A Day in the Life of a Desi Army Wife Sans her NCB

Written By: Hira Sagheer

It is a day like any other. The bright midday sun filters through the thick white curtains and paints the room a pale yellow hue. I say midday because that is the time I usually wake up at. I sleepily stretch in bed and turn around to look at my side where my angel co-sleeps and is curled up like the perfect human child that he is. I smile to myself as I get out of bed already yearning for that steaming hot mug of tea my NCB (non-combatant bearer) prepares every morning for my breakfast.

Who let the dogs out {woof, woof, woof, woof}, Who let the dogs out {woof, woof…} I frantically look for my phone in the sheets and silence it. Who could be calling at this ungodly hour? Feeling a massive grump coming on, I take it outside. I see my husband’s name flash on the screen and swipe to pick.

Me: Hey, you almost woke up Moustafa!
Him: You guys are still sleeping?
Me: *major eye-roll*
Him: Anyway, I called to tell that I gave the NCB a week off. Signed his leave in the morning.
Me: Wait… whaaa… wh… why… wwhatt…
Him: Yeah, some emergency back home. Anyway, I have to run. See you at home.
Me: Wait… Wh… whaaa… wh… why… wwhatt…

A sharp wailing snaps me out of my stupefied sputter. For a moment, I think I am the one wailing, lamenting the loss of what feels like my right hand. But it’s coming from the other room. Perfect, the kid is up. I drag myself against will to the bedroom and hug my kid. The wailing stops. Then it starts again. It’s definitely me this time.

Who, you might ask, is this NCB? Whose imminent absence has reduced me to a wailing, sputtering mess. He is God’s greatest blessing to an Army wife in Pakistan. He is our go-to guy. He’s the guy we rely on to get things done. If one is lucky, they end up with a NCB who is a miracle walking around on two legs. He fixes our plumbing. He repairs the switches. He is there to rescue us when the pressure cooker acts up or the blender just won’t blend. He does the cooking, does the dishes, gets our groceries, goes to the laundry, supervises workers around the house and is essentially the center of our little galaxy. He’s like our very own, personalized fairy godmother and the reason why we feel like such goddamn princesses (excuse the lingo). I cannot stress enough the focal point this guy has in the life and household of an Army wife.

As I digest the news, my inner goddess comes to my aid. She takes me by the shoulders and tries to shake some sense into me. You are a strong, capable young woman, she yells in my face. It’s only house work, she says. It’s only seven days, she starts to make sense. You. can.handle.this, I nod along. WHO ARE YOU? she demands. I AM A STRONG, CAPABLE YOUNG WOMAN! I chant back. WHO CAN DO THIS? she’s fierce. I CAN DO THIS! I show her. I got this!


adayinlife.jpgLike a woman on a mission, I spring out of bed and start on ‘things’. First things first, wash the kid. I yank Moustafa off the bed and rush him into the bathroom. He looks too startled to protest and a little scared by my game face. I splash his face and shepherd him back into the room where I randomly pick his clothes out of the closet. Normally, I’d spend at least a good, solid fifteen minutes planning and selecting the perfect outfit but ain’t nobody got time for that today. I throw a shirt over his head, yank his shorts up to his waist and I swear I hear him wince. I whisk him off the bed, grab the comforter in my strong lady hands and haul it over the bed. There, the bed’s made. This will have to do. I gather clothes strewn across the room and dump them into the laundry basket. I do not have the time or the patience today to sort and fold clothes and put them away. Everything outside the closet qualifies as laundry. This house just got a new rule!

We hurry out into the living room and the state it is in leaves me a little dazed. It is as if a hurricane tore through it while we were asleep. Husband’s clothes heaped on a couch, Moustafa’s toys from last night scattered as far as the eye could see and a dozen other random objects I honestly believe didn’t belong to us. I tie my dupatta into a knot at my waist (you know a desi woman means business when she does that) and get to bringing some semblance of sense to this disaster zone. I zig and zag between couches, coffee table and corner tables and, if in that moment, I looked behind me I’d definitely see chemtrails. When the living room looks livable again, I leave my kid in the company of his iPad (yes, I am that mom this morning, don’t you even start with me!) and head to the kitchen.

That strong, capable woman who pulled herself together five minutes earlier after being yelled at by the voices in her head collapses in the kitchen door. Did the MOAB (Mother of all Bombs) drop down here last night while we were tucked away in bed? Because it most definitely looks like it did. There are last night’s dishes still soaking in the sink (I usually leave them for my trusted NCB to wash in the morning), pots and pans still greasy from the last cooked meal, the counter hasn’t been wiped down, the stove hasn’t been sponged off and there is a trayful of used glasses by the sink. How did this even happen, is the last thought I have before my vision turns to a black field of nothingness and I almost collapse. How can a family of three create THIS much mess in the kitchen? I wonder if we have more people living in the house whom I did not know about. I know it looks bad, but it’s just dishes, the goddess is back and she coos. Are you scared of some harmless dishes? she asks sensibly. Yes, I reply meekly before I put on my neon yellow gloves and dive elbow deep into the dirty dish galore. I visibly gag as my gloved and protected hand touches something seemingly icky. My first thought is to tear off these gloves and set the kitchen on fire so I never have to deal with this mess again. Certainly we can live off the Officers' Mess until the NCB comes back and builds me a new kitchen from scratch. The thought makes me smile. This is probably the first time I have smiled all day and it feels utterly weird. Once the dishes are done, gloves still on, I wipe the counters, scrub the stove and mop the kitchen floor. It’s time to take the trash out and as I open the bin to tie the bag, the goddess jumps off her couch and dry heaves. You can do this, she gasps. I respond with another gag attack.

