| This is the 319th story of Our Life Logs |
I am 36 years old. When people look at me, they think I’m way older, but that’s what it is. I did not choose the kind of life that ages the heart and wrinkles the skin, but guess what? I am happy and satisfied.
I was the first born to Sardar Ali and Mukhtar Begum in Multan, Pakistan, but shifted to the city of Lahore for my treatment when I was very young. When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with a birth defect called phocomelia. Both my legs are defective, twisted and lifeless as two ropes. I prefer to sit on the ground and pull my body with my arms. It does not hurt, but moving too much causes rashes on my legs due to friction.
When my parents found out that I would never walk normally, they were devastated. You see, my father was a gardener and my mother was a simple housewife. They could not afford the medical expenses in Multan, giving them no choice but to move to Lahore for free treatments. My father found a job in our new city, and my relatives who were already residing here helped us find a good house. It was a rented house. My father never made enough money to own a place of his own, but he always tried to give us the best of everything. Soon after, my three younger siblings were born, and we all started growing together.
Until I was six years old, I did not realize that I was born with a condition. I may have noticed the differences between myself and my brothers and my sister, but my parents, especially my mother, never let me feel that I was incomplete or flawed in any way. For that matter, my siblings were also very considerate and loving. I was happy and cared for.
Unfortunately, I could not stay naïve for long. When I was 10 years old, my parents told me about my birth defect and how it would affect my life. My mother’s eyes were sad as I cried on the floor. My father’s eyes shifted away from mine when he told me that he could not send me to school. Though my parents wanted me to learn, my father didn’t have money for a good school and he thought that I was not really worth spending money on. Instead, he said that he needed to invest that money on my siblings. I really didn’t hate him for that. He had to prepare his next oldest son to be his right hand, a position that I did not have much hope to become.
As I grew older, I longed to go outside and play with my younger siblings. I wanted to enjoy life as they did, however, my body never allowed for that. When I scooted my legs across the footpaths, large friction rashes appeared. These red welts begged me to stay in one place, and I had no choice but to listen. I used to sit for hours, waiting for someone to spend time with me. I got so bored staring at the hot air that settled outside our windows.
So, that is how my childhood unraveled. I was sad and depressed and I thought that life was very unfair and cruel. I did not travel outside often, but I knew what the people thought when I caught them staring at my bent legs. I knew because my cousins told me. When they came to visit our home, they said I was a cursed child and were disgusted by my presence. Even the littlest cousins called me “monster,” and rarely dared to stand near me.
The sadness I felt was uncontrollable. Many times, I thought of killing myself to be free from the torture in which I lived. I never did because I knew I would just hurt my parents even more, especially my mother who might not have been able to bear the loss. Although my father had grown distant for reasons I don’t know, my mother has always loved me beyond measure. I used to sit at her feet and ask her why my father never talked to me the way he talked to my siblings. Each time I wailed with despair, my mother would just hug me and always twist the topic. For her, I kept living even though I knew I was considered a liability to my family.
I won’t tell you that I am happy with the way I am, but I am not thankless. I believe that my God showed me the goodness in the world when I was 11 years old.
At that time, a maulvi (Islamic scholar) who lived in the neighborhood started coming over to our home and taught me the Quran, the Islamic sacred book. He didn’t have money and he didn’t ask for any in return, but still, he sat with me each week and taught me how to read the Quran and how to have a relationship with our God. I think that he understood me the way I wanted to be understood, a way that nobody—not even my own parents—was able to see. It was my mentor and friend, Maulvi Mufeed Rehman, who showed me the kindness I had always wanted and the inspiration that I would keep for the rest of my life.
As the years passed, I always told myself to remember what Maulvi Mufeed Rehman taught me about God and about myself. This did not make my depression go away, but it did cut holes in my self-loathing and doubt. I was conscious of my condition; I felt suffocated and tortured, but I bore it all because I was taught that God always has a plan for each of us. If he made me like this then maybe he had a plan for me. Maybe I was going to heaven because I already went through hell in this life.
At 22 years old, I decided to leave the torture and depression behind and move forward with the little that I had. Although it was very unlikely for me to find work that I could do, I had faith that I would find a way to help my family and contribute to our earnings. My two brothers abandoned their education a few years before completing to help run the house. My father had stopped working because of his asthmatic problems and old age and turned all his duties over to my brothers. Still, they weren’t making very much money, and I was determined to help.
I asked one of the other maulvis in my neighborhood to help me ask shop owners if they were in need of a worker. After weeks of no luck, I was introduced to a man named Sajid who had a small business of selling secondhand items like bags and shoes. He needed someone to sit in one place and sell his merchandise. I thought this was a great opportunity and immediately began working for this man.
On my first day, Sajid dropped me off at the liberty market with several bags and pairs of shoes. For the rest of the day, I sold them to the passersby while feeling a mixture of nervousness and pride. It was decided that the amount of money that I made would be divided into two parts equally for each of us. It was at least better than nothing at all, so, I was pretty much happy with it.
It’s been now 14 years that I come to liberty market to sell bags. Not every day is a good day, and it’s not every day that I make money, but I’m happy with the fact that I have a job and am able to cover my expenses at home. I’m so tired after spending the entire day at work that I don’t get to think about all the things that I never got.
I don’t like to be pitied or felt bad because I’m happy in my life. I have food to eat, a house to sleep, and people who love me. My father is still sick, but I think the ice of our relationship has started to melt after all these years. He asks for me every day. My siblings spend time with me and look after me. My mother cooks amazing dishes for me whenever she can. This life is small but it’s all I ever wanted.
This is the story of Ashraf Hussain
Ashraf was born in Dubai where doctors diagnosed him with the birth defect phocomelia that rendered his legs useless. For years, Ashraf grew weary of the way the world treated him and the physical limitations that subjected him to a life of solitude. It was a maulvi (Islamic scholar) who ultimately gave Ashraf the hope to live by extending wisdom and kindness. Ashraf has been working as a street vendor for 14 years now, selling secondhand items to shoppers. Ashraf takes comfort in his faith and looks forward to his reward in the next life.
This story first touched our hearts on May 1, 2019.
| Writer: Noor Pasha | Editor: Colleen Walker |