bow echo, 73˚F
I swallowed and melted into the tar-patched roof. A rusted, uneasy oblivion. I didn’t hide, as I said I would. Some hand of god or primal instinct made me leave the roof, ask for help. It was beautiful up there. On the very south-west corner, the wind was amazing, and that late afternoon sunlight. Perfect.
Those are the first words in Olive Witch A Memoir by Abeer Y. Hoque.
Who is Abeer Hoque you may wonder. Of course, a majority of you not have heard of her. Abeer Hoque is you and me. She is every woman who has ever struggled to find her place in a society that thrives on dogma and convention. Abeer Hoque is one of the fistful of women who would dare to break that monotony, even if it means standing alone, and forever, at the brink of oblivion, with your insides threatening, constantly to drive you over the edge. But wouldn’t it be so liberating? To be free, once and for all? To not have to worry about how the people you love might feel, or what your friends and peers might think, to not have to have to be answerable for every word spoken and responsible for every action undertaken?
Olive Witch is all about seeking out that freedom while trying to fit in, even when you’re one of the few who couldn’t blend if you were to be crushed and churned around with the rest. Olive Witch is about standing out of the crowds, ever so silently and finding your own haven; rid of prejudice, questions and shackles. But, more than anything, Olive Witch is real, true and existential. Olive Witch exists in the author, Abeer Hoque whose book is a mere reflection of her life, experiences and thoughts, captured beautifully into words. A Bangladeshi woman who grew up in a small town in Nigeria, called Nsukka, Abeer is forced to move with her family to the suburban Pittsburgh, in America, at the tender age of thirteen. Suddenly, she finds herself having to cope with an entirely new world that is so different from the one she earlier lived in, that it’s distancing her from her self. The once bright and energetic student is now struggling to make her grades and friends in a society that bases personality on outward appearances. You see the light go out of her eyes and the music leave her step; you notice her voice disappear and her thoughts internalise. Abeer is suddenly torn between finding her own ground and obeying her parents, until there comes a point where she realises, that no one’s really been listening to her. And that’s the first line of connection I make with the author. Not all of us; but, some of us (the fistful), have similar experiences; i.e., we don’t belong—not to the land we were born in, not to the one we grew up in and certainly not to the one we move to. We’re constantly moving between our feet trying to find some sort of foothold; some sort of semblance, a speck of familiarity that we can hold on to. And then, one fine day, we snap, just like Abeer. Suddenly, the ties break and we’re left loose; but we’re not free—far from it.
Years pass and Abeer is a young woman—she has finally found a place for herself in the western civilisation—made friends, grades and a lover. Yet, despite all the pomp that surrounds her life and the people in it; despite her life’s ongoing events that keep her busy and occupied, she is losing her sense of reason. You might scoff at the commonality of the situation but, the truth is, it is not as common. Meeting expectations is one of the most difficult duties burdened on human beings and more often than not, that’s what makes or breaks us—not the fact that we choose the wrong people, make the wrong decisions, or do the wrong things. In fact, the amount of pressure we put on fulfilling another’s expectations of us is what ruins are sense of self, or decision-making to the point where we no longer know whose dreams we are living out. The result is: we’re as good as zombies, or robots—dwindling in throngs to survive on leftovers and doing someone else’s bidding. That’s no life. And that’s when you realise, you’re standing at the edge of a window, feeling freer than you’ve ever felt. All that is left to do is take the leap and plunge into a lost sanity where you’re no one’s responsibility, no one’s expectation and no hurt, kiss, or heartbreak could ever touch you.
Olive Witch shows us how women like Abeer; women like me (and if you’re reading this, then, women like you) are driven over the edge. Olive Witch shows us the amount of mental strength it takes to get out of bed on a morning when you wish it would remain night for eternity; it shows us how to get up, pop the pills till we’re physically fit enough to muster the courage and energy, and fight for the right to really live—free from the authorities, friends, lovers and parents. Olive Witch is about an outsider who is trying to live, without pressures, interferences and consequences. And in the middle of it all, sometimes loses the grip on reality because, most times, our lives seem to look a lot better when we’re not living them anymore. Olive Witch is about struggles, trials, failures, errors and chances; however random they may be. It’s about letting go with no intention of ever getting back up and yet, you find yourself standing at the beginning—right back to where you started. It’s about emotions, connections, relations and conversations. It’s about being living in the moment while trying not to slip into oblivion. It’s about fighting parents, tradition, lovers, society and it’s about fighting depression. It’s about winning outward battles but losing the inward ones. It’s about a woman outsider’s struggles—both, within and without; but, more importantly, it’s about a woman outsider’s journey to finding out what lies inside her own subconscious.
By the time you reach the ending of the book, you realise that it’s a lot like your own life. You can almost imagine looking at your future self as the end draws near. It makes you smile because it gives you hope; it makes you realise that maybe we’re not supposed to fit in after all; maybe being an outsider is the only way we can do the rounds of what lies ahead of us; maybe sinking into that abyss inside our bodies—that dark void that makes us feel hopeless—isn’t the end of our worlds, after all. Sometimes, we get back up, after all the pills are over and all the battles are done with. Sometimes, we deal with our demons by letting others in. Sometimes, we do get to stare into the setting sun on the horizon; not hand in hand with a lover, but rather, alone and aware of our own true potential.
Olive Witch is rich with experience and is an amalgamation of memories and moments that take you back to your own childhood, adolescence and adulthood—it’s a journey of transition from the innocent to the knowledgeable. And honestly, it’s been a while since a woman author wrote a novel that made me feel like my time was well invested in every word I read and every page I turned. We have enough mindless chic-lit novels that talk about men and friends who accentuate, if not define, women. Truth be told, we don’t need anyone, as long as we understand how important and strong we as individuals are. Families, countries, degree, friends and men do not add or take anything more away from women that we wouldn’t want them to. Then, we could be outsiders, or insiders and wouldn’t matter much.
So, you should read Olive Witch. Not just because you’re a woman; not just because you’re an outsider who may never belong; and definitely not just because you know what it’s like to stand at the edge of the window, or jump into the ocean. You should read Olive Witch because you are all of the above mentioned and more.