To Sir… with LOVE

What can I say? Where do I begin? These words have been lost inside me for so long, bouncing within the walls of my soul. Eight months.Long months that went by so quickly. I don’t even know how to string any one of these to complete a whole sentance. I don’t know what these words are. Does anybody? They are laments, and painful tears. They are fond memories. They are childhood visions that are so vivid in my mind. These words began speaking to me slowly on that fateful night. That awful, heart-wrenching, tragic night when we lost you…

 

I got a call from my brother, telling me that my granny phoned and he couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. My uncle had met in an accident on their way back from Durban. What? I asked him, swallowing the lump that had built in my throat the moment he said my granny called him. She tried to call me, but I was in the bathroom. With a racing heart and sweaty palms, I phoned her back. Till this day her voice over the phone haunts me. The urgency with which she willed this dreadful news not to be still claws at my heart and I wish I could make it go away. Even now, after all these months, my arms get goosebumps and my hearts thumps so hard I’m afraid of it bursting out of my chest. She was hysterical. She received a call that my uncle and his family had met in accident on their way home from Durban. She didn’t know if it was true. She didn’t know who to call to find out any news. She was alone. She was afraid. This was her baby boy. My aunty was in Durban, and my own parents were with my unlce’s youngest daughter in Mozambique.

Who do I call? The first person I always call is my mother. But she was across the border and I couldn’t get through. I tried to calm her down. To assure her that everything was going to be okay. But it wasn’t. It would never be the same. I willed myself to be strong for her. My husband made a few calls. I called my Foi. We comforted each other with a sense of hope that everything would be fine. I called my granny back to make sure she was fine. I told her I was on my way to Azaadville. I ran around my house trying to gather children and pack clothes and bottles and socks. I packed socks because Azaadville always got cold at night. I stuffed them into gowns and wrapped them in blankets, and I ran downstairs with a handful of clothes falling all over the place. I ran back upstairs as my husband loaded the sleeping children into the car. I grabbed a bag and stuffed the clothes in. I grabbed another bag and stuffed more things in, I can’t even remember the contents. I almost started crying once, but I willed myself not to.

I finally got through to my mother. They had heard the news, but no one knew anything further. I spoke to my brother. I spoke to my Foi. I spoke to my brother again on the stairs on my way down. Nothing was confirmed but three people were dead.  I sat down in the car and burst into tears. I wanted none of them gone. Was it cruel to hope that the three dead were from another car? My eldest son woke up amid the chaos to ask what was happening. Seeing me in tears, he began crying as well. I knew I had to get a hold of myself. I took a deep breathe and assured him that all was okay. He fell asleep crying in the back seat. My brother called back. The driver of the car was one of three. The passenger. And someone in the backseat. My mind started racing with possibilities. How were they sitting? My uncle!!!!! My mind was screaming and I was trying so very hard not to panic. My granny was alone and she needed me. I whispered prayers. I tried to read Yaseen. I begged Allah to keep them safe. My husband’s uncle called. I can hear his voice as clear as if it was this morning. I can feel the echo of the aftermath as the news sunk in without really hitting me at all. I felt myself slipping away. I handed the phone to my husband. It is confirmed. Aslam, Fatima and Muhammad passed away. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raaji’oon. May Allah grant them Jannatul Firdows. 

 

I relive this night every single day. I accept Allah’s decision to remove these beautiful souls from this darkening world. They are in a better place. It is us who have to live on and try to fill the void. It is his three beautiful, strong daughters who have to go on, every single day in the hopes that they will meet them one day in Jannah. Ameen.

I would like to follow this sad post with the tribute I wrote for my uncle at his memorial, held by his school, Ahmed Timol Secondary.

 

I stand here today with such deep sorrow, my heart is hanging at my feet, for never in a million years would I have dreamt that I have to pay this tribute, and so very soon. My earliest memory of the late Mr. Aslam Khan is of him making me laugh, and my last memory is of him making my own sons laugh. I look back and I can’t think of a single child who has passed by either Aslam, or his wife Fatima, and the child was not drawn to them, or whom they did not share their genuine smiles with. 

