Because This is What Matters Most– My Entry in the shortstory competition at Karachi Literature Festival

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Uzma will quit her dream job today. A print of the resignation letter lies on the sleek surface of her grand office table, reminding her of all those valuable years of her life she dedicated to this place and now, when the time has come to reap the benefits of her hard work … she is leaving.

“Are you mad?” was the common reaction she received from her friends, colleagues and family members. “People dream of such career opportunities and you are quitting at the peak of your career! “ Her best friend remarked dejectedlyUzma is lucky to have an exceptionally considerate husband, Amir, who supported her throughout her career. It was because of his encouragement that she could continue working even after the birth of her two children. He was also extremely upset with her decision. “I don’t know what you want from life? It’s crazy to resign at this stage of your career.”

“I know but I have taken this decision after much consideration.” Uzma responded calmly. “Consideration! What consideration? You know how badly inflation is hitting us and if we want to maintain our lifestyle and give our children the best in life, we both need to work and contribute.”
“We can manage well with your salary, dear! And I am not giving up my career for good. I am just leaving this full-time job.” “Why now?” Amir demanded scornfully.

“Do you realize since we have been married, we have been so busy with our careers that we have missed out on our children? As a mother, I missed their childhood…the day they learned to sit on their own and stand on their feet, their first laugh, clap, the first word they uttered and the first line they drew.“ Uzma reflected thoughtfully.

Amir shrugged his shoulder, “You get over-sentimental. We neglected nothing, it’s normal. Every child goes through these growth phases and there is nothing unusual about it. Besides you have never been out of their life, just away for a few hours for the sake of their better future. And then it’s your decision.” He added.

“My Decision!” Uzma mumbled to herself. Images from her past flashed before her eyes. As a child, she was an ambitious but lonely little girl. For her, securing first position in each exam and winning every competition had always been the sole purpose of her life. And for that, she engrossed herself in textbooks. Her happiness relied on meeting the high expectations of her affectionate father, who wanted her to be the best, achieve the highest in every exam and refused to acknowledge failures at all.
Uzma is not a beauty like her mother. She is an average looking girl with ordinary features and thick glasses, inherited from her paternal side. This further motivated her to be a career woman. She aspired to be financially independent, secure and well-established to compensate for natures’ injustice.

Life was never easy for Uzma. She had to make an extra effort to succeed in life due to her reserved nature, ambitiousness and isolated lifestyle that made her socially unpopular and unattractive. Unable to fit in, she found an escape in books and focused single-mindedly on her studies and career, considering that’s her retreat.

From school to university, Uzma managed to secure distinctions while her eyesight gradually deteriorated with each new credential. She hardly found time to relax, enjoy and socialize. She often took solace in writing diary. Uzma always dreamt of taking a break from her mundane and mechanical life and engaged in meditation, social and other recreational activities. But her studies and career, and later responsibilities of married life never spared her to retreat.

She started her career well before her friends. However, her professional life was never remarkable. It’s perhaps her introvert nature, firm attitude and poor interpersonal skills that hampered her professional growth. Uzma found herself jumping from one job to the next in search of success. Finally she found her dream job in a leading firm and started prospering with attractive salary, accompanying with perks and benefits. She became the object of envy among her circle of friends and relatives. Several lost relations yearned to reconnect with her following her success.

And yet she finds herself sitting with her resignation in her hand, thinking whether she was doing a right thing.

So what was leading her to give up the job that had given her everything she had longed for since childhood? Was it a perpetual feeling of emptiness and sense of discontent that directed her to this unexpected decision? Or was it some new ambition that was diverting her from her path?

There was a possibility that Uzma might remain busy in chasing her dreams through the rest of her life. She might never take a chance to see where she was going and what she was losing in her rat race. However, one recent incident made her realize that she was running after a mirage… in the hope of fulfillment and peace which she never found in this route. She was so focused on her destination that she remained oblivious to the beauty of the journey she had gone through. Despite the fact that people around her thought she was blessed as she is having everything; an adorable family, enviable success, excellent academic record and promising career, she was unable to enjoy and appreciate her life.

Uzma hardly did anything without purpose. She never had the leisure to pursue any hobby, a pastime or to just relax. Nor did she believe in charity. So whenever she donated some money or time to charity work, it was always for a purpose; either for establishing contacts or meeting some professional requirements.
Charity begins at home but she never found time for that as well. The limited time she spent with her family and children was consumed in obligatory home management issues. She hardly played, relaxed or spent time with children. She was keenly concerned to provide them best lifestyle, education and luxuries and in result wanted them to excel in every aspect of their life.

