It wasn’t that I intended to let things drag on between us. Life got in the way. The new year had dawned, bringing with it new responsibilities…full time commitments. I had started my year-long internship at the local government hospital, which meant working from seven till five…which meant no more teaching at the school or madrassah. Luckily Han had learnt how to teach the special needs kids at madrassah so I was able to hand the class over to her. And luckily we had moved out before I started because I could just imagine what my mother inlaw would have said at my working full time! Now we lived alone which meant cutting corners at home. I cooked simple meals and luckily had a helper so things were easier for me. But by the time I got home I was exhausted. Sometimes I brought work home with me, which meant late nights alone with coffee and my laptop. Ahmed and I were out of sync with our schedules. We saw each other briefly in the mornings, in passing, then again at night. The only meal we had together was supper. Then he went for esha while I cleared up and made preparations for the next days supper. By the time he came back I was either in the bathroom, making wudhu and changing into my pjs, or buried in my work. And when I did go to bed it was to turn around and knock out like a lightbulb. I was the sort who fell asleep quickly anyways, and with my long days I knocked out as soon as my head hit the pillow. Maybe I was putting off the talk, avoiding the confrontation…maybe. I brushed it off with the excuse that I was busy, and justifiably so.
That was until the night I found Ahmed moving things out of our room and into one of the single rooms opposite ours.
“What are you doing?” I asked, eyeing his laden arms suspiciously.
“I was thinking I’ll move out of our room for a while…till things get right between us again,” Ahmed replied.
“What???” I burst out incredulously, “why on earth would you do that??”
Ahmed sighed and rubbed his forehead tiredly. “I know things are messed up between us, Fadheelah. I know I messed up badly. I’m sorry for not moving out sooner. If I could go back and change that I would. But I can’t. I can only shape the future. And I’m trying to make things right between us again…but you don’t seem interested,” his eyes looked into mine searchingly, “you’ve shut me out and I don’t know how to get back in. Tell me, Fadheelah. Tell me what I must do but don’t just shut me out. We won’t solve anything that way…”
“Well, for starters don’t move out,” I snapped, “you’ll make things worse that way, not better!”
“For the past month you’ve turned the other way and gone to sleep. Or you stay up till late and only come to bed long after I’ve gone to sleep. You make sure you stay on your side of the bed and not come close enough to touch me even accidentally. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable in your own room. So if you prefer to be alone I’ll move out.”
I stared at him silently. His words had hit me with a far greater force than he realised. For the first time in weeks I looked, really looked at my husband. Lines marred his face…lines that hadn’t been there before, bracketing his mouth. Dark circles ringed his eyes. He looked stressed, worried, tired. All of a sudden a memory flashed through my mind…a memory of years ago…
Nana and Ahmed arguing, angry at one another, not on speaking terms…Ahmed pleading at me to intervene, to get nana to forgive him. My words to nana, “every son of Adam is a sinner, but the best of sinners is the one who repents…yes, everyone sins, everyone makes mistakes. But the best way to move forward is to forgive, to move past the mistakes and bury them completely. We can’t let our past control our future.”
How easily had the words left my lips then. But now that it was about myself I had forgotten all that. I had forgotten the power of forgiving, of letting go. Nazia’s words also came to mind. “Don’t let the past come between you. Look ahead now… and remember. Every experience either makes you or breaks you. It depends on how you take it. You can either move forward from this together, stronger than ever…or not at all. The decision is in your hands.” And yet, what had I done again? I had buried all that and immersed myself in my work again…ignoring my husband and his feelings in the process. Since when had I turned into this bitter old hag???
“Fadheelah?” Ahmed was looking at me uncertainly.
“I’m sorry…” I choked out, “I’m so sorry.”
Ahmed’s eyes flared in surprise. “Can we talk?”
I nodded and led him back into our room. Shutting the door behind us we sat cross-legged on the bed, facing each other. Ahmed leaned forward and clasped my hands in his. I didn’t pull away.
“Can I start?” “You can start.” We said at the same time. Looking at each other we started laughing, lightening some of the tension between us.
“Go on,” Ahmed said, lifting our joined hands slightly.
I nodded and took a deep breath. “Okay. I’ve…uhh…been going for therapy these past few weeks…”
Ahmed’s mouth opened in surprise. “Oh,” he said.
“Yeah. Sylvia dragged me there. Said I needed it. And I did. I didn’t realise how many issues I had to work through. Therapy helped me put things into perspective. It helped me begin the healing process…and the process of building myself up again. Ahmed…we both thought getting out of your parents house would be the end of it…but it wasn’t. The impact those months had on me was lasting and it was affecting my present as well. Nazia showed me how much mummy had knocked me down. I was a shell of my former self. My confidence and self esteem had gone down. I felt like I wasn’t good enough anymore…like I was a good-for-nothing. Nazia helped me regain that confidence. I’m still not where I used to be but I’m getting there slowly. And I also had a lot of resentment buried inside me…at you and your mother…but mainly at you…for not getting me out of there sooner. That’s why I’ve been acting this way. It’s the blame and resentment within me.”
Ahmed nodded. “I thought so. But princess…why didn’t you tell me? Why were you going through this alone? I could have been there for you…I could have helped you through all of this.”
“Hardly, when the culprit in my mind was you,” I replied dryly.
“So? You could have told me everything. Let it out. I would have taken it. That’s better than you keeping it in.”
“I did let it out. In therapy. I told Nazia everything but she told me to talk to you as well. To let you know everything I’d been through. To let it out then let it go. And then to forgive and move on…”
“I could have been there for you from the time you started…not just now,” Ahmed repeated, his voice tinged with regret. He tightened his hold on my hands, leaning forward slightly, “tell me everything…let it out, Fadheelah, and then find a way to forgive me and come back to me. Can’t you see how much we’ve drifted away from each other? I want my old Fadheelah back. Remember us in Costa Rica? I want that Fadheelah back. No matter what it takes.”
The urgency and desperation in his voice tore me up inside. I swallowed hard and nodded briefly. And I did. I told him everything I’d been through at the hands of his mother…my emotions, thoughts and feelings during that time. I told him what I’d been going through since we moved out as well. I spoke clearly and concisely, baring my soul to him. He listened silently, his only response being the flash of regret and pain that crossed his face every now and then. When I finished there was total silence between us. Then he sighed heavily.
“This makes me feel like a complete fool. Because I knew…and yet I had no clue of the depth of your emotions. I…” he shook his head.
“Open communication,” I said quietly, “from now on we lay our thoughts and feelings on the table. And we discuss them calmly. No more shutting each other away. No more keeping grudges.”
Ahmed nodded. “I’m sorry, Fadheelah. I’m…” he clenched his jaw hard, his grip on my hands tightening almost painfully, “I’m so sorry.”
Three words. Three words that meant the world to me because of the total sincerity with which they were spoken. For the first time in weeks I smiled, really smiled at Ahmed.
“It’s okay.” And it was. It was okay. We would be okay.
Without another word Ahmed opened his arms to me. I stepped into them, feeling them close tightly around me…
…feeling like I had finally come home.