My name is Asmaa Khan, and the late Muhammad Aslam Khan was my beloved uncle, my father and my teacher all rolled into one. A heavy task, that only he was able to carry out so honourably. He and his Fatima so generously opened their home to me, He raised me, together with my granny, and guided me as his own daughter for almost 16 years.

You didn’t just teach life science, you taught us life, Sir….

Whatever he did, his mission was to teach through it. Even in the classroom, he never adopted that stern teacher-behind-the-desk-way. He had a way to engage his learners, and put things across in such a manner, that only he could. His teaching style was jovial, though he was stern where he needed to be. 

Let us look back into his life and draw from some of the few lessons he left behind as a legacy. 

Some of you may know that he wasn’t always exactly the ‘model student’ and he never claimed to be. He mentioned it countless times in his many chats to his students. That is why he always included the phrase, “I’m ten steps ahead.” But he was able to turn his life completely around, and use himself unabashedly as an example that there was, and still is hope for those that have slipped through, or are lost and struggling to find direction. From this example, let us take the lesson of hope. Things will turn around, everything gets better, and most importantly, change lies within ourselves. We just have to be willing to admit our mistakes, and be ready to take the first step forward. 

What the right hand gives, the left hand shouldn’t know about. This is another lesson we should draw from Mr. Khan. He gave, even when he had nothing to give. And I am good testament to this statement. There were days when he had no money to fix his cars, but he made sure to drive me to school. There were nights spent in the dark, but neither husband or wife phoned my parents to ask them to collect me because I was an extra mouth to feed. And now, years later, when they had even more, they gave even more, as we are finding out each since their passing on. This wasn’t a mere man. This was a humanitarian and there are no words I have to describe him that will do justice to his qualities.

There are probably a thousand more lessons we could take from the lifestyle he led, but I will leave with one more that is essential in living life. That is passion and dedication. Whatever you do, do it with so much passion that it fills your life with meaning, and as much dedication that you can already envision the end result of 100% perfection and no room for failure. That is why, through Mr. Khan, all those he touched in some way, we are that much better versions of ourselves. Because he was willing to believe in us. He was willing to give us that chance. The isn’t a single teacher who has the passion and dedication to phone the homes of his learners to find out why they were not attending school on that particular day. And drive over if he suspected they were trying to bunk. 

Passion is the powerful force in accomplishing anything you set your mind to, and in experiencing work and life to the fullest extent possible. Ultimately, passion is the driving force behind success and the happiness that allows us to live better lives. And so, when we measure the success of my dear unlce Aslam’s life, we should gauge this success by the amount of lives he touched, and aspire to instil even a percentage of his lifestyle into our own lives. How lucky are we all to have known such a dynamic personality.

Yes! Our family has lost its soul. The community and school has lost a limb, but let this heartbreaking, colossal loss not be in vain. Let us go out there and celebrate his life by trying to emulate the qualities he adopted. 

May Almighty Allah elevate Aslam’s, Fatima’s and sweet Muhammad’s status in Jannah, and may he grant us all the courage to step up and adopt these changes. Ameen.

 

Please remember my family in your duas. Remember my beloved grandmother, my father, my Foi. Remember his three beautiful girls, Sabeeha, Sameera and Yaseera. Pray that one day the pain will subside and Jannah awaits us all, so the link in the broken chain may be mended again ❤

Words

Broken syllables metamorphosised into pain, rage, love, beauty…
The flick of the tongue and the meeting of lips…
Words are the outlet of soulful journeys and mindless banter
Words are thoughts
They are harsh and healing         
Words are strung together as a barrage of insults to stab the receiver
It is the soothing salve sung out to heal the listener            
They are slithering snakes that slide across tongues and have the ability to crush spirits and destroy lives       
And they are sweet seductions that create melting moments
And they are reverberating sentiments that ignite inspiration 
The second it leaves, the sound it makes lasts a second or two, lingering,
But the impact it makes last forever
Words are the choices we make to voice them or keep silent ♡
(Asmaa Khan: 6/7/14)

Ramadan Kareem to every one of you beautiful souls. May we use this month to spiritually cleanse our souls and hearts and bodies and may Allah accept our efforts and ibaadah. Remember me and my family in your duas 💕

Witness

Fallen leaves are witness to winter’s coming
Steaming roads are witness to summer’s rain
Injured toes are witness to her graceful pivot
Silver streaks are witness to wisdom

Broken dreams…
Shattered souls…
Sunken hearts…
are witness to hope and love and loss

Degrees and diplomas are witness to contentious minds
Scars and bruises are witness to holding on
Yellowing teeth are witness to the puff of nicotine
Messy houses are witness to happy homes
Kind smiles are witness to beauty within

Red carpets…
Standing ovation…
Parents pride…
are witness to dreams come true.

