“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…”
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,