Part 210

“Mummy, Faz and I are going shopping,” Humi said. She had started calling me Faz now.

Mummy frowned. “Now? So late? Why you’ll want to go now?”

“Just. To buy some things we both need,” Humi shrugged.

“Fine but come back early. And here, take my shopping list with you. You may as well do my shopping as well while you’re gone. But make sure you’ll are back by one. I don’t want you’ll late for lunch.”

We nodded and escaped gleefully. This was our first shopping trip together. Usually mummy and Humi went together and I went with Ahmed or on my own, except those few times mummy dragged me grocery shopping with her to show me what stuff to buy for the house. She was too fussy and only wanted certain brands stocking our cupboards and pantry. Anything else was unacceptable. I was going to go on my own today as well but had decided to invite Humi to join me impulsively. She had happily accepted, making me glad that I’d thought of offering her to join me. Maybe this way I could get her to open up about herself. She was a closed book and despite our friendlier encounters I still didn’t know what made her tick.

Two hours later, arms laden with shopping bags we sat down to have a break. I ordered a strawberry milkshake for myself while Humi ordered a black forest sundae.

“How’s Aliyah?” She asked suddenly, ” I haven’t seen her in long.”

Grasping the opening she gave me I replied cheerfully, “she’s well, Alhamdulillah. She was asking about you as well the other day. You know, I had never really asked her how you two know each other. But that day I did and she said you know each other from childhood. You were together in school since primary, neh?”

Humi nodded. “From nursery, day one. I was the quiet, shy type, she was the bubbly, outgoing type. Surprisingly we hit it off. She let me hang out with her all throughout school, even when…” she stopped abruptly.

“Even when…?” I prompted gently.

“Even when…the others…made fun of me and cast me aside after a while. I was chubby then, you know. And I’ve been wearing glasses from that time. They used to call me tubby…stuff like that,” she shrugged and turned her attention to her sundae.

“Tubby is tame. I got called vampire in school,” I laughed.

Humi stared at me. “Really?”

I nodded. “Yup! I had teeth that stuck out slightly in primary, especially my canines. I got called vampire, Dracula…blood sucker…stuff like that. I also wore those thick framed glasses. I was the proper nerdy type! Got called Dilton as well…you know, the character from Archie Comics. And before that, I was called Dexter. From the cartoon. Then later on I started wearing braces to straighten my teeth. During that time I was quiet and kept to myself. I had only one friend throughout primary…Zeenat. Things only changed when I came to high school. The braces came off and I swapped my glasses for contacts. And the rest, as they say, is history,” I grinned at her.

“Can’t imagine it, looking at you,” Humi said, shaking her head, “if only my story had a happy ending like that. But my nicknames stuck, even when I lost weight. I became anorexic for a while, to get thin enough that the taunts would stop. They didn’t of course. And it gave my mum a chance to add on to it as well. I’m a disappointment to her…always have been!” The last was added bitterly before she clamped her mouth shut again and dug into her sundae viciously.

I leaned forward. “Humi, forget about the people around you. You’re not surrounding yourself with the correct people. Surround yourself with positive people, who see the best in you and who will bring out the best in you. And know your worth. You’re an amazing person, you just need to realise it.”

Humi snorted. “Ya, right. Look how horrible I was to you. I’m messed up and I know it. And who should I surround myself with? Get a new mother maybe?” She laughed bitterly.

I shook my head. Her mother was at the root of her problem just as I had feared. I had to tread carefully though. It was her mother after all. One wrong word and I’d become the villain here. “Humi, don’t let your mother bring you down as well. I know she’s a perfectionist and she expects everyone around her to be perfect. But just because we aren’t at her level of perfect doesn’t men we’re not good enough. Everyone is different. You don’t have to be her kind of perfect to be perfect…”

Humi snorted again, cutting me off. “You have no idea how it’s like, living with her. She controls my every move! I have to do as she says or get out of her house. Yes, she’s told me that many times. If her house isn’t good enough I can get out. But if I stay in her house I follow her rules. And that means doing whatever she wants, not what I want! God, I feel so stifled at times I could run away!” She thrust her spoon into her half eaten sundae and stormed off. I turned around and watched her go, stunned once again by the depth of her feelings. I worried about her. Humaira was a time bomb just waiting to go off…when would her time run out, was the question here.

***

“Fazila, come with me. I want to go meet Aunt Yasmin who’s here from Canada,” Mummy said after supper as she rushed past me down the stairs. I stopped halfway up the stairs and turned to stare at her. She disappeared into the kitchen and I followed her.

“Are you going right now?” I asked.

“Ya, just now. Go get ready quickly,” Mummy said.

“But…it’s late now. I’ll go tomorrow instead.”

Mummy let out an impatient sigh. “Why do you want to go by yourself tomorrow? Rather come with me now. We won’t be long. Now hurry up.”

“Not today, Mummy, I’m tired…”

“I’m not asking you, Fazila, I’m telling you,” Mummy said in the tone of voice that always got my hackles up, “now hurry up and get ready. And tell Humi to hurry up as well.”

I turned on my heel without a word and went back upstairs. I would tell Ahmed to tell her that I was not going anywhere right now. I was tired and I would go tomorrow. End of story.

“Please go and tell her that I’m tired and I’ll go tomorrow instead,” I told Ahmed after I had explained the situation to him. He nodded and got off the bed. A few minutes later I heard screaming. I went to stand by the open door so I could hear what she was saying now.

“Why can’t she come now, huh?? Have I ever told her to come visit Aunt Yasmin with me before?? No, this is the first time I’m telling her and she can’t even fulfill this small wish of mine! And you, you also can’t explain to her. She sent you to come tell me this nonsense and you also nicely came to tell me! What’s wrong with her coming with me for a small visit, I ask you? Will she die out of tiredness if she did?? She was fine at supper time, now how come she’s suddenly so tired???”

I shut the door behind me and went to sit on the bed, unwilling to listen to more of her drama. A few minutes later Ahmed opened the door, looking drained. “Please, princess, go with her for a while. She said you’ll be back early.”

I stared at him. “You’re joking, right?? I thought you told her I can’t??”

“She’s not listening. She’ll come and start banging down the door just now if you don’t go. Please, princess,” he looked at me pleadingly.

I couldn’t believe my ears! This was the price I had to pay for keeping my mouth shut and keeping peace in this house?? This dangling on a string like a puppet, my puppet master being my mother inlaw?? Was the price of peace going to be my sanity???

Grabbing my abaya and niqaab I stormed out of the room, slamming it shut behind me. I was quiet the entire way, stewing silently in my own thoughts. At least the house was a bit far so I had calmed down somewhat by the time we got there. I sat and spoke to the old lady pleasantly enough, trying to conceal my yawns. I was exhausted by the time we came back, dozing off a little in the car as well.

“See? It wasn’t so bad, was it? Aunt Yasmin is such a lovely old woman, neh?” Mummy asked me when we came back home. I nodded and said something in the affirmative briefly then escaped to my room where Ahmed was waiting up for me.

“How was it?” He asked, looking at me searchingly.

“Oh, great, just great!” I replied sarcastically.

“Was it that bad?” Ahmed looked anxious now.

“Whether it was bad or not I did not want to go!!! But you didn’t think of that, did you? No, Mummy dearest said I had to go with her so it became fardh for me to go with her. Did you ask me if I wanted to go or not?? No, of course not! No one ever thinks of asking me what I want, after all! Not mummy and not you! You’re such a softie you keep sacrificing me to keep the peace and avoid conflict! May as well sacrifice me this bakri eid. I’ll make a wonderful sacrificial lamb!” Saying so I flounced off into the bathroom to change. I changed into my pjs and climbed into bed then turned to face the wall deliberately. I heard Ahmed sigh as he climbed into bed behind me and it made my blood boil even more. It took me a long while and several tasbeehs of durood shareef to fall asleep that night…

The next morning Mummy was in a pleasant mood and so was I. The drama of the night before was forgotten…no, not forgotten, buried. Buried as deep as possible, so that it wouldn’t surface again even mistakenly. That was the way things were in this house. Any and every issue was sorted to mummy’s liking then buried. And for my own peace of mind I kept it buried. I only kept the good memories nearby, to remove them at every opportunity, examine them from every angle again and remind myself that I was still much better off than so many people out there.

***

“Assalamu alaykum,” I greeted out loud as I entered the house after madrassah. I had learnt that it increased blessings in the house as narrated in the hadith;

Al-Tirmidhi narrated that Anas ibn Maalik said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to me, ‘O my son, when you enter upon your family and say salaam, it will be a blessing for you and the members of your household.'”

There was no reply. I slipped off my shoes since they had become muddy, and padded to the kitchen in my socks. I wolfed down a couple of biscuits, washing them down with cold water. I wondered what we had to make for supper today. I couldn’t see anything nearby, the kitchen looking pristine and empty. The house also seemed like it was empty. I couldn’t hear any noise from upstairs as well. I slung my bag over my shoulder again and padded silently up the stairs…and stopped abruptly at the top. My room door was open which was weird since I always closed it before I left. And there were noises coming from inside! My heart suddenly hammering loudly in my ears, I quietly slipped out my phone, scrolled to Ahmed’s name then crept to the open doorway and peeked in. What I saw was so ludicrous I gasped then clapped a hand over my mouth to stifle it before I was seen. Standing there I watched silently as my mother inlaw rifled through my drawers, opening each one and pawing through it then shutting it again. When they did not yield whatever she was looking for she moved to mines and Ahmed’s walk-in closet. Opening the door she disappeared inside. I had no idea what she was doing in there but I could hear sounds of things being opened and rifled through. Warning bells started clamouring in my head, voices clashing over one another in admonitions that had embedded themselves into my brain, along with my own experiences which flashed warning lights at me.

“Don’t make an issue out of this. It’s her son’s room after all.”

“Don’t say anything. She has said this is her house, she probably finds nothing wrong in what she’s doing.”

“Ignore her and go away. It’s not like she’s gonna steal anything.”

“Just leave before she sees you. You don’t want to make an issue out of nothing.”

“DON’T make a fuss. You know how she is, she’ll turn this into a huge issue where she’ll end up as the victim as usual and you’ll be the villain as usual.”

“Go away now, don’t tell her anything. Tell Ahmed to explain to her nicely later on that this is not on…”

“Leave…leave…leave…leave…LEAVE……”

I shook my head hard to dispel the thoughts, took four steps into my room which brought me directly infront of her and loudly and slowly uttered,

“What…are…you…doing???”

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Part 209

The acrid smell of burning hit my nostrils as I was happily admiring my deep maroon, freshly hennaed nails. I raised my head, sniffed carefully then jumped up and ran to the kitchen. The lone pot of biryani sat on the stove, perched on a round plate that glowed a fiery red. Hang on…fiery red??? My eyes flew to the dial and widened in total disbelief. It pointed to nine. Nine!!! I raced to the stove and switched it off then lifted the lid off the pot…and stumbled back from the strong smell of burning rice that hit my nostrils. Carefully holding the handles on both sides with pot holders I carried it to the sink then set about salvaging whatever rice I could from the pot, transferring it to another, all the while knowing that it was a useless endeavour. The burnt smell had permeated into all the rice even though the top layer didn’t look burnt. I stared at the charred mess stuck at the bottom of the pot and clenched my teeth. If mummy were to see her beloved pot in such a state she would throw a fit. I had to get this sorted before she came home.

Moving quickly I poured boiling water, vinegar and some dishwashing liquid into the pot then placed it on the stove to boil.

“What is this smell?” Sally asked, coming into the kitchen.

