| This is the 546th story of Our Life Logs® |
My name is Qaisar. I was born and raised poor in the 1980s with my four siblings. My father was a gardener in the small town of Gujranwala, Pakistan, back when the city was small. A small town meant fewer homes to hire my father, which meant that our family always did without. Our meals were stretched thin and education was out of the question.
Even though we lived a hard life, my father believed deeply in the divinity of God. He believed that God is very kind to his creation and, even though we were suffering, there was some meaning behind it. Under the influence of my father, I was preached to about God and how to trust in his plan.
A few years down the road, I moved to Lahore to try to start my own life. I married my aunt’s daughter Salma, a girl who I was honestly in love with since I first saw her at 15. She was like a pure angel. She was my everything. Marrying her was like a dream.
I hoped that moving to Lahore would change my life for the better and give me a chance to escape poverty. I wanted to give Salma the life she could have only dreamed of. This was all, of course, easier said than done. Being illiterate and having zero experience beyond gardening made getting a better life extremely difficult.
Not long after I got married, my father sadly died from a heart attack, so I didn’t get to learn more from him. Just four years later, my mother joined him in the afterlife. But maybe, just maybe, there was still meaning to be found. I remembered my father’s words in my grief.
Despite the struggles, we managed to rent a very small house from the savings that Salma and I had. I worked as a guard, a garbage cleaner, a postman, and a car cleaner during the initial years in Lahore. Eventually, I settled as a restaurant worker. It was tough, sometimes unbearable, but I kept fighting. I wanted nothing more than the happiness of my wife.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Salma was giving birth to our fifth child when joy quickly turned to panic. She was losing far too much blood with every breath she clung to. As soon as the baby came into the world, pink and screaming, Salma left. I completely fell apart. I blamed myself for her death because she was fragile after the fourth, but we tried for a fifth child anyway. I felt so numb. I kept asking the skies, why must we lose the ones we love most? Why must we suffer?
For days, I didn’t talk to my children. In fact, their aunties and uncles swept them away for the first month after my Salma passed. And for a month, my heart was as empty as my home. I locked myself in my room and stared at the wall, wondering if, within the details, I could find a way to bring her back. It was a loser’s game; frivolous hope in the reality of grief.
In the first month after her death, my children were looked after by their aunts and uncles. I had no clue how my children were coping because I wasn’t there for them. Although after a month, I knew I had to go back to being a parent and go back to work. As broken as I was, I was still full of love for my children.
Who knew that just after a month of grieving that a pandemic would hit the nation and people like us would be crawled upon and crumpled into ashes?
I had heard about the virus but what I didn’t know was that I could be its victim too. Not long after going back to work at the restaurant, I fell terribly sick. And it wasn’t just me. The entire staff of the restaurant got sick. And with that development, the restaurant was sealed up.
The first thought that came to mind when I saw my positive test was protecting my kids. They were all I had. I wanted a safe place for them to stay while I recovered but nobody would take them in out of fear that I might have given it to them already. So, I had no choice but to keep them with me while I fought the virus.
I would cough for hours and burn with a fever while I worried about my kids. I couldn’t go near my children and they were strictly forbidden to come near me. We would look at each other from a distance, hoping that this virus wouldn’t drag me away from them for good. They too had lost far too much.
Sometimes their aunts and uncles would just put some food outside the house for all of us. Even though it wasn’t enough, we managed. My eldest son would make me tea sometimes with some dried bread. Other times, he would just make hot water and grass soup. How can a father watch helplessly as his children starve and cry? Perhaps, a father can bear anything but the cry of his children. I would curse myself day and night, crying myself to sleep at how helpless of a father I was.
This went on for 16 days. By the 19th day, I was completely COVID-19 free again. The day I was cleared, I rushed to my kids and smothered them with kisses. I think this was the most painful thing in my entire life. Losing Salma was the second. This reminded me of my father, who worked all his life only to see tears in our eyes. I wanted to hug him at that moment and tell him how much I loved him and missed him. I was now in his shoes, and I understood and respected all he did for us.
I left my house the very next day for a job venture. I wandered into the ghost town and found nothing. I couldn’t lose hope. I couldn’t bear the prospect of returning home penniless to my children, so, I decided to beg on the street till I made enough to get us at least one meal.
I begged for hours with little luck because fewer people were on the streets because of the virus. People were pretty reluctant to open their car windows. Still, some were kind enough to throw me some money. They would keep a distance and would refrain from touching, but that didn’t matter to me. I was grateful to be helped. I was only able to make 150 rupees, but it was better than nothing. So, I bought eggs for my children. It was comforting to see them eat after a long time.
I considered begging for the rest of COVID-19. Then, the idea of getting back to gardening crossed my mind. With it being outdoor work and little to no interaction with others, now seemed like the perfect time to get back into it. I hurried over to houses I knew that needed gardeners and applied there. I wasn’t expecting a prompt reply, but one house responded, asking me to come the very next day.
The virus had sucked the life out of me and left me drained. It made the working in scorching heat feel torturous and sometimes seemed impossible. Still, I had no choice. I had to keep moving and earning. Among many things, I wanted to earn enough to get treatment for my six-year-old son who cannot speak. I had to do a lot with very little money, but one must start from somewhere, right? As the blazing sun beamed down on me, I reminded myself that my only priority was feeding my children. So, I worked with all my heart without complaining.
I never knew anyone who had contracted the virus who had gotten it a second time. Sadly, that is what happened to me. After two months of work and exhaustion, I was diagnosed with the virus again. The people I worked for were kind enough to get my test done and send in some rations for my children.
I knew this feeling all too well. Burning lungs. Hacking cough. Guilt. Sadness. Fear. I prayed and prayed to survive. My house was thankfully stocked up with a month’s worth of food for my kids as I recovered. My children would look at me with gloomy and confused eyes, but I would always force a smile and assure them that I was going to be okay. I had to tell myself that too.
They say that recovery is mental as much as physical. I believe that my mind knew that if I died, my children would have to live on the streets. I knew if I died, my children would die too.
In my suffering, I saw what was most important to me. In my sadness, I told myself that the happy days would come. In the dark, I willed myself to lean in the light. I remembered my father’s words. If we suffer for lesson’s sake, then these were ones I had to cherish forever.
I sometimes wonder if God was testing me, giving me a second chance after letting my kids down after Salma’s death. I definitely have found my will to fight, and it’s my five children. I don’t them to ever feel unloved by me ever again. I want them to feel fully loved despite the absence of their mother. I have to at least try. Life can feel ruthless and difficult, but we must continue to fight, find a reason to keep going. For me, that will always be my children.
This is the story of Qaisar Basheer
Qaisar, 34, is a brave man who fought the virus twice because he wanted to return back to care for his children. He is going through a hard time, but he refuses to lose hope. Qaisar wants to give his children a good life including saving money to get his son who is mute treated. He wants to do so much more for his children. He aims to be a wonderful father to them.
This story first touched our hearts on October 16, 2020
Writer: Noor Pasha| Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker