The day everything changed.
Almost a week had passed since Fadheelah had returned. She was not her normal self. She was quieter, more withdrawn. All my attempts at drawing her out were in vain. She did not let on how her relationship with my mother was now. She just moved through the days robotically. It worried me and I resolved that this weekend I was going to sit her down and explain everything to her. The document, the conditions stated within…the chains that bound me to this place. I would tell her everything then I would leave the final decision to her. If she said we should move out then that was what we would do. It was time someone finally gave her a choice. But that day didn’t come…because the tides changed before that.
I had no idea what awaited me that evening as I returned home from work. I had no idea that the undercurrents flowing through our house for months would erupt in a violent storm that would toss our ship about in it’s merciless hold. I had no idea that the bend in the road had finally approached; that the tide had finally changed, and we were powerless to control it. All we could do was hold on and let it sweep us wherever it willed. And there was no looking back. From that point in time we could only look forward. There was no more looking back; no more what ifs.
I heard their voices before I even set my sights on them. One raised, screaming, hysterical; the other calm but brutal, merciless. Then I rounded the bend to the kitchen and they came into view. I stopped dead in my tracks and with dawning horror watched the scene unfold before me.
Fadheelah was facing mummy, tears streaming down her cheeks, her voice hoarse with screaming. Mummy stood on the opposite end of the island, staring her down. When she got angry her eyes glittered dangerously, shooting cool fire. Her lips thinned until they almost disappeared, and her face whitened. Her hands clenched till the knuckles stood out in sharp relief, white tipped and deadly. Other than that she showed no emotion at all. She was at her most dangerous when she was like this, her anger at it’s peak. My mother did not scream or shout when she got angry. Her sense of control did not only extend to other people, it included herself as well. To her screaming and crying was a form of losing control and she would not lower herself to that…ever. The angrier she got the more quiet and controlled she became, until she was biting off each word, spitting them at her victim like white-hot darts, each one finding it’s target with deadly precision, right where it hurt the most. Her expertise was finding the chink in her opponent’s armour and drilling into that vulnerable spot repeatedly until she left the victim helpless, bleeding…reeling from the onslaught. And right now her opponent, her victim was my wife.
I had seen that anger turned on myself a few times, before I went to UK. I had seen it turned on Humi more often and once at Dalia as well. Even daddy had been the recipient of such anger a few times. I had never seen it turned on Fadheelah though, before now. It made us all back down hastily. No one could stand up to her in such a state…except Fadheelah. She met mummy word for word, thrust for thrust. But…the stakes were different. I saw that right away. For my wife it was a battle of survival. The harsh desperation in her face, the way she attacked, was proof of that. As for my mother…it was a game. She was a cat, toying with a mouse she was planning to eat up whole. A jab here, a push there. There was no doubt at all who was the prey here…and who the predator.
Then, suddenly, it was all over. Fadheelah whirled around, her face white and streaked with tears, and ran blindly past me. I ran after her into our bedroom before she could slam the door behind herself and possibly lock it as well, and shut the door behind myself. Fadheelah was standing at the window, her arms wrapped around herself, shaking with the force of her sobs. The sound tore through me like a missile, making me feel puny and helpless. I moved towards her slowly and placed my hands gently on her shoulders.
She started and jerked my hands off her. I debated the wisdom of trying to talk to her now…but I couldn’t sit by and let her cry like this.
“Fadheelah. Come here. Let it out on my shoulder.”
She whirled around, her eyes shooting fire at me. “Let it out on your shoulder??? On your shoulder??? Where was your shoulder when I cried all these months??? Where was your shoulder when your mother insulted me and degraded me all those times??? Where has your support been all these months??? Where were you when I needed you the most??? Huh??? Then you told me to make sabr and shrugged it off like it was no big deal! And just sorry doesn’t make everything right!!! Sorry does not solve anything!!! From the beginning I told you to move out but you’ll put me through hell but you won’t move out! My tears aren’t worth that much to you, are they??? You know what, Ahmed?? Not only have the people I vowed to take as parents let me down in the worst way possible, but even you, the man who promised to love and cherish me and keep me happy…even you have let me down!” Her voice broke on a sob and she spun away and ran into the bathroom, locking it behind her. I sat there, stunned…shaken to the core. Fadheelah’s words kept going round and round in my head. “Even you have let me down…even you have let me down…” Guilt tore through me, self recriminations pouring down on me like acid. Yes, I had let her down. I had thought this would work out but why hadn’t I seen just how much Fadheelah was suffering before this? In all honesty I’d had no clue that she was taking this so hard. Call me dumb or blind but before today Fadheelah had never shown me this side…this broken, bitter, disillusioned side of her. It was as though the smooth plaster had finally been ripped off, revealing the gaping, bleeding wound within. Still…I had no excuse. I should have moved out sooner. That was the bottom line.
