“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,
Only in my case it was more like,
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.
“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…