Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Story of Riaz and Rafique

Noor Shahzad

Image: Pixabay (c) Hans
She always wears a black chador which completely encapsulates her entire figure.  If the chador slips up a little, it would reveal a tattoo on her forearm. “Rafique” it says in plain black emboldened letters. She got married to him when she was  fourteen, he a year older. The church that they went to refused to sanction the marriage but desperate to get her daughter married, her mother took a loan to pay the ‘Father’ as she recalls money, “grease his hand a little” she says, “to  make us man and wife”. Both of them are sweepers. And together they fight every day to provide their four daughters with an education.

Meet Riaz and Rafique.  You could not have seen two people more in love. He’s always smiling and chewing on naswar, she is the quiet sort. You rarely hear her talk but she talks to me with great candidness. They complete each other’s sentences as they unravel their story.

We’ve grown up together”, she says. “We were practically children who were married because my mother couldn’t provide for another person under her roof, I being the eldest, first worked at people’s houses and then was married to him”. (That’s when she narrates the church incident). “I was really skinny and looked small for my age. That is why the Father refused to marry us”. After the wedding they went to his village. But when they had their first daughter they decided to come back to the city. “There were no schools in our village at that point in time. And we desperately wanted Nomi to go to school and so we came back to the city when she was four”. He started working at the district courts as a sweeper while she went to people’s houses to wash and clean. After the first daughter they went on to have three more daughters.
“We desperately wanted them to get educated. Both of us are completely unlettered. I don’t even know how to write my name. We can’t even read the Book (Bible). Now when the girls tell me that they want to teach me to read I ask them that you read and pray for us, we’ve spent our times and prayed the way we could”.
Their eldest daughter is married. She wanted to become a beautician and after her secondary school they supported her with it so she took some courses and now works at a Salon. The second daughter is 22; she completed her Bachelors and teaches at a primary school. Neelam, the third daughter is in college while the youngest, Gladrix goes to school. “She’s the brightest one”, Rafique says and tells the youngest girl to say Salam to me. “She wants to be a doctor this one and I hope she does”.

Both Riaz and Rafique are proud parents.  I asked them about their ages. He was forty three and she knew that her mother told her that she was fourteen when she married Rafique but “Amma wasn’t certain”, she says.  Then she went on to tell me the age and birth dates of all her daughters.

I asked her for advice that she’d like to give parents.  “Don’t be upset if you don’t have a son”, she says. “Provide them with the best education that you can”, he adds. I left their house with a sense of tranquility, wishing that there would be more parents like these two.

*Names remain unchanged due to the consent of the interviewees.

Noor Shahzad is a Sophomore, a humanities major at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. She wants to write about untold stories of people, which tend to go unnoticed in the larger narrative in the mainstream media. Aspiring to be a humanitarian in the real sense, Noor is on a journey tobe the voice of the unheard.