Unplanned Break…

The key word being “unplanned” here… I thought I’ll take my time in writing and whip up something by Tuesday or Wednesday at least. But now I know it’s not gonna happen. I’m still not 100% well and I need a small break to get my head in the game again, so to speak. I’m not sure when I’ll be back. Hopefully soon inshaAllah…

Jazakumullah khair for all the support and duas you’ll have sent my way. Keep the duas coming…

xxx

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Part 219-AHMED

Thursday.

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 She was quieter, more withdrawn.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.

“Fadheelah.”

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.

“Ahmed!”

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❤

Part 218

I stayed at Seascape for three days. I spent that time sleeping, praying, meditating…and just being me. There were no rules here. No one to tell me what time I should wake up, what time I should do what. There was just me and I relished this freedom fully. I ate simple meals outside, on the deck or on the lawn…I swam in the pool and in the ocean, letting the cold water refresh me. I took long walks on the beach, letting my soothing surroundings clear my mind. This was my me-time and I made the most of it. I hardly touched my phone or laptop; I would have switched off my phone and totally disconnected if it hadn’t been for Ahmed and Zee, both of whom kept checking up on me multiple times each day. More so Ahmed. I could tell he was still worried but he gave me my space. And I was glad he did, otherwise the resentment within me would have spilled over onto him and I would have said things I wouldn’t have been able to take back later on. He was also responsible. He was also responsible for me being in this mess and that I could not deny.

On Friday I packed my bag and headed to my mum’s house for my weekly visit, refreshed in mind and body but no closer to finding a solution. What could I do? I dreaded going back to that house but what choice did I have? When was Ahmed going to open his eyes and take the step of moving out? I was tired of having to spell every little thing out to him. And I had mentioned wanting to move out several times before to him. He knew that’s what I wanted. I did not have to spell it out to him again. I wanted him to take the initiative himself…so I said nothing when I met him later that night at the family braai. We didn’t say much to each other then since there were people around. He did ask me if I would be going home with him, to which I nodded briefly, noting the relief in his face. I couldn’t hide away forever. Things had to come to a head, and soon.

I followed him back home in my car and followed him inside silently while he carried my bag up the stairs. Alone in our room at last Ahmed turned to me and took me in his arms.

“I’m sorry, princess,” he said softly, “Humi told me what happened that day. I’m so sorry. I have no idea what mummy was thinking, to do something like that.”

I leaned back to look at him. Regret and sympathy were carved into the strong planes of his face. “Humi told you? What about mummy? Did you ask her?”

“Yeah, I did. She denied it,” he sighed and rubbed his face, “she’s…” he trailed off, shaking his head. I saw the weary resignation in his face. Was he finally realising the true colours of his mother?

“She will never accept her faults. And she will never change. You need to accept that,” I said slowly.

“Yes. I know. She’s been this way her whole life. She can’t change now. It’s too late.” Bittersweet words, coming from the mouth of someone who always looked for the good in people, sometimes to the extent of becoming blind to their faults.

“Yes,” I agreed. There were a few minutes of silence as we both searched for something…words chosen from the recesses of our minds, then discarded as insignificant. How to express the multitude of emotions going through me at that moment? Then, “so now what?” I asked. Coming to the heart of the matter…

Ahmed sighed. “I don’t know. So many things to think about. It’s…difficult.”

Difficult. Even after all this…it was difficult. When, then, would it become easy??? Mere words were paltry when they weren’t backed up by action. Disappointment coursing through me yet again I pulled away, mumbling an excuse of being tired, and escaped to the private confines of the bathroom. I went through the motions of brushing my teeth, taking a shower and changing into my pjs robotically then sank into bed and fell asleep, hardly aware when Ahmed came to bed as well.

The next day we all went to Seascape for the weekend, forcing me into close proximity with my mother inlaw yet again. I had little to say to her and spoke to her only as much as necessary, though I was unfailingly polite and respectful. The weekend passed with a bit of a muted atmosphere; mummy and daddy were their usual selves but Humi and Ahmed were more subdued and even Dalia seemed to sense the undercurrents of tension running through the house and was quieter. Ahmed and I were not on normal terms just yet… I mainly did my own thing…

Then came Monday, when the men were all out once again and it was me, Humi and mummy in the kitchen once again. Dalia seemed to sense the strained atmosphere and opted to stay more in her room. And strained it was. With mummy once again in control of her domain she started her usual tactics again. She probably didn’t like the fact that I went away for a few days and I suspected that she also suspected me of telling Ahmed what really went on that day at the tea party. So in her usual way she tried to bring me down and bend me to her will yet again. But now, after becoming thoroughly disillusioned by her, I had become numb inside. I had erected an armour around myself so she could not pierce it again. I would not give her the power to hurt me again. I mechanically moved through my chores while letting her jibes and insults slide off me. Day after day I donned my armour and ventured into the battlefield, determined that I would emerge victorious…my victory being her inability to penetrate my defense. But even the strongest armour cannot withstand continuous attacks. Even the strongest armour will eventually wear and tear…will develop chinks, dents, cracks. And my mother inlaw was an expert at finding the chinks in her enemy’s armour and aiming her poison-tipped arrows accordingly. With military precision she wore down my defenses one by one, leaving me helpless and bleeding in the open, vulnerable to any further attacks. And like a cornered animal I reacted with an aggression far beyond my normal capabilities. And that turned out to be the turning point in all our lives…

No post today…

Assalamu alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh…

Yeah I know you’ll are waiting for that next post but I’m still not done with it. I’m not feeling too good myself and the kiddos aren’t feeling well as well so I haven’t managed to complete it. I’ll post as soon as I’m done inshaAllah.

Remember us in your duas!

xxx

Part 217

I drove around listlessly for a while, before the sinking sun forced me to make a decision. I couldn’t go to my parents’ house. Besides the fact that I didn’t want to worry them unnecessarily, I wanted to be alone right now…so that meant going somewhere where I could be alone. Not many options for that for a lone woman. I didn’t want to check into a hotel and where was I going to find…an…empty…house…

The wheels in my head turning now I impulsively took the familiar turn. I knew where I wanted to go. An empty house…with the beach right there…a perfect place to clear my mind. I pressed the accelerator, driving with a renewed purpose, and soon the familiar gate loomed up to my right. Praising Allah that mummy and them left a spare set of house keys with the gate remote by the old woman who lived opposite, I turned left and hooted at the gate.

“Fazila!” Amina Ma, as we called the friendly old woman, peered at me in surprise, “what a nice surprise! Come in!” She moved aside to let me precede her into the house.

“No, no, Amina Ma, I just came to collect the keys for the house and gate. I’ll drop by later inshaAllah,” I replied quickly.

Amina Ma turned and looked at me curiously, “you want the house keys? You didn’t bring yours?”

“No, in the rush I forgot to get them,” I replied briefly.

“Oh. You alone, ma?”

I sighed inwardly, impatient to be off. “Jee, but Ahmed will be joining me soon.” Like ten years from now.

“Okay, let me go get them. Come in and make yourself comfortable. I won’t be long.” She shuffled off.

I perched at the edge of the sofa in the lounge, tapping my foot impatiently. I just hoped Amina Ma didn’t chance to speak to mummy or anyone else that I knew anytime soon. I didn’t want to deal with anyone for like the next few years!

“You okay, ma?” I jumped, startled out of my thoughts. I hadn’t even heard her approaching.

“Jee. Jazakallah. I’ll see you soon, inshaAllah,” I said, smiling at her and giving her a brief hug before I moved to the door again.

“No problem. Make sure you come, huh!”

“InshaAllah!” I called back with a wave as I got into the car. The poor old woman must be so lonely, living all by herself in this remote area. I almost felt bad for rushing out of there so fast. But I had no energy for anyone else right now.

I entered the house and moved around, throwing open the windows to let in the fresh air. I breathed in deeply, gazing at the ocean. The sun was already low on the horizon. I needed to go pray my asr.

I prayed my asr then went out onto the deck and sat at the edge of the pool, dipping my legs in the cold water. I blanked out my mind and just…felt. Felt the wind blow against my face and toss my hair about. Felt the cold water swirl against my legs. Felt the salty mist in the air, caressing my face with the wind. And felt the first stirrings of peace within me.

I sat there, watching the red orb sink slowly into the fiery water, then came back inside to find my phone ringing off the hook. It stopped ringing, giving me just enough time to glance at the screen…eight missed calls…before it started up again.

Ahmed.

He must have seen the note then.

 

 

AHMED:

 

 

How could a day that started off so well end so badly?

I had left my wife with a kiss on her smiling lips. I had sent her a random text at around lunch time, just to tell her that I was thinking of her. And when my work finished early for once I decided to go home straight after asr and surprise her. Maybe we could go out for a little while after maghrib or esha… instead I came home to a cold house and no wife.

I ran into mummy by my room door. She was just turning the handle to go in. “Oh, Ahmed!” She exclaimed in surprise when she saw me, “you’re here early today! I was just going to look for Fazila. Don’t know where she’s got to!”

“Oh,” I said, slightly puzzled, “don’t worry, I’ll go look for her.”

I went in and shut the door behind me. The room was empty so I checked in the bathroom. Also empty. I frowned in puzzlement. If she wasn’t upstairs or downstairs, where was she? Had she gone out? Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen her car outside when I came in…

That’s when I saw the scrap of paper fluttering on my bedside table…the corner pinned under the lamp. I took it without much interest…and the words leaped out at me.

Panic. It formed a cold fist in my stomach and wrapped it’s tentacles around my throat, squeezing me in it’s tight grasp. I re-read the words, trying to read between the lines…and noticed some of the words smudged as though drops of liquid had been sprinkled on them. No, not just any liquid. Tears. A great many tears. The knot in my stomach got tighter.

I grabbed my phone and frantically called her. There was no answer. In full blown panic mode now I dialled her number again and again while pacing up and down my room and mumbling durood under my breath. Allah, let her be safe.

“Assalamu alaykum.”

“Fadheelah…oh, Alhamdulillah! Where you?” The words couldn’t come out fast enough.

“Never mind where I am. I’m safe.”

“Princess…please tell me what’s going on. What did mummy do?”

“I don’t have the energy to rehash all that right now, Ahmed,” she sounded weary and drained. I swallowed hard.

“Where are you, princess? Have you gone to your mum’s?”

“No, I haven’t. Don’t tell my family anything! They don’t know anything and this will worry them for nothing. Let your parents think I’ve gone there but don’t tell them anything.”

“Okay, I promise I won’t tell anyone anything but at least tell me where you are! It’s not safe for you to be out alone like this, especially at night.”

“I can’t tell you, Ahmed. I need to be alone right now.”

“I understand that, princess. I won’t come after you…but at least let me know when you’re gonna leave to come back home. I can come pick you up and follow you back home. It’s not safe at night.”

“I’m not coming back tonight, Ahmed. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“What???” I yelled, then lowered my voice with effort, “Fadheelah, what’s wrong? You’ve never done this before.”

“I know, right? I should have done this sooner,” she laughed harshly.

Worry bloomed within me, mixed with the panic that was swirling around inside me. What was going on?? “Princess, I swear I won’t tell anyone where you are and I won’t come there myself. I’ll give you your space if that’s what you want. But please tell me where you are. I’m going out of my mind with worry here.” Desperation lent an edge to my voice.

Fadheelah sighed, a long, drawn-out sound. “Fine. But you have to keep your promise. No telling anyone where I am and no coming after me. No matter how much time I spend here.”

It was the hardest thing I ever did but I shakily promised to honour her wishes.

“Seascape.”

I exhaled in part relief. That was better than some random hotel or whatever. “Okay. It’s fine. You can stay there for as long…” I swallowed, “as long as you want. But I’ll keep phoning or texting you to find out if you’re okay. Bear with me. And princess,” my voice thickened with emotion born of fear…fear like I’d never before felt in my life, “I love you. I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Ahmed,” her tone softened, “but I need to find myself. Give me that time. I need to know where to go from here.”

“Wherever it is…we’ll go together. Okay? We’re together in this. You’re not alone. You have me.”

She didn’t reply to that and that hurt me more than anything she’d said.

Had we really drifted apart that much in the space of a few months?

 

 

FAZILA:

 

 

I wiped my tears as I hung up. Ahmed had sounded so panicky, so lost and afraid, it almost made me pack up and run back into his arms. But those arms hadn’t protected me from his mother. Those arms hadn’t shielded me from her cruel insults and hate-filled barbs. If I went back I would be stuck in the same rut again…and those arms wouldn’t be there to pull me out. Could I go back if it meant living in that house again? I wasn’t sure anymore. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to give even another inch. I was all wrung out. And nobody was looking at my happiness here. I had to look out for myself because no one else would…

I had a simple supper of cheese on toast and tea. I ate outside on the deck, preferring the cool outdoors to the stifling interior. I was sipping on the last of my tea when my phone beeped.

Hey, salaams! What’s up? How did the tea party go?

Zee. That girl always had the most uncanny timings. It was as though she had some sixth sense when it came to me, that allowed her to sense my moods. I had mentioned today’s tea party to her as a by-the-way thing, including her in my musings of just who mummy had invited.

Wassalaam. Not so good.

I could never lie to her…she knew me too well. Not that I would have thought about lying anyways. The one person who knew me in and out was Zee.

Why? What happened?

Don’t want to talk about it now. But it was a disaster.

Mother inlaw at work again?? Is this about her?

Yeah. Who else.

That bloody witch!!!

A moment later my phone rang.

“Zee, I really don’t wanna talk about it,” I said with a sigh, “and don’t call her names. You wouldn’t want to give a person like her your good deeds, would you?”

“Trust you to be Miss Rational at a time like this! Okay, so where are you?”

“Seascape…the beach house.”

“You escaped with Ahmed? Good for you! Take my advice and don’t go back.”

“Not with Ahmed. I’m alone.”

“What??? Why? Is there problems between you and Ahmed as well?”

“No, nothing like that. I just need to be alone.”

“That doesn’t sound good. Why didn’t you go to your parents? Should I come pick you up? You can come to my house. No one will dare trouble you there.”

“You’re not at your house yourself,” I pointed out. Zee was due anytime so had gone to her mum’s house to stay, “and I’m fine here. This is the best place for me to be. I just need to be alone.”

“Okay but I’m here whenever you need to talk, okay? Don’t bottle it up, Faz. It’s not healthy.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about me. You worry about yourself and your baby.”

Zee snorted. “Yeah, right! I’ll go punch that woman with my great big belly right now if you tell me to. Send her flying to Timbuktu where she can keep circus monkeys like herself company!”

I started laughing. “Only you can make me laugh at a time like this. Okay, I’m off now. Going to crash. I’m exhausted.”

“Okay. Keep me posted or else I will keep worrying about you. Salaams.”

I replied to her salaam then hung up and went to take a long, hot shower to relax me, then prayed esha and crashed into bed. Sleep eluded me for a long time, thoughts going round and round in my head in a confused jumble, till I finally fell into a restless sleep.

 

 

AHMED:

 

 

There was only one person who could answer the million questions buzzing around in my head and I went down to find her. She was taking out supper with Humi and looked up as I entered the kitchen.

“Where’s Fazila? She’s really late today.”

I thrust the note in her face, forcing her to clutch at it. “What is this all about? What happened today??”

Mummy glanced down at the note. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Who wrote this??? Fazila??? What a liar! Insulted her infront of the whole town??? How can you believe such stories, Ahmed??”

“My wife is not a liar!” I said through gritted teeth, “something happened today to upset her so much she left this note and went away. I want to know what that something is!”

Mummy’s eyes widened even further. “Are you shouting at me now??? Really, Ahmed! Is that how you’re supposed to talk to your mother???”

Okay, wrong tactic. I took a deep breath and backtracked a bit. “I’m not shouting, mummy. I’m asking you what happened today to upset Fadheelah this much. She’s never gone away like this before. Something must have really upset her.”

“How am I supposed to know??” Mummy snapped, “that girl is just like that! She must be up to no good as usual! I wouldn’t trust her if I were you, Ahmed!”

I stared at her, feeling sick to my stomach. “What has my wife ever done to you to make you hate her so much?” I asked quietly, “she does exactly as you ask her to do. She cooks whatever you tell her to cook, she runs the house exactly your way, she does everything your way. So what’s the problem? What has she done to you to make you hate her so much?”

Mummy laughed harshly. “That’s what you think! You’ll think she’s so perfect! Only I know how she really is! I’m the one who has to stay with her the whole day!”

“Okay, tell me then. Tell me all her bads and evils so I also know,” I promptly replied.

“Okay, I’ll tell you since you want to know so bad! Then don’t blame me for making you hate her! She shouts at me, disrespects me, talks back to me. She organises my kitchen however she likes just to spite me! She runs away in her car everyday and expects me to serve her ready meals when she comes back! That’s just a few things. If I start listing all her bads we’ll be here all night!”

“Fadheelah didn’t mess up your kitchen or anything, she organised it and spring cleaned it to make you happy. She was doing you a good turn but obviously she wouldn’t remember exactly what you put where. Surely something minor like that shouldn’t make you so upset?”

“Of course that’s what she’ll tell you! Why would she tell you the truth?”

“But mummy, how do you know she did it out of spite? You just assumed that. She said she did you a good turn so why not believe her? It’s not like you can prove she did it out of spite.”

That stumped her. I saw her floundering and pushed on. “Also, she goes to teach which we discussed in the beginning. And she offered to make the entire lunch before she left but you refused because you want everything your way. So it’s not her fault that she can’t contribute to lunch. And she does contribute to supper so you can’t say she gets ready meals from you.”

“What discussed?? I told you, don’t let her go teach in the mornings but did you listen?? No, you only want to do what you want! Then you say I mustn’t blame her but if she had listened to me she could have helped me make lunch as well.”

“She already went part time for you, I couldn’t ask her to stop altogether. Teaching is her passion. She loves it, why would I take it away from her?”

“Ya, so you only want me to compromise! Your beloved wife should get everything she wants!” Mummy hissed.

“No, that’s where you’ve got it wrong. You want everything your way and you want everyone around you to compromise. Look at us. We can’t even have a proper conversation without you getting defensive. Humi has to do everything you say, or else…same with me and Dalia and Daddy. You insisted that Fadheelah and I have to stay with you. You threatened me and forced my hand. So the least you can do is compromise, right? Work together with Fadheelah. As a partnership, not leader and subordinate. Don’t think of Fadheelah as beneath you, someone who has to listen to you. Why don’t you take her opinions as well, let her do what she wants as well? She is not your property whom you can order around as you like. She’s a different girl from a different family. Accept her differences and go fifty/fifty with her. That’s the only way this will work, otherwise it will be impossible for us to live in the same house.”

“How dare you???” Mummy hissed, her face white with anger, “I am your mother! My rank is higher than your wife so how dare you tell me we’re equals?? And impossible to stay in the same house?? You’ll stay because you don’t have a choice, do you?? You can’t walk away and you know it! And so long as you live in my house you will live under my rules! Have I made myself clear???”

I pressed my lips tightly together and stared at her. Yes, she had made herself clear. She had made her stance clear from the beginning. I cursed my weakness for the thousandth time as I turned to go. At the very last minute I turned back. “I’m not done here. Something upset my wife and drove her away and I will get to the bottom of this,” I gave her a hard stare then turned and jogged up the stairs to my room.

***

A timid knock brought me out of my brooding thoughts. “Come in!” I called out, hoping it wasn’t mummy again.

The door opened and Humi peeked in, a nervous look on her face. “Can I come in?”

“Ya, sure…” I waved her in, “what’s up?” I asked, noticing her twisting her hands in her lap as she perched on the edge of the bed.

“I…thought I’ll tell you what happened today. I can see how worried you are…and I saw how upset she was…and I feel horrible even though I did nothing.”

“Yeah, please tell me what’s going on,” I said immediately, straightening from my slouched position on the bed.

