Trying to keep her eyes open, Maryam kept walking towards her school across the vast field with

overgrown wheat plants swaying amidst the rising sun. Maryam is 17 years old, and the only

female in her village, Mansehra, attending high school. Although she was no different from other

girls, she was always in limelight. Maryam had a dream – a dream to work hard and get admitted

to one of the most prestigious universities of Pakistan, LUMS School of business in Islamabad.

Being the only female in her male dominated class, she would always get bullied by her

classmates. The reason of abuse was not limited to proving dominance. Most reactions came

from jealousy. Maryam was a topper in class but life was not an easy ride for her. She was

constantly being pressured by her relatives and the heads of the village to give up on education.

To them, Maryam was bringing shame to her family by attending a male dominant school. But

she promised herself that she would never give up.

Days passed into months and Maryam got busier as final exams were approaching. But before

finals, she had to prepare the documents for applying to universities. Applications were not an

issue but she had to do this secretly. She knew that her parents and other people in the village

would never support her dream. But she believed there will be a day when she will be part of a

prestigious university. The only people supporting her dreams were her teachers.

One day before her last exam, Maryam’s teacher, Farah, asked her to stay back at school to fill

the admission forms. So that day Maryam left for school in the morning, waving her parents

good bye, and informing them that she will be late due to an extra class. She had to lie or the

secret was out.

Maryam stayed with her teachers after school and completed the forms. When she got up to

leave, Farah reminded her that the forms need to be posted. Even though Maryam agreed to go,

there was something that kept her restless. It was very uncommon for girls in her village to

wander the streets past sunset and by the time she will reach home, the sun would have set

already.

On her way to the post office, she kept thinking to herself, “What if my parents know I lied?

What if someone from our neighborhood sees me here? What will I tell them when they ask me

what I was doing at the post office? What if my father goes to school to check on me?” All these

questions made her feel very nervous and she could hear her heart beating faster than ever, like

the galloping of a horse. The fear made it difficult for her to breathe and she struggled to keep up

with Farah, but made sure that she is in sight.

Once they reached the post office, Farah got into a queue to post the forms while Maryam

anxiously waited outside in the corridor. With quick steps, she paced up and down the corridor,

hands trembling and sweat Fadrops falling from her forehead.

When she turned to pace up the corridor once more, she was struck by surprise. She nearly

collided head on to her classmate and neighbor, Saqib. Maryam had no clue how to react. In a

village like Mansehra, it was a matter of shame if a guy and girl talk to each other in the absence

of their elders. Saqib gave her a warm smile and tried to say hello. But Maryam kept her gaze

low, returned a half smile and walked away quickly. Soon she saw Farah and they both headed

towards Maryam’s place.

Maryam had never been this nervous before. She was wondering if someone from her circle saw

her with Saqib. And if this was true, her life would never be the same again.

The sun had begun to set and the spell of darkness started to spread around her. She felt as if this

darkness is engulfing the spark inside her, the dream of a bright future. She managed to reach

home just after sunset and knocked the door with numb hands. The next thing that she heard

rooted her to the spot.

Maryam’s paternal uncle was in her house and her father was trying to convince him that what

he saw was a mere misunderstanding. The thing Maryam was most afraid of had happened. Her

uncle had seen her with Saqib at the post office. Maryam didn’t get a chance to even close the

door. The moment she stepped inside, her mother grabbed her by the arm and started firing

questions one after another.

Tears welled up in Maryam’s eyes. She said that she went to the post office with her teacher for

some school work. The moment she said this, her uncle pushed her mother aside and stood right

in front of Maryam. He looked straight into her eyes, and said with emphasis on every word “if

you went there with your teacher, then why were you standing alone with that guy from next

door?” Maryam was speechless. She had no idea what to reply but then she heard a male voice “I

will tell you”.

Saqib was standing at the door. He overheard the conversation and decided to interfere. He told

everyone that he accidentally met Maryam while she was waiting for her teacher to return. He

also met Farah inside the post office before this happened. But no one seemed to believe him.

The fact that Saqib interfered in this matter, converted their suspicion to belief.

Maryam’s uncle asked Saqib to leave immediately and then turned to Maryam. “God knows for

how long you have been bringing shame to your family in the name of school. This is enough.

You will not step out of this house again. My son and I will be here after two weeks to get you

married”, her uncle said this and left.

Saqib was still standing outside and felt very guilty. But there was nothing he could have done or

could do now.

Maryam begged her parents to allow her to take the last exam on the following day. Her parents

allowed her on the condition that she would never go to school again. Maryam agreed. There was

no other option. She never thought her life would take such a toll.

After the exam, she gave one last look to her school and left for home. She couldn’t believe that

she had to say good bye not only to her school but also to her dreams. She was getting married in

two weeks.

Maryam was not happy at all but she had to go where life takes her. On the wedding day, her

friends helped her to get ready and soon the groom and all the other guests arrived. Just as the

ceremony was about to begin, there was a knock on the door. Maryam’s uncle opened the door

and to his surprise, it was Saqib.

Saqib insisted to meet Maryam’s father before the ceremony. Her uncle let his brother meet

Saqib thinking nothing much can be done now. Saqib had two envelopes in his hand, one with

his own name and the other with Maryam’s. He handed Maryam’s letter to her father and said

“Please don’t kill your daughter’s dreams with your own hands”. Before Maryam’s father asked

any more questions, Saqib left, wiping tears with the back of his hand.

Maryam’s father was confused so he handed the letter to Maryam directly and asked her to read

it loud, since he was unable to read himself. The letter was from LUMS School of business.

With a trembling voice, Maryam read “We are pleased to inform you that Maryam Khan,

daughter of Arshad Khan, is accepted at LUMS School of business with a full scholarship.

Maryam is a very bright student and would be an asset to our college. To confirm your

attendance, please see the registration desk on 1st August. Welcome aboard”

Maryam could not believe her own words. She turned around to see her parents’ expressions.

Her father’s eyes welled with tears. He stepped forward, kissed her forehead, and said “Go my

child; your dreams are waiting for you. Go and make us proud as always”

“And here I am today”, said Maryam, addressing a huge crowd in a UN peace conference. “A

proud gold medalist from LUMS and the only Pakistani female to be part of the UN youth

ambassador program”, she said, her eyes twinkling with joy. “This is the reason, my friends, that

we should always keep our hopes high and never give up on our dreams because you never know

if the next best thing is just round the corner”, she concluded with a smile on her face. Her eyes

were fixed on one person in the first row of the audience – Saqib, fellow graduate and now her

life-partner.

Amna Siddiqui for Beyond Sanity Publishing

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