“Assalamu alaykum!” I called loudly as I entered the house…mum’s house. Han and Sumi were probably already there, judging by the amount of chatter coming from the kitchen. I stopped in the doorway and grinned. “You’ll are so loud I’m sure the whole street can hear you!”
“Faz! Guess what!” Han exclaimed, jumping up and running towards me. She caught me up in a tight hug, making me wince and eye her curiously.
“What? Whatever it is, it’s big. I can just tell by your smile.”
“I told you to guess,” Han folded her arms and raised her eyebrows at me expectantly.
“You’re pregnant?” I said the first thing that came to mind.
“Yes!” Han jumped up and down, her smile stretching from ear to ear, “how did you guess? Do I look different?”
“You’re kidding me!” I stared at her open mouthed, “already??”
“Dude, it’s been three months,” Han replied, rolling her eyes, “other people get pregnant on their wedding night!”
“I know, I know but still…already? Wow!” Then the news sank in and my smile stretched till it matched hers, “I’m gonna be a khala! Yaayy!!” It was my turn to crush her in a hug, hard enough to make her wince and to make mummy admonish me that I’d crush the baby. As if!
“So when did you find out?” I asked Han later on as we were chilling in the lounge.
“Yesterday…though I’ve had my suspicions for about a week, since my periods got delayed,” Han replied.
“Hamza must be so happy,” mummy said with a smile.
“Oh, he’s over the moon. You should have seen him, mum! He carried me proper bollywood style then went running like that to where mummy and them were to yell out the news at the top of his voice! Then he started hugging me and whirling me around right infront of them! I was sooo embarrassed!” Han’s cheeks turned pink even now.
We burst out laughing. “Well, that’s one excited daddy. Make the most of it and ask for whatever you want right now,” I leaned forward with a wicked smile.
“Ay, stop teaching her such things now. And why don’t you also make the most of it and bring me a grandchild, huh? When you going to get ready?” Mummy asked, turning to me determinedly.
I groaned. “Mummy, can we not concentrate on me for once and lavish all the attention on Han instead? I’ll get when Allah wants me to get, inshaAllah.”
“Just imagine, Han pregnant before you! Who knew that Haneefa would be the one bringing the first grandchild into this house, before you and Adnaan also,” mummy commented.
I nudged her sharply and hissed, “shhhh!” as I spotted Sumi in the doorway, about to come on. It was too late though. I knew she had heard what mummy said. Her smile remained in place as she came and sat with us but her eyes had darkened in pain.
Unlike me Sumi had wanted to get pregnant immediately after marriage, and she’d been married for several years now. Initially we thought nothing of it when no news came forth from the happy couple but after a couple of years mummy had discreetly asked Adnaan if they had trouble conceiving or did they just not want children. Adnaan being Adnaan had briefly replied that they were trying but hadn’t managed so far and mummy should make dua. That’s it. None of us had had the courage to come out and ask Sumi about it. Mummy had wanted to, once, but I had stopped her. Sumaya’s personal struggles were none of our business and she herself had never mentioned anything or even let on that she was disappointed in not being able to conceive yet. Infront of us she was always the happy, smiley, happy-go-lucky girl. How could we ask her something she wasn’t comfortable sharing with us?
The only time I had realised, truly realised the reality and depth of her pain and grief was when I had gone over to her house one day last year. I’d met Adnaan as he was leaving for work and he had waved me in then rushed off. I called out Sumi’s name as I walked in but got no response. I was passing her bedroom on my way to the kitchen when I heard something like a scream. Alarmed I automatically turned that way, peering into her bedroom through the open door. It was empty but the sound had definitely come from inside. I knocked on the door even though it was open.
“Sumi? You okay?” I called out.
There was no response, which I had expected since she was most likely in the bathroom. I was just about to turn around and go into the kitchen to wait for her when the bathroom door burst open and Sumi emerged, her hair wild and her eyes red.
“Dammit!” She screamed and hurled something against the opposite wall with all her might before collapsing in a flood of tears. I rushed to her side in panic.
“Sumi? Sumi? What’s wrong? What happened?”
Sumaya sobbed in my arms for a long time without speaking. I had an idea of what it was about now, after spotting the slim white stick lying on the floor with yet another single line. When she composed herself she finally opened up to me about her struggles with falling pregnant. She longed desperately to be a mother even though Adnaan kept telling her to relax and trust in Allah’s plan. It will happen when it’s meant to happen and not a moment sooner. But his patience and calm understanding…which she saw as obtuseness…and her desperation were driving a wedge between them.
“He doesn’t understand,” she kept saying, “how can he understand? Men only become fathers when they hold the baby in their arms. How would he know what I’m going through?? I feel like smacking that silly smile off his face sometimes!”
I spent the next half an hour listening to her and sympathising with her. I also tried to tell her gently that it wasn’t her husband’s fault or her fault that she wasn’t falling pregnant so she should stop blaming either herself or him. He was her rock and support at this time, the only one who truly saw what she was going through and was there for her so she should turn to him, not against him. I spoke to her about trusting in Allah’s plan as well; she would only fall pregnant when she was meant to, not any sooner or later so she must make sabr and lots of dua, even though I felt so inadequate speaking to her. She might be thinking that what do I know what it’s like being in her shoes, the entire time. She did seem calmer when I left though and even thanked me for the support so I hoped I had somehow helped and not made things worse. Since she had opened up to me only I kept her confidence and didn’t mention anything to anyone but I did tell Han and mummy to not mention pregnancy or babies around her and to never ask her anything about falling pregnant. And we had done so, until now, when there was a baby coming in our family. I knew the pain it must be causing her even though she didn’t say a word and showed nothing but support. Silently I made dua for her…and for Han…and for me…then made a suggestion that would take Sumi’s mind off her pain and entertain us all as well.