Humi glanced nervously at the closed door. “You have to promise you won’t tell mummy or daddy that I told you. Otherwise I’ll be in deep shit with mummy and she’s already in a swell mood.”

“I promise! I won’t tell them who told me. Just tell me.”

So she did. Hesitatingly, with lots of stammering and nervous glances at the door, she told me what had transpired this afternoon. I was speechless with shock, my mouth hanging open in horror as I listened to just how my wife had been humiliated infront of the town’s main gossips.

“But why???” I burst out finally, “why would she do something like that???”

“Who the hell knows?” Humi replied, rolling her eyes, “for attention, maybe? For people to listen to her sob story and feel sorry for her? Or maybe to send a message to Fazila, that do as I say or there will be consequences.”

“But Fadheelah is doing everything she says! Tell me, does Fadheelah shout at mummy and disrespect her like she’s claiming? I don’t believe it but just for the record, does she?”

Humi snorted. “Of course not! She goes so much out of her way to please mummy that sometimes I feel like yelling at her to cut out her martyr act. But she still has that independent streak, you know. She goes to teach and that’s a big black mark against her…she goes to her parents more than once a week sometimes…she’ll just drive off if there’s no work or anything. That’s also a problem for mummy because how dare she leave the house without her permission? So because she isn’t exactly how mummy wants her to be, she’ll never be good enough for mummy. Mummy wants to control her completely and that’s not happening, and that’s making her angry.”

“But that can’t happen!” I exclaimed.

“Exactly, it can’t. So I don’t know why you even bother staying in this house and trying any more. If I were you I’d have packed up and left a long time ago!” She finished bitterly.

I looked at my sister. Lines bracketed her mouth and the corners of her eyes, marks of unhappiness and strain. She was clearly not happy. Were any of us? Ruled with an iron fist by a narcissistic woman (yes, Fadheelah had told me what my mother was and on researching the symptoms I had ticked every one of them as applying to my mother), unable to be truly free. Was it fair to make someone live in an environment like this? I didn’t think so any more. I had been optimistic that this would work out, too optimistic, but now reality was hitting me like a cold slap to my face. There was only one solution to this problem and I could finally admit it to myself.

That document though. That cursed piece of paper that bound me to the conditions stated within. What about that? I heaved a sigh. I had never mentioned the other reason for me sticking to my parents house to Fadheelah. Now I needed to decide. Our sanity versus our lifestyle….our happiness versus our family. Which sacrifice was greater?

 

 

Part 216

After the showdown on Monday night mummy became even more exacting than before…if that was possible. She kept me busy with one thing or the other all throughout the mornings, and sometimes afternoons as well. She started letting Humi off the hook more, dumping her share of the work on my head as well. It was like she was taking some sort of morbid pleasure in ordering me around and secretly hoped I would snap again so she could make a fuss out of it. I kept my mouth shut though, to her and to Ahmed. Even though Ahmed and I had made up the situation in the house was nowhere near perfect and as usual Ahmed could do nothing about it. He had altered his stance in the sense that he told me I didn’t have to listen to everything mummy said; that this was my house as well and I could also do as I liked. But that didn’t work, as I found out first hand the day I decided to organise the kitchen cupboards. Mummy had gone shopping with Humaira and left me with some work. I had completed it before they were back and on impulse decided to spring clean the kitchen and pantry. The open surfaces were spotless as usual but the cupboards hadn’t been cleaned in some time. So I emptied all of them out, wiped down the various bottles, jars and glassware, wiped all the shelves then began stacking everything inside again…all by myself, with no help from Sally. I finished it all before mummy came back and went to bath. When I came back down I heard mummy lecturing Sally.

“Why did you let her mess up everything like this??? Look how she’s put everything now! Looks so rubbish and out of place! If she wanted to clean why couldn’t she put everything in it’s place?? Now how will I find anything?? Now it’s your job to make sure you put everything back the way it was. Ask me if you don’t remember. I don’t want anything out of place!” She turned to go and almost bumped into me. Fixing me with a hard stare she added, “who told you to touch my kitchen, Fazila?? I don’t remember giving you permission to mess up my kitchen!”

“I didn’t mess it up, I cleaned and organised everything!” I replied, stung.

Mummy laughed sarcastically. “If this is “organising” then I don’t even want to see your definition of messing things up. Next time don’t touch anything without my permission. Got it??”

I jerked my head in a nod and moved past her. This is what I got for trying to do her a good turn. I didn’t know why I even bothered.

When I mentioned the incident to Ahmed he said consolingly, “don’t listen to her, princess. It’s your house as well, you do what you want.”

Ahmed had started saying that after the showdown and makeup the following day. He told me I could leave the house whenever I liked, whether to go to my parents or anywhere else, that I didn’t have to live my life by her rules. “Yes, I would still encourage you to keep the peace with her but you don’t have to jump at her every order. If you can’t do it, don’t. Tell her you can’t or you’ll do it some other time or whatever, and walk away before she starts shouting at you.”

The same thing happened when we went for the weekends to the beach house. Mummy herself declared that she was taking a break from the kitchen for the whole weekend. But at the same time she didn’t want to eat fast food the whole time, she wanted hot home cooked food so that meant Humi and I had to go in the kitchen. The first few times I had listened and gone in the kitchen before every one else had even woken up, to prepare a simple lunch and supper. Humi had seen me cooking and run away again to sleep. Then Ahmed started noticing that I wasn’t getting the break everyone else was getting so he told me to sleep in as well and we would get takeaway from a nearby restaurant. Mummy hadn’t liked that of course and had made a fuss but Ahmed told me to turn a deaf ear and enjoy my break as well.

All that was well and good but now I was in a catch22 situation. Listen to everything she says and do whatever she wants and she would run me into the ground with her demands and I would end up completely drained; don’t listen to everything she says and she would become even more difficult to live with and make my life hell with her overbearing attitude. She liked to control everyone around her and by me not listening to her that control was slipping, which made her furious…and which she paid me back for in any way she could. So no matter what Ahmed said I couldn’t really do whatever I wanted after all…I had to listen to her, like it or not, just to make living with her more bearable. And I couldn’t even complain to Ahmed after that because he had provided me with a solution that he thought would work and I wasn’t following it……

Three weeks passed like that, with me veering between hopelessness, despair and brief sparks of hope…till that fateful day……

***

“Fazila! Come quick, we have so much to do today! This is everything you have to make. Make sure you finish it all on time! And make sure nothing flops! This is the ultimate high tea. All the topshot ladies are gonna attend so everything has to be perfect!”

I glanced down at the list in my hand in surprise. Chocolate cake, jam swiss roll, scones, cinnabons, milk tarts…I’d better start quickly to get through all this. I had no idea what this was all about. Mummy did invite people over every now and then but usually it was her cousins or close friends. She didn’t go all out and look so excited like she was looking now. I wondered who she had invited for her to get so worked up. Humi didn’t know exactly who was invited as well and we both speculated as we worked in the kitchen. I teased her that it might be someone interested in her for her son. She looked horrified and waved my idea away quickly.

Four o’clock rolled around and fancily dressed women began arriving. There were about twelve of them, ranging from young women only a few years older than myself to a few old grannies as well. A very diverse group and not at all like mummy’s usual get togethers. Humi was also baffled as we laid the long dining table with fine chinaware and all the goodies we had made.

“I don’t even know some of these women,” she whispered to me, “never seen them in my life.”

“Told you…they must have come for…” I whispered back teasingly.

Humi nudged me. “Oh, shush! Twelve women for one purpose?? I don’t think mummy is marketing me off here!”

I laughed and carried on setting the table.

Mummy called us both to come sit with them in the formal lounge. We went and sat with the ladies who were talking about this and that, or rather, this one and that one. Their main topic of conversation was gossiping about people, something that always made me uncomfortable. Besides the fact that it was gheebah and by talking about people we were basically handing them our good deeds on a silver platter…and who in their right mind would hand over their hard earned good deeds just like that?…talking about people just didn’t make sense. What did we get out of it? Who cared if so and so fed her husband leftovers and food from the freezer all the time? Who cared if so and so didn’t even know how to cook and make rotis nicely and ordered half her food from someone else? Who cared what people did in their lives? It didn’t impact us in any way so what was the need to discuss it? Rather discuss things like the war in Syria or Palestine so we can become aware of their plight and make dua for them. This was such a shallow conversation that I tuned out after a while, daydreaming about my own things instead. After a while mummy called all the ladies to come eat, then after the refreshments were served and oohed and aahed over and a million questions asked about who had made what, they all moved back to the lounge, drinks and some snacks in hand, to continue the conversation where they had left off. I wished I could escape but mummy would find it rude and I would hear about it afterwards so I remained sitting. I couldn’t even sit with my phone because that was also rude and unmannerly according to mummy. So I sat there and tuned them out again, thinking longingly about my kids at school and madrassah. I missed them so much and actually couldn’t wait for school and madrassah to open again. The kids were just so sweet and had learnt so much in such a short time…it didn’t even seem like a job to me. It was more like a passion, one I threw myself into wholeheartedly……

“Ay, but the girls of these days! What to do!” Mummy’s loud pitched voice broke into my thoughts. I looked at her to find her gaze fixed on me, “they wake up so late! Come into the kitchen like princesses, expecting to be served on a silver platter! Run away from the house at any excuse, saying they’re going shopping or who knows where. Then come bang at lunch time, and we must give them food like maids!” She looked around at all the ladies, as though waiting for them to agree with her. I was uncomfortably wondering where she was going with this when her gaze swung back to me, “take my daughter inlaw, Fazila, for example…” I froze. “When we take alimas into our houses what do we expect? That they’ll come in with an open mind. They have spent five years in madressah. They have learnt right from wrong. So they should know best, neh? They’ll come in, treat us like their own mothers, be good to us, obey us…such high hopes I had but today I hang my head in shame and wonder how I ever chose this girl for my son! She’s nothing like I expected! She disrespects me, screams at me, shouts at me, calls me names! Oh, the azaab I have to go through in my own house!! She told me this is her house so she can do what she wants! I’ll arrange my kitchen so nicely and she’ll nicely come and spoil everything and put it all in wrong wrong places! Then how can I find anything in the mess she makes?? She insists she wants to teach mornings and afternoons, so whole day she’s running around…then lunch time she nicely walks in and expects to be served her lunch! Big queen she is, neh! And I’m her maid! In our days how we used to be scared of our mother inlaws. How much khidmat we did for them. But today’s girls know nothing! There her sister went and married one black boy! Her parents even allowed her to marry such kachra (rubbish)! How, I don’t know! But a girl who comes from a family like that with no standards, how can she ever fit in with us?? If I had known all this from before I would never have chosen her for my son! I regret the day I took this girls name for my one and only son!” I sat frozen in place as she shed copious amounts of tears through her entire rant, unable to believe what I was hearing. My ears were ringing and my face felt hot and flushed. I heard the ladies titter and saw their accusatory gazes fixed on me. Mummy was still carrying on her emotional rant but I couldn’t hear what she was saying anymore…till she pinned me with her hard gaze again.