I sighed. “My rice burnt in the pot, Sally. I’m trying to boil this quickly so the burnt rice can come off the bottom of the pot.”

Sally frowned. “But how did that happen? I saw you put it on low before I went outside.”

I pounced on her statement. “Yes! I put it on low, neh?? I know I did! But it was on nine when I came to see what was burning!” I had been trying to figure it out in my mind ever since I’d run into the kitchen. I knew I had put it on two before leaving; then how come it was on nine??

“Nine?? No, no, it was not on nine when I went outside,” Sally was shaking her head.

“Where’s Humi?” I asked suddenly, the wheels in my head starting to turn.

“Upstairs, I think. She came to see what I was doing when you went away, then she went away again.”

“Did she touch the stove??” A horrible suspicion was forming in my mind.

“I don’t know, ma’am. Maybe she did. You must be careful of Madam Humaira. She’s a sly one, that one,” Sally nodded, “let me wash this pot now.”

“No, Sally, it’s okay, I’ll do it. You go do your work before my mother inlaw comes and shouts at you.”

Sally nodded and left again to complete her work. I placed the pot of biryani back on the stove, on low, then started scrubbing the blackened pot…while my mind ran ahead at top speed, sifting through clues and facts, arriving at conclusions that I did not like at all.

This was following a horrible pattern. Everytime mummy complimented a certain dish of mine and told me to make it by myself…lo and behold, that dish suddenly flopped. First it had been the chocolate cake two weeks back, then the soji I had made had suddenly become full of water and ended up looking like yellow, runny porridge, then the oven had miraculously switched off while I was making cupcakes, making them flop mightily, and now the biryani. This was getting out of hand. It had to stop. But how?? After that disastrous Saturday when Ahmed hadn’t believed that Humi could stoop so low, I had stopped telling him about the other disasters. I had tried to catch her at it red handed, had even kept my phone with the camera ready incase I needed to snap the evidence but she was too smart. She always looked for opportunities where she wouldn’t be caught out. So I had no real proof backing up my claims and that meant I couldn’t complain about it to anyone. I had gotten into trouble for all my fiascos though. Mummy was convinced that something was wrong with me for me to make so many blunders and had forced Ahmed to take me to the doctor. After the doctor’s examination, which included a pregnancy test, hadn’t turned up anything positive I had crossly told Ahmed to never drag me to the doctor again. They all looked at me like I was a nutcase, while Humi gloated from the sidelines. This had to stop!

I knocked on Humi’s door and entered at her, “come in!”

“What?” Humi asked when she saw me, raising her eyebrows inquiringly.

“Did you turn the stove with the biryani on high?” I asked calmly.

“Turn the stove……” Humi started laughing, “so that’s why I could smell burning! Poor Fazila. Getting a bit crazy up here, are you?” She tapped her forehead and tsked at me, “Mummy shouldn’t trust you in the kitchen anymore. You’ll burn down her kitchen next. I’ll tell her when she comes back.”

I gritted my teeth. “I had turned it on two before I left. I saw it, Sally also saw it. And she said you went in the kitchen for a while after I left. Then a little while later I smelt burning and suddenly the stove was on high. That’s quite suspicious, isn’t it??”

Humi narrowed her eyes. “What are you trying to imply, huh?”

“I’m not implying, I’m telling you facts. You can’t handle it when mummy praises me, neh? Everytime she praises me my dishes flop suddenly. Jealous, are you? She can’t praise your food so she shouldn’t praise mine as well. It’s like that, huh??” I stared hard at Humi, “what you don’t realise is that talent and success comes from Allah. If my dish comes out nice that’s no accomplishment of mine. It’s only by the will of Allah. So instead of spoiling my dishes why don’t you make dua to Allah to make your dishes a hit then try to make them yourself?”

“Oh, spare me your bayans, you big wannabe apa!” Humi snarled, “you think you’re so perfect and holy holy that you’re coming to preach to me?? First sort yourself out, bi**h! Now get out of here! I’m sick and tired of the sight of you!”

I shook my head and left, shaken once again by the depth of her hatred and malice. What had made her this way? Had she always been like this? I decided to ask the one person who knew her better than anyone else I knew.

“Assalamu alaykum, darling! Howzit?”

I smiled as Aliyah’s chirpy voice came down the line. “Wa alaykum salaam. I’m good, babe, and yourself?”

“Good good. What’s up?”

“Ally, I need to ask you something.”

“Ya, sure, go on…”

“You know my sister inlaw Humi well, neh? Can you please explain to me what makes her tick? Because I can’t understand her at all and she’s driving me crazy!”

“Woah, slow down! What’s going on? Start from the beginning.”

So I did. I told her everything from the time I got married…Humi’s moods and sulks, her blatant dislike of me, her jealousy and pranks of late. Aliyah sucked her breath in sharply when I told her about my dishes flopping and my suspicions that it was her.

“My word! Talk about a monster sister inlaw!” She breathed when I finished, “I had no idea, Faz. How do you live in such a hellhole?”

“My hubby doesn’t believe Humi can stoop so low and I have no proof to back my claims so how can I blame her? I didn’t even bother telling him about the other pranks though he found out from his mother. Now they all think I’m crazy.”

“Ag, some people can be so thick, man! And that Humi! I’ll give her a piece of my mind next time I see her, watch!”

“No, no, don’t say anything to her!” I said hastily, “she’ll come and complain to mummy then I’ll be in bigger trouble. I just wanted to know if she’s like that with everyone or just me.”

“Well, she can be nice if she wants to. But she’s been a bit of an attention seeker from the time we were young. And she does have a jealous streak. I remember the times we praised other people and she would be there, sulking away. Or if she lost a game or something she would get so angry. But if we praise her or she wins she’s very happy. She needs that attention I guess. And she doesn’t have much self esteem, I know that from some things she said, so maybe she wants to feel good enough? I don’t know. You’re the psych, climb into her head and check her marbles out. Maybe she’s lost a few along the way,” Aliyah said jokingly.

I laughed and chatted to her some more before hanging up. Aliyah’s words had gotten me thinking. I think I knew what to do to stop Humi’s pranks. I made dua that it would work.

***

“Can I make macarons for tomorrow, Mummy? I have to take to the braai,” I said.

“No, please leave my kitchen alone. I don’t know how your mind is these days and I don’t want you to burn my kitchen down,” Mummy said. Humi had gleefully related to her my attempt at “burning down her her kitchen” with the biryani and since then mummy had been watching me with a hawk’s eye. She didn’t let me make anything alone in her kitchen anymore. But I had a plan up my sleeve now, which would hopefully kill two birds with one stone.

“I won’t be alone, Mummy. I want to ask Humi to help me out.” I prayed that Humi would agree.

Mummy eyed me suspiciously. “Humi has never made macarons in her life, how can she help you out? But okay, if she can keep an eye on you then you can make. But hurry up because I want my kitchen back to myself in two hours. I have to make something as well.”

“No problem,” I said as I raced up the stairs.

“You want me to help you out?” Humi looked at me incredulously.

“Yeah, I thought it would be nice if we could make them together. I remember you saying you love macarons so this way you can also learn how to make them.”

“So you want to turn me into your maid? No thanks! I’ll learn some other way, thank you very much!”

I sighed. “Why do you always take the worst meaning of what I say? My offer was genuine. I don’t mind working with you. Did you ever think working together would be better for both of us than working against each other all the time?” Humi stared at me silently. I stared back for like a minute then shrugged and stepped back, “it’s up to you. My offer stands.” I turned and walked back down the stairs, intending to ask Sally to be with me in the kitchen while she did her work so she could see that I wasn’t doing anything crazy. It rankled, being treated like an imbecile, but what could I do? One dua I kept praying, which gave me a lot of solace, was;

اللَّهُمَّ أْجُرْنِي فِي مُصِيبَتِي وَأَخْلِفْ لِي خَيْرًا مِنْهَا

Allahumma’jurni fee museebati wakhluflee khairan minna

Oh Allah, reward me in my affliction and replace it for me with something better than it.

It was a dua that could be prayed in times of loss, grief or trials. Umm Salamah prayed it after the death of her husband Abu Salamah and Allah gave her a better than him, Nabi S.A.W, in marriage. It was a dua I kept praying in the hope that my life would soon change for the better as well.

“When you starting?” Humi’s voice made me whirl around. She stood infront of me looking awkward and uncomfortable. I smiled at her.

“Right now. You wanna make with me?”

Humi shrugged. “Can’t harm, can it?”

The next couple of hours were the most pleasant I had ever spent with Humi. She lost most of her awkwardness as we beat, mixed and piped, and started smiling as well. She made a few blunders and jumped when I pointed them out, looking at me fearfully, probably expecting harsh criticism. I smiled to put her at ease and told her that it was normal to make mistakes the first time, all the while praying that they would come out nice because they were for the braai. When they finally came out of the oven looking perfect we whooped and high fived each other, smiling in shared happiness. It was such a strange feeling…I caught the scepticism in her eyes even as my own mind churned out it’s own doubts…that this was too good to be true, that this wouldn’t last, that she would revert to her normal self once the macarons were done and dusted…

“Oh, so nice they look! Who made?” Mummy asked when she came back into the kitchen. Humi opened her mouth but I beat her to it.

“We made together. Humi caught on so quick mashaAllah! I’m sure hers would come out lovely if she made them by herself as well.”

Mummy smiled and turned to Humi. “Maybe your talent lies in baking rather than cooking. These look nice!”

Humi glowed under the compliment received by her mother. Seeing it I knew this was the way to go.

As the days passed mines and Humi’s bond grew in the kitchen. Mummy was still in charge and made us run around according to her demands but when she did leave us alone in the kitchen we made things together. There were many benefits to that. My dishes stopped flopping, Humi and I became cordial and friendly if not bosom buddies, Mummy started trusting me to be in the kitchen without her again and the family stopped regarding me as crazy or unwell. They thought I had become better now.

I had killed not two but four birds with one stone.

Part 208

“Fazila, you make the chocolate cake, the one you made last time. It came out nice. And Humi, you start frying the samoosas and take out the pies to bake. As soon as the cake is done put them in. And hurry up, both of you. We want to leave as soon as we can,” and with that mummy sailed away to do her own thing. I smiled at Humi who was her usual sulky self and set about taking things out for the cake, pleasantly surprised that mummy had complimented my cake. Mummy gave out compliments sparingly.

“Why can’t we stay here? At least some weekends?” My words to Ahmed two days ago came back to me as I weighed the butter and sugar to beat, putting a damper on my mood again. I would have preferred privacy in this house to the beach house but mummy had other ideas. Initially they only used to go to Seascape, as the beach house was named, every other weekend so Ahmed and I used to go there alone on alternate weekends. But then mummy had said that since we were going every week…since we joined them when they went as well, at her demand…they would also go every week. So there went my privacy and spending a weekend alone with my hubby. That time I had suggested to Ahmed that we could stay back here on some weekends, just to get that time alone. Ahmed had agreed and brought it up at the supper table on Thursday night. Mummy had thrown a fit.

“Why? Is our company not good enough for you’ll now?? I thought you’ll love Seascape sooo much??”

Ahmed had tried to explain to her but she wasn’t having any of it, going into a proper sulk where she refused to talk or even look at us.

“She’s just being silly. Ignore her and let’s do our own thing,” I had said to Ahmed when we were alone in our room, rolling my eyes.

“She’ll make life difficult for you, princess. When she flies into these moods she makes everyone’s life hell till someone snaps her out of them. Let’s just go. We’ll try to spend time alone there as well.”

