I couldn’t bear it anymore and, in front of the whole neighborhood, I cried my heart out. It was terrible! I overheard one of them whisper, ‘She’s crying! Isn’t she ashamed?’

My mother came to my rescue once again. She comforted me a lot. She was right, after all. I am still young; why should I grieve so much over a child? Especially when my husband doesn’t accept me with the child. I have plenty of time to have three or four more children. True, it was my first child, and perhaps I shouldn’t have done what I did… but now that it’s done, there’s no use in dwelling on it. I didn’t even have the strength to carry it out myself. It was my husband who insisted, and he was right. He didn’t want to see the offspring of another man at his table. When I was fixing my scarf, I would find myself agreeing with him. Would I be willing to love my husband’s children as my own? To not see them as a burden in my life? To not view them as superfluous at my husband’s table? Well, he felt the same way. He had the right not to want the child of another man – as he put it – at his table. During those two days at his house, it was all about the child. On the last night, we talked a lot. Well, not that we talked much, but he brought up the child again, and I listened. In the end, I asked, ‘Okay, what do you suggest I do?’”

My husband didn’t say anything initially. After a moment of thought, he said, ‘I don’t know what you should do. Do whatever you think is best. I don’t want to see the leftover of another man at my table.’ He left me without any solutions. That night, he didn’t join me in bed. It was our third night together, and he was already upset with me. I could tell he was trying to anger me, to hasten my decision regarding the child. In the morning, as he was leaving the house, he said, ‘When I come back at noon, I don’t want to see the child, okay?’

I understood my duty then. Now, no matter how much I reflect, I can’t comprehend how I agreed to it! But it felt beyond my control. I put on my prayer veil, took my nearly three-year-old child by the hand, and followed my husband out. He walked confidently by himself. The hard part was realizing I had dedicated three years of my life to him. That was very difficult. The sleepless nights and struggles were over. This was supposed to be the beginning of ease. But I had to do what was necessary. Hand in hand, we walked to the bus station. I had even dressed him in his best clothes – a little blue suit his previous father had recently bought for him. As I was dressing him, I thought, ‘Woman, why are you putting his new clothes on him?’

Yet, my heart couldn’t accept it. What else was there to do? Curse my husband’s eyes, if I get pregnant again, let him go and buy clothes for the child. So, I dressed him up, combed his hair, and he looked very handsome. Holding his hand, and with my other hand securing my prayer veil around my waist, we walked slowly. There was no need any more to scold him to hurry up. This was the last time I was taking him out with me. A few times, he asked me to buy him some sweets. I said, ‘Let’s get on the bus first, then I’ll buy you some sweets!’”

The memory of that day, like many others, remains vivid in my mind. My child was full of endless questions. Nearby, a horse had trapped its foot in a water drain, attracting a crowd. My son insisted on being lifted to see the commotion. After showing him, he asked if the horse was hurt. I told him yes, adding that it had happened because the horse hadn’t listened to its mother. As we made our way to the bus stop, we moved slowly. It was early, and the buses were crowded. I remember waiting there for about half an hour before we could catch the right bus. My son was growing restless, and his constant questioning was wearing on me. He kept asking why the bus was taking so long and when we would buy the sweets. I reassured him that we would get sweets once on the bus. Eventually, we boarded bus number seven and got off at Shah Square, where he continued his incessant chatter and questioning. At one point, he asked where we were going. Without thinking, I replied, ‘We’re going to see your dad.’ This confused him, and he asked which dad I was referring to.

Losing my patience, I scolded him for talking too much and threatened not to buy him any sweets if he didn’t stop. My heart aches now, remembering how harshly I treated him then. I had made a promise to myself not to get angry or scold him, to treat him kindly until the end. But in those final moments, my harsh words broke his heart. He became silent, turning his attention to the bus driver’s assistant who was entertaining him. Despite his attempts to engage me, I paid little attention, absorbed in my own thoughts. At Shah Square, I asked the driver to stop the bus. As we disembarked, my son was still laughing amidst the crowd and hustle of the square, with buses coming and going. I was consumed with fear about the task ahead. We wandered around for a while, maybe half an hour, as the buses became less frequent. Then, I took a ten-shahi coin from my pocket and handed it to my son. He looked at me with wide, surprised eyes, unaccustomed to handling money. Across the square, a vendor was shouting about desiccated pumpkin seeds. Pointing to him, I encouraged my son to go buy some sweets by himself. He looked at the money and then back at me, his innocence palpable as he asked, ‘Mommy, are you coming too?’”