“Well, Fazila? What do you have to say for yourself??”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. To my absolute horror I felt my eyes prick with tears and I stumbled to my feet, mumbling something unintelligible. The last thing I saw was Humi’s stricken face as I rushed out of the room.

I ran blindly up the stairs and into my room, slamming the door shut behind me. I ran into the bathroom and stood at the sink, my chest heaving with the outpouring of emotion. The numbness had receded and I was beset by emotions I couldn’t name, each one tumbling over the other. I knew now why mummy had organised this whole tea party. She hadn’t invited just the top shots of society; she had invited the top gossips of society. And all with a set purpose; to degrade and humiliate me infront of the whole town…because she knew that everything she said would be broadcast throughout PE by tomorrow at the latest. I had seen the malicious glint behind her whole emotional act. She had devised this whole plan…why, I couldn’t begin to imagine…and I didn’t even want to think of the whys at the moment. Right now all I knew was that I had to get away…away from this house and the woman who owned it. I hastily wiped my tears and splashed water on my face then ran back into my room. I threw open my closet and removed a small carry-on bag, threw it open and shoved a few pairs of clothes and essentials into it. I zipped it closed, threw on my abaya and hijab and went to my bedside table. Pulling out my notepad from the top drawer I tore off the top page and grabbed a pen. I hastily scribbled a note to Ahmed, explaining my absence when he came home.

Your mother just insulted me infront of the whole town. I can’t take it anymore. I have tried to be nice to her but I can’t take this anymore. I need to get away. Don’t come looking for me. I need to be alone. I’m done! I slashed the pen down on the final exclamation mark, watching as fresh tears dripped onto the paper, smudging the ink…sealing it.

I left the note on his bedside table where he could see it immediately and grabbed my bag and keys. I ran down the stairs and out the door, passing the lounge on my way. I knew everyone could probably see me leave. I didn’t care. I threw my bag into the car, jumped in and drove off with a screech of tires.

I was done…with everyone.

Part 215

Assalamu alaykum…

I had promised you’ll a bonus post since the last season, for anyone who got the honeymoon destination correct. You’ll are so sweet not to even ask me for it (or did you simply forget?😜) but luckily I remembered. So here it isdedicated to:

Miracleoflife68
Maryam Taahir
Laaibah176
Maryambintemuhammad
~

I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone…if I have this is dedicated to you too🙂

Enjoy xxx


I woke up a bit late the next morning, feeling groggy and disoriented. My head throbbed dully. I hadn’t managed to fall asleep till the early hours of the morning. Mummy’s taunts kept going round and round in my head, making me get worked up again. And on top of that was Ahmed’s remarks. Sabr. kindness. He had gone into proper bayaan mode. Not that I had a problem with the Islamic points. I didn’t. But at that moment I had wanted a bit of support. A bit of love and understanding. Empathy. Sympathy even. Not a lecture. Not being told that I was wrong…after all the sabr I had to make I was still in the wrong. Was there even a point in trying? I had fallen asleep with my cheeks wet with tears, the salty taste on my tongue. I woke up with a headache that did not bode well for the rest of my day. The last thing I wanted to do was open my eyes…when I did open them it was to a lavish bouquet of deep red roses perched in my favourite crystal vase on the bedside table. Surprisingly I hadn’t even smelt them before now. I sat up in surprise and reached for the tag attached.

I’m an idiot of massive proportions. Forgive me, habibti?

Ahmed? What did he mean by this? I read the message again, frowning in perplexion. As though reading my thoughts my phone beeped.

Salaams, princess. Did you see your gift?

Yeah, I did but I don’t understand the message, I typed back.

You don’t have to understand it now. I’ll explain everything later on. How about a date tonight, gorgeous?

Date? Uhmm, okay…where? And what time?

That’s for me to know and you to find out *wink*. Tell mummy we won’t eat supper there. Actually, don’t tell her. I’ll tell her when I come home. We’ll go after maghrib. That okay?

Yeah, sounds good.

I didn’t really want to go out and pretend that everything was fine…not after last night. But he had sounded different…and that note…… I shrugged to myself. I’d find out in good time…

Mummy’s remarks also didn’t bother me as much today. I was able to tune her out more easily thanks to my preoccupation.

Ahmed came home straight after maghrib. I had just stepped into a classy abaya and applied the final touches of makeup when he walked into the room. His eyes widened in appreciation and a slow smile dawned on his face as he walked towards me. “Gorgeous as usual,” he said huskily as he bent to kiss me. I stiffened slightly, my mind going on last night’s conversation…the hurt still lingering under the surface. He seemed to sense my thoughts because he pulled away and touched my cheek briefly, a sad smile lighting his face. “Come on, let’s go,” he said, turning away.

“Mummy, we’re going out to eat,” Ahmed said as we stopped by the kitchen.

“What? Why so sudden? Fazila didn’t even inform me. I made so much food for you’ll!” Mummy complained.

“It’s okay, mummy, we’ll have it tomorrow. Don’t cook tomorrow. Right then, salaams,” he towed me away before she could say anything else.

“That’s nice! Walk out whenever you wish with no thought of even informing us! No manners!” I heard mummy grumble as we walked out. We ignored her and climbed into the car. Ahmed came to open the door for me to get in. I eyed him suspiciously but slid in without a word. We drove for a while before Ahmed pulled up outside a familiar place.

“Blue waters!” I breathed. I hadn’t been here in so long…

Ahmed smiled at me and placed his hand on my knee. “Good choice?”

“Yeah,” I replied succinctly.

Ahmed had already made the reservations so we followed the waiter there. It was a corner table on the balcony, facing the ocean and pier. I sat with my back towards the other diners so I could lift my niqaab. We ordered our food then sat silently, listening to the crash of waves in the distance. Ahmed played with my fingers, an old habit of his, looking up at me every once in a while with a soft smile on his face. Something was different today… Ahmed was always charming, always engaging and loving…he hadn’t changed during the past five months; I had. But I had mastered the art of concealing my emotions so he had no idea just how much I’d changed. I tried to act normal with him, except the days when it came bubbling out in a torrent of frustration. But today…today I was tired of putting on a normal act. Today I had let my mask slip, had allowed him to see beyond the happy facade. And today he seemed more perceptive. His gazes were searching, almost apologetic, his touch soft, gentle. He was handling me like a piece of glass and I had no idea why. He didn’t let on the reason immediately either. The food arrived and we ate silently amidst small talk. Dessert and coffee was taken the same way. Then Ahmed stood up and held out his hand.

“Shall we?”

I nodded and lowered my niqaab again. We walked down to the pier, right to the end where it was dark and empty, the row of lights beneath us and the full moon above us the only sources of illumination. Ahmed leaned back against the railing and drew me close to him. I lifted my niqaab and breathed in the cool night air.

“So what was the note all about?” I asked abruptly. I couldn’t take the suspense any longer.

Ahmed sighed. “I acted like an idiot last night. I could see you were upset and emotional. What my mother said was horrible, I won’t deny that. But whenever she blows a fuse we back down. It’s instinctive. None of us can really stand up to her. She’s like a tornado! But I could have at least supported you, sympathised with you…instead I started lecturing you. At that time the words just came…I didn’t think much of them…but later on I started thinking and regretting my thoughtless words. There’s a time and place for certain words and last night wasn’t the time. I heard you crying late at night, princess,” his voice was heavy with regret, “I wanted to get up and hug you, comfort you…but I was scared you would push me away in anger. So I thought I’ll try and make it up to you today. I’m sorry, princess. I acted like a thoughtless idiot. I’m sorry,” he held my hands in his, his gaze searching mine. He looked so sincere and remorseful that my anger melted away.

“It’s okay,” I sighed, “but Ahmed?”

“Yeah?”

“Next time you act like a thoughtless idiot I’ll break something on your head. And I’m not joking.”

Ahmed laughed and hugged me close. “I’ll try never to act like one again then!”

“You weren’t wrong last night,” he said after a while, moving me away a little so he could see my face, “what you said…you tried to hold it in but she pushed you to your limits. I don’t blame you for speaking out. But she blew a fuse and called you some nasty names. I hate it when she talks that way about you so I told you to say nothing, just to avoid her anger. But you weren’t wrong…anyone would have spoken out if their family had been insulted. I’m sorry…”

I put a finger on his lips. “I know, I know. You’re sorry,” I said, injecting a teasing note in my voice.

Ahmed laughed. I rested my head on his shoulder and sighed. Now was the time to bring up his mother…that he may be sorry for last night but what about all the other times I had been through hell at her hands? What about the times I would go through the same again in the future? Saying sorry for this one incident didn’t make things right miraculously. But I looked at his happy, relaxed face and I just didn’t have the heart to bring up the other stuff and possibly spoil this intimate moment. So I pushed it all away and concentrated on making this night memorable…for different reasons……

Part 214

“What???” We all exclaimed when dad relayed the request to us.

