Thursday, November 30, 2006
Zainab had been his choice of name. It was better than all the fancy stuff Rajaa was suggesting. The name of the Prophet’s wife. Also a name of one of his daughters. Simple, beautiful. His mother had not even suggested a name. And Salma had to feed Rajaa this story of his mother claiming that it had been her choice.
As for Rajaa saying that his mother let the baby cry because she wouldn’t give her to Rajaa. No that could not be. She was also a mother. She loved the baby too. And Rajaa had suggested many more things, about his mother bossing her around, telling her how to look after the baby. Well that was just too much. Haarith looked out over the suburb. The lights winked up at him, like diamonds on a sooty blanket. Cars hummed along, trucks trundled by. At peace, while his world was being torn apart by unhappiness.
How foolish he had been to hope that Zainab would bring Rajaa and his mother closer together. If anything, she was tearing them further apart. And couldn’t Rajaa just learn to accept that Mrs Hayat knew more and would only offer her good advice. Zainab would be happier for it, maybe sleep for longer stretches at night. Then Rajaa could rest more and be less cranky.
When Rajaa came up to him after the braai, Haarith expected a cuddle, or a hug maybe.Since the baby she had become distant and he missed the warmth of her body. But instead she gave him accusations, recriminations. She said things about his mother that made him want to raise his hand on her. Before it all went too far, he stormed out of the house. Rajaa was probably crying – again.
He felt the breeze on his face. Hoped it would dislodge the confusion from of his mind. His eyes stung with tears. Now his child would become a weapon in this war. And again he was powerless to stop them.
This evening Rajaa had demanded her own house once more. Reminded him that it was her right in Islam. That she was not obliged to look after his parents. But couldn’t she just put her own selfishness aside and try to see things from his perspective. She had an only brother. Would she want her parents to live alone once he married? Would she not expect her sister in law to stay with them and see to their needs as they aged? This Rajaa was so different from the woman who had won his heart. Sometimes, he felt she was a stranger. Did it happen that way? That you felt so at one with someone on one day and totally alienated the next? Was this what marriage did to a person?
Haarith walked into the office a little late on Monday morning. Rajaa had wanted to finish the argument. She always chose the worst possible times. And if he refused, she’d accuse him of mot caring. Or something equally dumb.
But something did not look right as he drove up to the building. There were many cars outside the office. Many unfamiliar ones. And when he stepped in, he could sense that something was afoot. The secretaries were skittish, nervous. He asked about his father.
“He’s in a meeting,” and she averted her eyes. Fatima was a middle aged woman who had been worked for H & A Importers since the earliest days. Haarith had been a little boy then. Her cheerful smile was normally the first thing to greet him every day. Today she acted as though she wanted to be free of his presence.
He went to his own office, sat down, tried his hand at the correspondence, the e-mails. But he could not concentrate. So he turned his chair to face the huge windows and surveyed the gardens in the office park. Tall willows swayed gracefully in the breeze, their delicate tendril like branches brushing the ground. The lawn was an impossible green, freshly mowed, and almost obscene in its orderliness.
His mind filled with thoughts of Rajaa, Zainab, his mother, the future. Things seemed so impossible right now. Haarith felt overwhelmed.
He didn’t notice the minute hand on his clock dance its way around the face. Commotion in the hallway forced him back to the present and he was astonished to discover that almost a full hour had elapsed. He stood up, with some trepidation, went to the door, opened it slowly and peered out. Men in open necked shirts – almost all white - and formal pants were leading his father away.
“Daddy?” Haarith called. The uncertainly made his voice quiver. Hi father shot him a contemptuous look.
“Look for Fareed. Tell him to meet me at the Scorpions’ headquarters. And come with him. Not that you’ll be much use though.”
Mr Hayat kept his head down as he was frog marched and forced into one of the black Golfs and pushed into the back seat. Haarith watched from the door open mouthed. Another burning look from Mr Hayat, seated in the back seat, looking unusually small, forced him to take out his cell phone and try to find Uncle Fareed.
Uncle Fareed sat beside Haarith tight lipped. They were speeding along the highway making their way to the special investigating unit, the Scorpions’, headquarters. Haarith’s eyes burnt as he kept them trained on the road. He tried more than once to draw Uncle Fareed into discussion, but he received no response. Who, why, what? These questions burnt a hole into his mind.
The pulled up outside a grey double story building. In the parking lot a gleaming row of black Golf GTI’s stood, the Scorpions logo emblazoned onto the side of some of them. The one that had taken his father had been unmarked.
Haarith felt his stomach knot. His eyes burnt worse than ever. Uncle Fareed did not bother to look at him as he got out of the car and walked into the building. Haarith followed reluctantly. Why wouldn’t Uncle Fareed say anything?
He entered the building to find Uncle Fareed getting into a lift.
“Uncle Fareed, wait!” Haarith called as he broke into a near jog to catch up.
Wordlessly, Uncle Fareed held the door open for him. When the doors slid closed screening the men and women who hurried about totally ignoring their presence, Haarith turned to Uncle Fareed, held him by the arm, shook him.
“Uncle Fareed, tell me what is happening...please.”
“I’m not going to say anything now Haarith, but whatever happens, remember, I told your father not to do it. I told him that there was something fishy.”
“Fishy? About what?”
“You’ll know soon enough.”
The little ping announced that they had arrived at the floor they sought.
“The first door on the right. Follow me,” Uncle Fareed said without a backward glance.
They entered the office to find a young man, probably not much over thirty sitting at a desk and processing some paperwork.
“Excuse me, but we’re here to see Mr Hayat.” Uncle Fareed’s tone was crisp, business like.
The man looked up, seemed to take in every little detail of their appearance as he did so. His face broke into a laconic smile.
“You must be Mr Abrams. We know about you. Wise guy you are. And slippery. But we’ll get you yet. My Hayat is with his lawyer right now. He is going to be transferred to the local police station in the next hour. Take a seat. You can see him before he goes.”
Sunday, November 26, 2006
It started with the name. Haarith wanted to name her Hawa, after his mother. Rajaa would hear nothing of it. She liked the sound of Maleeha.
“Fancy names. I don’t like all these new fancy names,” he retorted.
“”So what do you like?” Rajaa tried to remain calm. Haarith had come for the weekend. She was at her mother’s place. The little one, whom Rajaa already called Maleeha, was four days old.
“Okay, I can understand why you don’t want Hawa. And maybe I don’t blame you. How about Zainab?”
“Zainab I can live with…” Rajaa was mulling over his last sentence. I can understand why you don’t want Hawa. So he knew, did he?
They settled on Zainab. On the seventh day, an aunt was called. She was tasked with removing the baby’s hair. Haarith arranged for the Aqeeqah to be performed. A sheep that would be slaughtered as a charity to avert harm from the baby. Haarith phoned to tell Rajaa that they would have a braai for the family and friends when Rajaa returned home. It would be their way of distributing the aqeeqah meat amongst family and friends, which was the practice that was to be followed.
Haarith visited the Sunday thereafter again. During these visits he would sit for hours on end watching little Zainab sleep, watching her suckle. He would hold her to his chest when she slept.
“Come, Haarith, put her down,” Mrs Kadwa would chide. “Rajaa will have a hard time once she returns home and has to care for the little one and do all her work as well. Who’s going to hold her when you go to work?”
He’d say nothing, and continue holding her. After Mrs Kadwa left, he’d say to Rajaa, “Why does she want to tell me what to do with my own baby?”
Rajaa would say nothing.
The steady stream of visitors during the three weeks drove her quite crazy. She was still tired after the birth, not sleeping well at night due to having to hold baby and sleep, since she did not want to use the crib. And everyone that came offered advice.
