It’s funny, Shahnaz… can I call you Shahnaz without the “aunt” prefix? I think I’ll call you that right now. As I was saying, it’s funny how the other night I thought of you. I hadn’t thought of you in a very long time. I can’t even remember - that long. And then I learned half a day later that you were no more.
You had passed away a week before and no one even bothered to tell me. No one even bothered to tell me!
I locked myself up in my room. I had to work on this report about arrests somewhere far away; write about this woman who was murdered in our own region; other things I don’t remember. For hours, I agonized. I tried talking to friends. To some family - the ones who care. And you know, Shahnaz, I realized the only way I was going to find any closure was to write something.
Several more hours of agony…
I thought about writing a blistering post, naming and shaming everyone who was responsible for the miserable life you were forced to live for 70+ years. I thought, maybe I could tie this to women’s rights since it’s critical to write about that in Afghanistan right now. I even thought I’d share some stories about you and I.
I don’t want to make my memorial of you about the very people who tormented you your entire life. They can rot in hell. I’m not going to politicize this. You’re too near and dear to me to be exploited for political causes, even good ones. And you know what, sharing our stories wasn’t going to do anything to fill the hole that’d been dug in my heart over your life and now death.
For me to have any kind of closure, this couldn’t possibly be it. Call me mad; but in a drunken moment of madness, I willed the universe to reconsider and do what I wanted.
So the moment your wandering soul that reached out to me that night flew away and settled into a new body that was just about to be born. The new you, you, were conceived by two souls out of their genuine love and affection for each other. Your parents couldn’t be more delighted to have a baby girl! You are now soundly sleeping in a tiny little crib, bought just for you several months ago, by your parents, in a room, adorned with dolls, with pink and green walls and rainbows and bunnies.
Your father just walked in and made sure you are tucked in under a soft blanket. He quietly goes to bed with your mother and they smile at each other, feeling blessed and lucky to have a beautiful little daughter like you. He’s a wonderful guy, you know. He’s not a pedophile. Neither has he ever cheated on your mom. Nor will he marry twice more, forcing all the wives to live under the same roof and beating them mercilessly if they ever did anything he didn’t want them to.
He’s educated, well-grounded and kind-hearted. He’ll never yell at a woman, let alone raise a hand on her. And to children, he’s only ever shown mercy and warmth. That’s why your mother chose him. She’s decided to be with him because he mirrored her own qualities of being caring, compassionate and nurturing. She is a strong-willed, but calming and loving person, just like you’re going to be. Her parents didn’t raise her a slave, and did not abuse her nor force her to marry a man of their choice who continued that pattern of abuse.
You’ll be raised in their home.
And you’ll have other siblings. Brothers and sisters, who won’t grow up jaded and embittered by rampant physical, verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of their father. Your brothers will be raised to respect you and your sisters and the other women in your family. And you and your sisters will never be treated as if you were less important than your male siblings. You are all children. You all deserve the same love, your dad will say.
When you’re old enough, he’ll take you to a school close to your house to join your other siblings. He will make your education and that of your siblings a priority in his life. You’ll be introduced to the wonders of reading and writing and thinking and understanding and reasoning - gifts that your father won’t stop you from receiving just because you were born a certain gender. He’ll walk you to school, he’ll help you with your home-work and he’ll encourage you to do go above and beyond!
Did I mention you’ll get to have sleep-overs? Friends!? Your dad isn’t cruel. He won’t lock you up inside the house the minute you are no longer a baby. He won’t force you to stay home on holidays or on festivals. He loves you, remember?
And the day you go to college, he’ll personally drive you to your new school, give you a hug and him and your mom will tell you how proud they are of your accomplishments and how sad that your room will be empty.
I personally would like you to become an artist. But Shahnaz, my dear, you no longer live in a world where men like me get to tell you or force you to do what they want you to do. :) You will do as you please. You’ll choose the subjects you want to study. O how amazing is just the fact that you can go to school!
And in-between all of this, you’ll find people you like. People you choose to date. Even people you love. Maybe one of these people you’ll pick to be your partner. A partner that will love you, who’ll respect you and cherish and understand you. Your partner will support you in whatever career you choose. Your partner will stand by you like a comrade-in-arms.
Your partner won’t be a serial philanderer who’ll beat you up because he happens to be a man and you a woman. Your partner won’t feel like you are a domain, or property or a piece of furniture. He won’t dump you to go find someone else after incessantly mistreating you for years. And you won’t be forced to sit at a brother or sister’s home and suffer abuse until another man picks you and takes you to his house where he already has another partner!
That was a different life. In this life, you’ll be educated, loved, cared for, respected, nurtured! You’ll be cited for your accomplishments in your field and admired for the content of your character and nothing else.
And you’ll be able to have kids. Nature won’t be so cruel to you this time. But you know, it won’t matter either way. You could adopt if you want! It’s not like in this new life people will judge you like you’re some baby-making factory and without any worth or quality simply because you can’t have children. Your family, the one you were just born in and the one you will have are and will be just as you dreamed of!
How perfect your life is going to be, azizem. I almost tear up thinking about it, that’s how excited I am for you! Go and enjoy your life and your father, mother, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers, children and colleagues. Let this be the last time a man intervened in your life. And if we ever meet in the future and we don’t recognize each other, it’s okay.
…because Shahnaz, you know I’ll never stop loving you.
— Your Josh —