“No ways! That’s too soon!” Han blurted out, “at least Faz even had a few days to prepare. What do I have?? Not even twenty-four hours! What can I do in that time???”

“That’s right, Faruk, it’s too soon. This is her big day, let her prepare nicely for it,” mum said.

“Ya, he’s going for jamaat anyways. No need to rush into it.” Adnaan put in.

“How long is he going for jamaat?” I asked.

“Forty days, he said.”

“That’s perfect! It will give me enough time to prepare!” Han said, “we can have the wedding after he comes back.”

“Call nana and ask him what we should do,” I suggested.

“What’s there to ask? Han said it’s too soon for her. Topic closed,” dad said.

“But quick nikah is sunnah. Just ask him, he’ll be able to advise us.”

“That’s if Han listens to his advice,” dad muttered.

“Of course I’ll listen!” Han retorted, stung.

Mum dialled nana’s number again, a mere three hours after we had called to give him the good news. He picked up with his usual jovial salaam. “Howzit, Rabia? Everything okay?”

“Jee, abba. We just want to ask you something… Maulana Hamza called and said he wants the nikah tomorrow because he’s leaving for jamaat on Saturday. Han thinks it’s too soon and it would be better to perform the nikah after he comes back, after forty days. Faz is saying quick nikah is sunnah. What do you think?”

“Hmmmm…Faz is right, quick nikah IS sunnah. But if they make nikah now Maulana Hamza won’t be able to concentrate in his jamaat. His mind will be on his wife the whole time…” Han shot me a relieved smile, “tell Faruk to give me his number. I want to talk to him.” Han’s smile turned to an alarmed look. I pursed my lips, trying to suppress a smile. Hamza was in for some serious talks now!

Mum handed the number to nana who said he’d call back in a bit. Thirty minutes later he called back. “It’s sorted. Tell Haneefa to prepare for her nikah tomorrow.”

“What???” Han yelled.

“I had a nice long talk with Maulana Hamza. He can have the nikah tomorrow on one condition; he does not get in touch with Han till he comes back. The essence of jamaat is to cut off all worldly connections and focus on Allah and the work of deen they’re doing. He won’t be able to give it his all if he’s in touch with Han. I know newlyweds. Just ask Fazzu how much she used to talk to Mufti Ahmed after nikah. She probably never used to sleep all night!” I blushed at the truth of his words.

“Then what’s the point of having nikah tomorrow?” Han asked, baffled.

“To follow a sunnah,” nana said, having heard her, “you will be rewarded for that, inshaAllah.”

Han couldn’t dispute that so she gave in with good grace, though her panicked face showed how overwhelmed she was. I squeezed her hand. “Relax. Breathe!” I whispered.

“Easy for you to say!” She shot back.

I grinned and opened my mouth to reply when nana’s chuckle came over the loudspeaker. “You should have heard him stammer and hesitate when I told him my condition! He didn’t want to agree at all but he couldn’t refuse as well. Must be the hardest thing he ever did in his life!” He laughed and we all burst out laughing. Nana in form was a force to reckon with. No one could ever best him. Hamza was lucky it was over the phone; face to face he would have been even more intimidated, I thought, laughing some more.

I grinned and pulled Han up as soon as mum finished talking to nana and cut the call. “Come on! Operation Nikah has started! Come, Sumi. Let’s get this bride sorted.”

It was too late for Han to buy a new dress or get one sewn so she would have to borrow someone’s for the day. Sumi and I were both taller than her so our dresses were too long for her. Zee was chubby so hers would be too wide…… after much asking around we finally decided on my cousin Raeesa’s dress which she promptly dropped off. It had a patterned gold bodice with a plum skirt and fit Han perfectly. The same woman who had put my mendhi agreed to come over and put for Han as well so that night we had an impromptu mendhi night, telling our family members that whoever wanted to come was most welcome to join us. Maseeha agreed to book Han in last minute so the next morning we took Han there for her makeup and hair style. And by Jumuah time, less than twenty four hours after becoming engaged, Han sat on the sofa in the lounge, listening to the nikah khutbah over the receiver. It felt surreal but the house was buzzing with excitement and Han herself looked calm and serene and blissfully happy. After the nikah Hamza came to pick her up and the newlyweds went for a long drive, only arriving back after asr in time for the tea party. This too was an impromptu dawat and all the family members pitched in and brought one thing each. It was simple but so beautiful and memorable. It was a happy occasion, with friends, family and loved ones around us…and simple, according to the shariah so filled with blessings. What more did anyone need? The most lavish wedding also could not recreate this intimate, relaxed and happy atmosphere…even after spending thousands on futile things. This was how a nikah was supposed to be and I could not have been happier that my family was so supportive and went all out in ensuring that Han got the best out of her quick and simple wedding.

Not everyone thought like that, though. My own in-laws, for one…

Our whole family was there, bustling around, setting tables and all when Han’s in-laws arrived. Her mother inlaw, sister inlaws and brother inlaw were the only ones who came since they didn’t really have an extended family…I didn’t know the full story there and I doubt Han knew as well. Han’s mother inlaw, Firoza, wore a simple yet flowing abaya, with a beige scarf wrapped around her head and niqaab in place. She removed her niqaab when she came to the ladies side and I saw that she had applied light makeup as well. Sahla and Maryam, Hamza’s other sister, also wore abayas and different coloured scarves with niqaabs.

And then my own in-laws arrived.

Mummy liked to make an entrance so I had no doubt that this was pre-planned. She waltzed in with Humi on her heels, wrapped in a sparkly royal blue and silver long dress, her feet encased in sky-high silver stilettos. Her hair was done up elaborately and her face was heavily made up. Jewels sparkled at her throat, wrists and ears. She had gone all out even though I had told Ahmed to let her know that it was a small and simple tea party. Humi was also wearing a fancy green dress with heels, her hair loose around her shoulders. Mummy had her outer mask firmly in place and was her most charming, friendly self as she greeted mum and the rest of my family. Only I, knowing her better than most, caught glimpses of that mask slipping now and then. When she caught sight of Han’s in-laws, for example. Her lip curled slightly in derision, her eyes lighting briefly in contempt before the mask slipped into place again. Her greeting to them was much cooler; to me it was non existent. She barely glanced my way as she swept past us, deliberately choosing a chair furthest from us. I could not care less. Humi smiled and spoke a few words to me before she followed her mother. I sat with Han and her in-laws, unfazed by my mother inlaws attitude. Aunt Firoza was on the shorter side and dark of complexion, her features plain and unremarkable whereas my mother inlaw was tall, fair and beautiful, with the figure of a model, but at that moment I found Aunt Firoza a thousand times more beautiful than my mother inlaw. Outer beauty wasn’t everything, you know, and even though I was still cautious of Aunt Firoza, thanks to my cynical attitude towards mothers inlaw in general, I could just sense the kindness and compassion in her and I knew she was nothing like my mother inlaw. I prayed again that Han would never go through even an iota of what I was going through……

Han went off with Hamza again after maghrib and did not come back till after midnight. I checked the time after the sound of the door opening had woken me up, and laughed, shaking my head. Han was going to be one sad woman come tomorrow. And to think that she hadn’t wanted to get married today!

I was right. Han moped around the house the next day, moaning about missing Hamza so much after his plane had taken off, bound for India. I laughed at her and teased her about having well and truly fallen for her husband. I stayed at my mum’s till the weekend then I knew I had to go back. Ahmed had been indirectly asking me when I would go back since Saturday morning. I told him to pick me up on Sunday night and he was there promptly after esha. For the first time ever relations between him and my family were slightly strained. Ahmed looked ill at ease and uncomfortable when I went down and I somehow knew that dad must have had a few words with him. He wouldn’t say anything when I asked him though, so I left it and set about preparing myself for going back home again…

***

“Have you seen the time?” Was the first thing my mother inlaw said when I entered the kitchen on Monday morning, “you got spoilt at your mummy’s house! Now you don’t want to wake up before nine!”

Considering that the time was eight forty-five right now that was quite an exaggeration but I didn’t comment on it. Instead I smiled at her. “Assalamu alaykum, mummy. How are you?”

Mummy huffed and eyed me suspiciously before going back to her work. “Come help me tie this dough. Then I want you to decorate the biscuits Humi and I made yesterday. I’m past that stage now where I do such menial work. Count this as your share of the baking since you weren’t here to help us make them!”

I nodded and set to work. For a while there was blissful silence then mummy started. “That husband of your sister. Is he a black man??” She said black man like it was some sort of disease.

“His father was a black man. His mother is Indian,” I replied without looking up.

“So he’s a coloured,” another word laced with distaste, “why did your family choose someone like that of all the people? Could they not find anyone better??”

I looked up this time, piping bag in hand. “Actually Hamza was the best choice they could have made,” I replied calmly, “Han got several proposals before this one but none of the Indian guys who proposed to her came close to Hamza. Hamza is a wonderful person Alhamdulillah. My sister is lucky to have him.”

Mummy scoffed. “She’s been married how long?? One day?? And she was engaged for only day before that! How do any of you know what kind of person he is? First let her live with him, then his true colours will come out.”

Like yours came out. I didn’t say anything though, only continued to pipe chocolate on the biscuits.

“Why did you’ll keep the nikah so quick quick anyways? What was the rush?”

This woman is relentless! “Hamza suggested it. And we thought it’s a good idea.”

She pounced on that statement like a cat on a juicy mouse. “Oh, so he suggested it?? I thought so! It’s only guys that suggest stuff like this…and only the rotten ones. I’m surprised you’ll don’t know! This is the oldest trick in the world! When a guy is up to no good he will try to make nikah quick quick before his wife and family can find out about the nonsense he’s getting up to! I’m surprised you’ll didn’t know that! Best find out what skeletons he has hidden in his closet before he comes back. If she gets a divorce after that no one will marry her. Best to divorce him now, before she starts living with him.”

I stared at her, speechless with shock. “How…there’s nothing like that!” I exclaimed when I finally found my voice again, “we made nikah fast because it’s a sunnah! There’s nothing wrong with the guy! He’s a maulana!”