“Oh? Where? Camp out on the beach, maybe?? Then mummy will come crash our tent as well, crying that we don’t like her company any more so we ran away, blah blah blah. She’s playing bloody mind games with you’ll. Why can’t you and daddy realise that??” I yelled, all my frustration boiling over and spilling out on Ahmed.

“I know what she’s doing, I’m just saying it’s easier to go along with her. You have to spend the most time with her and I don’t want her to make life difficult for you.”

“Oh, so it’s me you’re thinking about?? Fine then, I’ll take the risk. Go tell mummy that we would prefer to spend the weekend right here but we’ll join them next week. Isn’t that a compromise? Go tell her that.”

Ahmed opened his mouth, shut it again…then sighed. “Fadheelah, you’re making a big thing out of a small one. You do love Seascape, neh? So why all the fuss?”

I felt like shaking him at that point. “It’s not about me loving Seascape or not. It’s about you letting her walk all over us and drag us whichever way she wants,” I gritted out between clenched teeth, “why can’t we do what we want for once?? Why do we always have to do what she wants?? That’s why she has these silly tantrums like a small child! She knows you’ll all toe the line when she turns on the drama! God, I’m sick and tired of it!”

Ahmed placed his hands on my shoulders. “That’s my mother we’re talking about, Fadheelah. No matter how she is, she’s my mother,” he said quietly, “if I go tell her that she’ll make a bigger fuss and we’ll never hear the end of it. She’s much older now, she’s set in her ways. It’s difficult for her to compromise. But you can. You’re doing so well these days, with talim everyday and making mummy and daddy smile with all your small gestures. You’re getting along so well with them. Can’t you do this as well, to make them happy?” He smiled at me cajolingly.

I shrugged off his hands. “I’m also human, Ahmed, not an angel. And sometimes I get so sick and tired of playing the martyr!” I stormed into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. When would this end??? I was giving my all here, bending over backwards to please a woman who only cared about herself. And what did I get in return?? She wasn’t changing for the better. She was still the same person under the sweet smiles and friendly words. She was only being sweet and nice with me because I went along with whatever she said. Tonight had proven that if things didn’t go her way she could revert to her real self in a matter of seconds. So I wasn’t softening her or turning her into a better person. No, the only person changing here was myself. And I was changing into a person I didn’t like at all.

***

I glanced at Humi out of the corner of my eye as I went about making the cake. She was banging trays on the countertop, a scowl on her face. I shook my head. How draining it must be to be so unhappy all the time. I felt sorry for her despite how horrible she was to me and made a silent dua for her to find happiness someday. I smiled at her again as I poured the cake batter into the pan and slid it into the oven to bake.

My softened attitude towards her suffered a blow when I came back into the kitchen twenty minutes later. My eyes immediately flew to the oven and a gasp escaped my lips. The oven door was ajar!! The kitchen was empty, Humi nowhere to be seen. And my poor cake! A quick peek confirmed my worst fears. It sat at the bottom of the pan, a dense, soggy mass. I quickly closed the door and prayed that it would turn out well.

Twenty more minutes later I was turning the cake out onto a rack. Dark, about an inch thick. If I knocked on it it gave a solid thunking sound. It was more like a large lump of chocolate Rusk than cake. I rested my hands on both sides of the cake and closed my eyes, willing the tears not to leak out.

“How’s the cake? Show me what mummy was praising so much.” Humi’s smug voice brought me out of my bleak thoughts. I whirled around to face her. The idiot was actually smiling!

“You did this, neh?? How dare you???” I hissed at her furiously.

“Did what?? What are you on about??” Humi widened her eyes innocently.

“You.left.the.oven.door.open.admit.it,” I gritted out. I was so mad I could chuck her into the hot oven and hope she burnt to crisp!

“What? I didn’t do anything. You must have left the door open yourself. How careless of you,” she tsked as she waltzed out of the kitchen, a smirk on her face.

“Who’s careless?” Mummy asked, bumping into Humi in the doorway. I mentally groaned.

“Fazila. She left the oven door open while her cake was baking,” Humi said.

“I didn’t! I know I closed it when I left the kitchen but when I came back it was open! Someone must have opened it!” I said hotly.

Mummy came to peer over my shoulder at the sorry lump sitting on the rack. “Who could have opened the door? No one was even here. You must have forgotten to close it. Really, Fazila, that’s quite careless of you. Now what will we do with this? Such a waste of expensive ingredients as well,” she tsked, shooting me a disappointed look. I gritted my teeth and shot a foul look at Humi who was smirking at me behind her mother’s back.

***

“Stop at the bakery on the way to Seascape, Ahmed, and buy a chocolate fresh cream cake,” mummy said as she clip-clopped her way out of the house on her sky-high heels.

“Why? I thought Fadheelah made a chocolate cake,” Ahmed said innocently. I mentally face-palmed myself. I hadn’t gotten a chance to tell Ahmed about the cake fiasco.

“Didn’t she tell you? She forgot to close the oven door and the whole cake flopped. You must take her to the doctor, Ahmed, she might be sick. Or maybe she’s pregnant. It’s not normal to forget something simple like that.”

I rolled my eyes so hard I thought my eyes would get lost somewhere at the back of my head. Humi was still smirking away and actually in a good mood for once. So she got happy by making others miserable. Great!

“What happened?” Ahmed asked me with a concerned frown on his face once we were on our way.

“Your sister opened the oven door so my cake would flop,” I said bluntly.

Ahmed turned to stare at me. “Humi? Did you see her?”

“No but you should have seen her face. She looked like the cat who got the cream. So bloody pleased with herself,” I rolled my eyes, “if it’s not your mother it’s your sister. That house is filled with hidden enemies, I swear!”

“You’re in a lekker mood these days, aren’t you?” Ahmed was looking at me weirdly, “first bad mouthing mummy and now Humi. Are you getting your periods already?”

I gritted my teeth in anger. “Ever thought that I might have valid complaints?? Why do men always think that bad moods equals PMS?? Can’t I be unhappy about something just like that???”

Ahmed didn’t answer though I thought I heard him sigh. My own anger was boiling over. As if it wasn’t enough that I had to contend with mummy’s tantrums and Humi’s silly tricks my own husband didn’t even believe me. Great, just great!!!

“You don’t have proof that Humi did it, do you?” Ahmed asked quietly a few minutes later, “so you can’t just pin the blame on her. That is tohmat (slander), Fadheelah.”

I threw up my hands in annoyance. “Fine, a bhoot (ghost) came and did it. I didn’t do it, I know that, and mummy didn’t do it. Dalia would never do something like that and daddy hardly even comes in the kitchen. So who’s left, huh? Unless you also agree that I’m going crazy!” I slammed my hands down on the dashboard, “that’s the problem! Stay in a house where you’re clearly the outsider, not free to do anything or say anything that you want, not allowed to move out also, then after you try to do things their way you still turn out to be the crazy, sick psycho. Great!” I ranted to him some more, letting out my frustration on him. He didn’t say a word, keeping his eyes on the road the whole time. When we reached the bakery I went in, got the cake and came back to the car. The rest of the way was filled with silence, me still fuming away silently, Ahmed probably lost in his own thoughts.

Way to start the weekend!!!

Part 207

Sister Amatullah2013, on behalf of all of us, please start your own blog. You don’t even have to look outside, your own life is filled with so many lessons, experiences and pearls of wisdom. We can all learn and benefit from them inshaAllah…

For those of you wondering what I’m on about, go and read her comments on my previous posts. An amazing person subhanallah!❤


It was Friday today, my favourite day of the week. Firstly because it was the blessed day of jumuah so that automatically made it special. And secondly because it was the day I went to my parents house. I did pop in whenever I could during the week but on Fridays I went there straight after school to have lunch and spend the day. And supper was the usual family get together which was always loads of fun. I hummed softly to myself as I made my way down the stairs to make breakfast. Suddenly a strong pair of hands grabbed me. I gasped as I was whirled round and round before being released, making me crash dizzily into a hard male chest.

“Ahmed!”

“Happy today, are we?” Ahmed teased, grinning down at me.

“Of course. It’s the blessed day of jumuah,” I replied primly.

“Uhuh. And because you get to spend it with your family?” Ahmed waggled his brows teasingly.

“Well, of course. There’s that too. And the lovely family get together at night…” it was my turn to tease him.

Ahmed rolled his eyes. “That crazy bunch! Now I know why you’re like this. It runs in the family. Hey!” He laughed and tried to duck out of the way when I threw a spoon at him. He didn’t quite manage and it hit his forehead with a satisfying thunk. “Ouch! That hurt!” He complained, holding his forehead dramatically. I laughed and held out my arms.

“Awwww, poor baby. Come here, let me kiss it better for you.”

We finally sat down to a breakfast of nutella on toast, leftover scones from the day before and tea. I enjoyed this meal the most, it being the only meal Ahmed and I could have alone, though the other meals were pleasant as well these days, with light hearted chatter and bursts of laughter in between. But the biggest surprise was daddy. He had turned out to be a very sweet man; stern and reserved on the outside but with a soft centre that only people close to him saw. And I had drawn closer to him in the past few weeks. He saw me trying my best to keep peace and happiness in the family and saw as well that it wasn’t easy for me always so he tried to do his part in smoothing things over time and again. He had started asking me to sit with him in his study in the mornings, after Ahmed left for work. He was an early riser, going jogging after fajr then retiring to his study till around eight. He didn’t have breakfast with us, preferring to have a quiet cup of tea in his study instead. One day, as I had taken his cup of tea to him he had waved me into the seat opposite him. I had obeyed with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, only to be pleasantly surprised when, instead of diving into a version of the Spanish Inquisition as I had feared, he had launched into some light conversation instead. And that had stuck somehow. After having breakfast with Ahmed and bidding him farewell I took daddy his tea then sat and talked to him about anything and everything. He seemed to enjoy my stories, even the silly ones, laughing at the more hilarious ones, listening gravely at the more serious ones. And he in turn told me stories of his own childhood and youth, of his marriage and kids…of his wife. Her childhood and youth. I guess he was trying to make me understand from another angle…

Nilofar Ismail. The laat lammetjie of the Ismail family. Born after three boys, all of whom were in their teens by then. Born to parents who had wished with all their heart for a girl for the twenty years they had been married, and who doted on their little girl when she finally arrived. She was brought up like a true princess. Any wish of hers was immediately fulfilled, whether as minor as a new dress or as major as wanting to go study in Australia, and wanting to go for a world tour with her friends after she graduated. Nothing was denied her. And even outside her house she got her way. She wanted the best. She was the best. From wealth to beauty to friends, male and female, to becoming the prom queen, she had it all. Girls tagged along wherever she went, all eager to be part of her clique. Guys bent over backwards to please her, all wanting the honour of being the one to win her over. And so did Imtiaz Cassim. From the moment he saw her at a function in Sydney he was bowled over. He tried for over a year to win her over, going as far as getting transferred to the same prestigious university she attended in Sydney just to be close to her, and was ecstatic when she finally agreed to go out with him. After a whirlwind romance which spanned several countries and continents, from New Zealand to Malaysia, from Singapore to Oman, from Turkey to Sweden, from Italy to Ireland, from Canada to Venezuela, from Puerto Rico to Morocco, they finally ended up back in South Africa, newly engaged and head over heels in love. He knew how she was, had seen glimpses of her true nature in the year they were engaged but he was in too deep to back out…to even want to back out. And then, after they got married, he learnt…how to keep the peace, how to avoid arguments and tantrums. It was really very simple. Keep his mouth shut and let her have her way. He smiled as he said this, his eyes holding a wisdom born of decades of experience.

