Andaleeb Wajid’s When She Went Away will be published in October 2015. She writes about the influences behind the book.
I was around twelve when my family visited my uncle’s family in Dubai. It was a wonderful get together, on the heels of our Umrah that we had performed in Mecca. My father and his brother bonded while my brother and I got to know our cousins a little better. It’s always different when you’re actually living with someone as a house guest, rather than when you just visit them for a day or so.
Amid all the eating, visiting the souks, and shopping (although Dubai was not the shopper’s destination it is now), we also spent some quiet downtime at home. That was when a young girl dropped by, shy and extremely quiet. She headed to the kitchen and after sometime emerged. As she was leaving, my aunt handed her a takeaway box which she took with some reluctance.
After she left, my aunt told my mother that this girl’s family lived in the same building. Her mother had walked away from their family, leaving this girl, and a small baby as well. In hushed tones, they discussed how a woman could possibly do that, leave her husband and kids and ‘run away’ with another man.
I’m not sure what adults think of how much children understand or remember of what they see around them, but that young girl has stayed with me all these years. I couldn’t fathom how she could get up and face each day, how she could possibly take care of her family in her mother’s absence. Was this all that was there to her life? She couldn’t have been much older than me and my mind refused to comprehend that some children just have to grow up, whether they like it or not.
My life changed plenty that same year as well. In school, I was suddenly becoming one of the students to look out for, in a good way. My father was so pleased with me and I had never felt happier. Within a few months, he died and my world came crashing around me. Nothing seemed to matter much anymore. Life as I knew it was over, forever. There would be no Abbu to come back home to, to excitedly proclaim getting full marks in maths. There would be no happy Ammi whose only goal in life was to make sure my father was happy. People viewed us differently, with pity and sad looks and it devastated me.
I’d never imagined that one day, I too would be like that girl whose life had shattered the moment one parent walked out of her life. I didn’t think much about her over the years and I don’t even know her name but she was always there in my head somewhere. I wrote about her in a short story many years ago but even then, I don’t think she was quite ready to leave me yet.
In 2013, I was wondering what to write after finishing my time travel trilogy. Out of nowhere, she popped in my head and I decided I would write a novel this time. Of a girl facing the unknown, facing life and emerging stronger. That was how Maria was born.