Alaya was finally tapering off her Lexapro. She had started taking it as a teenager, suffering from severe depression and impulsive behaviour. Now, a decade later, she was finally blending in with the neurotypicals. She went out for brunches, vacationed in the Maldives and Europe, regularly got her nails done, exercised, cooked gourmet meals, and even married the only kind man she had ever met. She had a steady job crunching numbers and posting on social media at her mother-in-law’s charity organisation. Her psychiatrist had agreed that it was finally the right time to start tapering off her medication, so she could “carry on with her life” and eventually start a family of her own.
Alaya was elated about the prospect. She took the first few days of vertigo and nausea in stride. She distracted herself through brunches with the girls, shopping trips with her sisters-in-law, and date nights with her husband. She immersed herself in fundraising for a new project she was overseeing at work. She figured out that eating cold ice creams and chewing on sour gummies helped distract her from the odd feelings of the little knot in her chest, the dizziness, the irritability. She walked on the treadmill for an hour, then out in the garden for another hour. She would come to bed at night with sore, aching legs, a welcome distraction from the steadily growing feeling that something was going wrong.
On the fifth day something snapped. The morning of her wedding anniversary passed with just a verbal wish from her husband. By afternoon no little jewellery box had come, no flowers at the office, no sweets. By teatime she suddenly had the gnawing feeling that her husband did not love her anymore, and she began sobbing uncontrollably in her office. Fortunately, she had a room to herself. Two hours later, it was time to go home but she had still not stopped crying. She hastily powdered her nose, put on her sunglasses, and made a beeline for her car, murmuring niceties to the other employees as she passed their desks. Instead of going home she went to the McDonald’s drive-through and ordered an upsize Quarter Pounder. She remembered her elder brother once earnestly asking why, when you ordered a Quarter pounder with a double patty, did they not call it a Half Pounder instead.
As she sat in the empty parking lot eating her meal, she couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of calling a double patty Quarter pounder a Half pounder. It made sense. As she sipped on her large Coke, she listened to the radio. It was one of Pakistan’s English-speaking radio channels. The woman RJ had an accent that was unique to a certain segment of Pakistan’s elite. Instead of pronouncing the word ‘party’ with the blunt “rt” sound that was typical of a Pakistani accent, she attempted the word in an American accent. This infuriated Alaya. She angrily pushed the volume button repeatedly until it hit zero.
Alaya reached home at seven PM, a solid two and a half hours later than her usual arrival time. Her husband, Azhar, was waiting in the garage.
“Why are you home so late?” he asked, “and why are your eyes so puffy?”
He was a good man with kind eyes and a kind face. Azhar had been very happy when he found out that Alaya was tapering off her Lexapro.
“It’s been a weird day,” she confessed, “I think it’s the Lexapro withdrawal.”
He nodded and pulled her into a comforting hug before they headed inside. Alaya headed up to the bathroom to shower and change into a clean pair of salwar kameez. When she re-entered the room she found her husband waiting at her dresser holding a large bouquet of roses and a small black jewellery box. She beamed. How could she tell this beautiful man that she had spent two hours crying because she had received no anniversary gift from him? She teared up as Azhar opened the box to reveal a diamond ring.
Azhar had made a dinner reservation at an Italian restaurant for later in the evening, but Alaya expressed that she felt nauseous, and so they opted to eat dinner at home with the rest of the family. As she sat at the dinner table, Alaya felt suddenly deeply aware of the heaviness of her tongue in her mouth, and a strange pressure in her gums, like an invisible force was pushing her teeth together. Azhar encouraged her to try and have some plain rice and yoghurt for her nausea, and piled some onto her plate.
“No beef stew for you, Apa?” her sister-in-law’s husband Bilal, who had come over for dinner, asked.
“No, I don’t really like beef.”
“I’ve noticed that women are always the ones to say they don’t like red meat,” he laughed, “a man never says he doesn’t like red meat.”