Ya Allah! I paced up and down, waiting for Fadheelah to come out of the bathroom. Forget about waiting for the weekend. I would tell her about the document tonight! I could not change the past but I could change the future. I would not force my wife to live in this house a minute longer.
Fadheelah did not emerge for a long time. In a state of worry I went for esha salah then came back to find her sitting on the bed. She looked subdued and worn out. I approached warily, sitting down beside her. She did not look up. I took a deep breath.
“Fadheelah. There’s something I need to tell you.”
No response. I plunged on anyway.
“The day before we got married…my mother had my father draw up a document. She made him write down all the conditions she wanted me to abide by…which included living in this house with them for good…not move out…not go into any business of my own…not go work for anyone else…I had to work for my father only…and respect her rank as a mother first and foremost…there were a few other things written as well, all along the same lines…can’t remember them now…then at the bottom, what would happen if I broke any of those conditions. I would lose the right to work in my father’s business…I would be cut off without a single cent to my name. I wouldn’t be able to ask my father for any help whatsoever. I wouldn’t be able to open up any business of my own and I wouldn’t be able to work in anyone else’s business. Daddy is an influential person. If he decides to block my path and make things difficult for me in this town he can. So basically that’s what he would do if I ever broke the conditions.” Fadheelah was looking at me now, a horrified look on her face. “And to top it off, they would cut off all ties with me as well. I would be disowned as of that moment and would never be able to contact any of them again.”
“Is she mad???” Fadheelah burst out, “disown you for moving out??? And you agreed to that???”
“I didn’t have a choice. I had to sign at the bottom of that document. But daddy amended one part of the document. Instead of writing, “for good,” he wrote, “for one year.” Mummy wasn’t happy about it at all and made a big fuss but for once daddy put his foot down. He said he will bind me to these conditions for only one year. After that time if we were happy here we could stay on; if not we would be free to move out and none of those conditions would apply anymore. Mummy wasn’t happy but she kept her mouth shut. But I knew what she was thinking; that after one year if we thought of moving out she would get daddy to draw up another document with the same terms. And so on. So you see, princess,” I took her hands in mine, “I couldn’t move out. I’d have lost everything. I would have had to teach somewhere and we would have had to live in very basic conditions. I could have lived like that if it was just me…but I didn’t want to put you through that. I didn’t want you to sacrifice because of me…”
“So you thought I could sacrifice my sanity instead,” Fadheelah pulled her hands from mine and punched me on my shoulder, “you couldn’t tell me this before now?? You couldn’t make mashwara with me about this?? I’d live in a freaking hut if it meant escaping from this house! I’d choose happiness over wealth any day!” She jumped up and began pacing up and down, running her hands through her hair in agitation. “I’m so annoyed with you right now! How could you make that decision for me?? Couldn’t you ask me what I wanted??? Men! They think only they know everything!”
I watched her move back and forth, bemused. “There’s another thing. It’s not just about wealth. They would have cut off family ties with me. I didn’t want that.”
“Great! You know what? You stay with them. I’ll move out into a place of my own. And you can come visit me when you climb off your mummy’s lap.”
“No!” I burst out, horrified. As if I’d let her move out without me! “I’ll go talk to mummy and daddy right now. That document needs to be torn up. It’s nonsense.”
“Now he realises that!” Fadheelah muttered, rolling her eyes. I stood up, resolved to sort this out once and for all today. “I’m going. You can come as well.”
“No, thanks. You go sort it out. But for once stay firm. Don’t allow your mummy to sway you with her drama.”
I nodded and moved to the door.