“Oh, maulana, is he?? So maulanas are angels, huh?? Just the other day I was hearing about that maulana who was cheating on his wife with black girls and going clubbing, watching porn and all. Who said maulanas can do no wrong? Sometimes it’s the maulanas who get up to worse things than other people also!” She tsked at me, “stop being gullible and emotional and do your checks properly. He’s half black, how do you know he’s not going after black girls as well? I’m surprised he didn’t just marry one! But he’ll keep your sister to show society that he’s all holy holy, and keep his side chicks on the side. These quick nikah ones are always up to no good.”

I was so angry, my blood was literally boiling. “I also made quick nikah with Ahmed. So are you saying he’s also up to no good?”

“My Ahmed is not like that!” She said, looking affronted, “though if he is also, I wouldn’t blame him. You can drive anyone up the wall. If your sister is like you then all the more that maulana of hers will go looking for someone else!”

I didn’t bother to reply to that as well. Gritting my teeth I carried on decorating the biscuits, hoping she would shut up now. I wasn’t so lucky.

“Where do these people live? Your sisters in-laws? I heard they live right in the townships…where all the black people live. Is she going to go live there??”

“They don’t live in the township. And yes, she will go stay with them.”

“So where do they live? I heard they dirt poor. Really, I think your parents could have chosen better for her. What sort of parents marry their daughter off to a black pauper? The whole town is talking about them. No one will marry her kids, watch! No one wants their blood to be tainted like that. No one will associate with her as well. She’ll become one of them blacks now. They’ll make her work like a maid, watch. I don’t know what your parents were thinking! I would never marry my Humaira off like that!”

I slammed the piping bag down and stood up. I had thought I could carry on working and ignore her but I was too furious to sit still. If I didn’t escape now I’d do something I’d regret.

“You have no idea how the guy is or how his family is so stop making assumptions!” I bit out, “she’ll be happier with a deeni family who’s not rich or famous than with a rich Indian guy who has no morals or akhlaaq! And if you don’t want to marry Humaira to such a person, no problem, but stop bad mouthing my sister and parents for choosing someone you don’t like! This isn’t about you, it’s about them! Ya Allah!” I turned and ran up the stairs to my room before I said something even more damaging. I knew that the amount I said would also not go unpunished.

I was right. That night I heard mummy’s raised voice as I made my way to the kitchen with Ahmed. We entered to find her on one side of the counter, loudly expostulating to daddy who stood on the other side.

“See, here she is! Ask her how she spoke to me! Speak isn’t even the correct word. She screamed at me and insulted me, called me a liar and Allah knows what else! Ask her! No, don’t bother! She’ll just lie to you but I’m telling you, she’s become worse than ever! I knew letting her go to her mum’s house for such a long time was a bad idea but you’re such a softie, Ahmed! Couldn’t you say no?? You always let her get her way, now look how spoilt she’s become again! Screaming at me like that! Ay, I’ve had enough, I tell you, Imtiaz! I’ve had enough with her! I don’t know how you can bear her fake smiles and talk! She makes me sick!” Mummy turned away, muttering something under her breath. Daddy and Ahmed both looked awkward and ill at ease. I moved forward and began dishing out the food silently like nothing had happened, even though I was fuming inside.

“What happened?” Ahmed asked me later on, as I came out of the bathroom in my pjs.

“She started it. Started insulting Hamza just because he’s half black…kept calling him a black man, said they’re dirt poor and soon Han will become like one of them…how society won’t accept her or her kids anymore, etc etc. I kept quiet at first and ignored her or replied to her calmly but then she started saying my parents did the wrong thing and all, and I just flipped. I didn’t scream at her but I told her Han is better off with a coloured man of good morals and deen than a rich Indian guy with no morals and akhlaaq! And I said it has nothing to do with her so she mustn’t make assumptions…bas. I walked out before I said anything else.”

Ahmed was shaking his head, a disappointed look on his face. “Why did you have to tell her all that? You should have just kept quiet and ignored her.”

“I told you, I did at first! But she kept going on and on till I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Next time you can’t take it walk away without saying anything. But don’t give her a chance to point fingers at you, Fadheelah. And no matter what, she’s older than you. You need to respect her for that.”

“I don’t see anything disrespectful in what I said,” I shot back, “and what about the abuse I take on a daily basis? Why does no one tell her anything about that?? I reply one bloody time and suddenly it’s a big issue!”

“Fadheelah, what she says is in her book of deeds. What you say is in yours. Don’t spoil your deeds because of tit for tat. You do what is right. And remember, my mother is too set in her ways. She’ll change inshaAllah but it’s a slow process. Keep showing her kindness. You can’t point out her faults to her. She’ll never accept them and will make a big issue instead. The way to soften her is by showing her kindness and love. That’s the way to go, not by shouting back. You remember the story of Abu Bakr R.A, don’t you? How that person kept insulting him and he kept quiet. And the moment he replied Nabi S.A.W walked away. Because for as long as he kept silent the angels were replying on his behalf. And the moment he spoke up the angels went away and so did my Nabi. Remember that…sabr and kindness is the way to go…no matter how the next person is. We don’t have to stoop to their level. On the day of qiyamah we’ll be asked about our actions, not anyone else’s.”

“Easy for you to say. You’re not going through it!” I retorted. I flopped down on the bed and pulled the covers over me, indicating that the conversation was over. I heard Ahmed get up and go in the bathroom and punched the pillow in frustration.

What a way to return home…with a big bang!

 

 

Part 213

The day of the samoosa run was set for Tuesday after esha, two days from now. Han was a nervous wreck, calling me every half an hour to ask me about the smallest of things. I couldn’t answer her calls in the mornings but I spoke to her when I was free, reassuring her that everything was going to be fine, that she wouldn’t look like a flour sack in that white dress of hers, that she wouldn’t trip and fall flat on her face in those nude wedge heels she loved, that she would say all the correct things and not send him running for the hills with some mindless blunder……

On Tuesday I decided to go there early to help her get ready and to provide moral support and reassurance. I thought after lunch would be a good time to go; we had finished cooking everything in the morning only because I had not revealed my plans to mummy. I knew that if I mentioned wanting to go anywhere she would purposely delay in making supper or take out some other work so I wouldn’t be able to leave the house. So I quickly finished off my work in the kitchen, ate, bathed, prayed zuhr and got ready to go. I had already asked Ahmed the night before and he didn’t have a problem with me going. I considered slipping past mummy and running away with a note explaining my absence. But that would rub her the wrong way so I knocked on her bedroom door to inform her, all the while making dua silently that she wouldn’t be in one of her moods right now. She had been pleasant enough in the morning but you could never tell with her. Her moods were more unpredictable than the weather!

Mummy’s eyes opened wide the moment she saw me standing outside her room in my abaya, “where do you think you’re going?”

“It’s my sister’s samoosa run today so I’m going there. I’ll come back after esha, inshaAllah,” I said quickly. Turning away I intended to beat a hasty retreat. I was not so lucky.

“Now wait a minute! Who gave you permission to go???”

“Ahmed,” I replied, turning around again, “I asked him and he was fine with it.”

“Ahmed!!” Mummy sneered, her lip curling in derision, “what does Ahmed know about the work in this house?? Do you work with Ahmed the whole day or with me?? Who knows better when you can go and when you can’t?? Not Ahmed! Now we still have lots of work to do so just change out of that abaya and join me in the kitchen in half an hour!” She started to slam the door closed but, lightning quick, I placed my foot in the opening so it bounced off my shoe instead.

“What work, mummy? I clearly remember you saying a little while ago that we were done for the day and you were gonna relax in your room the rest of the day.”

Mummy’s mouth opened then closed again. The stunned look on her face was almost comical. She regained her composure fast though. “Well, I forgot to tell you that we have to make a cake and biscuits for my cousin Sameera! So we will be busy all afternoon so you can forget about going now!”

“You have Humi to help you out for that. I need to go, my sister needs me,” I said. My heart was thundering loudly, fearing a dreaded tantrum, wishing I could disappear before she could open her mouth again.

“Now just see here, madam. I said you cannot go. Do you know what that means?? It means a no! Don’t disobey me, you won’t like the consequences,” mummy looked at me coldly, “and what’s the need for you to go, huh? Are you the one getting married? Can your family not do anything without you?? What nonsense, running off for a silly little samoosa run. Samoosa runs keep happening, will you keep running off for all of them? You just want an excuse to run away from work!”

“Mummy, let her go, I’ll help you…” Humi began timidly from behind me. She had come out of her room to hear what was going on.

“Shut up! Did I tell you to stick your nose in our business?? Go back to your room, this is none of your business!” Mum lashed out furiously. Humi gulped and slunk back to her room without another word. I took the opportunity and darted to my room, locking it behind me before the witch could follow me in. She did follow me, rapping sharply on the door when she found it locked.

“Fazila, I expect you to be in the kitchen in ten minutes. Don’t make me wait or you won’t like the consequences. If you’re good and do what I say I’ll let you go after maghrib. Otherwise you can forget about going at all.” Her footsteps receded, leaving me with deafening silence. I growled in frustration and punched the wall, hard. Pulling out my phone I dialled Ahmed’s number.

“Assalamu alaykum, princess…”

“Ahmed, I have to go to my mum’s house! Your mother’s saying there’s no need for me to go but I have to!” I was aware that my voice was rising hysterically but I couldn’t help it. I was extremely upset.

“Woah, calm down, babe. Why is mummy saying you can’t go?”

“How am I supposed to know?? I don’t understand half the things she does!” I was close to tears and he heard it.

“You can go, princess. Tell mummy I said you can go then just go. Don’t listen to what she says. I’ll deal with her when I come home, okay?”

“It’s not you who has to deal with her, it’s me!” I responded heatedly, “she’ll make my life miserable if I don’t listen to her!”

“I’ll try and calm her down before you get back. Don’t worry about that now. Go, before she makes a bigger fuss.”

I nodded and blew my nose into a tissue. “O-okay. Jazakallah.”

“Wa iyyaki. Love you, princess.”

