The Journal of Silent Complaints
The journal of silent complaints was a notebook with a yellow cover and one hundred lined pages. Ameera had purchased it from a newsagency at the local shopping centre. At first it was used to jot down grocery lists, phone numbers and names of books that piqued her interest. Bus routes were scrawled haphazardly, with page after page housing information that helped Ameera to navigate the unfamiliar city she was in.
Shortly after Ameera married Kashif, she flew from Pakistan to Australia to live with him. It was the first time she had ever been abroad. The seeds of their marriage had been planted in a marketplace in Lahore. One afternoon, as Ameera’s mother was selecting a single chicken from a cage of many, she was approached by an old college friend who recognised her from afar. Ameera’s mother blushed when she was told that she hadn’t aged at all. The two women caught up on years gone by and by the time all the feathers had been plucked clean from the chicken’s corpse, Ameera’s mother was mulling over the fact that her daughter was a similar age to her friend’s son. ‘Come over and see her,’ she insisted, exchanging rupees for pieces of meat. ‘She really is a sweet girl.’
They were arranged together the way pieces of furniture are moved around a living room, their union based on the compatibility of their skin tones, just as the couch and recliner appeared as though they were cut from the same cloth. It didn’t matter that Kashif was more than triple the size of bird like Ameera, or that when she stood beside him for the first time, the soft hair on her arms stood on end. Instead, their parents noticed that they both had creamy skin- as though they had been raised indoors like delicate house plants. ‘He has been working abroad in Australia for a year now,’ Kashif’s mother offered as she shovelled sweet meats into her mouth. ‘He became a bank teller because he likes the smell of money, isn’t that right?’ Kashif laughed and nodded while Ameera lowered her gaze to the floor. Their parents exchanged warm congratulatory embraces.
Two months later, Kashif returned to Lahore to collect his bride and take her back to Western Australia. While Ameera zipped her suitcase shut, her younger sister Bushra crept into her bedroom and flopped onto the floor beside her. ‘I can’t believe you are actually going to Australia. Did you know they do love marriages over there? The couples have already been in love sooo long that by the time they marry, they are already sick and tired of each other,’ Bushra giggled into her palm. ‘It’s better with our way, how love comes later.’
When Ameera landed in Australia, she found the physical distance between her new and old home impossible to calculate. She made sure to call home at least once a week. During these calls, Ameera’s mother, sister and cousins all sat huddled around the phone dictating an endless strew of questions- impatiently starting on a new query before she had even answered the one prior. Ameera reported that she was doing well, learning to cook new things and could they imagine she was able to find almost every spice she needed from the local store? She painted a picture of the lucky one who got away. Someone who was overseas eating oddly shaped fruit. A woman privy to the privilege of eyes that were able to see fancy foreign branded clothes, even if they couldn’t be purchased. While she spoke, Ameera twisted the spiral phone cord tightly around her fingers until she could no longer feel them. When the phone call was over and her fingers began to tingle again, she pulled out her notebook from the cupboard and entered in the worries she chose to leave unsaid. This is how the notebook began to transform into the journal of silent complaints.
At first, she wrote with a soft stubby pencil. When it began to break, she switched to a pen. Her hand always shook a little when she wrote down his name. Kashif. Kashif doesn’t like it when I sing while I am hanging the laundry on the washing line. Learning about her husband was almost like a subject at school, there was so much that you could know about another human being. An entire page was dedicated to Kashif’s expressions. When he is upset, he looks like a child who needs scolding.
The first time Ameera had seen Kashif get upset was when they landed in Perth. Most of the luggage had already surfaced, including Kashif’s bag, yet there was no sign of her old brown suitcase. As more time passed, Kashif began huffing, his circular face twisting inward, and his plump lips slowly receding into an indolent scowl. In that moment he no longer looked like a grown man- but a child- who had been told that they weren’t allowed to leave the dinner table until their entire plate of vegetables had been finished.
During the week, Ameera had a routine. When Kashif left for work in the morning, she caught the bus to the local store. Even if there was nothing to buy, she browsed the aisles to pass time. Local women with hair as yellow as the sun, would always be rushing around. Ameera admired how everyone always seemed to have something they needed to do. She picked up boxes of cereal and read through the ingredient lists as though they were literary marvels. She wondered if there was anyone else who was pretending to be doing something. Was it something that could be recognised in others? When she was close enough, she looked into people’s eyes to check for a sign that they were just going through the motions too.
Without a sense of purpose Ameera felt left out. When she told Kashif she wanted to look for a job he gripped her slight wrist with his thumb and forefinger. He told her that she hadn’t yet perfected running the house and if she was no good at that, then how could she expect to be paid for anything in the outside world? Ameera ran cold water over the red marks on her skin and avoided looking into the bathroom mirror. When she did, her large eyes seemed as though they were attempting to shrink back into their sockets, fleeing from their own reflection.