Subhanallah! I Did It

For the first time in my life I have almost no words to describe the deep emotion I feel as people read my words all over South Africa. I leave you with my speech that I recited at the launch.

 

Ever since I can remember I had a dream. One day I would see my name on the cover of a book. My heart swelled when I dreamed about this, so you can only imagine the overwhelming emotion I feel now as my dream becomes a reality. My love of reading knows no bounds and I only have my late grandfather and my mother to thank for that. I remember reading from a very young age, and I am trying to the best of my ability to instil the same love of books in my children.

I knew the only way to complete a book was to write everyday, a little at a time, and I vowed to myself that I would finish a book one day, even if it took my whole life. Alhamdulillah, today I have not only accomplished my dream, but so much more. I have learned more about life and people. My eyes have opened wide and so has my heart. When I write I am transported into a different world, where anything is possible and everything is magical. When people asked me what inspired me to write a book, I could not give them a reason, other than I wanted to do it. Now, I finally understand why I wrote “Surviving”! It was the foundation of many great starts in my life. Firstly, beautiful bonds have solidified because of this journey. But most importantly, it gives the victims a voice! It allows us a glimpse into their world, and even though we would never be able to truly understand the depth of their situations, we are now able to open our hearts and assist a worthy cause by trying to get them help!

Today is not only about getting your copy of Surviving, scurrying back home and reading it. This is about reading it, understanding Mumtaz’s journey, helping others in her situation, even if you only have the ability to make a dua on their behalf, and most importantly not judging the next persons choices in life. Today is about the victim of abuse! I pledge my solidarity to always help another woman wherever I can, to the best of my abilities. Allah didn’t create us the weak, feeble creatures we are so often made out to be. Within us there is indestructible strength, which breaks free when we are tested, again and again. A womans tears are not her weakness. It is an outlet of the pain, and hurt and agony that her heart weeps, to make place for the resounding resilience that she displays. So pray not for her strength, but for sound wisdom so that she is able to make the best decision for herself.

I would like to offer thanks to all those who made this dream of mine possible. Firstly, to the Almighty for breezing the words into my heart so that I could weave them into a story. To my husband, my parents and all my family for being here today to mark this special occasion. To Ask Nanima, for making this dream a reality. To Taahira Rubidge, for her excellent editing and typesetting skills. To Saaleha Bamjee, for her amazing camera and design work. To my blog readers, for believing in Mumtaz’s story and opening your heart, as I have. To Mariam Fakir, who couldn’t be with us today but without who this ChariTea wouldn’t have been possible.  To all the generous people that have donated wholeheartedly to this cause.

 

The proceeds from the ChariTea will be donated to Nisaa Institute for Womens Development.

I would like to thank the following people for donating various items for the chariTea:

NiqiLivingLuxe, Stashy’s, Tasneem Jadwat Casoojee, Fatima Laher, Khadija Mohamed, Theshni Govender, Basheera Mayet, Uncle Haroon Moolla (Scarves Unlimted), Moosa’s Sales Room (Plaza), Haberdashery Supermarket (Plaza), Edible Elegance, and those helping hands who assisted in the setting and manning of the tea tables. Jazakallah also to all those who attended to support me and share that special moment with me.

 

Please continue to make dua for me on my journey to better myself. May Allah guide me in my writing so that through me, our youth can open their eyes, and through my words I become a source of inspiration and motivation to many more. And make dua that I am able to write with ease, and produce something else equally as gripping as “Surviving”. I am not done… within me there is insurmountable energy waiting to be transferred into words… My journey has only begun.

 

Much Love

Asmaa

(Pics to follow)

 

Why are you scared of death?