I liked those mornings I spent with him in his study and I knew he enjoyed them as well. Sometimes I felt he was more free with me than with Humi or Ahmed. Ahmed was too different and had never bonded well with his father and Humi was in her own world. Dalia was different in another way, so soft and sweet she brought a smile to everyone’s face the minute she walked into a room. But she was too young to have a proper conversation with. Maybe I was the only person he could really talk to. I never asked and he never let on his real reason for initiating those meetings as well. But he became a mentor of sorts and those conversations soothed me somewhat after walking on tenterhooks all the time.

For a while no one knew what was going on except Ahmed, whom I had told that first day. His look had been almost comical. “You and daddy?? Becoming all chummy?? How on earth did that happen??”

“Because I don’t keep to myself and answer in monosyllables like some people,” I had teased. Ahmed had simply rolled his eyes in response.

Mummy’s and Humi’s reactions were less pleasant, especially Humi’s.

“What do you two jabber about everyday?” mummy asked, frowning. Daddy simply laughed and brushed it off. I caught Humi glaring at me and shot her a sweet smile before turning away.

“What now? Sucking up to daddy?? Just ’cause mummy is too sharp and sees right through you?” She hissed at me later on.

“Are you saying daddy isn’t sharp enough to ‘see right through me’?” I drew quotation marks in the air and raised my eyebrows at her.

“Stop putting words in my mouth! I didn’t say anything like that! But daddy is soft. Maybe he thinks you’re nice ’cause of all your plastic smiles and nauseating sweet act! You better back off before I go and tell him how you really are!”

I sighed. “I’m not putting on any act. Daddy likes spending time with me because I actually sit and talk to him. Maybe you should try that. Come and sit with us if you want,” personally I hoped she didn’t, “you can also spend time with daddy that way and you can see that we just talk about random things. I don’t put on any act.”

Humi rolled her eyes. “I’m not stupid enough to sacrifice my sleep for kak like that. You two got too much time on your hands!”

“It’s up to you. But then don’t hate on me when I spend time with daddy and you don’t.” I shrugged and walked away before she could say anything else. This girl really knew how to spoil my mood!

***

“Assalamu alaykum,” I greeted loudly as I entered my parents house. There was a squeal and Han came bounding down the stairs, followed by Sumi…and Zee. Soon I was engulfed in hugs and excited exclamations and pats on my stomach along with the usual query of whether there was any good news today…that from Zee of course.

“No, Zee, there isn’t. As I told you just yesterday,” I replied, rolling my eyes, “why do pregnant people want the whole world to be pregnant with them??” Zee looked like a round, cute gym ball, seven months along with number two. She grinned at me, her cheeks flushed a healthy pink colour. She was glowing these days which made me laughingly say more than once that she was getting a boy. Laaibah’s time she was bent over the toilet and looking green half the time.

“Because it would just be so cute! Just imagine it! Us giving birth at around the same time, having babies around the same age. Maybe they can be best friends like us!”

I burst out laughing. “You’re seven months along already incase you haven’t noticed. Even if I’m pregnant I would still be in my initial stages. So how would we give birth together, hmmm?”

“Oh ya, I didn’t think of that. Never mind, so I can come help you out with your baby since mines will be a little older by then. But it will still be so cute man!”

“Don’t worry, we’ll plan it together, okay? My number one, your number three. As soon as you pop this one out start preparing for your next one,” I ducked to avoid Zee’s fist and ran away laughingly to go meet mum.

***

Lunch was delicious, dhall and rice with papar and yoghurt on the side. We sat and chilled afterwards, talking about things or obliging Laaibah when she ran up to us, demanding that we should play house house with her faceless dolls. I found it amusing how Zee had stitched small pieces of cloth over the dolls’ faces, making them literally faceless. They looked hilarious but Laaibah didn’t find anything wrong with them and loved them to bits, carrying them around wherever she went. We played for a while with her then Zee went home at asr time and we went to pray salah then start getting ready to go to Amira’s house where our weekly braai was this week.

***

“Fazzuuu! Hannuuu! You’ll are here finally!!!”

I wondered why girls always had to squeal out greetings to each other. I was sure I’d be half deaf at this rate by the time I reached middle age. And much thinner as well, since said girls also liked squeezing the life out of me every time they saw me.

“Chill, babes, we only met like one week ago. Missed me much, hey?” I winked at them slowly.

“Pfffttt, look at her! We came to meet your sweet mum. Rabia Chachi, how you, darling??”

I laughed and followed Aliyah to where the ladies were in the kitchen. It was full of activity and I moved around, helping wherever I could before going to chill with my cousins. I caught sight of Ahmed outside as I was walking out of the kitchen and smiled. He stood leaning against the pillar, watching as Ibu, Immy, Ridu, Asif and Tahir stood around the braai bin, tossing back drinks. They tipped their heads back and held the bottles as high as they could above their mouths, aiming the fizzy liquid into their mouths. Two of them missed, making the liquid splatter onto their faces, causing the rest to jeer at them and hoot with laughter. Then suddenly Ibu came up to Ahmed and dragged him to the circle, shoving a drink in his hand. From their gestures I knew what they wanted him to do. I saw Ahmed open the drink with flourish, tip his head back and pour it in with perfect aim, not missing at all. The others laughed and clapped him on the back. I shook my head, smiling, and carried on to the lounge. Guys never grew up!

A couple of hours later I was sitting around the braai bin with the rest of the girls. The men had all gone for isha and we were making the most of their absence. We each had skewers in our hands with marshmallows speared on them, toasting them on the braai bin. In front of us on plates were Graham crackers and chunks of chocolate on them. As soon as the marshmallows turned golden, we shoved them between the chocolate and crackers, drizzled toffee sauce on them then crammed them into our mouths. Sauce dribbled down our chins and we laughed, swiping it with our fingers then licking them clean. Girls never grew up either!!!

Not a post…

Assalamu alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh…

Story of my life these days…not manage to get a post together on time then write a post on there not being a post 🤦🏻‍♀️

Sorryyy guyssss…my mind doesn’t want to cooperate sometimes…what can I do🤷🏻‍♀️ but I will try and write something up (hopefully not a bunch of nonsensical rambles) and post it by tomorrow or at the latest, Wednesday…

Remember this scatterbrained author in your duas🤭

xxx

Part 206

The loud ringing of the alarm brought me out of a deep slumber. Throwing an arm out I slammed it shut then spent the next few minutes forcing my eyes not to close again and my legs to heave my body up. Finally succeeding I stumbled to my feet, glanced blearily at the lighted numbers on the digital clock…four-fifteen, they proclaimed…and stumbled to the bathroom to make wudhu.

Tahajjud. It had become my favourite time of the day. A time when the world was asleep, oblivious to the great rewards being proclaimed by their Rabb. A time when it could just be me and my Rabb, without interruptions, without distractions, without other worries pressing on my mind. A golden opportunity for conversing with my Rabb, when duas made at this time were like arrows that never missed their target. The rewards for praying salah and making dua at tahajjud were innumerable.

Allah’s Nabi S.A.W said, “Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes down every night on the nearest Heaven to us when the last third of the night remains, saying: “Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to his invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?”

And to wake up with your spouse was also commendable according to the ahadeeth;

“May Allah bless the man who gets up during the night to pray and wakes up his wife and who, if she refuses to get up, sprinkles water on her face. And may Allah bless the woman who gets up during the night to pray and wakes up her husband and who, if he refuses, sprinkles water on his face.” [Ahmad]

“If a man wakes his wife and prays during the night or they pray two raka’ats together, they will be recorded among those men and women who constantly remember Allah.” [Abu Dawud]

“Wake up, babe,” I said, shaking Ahmed lightly. It didn’t work. It never did. Ahmed slept like a log. I always joked that the house could burn down and he still wouldn’t wake up. Shaking my head I went to the bathroom and brought back a handful of water. I sprinkled it on his face, laughing when he scrunched up his face, swatted away the offending invader and turned on the other side to sink into oblivion again. I sprinkled the last of the water on his face, shook his shoulder and, leaning closer to him, said loudly and clearly in his ear, “tahajjud!”

Alhamdulillah for having a husband who didn’t stir if I screamed, “fire!” in his ear but opened his eyes when I said, “tahajjud!” in it. Ahmed had as much fikr for tahajjud as I did Alhamdulillah and told me to wake him up everyday since he couldn’t hear the alarm in the time it took me to wake up and switch it off. We often prayed four rakahs in jamaa’ah since we couldn’t do that at any other time of the day and I loved listening to him recite, and also for the rewards mentioned in the Hadith. He recited half juz of Qur’an every day in the four rakahs, making us do a khatam every two months. It was a beautiful way of making another khatam, apart from our individual recitation. Our duas were done individually though, since we didn’t have the same things to ask from our Rabb. He didn’t have inlaw issues, lucky him. But everything that happened in our lives was khair, I reminded myself. Some people reached high stages of jannah by their good deeds alone. Others didn’t reach the high stages Allah wanted them to reach so Allah put tests in their lives so by means of them going through hardships and difficulties, making sabr and turning to Allah in the process they could attain those high stages in jannah. Our Rabb was so merciful. Nothing in the life of a mu’min was bad. If he got blessings and happiness from Allah he could make shukr and thereby increase his blessings and gain thawaab by those means; and if he got tests and trials from Allah he could make sabr and thereby attain immense rewards. Subhanallah! How, then, could I complain, when my Rabb knew best why He had put me in such a situation? How could I be ungrateful when I had no idea of the rewards I was attaining? How could I bemoan my fate and compare my pitiful life to others seemingly blissful ones, when I neither knew the state of my akhirah nor theirs??? But that was us insaan. So quick to complain, to be ungrateful. So quick to point out the flaws in our existence while overlooking all the bounties heaped on us on a daily basis. And so, so hasty. We wanted everything to be perfect immediately, without waiting in the least. But did we not see that the moon takes time to become full? We saw the darkest of nights but if we only exercised a little bit of patience we would soon see that as the nights pass the darkness is eclipsed by the brilliance of the moon. And did we not see that the rose takes time to fully bloom? If we got pricked by the thorn of a budding rose and crushed it in pain and anger how would we ever get to see the rose in its full beauty? Ibn Qayyim’s beautiful saying came to mind then;

“Had Allah lifted the veil for his slave and shown him how He handles his affairs for him, and how Allah is more keen for the benefit of the slave than his own self, his heart would have melted out of the love for Allah and would have been torn to pieces out of thankfulness to Allah. Therefore if the pains of this world tire you do not grieve. For it may be that Allah wishes to hear your voice by way of duaa. So pour out your desires in prostration and forget about it and know; that verily Allah does not forget it.”

And that is exactly what I did. As my forehead touched the ground in complete submission the tears flowed out of my eyes as I poured my heart out in dua. I was so thankful for this weapon that Allah had given us because without this outlet I surely would have gone mad. Because it wasn’t easy. It was difficult, so difficult that some days all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and never get out of bed. But making dua at tahajjud cleared my mind, prepared me mentally for the day ahead. I could not explain the way I felt after pouring my heart out in dua; so light, so free. Everytime I got up from the musalla I felt like I had shed the heavy load I carried in my mind everyday, that the tears I’d cried had cleansed me in and out. I felt like I had been reborn in that instant. It was a treasure I kept close to my heart and tried to never miss. Those thirty minutes I spent in dua were the highlight of my day and no wonder; I had offloaded all my heavy burdens in the Hands of the only One who had the solution to them…and what could be better than that?


Jumuah Mubarak to all my beloved readers. I was gonna add on to this post but then I decided to leave it at this to allow the lessons to be fully absorbed. And I think this is the perfect jumuah gift for all of you❤

Do remember this sinful slave in your duas xxx

Part 205

“Everything’s okay now?” Mum’s baffled look.

