(please note we are editing as we go along, so there maybe changes,apologies, mummy’s husband is now Riaz)
“I’m still young, Ma,” my Fatikhala would say to Nani when Nani nagged her about finding a life partner. Sometimes when Nani spoke to herself and thought no one was listening I would hear her praying, “Ya Allah! When will Fatima settle down? She must be looking at Yumna and Riaz’s marriage and getting scared. Ya Allah! Find my Fatima one good man, just like her father was. I don’t want her to be alone when I’m gone.” Nani was a tiny lady, with a head full of grey, neatly pinned into place and a scarf always half covering her head. She had a fiery, strong personality, and everybody expected her her to live forever. She was the stitches that was holding her family together. After her husband, Nana, passed away, way before I was born, her daughters were all that she had, and then me.
Life for me at Nani’s house was bittersweet. I was finally free, I didn’t have to tiptoe around the house, afraid of walking too loudly or having something to eat. At the same time, I missed my mother, the old Mummy. I was trapped in a child’s dream of happiness involving both parents. A part of me wanted to hold onto that dream, but I discarded it, deciding that I needed to grow up. A mighty task for an eight year old. I was torn between loyalty to my mother – I didn’t want her to think that I abandoned her – and my own selfish reasons for staying at Nani’s house, enveloped in love. This was the safe haven I hadn’t known since my father died, the chance for me to try to be a child again, instead of the miniature adult I needed to be at my mother’s house. It was my chance to be looked after, cared for and loved unconditionally. Isn’t that what all children deserve? Then why did I feel so guilty? How was it possible to live so peacefully, when down the road and around the corner my mother’s life was hell?
I went to visit her as often as I could at first, with Nani or Fatikhala, but the adults always ended up arguing, especially when Fatikhala was with, so over time the visits became less frequent. Mummy drifted far away, becoming a stranger, saying almost nothing at all and staring at me, or through me. The beautiful mother I knew had turned into a hag. She was always wearing pyjamas and everytime I saw her she looked more thin and frail than the last time. Her pyjamas might have been hanging on a hanger instead of her skeletal frame. Her skin had turned dark, almost with a green undertone. All this scared me, but what terrified me were her eyes. There was a never-ending nothingness in them and when you looked directly into them, you had the chilling feeling that you might get lost forever if you were drawn into the emptiness. There was no emotion residing there, no love for anyone, no pain, not even hatred or anger. It was as if she was blind, or worse, dead.
I felt guilty and started blaming myself. “She wouldn’t be like this if I left, Nani, maybe I should go back home,” I would confide. On these confessional occassions Naani would pack me a weekend suitcase and drop me off there. But these sleepovers depressed me and had me longing for the safety and loving atmosphere of Nanis house. I wanted to save my mother, but knew that I could do nothing. At times I grew angry at my father for leaving us. What right did he have to leave us all alone? Because of him I had lost my mother too.
Around six months after I moved in with Nani, one of our rare visits together to my mother, turned into a nightmare. We knocked on the front door. No one answered. We saw Riaz’s beat-up jalopy in the driveway and we could hear shouting from inside, so we knew they were home. Fatikhala led the way to the backyard, but the door there was locked too. We could see Riaz beating my mother from the wide kitchen window. Nani banged her fists against the glass and the back door, while Fatikhala began yelling obscene threats.
“Go away!” Riaz roared, looking like a cave man as he waved his fists at us. “It’s none of your’lls business what goes on in this house. Now go away before your’ll will get a hiding too!”
“Riaz! Leave my sister alone or I’m calling the cops!” Fatikhala threatened him, bellowing back, the fury clearly showing in her hazel eyes. In pure rage, she began stomping her feet, looking like a little girl, clearly no match to take on Riaz. Utterly frustrated, she began searching for her cell phone in her handbag when Riaz came crashing through the door, charging after her. Nani tried to stop him, but with the flick of a hand he threw her tiny frame aside. I froze, I couldn’t breathe, and I felt myself sinking to the floor. By the time I woke up, we all three safetly inside Nani’s white Toyota Corolla, heading home. Fatikhala was driving, and expressing her anger through road rage.
“Nani,” I called out.
“Jee, my Bethi?” Naani’s voice reassured me, but I couldn’t keep it in any longer, the tears began flowing out like the beginning of a thunderstorm. Gentle drizzles at first, followed by howling winds and roaring claps of thunder. I cried for several hours, even after we reached the safety of Nani’s house. I screamed out all the emotions built in for years. I cried until I had no tears left, and then I just screamed and eventually calmed down to a moan, like the licking squall after the storm. Nani let me be, occasionally holding me, helping me sip sugar water and whispered soothing words from time to time.
Fatikhala ranted and raved about my mother being such a fool for not coming home with us. “One of these days he’s gonna kill her, Ma!” And “How dare that pig even think of laying a hand on you, Ma?” Her hazel eyes were blazing, “Just wait and see what I’ll do to him!” Eventually, we both calmed down.
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NB: this is all fiction and all part of a made up world with real life problems.We are editing as we go along and there maybe some changes to characters, names etc. please bear with us.