“Are you rubbing her out with olive oil? It strengthens the bones.”
“Are you still eating the ginger paak?” the neighbour of last time. The one who’d had an abortion.
“Are you drinking huwaa water? Helps the baby break wind easier. And cleans out the womb.”
“You must give her the Dutch medicines. My granny used to mix the seven. I can also do it. Must I mix some for you?”
And so it went, until Rajaa began to feel quite frustrated. She was managing well enough. She had a baby who slept well at night, drank all day. All in all, a content little thing.
Many of her own extended family members brought gifts for the new baby. Much of it was clothes. Soon Zainab had more clothes than her mother. The pink, in every shade of ice cream Rajaa had ever eaten, filled the suitcase. Growers, dresses, satin slippers. So much. Rajaa found herself wondering whether she would have received the pram, or the car seat from some of her more affluent family members – people who were not terribly close to her family – had it not been for Haarith’s family being so wealthy themselves.
Being back home made Rajaa feel a little depressed. She missed her father taking long strolls with Zainab around the house when he returned from work, often putting her off to sleep. She missed Nahla burping her after just about every feed. She missed her mother’s help at bath time.
Here she was, by herself, doing everything on her own. Haarith still liked to cuddle up with her when she slept, but he was no help at all.
“I can’t change her nappies,” he’d say. “She’s a girl. Would be different if she was a boy.”
And so it went.
Rajaa had just taken a squealing Zainab out of the bath. She dried her down, rubbed cream on her body, dusted her liberally with powder. She proceeded putting on the outfit her mother in law had bought. She had to. Today was the big day. The braai. And this had been specific instruction. She had no choice but to comply. It was one of those boutique bought affairs. Probably cost more than an entire outfit and shoes for myself would have, she thought to herself, as she straightened the pants – three quarter no less – and admired the effect.
Since early that morning, the house had been teeming with people from the catering company. Tables had been set in the garden, braai stands were ready to have fires roaring in them. Meat had been marinated. Fruit had been arranged in stunning displays on the tables, samoosas, cocktail pies and other finger food had been arranged on platters. Frosted glasses of punch and fruit cocktail stood as a welcoming sentry.
It was going to be a posh affair, she could tell. All the ‘elite’, the Hayat’s friends, and the not so ‘elite’, their family, would be there. Mrs Hayat aimed to impress. One silver lining was that Rajaa would see her family today. She had something to look forward to.
By eleven o’ clock the first guests arrived. Mr Hayat greeted them at the door with a smiling, demure Mrs Hayat at his side. A table had been placed in the lounge for all the gifts. By one o’ clock the table was overflowing gifts onto the floor.
Rajaa remained in the house much of the time. With a constantly hungry Zainab, it was necessary. And since she fed on demand, Zainab knew to demand as often as possible. When she had just come back, this had been a problem for Mrs Hayat. Rajaa wasn’t as productive in the kitchen. Mrs Hayat suggested, though it came out as a reproach, that she was overfeeding the baby. Rajaa remained silent. She had done that much of the time over the days that followed. She did not want a scene with Mrs Hayat. She said nothing when Mrs Hayat took Zainab and changed her napkin after two hours.
“How can you leave the child so long with the napkin? She’ll get nappy rash.”
She did not speak when Mrs Hayat administered Dutch medicines to the baby, something that she had been avoiding, since Zainab did not have any problem with wind or her stomach. Perhaps had she spoken at some point, things might have gone off differently that day.
Nahla and Mrs Kadwa spent a fair part of the afternoon with Rajaa in her bedroom. At two o’ clock, Mrs Hayat came to fetch Zainab.
“The guests have hardly seen the sweet thing,” she said amiably, smiling at the Kadwas. Zainab was whisked off to the garden. Fifteen minutes later she was howling. Mrs Hayat, Rajaa saw from the window, put Zainab to her shoulder, jumped about in quite a comic fashion. But Zainab howled louder still.
“Go, Rajaa,” Mrs Kadwa said. “Go and fetch her. Poor thing, she’s howling.”
Feeling a bit nervous, Rajaa went out to the garden. She walked up to Mrs Hayat, who turned around and began walking away from Rajaa when she saw her approach.
“Mummy, Mummy,” she called. “Maybe she needs a feed. Let me take her inside.” She had caught up with Mrs Hayat thanks to her long legs.
“No, no, she just drank now, didn’t she? I’ll make her sleep. You go and rest, since she keeps you up so much at night.” Her smile, like nutrition bereft saccharine.
Rajaa turned around and started walking back to the house, exchanging awkward smiles with all the serious faces that seemed to bar her way. People loved fodder for the gossip mill. And this little scene was sure to provide some. While she walked, her baby’s howls pierced at her heart. But there was nothing for it. Her hands were tied.
After five minutes of crying that made Rajaa want to cry too, Zainab, exhausted, fell off to sleep. Mrs Hayat sent Haarith for the seat.
“Why was she crying like that?” Haarith asked with typical male idiocy.
“Well because your mother wouldn’t give her to me.” The words slipped out before Rajaa could contain them. Her mother, Mrs Kadwa looked away, embarrassed. Nahla slipped into the bathroom.
Haarith walked away, seat in hand, without a word. There was going to be a war tonight. She knew that look.
When tea was being served, Rajaa decided to join the guests. People would say she was rude if she didn’t. She pulled up three chairs in the shade of a Jacaranda. Her mother and sister settled down with her, cups of tea and pecan nut tarts in hand. Rajaa would give the tarts a miss. She was worried about the weight that had not all melted away since the birth.
Salma appeared at her side.
“Where have you been hiding?” she asked as she pulled up a chair and joined the party. “Inside,” Rajaa replied glumly. “Zainab seems to want feeding all the time.”
“Ya, well she doesn’t think it’s necessary. Did she really have to cause a scene like that?”
“Oh well, that’s just her.” Rajaa was careful with her words. No telling who was listening. She introduced Salma to her sister and mother. They chatted conversationally over tea, but discussion seemed drawn to Mrs Hayat.
“So whose decision was the name?” Salma asked.
“Haarith’s and mine. Why?”
“Because she reckons that it was her choice. Man, she can be such a witch.”
Salma had spoken Rajaa’s thoughts out loud. If this was true, then Haarith had tricked her. And Rajaa began to feel the rage build.
The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur. Rajaa was relieved, when an hour later a very hungry Zainab demanded that she take leave of the guests. She said her good byes hurriedly and escaped to her sanctuary. While Zainab sucked hingrily at her breast, her mind went over all the words she wanted to exchange with Haarith.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Rajaa awoke some time during the night, a dull pain in her lower back. She felt the need to relieve herself. What else was new? It was while she was on the toilet, that she felt a sudden gush of warm water that was clearly not urine.
Could it be? She went to the couch where Haarith was curled up in a ball. She shook him gently on the shoulder.
“Haarith, Haarith, wake up.” She was wide awake, anxious and very eager.
“What? Huh?” He sat up groggily.
“I think my waters just broke. We need to call the gynae.”
Haarith jumped up, his hair tousled, one pant leg up to his knee.
Rajaa smiled. “You chose a bad night for the couch,” she added.
He stood beside her, placed a hand on her tummy.
“Are you sure?”
“Almost,” she smiled.
“Okay, okay. I’m phoning." He fumbled in his wallet for the business card, looking so wonderfully comic, that Rajaa had to laugh. He called up the gynae. They were to meet her at the clinic. He then called Mrs Kadwa. Rajaa got her bag while all this was happening, and got dressed.
