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A Gift to My Future Self

Author: Samina Chaudhry

Please note: this piece contains descriptions some readers may find upsetting.

I open the blinds and see his car on the driveway. I know the finance company will take his car away soon. But I also know I want to take our memories and rebuild on the foundation of our life.

When my husband passed away from the virus, I felt I was hit by a tsunami that took away the most precious being. I thought life would never be the same again, and, though in many ways it never will be, I’ve also learnt to find peace and to hold onto memories; miniscule glimpses that in time will be a crescendo of hope.

It was 1998 when we first came to Scotland. Two young adults and a baby on the way. We had two suitcases, nothing more. We stayed in an old people’s home, living on borrowed furniture, eating someone else’s food in return for taking care of the landlord’s children who also stayed in the building. We were neighbours to an array of different people: a doctor from Pakistan who after five years was still trying to pass his PLAB, an older resident who never wanted to leave the care home even though it was unsafe for her to be there, a PhD student who exceeded her stay and ran out of scholarship money, an Algerian teacher on a teaching course, a single mother from Ireland whose two children were suffering from rickets.

Initially, we planned to stay no more than five years. We met an older couple who laughed saying they had said the same thing but now, more than thirty years later, they were still here. You never go back, the older woman said.

You couldn’t find a job. Either you were overqualified or you didn’t have the experience. Eventually you found work in a cash and carry and I too found work packing tights. The baby was born, a boy. We saved up and bought our first camera. We captured everything the baby did: his first smile, his first steps, his first ride on a bike. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary at Maccy D’s and when our posh friends asked the name of the restaurant we made up a fancy alternative.

Then, some months later, you wanted to pack your bag and go back home. I told you we now had a baby to think of. You left your work at the cash and carry and started work at a construction site. Weekends you sold socks and t-shirts at Brochairn market. You’d come home with local produce as well as bags of coins. With time, the tug at the heart to go home began to become less, and though you still missed your family and friends you began to call Scotland our home.

We had another baby and moved to our first house. You planted gladioli, marjoram and roses in our small patch of garden. You complained the roses never smelt like the ones back home. You built a treehouse, put a swing up. You sang to our children just like your own mother did when we took them back to see her. We took pictures of our children playing in the garden.

You now had a small business and I was an aspiring writer. You felt proud and encouraged me to write. Sometimes you’d conjure up random topics. Write about politics, you’d say. I’d get annoyed because I wanted the politics to come from my work and not the other way round. And though money was still a problem, you wanted our children to see different countries, to know about the history and culture of these places. We had never seen Scotland until our friends from down South visited the highlands and told us about them. They said we had so much beauty at our doorstep but were taking it for granted. That summer you booked us into a lodge. You said most of Europe was more or less the same but Scotland was a different league when it came to natural beauty. Your love for photography never diminished. Now you had a digital camera. You snapped up everything that came your way. Hills, mountains, green waters, sunsets. When I stood in the same location and tried capturing photos like you, you laughed because they never turned out like yours.

You were a shirt and tie person and never a t-shirt guy. This came from your government job back home. The same office where you survived a sectarian attack whilst some of your colleagues were killed.

Having lost your father as a child you knew what it was like to work hard from an early age. You tutored whilst you were studying and bought your first car with your own money. You knew what it was like to live under dictatorship, and you knew the value of freedom of expression. You bought out your own magazine and gave a voice to the marginalised. You wanted our children to go to university. To have a nine-to-five job, to be able to take weekends off.

Being a good listener, people reached out to you for help. And though being a man of few words, you could listen for hours on the phone when someone needed to speak. You helped save a co-worker’s life. You kept him on the phone until you got to the bridge from where he was about to jump. Later, you guided him with his money problems.

And now as I write this I’m thinking of the many people who will be leaving their homelands to start life elsewhere. I hope we can rise above our differences and celebrate all ethnicities, race and sexualities. Give love to all people no matter from where they are or how and what they identify as. Society is made up of diverse people, and if we all could pool in a little love imagine how constructive, creative, and vibrant our communities will be.