Once order is restored in the kitchen and everything is clean and shiny again, I take a deep breath. Time to get started on breakfast. I whip up some eggs and make the easiest version of omelette possible and wolf it down over the sink straight from the pan. I think about making a mug of tea but then think of all the crusty tea I’d have to clean from the saucepan and decide one day without tea wouldn’t kill me. Probably. There is no way I am starting a new dirty dish pile. Oh crap, I mutter as I remember my kid who probably needs breakfast too. I whip up the same easy-omelette for him with a glass of milk.

Normally, I’d qualify for the highest civil award just for successfully feeding my kid food three times a day. Like any other wonderful toddler, he hates being fed. Our meals start with me doing everything short of a cheerleading routine to get him to eat a few bites. When that fails, and it almost always does, I resort to pleading my case. Besides being picky when it comes to his eating habits, my kid is also an expert at sniffing out my weaknesses. Today is no exception. He can sense desperation oozing out of every pore of his mother’s existence and vehemently shakes his head as soon as I enter the room with his tray. ‘No Mama, no’, he tells me. ‘Sit down here right now!!!’, I hiss through gritted teeth. The goddess and I do not have the patience today to jump through the hoops and instead jump straight to the last resort. It works and he scampers to his high chair. Thank you, God!

After feeding Moustafa his breakfast in what feels like record breaking time, I head back into the kitchen. It’s time to get started on lunch. I am still thinking on lunch options when there is a loud Ding Dong Ding. Since there is no NCB it means I get to be the lucky one to walk out in the scorching heat and open the gate for whoever it is. Yayee me! I head out and open the gate. It is the cleaning guy. Good God, I almost forgot about him since it is the NCB who supervises him. I let him in and tell him to get started on his work. I head back into the kitchen and hear Moustafa crying. Hurrying into the room I realize that I left him strapped in his high chair after breakfast. I unbuckle him and let him out and head back inside the kitchen. So where was I before I went to let the cleaning guy in? Yeah, what to make for lunch, which is quite possibly the hardest question every housewife has to deal with every single day. I settle on making pasta with some white sauce because anything with gravy would mean making roti to go with it. Which would mean kneading the dough, making little dough spheres called pairaas, rolling them flat and then cooking them. And there was no way I was getting into that mess all by myself.

Pasta means loads of cutting so I get right to it. I get all the veggies out and put the meat out to thaw. As I put the water on stove to bring it to a boil for pasta, I hear an ear-piercing shatter from the living room. I dash into the living room and to my horror the cleaning guy is standing by the coffee table, looking extremely guilty. I follow his line of vision and find the reason why. My favorite tall vase is shattered into a hundred little pieces and scattered all over the floor. I look in horror at the shattered vase and then at the cleaning guy and then back at the vase. I open my mouth to express the horror and the accompanying grief raging through my veins but nothing comes out. I close my eyes and the goddess hugs my limp frame. I open my eyes and tell the cleaning guy to gather up all the pieces. I get down on my hands and knees and gather as many pieces as I can. I take the broom myself and sweep the room once, twice and thrice just to be sure that all the pieces are taken care of since my kid spends a major portion of his day running around barefoot in the same room. Once that is taken care of, I watch the cleaning guy like a hawk while he gets the rest of the house cleaned.

Once he’s gone I am back in the kitchen, boiling pasta and cutting vegetables. That half an hour I spend prepping things is continuously interrupted by my boy and his never-ending demands. First he wants a snack. Five minutes later he’s back for some water. Hardly five minutes have passed before he calls out again from the living room which I choose to ignore. After a minute of him relentlessly calling me, I give up and head to the living room. He’s pooped, of course! Why wouldn’t he when I am literally at the end of my wits. After washing him up and putting on a fresh diaper, I head back into the kitchen and drain the over-boiled, mushed pasta. It doesn’t look that bad, the goddess assures me. I toss the vegetables, I have done a sloppy job of cutting, into a very lumpy white sauce and fold in the pasta. There, lunch and dinner and snack sorted. I dare anyone to ask me for anything else today, I dare them!
On my way to the living room from the kitchen I see my reflection in the hallway mirror and realize I have not brushed my teeth, washed my face and combed my hair. What’s worse is that I hadn’t changed before sleeping and I hadn’t changed after waking up. Truly and completely, a mess! Better wash up!
Before I can finish that thought there is a loud beep, beep outside and Moustafa rushes past me all excited and giddy. Baba, Baba he exclaims and I become conscious of the fact that it is almost evening, the husband’s back home. I have barely gotten the food off the stove and I look like trash. I peek into the living room to have proof in hand that I have been busy getting things done and of course it is back to its usual disaster-struck state. The husband strides in with Moustafa in his arms and takes one long look at me, another at the room and then back at me again. He grins, ‘Tough day?’ At least he gets it.

I fix him a plate while he changes and then iron his uniform while he eats. Once he’s done, I take the dishes into the kitchen and pull on those neon gloves again. Hello new best friend, I say to my gloves and the goddess looks sympathetic. It’s laundry next (Bleukh). After putting a load in the laundry, I get back to the ironing and by the time I am done it’s almost dinner time. In the meantime, my kid poops a total of three more times (he has an active digestive system, bless him), is fed forcefully under threats two more times and has thrown five very loud tantrums.

After dinner is eaten and the kitchen is wiped down one final time, I sink into the living room couch. This is the first time I have sat down the entire day. My legs are screaming in pain, I have a family of aches in my back and my shoulders are throbbing. I smell strongly of garlic and faintly of poop. I never got around to washing up and fixing my face and I have lost the energy to even care at this point.

I look at the sea of toys and all things random and extra which have engulfed the living room and think to myself: 1 down, 6 to go. The goddess swoons and falls dramatically off her couch.


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