'Stay close! And for God's sake, be good!' Meera exclaimed. She held her six-year-old daughter close, her seven-month-old son snuggled to her chest. She was burdened not only by her children but also by an overstuffed backpack and a trolley bearing two shoddy suitcases. The little family entered the International Airport in Jeddah.
'Slow down, Mummy,' Farha whined as she struggled to keep up.
Meera lined up at the Saudi Arabia Airlines counter.
Suddenly, she froze. 'That can't be him!' she thought.
Seeing her mother's frightened face, Farha began to cry.
The passengers behind hustled the family forward. As they moved ahead, Meera snapped back to reality and tried to comfort her daughter. She realized the man in front of her wasn't her husband at all. Same height, same light brown hair, same broad shoulders, but not her husband. She squatted beside her daughter and cuddled her. 'We're okay. Mummy loves you.'
After receiving the boarding passes and checking the luggage, Meera moved ahead to immigration. Her son, Faizan, started to squirm in his wrap.
'Travelling to?' The immigration officer asked firmly.
'New Delhi,' Meera murmured, feeling a threatening lump in her throat. Her sweaty palms gripped Farha's hand tightly. Faizan whimpered, and Farha whined and wiggled her hand.
'Mummy! Too tight!'
'Purpose of visit?' The officer continued, his brow furrowed.
'My…my father's very sick… His dying wish is to see me and my children before he passes,' Meera's voice trembled.
The cold officer scanned Farha's face. He scowled.
Meera paused and blinked a few times, her heart pounding in her chest.
‘Umm … he … umm …’
'Where is Umair Aslam? Why isn't he traveling with you? He doesn't want to meet his father-in-law?' The officer shot out.
Meera felt her knees go weak. Her hand fluttered.
'Arfa sotak (Speak up),' the officer ordered.
'My Daddy isn't here. He is always at the office,' Farha uttered, her bright curls bobbing.
The officer chuckled at Farha's innocence, patted her head, and signaled them forward.
'Shukra (Thank you),' Meera nodded hurriedly.
'That was close,' Meera breathed. 'If they even got the slightest hint that I'm running away from Umair … that would be the end!' She thought.
Suddenly, Farha exclaimed, 'Look… there's Dunkin Donuts! Mummy! You promised!' Meera placed the order and found a table. Someone's ringtone played Meera's favorite song, Rockabye.
The words of the song rang in her head. The music lifted her heart. Her whole body began to vibrate. She took several deep breaths.
Eventually, Meera gathered her two children and found a quiet corner near the departure gate. Farha snuggled close to her mother, and they settled down for a two-hour wait.
'Are you okay, Farha?' Her mother asked.
'Mummy…I'm scared… What if Papa finds us?'
'Don't worry, we are safe now. Soon, we will be high in the sky. Your Mumma has got you!'
Farha let out a long sigh and took Faizan in her lap. Meera stretched her legs and held herself close. She drifted a little.
Meera and Umair had met at a dinner party. He was so charismatic then. His looks, his charm, his humour, and his concerns for her well-being all had her hooked. She would have married him right away if she could have. Her parents were worried. When he asked for her hand in marriage, she was ecstatic. She went willingly to be his wife in Jeddah. And her mother wept.
But soon, it was Meera who was weeping. On the night of her arrival, she discovered Umair already had a first wife. What a shock! She was not the one and only. A fact that she found impossible to accept, a betrayal that ultimately ruined their marriage. Umair's first wife hated her and turned him against Meera.
'Can't you just learn to be a good second wife?' Was his constant refrain.
Umair changed from being kind to cruel, compassionate to barbaric, supportive to demeaning. Eventually, he began raising his hand, whipping her with his belt, and forcing himself upon her. His crazy rages were all directed at Meera. At the same time, his first wife received all his love. Soon, Meera was cowering whenever Umair entered the room. She had no friends, no allies; she couldn't tell her parents. No place in Jeddah was safe for her.
This became Meera's life. She held out hope that he might love her again. And then, one evening, the unthinkable happened. Umair raised his hand to Farha. Meera cried out. She moved instinctively to shield her daughter. And she knew…
Without hesitation, she planned this subterfuge. Her unremitting fear slowed her down while it urged her on. She began to think she might lose her life before she made this getaway. The love of her life had become her greatest horror.
Meera scanned the airport lounge, keeping a watchful eye. The place seemed to be busy and bustling with all sorts of passengers. Deep down, she feared that Umair might come for her. She tried to keep her mind from wandering back to all the foul and hideous things he had said and done … all the times he had brutalized her.
'Mummy… Mummy!' Farha pulled on her mother's sleeve. 'Everyone is getting up.'
Meera broke out of her stupor, organized her hand luggage, took her children, and headed towards the gate.
As their flight touched down at Indira Gandhi International Airport, Meera knew she wasn't safe yet. She feared that Umair would hunt for them. And he would know where to look. But she also knew she would be safe with her family … where she and her children would always belong.