The scene when I walked into the lounge was just as I expected. Mummy complaining to daddy with a tear streaked face. Daddy looking angry and torn. They both looked up when I entered.
“There he is!” Mummy burst out, “ask him! He was right there, I saw him! Ask him how his wife screamed into my face and insulted me! Ask him what nonsense she was talking to me! I have never felt as degraded in my life! Insulting me like that in my own house?!? What next, I tell you?” She started crying again while daddy comforted her and looked at me accusingly, waiting for an explanation. I took a deep breath.
“You’re right, mummy. This is your house run by your own rules. You’ve said that too many times before. It’s your domain and everyone has to do as you want. And Fadheelah isn’t doing what you want and that’s upsetting you. At the same time you’re putting her down because she can’t obey you the way you want and that upsets her. You can’t take this anymore and neither can she. And from tonight you both don’t have to tolerate each other’s presence. We’re moving out, mummy…daddy…” I looked from one to the other, “we should have done this from the beginning…or at least as soon as I realised that you two will never get on. I regret that. So many tears and unhappiness, just because I was too optimistic that things would work out and didn’t see the truth glaring at me. But now it’s enough…”
“Like hell it is!” Mummy burst out. She had been staring at me with her mouth agape till now, “have you forgotten that document??? You can’t move out and you know it so stop talking rubbish here!”
“Okay, why do you want us to stay?” I asked her, “you obviously don’t get along with her. You’re always complaining about her. Don’t you think your life will be more peaceful without her around?”
“That’s because she’s rude and disrespectful! But why should I lose my son because of her??? Why must I let her win and walk away with you? I won’t let her do it!”
“This isn’t about winning and losing. And you’re not going to lose me. I’ll be right here in this same town and I’ll come visit you regularly.”
“It’s not enough!” Mummy hissed, “I know the moment you walk out of here you won’t be the same anymore. She’ll take you in her hand and make you her puppy! Then you can forget about coming to see me!”
“I told you, that won’t happen…”
“No! And that’s final! Otherwise you’ll lose everything and then we’ll see how you come running back!”
“Daddy…can you destroy that document?” I asked, turning to look at him, “it shouldn’t have been drawn up in the first place.”
“Like hell he will!” Mummy snarled before daddy could get a word in, “that document stands! Now shut up with your nonsense and sit down again!”
I kept looking at dad, waiting for him to respond. He sighed and rubbed his forehead. “It’s already been six months, Ahmed. You just have to stay for six months more. Then that document won’t apply any more.”
“Have you seen Fadheelah’s condition in six months?” I looked directly at him, “you like sitting with her in the mornings. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Does she look happy? She’s miserable! She can’t do anything her way and on top of that she has to listen to constant criticism and complaints from mummy. Last week mummy invited all the town’s gossips and degraded Fadheelah infront of all of them, calling her lazy, rude and disrespectful. Is that any way to treat someone? Can you live like that?? It’s not fair on her and I won’t put her through that any longer…”
“What bullsh**!” Mummy spat out, “this is what happens when you only listen to your wife’s lies! So now I’m the bad one and she’s the angel??? See how she’s already twisting you around??? And you’re too blind to see the truth!”
“No. I was blind. Now I’ve finally opened my eyes,” I replied quietly, “the problem is, you’re too controlling, mummy. Your whole life you’ve had things your way so you need that control constantly. You can’t let the people around you live their own lives. They must live their lives according to how you want. Things don’t work that way. You yourself could never live under someone else’s rule but you expect everyone to live under your rule…”
“Shut up! You telling me how to live my life now?? Who died and made you my father???” Mummy shot off the sofa, her face white with anger but daddy’s hand checked her, closing around her arm like a vice. She stared at it then at him in astonishment but something in his eyes made her back up. She sat back down without a word.
