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“After high school I enrolled at a local boy’s college. I was one of fifteen girls at the entire school. And even though my grades were nothing special, I was very involved in student organizations. During my freshman year we had a giant flood in Pakistan, and many of us were searching for ways to help. My idea was to produce a play. We would stage the performance at a local theater, and all proceeds would go to victims of the flood. I organized everything myself: I wrote the script, I found the actors, I scheduled rehearsals at our home. It was the most powerful that I’d ever felt. And everything was coming together.
But a few weeks into our rehearsals, the neighbors began to notice strange boys coming and going from our home. One morning my father called me into the living room. ‘The neighbors are gossiping,’ he said. ‘You are embarrassing our family.’ Then he made me promise that I would cancel the play. Every day he would ask me, and every day I would lie to him. We held our rehearsals in secret. We kept selling tickets. And on the day of the performance, there were 1500 people in the audience. The play was about a girl who’d lost everything in the flood. There were some songs, and some comedy, and a little drama when the government refused to help. Everything went perfectly. And when the final curtain came down, there was a big speech about how Sidra had organized the whole thing. The entire audience stood up and clapped. From backstage I could see my father’s friends—even the ones who had told on me. And there was Waqas, sitting in the front row, clapping harder than anyone.
He came backstage and told me all about his life in Lahore. He said that he’d discovered something called ‘the internet,’ and he was planning to start a business. Then he asked if I would join him in Lahore and become his business partner. He told me: ‘With someone like you on the team, people will take us seriously.’ It finally felt as though my talents were being recognized, and the next day I asked for my parent’s permission. But they refused. ‘It’s time to stop this foolishness,’ my mother said. Then she gave me an ultimatum: ‘Either become a teacher, or get married.”