On Ameera’s birthday, there was a phone call from home.
‘Ameera beti, can you hear me?’ Her mother’s voice became raspy as she raised it.
‘Yes Ammi, can you hear me?’
‘We are all missing you on your birthday today. You must be having a party, yes?’
‘Kashif is still at work Ammi, maybe he’ll bring cake with him when he gets home tonight.’
‘We wish you all the happiness and are all waiting for some very good news.’
‘I always give you nice news Ammi,’ Ameera felt the weight of the good news her mother was referring to.
‘You sister is waiting too.’
Ameera pressed the receiver harder against her flushed cheek. Her mother went on to explain that Kashif’s mother had visited them over the weekend. They served her tea and snacks in one of the delicate china sets Ameera had received as a wedding present. While Kashif’s mother was dipping a piece of rusk in and out of her chai, she asked if Ameera had any medical issues that might make it difficult to conceive. Ameera’s mother had assured her that there were nothing to worry about. Kashif’s mother asked for a fresh cup of tea, complaining that pieces of soggy rusk had broken away and fallen in, polluting her drink.
Months passed with supermarket trips, trying new recipes and running cool water over scorned skin. These months were eventually swallowed by an entire year. Phone calls remained cordial and page after page of the journal of silent complaints was filled. Every night Kashif sleeps on a mattress on the floor. In the morning he gargles so loudly it sounds as though someone is cutting grass with a lawn mower outside the window. He lost his job and still hasn’t found another one. My waist is as slim as a teenagers. I can fit two of me inside him.
One night, Ameera dreamt she was holding a baby who was her own. The weight of the baby boy nestled in her lap felt incredibly real. It was a feeling she had never encountered before. She rocked back and forth gently in her seat and noticed that the room was becoming warmer. The baby boy’s face started to redden- his supple cheeks beginning to spot with angry looking boils. He wriggled and howled and Ameera noticed how distinctly he resembled Kashif. She searched for a way to cool him down. There was a large bottle of talcum powder on the table beside her and she pressed it- watching as a small white puff filled the air, then settled onto the baby’s face. He continued to wail and with each sound his face blistered more and more until his features disappeared under a blanket of swollen crust. The room grew warmer still and Ameera panicked, pumping the bottle harder and harder. Soon the air was thick with white particles. Ameera stood, shifting the baby’s weight from her lap to her chest. She searched for a door and realised she could no longer see a way out. When Ameera woke, small beads of sweat had dampened her t-shirt in the space between her breasts. There was a heavy feeling in her bladder. Ameera slid out of bed and went to the bathroom. As she peeled off her pants, she noticed a singular streak of reddish-brown blood in her underwear. It had arrived just on time, like clockwork.
As Ameera pulled her suitcase across the bumpy footpath, she saw that Tanya was already waiting for her at the bus stop down the road. Kashif would be at his job interview, moulding his lips into a phony smile. Ameera thought about the last time she had packed this same suitcase, almost a year and half earlier, with Bushra sitting cross-legged on the floor beside her.
‘Thanks for letting me stay with you,’ Ameera gave Tanya a gentle hug.
‘I’ll be glad to have you around; you know that love.’
Ameera and Tanya met a few months earlier, at the park next to the grocery store. Ameera had been sitting on a bench, watching the flurry of activity in the playground nearby, when Tanya sat down beside her, a thin cigarette balanced delicately between her fingers. Tanya commented on how long Ameera’s hair was and they’d smiled at one another. From then on, they met each other two or three times a week at the bench. The way Tanya laughed while simultaneously blowing a soft stream of smoke out from her mouth made Ameera feel like she was lucky to have such a glamorous friend. She liked that Tanya said Kashif’s name in a disapproving way, emphasising the Ka, as if it was a sound she wanted to propel far away.
The bus came to a slow stop and the doors unfolded slowly like a squeaky accordion. The bus driver leaned across from his seat and watched as the two women helped each other hoist the suitcase up onto the retractable step. ‘Someone going on a holiday or what?’ he winked.
At the Pakistan international mail service centre, the sorting manager- a man with thick framed spectacles and a feathery moustache- held a brown rectangular package in front of him. ‘This is too heavy to be a letter or a card,’ he considered.
‘Maybe it’s a book,’ a worker picked at his teeth with a chipped fingernail.
‘My daughter always has her nose buried in those, I wonder if it’s a children’s book,’ the manager grinned.
‘A children’s book from Australia,’ the worker made a sucking noise as a slither of food detached from one of his molars.
The manager ripped open the rough packaging and stared at the worn pale-yellow notebook. ‘No such luck,’ he sighed. He tossed it aside, wiped his hands across his pants and reached for the next parcel.