Her parents would meet them at the clinic as well. They got her in laws up. Mrs Hayat was coming along. Rajaa wanted to protest, but her mother’s warning stopped her. She didn’t want labour troubles because of upsetting Mrs Hayat. This is what her mother had warned her would happen if she got on anyone’s wrong side. She hoped Haarith wasn’t included in the ‘anyone’ that her mother spoke of. She prayed under her breath. Prayers for safety. Haarith performed ablution and before they set out he prayed two Rakaats asking Allah’s assistance in this, the most important day of their lives.
The clinic was surprisingly busy at this hour of the morning. But then babies weren’t born according to anyone’s clocks. Doctor Nafeesa did the examination. Yes, the waters were indeed broken, but Rajaa had only dilated three centimetres.
“Walk,” she told her. “It will speed things up a bit.” She was going home, and would be calling in to check up on Rajaa’s progress through the night.
Rajaa began to feel her first contractions as her mother and father burst into the ward, looking anxious and excited.
The hours that followed were a blur of pain and drowsiness. Rajaa alternated walking with periods of rest. The nurses did internals every hour. Thy monitored the baby’s heartbeat. Rajaa was delighted by the sound - strong and fast, like a galloping horse - of her little baby’s heart
“You’re doing well, a nurse with a fleshy, shiny face and bouncy gait informed her at around 4am. Six centimetres sweety. Another one, and I’ll call your doctor. "
By five, Dr Nafeesa arrived, all efficient, and supportive. She talked Rajaa through transition, the most painful and intense, the last two. Rajaa felt the contractions as waves of intense pain that tore through her body. Haarith and her mother took turns at rubbing her back, offering sips of water and mopping her brow.
At precisely 5:22 am the first wails of Baby Hayat reached Haarith’s ears in the hallway. Rajaa had wanted her mother alone for the birth, and secretly Haarith was thankful for this. But now, he couldn’t resist going in. He rushed into the delivery room to see a clearly exhausted Rajaa holding a bundle wrapped in a hospital wrap to her chest. She positively glowed.
“It’s a girl,” she murmured. She held her out to Haarith. He took the bundle, hesitantly almost, into his arms. He studied her face; put his finger in her little hand. She held on tightly. He placed her in the little cot, turned her face to the left, called the adaan, the call to prayer, softly into her right ear. He turned her little face the other way, and called the iqamah, the call at the start of prayer into her left. He let the message of the oneness of Allah resonate within her fragile being.
Mrs Kadwa stood beside Rajaa still holding her eldest daughter’s hand. They had been through the most intense experience in the life of any woman together. And they had survived. She felt a new and different love for this young woman who had emerged into the world from her own womb in much the same way some twenty years ago. She looked at Haarith holding her grandchild and was aware that now there was a new knot that bound them all together.
Rajaa’s body coursed adrenaline, her heart was beset with the most intense love she had ever felt, all of it invested in a squishy faced little being with hair that clung to her still damp skull, waxy vernix in yellowish patches on her hair. She felt exhausted, yet empowered at the same time. She had done it. She could hardly believe it. She looked at Haarith, bending over her baby, their baby, and she said a prayer of thanks to Allah. She heard him whisper the adaan and iqaamah into her little ears and she prayed that they would always be this way. That Haarith would guide and inspire his daughter to greater heights in understanding the oneness of Allah and her life line, Islam. That she would be there with him to achieve this. That she would always be there with him
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Inspired by Susan Abraham's stunning posts. But nowhere near as good. A small diversion:
They arrived on wings, spirited my way as atonement. Their colours were of sunshine, passion and life. The letter spoke your heart’s desires; your hopes of our being forever as one, a single breath, a single heartbeat. Yet I felt as though a cavity had formed from years of neglect, a bacterium that ate away at my love until its pristine whole has become a Swiss cheese. A thin sliver that would be annihilated with the smallest whisper of heat. That this diminutive reparation would never seal the perforations.
I have braved your silence, a stony abyss, vacuous. I have left my tears at your feet. You stepped over them, did not look at the sparkling gems of my soul. I have wanted to cling to the hem of your pants and crawl my way into your heart. Chip away at the layers of stone and nestle in a small and precious spot, all mine. Yet you shook me off and trampled me with the heel of indifference.
You sent them as atonement, saying we have come a long way. We have come a long way. Our road has been of splintered tears and torn emotions. Through the time my love has found itself stretched thinner and thinner still.
I look at your atonement, at the woven basket, the work of loving hands, at the smells of summer captured in velvet petals. And I feel an emptiness where hope once lay, a sorrow where love once danced, a loneliness where your presence once delighted.
Do I love you? A fair question. Did you ever love me?
Was my love the licence to punish at will, remove from me the very thing that gave my life meaning - your presence? Was my foolish devotion the wine that intoxicated, emboldened and fortified the wall of your stony silence?
The test was not in our laughter, our lovemaking, our playing. It lay in our trials. And each time the tempest came, your walls were as impregnable as before. Each time the silence ached more, cut deeper.
I cling to my pockmarked sliver. I hold it to my bosom, hoping to squeeze more love from my heart to fill the gaps and make it whole. But somehow I cannot. Does the
Monday, November 20, 2006
Her feet were swollen. And she often looked at her face and thought the same of her nose. “Doughnut nose!” she’d tell herself. Haarith tried hard to convince her that she looked fine, that she shouldn’t worry, that she should rest. And this just irritated her more. This wasn’t a ‘does my bum look big in this moment’, because right now her bum was like the round end of a blimp, so honesty wouldn’t hurt. She’d have preferred it to his flimsy peace keeping efforts.
And the chances of resting were about as thin as Rajaa was right now. Mrs Hayat seemed to find extra work every day. Masala needed grinding. Rajaa would have to walk around after that with hands smelling of ginger and garlic and sometimes burning with the red chilli. The cumin needed cleaning, the dry coriander too. And Haarith’s silent diplomacy was about as effective as South Africa’s intervention in the Zimbabwean disaster.
How she wished she could escape these days. And that was another source of frustration for her. Because there was no way out. She was stuck here was Mrs Hayat’s demonic angel face. And her mother warned her not to be that way, or her baby would look like Mrs Hayat. Why did people always give pregnant women such stupid advice, she wondered. As though pregnancy means that you loose all your brain cells.
Haarith, seeing her in battle mode, tried to avoid the house by standing and chatting with his friends for almost an hour after the Isha prayer. And this was yet another source of irritation, but since Rajaa had identified too many irritants, as though she was suddenly allergic to her life, she’d been biting her tongue. Never a good idea when you’re pregnant. Gives you heartburn, it does. And that was another of her problems. She just wanted the pregnancy to be over.
She was supposed to - according to custom – go home for the last month, and have her baby at her parents’ place. But Haarith had refused. He wanted her to have the baby here, he said. Her mother would come to the hospital for the labour, and then Rajaa would go home with them once she was discharged.
The month wore on and nothing seemed to happen. Some days Rajaa would giggle to herself as she recalled the faces of her in laws and Haarith, all watching her as though she was a time bomb about to go off at any moment. Salma phoned just about every day. As did her mother and sister.
“Still, nothing?” the question was beginning to drive her insane. She told Salma this one afternoon.
“You know what? You need to get out of the house.”
“Well she’s always got me busy, so I haven’t been out during the week in an age. Weekends Haarith makes a point of an outing. If it wasn’t for that, I’d probably be going crazy. And there’s the weekly appointment with the gynae. She says that if I don’t go into labour in the next two weeks they’re going to induce,” She sighed.” I don’t care what they have to do, as long as this pregnancy comes to an end.”