“You okay with your mother inlaw now? No more problems?” Han’s confused look.

“You’re fine? Everything’s good with the witch…err, sorry, the mother inlaw? Like good good?” Zee’s incredulous look.

“Your problems are sorted? She toed the line finally? No? Teamwork, is it?” Sylvia’s dubious look.

They all looked at me like I had gone a little crazy. Or become delusional. I couldn’t blame them. Only one week ago I was bemoaning my fate at staying with the woman who had made my life a living hell and now here I was, all smiles and saying that everything was good. It was bound to raise suspicions.

“That’s good, sweety. I’m so glad you two are finally seeing eye to eye,” mum said with a relieved smile, “our homes are so much more peaceful if everyone is happy together.” Han didn’t say anything, just looked doubtful and hopeful in equal measures.

Zee was more sceptical and forthright. “I hope you haven’t bent over backwards to please her. I haven’t seen you this martyr-like in my whole life. If you become more of a doormat I swear I’ll polish my dirtiest shoes all over you and then throw up on you for good effect!”

I laughed. “It’s not like that, Zee. More like living by the “kill ’em with kindness” motto. If she wants to be mean let her. I’ll treat her according to how I am, not according to how she is.”

“You’ll spoil her more like that,” Zee said, rolling her eyes, “if this was you before getting married you would have told her exactly where to go and what to do with herself once she got there! What on earth happened to that take-no-nonsense Faz??”

“I did that. Look where it landed me. In hot water with the whole family. That doesn’t work with people like her, Zee. I have to try other tactics with her. Besides, my aim is to make her like me and get along with me, not make her hate me.”

Zee sighed in resignation. “Okay, I get you. This is your test. You’ve had things your way all your life. Maybe this is your test from Allah. We all have to go through tests. Mine was my husband initially. Yours is your mother inlaw. At least your husband is okay,” she squeezed my shoulder, “stay strong. May Allah make it easy for you. But please don’t lose yourself in the process. I mean it, I don’t like this mousy Faz. Bring back your spine, the one that stood no nonsense from anyone, or I’ll beat it into you again,” she said threateningly.

I laughed again. “I’m not mousy, thanks!”

“You are! I was always the softer one who couldn’t speak up but you’ve long passed me in that department. Try all you want to win her over but don’t lose yourself in the process. That’s all.”

“I won’t, don’t worry. Everything will be okay in the end,” I smiled at her reassuringly and changed the topic.

***

I held the boxes in my hand, the small square box balancing on top of the long rectangular one. The shiny wrapping caught the light, making it sparkle like jewels. The boxes, light as they were, felt heavy in my hands, as heavy as my heart which screamed doubts and uncertainties at me. I had spent hours looking for the perfect gifts; one wrong move and I would alienate her further. The right one would, however, hopefully restore me in her good books. The old wedding saying came to mind,

Something old,
Something new,
Something borrowed,
Something blue.

Only in my case it was more like,

Something new,
Something special,
Something glam,
Something personal.

I had found new and glam in the first gift. A three way travelling mirror with small LED lights built into it, it was perfect for applying makeup at home and on the go, and could double as a reading light as well. The second gift was in the special and personal category; a silver charm bracelet with swarovski stones and a heart shaped pendant with the word, MOTHER, inscribed into it. I wasn’t close enough to her to make it any more personal than that, yet it did have that implication of wanting a closer relationship in it. I heaved a sigh. So much to think about. I was undeniably nervous as I traversed the long passage to mummy’s room. She opened at my first knock, her curious look turning into something grimmer as she caught sight of me.

“Yes?”

“I…uhmmm…I bought this…these gifts for you,” I blurted out and thrust them out like explosives. Mummy’s look turned almost comical, a mixture of shock, curiosity and suspicion. She took the gifts, holding them gingerly and walked to her bed, sitting down on it and placing the gifts next to her. I watched on as she carefully started removing the wrapping off the smaller box.

“Open the big one first,” I said impulsively.

“Uhmm, okay,” mummy shot me a surprised look but did as I said. I saw her gasp as she lifted the slim black-backed mirror out of its casing, her face light up as she opened it and saw what it really was. “This is lovely,” she exclaimed, “just what I need for my handbag. Jazakallah, Fazila,” she shot me a wide smile, her first genuine smile aimed at me in weeks. She quickly opened up the second gift as well and her smile widened even more. “This is beautiful! You seem to know my style so well. Just the things I love.” She got up and came over to hug me. I stiffened at first, so shocked was I at the unexpected gesture, then relaxed and hugged her back.

“I’m glad you like it,” I said, my own smile matching hers. I felt absurdly happy inside and realised the wisdom of giving gifts. It truly melted the hardest of hearts and increased love between people.

“What’s going on here? You’ll celebrating or something?” Humi’s voice made us both turn around.

“Come see what Fazila gave me,” mummy exclaimed, happily showing her gifts to Humi. I saw Humi’s face turn sour, her mouth turning down in the corners. Mummy didn’t notice, too occupied in putting on her bracelet and admiring it on her slim wrist, turning it this way and that. I turned to go back to my room, the smile still lingering on my face.

“Sucking up to her now, are you?” Humi’s voice halted me in my tracks just inside my room. I turned to see her standing in the doorway, a sneer on her face, “playing all goody-two-shoes now, huh? Why you looking so surprised? You think I don’t know what you’re up to? I know and mummy also knows. We’re not stupid. Don’t think a few cheap gifts will make her fall at your feet. It’s never gonna happen. You’ll never be good enough for her,” she hissed.

“I am not sucking up to her,” I replied, taken aback by her vehemence, “I am merely following a sunnah. Give gifts to increase love. That’s all. Maybe I should buy you a gift as well. It might take away this hatred you have for me.”

“Oh, pfffttt! You wish!” Humi rolled her eyes.

“What do you have against me?” I asked quietly, “I’ve never done anything to you. Whatever disagreements I have are with mummy, not you so why do you dislike me so much??”

“Because I see you for the cheapskate you are!” Humi shot back, her face twisting with loathing, “coming here all goody goody, trying to get in everyone’s good books. Playing the part of a doting daughter inlaw. It’s all an act! We all can see right through it! You showed your true colours, neh, the time you screamed at mummy and made her cry! We saw what a witch you are then! But that didn’t work so you’re trying new tricks now. But it won’t work! Nothing will work, so don’t even bother! You’ll never be good enough for us! Never! They’ll never like you and never take you as a daughter so you can take your nauseating act and shove it!” She whirled around and stomped away, leaving me reeling in shock.

Ya Allah! If it’s not the mother it’s the daughter. How on earth am I gonna make this work???

I knew now beyond doubt that Humi saw me as a competition in winning her parents favour. Her dad was okay but she was forever trying to get into her mother’s good graces. Mummy wasn’t controlling and imposing only with me, she was like that with Humi as well. She had a set routine for Humi which Humi had to follow or get the sharp end of her mother’s tongue. She was basically like a puppet, running around doing whatever her mother wanted. And she was always trying to impress her mother which mummy exploited fully, dangling her approval just out of reach like a juicy bone to a dog, withholding it if her daughter displeased her in any way, tossing it to her if she pleased her. I had seen her shoot down Humi many times before, tearing into her with cutting criticism if she did anything that displeased her. And each time I had seen the girl wither a little more, withdraw a little more into her shell. She had no self esteem and no wonder, with a mother who was so self absorbed she could only see her own likes and dislikes, dismissing others wishes as trivial. I had told mummy to treat me like her own daughter but ironically that’s exactly what she had been doing. She treated me no differently from Humi. The difference was that I was not used to it so I rebelled. Humi’s rebellion, if she’d had any to start with, had been ruthlessly crushed under her mother’s iron fist. With mothers like that who needed enemies, I thought wryly as I went to the bathroom to make wudhu.

***

“Why the kitab?” Ahmed looked curiously at the fadhaile amaal I held in my hand.

“I thought we can make talim today. What do you think?” I looked searchingly at him. I didn’t know how his family would react to this new implementation but I had to try. I had been so regular with talim before marriage since we had a habit of making talim every night at my parents house. Over here no one had that habit though and my own habit had slipped under new routines and other issues. I had to bring back that habit and if I could include this whole family in it then that would be even better.

“Sure, why not? You can try,” Ahmed smiled at me reassuringly. Comforted by that I went down more confidently.

“Uhmmm,” I cleared my throat as we sat down on our usual sofa, “I thought we can make talim today. Only for fifteen minutes. Then we can talk as always.”

The room was silent as everyone stared at me for a while. “Fine. Carry on,” mum said finally, waving her hand. I smiled at her and opened the kitab. I read ahadeeth and their explanations from from different chapters, making sure I finished before fifteen minutes was over. Everyone looked contemplative when I closed the kitab, allowing the beautiful words to absorb before resuming their topic of conversation again. I smiled to myself. Another step towards a positive change Alhamdulillah. Talim was so beneficial I should have started it right from the beginning. The rewards and virtues were immense. But I would try and be regular from now on inshaAllah…

Part 204

A huge shout out and Jazakillah khair to sister amatullah2013 for providing me with the backbone of this post. May Allah increase you in your wisdom❤


“Fazila!” Apa Tasneem’s round face creased in a broad smile as she recognised me standing there, “so nice to see you after so long! Come in, come in.” She pulled me over the threshold and into her arms. I hugged her back, inhaling her familiar sharp scent that reminded me of madrassah days. Smiling we stepped apart then she led me to the sitting room and sat down opposite me. “It’s so nice to see you again,” she repeated, “you finally remembered your apa huh,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. I laughed guiltily. She was right. I hadn’t seen her in months now. I should have paid her a visit sooner and without an ulterior motive.

We made small talk for a while, her speaking about her current students and madrassah in general, me updating her on my life…minus the hectic bits. She was happy to know that I was still teaching madrassah in the afternoons but sad to know that I had given up Riyaadh.

“It’s such a beautiful kitab,” she said, “I remember teaching it years ago, before I was given Mishkaat and Usool. Then I couldn’t manage of course,” she laughed, “you could have continued though. It’s just for forty minutes a day.”

I sighed. “I’d have loved to, Apa, but I have to go teach at school as well so for me to go madrassah, come back then go school was too hectic. I couldn’t manage.”

Apa nodded understandingly. “You couldn’t have gone straight from teaching Riyaadh to school? I could have spoken to the principal about changing your times slightly.”

I shook my head. “Then I would have had to leave my house even earlier and that would have been difficult. Plus the mutala’a…I’m already struggling for time as it is.”

“Yes, you are right. Married life is very different from single life. And you live with your in-laws neh? So you must have more work.”

“Yeah, I do. Have to watch their timings and all that. My mother inlaw……” I stopped and sighed. And here we came to the crux of the matter.

“Yes?” Apa Tasneem’s eyes held the wisdom of a seasoned soldier who has fought the harsh battles of life and was still plodding on determinedly, staring her adversaries in the face, her eyes on the end result, not on the scene around her. She too had struggled and not always won. She too had slipped and slipped again but instead of allowing it to define her she had risen and overcome it. It gave me some measure of comfort. Shared sorrows and all that. I looked into her gentle eyes and the words just tumbled out, every gory one of them.