Jummah Mubarak Beautiful Readers. Just thought I would share this piece I wrote some time ago and give us something to reflect on…. Happy Reading!

I would sit with her late at night as her body writhed in pain, I would dab her with a cool cloth when she felt too hot, wiping away the drizzles of sweat forming on her nose and forehead, and I held her close when she shivered. And finally I would watch her as she fell into a peaceful slumber. Only then would the tears exit the corners of my eyes, and roll down my cheeks, around my chin and into the crevice of my breasts, from which I nursed her so lovingly till she was a year old. I couldn’t watch my baby die, it was tearing me apart, ripping my soul into a thousand, million shreds. Was it even fair to watch one’s child, who you carried for nine months inside of you and cared for nine more years, die?  I could not wrap my mind around the thought of not having her around, my sunshine in the morning, my personal dose of daily hope.

She burst into our lives on her exact due date, just as the sun was bursting through the sky, bringing with her more joy to add to our family, and smelly nappies, loud burps and plenty giggles. She captured everyone’s heart who ever laid sight on her bright blue eyes and dimpled smile. And even now, when the effects of chemo has left her skin as grey as ash and she has lost her chubby cheeks to the point where you can trace her cheekbones with your finger, even now people are in awe of her sparkling blue eyes and beautiful smile.

But today she has moved everyone to tears, even the doctor, who has trained himself in the face of death, and watches people die on a daily basis, shed a tear for my daughter and her never-ending courage and determination in life and death, alike.

Today, as we all surround her in her final moments, she requests to be at home.

“Why sweetheart?” I ask her gently. “You will be more comfortable here, and they will be able to help you with the pain.”

“What pain, Mummy?” she looked at me with those crystal eyes, filled with sincererity and determintaion. “I feel no pain, other than in my heart. I would like to be in my own bed, surrounded by my family and smelling the smells I did all my life, the smells of love. I want to close my eyes and remember you there, in the room you made for me from scratch, choosing the colours and linen so carefully. I want that perfect image as my last.”

We were sceptical. We didn’t want her suffering any more than she had to. The doctors could do no more. The cancer that started like a leech on her spine, a year before she turned nine, had spread through to the rest of her body, attacking her and becoming larger than her. The fight was over. Nadia had quietly grown up, grown wise, and had put her zealous swords of courage away and invited the cancer to consume her with a frightening calmness. She wasn’t giving up, she was setting herself free.

Later on, I can recall her smiling sweetly and asking for grape juice, her favourite juice, because purple was her favourite colour. She lay in bed, propped high by the large lilac pillows, as we surrounded her once again. Myself, her father, her elder sister and her baby brother. She took her time to look at each of us exclusively, for long moments, silently, her eyes piercing through to the depths of our souls. And then she spoke to us all.

“Why are you scared of death?” she asked calmly. It was the first time she had mentioned the word. We all gaped at her in shock, awed by her resilience, as tears stung our eyes again. “If you choose to look at death as dark and gloomy, it will scare you. You will be so petrified in your final moments that you will forget to remember the beautiful gift you been handed to by Allah. Your life is the packaging, wrapped in bright colours and pretty ribbons. It is what surrounds the surprise on the inside. Unwrapping the gift is living your life. If you do it slowly, meticulously, careful not to damage the pretty patterns on the wrapping and without ripping the bows so they unwind, you will have so much more appreciation for the gift that lies inside. And when the time comes to look at your gift and hold it in the palm of your hand, if it fits, you can finally close your eyes and savour the moment, and be grateful that you took your time. I have taken my time. My nine years with you may seem short, but slowly you all helped me unwrap my gift sent by Allah. Now I will take the final steps, there is one more layer, which I must undo by myself, but I would like you all to sit here while I do. I want to close my eyes, and hold these precious moments in my heart before I enjoy the incredible beauty of my gift. Hold my hand Mummy, and guide me as you always have.”

I didn’t understand what she meant, but I moved even closer and gently took her frail hand in my own, wondering how my child got so wise, and when? She smiled again. Her eyes twinkled as she captured each one’s memory in her heart. Then she closed them and whispered a single word, “Jannah.”