Here Rajaa thought of the cupboard full of baby clothes in white and green and lemon. She longed to see the face of the being that kicked and wiggled and stretched inside of her.
“Tell you what, I’ll come and fetch you in half an hour. Phone Haarith and let him know.”
“Where are we going?”
“Don’t worry about that. Leave it to me.”
Rajaa was fuming. Haarith didn’t want her to leave the house.
“What if you go into labour?” he asked. “What if you don’t get to the gynae in time?”
Rajaa slammed the phone down. Why did he have to be such a nag? Such a worry wart? It drove her nuts and she had a feeling that once the baby came he would be ten times worse. Well she was going. It was decided. She was fed up of being stuck in the house with Mummy dear. She was going out.
Rajaa slipped on a loose fitting cloak, fastened her scarf in place and went to the garden to await Salma.
Salma arrived, a cheerful smile on her face. Just seeing her made Rajaa want to cry. She blinked away the tears and climbed into the car next to Salma. They set off through the wooded suburban streets, deeper and deeper into territory that was unfamiliar to Rajaa. Salma kept up a cheerful stream of chatter. Rajaa appreciated this about her. Words were never needed for her to understand.
“So, tell me,” she said after they had been driving for about fifteen minutes. “Where are we going?”
“Just wait and see,” came the mysterious response.
Rajaa decided to enjoy the drive, which was really pretty at this time of year. Jacarandas were in full bloom, their flowers like millions of purple butterflies on black branches. The grass had the new look about it, a green that was almost too bright. The new leaves on so many of the other trees were the same bright green, holding promise of things to come. Rajaa had always loved Spring. In many yards she caught sight of peach trees, apricot trees, blossoms like the breath of a baby against their branches. Such a time of urgency and hope. And she was feeling too sorry for herself to enjoy it.
At length they turned into a long driveway flanked on both sides by Jacarandas. The purple flowers formed a dense carpet on the paving bricks. Rajaa looked about her in wonder. Already, she began to feel her tension slip away.
Salma led her inside. The foyer was impeccably decorated. Paintings of wonderful sceneries adorned the pale peach walls, tall African statues, like sentinels, stood in the corners, huge earthenware pots with indoor palms that nearly reached the ceiling took up the remaining space.
The tapping of heels on the tiled floor heralded the arrival of an assistant.
“Mrs Abrams. Welcome. Tanya is waiting for your guest in room one.” Her smile showed teeth that were too white to be true.
Rajaa followed Salma into a room that captured the afternoon sun and held it as though in embrace. It smelt of various perfumes. The walls were the same delicate peach as teh foyer. Stacks of fluffy pink towels stood at ready on trolleys.
“Hi Salma,” Tanya enthused. “And this must be Mrs Hayat, or can I call you Rajaa? Salma said you need a really special treatment today. Looks like baby is taking a lot out of you. Just relax, and leave yourself in my hands.”
Rajaa burst into tears.
The hours passed in a state of blissful lethargy. An aromatherapy massage that felt like heaven, a facial, a manicure, a pedicure. Tanya’s movements were fluid, her hands firm and sure. Rajaa was intoxicated. She felt the tension lift, felt the backache melt under Tanya’s gentle but firm massage. Her feet felt cooler than they had in months, her hands looked less care worn. She even fancied that her swollen nose looked less like a great round bhajia now. She was ready to face Haarith. In fact she was ready to take on the world.
He chose to sleep on the couch again. This time it was warranted, he thought miserably. How could she leave the house when he had expressly forbidden her? It took a lot out of him to pretend around his parents that things were normal between them. When they retired to their bedroom, then only were the masks removed and the antagonism laid bare. Rajaa had crossed a line today. This was something that he’d find hard to forgive.
And she’d had the temerity to have a really big mouth about all this.
“We only went to the spa, okay. Not like I went looking for another husband. Not as if I’d find one in this state.” Here she sounded almost bitter. “Not like I stayed out late which is more than I can say about you. What time do you come home every day, huh? I don’t question you. I just sit here alone. For once in your life try to see past your nose!”
He thought she understood the way things worked here. He thought she understood what was important to him. Clearly, she was too selfish to do so. She thought she could be like her mother and that he would just wag his tail, an obedient puppy, the way her father was. He had long since gotten over her manner of speaking. He’d never enjoy the reverence his father enjoyed. He had chosen a woman with a big mouth and he had to live with it.
And if ever he mentioned her lack of respect in an argument, she’d go ballistic. He didn’t want a wife, she’d retort. He wanted a servant. Well she was no one’s servant. This normally signalled an end to the argument and the beginning of a long uncomfortable night on the couch.
There’d be the usual crying but he no longer felt his heart break in two when she did this. He loved her, sure. But he was not going to be manipulated by her. The great freeze would last about half a day. By tomorrow afternoon, she’d call him at the office to apologise. It had been going this way for the last three months now. A friend had told him that it was just the pregnancy, and that she’d be okay once the baby was born.
Well, the sooner the better. They didn’t even make love anymore. She said she felt too ugly. Yet to him, she had never been more beautiful. His child had not even arrived as yet, and already he was struggling with desire-induced sleepless nights.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Rajaa had never imagined that she would someday feel like a guest in the home where she had spent her entire life. But she did. Everything seemed strange somehow, as though the time she had spent away had changed her in some way. Everyone treated her differently; at least this is how she perceived matters. She embraced this realisation with sadness at the loss of her childhood home.
He mother’s manner was beginning to get on her nerves, all the questions about how the Hayat’s lived, about the house, about the domestic helpers. It made Rajaa see a side of her mother that she had not even noticed before. And made her bitter almost that it had been her mother who had pushed her into accepting Haarith’s proposal at a time when she had felt ill prepared for marriage. It was a good thing that she was happy with him, not withstanding his mother.
“But you should tell Haarith that you want your own house,” she began one afternoon. “They can afford it.”
“But it’s not about that Mummy,” Rajaa countered. “He is their only child, and he cannot leave them. I have to understand that.”
“I suppose, but still, it is your Islamic right isn’t it?”
“Sometimes Mummy for the sake of happiness we have to overlook these rights.”
She changed course at this point. “You’re lucky, you know. Your father and I had nothing when we got married. We made tea on a heater, and we only had two cups and plates in the house. But we worked. I earned everything I have. Did it by myself. You know what your father is like. He can’t make a success of anything. In twenty five years he hasn’t bought me so much as a panty.”
Rajaa had heard all this before, but somehow hearing it now made her angry somehow. Was her mother jealous of her happiness? No, couldn’t be. Parents are happy for their children.
“Good thing I made you marry him. I could see you didn’t want to. But mothers know what’s best for their children.”
Or are they, Rajaa wondered.
Nahla seemed so much more grown up, and it was barely two months since she had been married. She was so organised, methodical in everything. Even when she cooked, exact measurements, things in their place. It was quite amusing for Rajaa to see since she always played it by the ear, never measured while cooking. Though of course with baking she had to get the measuring cups out.
But Nahla was doing well, and studying hard, which Rajaa was happy to see. She thought then of her own incomplete BA degree, and pledged that someday she would complete it, maybe once she was done with babies and such.
She just hadn’t had Nahla’s discipline while she was at home. Too many things to distract one. Zain seemed somehow a little more withdrawn. And Rajaa wondered why, since they had always had a very good relationship, with him feeling that Nahla always understood him. With her acting as a bridge between Mr Kadwa and his only son.
And Mr Kadwa was still his old uncomplicated self. Undemanding, accepting, taking life one day at a time.
She was relieved by the nausea that settled while she was at home. So maybe her theory about Mrs Hayat being the cause was not too far fetched after all.