It was an accident that changed Uzma’s perspective towards life drastically. Her daughter, Arooba was just four and she imitated her mother like any other child of her age. One day while Uzma was checking her children’s progress report , she noticed Arooba hang her tiny handbag on her little shoulder, slip into Uzma’s high heels, don a stole around her neck and was about to march towards the staircase adjacent to the lounge. Uzma called her, fearing she might trip on the high heels. “Arooba! Stop! Come back, take off those sandals.”

Without looking back, Arooba continued, imitating a tone Uzma knew well, “I’m getting late for a meeting, see you in the evening.”
“Where are you going darling, come back, let’s color the drawing.“ She panicked.
“Drawing? Which drawing? Don’t you know I’m getting late for the office?” she rushed and lost her balance.

Before Uzma could reach her, Arooba fell all the way down. She lay motionless at the bottom of the staircase, bleeding profoundly. Uzma couldn’t remember how she picked up her and managed to reach the nearby hospital while tears blurred her vision all the way. She saw nothing but Arooba’s pale face.
“You won’t go anywhere, Arooba, jan! Please open your eyes!” She kept repeating to her unconscious little daughter. Arooba was immediately taken to the ICU for possible head injuries. Ali and the rest of the family had reached the hospital as soon as they learnt about the accident. Arooba was still unconscious. Doctors diagnosed a fractured skull and were worried about her comatose state. They declared the next 24 hours crucial for the child and asked them to pray while they continued with their efforts.

Waiting outside the ICU, Uzma could not help but weep, thinking of all the precious moments she could have had with her little princess, had she not been so occupied with work. She rarely hugged and kissed her children, thinking such affection might spoil them. Her hectic schedule left her too tired to even have a meal with them, making her interactions with her children limited to inquiry about their studies, food and health before they went to bed.

Arooba, being the youngest one, often insisted on sleeping and eating with Uzma who always discouraged her, thinking it would be better for her to be independent as early as possible.
But now … she realized, she was wrong. “What would she do, if Arooba…!” Uzma could not bring herself to finish the thought.

Uzma just had one thought… all through this infinite time of her agony. If she were given a second chance with Arooba, she would correct the mistakes of her past, compensate for all the times she had been unjust to her loved ones and herself.

She wanted to start over a new life with her children. She wanted to play all their innocent games; the once she had missed as a child. She wanted to smell the fragrance of flowers and dance in the rain with her little angels. She earnestly prayed to God to give her a second chance…just this once.
And mercifully God heard her prayers. Arooba finally fluttered opened her big brown eyes and started to respond. Uzma made sure to stay at her side throughout her stay in the hospital and even after she came home. It took Arooba more than a month to make a full recovery.

But in that one month, Uzma discovered many things about herself, her home and children. She learnt that she had chosen to ignore the most beautiful and fulfilling part of her life. She realized that she felt more connected, more engaged with her being, through her children. Her son told her how badly he had missed her when she used to leave him at the daycare when he was younger to go to the office. Her daughter revealed that she never liked the food the nanny made and often skipped meals using one excuse or another.
She found that the servants she relied on often took advantage of her absence; misused her home and manhandled her children. She also realized that her relationship with her husband had lost the spark and had grown formal over the years. They hardly talked or shared anything anymore.

The incident changed Uzma’s life for good. She resigned from her dream job as soon as Arooba came home and preferred to stay with her children rather than resuming her office. She became less controlling of people and circumstances and learned to throw caution to the wind. And eventually, she started enjoying life, revived the spark in her relations and found pleasure in spending time at home with her family and friends. She preferred experiencing new things, meeting different people, traveling places and pursuing her passion for writing and reading. She gave up her strict routine, her aim to achieve one career goal after another and started following her heart.

In the course of one year, Uzma initiated working on her first book. She also established a small community school with like-minded friends for the less privileged children in her locality. Now Uzma has a bigger and better purpose in life. She is more content and more accomplished than ever. She learned that the work-life balance allows her to cherish the countless blessings of God. The biggest objective of her life is to groom her children and the children of her community into constructive, thankful and balanced human beings because this is what matters the most.