And as the sun disappeared below the horizon, Nadia’s soul fluttered away, leaving her lifeless body behind in her purple room. She had gone to collect her final gift. Finally, my baby could walk without pain, and maybe even fly, as she often wished. Her suffering had come to an end. She was home, her final abode. It wasn’t the end, but the beginning of another incredible journey for her.

Dedicated to my beloved Granny, who was a victim of Cancer. May Allah grant her direct flight into Jannatul Firdows. Ameen!

New Beginnings & Old Dreams

After so much thought, sleepless nights and tormenting guilt, I have decided not to continue Mumtaz’s story. I understand the deep disappointment the readers will have, like unfinished business, you will wonder what would have been…. but please understand that this is something I am doing for myself! I am a woman too, with dreams and wishes.

I am avid reader, an addiction inherited from my mother, and my late grandfather. Read my grandfather’s story here. Now maybe you can understand this deep, almost desperate need for me to see my work in an actual paper-back. It is a dream I have had ever since I can remember. I always said one day, tomorrow, next year…. and then my one day came, and I began scribbling a few words in that notebook. I pushed myself day and in and day out, and felt a sense of self-guilt when I had no words and suffered writer’s block. And it took me FIVE years to complete it. To read it again and again, and change things and edit mistakes, and make sure the words flowed in exactly the right way. I sat into the wee hours of the night clicking away. Sometimes the words came by itself, at other times I felt as though I could bang my head and empty nut shells would fall out. But I persevered. I worked hard. I need, just for this one time, to be selfish. To accomplish my dream.

There were many times when I lost hope, I thought it was all rubbish. Who would read it? Who would believe that there are Muslim women out there getting abused? Who would think there are Muslims maids out there? It’s so cliche that a millionaire’s son fell in love with the maid. It’s all fake, it’s all dumb, it’s all childish….

And there were other times, when I would read my work as if someone else wrote it, with tears pouring down my cheeks. Who put these words in my heart? I’m not that intellect with her glasses perched on her nose, using words in clever circumstances. I doubted myself, I was proud of myself, I was scared of what people would think, I was excited when I shared Mumtaz’s story with a few close souls while I wrote. This has been a learning journey, I grew as much, if not more than Mumtaz!

I humbly apologise, Dear Readers! You guys have made this  blog what it is! This blog s not not only about Mumtaz and her journey. It is about ALL women! The survivor! The Victim! The Mother! The Nurse! The Maid! The Teacher! The Intellectual! Ths is where we unite as one and just be ourselves. Of course, the men are welcome. To learn about us, to see the world through our eyes. We will help you understand why we cry, why we want chocolates and why we remain silent (if we can understand it ourselves).

On Monday I begin a new story. The story of Bilkis. A very naive, sheltered girl, whose breaking point is tested again and again. Bilkis’s journey is meant for my blog readers. We will all be travelling with her up the hill and back down and up again on the same pace. I will not know what is next much sooner than you will. If your heart is too broken and you are sorely disappointed in me, I understand, but please give Bilkis a chance…

Wish me well in my dreams for Mumtaz’s story. Pray and make dua that whatever is best for me Allah will hand to me.

Much Love

Asmaa

P.s. If there are any women out there that would like to share their stories, please email me survivin@yahoo.co.za

I will share one story with everyone every Saturday, the authors identity will not be revealed, and utmost discretion will be observed.

Chapter One: The Past – Part Three

(please note we are editing as we go along, so there maybe changes,apologies,  mummy’s husband is now Riaz)

After that incident, Nani never spoke to Mummy again. She wanted nothing to do with her. As long as Riaz was in the picture, Nani preferred to be out. I’m not even sure whether Mummy noticed. She was so glaze-eyed everytime I saw her, sinking deeper and deeper into her self-made pit of misery. Two hours was the most I ever spent there anymore. It was two hours filled with a silence that eats at your heart. I saw Nani’s pain. Fatikhala tried to soften the blow for her, for both of us actually. She tried to ease the pain by distracting us with her antics, hoping we would forget and go about our lives. But how could a mother forget her daughter, and a little child could never forget her mother.