The week flew by in a blur of visiting family. Mrs Kadwa hadn’t managed to keep the news of the pregnancy a secret. So everyone that came offered some well intentioned advice.
“Crackers,” Aunty Amina enthused. “The only thing that worked with me. And I was so bad in my pregnancies that I’d become as thin as a stick.” Looking at her rotund form, Rajaa found herself struggling to conjure up a mental image of a skinny Aunty Amina.
“You must remember to get Mummy to make for you ginger paak,” a neighbour suggested. “And make sure you eat it every day when you get to eight months. Strengthens the womb. If you want, I’ll make it for you. I made it for all my nieces.” She was a lady who had married in her forties and had not enjoyed the blessing of having a child. Rajaa remembered her mother telling her that at some time in her youth this aunty had had an abortion. Not something that was common knowledge, or if it was, it certainly wasn’t ever spoken about. One of those secrets that everyone knew but assumed that no body else did. People spoke about how, after her marriage, she had consulted with Aamils – Muslim scholars who made amulets – in the hope that she would conceive. Some even whispered about how she had gone as far as visiting witch doctors, sangomas, all to no avail.
It must be painful, Rajaa thought, to want something so badly and not be able to have it. She put her hand across her abdomen, felt the slight bulge that had not been there before, and gave thanks to Allah once more for blessing her with this precious life.
When Saturday morning arrived she awoke feeing excited, happily anxious. Haarith said he’d come at ten o’ clock to fetch her.
“Tell him to stay for lunch,” her mother insisted. “Uncle Ahmed wants to meet him. He has a business idea to tell him about. He’s looking for someone to invest in this idea of his.”
Uncle Ahmed was Mrs Kadwa’s brother. He was the kind of man who was always in trouble financially. Mrs Kadwa liked to believe that it was because he was really bad luck.
“His taqdeer is bad,” she’d often tut tut, referring to the fate that is supposed to have been pre determined.
At this Mr Kadwa would grin and exchange a wink with Rajaa. It was their personal joke, Mrs Kadwa and her blind loyalty to her errant brother. Mr Kadwa had once mentioned to Rajaa that his actual problem was really that he was a gambler. If Mrs Kadwa knew this, she hid it very well. She had the habit of seeing her own family through rose coloured spectacles, and Mr Kadwa’s through an angry red pair.
“No, Mummy.” Rajaa replied. “He has to meet someone in Sandton.” This wasn’t quite the complete truth. But they did have a meeting of sorts on the cards, with Amin and Salma. Rajaa was looking forward to this. She really wanted to get to know Salma better. And there was no way that she would leave Haarith at the mercy of Uncle Ahmed. He was known for having the gift of talking the stripes off a zebra.
Haarith looked at her fast asleep. She was home at last. How long the week had felt. And how empty. He had spent as little time as possible in the house because everything somehow reminded him of Rajaa. The bed felt impossibly big at night when he returned from hanging out with the guys. She had a habit of laying his clothes out for him each morning, and he missed this too. Strange, he thought, how someone works their way into your heart. He held her close, feeling her abdomen, imagining what it would feel like in a few months’ time. He stroked her hair, inhaled the smell that was so uniquely her, and joined her in a land of dreams.
Rajaa found herself feeling homesick again as she settled back into the routine. Mrs Hayat was more antagonistic than ever, fussing about small matters, passing caustic remarks at every opportunity. Rajaa sometimes felt overwhelmed by all this and it took all her self control not to say something in retaliation or mention this to Haarith. But he was the only one she had as support in this house and she really didn’t want to fight with him about his mother again. She was thankful for afternoons which were often spent with Salma. She joined the local library as well and began taking home books about pregnancy, parenting, and the occasional fiction book.
At night she and Haarith would sit on the floor and pore over the books. They learnt about the placenta and how it works, about lunago that covers the baby’s body in utero, about the first stool, the blackish meconium that the baby would pass after birth. They read about breastfeeding and its benefits compared with the bottle. As their collective knowledge base grew so too did Rajaa’s abdomen.
Haarith came along for one of the scans. He kept the pictures of his baby - which Rajaa sometimes felt looked a little scary - a little white skeleton - in his wallet and showed them to every one of his friends.
Some nights he’d make Rajaa lie down on the floor and put his hands on her round tummy, feeling. Waiting for the little one to kick.
“He’ll play soccer, this guy,” Haarith said one evening after a particularly hard kick that made Rajaa sit up and take note.
“And how do you know it will be a he?” for they had asked the doctor not to tell them the sex of the baby.
“Has to be. ‘Cause I’m the man!” He joked.
“And what will you do if it’s a girl?”
“As long as she looks like you, I’ll love her to bits.” He dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose, “Only she had better not have your long nose!”
“Oh, so it’s a long nose, is it?”
“Yes, Pinocchio, a very long and beautiful nose.” He kissed her again and again, and they shared another delightful meal, the kind that they were becoming quite adroit in preparing.
Monday, November 13, 2006
“Can I get you something to drink, Haarith? Would you like me to bring you some potato salad?” It was enough to make Rajaa want to puke. But it was Salma who surprised her. Salma looked to be about Rajaa’s age, though a whole head shorter. She had a pleasant round face, light brown eyes set at a slight slant, and a wide mouth. She didn’t wear the hijaab, but her dressing was modest, as was her manner. Rajaa found it hard to reconcile the idea of her marriage to Amin, a huge man, who might have been the same age as Haarith, though his girth made him look much older. While she was gentle and soft spoken, he was boisterous, laughing loudly at the smallest of jokes. He did nothing to hide his appraisal of Rajaa, and the admirable stares. This made Haarith hover around her in a way that brought a grin to Rajaa's face. And it had the fortunate effect of turning Aneesa’s face a wonderful cabbagey green. Just adding to Rajaa’s pleasure.
Aunty Khairun’s husband, Uncle Fareed, a Malay man, was wonderful company. He spoke in that way so unique to Malays, that made you want to listen to his every word. Even stuffy old Mr Hayat could be seen smiling at his jokes, and indeed – could she be seeing wrong – making rather weak jokes of his own. Jokes that elicited loud guffaws from Amin, and made Mr Hayat’s face glow.
It was blessed relief to be away from their own house where tension between Mrs Hayat and her was at its height.
After supper was eaten, the men went to the local mosque for Isha prayers. Salma took Rajaa to her cottage for the prayer.
“So Rajaa, how’s married life treating you?” Salma sat cross legged on the bed, looking, Rajaa thought, remarkably like a little Chinese doll.
“Well it takes some getting used to. But I miss home now and then. And Mrs Hayat, Mummy, well she’s not an easy one to live with.” Rajaa confided. It was not something she did easily, but something about Salma spoke of the kind of person who’d be worthy of trust
“I know, Mummy, Aunty Khairun,” Salma clarified when she saw the confusion on Rajaa’s face, “she said that Aunty Hawa was pretty nasty about coming here. She said stuff about you not wanting to come. But Mummy knew she was lying. She’s known Aunty Khairun for as long as the men have been business partners, which has been like forever,” she rolled her eyes. “And she knows that Aunty Hawa is a sly old fox. She calls her that.”
“Well don’t remind me about what she said. I happened to hear her say it, and there were fireworks after that. It’s nice to be away from that house. The tension is becoming too much. Especially after she found out that I’m expecting,” Rajaa clapped her hand over her mouth. “Oops, I wasn’t supposed to say that. Please don’t mention it to anyone. She warned me about it this morning. She seems to think it’s something to be ashamed of because it is so soon after the wedding.” Rajaa knew she sounded bitter, but she couldn’t help it. It still hurt that Haarith had not been able to stand up to his mother on that score.