“Take a step back and look hard around you, mummy,” I continued, “look at Humi. She’s an adult now. Don’t treat her like a child. Don’t suffocate her. Let her breathe a little. Even with Dalia. You love her and I know you mean well but you need to temper possessiveness with understanding. You need to start looking at things from other people’s perspective as well. How would you like someone treating you the way you treat Fadheelah? Would you like someone to tell you when to wake up, when to come in the kitchen, when to leave the house? Would you like to ask for permission everytime you touched something, to be told that it’s not your house and make you feel like a refugee? And after going through all that and trying to obey someone would you like it if that person still criticised you and insulted you infront of people? Ask yourself honestly…last week at the tea party, what if you were in Fadheelah’s place and she was yours? What if she said those same things about you? Would you find it innocent then? Would you not have felt bad? Is it right, the way you treat her? No one deserves to live in an environment like that. The only option now is to move out.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you today. Did that wife of yours do jadu on you? Must be, for you to speak rubbish like that!” Mummy said, looking astonished and wary, “go sleep now. You’re not thinking clearly. Tomorrow we’ll talk again if you’re in your senses.”
I shook my head. I should have known that she wouldn’t accept her faults. It was too late for her to change. “I am in my senses right now. I’m leaving.”
“Fine, go! Leave with nothing but whatever you own! And don’t ever come ask us for help again! From today onwards you’re no longer my son!” Mummy spat out. Daddy put a restraining hand on her arm.
“Now, Nilofar, don’t speak in anger. It’s fine if they move out. I’ll destroy that document. Ahmed was right. It should have never been drawn up.”
“Don’t. You. Dare!” The same anger that had been directed at Fadheelah a few hours back had returned; this time aimed at daddy, “that document stands! If Ahmed leaves now he leaves with nothing! And don’t you dare help him, Imtiaz, or I’ll kick you out as well! Then you can go live with them…if that witch doesn’t kick you out as well! Let Ahmed leave…he’ll soon come crawling back, watch!”
“The same Allah who provides for you will provide for me and my wife,” I replied, “don’t think you’re on top of things. Allah is above you as well. I haven’t cut ties with you, mummy. You’re still my mother and I still love you. I’ll keep coming to visit you.”
“You won’t be allowed past the gate. Leave and you’ll never step foot in this house again. It’s your choice. Do you choose your family or your wife? Choose wisely because your family can never be replaced but your wife can. Tomorrow if you get divorced or something you’ll be left with nothing! No wife and no family! So choose wisely you fool!” Famous last words from an embittered woman. I shook my head with a last regretful look at her and turned to go.
“I’m not taking any sides here. I’m still your son and I always will be. Assalamu alaykum, mummy.” She didn’t bother to reply, her face stone cold and devoid of emotion.
Fadheelah was still sitting on our bed when I trudged up the stairs and into our room. She looked up when I entered.
“How did it go?”
“Not good,” I sighed, “she said she’s disowned me. If I walk out of this house I can never come back.”
“Ya Allah!” Fadheelah exclaimed, “she stuck to that???”
“Yeah, she won’t budge. Come, let’s pack a few things and go. We’ll come and get the rest of our things later and if we can’t I’ll tell Humi to drop them off to us.”
“Where will we go?” Fadheelah asked, already pulling out suitcases from the closet.
“We’ll think about that later. Let’s worry about leaving now.” I replied.
We packed the essentials into two bags and went back down the stairs. We passed the lounge on the way but carried straight on, ignoring the swear words thrown our way from within. We got into my car and I switched it on and put it into reverse.
I saw daddy run out onto the front porch, waving something in his hand. He jogged up to us and slapped something cold and hard in my hand. A set of keys. I looked at him, puzzled.
“What’s this for?”
“The house in the street behind is empty right now. It’s yours. Good luck, son. And don’t worry about that document. It’s as good as gone. It should never have been drawn up in the first place.”
I stared at him in shock. “But she said she’ll kick you out as well!”
Daddy barked out a laugh. “Kick me out of where? My own house?? And why should she kick me out? I’m her bank account right here. Those are just empty threats. She’s wrong to disown you for something silly like this and she better realise it. Now go. We’ll talk again soon,” he slapped me on my shoulder and moved off again. I drove off, mixed feelings running through me. It was indeed a bittersweet moment…
I’m finally…finally done with this post Alhamdulillah. By the time I reached the end of it I was exhausted…even though I had written the first part a few days ago and I just had to write the second half. Guess it made me realise just how much writing takes out of me…but shukr Alhamdulillah.
So…no promises of a post on Monday as well. I’ll post whenever I can manage inshaAllah.
Keep me and my family in your duas❤