“That’s why I came. I need some advice. My mother inlaw…she’s a control freak. She didn’t want Ahmed, my husband, to move out after marriage, she wanted us to stay with her and now she’s trying to control me completely. She has told me repeatedly that it’s her house and her rules so what she says goes. She’ll tell me what to cook, she wants me to only cook her way, she wants me to follow her timings and go in the kitchen when she does…and not only in the kitchen. She didn’t want me to go teach in the mornings at all because then I wouldn’t be able to help her with lunch. I insisted and Ahmed supported me so now she’s got that against me. She only wants me to go to my mum’s house once a week…and that too I must go after lunch and come back by nine at the latest. I don’t listen to that as well so that’s another black mark against me. She tries to control every aspect of my life and I’m getting sick and tired of it, apa. I try to listen to keep the peace but it eats away at me till I snap. I have snapped once and the result wasn’t pretty. She made a huge fuss and made me the villain. Turned the whole family against me. Ahmed even told me I must treat her with kindness, she’s been this way for too long and won’t change overnight. But how? I need someone to tell me how to go about it and I thought of you. I remember you once telling us in class how you lived with in-laws before and how it was a big test for you but you persevered and in the end your mother inlaw and you actually became friends. So I thought you would be the best person to ask…” I paused for breath. Apa Tasneem was smiling slightly.

“Aah, the first hurdle,” she said softly, “the mother inlaw…” she trailed off, her eyes focused on the low table between us. For a long moment she was silent, sitting completely still. I too was silent as I waited for her to speak again. When she finally spoke her voice was soft with remembrance. “It’s not easy being married and not having one’s own independence. Age is also a factor in these kinds of problems. I remember being eighteen and young and stubborn. My precious mother in law was eons older. It was daunting. She was in her sixties. Well ingrained in her way of life. And me, I was the young pigeon . Both of us were at fault. We were at loggerheads . Aah, I remember. Crying and crying. My poor husband stuck in-between. And my first attempt at wanting a separation. I wanted out so badly I even went and found a place. Told hubby that he can visit me after work and stay with his mum. And the tears in his eyes! But then my abba spoke to me. And I held on to it steadfastly. He said, “you can take him from his mum because he loves you now.” Ours was an arranged marriage but we fell in love at first sight,” a fond smile flitted across her face, “”but,” my abba told me, “remember something. When she falls ill and passes away, he will remember. He will regret that he couldn’t be with her. And he will remember that you were responsible for that separation. So if u want him to love you eternally, stay. Make sabr. Cry. Whatever. But you will hold his heart. Go. And he will stagnate in his love for u. Decide. And do whatever you want. It’s a crossroad of yours and his future.” Of course I chose to stay. And eventually I did get ill. And she left because it was her decision. Not mine. And I cried with guilt. So much of guilt. I called her up and I cried. And she cried. And we forgave and we became best of friends. I loved her so much. She too, I know. Her daughters told me that. Her smile. Her happiness when she saw me. She visited. Came for holidays. And I gave her the kitchen. Telling her that I miss her food. And she rejoiced in that knowledge…” she shook her head slowly, “sometimes we don’t see what’s ahead. We so in our present. And yes, he loves me to bits. We married for thirty-five years now. Ma was ninety-six or so when she passed on. May Allah fill her qabr with Noor. I make dua for her because she taught me sabr. And I love my abba. May Allah grant Him Noor in the qabr. Because he was frank and open with me. I was his favorite but he spoke the truth. For that Allah must grant him a high stage in jannah inshaAllah. Ameen,” Apa had tears in her eyes when she finally looked up. I sniffed and brushed away stray tears myself. What a touching story. So much of love and hope it taught. But it hadn’t come easy. That’s what Apa was trying to tell me. It didn’t come easy. It would be difficult, so difficult. But my patience and perseverance would eventually pay off. The labour was hard, watered with sweat, blood and tears…but the fruits of that labour would be oh, so sweet.

The sound of the front door opening brought us both out of our thoughts. I glanced at my watch and jumped up with a gasp. “Oh, no, I’m late! I need to go. Maaf apa, for keeping you for so long.”

“Nonsense. You can’t leave just like that,” Apa declared, back to her normal self again, “come join us for lunch. Maulana will eat with Sajjaad in the dining room and we can eat in the kitchen.”

“No, no, I can’t impose,” I protested, “I’ll just go home, Apa.”

“Impose? You not imposing, don’t worry. We have plenty food here, we not gonna starve just because we have an extra mouth to feed,” Apa grinned and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen. I pulled out my phone to call mummy to let her know that I wouldn’t be coming for lunch after all…then changed my mind and typed out a quick message to her instead. I didn’t want to deal with the inevitable questions and lecture that would follow just yet.

Lunch was lovely, memon akhni with spicy yoghurt and paapar. I enjoyed sitting with Apa and her youngest daughter, Zainab, who was a few years younger than me. Sajjaad, the second youngest, had been a year below me in school. The rest were all married and at their own houses. Zainab was also very friendly and I enjoyed talking to her as much as I enjoyed talking to Apa. By the time we got up I had just enough time to pray zuhr and dash off to madrassah.

“Where were you?” Those were the first words out of mummy’s mouth the moment I entered the house. I stopped, smiled and made salaam to her. I was met by stony silence, broken only by the tapping of her long manicured nails on the gleaming countertop…a sure sign of her impatience and irritation.

“I went to visit my apa after school. I got late sitting by her so she offered me to have lunch there. I messaged you to tell you,” I replied.

“One little message!” She hissed in response, “one little message to tell me you won’t be coming for lunch. After I cooked for you and all. I don’t know why I even bother when you can’t bother to show up for lunch. How ungrateful can you be? You didn’t think I would have cooked for you?? Or you just didn’t care?”

“I’m sorry, mummy,” I said quietly. That took her back. I saw her eyes narrow in suspicion. “Apa was insistent and I didn’t like to turn her down. I’ll try not to skip any more meals again. Or I’ll let you know in advance if I’m not going to be eating here.”

“You think so much of your apa, why can’t you think that much of me?” Mummy huffed but she had calmed down somewhat.

“What are we making for dinner?” I asked, changing the topic.

“Steak rolls. Come down quickly so we can start off. I want you to tie the dough today so I can watch how you do it so hurry up.”

I nodded and rushed off to change and pray asr. When I came down I helped mummy with rolls and the steak. We finished just after maghrib azaan had gone and I rushed back up to pray maghrib. I was sitting cross legged on the bed and praying Surah Waaqi’ah after maghrib when I felt a pair of arms slip around my waist and a bearded chin come to rest on my shoulder. I smiled and touched his cheek briefly while praying. We sat like that till I finished then he turned me around to face him.

“Assalamu alaykum,” he said softly, leaning forward to kiss me.

“Wa alaykum salaam,” I replied, smiling happily at him. This was my favourite part of the day, when I saw him again. I wished he didn’t have to work such long hours…he left at seven-thirty and only came back after maghrib…but then I was kept occupied the whole day as well so I guess I couldn’t complain.

“Howzit?” He asked, drawing me close to his side.

“Good Alhamdulillah. And you? How was work? Actually, we’ll talk later. Let’s go eat now before we get delayed and mummy gets angry again,” I said, jumping up. We often got busy talking at these times and delayed going down much to the annoyance of mummy who liked everyone to sit down together.

“Ohh, someone’s worried about what mummy thinks now,” Ahmed teased.

“Yeah, I’m talking the advice of a certain mufti,” I replied, grinning as I ducked out of the room. Ahmed followed me down, poking my sides from behind where he knew I was ticklish, making me giggle and race ahead of him into the kitchen. We entered like that, me laughing, Ahmed grinning, causing mummy to bend us a disapproving look. I went to help her remove the rolls into the baskets then we sat down to eat, mummy and them on the table, Ahmed and I on the mat we laid out beside it. We ate, helped her clear up then the men went for esha while we finished clearing up then went up to pray our own esha.

After esha Ahmed and I relaxed in our room, that being our time. That too had caused disagreements initially. Mummy, Daddy, Humi and Dalia all sat in the lounge after esha and watched TV or just sat and chatted while having coffee or drinks. Ahmed and I preferred to spend that time alone in our room since we didn’t see each other the whole day. Mummy wanted us to come sit with them instead of ‘holing up’ in our room as she called it. I had been against it and Ahmed had supported me there as well since he had never really fit in with them after changing and deciding to become an alim. That had been yet another black mark against me, that I had taken their son away from them, when they had lost him themselves before I had even come into the picture, due to their own actions.

That, too, would change today.

“Let’s go sit with mummy and them today,” I said to Ahmed after we had spent a bit of time together.

Ahmed’s eyes flared in surprise. “Why?”

I shrugged. “Just. I feel like it would make them happy. And we can spend some time together as a family.”

Ahmed eyed me dubiously. “Something happen today? Why the sudden change?”

I rolled my eyes in mock affront. “If I don’t try you say I must try and be kind to them. Kill ’em with kindness, I think you said? And now when I try you ask me what’s wrong with me. Can never please some people!”

Ahmed laughed. “I’m happy. See?” He smiled widely and pointed to his mouth, making me laugh as well.

“Come on then,” I tugged him out of the room.

The entire room fell silent when we entered, everyone staring at us as though wondering what we wanted. Mummy’s mouth dropped open when we sat down on the empty sofa. “What’s wrong?” She asked worriedly.

Ahmed laughed. “Nothing, mum. Can’t we come sit with you’ll?”

Mummy’s jaw fell even more till she recollected herself and shut it with a snap. “Of course you can. That’s what I’ve been telling you all this time. I’m glad you finally listened, Ahmed.”

“Actually Fadheelah suggested it,” Ahmed said casually, “she said it would make you happy.”

Mummy’s gaze swung to mine, tinged with suspicion and scepticism. “That’s nice,” she said finally, “you must have told her how little time you spend with us. I’m glad she listened to you.”

“I didn’t tell her anything, she herself thought of it,” Ahmed repeated. Mummy simply shrugged.

“You must have said something. Never mind, I’m glad you here. We were just talking about Harun and his dealings. Did he really come ask money from you?”

The entire forty-five minutes we sat there she drew Ahmed into conversation while pretty much ignoring me. I told myself not to let it get to me and sat there smiling, saying something when daddy or Ahmed or Dalia said something to me. Not Humi. She was her mother’s chamchi, that one, and did whatever her mum did. So I was basically in her bad books as well. I left her to her own devices and turned my attention to mummy. I knew that she had too many black marks against me. Whether I found myself in the wrong or not I would have to be nice and win her trust. Apa’s words came to mind again. She had been through so much but it had all been worth it in the end. This would also be worth it some day inshaAllah. I had to keep my gaze on that day, not in the present when things were less than pleasant.

Later that night as I lay in bed snuggled up against Ahmed I felt him move. “Jazakillah for what you did today,” he said softly in my ear, “I know mum is being difficult with you but I loved how you dealt with her today. She may not have appreciated it but I did. I love you,” he said, hugging me from behind. I felt my earlier sadness dissipate under his thoughtful words and squeezed his arm in response. Today was step one in getting there…in bridging the gap between my mother inlaw and I. As a tiny seed of hope took root in my heart I snuggled back against Ahmed and fell asleep with a smile on my face.

Part 203

“You have a class right now, right?” Sylvia’s voice broke into my thoughts. With a start I looked up from my laptop at Sylvia then back at the laptop, noting the time in the corner. Crap! She was right. Jumping to my feet I shot her a smile and quick thanks then jogged to the classroom at the other end of the hallway. This was a special play therapy class I had to take for four students who were suffering from anger management issues. There were three boys and one girl between the ages of eight and twelve, all suffering from underlying anxiety which triggered their anger. I walked in and smiled widely at them as I made light conversation for a little while to put them at ease. Then I delved into my bag and brought out the very thing designed to bring smiles to their faces; a packet of brightly coloured balloons. Immediately their faces lightened, looking at me expectantly.