Salma looked genuinely distressed. “Why? Did she say so?”
“Well, she said, and I quote, ‘This child had better be my son’s. Are you crazy? Haven’t you heard of birth control?’”
Salma look on the verge of tears. “So what did Haarith say?”
“Oh, nothing, Just that he can’t fight with his mother on my behalf.” Rajaa tried to look nonchalant, but the memory of the arguments brought tears to her eyes.
“Shame, you poor thing. One thing about Amin, he may be what he is. And what he is, is, well Amin, I guess. But he would never allow his mother to ill treat me like that.”
“Oh, Haarith is good, really. Very good to me. But I think he has this crazy idea that respecting your parents means never telling them when they’re wrong. And she knows that, so she just takes advantage.”
Amin, stepped into the cottage at that moment. They heard him in the kitchen. He poked his head into the bedroom.
“So you girls done gossiping about your husbands and in laws? Because we want to have tea.”
“You think there’s anyone better to gossip about?” Salma quipped. He gave her a playful smack on her bottom. Rajaa looked away.
“Stop,” Salma scolded. “Can’t you see Rajaa’s feeling shy?”
“Well, she needs to hang around with us more often. Her shyness will vanish.”
“Never come right, you!” Salma chided. To Rajaa, she added, “Don’t worry about him. That’s just the way he is. Haarith has known him like this all his life.”
“Yes, he has, that quack. And now he’s guarding you like a hawk. Scared I’ll steal you away from him. Well if I had a wife that looked like that I’d be jealous too.”
At this Salma swatted his arm.
“Ouch, ouch, you’ve left a mark. Man but those small hands are strong.”
“And you’d better remember that. Now keep your eyes to yourself, or Haarith won’t visit again.”
Rajaa laughed. They were really a wonderful couple. One would never guess that they had only been married for six months now.
“So, what did you think of Uncle Fareed and them?” Haarith asked the question casually, but Rajaa sensed there was something more to it.
“I think they’re wonderful. We must invite them over, or at least go out with Amin and Salma. Salma said she’d call.”
“So what did you think of Amin?” Rajaa could see where this was going. She decided to prolong his agony a little.
“Well, he’s nice. Handsome, in spite of his being huge. But he seems a lot of fun to be around. Very lively.” She said this innocently, playing with a strand of hair and looking very pensive.
“Oh,” Haarith sat down on the bed and began removing his shoes and socks. Rajaa kneeled before him, removed his hands from the sock that he was in the process of yanking off.
“The socks didn’t do anything you know. There’s something that I wanted to add to that, but you didn’t give me a chance. And he’s nothing like you. No one can ever be you in my life. So get over your jealousy, okay sweetie. Did I tell you today that I love you?”
“Well, you might have, but I seem to have forgotten,” His face broke out in a broad grin.”
“So let me show you how much I love you.” She removed his socks and for the sake of propriety, shan’t mention what else was removed. Just know that they enjoyed yet another enjoyable night.
Rajaa was beginning to feel what is commonly known as morning sickness. And a bigger misnomer there could never be. While she was fine on awakening, the moment she put some breakfast into her system, she’d begin feeling all queasy. And to make matters worse, she just did not throw up, but rather carried this queasiness with her throughout the day. Her misery was compounded by feeling hungry all of the time. She tried the ginger tea that her mother had suggested, she carried glucose sweets around with her wherever she went, but nothing seemed to work. She tried a homeopathic remedy, which tasted pretty awful, but all futile. Another problem was the food. She was tired of the curries, though she often made something different each day. She longed for a pasta, or cottage pie, but Haarith had long since decided that pasta didn’t qualify as food.
And his fussing was something that made her feel even worse. Often after supper he’d say, when they retired to their room, “C’mon Rajaa, you hardly eat. That can’t be good for the baby, can it?”
And it drove her crazy. She knew that he did it because he cared, but it was really becoming too much. Feeling rather sorry for herself one afternoon, she happened to mention this to Nahla, her sister.
“You know, Rajaa, Mummy was saying that you didn’t come home for Aana. Maybe you should tell Haarith to send you home for a bit. I’ve been cooking lots, lately, and I’ve come up with a pretty mean pasta, at least Daddy says so. I’ll make it for you. Come home.” Rajaa realised that Nahla was right. It was customary for the bride to go home for a week of two after the first month of marriage, a custom called Aana. So maybe she would remind Haarith of this.
And if she went home, at least she wouldn’t have to face Mrs Hayat every day. She couldn’t quell the feeling that it was her face that brought on the nausea each day.
Haarith looked at her wan face. There were dark shadows under her eyes, and she really looked as though she had lost some weight. Oh, maybe spending a week apart wouldn’t be all bad. She looked like she really needed it, and he could use the time for some outings with the guys. The rumblings about him being a governed man were becoming hard to ignore. But his delight at having Rajaa, his joy at the pregnancy, these things combined to make him a little protective. And since his mother’s hostility was becoming a more open, he hadn’t been hanging out with the guys at the mosque after the Isha prayer for their customary hour as he had always done. Rather he chatted for a while, fifteen minutes at most, and then he’d make some excuse of the other and leave.
“Okay, I’ll take you home on Saturday.” He finally conceded.
“You’ll stay with me Saturday night?” she asked, her expression earnest.
“Well…” he hedged.
“Aww c’mon, Haarith. We’ve never stayed together at my parents’. And I’m sure my Mummy would love to have you there.”
And therein lay the problem. Mrs Kadwa. Haarith was not going to upset Rajaa by telling her that he couldn’t stand her mother. And to say that he had another outing planned with the guys would make him look lousy in the eyes of his in laws. It seemed there was nothing for it. He’d be visiting with the Kadwas.
They left early on Saturday morning. Haarith wanted to check out the new mall. He had heard of it from a few of the guys at the mosque. It sounded promising.
They walked, keeping themselves modestly detached from one another. It wouldn’t do for them to be seen holding hands. Though he felt tempted to do just that now and again. But it wasn’t the norm, not amongst Indians it wasn’t.
Rajaa chatted, oohed, and aahed. But she did not ask for anything. Haarith bought for himself two new jeans and some shirts. Rajaa was scandalised by the prices.
“Come with me, we’ll go to Mr Price. I’ll get you the same thing at half the price.”
“Mr Price! But I thought they only sold stuff from China. Like things that tear after one wear.”
“Snob,” Rajaa retorted. “I’ve been wearing stuff from there for years, and believe me, I get really good wear out of the clothes.”
“Well you don’t need to shop there anymore, okay. Now choose something for yourself.”
“No way. From here? I’m not crazy!” She folded her arms across her chest and fixed him with that look, the one that was so infinitely little girlish.
“Please, as a gift from me.” He held her hand as he said that.
“Well okay, only because you insist. That skirt is rather pretty…”
Rajaa ended up buying a skirt, one that Haarith though looked great on her – with an elasticated waist naturally - and two blouses. They had lunch at a wonderful seafood restaurant and set out on the journey to the Kadwas modest three bedroom house.
Mrs Kadwa was her usual effusive self, fussing about Haarith even more than she did about Rajaa. Already Haarith felt himself withdraw.
It was Haarith this, and Haarith that. Poor Mr Kadwa, who seemed to be constant state of bewilderment, was forced by Mrs Kadwa to vacate his couch for Haarith. Haarith felt embarrassed and tried to get Mr Kadwa to stay where he was, to no avail. Seemed that what Mrs Kadwa said was always law.
Supper was a lavish affair.
“Rajaa warned us not to do anything fancy, but we couldn’t resist,” She enthused. “Here, have some of this pasta. Nahla made it.”