Not long after that incident, Fatikhala received a proposal for marriage, when we went to Durban, for Nani’s neice, Aunty Rabia’s wedding. Mustafa’s aunt found our lovely hazel-eyes Fatima not only beautiful, but full of good manners too. “Just like a Muslim pooyri should behave” Rooki Nani told Nani, was what Mustafa’s aunt had said about Fatikhala. Aunty Shabnum, his mother, phoned a week after the wedding to say that her sister-in-law gave high recommendations about Fatikhala and asked if they could come for a Maangu – official proposal. Of course Nani jumped at the offer and said yes without even bothering to discuss it with Fatikhala. Who turns down such a good Maangu? After bitching and moaning for almost a whole week, Fatikhala finally relented. “I’m only allowing them to come because it would be rude to turn them away after you already said yes. But I’m not marrying him,” she added quickly and firmly. Nani only nodded, maintaining a straight face, but I saw the twinkle in her eyes, and the elated smile when she turned her face.

Mustafa’s family was from Cape Town and a month after the phone call came, they flew down to Jo’burg and drove down to Pietspruit, a little town three hours from Jo’burg, settled in old-fashioned ways and lots of dust. They were going to sleep by family in the town next door. Nani invited them for a Saturday night supper.. She cried amid cleaning the chicken that morning.

“It’s not my wedding day, Ma, only a proposal,” Fatikhala laughed at Nani. She waited for Fatikhala to leave the kitchen before turning to me to say, “I can feel it in my bones, Mumi, this is the one for Fati. A mother knows these things.” I guess they do, or else Nani would have given my mother to Riaz as willingly as she gave her hand to my father.

The Mohammed family were expected to arrive after Maghrib Salaah – the prayer at dusk. In spite of herself, Fatikhala was excited. That afternoon she had a long soak in the tub. She even bought special clothes for the occasion. As the sun lowered further into the horizon, and the time grew nearer to meet the family, Fatikhala was beginning to get nervous. She kept going back to her room to check herself in the mirror. She came back to the dining room to arrange and rearrange the table she and I had laid out that afternoon for the supper. “Shoo, get away from here,” Nani flicked her kitchen cloth, ushering Fatikhala away from the table as if she were a pecking bird, leading her into the lounge, where the family would sit and indulge in sweetmeats before making their way into the dining room for the big feast. “Everything looks perfect Fatima, just relax,” Nani scolded her lovingly.

As soon as Nani left the lounge to go check on the food one last time, before hopping in for a quick shower and change, Fatikhala jumped up and studied herself in the sideboard mirror. “You do look perfect, Fatikhala, You’re the prettiest person I know,” I told her, feasting my eyes on her beautiful face and lovely clothes. When she emerged from her bedroom earlier, I was in awe. Fatikhala was generally beautiful, but that day she had a different glow about her. She looked the image of a good wife serene and pure in wide cut linen trousers and a long flowing chiffon kaftan in white, intricately beaded in the palest of gold. She wasn’t very tall, but the gold diamante sandals gave her the perfect height. As a token of respect to Mustafa and his family, Fatikhala draped a white and gold ohni – long scarf– over her head. With just the slightest bit of make-up, she looked like a real-life fairy princess, in my nine year old eyes.

It was obvious to everyone that from the moment Mustafa laid eyes on Fatikhala, he was hopelessly in love. She was impressed too. Mustafa was better looking than she expected. His thick, black curly mop dishevelled upon his head, accentuated the deepness of his eyes and allowed you to notice the soft curve in his nose. And when he smiled, you could notice his deep dimples a mile away. They made a striking couple. The only flaw in the match was Fatikhala’s tiny body against Mustafa’s body-built hulk, but even then they seemed to fit perfectly together, like two pieces of a puzzle clicking into place. The heels did nothing to allow her even a fraction of height next to him. When he looked at her, his eyes already gave off promises of love and safety for all eternity.

His mother’s eyes were a whole different story. They kept darting everywhere around the house, looking for something, possibly faults. I wondered if she only phoned Nani on her sister-in-law’s insistence. Finally, I understood her nervousness. “I heard you have another daughter, Kulsum,” she addressed Nani, her mock-sweet tone immediately bringing silence to the table. “Couldn’t she make it today?”

Okay! Wow! I am sharing the third part of my story with you! Thank you for  all your support and encouragement.

Till Tomorrow

NB: 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.

Chapter One: The Past – Part Two

(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.