“Love you too. Salaams.” I cut the line and dropped my phone in my bag then went down the stairs slowly.

“Still in your abaya?? You want to work in your abaya? Fine, do what you want. It’s not my abaya getting dirty after all. Come, let’s get started,” mum waved me forward impatiently.

“I’m still in my abaya because I’m going to my mum’s house right now. See you at night, mummy. Assalamu alaykum.”

I would have laughed at the look on her face if I hadn’t been busy running away.

“Get back here, bi**h!” I heard as I raced out the front door. That meant she was really angry, close to losing control. Mummy never swore unless she was pushed to her limits…which hardly happened.

***

“You’re here! Finally!” Han exclaimed as I entered the front door, “I’ve been waiting for you for so long! What took you so long??”

“My mother inlaw didn’t want me to come at all,” I replied, rolling my eyes, “she made a huge fuss but I managed to get away. Anyways, what’s up? Why were you waiting for me?”

“Your mother inlaw is something else,” Han shook her head, “she actually didn’t want you to come on my big day??”

“‘A silly little samoosa run’ isn’t a big day for her,” I replied, “but forget about her. Let’s concentrate on you. Big day, hmmm?” I nudged her playfully.

“Oh, hush! I’m getting enough of that from Adnaan and Sumi…and even daddy! Now, come! I need you to choose a dress for me!”

“I thought you chose that white one with floral patterns at the bottom?” I asked as I followed her upstairs.

“Ya but it looks so wrinkled! And it makes me look like a…”

“Potato sack! Or is it flour sack??” I rolled my eyes, “you’ve worn that dress loads of times and you love it. Now suddenly it makes you look like a flour sack??”

“Yes, because I’ve put on weight! I’m gonna look like a big, fat granny infront of him. He’s so slim and trim!” Han moaned as she attacked her wardrobe. Dresses began flying out, landing at my feet. With each one she managed to find some sort of criticism, some outright ridiculous. Finally I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her bodily from her closet.

“Stop! Go try these two dresses then I will be the judge of how you look, okay?? And no arguments after that!” I shoved the white dress and a lovely lime one in her arms then pushed her towards the bathroom. I shook my head and began laughing at the clutter that surrounded me. Unlike me Han hadn’t been through any samoosa runs before now. She had received several proposals but all the background checks had turned up something or the other and they had never reached this point. So she was understandably nervous, it being her first one, but there was something more than that. Something I couldnt quite place my finger on. Somehow I just knew that this maulana was the one for her.

I settled on the white dress for Han and paired it with a pale pink scarf and nude wedge heels. She looked beautiful and I told her so, beaming proudly at my baby sister as she stood before me, a young woman herself now. Soon she would embark on this new chapter…and how would it turn out for her? I shuddered and made a silent dua that she never went through even an iota of what I was going through.

***

Hamza and his family arrived promptly after esha. There was him, his mum, two sisters and a brother who was clearly the youngest of them all. Sahla was there, whom I met for the first time. She was a friendly, mischievous girl who grinned broadly every time she looked at Han. Her mother was a small, quiet woman, clad in a simple abaya and niqab. She looked soft and kind, worlds apart from my own mother inlaw but I was still cautious around her. After all, you could never tell how a person was until you lived with them, as I had found out first hand. Han sat quietly, saying little and blushing furiously almost the entire time. I got my revenge this time, sitting next to her and nudging her while whispering silly things in her ears every little while. Sahla sat on her other side and fully aided me in teasing Han. Han’s face was on fire and she escaped as fast as she could the moment dad came to call her to go meet Maulana Hamza. The rest of us sat and talked while waiting for her. We enjoyed piping hot samoosas, tea and other refreshments while we waited…and waited…and waited. After over an hour had passed Sahla’s mother also began fidgeting. Sahla and I smirked at each other knowingly, both positive that this would work out. Finally Han emerged, looking flushed and dreamy. She bade farewell to the visitors in a daze and collapsed on the sofa as soon as they left.

“Well??” We all pounced on her, “how was it??”

“He said yes,” Han replied, looking dazed.

“He what???” I squealed.

“He said yes. His answer is yes.”

“Yesss!” I cheered, grabbing Han by the shoulders, “and you?”

“I’ll have to make istikhara of course. But he’s awesome! He’s so nice…deeni, strong morals, honest, funny as well…he’s everything I’ve wanted in a husband,” Han’s smile almost split her face in half.

“Yohhh! Listen to her talk!” Adnaan exclaimed. We all burst out laughing.

“Han, you can make istikhara right now,” I said, “you don’t have to do it overnight.”

“Yeah, I know. The short istikhara dua. That’s the one Hamza prayed. He suddenly went silent at the end, prayed something then looked at me and said, “my istikhara is positive. My answer is yes.” Just like that!”

“Yeah, so you can do the same…go on…” I grinned at her.

“Leave her. Don’t rush her. This isn’t a small decision to make,” mum put in finally.

“Tell us what he said first,” I said, “any conditions, anything he’s particular about, etc?”

“Well, not really. He’s very easy going. Not fussed about food. I asked,” she grinned, “he’s particular about purdah but I already wear that so that’s not a problem. Then there was the financial issue, of course,” Han turned serious, “he told me honestly that he’s not as well off as we are. He told me I’ve seen the house he lives in. That’s where we’re gonna live. He said theirs is a simple life. Would I be able to adjust? He can’t afford holidays and all that…”

“That’s right, Han, you have to think of that. Will you be able to adjust?” Dad said just as I blurted out.

“Wait a minute! You’ll live in the same house he’s living in now???”

“Yeah. He doesn’t have a father, you know, and he’s the oldest. His brother is only ten. How can he move out and leave them on their own?” Han said reasonably. I was already shaking my head.

“No way! You can’t live with his mum, Han. You have no idea how it’s like, living with a mother inlaw! Why didn’t you tell him you want to go separate from the beginning?? I told you! Make that a condition! If he doesn’t agree he knows where the door is!”

“Faz, he’s a nice guy! And he can’t move out! So I must say no to him just because of that?” Han looked baffled.

“Yes! Don’t make the mistake I did, thinking it’s okay to live with in-laws! It’s hell! She’ll make your life a living hell then your marriage will also go down the drain! Is that what you want??? You want to give a woman power over your marriage?? Over you??? You want a woman to spoil your marriage???” I didn’t even realise that I was screaming. My entire family was looking at me, stunned.

“Faz! Calm down, sweety. Calm down,” mum had moved to me and was hugging me. I trembled in her arms, feeling like a fragile twig caught in a strong current…ready to splinter apart at the slightest bit of extra pressure.

“She can’t live with a mother inlaw. She can’t. She has no idea how it’s like. Trust me, I know!” I kept repeating over and over again. Mum kept nodding and rubbing my back. Han was also nodding her head, looking scared.

“Okay, Faz. I’ll talk to him. Don’t stress. I’ll talk to him, okay?”

“What has that woman done to my baby???” I heard dad say furiously behind me as mum led me from the room. I let her lead me to my old bedroom and clutched the pair of pyjamas she pushed into my hands.

“Go change, Faz. You’ll sleep here tonight,” she said. I nodded mutely and went to the bathroom where I brushed my teeth and changed into my pjs. I heard mum talking on the phone when I came back…or rather, shouting into it.

“No, Ahmed, she’s sleeping here tonight… Why?? Because your mother has turned her into a wreck! Haven’t you seen the difference in her?? Or are you turning a blind eye just to keep the peace?? Open your eyes, Ahmed, and see what’s happening! If you don’t sort this mess out one day she’ll never come back!” Mum hung up, her lips pressed together tightly. It was the first time I had heard her yell at Ahmed. I was too exhausted to care. The sudden spurt of strong emotion had left me feeling drained and strangely numbed. I let her tuck me into bed like a small child, feeling comforted by the small gesture, and drifted off into a deep, dreamless sleep.

***

Princess, are you okay?

What’s going on? What happened yesterday with mummy?

Babe? Talk to me, please?

Please tell me what’s going on. This silence is killing me.

Babe, please…

I can’t think. I’m losing my mind here. Please just tell me what’s going on…

Shout at me. Yell. Scream. Anything. Let it all out. But tell me what’s in your mind. Please…

Dozens of such messages from Ahmed flooded my phone as soon as I switched it on in the morning. Worried, frantic messages. I bit my lip. I’d never done anything like this before so he must be thinking that something really bad had happened. I dialled his number and braced myself.

“Fadheelah! Oh, thank God! Alhamdulillah! Where you? How are you? You okay?”

“I’m…I’m fine,” I replied, my voice hoarse with sleep.

“What happened? I’ve never heard your mum so angry before.”

“Nothing…I lost my cool around them and that got them worried. I’m fine now.”

“Are you sure? You know you can talk to me, princess. You don’t have to hide it from me. Tell me what’s bugging you.”

“Your mother!” I snapped suddenly, “but you already know that, don’t you??? You know exactly what’s bugging me and you won’t do a damn thing about it and now you’re coming here and acting dom and asking me what’s wrong! You know what’s wrong so stop asking me!”

“I thought you were getting along a bit better with her,” Ahmed said quietly after a while, sounding stunned.

I laughed harshly. “I’ve never gotten along with her! She’s a manipulative, controlling woman and it’s impossible to be around her! I keep trying and trying to make it work but her? Does she ever try?? No, she just takes advantage of my obedience and squeezes as much out of me as she can! Then after all that she complains about me and insults me to my face that whatever I do is rubbish. I’m never good enough for her! I don’t know why I even try!” I was shouting by this point. Cutting the phone I threw it on my bed and burrowed under the covers again, willing sleep to come and drag me under again. I was tired…so, so tired…

On impulse I decided to stay at my parents house for the rest of the week. Ahmed readily agreed, still cautious around me after my outburst. Our conversations were stilted and brief. I loved the respite I got from my mother inlaw at my mum’s house. I felt so free! Mummy had never allowed me to stay longer than overnight before and the silly thing that I was actually listened to her…to keep the peace! But now I didn’t know and didn’t care what she thought of this sudden absence of mine. I was revelling in the blissful freedom at mum’s house. Not having to tiptoe around anyone’s timings and moods felt fantastic! And Han’s proposal was moving at a super fast pace. Maulana Hamza had given his answer on the same day and Han gave hers two days later; a sound yes! Despite Dad’s warnings to think about this carefully before jumping into it she was extremely positive and said she knew she wouldn’t get a better guy than this. And after my warnings never to stay with her mother inlaw she had spoken to Hamza about it. He said his mother was extremely independent and had said herself that they could move out immediately after marriage. She didn’t have a problem with it. Hamza was the one who felt guilty and had decided to at least try staying together. If it didn’t work out they could easily move out. His mother didn’t bind them to her. That was the difference. Han agreed to try living together and despite my misgivings I was very happy for her and worked hard to keep my negativity from her.