I said, ‘No, I am standing here waiting for you. Go and see if you can buy it yourself.’ My child looked at the money again. He seemed doubtful and unsure how to make a purchase, a task I had never taught him. His gaze was fixed on me, filled with an expression that made my heart sink. I felt terrible, truly awful. I was on the verge of changing my mind. After he left, I ran away, and since then – even on that evening when I cried in front of the door and neighbors in sheer sorrow – I’ve never felt so heartbroken and awful. It was a pivotal moment. My child appeared bewildered, as if he still wanted to ask me something. I don’t know how I managed to restrain myself. I pointed to the pumpkin seeds again and said, ‘Go on, dear! Give this money to him, tell him to give you pumpkin seeds, that’s all. Go on, well done.’

My little one glanced at the pumpkin seeds and then, as if searching for an excuse to cry, said, ‘Mom, I don’t want pumpkin seeds. I want raisins.’ I was becoming increasingly miserable. If my child had hesitated any longer, or had started to cry, I would have definitely changed my mind. But he did not cry. Losing patience, I yelled at him, ‘He has raisins too. Go buy whatever you want. Just go.’ Then, I lifted him from the edge of the sidewalk and placed him on the asphalt in the middle of the street. I gently pushed him forward, urging, ‘Go on, it’s getting late.’

The street was empty. From where we stood to the far end, there was neither a bus nor a carriage that could harm my child. He had taken a few steps when he turned back and asked, ‘Mom, does he also have raisins?’ I replied, ‘Yes, dear. Tell him to give you ten shahis of raisins.’ And off he went. My child had reached the middle of the street when suddenly a car honked, startling me. Instinctively, I threw myself into the street, hugged my child, and ran to the sidewalk, seeking refuge among the people. Sweat dripped from my head and face, and I was panting. My little one asked, ‘Mom! Why did you do that?’

I responded, ‘Nothing, dear. They drive quickly through the middle of the street. You were going too slow, you almost got hit by a car.’ As I spoke, I was on the brink of tears. Holding me tightly, my child said, ‘Well, mom, put me down on the ground. This time I will run fast.’”

Perhaps if my little one hadn’t spoken those words, I might have forgotten why I had come there. But his statement snapped me back to reality. I hadn’t yet wiped the tears from my eyes when the purpose of my visit came rushing back to me. I remembered my husband and his impending anger. I kissed my child, realizing it was the last kiss I would ever place on his face. After kissing him, I gently set him down on the ground and whispered in his ear, ‘Hurry up, dear, a car might come.’

The street was still empty, and this time my child moved more quickly. He hastened his small steps, and I feared two or three times that he might stumble and fall. When he reached the other side of the street, he turned back to glance at me. I was gathering the hems of my chador under my arms, starting to walk away. His gaze made me freeze in place, feeling like a thief caught red-handed. It reminded me of the time I was caught rummaging through my former husband’s pockets. I began to sweat again. Lowering my head, I struggled to regain composure. When I finally looked up, my child had resumed walking and was nearing the pumpkin seed vendor. My task was complete.

My child had safely crossed the street. From that moment, it was as if I no longer had a child. The last time I saw my child, it felt like I was observing someone else’s. I admired him as one does a sweet, little child belonging to someone else, taking pleasure in watching him from afar. I quickly blended into the crowd on the sidewalk. But then, panic set in. I almost stopped dead in my tracks, overwhelmed by the fear that someone might have witnessed my dark deed. This thought sent shivers down my spine, and I hastened my pace. Two alleys down, I intended to slip into the backstreets and disappear. I had just reached the end of the alley when suddenly, a taxi braked sharply behind me on the street.

It felt as though they were about to catch me. My bones trembled with fear. I thought the policeman at the intersection, who seemed to have been observing me, had hopped into the taxi, followed me, and was now about to apprehend me. I don’t know how I managed to turn around and look back. Then, I collapsed in relief. The passengers of the taxi had already paid their fare and were stepping out. Breathing a sigh of relief, another thought struck me. Without fully realizing what I was doing, and without my eyes registering much, I jumped into the taxi and slammed the door shut. The driver muttered under his breath and drove off. My chador got caught in the door as we departed. Once the taxi was in motion and I felt certain of my escape, I carefully opened the door. I retrieved my chador from where it was caught and closed the door again. Leaning back in the seat, I took a deep breath. That night, I couldn’t even manage to extract the taxi fare from my husband.

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