Madiha’s unfinished ibaadat

Published: July 25, 2013
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Rukhsana bibi grieving for her deceased daughter, Madiha, killed on her job as a polio worker. This fiction piece is inspired by their story. PHOTO: AFP

“Why do you do this work, beti? What do you get out of going door to door telling suspicious families to vaccinate their noisy, crying kids?”

Rukhsana bibi never understood why her daughter was so ready to give up her weekends for work that barely covered her bus fare.

Ma, sawab hai. If I can convince them to vaccinate their kids, it might save them so much grief later. Look at Bilquis apa next door. If someone had started this work of God earlier, she might be able to walk properly today, be as active as you or me. Plus, it makes me feel like a doctor. You know, helping people, healing them.”

Rukhsana bibi could not argue with that. Her daughter, from the day she started talking, wanted to be a doctor. Her husband did not agree. He did not have the kind of money it took to put a child through medical school, and he believed as a woman, Madiha should be seen less and heard less.

“I’m going to the clinic now. Zuhr ki namaz parh li maine (I have said my Zuhr prayers.) I’ll come home as soon as we’re done. Just a couple of apartment buildings in the colony.”

Madiha wore her headscarf, picked up her bag and left her house. In her crisp footpath-bought chaadar and faded, thrice mended kohlapuri slippers, she felt affluent and rich. Today, she would help secure the future of some kids against a stealthy illness. She wanted them to walk like she did, head up, feet clicking, eyes shining.

She entered the small, dingy clinic and sighed with happiness, loud enough for the day sweeper to hear her.

“Here again, bibi? Don’t you like to rest on Sundays?”

The sweeper was no stranger to Madiha’s inability to stay home for the weekend.

“Rest is letting your worries leave you, feeling happy, joyous, satisfied, baba. Look at me, I look as rested as ever. Plus, this work soothes the mind. Its my special Sunday prayer. Ibaadat hai yeh.”

He had never seen anyone this motivated for work that paid a pittance, but he liked how her face lit up when she talked about it.

“There, the health worker assisting you today is here. Hurry. You don’t want to delay your prayer.”

Madiha got into the clinic shuttle with her companion. Traffic sped past her, blowing smoke into her face. She didn’t notice. She was thinking about her last shift, and the brown-eyed five year old she had administered polio drops to. Ayesha, that was her name. Lovely child. They were all lovely.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the wind was warm, the sky was blue. It was a beautiful world.

Minutes later, the car screeched to a halt before the apartment building Madiha needed to make rounds of.

As she stepped out, she heard the roar of a racing motorbike engine behind her. It was loud, she could feel the rush of wind its speed induced whip her chaadar to the floor. She scrambled to pick it up. As she bent down, there was a crack, a loud crack, a shot. For a second she looked down at her chaadar, how did it produce such a strange sound – cloth against pavement?

Then she heard him. The health worker behind her, her companion for the day. He was groaning, falling to the floor limb by limb.

“Nahi, suno, what happened, are you ill? Tell me!”

She reached behind him, looking frantically for water, medicine, a phone, a solution. She did not know his name, why did she not ask his name, the man she just sat next to for 20 whole minutes?

And why did he have a bullet piercing him?

Madiha froze in terror as she saw his blood trickle out of the head he had just nodded in greeting her.

Helpless and distraught, she turned around, half sobbing, right in time to see the masked man on the speeding motorbike aim a weapon at her heart, the same weapon that had struck her companion down. “La Illaha Illallah,” he yelled at the skies, and Madiha wanted to stop him. There was a mistake, he was doing this for Allah (SWT) and she was doing her work for Allah (SWT) too. They were talking to the same God here. I am on my way for Ibaadat, she tried to say, her lips trembling with fear and confusion.

But the bullet had left the chamber.

Madiha crumbled to the ground, chaadar, arms, legs, broken heart, all in one heap. A strange taste flooded her mouth, and she thought of Ayesha, and how she had bribed her into drinking foul-tasting polio drops in exchange for a Ding Dong Bubble. The world flickered and old news reports echoed in her mind.

They believe polio workers are western agents, inducing diseases in little kids. They don’t want children vaccinated. They are attacking clinics, threatening them. They are dangerous.

Who were ‘they’?

She didn’t know.

“La illaha illalah…” she mumbled.

The kalma lay incomplete on her lips. She stopped breathing.

This post is based on a true story.

areeba.kamal

Areeba Kamal

An alumna and former employee of Nixor College. She is currently studying International Relations and Computer Science at Mount Holyoke, USA. She tweets @KamalAreeba twitter.com/KamalAreeba

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