Then Hamza called dad and dropped a bombshell.

“Can we please have the nikah tomorrow, since its Jumuah? And I’m leaving for jamaat on Saturday so I’d like to make nikah before I go.”

Part 212

Assalamu alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh…

The spin-off option clearly won out so I’ll be sticking to the bare minimum in this story then going into detail after I’m done with this blog inshaAllah…

xxx


“A proposal??” I repeated, clutching the phone tighter to my ear, “from whom?”

“From Hamza. You know, Sahla’s brother? Sahla from madrassah?”

“Your student?”

“Yeah, her. They sent in a proposal yesterday…well, actually Sahla put forward the proposal but that’s a long story. I’ll tell you when you come here…”

“Ag, Han, just tell me now! Friday is still a long time away!”

Han laughed at my impatience. “Fine, I’ll tell you. You know that Sahla and Hamza aren’t proper Indian, right? And they’re not so well off and all as well, apparently. Not from our “class” as people would say,” I could almost picture Han rolling her eyes at that. This class, caste and race business had always seemed ridiculous to us but Indians took it very seriously. “So Sahla has been telling Hamza for ages to propose but this held him back and their mum also told them we would never agree so they should save their breaths. But Sahla is stubborn. Without her family knowing she came and told me all this…and also told me that she’s putting in a proposal on behalf of her brother but we shouldn’t tell anyone anything, including her family, if it’s a no. Meaning they wouldn’t ever know that she put in a proposal if it’s a no. But if it’s a yes then dad can speak to Hamza about it and take it from there…”

“Oooh, how romantic,” I grinned, “so, what’s your answer?”

“I don’t have to give an answer now, silly. Dad’s doing background checks right now. And it’s the main topic at home right now. Everyone has their own opinion to give. Especially mum,” she sighed.

“Why mum?”

“The usual, you know. What will people say, blah blah blah. What do we care about what people say?? They’re not gonna be living my life!” Han exclaimed, her frustration evident in her voice.

“Han…do you like him?” I asked quietly. Did she know him better than she was letting on?

“No, of course not!” She immediately denied, “I don’t even know the guy!”

“Oh…you seem very emotionally invested in this, that’s why I’m asking.”

“I’m not. But he does seem like a nice guy and it would be a shame to let him go just because of “what will people say”!”

“Fine, fine, we won’t let him go, okay? We’ll catch him nicely for you, don’t worry, ma. You’re right, there’s plenty fish in the sea but you still can’t let the big ones go…” I said teasingly.

“Shut up! You even!” Han huffed from the other end. I laughed then stopped abruptly at the yell that filtered into my room through the closed door.

“Fazilaaaaa!!!”

Crap! “Uhmm, I have to go, okay? Chat later, salaams!” I told Han, hanging up hurriedly. A moment later the door banged open.

“Fazila! What you doing in your room, huh? On your phone again as usual?” Mummy barked, spotting the phone in my hand, “I don’t know what’s buried in that phone of yours, that you on it the whole time! Maybe I should tell Ahmed to go through your phone. Can’t trust even alimas of today. Cheaters and liars, the lot of yous. What you sitting there for, huh? We have supper to make, get up! What you think, the food will make by itself??” I hurriedly got up and followed her. She continued her tirade all the way down the stairs and into the kitchen, “so lazy you girls of today are. Can’t even lift a spoon! You’ll want to be treated as queens?? You’ll think your’lls mother inlaws must serve you’ll?? It doesn’t work that way in this house, my dear. I don’t tolerate laziness. Don’t know what Ahmed even sees in you. I tell you, the day he discovers your true colours he’ll divorce you so quick! Or he’ll go looking for a second wife. Now I know why molvis all go looking for second wives. Their first wives must be all rubbish like you……”

I tuned her out like I usually did these days, moving around the kitchen, helping her silently. Some of it did pierce the armour I had erected around myself. It hurt but I pushed it down and buried it deep inside like always. There was no room for hurt in this house. I had to be on auto mode to survive. Nod at her hurtful remarks, smile at her insults…repay oppression with kindness and hatred with love. And dua. Lots and lots of dua and trust in Allah, that there was khair in this situation even when all I could see was darkness……

Friday couldn’t come soon enough. I was about to bound out of the house straight after breakfast when mummy’s loud complaints halted me in my tracks.

“Why do you have to run away so early?? You haven’t done anything in the house today and you want to run away?? Get back here and help me out with lunch and supper before you go!”

I hesitated, already at the front door, bag in hand…ready and dressed to leave in my abaya and niqab. If I went I knew I’d have to hear about it all week and all my efforts at softening her up would go to waste. If I didn’t go now I’d most probably be delayed in going to my parents house because once mummy started in the kitchen she didn’t leave till lunch time. But I had to listen to her. I had to do what she wanted for my efforts to be successful. It was only for a little while, I told myself as I trudged upstairs again to change out of my abaya and into my sameera, only for a little while…till she goes back to normal. Somehow that tiny voice in my head didn’t sound convincing at all.

***

It was late by the time I reached my parents house. “What took you so long?” Mum asked as I walked through the front door, “you said you’ll come early so I thought we can make lamingtons together. But you just didn’t come so then I ended up making them with Sumi.”

“Sorry, mum, I couldn’t come before now. Mummy told me to help her in the kitchen so I was busy with her all morning,” I said wearily.

“Oh…why didn’t you answer the phone at least? I tried to phone you to ask you why you’re not here yet.”

“I put my phone on silent when I’m in the kitchen because mummy doesn’t like me answering the phone while cooking,” I replied. Actually she didn’t like me answering the phone in her presence, full stop.

Mum looked at me searchingly. I dredged up a smile for her which I hoped looked convincing. It probably didn’t because she came over to hug me. “Oh, sweety, I know it’s difficult to be with her. But have sabr. I’ve heard of mother inlaws like that but they usually soften if we keep being nice to them. It’s only for a while, sweety. Things will get better, inshaAllah. Make sabr and lots of dua.”

I nodded mutely. Make sabr. Things will get better. That’s all I’d been hearing from everyone around me. Ahmed, mum, dad, nani…even nana, though he had gone a step further and phoned Ahmed a couple of months back, saying that not all problems got solved and sometimes moving out was the best and only solution. Ahmed had agreed but told nana about his father’s condition, that we stay together for at least a year before thinking of moving out if things didn’t get better. Nana had reluctantly agreed but put his own condition on Ahmed, that if things didn’t improve by the end of a year we would move out immediately. Ahmed had promptly agreed to that, which left us at a standstill for the time being… Apa Tasneem. My aunties. They all said the same thing. Surely they all couldn’t be wrong…could they?

One year. Five months had passed…five awful, hellish months. Could I take seven more months of this? I hoped so! I didn’t have a choice, did I? I only hoped that the Fazila who came out of her year-long ordeal was the same Fazila who had gone in so optimistically.

***

The conversation at lunch centred around Han’s proposal. Dad had gotten to know Hamza quite well during his weekly chats with him. Han had offered to tutor Sahla every Saturday since Sahla was quite weak in her subject. Hamza brought Sahla every week but preferred to wait for Sahla till she was done, rather than go and come back to pick her up, since they lived quite far from us. So while he waited in the lounge for his sister dad had started sitting and talking to him…and had been left quite impressed by him.

“Solid boy,” he said now around a mouthful of food, “decent, hard-working, honest, respectful, straight forward. Sense of humour as well. Very nice boy. I’ll make the background checks of course but I personally like him, I’ll tell you that.” He looked directly at mum as he said this, who didn’t respond, concentrating on her food instead. I nudged Han who was also concentrating fiercely on her food but with a tell-tale blush on her cheeks.

“Have you seen him?” I whispered.

She jerked her head in a nod.

“So? How is he?”

“Faz!” Han’s blush deepened. I grinned but waited for her answer, looking at her expectantly till she let out a sigh. “He’s good looking. Okay? Happy?”

“Ooooh…Han and Ham sitting on a tree……” I sang under my breath, an irrepressible grin on my face. Han jabbed me sharply with her elbow in response and I collapsed in a fit of giggles.

“What’s going on here?” Dad was looking at us suspiciously but with a glint in his eyes.

“Faz is probably getting the digs on Maulana Hamza,” Adnaan put in, grinning.

My head snapped up. “He’s a maulana?”

“Duh, Faz! Which world have you been living in??” Adnaan responded.

I shook my head. “I don’t think anyone’s mentioned it before. Not to me, anyways. That’s even better, Han. Maulana Hamza, hmmm!” I nudged her again playfully.

“Don’t go counting your chickens before they hatched. Let daddy do his checks first. Just now you’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t work out.” Mum stood up and began collecting the plates noisily. We exchanged glances with each other then started helping her out silently.

Despite mum’s doubts dad’s background checks turned out to be clear. There was nothing wrong with the guy…no shady past, no major shortcomings, nothing. And so, after discussing with us, mainly Han, a date was set for the samoosa run…despite mum’s misgivings and worries about what people would say, despite the vast social chasm that separated our two families and despite the one thing about the guy which, according to every indian dad asked, was the greatest defect of all…

Hamza’s late dad was…had been…a black Muslim.

Living life cloaked in modesty and islamic principles…