“Today we’re gonna play with balloons!” I announced, “and I think these balloons are going to teach us a thing or two. Who’s ready to blow the first one?”

I smiled at the chorus of, “me!” that followed then handed the packet to the boy closest to me. He ripped it open and produced a red balloon then, at my nod, began to blow it up. When it had reached a considerable size I made him stop then deftly tied it up.

“Okay, look. This balloon is huge, right?” I bounced it up in the air a few times. The kids all nodded in agreement, “now let’s pretend that this balloon is our bodies…and the air inside is all the anger filled inside our bodies. That’s a lot of anger, right?” Again I got nods of affirmation, “so everytime something makes us angry, it’s like blowing a little air in this balloon. The anger keeps gathering in our body like how air keeps gathering in this balloon till it’s this big! Imagine all this anger trapped in our bodies. Will we have space to be happy? Or excited? Or even sad? No, we’ll be so full of anger that we won’t have space for anything else in our bodies. And that’s not good, right?” The kids all shook their heads, their attention completely on me, “now, Ryan,” I spoke to a small boy sitting on one side, “I want you to take this balloon and stamp on it.”

“But it will burst!” He protested.

“Yes, that’s what I want. I want you to burst it.”

With a grin Ryan hopped to his feet, took the balloon from me and stomped hard on it, making it pop with a loud bang. The kids all jumped then giggled. I picked up the shreds from the floor and waved them in the air. “You see how all the air came out? Because the balloon was full of air and there was no way to let it out. So how did it come out? All at once…with a big bang. That is what happens to us when we keep all that anger inside us. Our bodies will be like this balloon, full of anger. And if we keep it all in, with no way to take it out, one day all of it will come out with a big bang. And what would be our big bang? Something really bad…like hitting someone or losing our temper and screaming at someone. Or maybe we would end up breaking something. All that wouldn’t be good, would it?” They all shook their heads seriously. I gave the packet of balloons to Mary, the only girl in the class. “Mary, pick out a balloon, please.” With a smile she picked out a bright yellow one. “Now blow it up. Not so much. Blow it little bit.” She obediently blew some air into it then held it up and looked at me expectantly, her fingers pinching the end closed. With a smile I took it from her and held it up, keeping the end pinched closed. “Is there air in here?”

“Yes,” they all chorused.

“Can it come out?”

“Yes!” Another boy shouted out, “you haven’t tied it up yet!”

“Yes, good! You see, even if I blow it up more,” I demonstrated, blowing up the balloon till it had become big, “but I haven’t tied up the end. So there’s a way for the air to come out. Now if I let a little bit come out,” I pulled open the ends slightly till I had made a small slit, making the air escape with a ‘cheeeee!’ sound. The kids all laughed, finding it entertaining. “Is it smaller now?”

“Yes!” They all said.

“Correct. It’s smaller. Everytime I let out a little air it will become smaller…until…” I let out the a little at a time till the balloon became flat again, “see? Is there any air left inside?”

“No!”

“Can the balloon burst now?”

“No!”

“Did the balloon and everyone around the balloon get harmed with the air coming out?”

“No.”

“No, we didn’t. We took out the air without the balloon bursting, without any noise and without anyone getting harmed. This is how anger inside our bodies is. If we keep it in it will get more and more till it will finally burst out of our bodies…like hitting someone or breaking something or something bad like that. But if we keep taking out our anger nicely a little at a time it won’t burst out of our bodies. So no one will get hurt but all the anger inside our bodies will be finished…like how all the air came out of the balloon without it bursting. You understand?” They all nodded seriously.

“So how do we take out our anger? We have to understand first that there is anger inside us. Then we have to talk about it. Talk to someone you love and trust. Tell them what’s bothering you. If you want come and talk to me. I’m ready to listen to you anytime. And don’t be shy. Anger is normal. Getting angry is normal. But you can’t keep it in. You have to let it out. Okay?” I looked into the eyes of each child, holding their concentration, building the connection. They all nodded, absorbing it all in. “You can also talk to yourself. When you get angry say to yourself, “stop and calm down,” or, “I can handle this.” Say these things to yourself so you know you are in control of your anger and you can let it out nicely.

“Secondly, make a cool-down corner in your house. You can make it in a corner of your rooms. Put a blanket and cushions there and a box full of crayons, colouring books, pens, pencils, notebooks…whatever helps you calm down. Go there when you are angry and do those activities to help you calm down. You can also use those pens and paper to write down or draw what makes you angry. Then tear up the paper into little pieces and throw the anger away. You will find that it really helps. Are you following me so far?” Again I received nods and I could see they were paying attention.

“Thirdly, I’m going to teach you’ll some relaxation techniques. Come now, let’s sit cross legged,” I moved to the carpet myself and sat down infront of them cross legged, watching as they imitated my posture, sitting in a semi-circle around me, “now place your hands on your thighs, palms up and make a ring with your forefinger and thumb,” I showed them how to place their hands, “now close your eyes and do as I say. Breathe in while counting till five…hold your breaths and count till two…now let out your breaths while counting till five. Again breathe in…hold…breathe out…and again…” I did this with them several times till I felt the tension leaving my own body. It was an amazing feeling, the calm decending down on me, the feeling of weightlessness, of floating away from all my worries……

“Okay, open your eyes now,” we opened our eyes and the spell was broken, “now I’m going to teach you a simple formula. 1+3+10. Okay? Pay attention. Repeat this after me; 1+3+10=calm… now, what does it mean? As soon as you feel your body sending you a warning sign that says you’re losing control, do three things. First, stop and say, “Be calm.” That’s 1. Now take three deep, slow breaths from your tummy. That’s 3. Finally, count slowly to ten inside your head. That’s 10. Put them all together and you have 1 + 3 + 10, and doing it helps you calm down and get back in control.”

I made them repeat it several times so they remembered it nicely then moved on to my final point.

“The last point is, think to yourself what your calm place is. Where do you feel the happiest? The beach, your bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house…? Any place you love the most. When you feel yourself getting angry close your eyes and picture your calm place. Picture that you’re there instead and keep picturing that while you take deep, slow breaths to calm down. Got it? If you love drawing you can draw the place and keep it by you so you can keep looking at it…or you can take a photo of it and tell your daddy to frame it and hang it by your bed so you can keep looking at it. Okay?”

I explained the points some more then took out some manila paper to put all the points for them in point form with pictures so they could remember it. We spent the next thirty minutes drawing up the charts. I let them fill out their own charts and draw their own pictures, even use their own words and write down whatever else they found effective in calming down. After they’d all happily drawn up their charts I gave all them a balloon each and told them to blow it up as big as they can. I blew up one for myself as well. Then I tied up all of them and then we all stomped down hard on our balloons, letting them pop with loud bangs, feeling our anger leave our bodies with a whoosh pretty much like the balloons. We were all laughing and in good spirits when the class finally drew to a close. And not until then did I realise how much I myself had needed this class…how much my own anger had built inside me, festering away with no outlet, burning steadily inside me till I myself felt that I would explode from all the pent up emotion. For the first time in weeks I felt light, like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. I was smiling and humming to myself as I made my way back to the office I shared with Sylvia.

“You’re looking quite down these days. What’s up?”

Sylvia popped the question out of the blue a little while later while we were sitting in our office going through some files. I raised my head and stared at her blankly. I was still all smiles, still feeling exuberant after my class so I didn’t get the meaning behind her question at first.

“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled, “I’m not down.”

“I don’t mean now,” Sylvia said impatiently, “I mean these past few weeks. Something is off but I can’t put my finger to it. You’re just not your usual bubbly self. You’re…I don’t know, quieter…more pensive…like lost in your own thoughts. Is everything okay at home?”

I sighed deeply. I didn’t think anyone would look past my smiles and chatter but Sylvia was too sharp. Nothing got past her. “No, it’s not.”

“Problems with your husband?” Sylvia looked concerned now, “already?”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” I hastily reassured her, “we’re great Alhamdulillah. It’s my mother inlaw. She’s…a control freak. She wants me under her thumb and I’m finding it stifling being there.” Talking about it was putting a damper on my mood which I didn’t want so I got up, intending to beat a hasty exit before she asked anything else. Sylvia was tenacious though. When I came back, coffee in hand, she got right back to it.

“Why don’t you move out then?”

“I’d love to but she doesn’t want that and she made a big fuss to ensure that my husband listens to her and does what she wants. And it worked. Both my father inlaw and hubby felt guilty so they’ve decided to stay together for a while at least so she can get happy…then we’ll move out.”

Sylvia snorted. “If you waiting for that day it will never come. She’ll never be happy at you moving out. Either your husband stands up to her and moves out now or remains under her wing till the day she dies.”

“That’s what I’m also afraid of,” I mumbled.

Sylvia sighed and shook her head. “I like Indians but you’ll have some weird ideas. This whole business of staying together never made sense to me man. In our culture we move out by the time we hit twenty. We don’t even wait to get married. And if we thought of staying together even after marriage I think our own parents would kick us out and tell us to go build our own lives,” she chuckled. Then she sobered and leaned forward. “Be firm, my dear. Don’t let them walk all over you. You’re not made for that.”

I smiled at her. “Thanks Sylvia. I appreciate your concern.”

When I left school that day I was still walking with a bounce in my step, feeling lighter than I had since coming back from my honeymoon. I loved school, loved teaching. It was my happy place and my escape from the hell hole I called home. I was so glad my hubby had stood up for me regarding this. My mother inlaw hadn’t wanted me to work in the mornings, simply because it didn’t fit with her timings and her image of us working together…or rather, her ordering me about…in the kitchen. She wanted me to help with lunch as well so she could teach me her ways but by the time she came down I’d already left for school. I had offered to cook the entire meal before I left but she didn’t want that. It defeated her purpose of teaching me and moulding me to her liking neh! So she hadn’t wanted me to teach in the mornings at all, only in the afternoons. I had been adamant about continuing. I had already gone part time for her, I was not going to compromise any further. Luckily Ahmed had also put his foot down about that despite his mother’s open disapproval. It was another black mark against me, adding to the many she had already accumulated. Not that I cared. This was my escape from her and I relished every second of it.

However, today I found myself thinking as I drove along on my way back from school. For the first time my mind was clear, free of the anger and resentment that had clouded it since moving into my new house. Ahmed’s words came back to me, “react with kindness instead of anger…kindness can melt even the hardest of hearts.” Had I reacted with too much anger? Had my anger and resentment at being controlled clouded my rational thinking? After all, I hadn’t made as much of an effort as I should have to win over my mother inlaw. I had become passive to avoid arguments but I hadn’t made an effort beyond that. When was the last time I had smiled, genuinely smiled at her? When was the last time I had hugged her…or done her a kind turn like bought her a gift or offered to get something from her from the shops…little things like that? I had reacted the way she had…in a tit for tat fashion. I had buried my own character in favour of a reflection of hers. Just because she was mean to me didn’t mean I had to be the same way with her. And that included mentally because how we privately thought of a person also had an impact on our dealings with them. I needed to try and win her over instead of simply trying to make her see things my way. Kill ’em with kindness. That was the quote, right? I had to try that out.

