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.