She piled food onto his plate, until Rajaa finally came to his rescue.
“Mummy, I’m the one who needs feeding. Pass the pasta this way. Haarith is not a pasta fan.”
But this was duly ignored. Haarith, for the sake of politeness, was obliged to work his way through two helpings of pasta. They then retired to the lounge.
Mr Kadwa relaxed then, with his wife comfortably hidden in one of the bedrooms, no doubt getting the ‘goods’ from Rajaa.
Haarith was pleasantly surprised to discover in his father in law loving type of man, who took a genuine interest in his children’s lives. Mr Kadwa spoke spiritedly about Nahla’s studies and Zain’s plans for the future. He was a carpenter who ran a small factory quite successfully. He lacked pretension in any form. He spoke about his passion for cooking, politics, Islam, all with equal fervour. Haarith was fascinated, and could not help but marvel at the difference between this man, and the one whom he called father. Perhaps, he wondered, his own life would have been different had he had such a father. Perhaps he would have gone to university, something he had always wanted to do. But instead he ended up in his father’s import export business.
Not that he hated it, but he felt nothing about it, no passion or excitement. It was part of life, unavoidable and necessary. And he had long since resigned himself to that.
That night as they retired to bed – Mrs Kadwa insisted that they sleep in her bedroom – Haarith noticed that Rajaa looked happy. And he felt it too. But he knew that it was not something he’d be able to repeat again for a very long time.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Haarith could not believe what he was hearing. It could not be true! His mother would never speak to Rajaa that way. There had to be a misunderstanding. There just had to be.
He stroked Rajaa’s back, as she tearfully recounted the afternoon’s happenings. His mother would never speak that way about any baby. About his baby? Never! There had to have been a misunderstanding.
“Rajaa, honey, you sure you’re not reading into things? You sure this is what Mummy said?”
“What? Do you think I’m lying now? Would I make something like this up?”
“No, no, it’s not that. But I know my mother; she would never speak that way to anyone.” Haarith believed this with all his heart, yet…there was this small doubt created by some of the near nasty silent exchanges he had witnessed from his mother’s side towards Rajaa. But naturally, he would never admit to these.
“So you think I’m lying? What do you know about your mother huh? She goes out of her way to be as nasty to me as she can manage without it seeming too obvious. And I thought I could handle it. Now I know I can’t. I’m not living with her Haarith. I’m not.” Rajaa had stopped crying, and from the set of her shoulders, Haarith could tell that she was angry.
“Well I’m not moving. They haven’t got anyone else, so you can get that clever idea out of your head right away.” Haarith stood up. “And in future don’t speak about my mother like that. She has never been anything but good to you.” Even as he said the words, he knew them to be somewhat fatuous.
“Oh really, well how about her story about Mary? Mary went to the Doctor. That’s what she said. But that’s not true you know. She gave Mary the day off, and then lied about it. She wanted to make my life difficult, but her plan backfired because you wanted to gallivant with your friends!” Bitterness comes easy, like that. One unresolved gripe and the baggage starts piling up.
“I wanted to gallivant? So now you want to tell me where I can and cannot go, do you?”
“Same way you expect me to report to you every time I step out of the house.” She challenged.
“You’re my wife. And I am your guardian. You’re supposed to know that as a Muslim woman. And since when does any Muslim woman speak that way to her husband? Show a little respect why don’t you? I have never heard my mother speak like this to my father.”
“Your mother again. The angel. Well, are you going to do anything about what the angel had to say?” Her tone was biting, sarcastic.
“What do you want me to do Rajaa? Tell her she was wrong? It will just upset her. And you haven’t seen my mother when she’s upset. I can’t do that. I’m supposed to respect her. I’m sorry, but I can’t tell her anything.”
“Oh, so that’s how it works. Her feelings are more important than mine. You don’t love me. It’s all a lie. You can’t even stand up for me when your mother accuses me of being a slut. Well thanks for letting me know where I stand.”
“It’s a pleasure!”
They slept apart. It was the first time and Rajaa hoped it would be the last. She tossed restively, sat up now and again and saw him on the couch in the corner of the bedroom. He’s sleeping peacefully, she thought bitterly, and he’s the one who was wrong. At some point during the night which felt like a lifetime, she got up to relieve herself. Pregnancy! Supposed to be preparation for dealing with a newborn. And he’s fast asleep. Will probably do the same once the baby arrives. These thoughts did nothing to improve her mood.
Supper had been a strained affair, with Mrs Hayat putting on an extra cheerful face and talking about how she looked forward to her grandchild. Rajaa wanted to scream. But she was forced to sit through the charade and play along as though nothing had happened. Mr Hayat was his usual taciturn self.
She had brought the flowers to her bedroom. She looked at these now, on the dressing table. In the semi darkness, she could make out a faint silhouette of the gargantuan arrangement. What joy they were meant to have brought. How her heart should have been warmed by his ‘I love you’ in the card. It was a first of sorts. Though he sometimes said it, this was different. It was something to cherish. It was a card to keep hidden somewhere in her cupboard, and words with which to embellish her soul. They were flowers to admire, to savour, and finally to press between the pages of a book, not all, naturally, for there were too many, but a few. And to then place between the pages of her Quraan. For their perfume to linger, and fade, for their petals to crumble as their love was intensified. As they watched their own flowers bloom, their children, through the years. Would they see those years? If Mrs Hayat had anything to do with it, Rajaa knew that she would be back home on a heartbeat.
And suddenly she felt like crying. Tears slipped silently onto the pillow, drip, drip. Her shoulders shook. She didn’t hear him get up. Didn’t hear him walk towards the bed. She was startled to feel a hand on her quaking shoulder. Another on her face, wiping away tears, and proffering a tissue. She sat up, crying more furiously now. He sat down beside her. She buried her head in his shoulder and wet his t-shirt with her tears. Haarith rocked her wordlessly. When her tears were spent, he laid her down on the bed, lay down beside her, and held her close to him.
He didn’t know that love could claw at the soul so. He was torn in two, torn between loyalty and love for his mother, and the deep, though very different love he now felt for Rajaa. He wanted to protect her, to shield her from pain. But he was powerless when the cause of her pain was his own mother.
The exchange over the flower arrangement in the lounge that day had further soured an already awkward relationship. Rajaa greeted each new day that she would spend in the kitchen with Mrs Hayat with a silent dread. And knowing that she was powerless to change anything just made matters worse. Mrs Hayat had become even more hostile than before, openly so as opposed to her covert ways of the past.
The roti dough was too soft, the cake too heavy. Even the punch, which Aunty Khairun has swooned over, was suddenly too sweet. If Mary exchanged a few words with Rajaa, Mrs Hayat could soon be heard questioning her about what Rajaa had said. In war, everything was a worthy weapon.
One afternoon Rajaa returned from a trip to the local shopping centre to find Mrs Hayat on the telephone.
“Yes, Khairun, we won’t make it for supper. She doesn’t want to come.” A few moments’ silence, during Rajaa could make out rapid speech on the other end. “Well, Safwaan said yes, Haarith did too, but it’s her. I think she said something about not liking you. Haarith won’t say this, but that’s the feeing I got.” She looked up, and found Rajaa standing before her. “Khairun, I’ll call later. She’s here.”
Rajaa stood there. She had never felt such unadulterated anger in all her life. The nerve of this witch. To tell lies, such bald faced lies, and then stand there looking at her, smirking, daring Rajaa to say anything in response. It was just too much. Rajaa tried to hold her tongue, but couldn’t. This was just way too much.
“Excuse me,” she began, “but when did I say that I didn’t want to go to Aunty Khairun’s?”