Almost unconsciously my body drove the car to the main beach road, the one ten minutes away from my parents’ house. And in another couple of minutes I saw the familiar house loom up to my right. I laughed to myself. Just the place I needed to come to in my frame of mind. I needed advice from an unbiased party. My parents kept telling me the same thing, “make sabr, sweety, and make dua. Things will get better over time inshaAllah.” Adnaan and Han sympathised the most but were helpless and couldn’t offer much apart from consoling words. Nani had said the same thing, “make sabr, beti. Be the better person. And keep making dua. Dua can change the worst of people also.” And nana, with his words of wisdom and knowledge as always,

“اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

Seek help with patience and salah; verily Allah is with the patient ones.”
Surah Al-Baqarah, ayah 153

“So make sabr, beti, and keep praying salah and making dua. Dua works wonders, you know. And never lose hope in the mercy of Allah, beti. Inna ma’al ‘usri yusra.” Ajeeb how he had echoed Ahmed’s words exactly. They really were cut from the same cloth…

I was armed with all this advice yet I still felt bereft, adrift in a sea of nameless emotions, cut off from all I held dear. I felt alone despite being surrounded by loved ones because I truly felt like no one really understood. But she would. I raised my hand and knocked at the door, the door that would open up new opportunities for me and rekindle hope long since extinguished………

Part 202

It was around three weeks after coming back from our honeymoon. After our first altercation I had tried to toe the line. I was not used to keeping my opinions to myself and doing what someone else wanted but I was a newlywed in the midst of a new family. I had no wish to create problems already which was why I hadn’t mentioned anything to Ahmed as well initially. But I had started to feel stifled in my own house…forget that, I didn’t even feel like it was my own house. I felt like an intruder or worse, a refugee. So the day Ahmed casually mentioned that he felt like having chicken khowse I jumped at the chance. We had developed an uneasy routine, my mother inlaw and I. She hardly came down before I left for school and since she didn’t want me doing anything without her I didn’t end up helping her with lunch preparations. After coming back from madrassah though I had to be in the kitchen. I was not pleased about that since at my mum’s we used to finish all our work in the morning so we could relax in the evenings. My mother inlaw, on the other hand, woke up late so started off late and since she wanted to involve me she only started her supper preps after I came back, which was after four. The day Ahmed mentioned wanting to eat khowse I mentioned it to mummy after supper. Not surprisingly she rejected the idea.

“Not khowse,” she said, wrinkling up her nose, “it’s so…soupy and pale. Imtiaz won’t eat it, I know. And I don’t know if Humi and Dalia will also eat it. No, we’ll just make lamb chops and chips instead.”

“Ahmed wants to eat it,” I repeated, hoping she would understand that it was her son, not me who felt like eating the offensive dish.

She had simply shrugged. “He loves chops as well. I know he’ll love it. No need to make khowse.”

Outwardly I had nodded as usual but inwardly I was seething. Enough already! I was sick and tired of jumping to her tunes only to have her shooting down every one of my ideas. Couldn’t she compromise even one percent??? I didn’t say anything to her because I had tried and it hadn’t worked. She never did listen. But the next day I had started early in the kitchen and made khowse before I left for work. I purposely made only enough for me and Ahmed since she said no one else would eat it and if I made more and we ended up with leftovers she would tell me off again about food wastage. I stuck a note to the dish stating that I had made khowse for myself and Ahmed but she was free to make anything else for the rest of them. Then I went to work, feeling a smug sense of accomplishment. I should have known better than to celebrate my victory so early.

Mummy was waiting for me in the kitchen when I came back, her long fingernails tapping the glass dish in an ominous rhythm. I smiled, made salaam to her and was on my way upstairs when her voice halted me in my tracks. “Fazila.”

“Jee?” I asked, turning around.

“What is this?” Her nails were still tapping away at the dish in question.

“Khowse,” I replied casually.

“I thought I told you that we’re gonna make lamb chops?”

“I know but Ahmed specifically wished for this so I thought I’ll make it for him. You can make lamb chops for you’ll.”

“Oh, so it’s like that, is it? You make your own thing, I make my own?? You don’t want to work with me??” Her eyes narrowed slightly.

“I didn’t say that, mummy,” I replied calmly, “I wanted to make khowse for all of us but you said no one else will eat it so I only made it for Ahmed and I. I’ll still help you with the lamb chops and chips.”

“That is not the point, Fazila,” mummy spoke slowly, as though explaining to a small child, “we only make one thing for supper and today’s menu was lamb chops. It’s so simple, why can’t you understand that?”

“And when will I make khowse then, since you’ll don’t like it?” I met her gaze squarely, feeling the resentment building up in me again.

“I don’t know. Maybe when you’ll are alone or something. Why make something no one likes?”

“No one? Ahmed and I are no one?” I asked incredulously.

“Don’t take that tone with me, missy,” mummy’s lips had thinned, almost disappearing.

“I’m not taking any tone with you,” my own temper, held tightly in check all this while, was starting to fray, “you said we should work together. This is not working together. I know teamwork. My mum and sister inlaw have it. They discuss the menu and come to a decision together!!! My mum doesn’t dictate to her what to do and expect her to follow it without complaint. My mum asks her opinion as well. You don’t ask me anything, you simply order me around and expect me to follow it. What am I, another Sally or Brenda??” I had raised my voice without intending to. My mother inlaw’s mouth hung open unbecomingly. With an effort I lowered my voice and tried to make her understand again. “This is not how it works, mummy. You have brought a daughter into this house. It’s now my house as well and I feel very hurt and unwelcome when you keep saying it’s your house and your rules. Instead of ordering me around can’t you treat me as an equal? As a partner? Can’t you accept my opinions as wel? So what if I made khowse? It’s not the end of the world. I’ll make the lamb chops as well if you want but why make a big deal out of it? Why do you get so angry if I don’t listen to you? Don’t I have a say in this house? Can’t I do anything without asking you?”

“No, you cannot, dammit!” This was the first time I saw my mother inlaw close to losing control. Her face had turned white, her lips a white slash. Her eyes glittered dangerously. Her hands were clenched tightly at her sides, the knuckles bone-white. Even her teeth were clenched so she spat each word out venomously. Still, she did not shout. Infact her voice seemed to have lowered even more. Her weapon was her words, each one chosen carefully then fired with deadly precision, striking her opponents’ weakest spots. She could shred you to bits and feed you to the dogs, all without raising her voice. “Remember this nicely, girl. This is my house and my rules. Everyone in this house listens to me so who do you think you are to think otherwise?? You are nothing, remember that. Treat you like a daughter?? First you have to treat me like a mother. Have you seen how Humaira listens to me? Does she ever raise her voice and insult me like you just did? No, she does not! She does what I tell her to do. That is what daughters do. They listen to their mothers. You want to be like my daughter? Listen to me and respect me like a mother. It’s as simple as that. Don’t start being all dramatic here. I have no time or patience for silly little tantrums. You such a big apa. Going to teach little children and all that. Go learn how to treat mothers first. What kind alimas do we have today, who don’t even know how to speak to their mothers??? I’ve never been so disappointed in my life!”

“I did not disrespect you!” I began hotly, only to be cut off by her.

“Please, Fazila, go to your room and calm yourself down. And when you can act like an adult again you can come back.” Turning her back on me she started opening the packet of chops, dismissing me completely, while I stood there filled with helpless anger, at a loss of what to do for the first time in my life. Finally I stormed upstairs and slammed the door loudly, letting out all my anger in that single action. I paced up and down the room, my mind in complete disarray. I was so angry I was literally shaking. I lost my temper a lot but usually calmed down pretty quickly. But this kind of anger…it was foreign to me. Never had anyone gotten to me as much as this old woman! I grabbed my pillow and screamed into it then thumped it several times for emphasis. It didn’t work much. Finally I ripped off my abaya and hijab and went to make wudhu. I had read in a kitab that when someone gets angry they should sit down if they’re standing, and lie down if they’re sitting. And make wudhu because it also calms a person down. So I made wudhu and started my zuhr salah though it was a struggle to concentrate. After zuhr I left for madrassah immediately without bothering to eat. I did not want to see that witch just yet!

When Ahmed came home that day I still hadn’t calmed down fully. Usually I calmed down by the time he came home so he didn’t realise that anything had happened and I didn’t bother telling him about anything. Today, though, he could see that something was off.

“What’s up, princess?” He asked as soon as he had made salaam and kissed me.

“Your mother!”

“Why, what’s wrong?” His brow creased in concern. Before I could enlighten him Humi called us to come eat. I didn’t feel like eating or even seeing mummy’s face but I had to warm up the food for Ahmed and put in an appearance at least, for my father inlaw if not for her. When we went down, though, we could immediately see that something was wrong. The atmosphere was subdued and mummy’s eyes looked suspiciously red.

“Fazila, what’s the problem?” Daddy asked as soon as Ahmed sat down. I had moved to the stove to warm up the chicken.

“What do you mean, daddy?” I asked, confused.

“What happened today? Why did you scream at mummy like that?”

My mouth dropped open. “I did not! I made khowse and she made a big deal out of it because she said we must make lamb chops instead. I even agreed to make lamb chops but she was still angry…..”

“You see? What did I tell you, Imtiaz?” Mummy burst out, “she won’t listen! How can anyone change if they don’t want to listen to their faults?? She only made khowse for herself and Ahmed and said I must make lamb chops for you’ll if I want. She can’t make enough for all of us? Is it so difficult to make a little extra? But no, she couldn’t even do that much……”

“Wait a minute! You said no one eats khowse so I mustn’t make! Why you changing the story now?” I asked indignantly.

“Please, Fazila, enough! I have kept quiet long enough because I kept thinking you’ll change and I wanted to give you a chance. But enough is enough now! If you had heard her, Imtiaz, how she screamed and shouted at me today. Is that how alimas speak to their mothers? Huh, Ahmed?? Do mother in-laws not get the same respect as mothers? Is that why your wife is disrespecting me like this?? You know what she said? She said she doesn’t have to listen to me and she can do what she wants in this house! So she went and made khowse today even though we had already planned on making lamb chops yesterday! She’s already showing her true colours and I don’t like it, Ahmed! Teach your wife some respect. I’ve had enough of her nonsense now! How much more must I put up with?” She sniffed and blew her nose, her eyes full of tears. Daddy immediately started to console her with Ahmed putting in a few words of sympathy as well while looking awkward and ill at ease. Humi shot me a look full of disdain while Dalia just looked down and carried on eating. I quietly dished out the food for them then escaped to my room where I cried a bit myself. Real tears, produced of some very real frustration and anger.

“What happened today, Fadheelah?” Ahmed asked me seriously later on. I put down the book I’d been trying to read and spilled everything to him. I told him every detail I had tried to spare him before. I was so done with this rubbish.

“What did I do wrong?” I asked finally, when I had told him everything, “it’s not right, the way she treats me. I tried to compromise and let go and just do what she wants but I can’t anymore. And you saw how she twisted the whole story. I can’t deal, Ahmed. I want to move out.” There. I had finally said it.

Ahmed leaned forward and clasped my hands. “I get you, princess. My mother’s always been controlling. It’s how she is and she sees nothing wrong with it. But I’m not sure about moving out,” he sighed and rubbed his forehead, “I tried to bring it up earlier on, before our rukhsati. She made such a big fuss out of it and insisted that we must stay here since there’s enough space for us. There’s no need to move out, she said. Dad was willing to give us one of his houses but after she made a fuss he said we must leave it for now, maybe live together for like a year so she gets happy then move out. I didn’t want to argue with both of them and create issues. I’m sorry, princess,” he squeezed my hands, “I know she’s not easy to live with but have some patience with her. She’s been this way for too many years now, she won’t change in a day. Try to compromise and instead of reacting with anger react with love and kindness. Kindness melts even the hardest of hearts. You have ilm, maybe you can be the means of making her a better person. And remember, “inna ma’al ‘usri yusra.” He smiled at me in the way that always made me melt. This time was no different. With a sigh I closed my eyes and nodded briefly. Personally I didn’t think that woman would ever change but how would I know without trying, right?

Allah, give me patience!

Living life cloaked in modesty and islamic principles…