Personally Alaya agreed with him. She hadn’t met any man who disliked red meat. Still, it sounded obnoxious coming from Bilal’s mouth. He was the product of an excess of privilege and daddy’s money. He didn’t have daddy’s money in the dignified way that her husband had daddy’s money. At least Azhar went to work! Azhar’s sister, Nadia, used to work as an English teacher at one of the city’s most prestigious schools, but she had to quit soon after she married Bilal because he said he missed having her around the home.
Alaya thought about how the hunter-gatherer analogy still applied to men and women in the contemporary world: men could go out and about in search of the best careers and wives for themselves. Women, meanwhile, had to simply gather up whatever opportunity they could from the fate that they had been handed. Alaya imagined how satisfying it would be to take the tissue box and fling it across the table at him. Before she knew it, a tissue box was indeed flying across the table and hitting Bilal on the head.
He didn’t have daddy’s money in the dignified way that her husband had daddy’s money. At least Azhar went to work!
All of a sudden, drinks were spilling, Bilal was cursing, people were gasping, the pot of beef stew was shaking and dripping on the starchy white linen tablecloth. Alaya found herself making a beeline for her bedroom. Her husband followed.
Once in their bedroom, he was yelling. “What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know what came over me—it must be the Lexapro withdrawal,” she said, tears brimming in her eyes.
“Don’t use that as an excuse to act crazy!”
There it was, the ultimate insult neurotypical people always used. Her mother had warned her about telling her in-laws about being on Lexapro.
As Azhar yelled and raged in their bedroom, Alaya quickly headed to the closet and found herself opening the safe to retrieve her passport and her wedding set—a beautiful, intricate necklace glittering with diamonds and rubies with matching earrings. She found herself placing her passport and wedding set in her work bag and grabbing her car keys.
“I think I need to go for a drive to clear my head,” she told Azhar.
“A drive?” he raged, “how are you going to face the family downstairs? You didn’t even apologise!”
“I’m sorry, please understand!”
She found herself scurrying outside their bedroom and heading for the car, slamming the key in the ignition, and driving off. Once she had driven at least two kilometres, she stopped to think. Before getting married she had always wanted to go abroad for a Masters in Art History and work as a curator of a contemporary art museum. Just as she had started filling out her applications, Azhar had walked into her life, and so she traded in a life of rented flats and painting on Paris balconies to living in Lahore in a house full of strangers with her respectable, ‘decent’ husband. And decent he was. But she couldn’t help thinking about what could have been.
Alaya decided she would spend the night in a hotel while she figured out next steps. She had a friend in Paris, maybe she could ask to stay with her for a few nights while she figured out if she wanted to reapply. She would call Azhar from Paris and apologise, and invite him to come stay with her in her new rented flat overlooking the Seine!
Once at the hotel, she realised that she had forgotten her phone at home. Oh well. Alaya ran herself a hot bath. She ordered room service and browsed flights to Paris on her work laptop. Everything was working out!
The following morning, she checked out of the hotel wearing last night’s clothes and hailed a taxi to the airport with only her work bag, passport, and wedding set (in lieu of an emergency fund.) Once she had boarded the plane, she began to realise what she had done. She thought of Azhar and how he must have called the police by now. A few seconds after the flight took off, she was vomiting into the brown paper bag. The vomiting continued for the rest of the flight. A little over ten hours later, she was standing at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. It would be night time in Lahore by now. She had a sneaking suspicion that she knew why she had been vomiting, and it wasn’t due to last night’s room service. She headed straight to the airport pharmacy and asked for an over-the-counter test-de-grossesse.
With shaking hands, she headed for the bathroom in the city where her new life was meant to begin thanks to a little bit of Lexapro withdrawal and a lot of repressed yearning. She stood over the bathroom sink counting one hundred and eighty seconds under her breath. Sure enough, at the one hundred and eighty first second, a plus sign appeared.
Alainah Aamir is the Digital Guest Editor for May 2023. Read more about her here.
Sara Bokhari is a miniature artist based in Lahore. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts in 2016. Though trained as a miniature artist, Sara’s practice includes variety of mediums including digital painting, printmaking and video art. Currently Sara works as an art instructor and a freelancer while also exhibiting her work in various galleries.