Updated: Jul 1, 2020
| This is the 176th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in 1969, in a small village in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. As a little boy, I would help my father sell fresh cookies in the streets of our city, Lahore. We woke up early on many mornings, and together, we walked the heavy loads of sweets to the markets.
On these walks—if we were lucky—we would see large airplanes pass overhead sometimes. They were like magic. It intrigued me how one person could travel from one country to another so effortlessly in such a tremendously big world. I pondered this often as the bottoms of my feet pressed into the ground below.
As I helped my father sell our goods, he would often tell me that I would one day be a thailay wala (a peddler) like him. No, no, I told him, I was going to fly airplanes like the ones that buzzed overhead. I would be a pilot and sail among the clouds. My father’s warm face curled into a smile as I talked about my dreams. Every time, he would laugh and say, “My son, we are too poor for those kinds of dreams.”
The day would continue and our stock would be lighter, but never gone. We made little money, despite how much time we spent preparing, or how hot the sun was that day. After coming home in defeat, the only thing we could do was prepare for tomorrow.
When I was 12, my father passed away due to a sudden cardiac arrest. Life felt heavy. Our grief was blunted by our halted income. With my father working as a peddler, my family had nothing. Now without my father, we had less than nothing. At 12 years old, I was the new head of the family. I had to take charge of his business and take care of my little sister and my mother who was growing ill.
Since I was too young to run the business alone, I didn’t bring much money home. In fact, I scarcely made any money at all. Many times, I thought of working at another shop or business, but nobody accepted me because of my adolescence. Days were hard and very agonizing. There were nights we went to sleep hungry, not knowing where the next day’s meal would come from or if it would come at all. On top of that, my mom was suffering from severe gastritis, which needed expensive medicine. I managed our money carefully. I wanted to help my mother and to give my little sister the education I could not get. If I was to be a peddler, she would have to be something greater.
It’s a shame that hard work didn’t change our fate.
After a few years of unexplainable pain, my mother passed away when I was 17. Oh, it was something deeper than heartbreak. But I had no time to wallow. Instead, I made a plan for my sister. I would do anything to give her a good life, not one like mine.
At the time, she was 14 and had just passed 10th grade. While I knew education was important to her, she assured me that she did not want to study any further. So, I began making arrangements to get her married with the leftover savings I had. She agreed for the time being and showed no resentment towards this decision, which made me think she was content—happy, even.
For many years, I saved money, little by little, for my new dream of a future business and for my sister’s marriage. The days were difficult, but I did not have a choice if I wanted to make a good life.
One day, after setting my half-empty bags down in the front room of our home, I called for my sister—but heard no answer. I looked around our home. Then I searched our street. She was nowhere to be found. When I came home to see if she had simply come home late, I found a letter in her room addressed to me. In it, she wrote that she had run away with a guy she had fallen in love with. I can’t remember if I cried. I went to check on my savings I kept hidden in our home. The jar was hollow. I had nothing.
I wasn’t angry. I was just sad. I didn’t have any relatives in the city to ask for help and I didn’t want to face the shame of asking anyway, so I decided to let it be. That night I wept while I prepared for the next day’s market.
I had nobody to talk to or share my sorrows with, which made my sister’s disappearance harder. I didn’t hate her, but I did hate myself. I felt guilty not being a good brother. I had tried so hard to fulfill my responsibilities and give my all to my family but I had failed at creating a good life for us. Eventually, I stopped searching for my sister. My guilt and sorrow felt heavier up each time I came home without her. In my hopelessness, I lost all motivation and strength to earn or work. I stayed in my house for days because of my dilemma.
Months passed by like this when one day, some distant relatives from another province far away showed up at my door. My family was always too poor to visit them, but I used to hear my mom say that they were good people. They had moved to live in Lahore, the same city I lived. Unaware of what had happened, they came to pay us a surprise visit. But there was no “us.” It was only me.
I had to explain, and my uncle listened. When I finished, my uncle offered me money I needed to set up a new business. In return, I was to accept their daughter’s hand in marriage. I would not have said no if that was the only word I knew! No doubt I needed money, but what’s more, his daughter was beautiful and charming. I fell for her, years ago, in the first moment I saw her. I had always wanted to marry her, but I was too scared. There were far greater suitors with more money than I had ever had.
My uncle’s offer surprised me, so I asked him the reason behind his decision. He smiled as he said, “I trust you and I know you. You will provide for my daughter because you are hardworking, just like your father was before you.”
Not too long after, we got married, and it was the happiest day of my life.
In 1994, quickly after my wedding, my father-in-law helped me start a small business. What else did I know besides being a thailay wala? My wife proposed the idea of selling daal chaawal, an Asian delicacy which the people of Pakistan love to eat. “Chaawal” means rice and “daal” means lentils. My wife was an amazing cook and offered me her full-time services, as she would cook the food the night before selling. Again, how could I say no? It was sure to be successful.
We had our first daughter a year after we got married and since then we have had three more daughters. I can’t praise my wife enough for how brilliantly she manages everything. To boost our family’s income, she has even started stitching clothes to help pay for our daughters’ school fees, while I work day and night to bring food for the family. That is happiness, after all.