“Why don’t we go shopping??”
Nothing like some retail therapy with family to get your mind off things, right??
We were sitting down to have coffee or ice creams after our little shopping spree when I saw a familiar figure…or rather, two familiar figures enter. I sighed mentally. Sunday afternoon, packed place…typical. I wondered when their little games would end. When would they tire of these petty mind games? I had tired of them long ago and I wasn’t even the one going to such lengths to embarrass her own parents.
“Faz! Surprise! Nice seeing you here!”
I grimaced under my niqaab and turned to greet her.
“Assalamu alaykum, Humi. Nice to see you too.”
“Not going to greet your brother inlaw, are you?” A deep voice spoke from beside her. I glanced at Mikaeel and mumbled a quick salaam before switching my gaze to Humi again.
“Here for some coffee?” I asked her.
“Coffee…and some entertainment of course.” They both laughed like she had cracked a hilarious joke. I didn’t bother to even pretend to join in their laughter.
“Oh, Aunt Rabia. How rude of me not to greet you!” Humi exclaimed suddenly, “and Haneefa, Sumaya. How you’ll? You’ll have met my husband Mickey, right?”
“I think the whole town has met him by now,” I remarked drily. Han snorted with laughter which she hastily turned into a cough. Mum and Sumi politely nodded at Humi while greeting her.
“Anyways, we’ll see you around. Maybe you’ll can join us later on,” Humi said with a little wave and sauntered away, hips swaying under her skin-tight mini-skirt.
“Shewh, that’s one hectic couple you got there,” Han remarked, shaking her head.
I rolled my eyes. “Tell me about it. I can’t recognise my sister inlaw anymore.”
“What does Ahmed have to say about that?”
“He tolerates them…barely. I’ve had to stop him from telling her off many times though. He’s as tired as I am by this whole drama. Like why can’t they get tired of all this and go back to leading their own lives?” I blew out a sigh and banged my hands down on the table.
“Maybe this is part of their lives,” Sumi said, shrugging, “I mean, some people do this all the time. They thrive on causing drama and making tongues wag.”
“I hope not!” I exclaimed in horror, “otherwise forget Ahmed, I’ll wring her neck myself.”
Han laughed. “Chill, dude. You’re not her mother or even her sister. Do that and she’ll never speak to you again.”
“I know, of course I won’t go to that extreme…but I’ll have to speak to her if she doesn’t stop all this,” I said, my eyes on where Humi and Mikaeel sat…bang in the middle, on the bar stools before the counter…where everyone could see them. As I watched Mikaeel whispered in Humi’s ear. She laughed in response and rested her head briefly on his shoulder. I shook my head and turned back to my family.
The second time I looked the two were feeding each other ice creams and giggling away. As I watched Mikaeel leaned over and licked a spot of ice cream from the corner of Humi’s mouth. Ewwwwwww! I quickly turned back and resolved never to look that way again.
The third time I looked…I couldn’t resist and it was as I was walking their way to go to the washrooms at the other end…the two were engaged in a conversation with another couple. I looked closer and mentally groaned. Aunt Yasmin, one of those hoity-toity ladies who was supposedly mummy’s friend, and her husband. What could Humi be talking about with her? I wasn’t left guessing for long. As I drew closer to them I could hear Humi’s voice, raised slightly.
“Oh, Aunt Yasmin, you have no idea! Mickey is the best husband ever! He lets me do whatever I want. Look at my clothes…don’t you just love them? I feel so free…free as a bird now!” She giggled and covered her mouth with her hand. I slowed down, my mental eyebrows shooting so high they almost merged with my hairline.
“Ya, of course your mother wouldn’t have let you wear such clothes,” Aunt Yasmin giggled in response, “but then I never used to see you around much before you got married, you know. Did you only like going out after getting married?”
“No, there was nowhere to really go before I was married,” Humi replied, “I didn’t really have friends thanks to my controlling mother. She would have kept me chained to her doorpost if she’d had her way! I’m telling you, if this was England I would have filed a case of abuse against her!”
“Abuse?? Really??” Aunt Yasmin gasped, her eyes widening.
“Ya, you have no idea how she treated me. Kept me chained to her house like a slave. Worked me like a slave. No motherly love or affection towards me. She was just using me as much as she could. She didn’t even let me get married because she didn’t want to lose her slave! No wonder I ran at the first opportunity. She has no one to blame but herself!”
Aunt Yasmin tutted and expressed fake words of sympathy which Humi lapped up eagerly. I was rooted in place, a sense of deja vu and anger coursing through me. Deja vu because this brought back vivid memories of mummy humiliating me with similar exaggerated, false words to her crowd of friends…one of whom was Aunt Yasmin. Anger because despite those memories I felt angry on behalf of a woman whose own daughter thought nothing of humiliating her in public…and with words that weren’t even true! This was it! I saw Humi finally ending the conversation and going in the direction of the washroom and marched determinedly after her. This time she had gone too far…and I was not going keep quiet!