“Does it matter who said it? I don’t want to go, and have to listen to her praising you when you know you don’t deserve it. So now we won’t go.” She turned around and plopped down on a couch.
“Well, Mummy,” Rajaa emphasised the word, “We’ll be going. Haarith agreed last night. So I’ll call Aunty Khairun and let her know.”
“No you won’t.”
“Try to stop me!” Rajaa’s hands were trembling, her heart racing.
“Well I’ll phone Haarith.” She began to look flustered.
“You do that. Only you’ll have to find a way of explaining to him your lies.”
Rajaa strode out of the room, and left Mrs Hayat to think of her next move. Some fifteen minutes later, Mrs Hayat came to her bedroom, flung the door open without knocking and said, “I’ve phoned Khairun. She’s expecting all of us after Maghrib on Friday night.”
Rajaa grinned, then stood up and closed the door after a retreating tail-between-the-legs Mrs Hayat. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
The blood test came back positive. She was officially pregnant. Rajaa felt nervous as she drove back home. Afraid, in some small way, yet bursting with anticipation. What kind of a mother would she make? And Haarith, would he be a loving father? Mr Hayat was a distant kind of man. She sensed a tension between Haarith and the man whose approval he appeared to constantly be seeking. She hoped Haarith would be different, more like her own father, whose appreciation and love were a constant factor throughout her life.
She felt a sense of wonder at what her body had been able to achieve. She was aware, for the first time in her life, of the existence of her womb. Aware of a miracle unfolding inside of her, the life that was a part of her. A part of Haarith. She felt thankful to Allah for this bounty. She couldn’t wait to tell her sister, her mother, her father. As it was, her sister been pretty boisterous when she had told her that she was late. She could just imagine what her reaction would be when she would get to know that there was a real baby, the first grandchild, on its way into this world. When she had discussed her fears of marrying a practical stranger with an old school friend, Safiyyah had told her that the love would grow. And it had. She could not, for a moment, imagine a life without Haarith, without his warm chuckle, his generous smile. It was as though he had always been in her life, and now this, the baby, it just served to fortify bonds that grew more resilient with each passing day.
She returned to the house to find a strange car in the driveway. As she approached the front door, voices, many voices, told her that there were guests. She let herself in quietly, hoping that she would get to phone Haarith first, and tell him the news (this was the one time she wished she carried a cell phone), before she would have to do her duties as a daughter in law. This meant serving the guests, and smiling, and nodding politely as much as possible.
She slipped quietly past the lounge, but Mrs Hayat had seen her.
“Rajaa,” the nasal voice that was beginning to grate on her nerves called from the lounge.
“Gee?” Rajaa walked to the lounge. “Assalaamu alaikum,” she greeted the guests.
“Let me introduce you. This is Aunty Khairun, her daughter Aneesa and her new daughter in law, Salma. Old family friends. In fact, there was a time when we thought Haarith would end up marrying Aneesa.”
Rajaa could feel the poison seep into her from beneath the deceptively innocent words. Which reminded her, she still had the matter of Mary to clarify with Mummy dearest.
Aunty Khairun looked a little embarrassed by the barb, but Aneesa, whom Rajaa assumed to still be single, did not bother to conceal the smirk.
“Wa alaikum salaam, Rajaa,” Aunty Khairun responded genially. “I met your khala at a wedding in Benoni, and we got to chatting. She was very proud of her niece, I must say. Was telling me what a legend you are in the kitchen. One of these days stingy old Hawa here will have to invite us to taste your cooking.”
Rajaa laughed while Mrs Hayat glared at her disapprovingly.
“Insha Allah,” was all she said. Rajaa took a seat on the couch opposite Aunty Khairun.
“Well, we’ve come with a purpose. Of course, we’ve come to check out the new bride,” here she winked. Rajaa had a feeling that in Aunty Khairun, she would always have an ally. “But we also wanted to invite you all for supper this week Friday night. Hawa is making a big fuss about having to get the okay from her big boss, but I’m sure Haarith will be more flexible. Say you’ll come, and then I’ll be happy to accept whatever you’re going to offer me, because really, it’s too hot today, and I’m rather parched.”
Aneesa rolled her eyes, and the daughter in law, Salma, maintained a poker face. How I would love to know what goes through their minds right now, Rajaa mused.
“Well, I’m sure it will be okay, but I will have to confirm it with Haarith first,” She had learnt her lesson the hard way. She knew for sure that she was no longer a free agent, free to come and go as she chose. And besides, she pacified herself, he really only did it, because he cared.
Aunty Khairun seemed satisfied with the answer, although Mrs Hayat looked as though she has swallowed a prickly pear whole.
“Now let me get you that something,” Rajaa said, as she breezed out of the lounge. She only gave in to the grin that had been tugging at the corners of her mouth once she was safely out of view and in the kitchen. She poured out chilled glasses of punch – this she had made and brought from home after the fiasco of Saturday – and cut slices of an almond sponge. She laid it out on a tray, and carried it to the lounge.
“The recipe, you’ll have to give me the recipe,” Aunty Khairun enthused between mouthfuls of sponge, and gulps of punch, both of which Aunty Khairun looked like she would be better off doing without. But, hey, chubby people are almost always fun, Rajaa told herself as these uncharitable thoughts went through her mind. Except of course for Mummy here.
Aunty Khairun and her side kicks, as Rajaa soon rechristened them – the one representing evil, and the other good – left amid promises of phone calls to confirm Friday’s supper, and heartfelt pledges to pass on the recipe for both the punch and the cake. And of course a generous slice of cake had to be bundled up for Aunty Khairun, as well as a bottle of punch. For her son, she said. Although Rajaa doubted whether her son, Amin would actually get to taste either.
Haarith wanted to buy flowers. He had never done so before. He called up the florist.
“Erm, yes I wanted to order a bouquet, or should that be a flower arrangement.”
“Would you mind my asking the occasion?” The voice on the other end was crisp and professional.
“Well, it’s my wife. She’s …pregnant.” The words had a taste of their own. Something wonderful, full of promise, and hope. Magnificent.
“Congratulations, Sir. May I suggest an arrangement? Roses, reds, for the love and passion in a marriage, and a few white ones, for the purity and innocence of the new being that the two of you have created. And some baby’s breath and of course ferns to show your sincerity. Would that work?”
“Yes, that sounds perfect.” Haarith gave her the delivery address, and his credit card details to pay for the arrangement. Three hundred bucks. Gheez, flowers were expensive and who knew that they said so many things. But it wasn’t every day that your wife had your first child.
“Mummy, I was wondering. What happened to Mary on Saturday? Haarith mentioned something about a Doctor’s appointment.” Rajaa had made a point of finding this out from Haarith. She hadn’t mentioned why knowing was important, but it was.
“Yes, that was what she said. Pity, though, the first weekend by yourselves and you had to do the cleaning. But it couldn’t be avoided. You know how these naddi’s can be if you refuse them something.” Here Mrs Hayat used the Gujerati term for maids, so common amongst Indian people. Rajaa had yet to decide whether there were any derogatory connotations or not. “But it didn’t matter, did it, because you used it as a chance to visit your Mummy. So tell me, how is everyone?” Her expression clearly conveyed that she couldn’t really care a whit about the welfare of the Kadwas.
“They’re all well, Alhamdu lillah. But it’s strange you know, because I was planning a supper for that night for Haarith and I, and I really needed Mary to be around. So I called her. And she said that you gave her the weekend off.”
“And conveniently you believed her. What do they know about speaking the truth? Are you calling me a liar?”
“No, no, Mummy, it’s not like that,” Rajaa was beginning to feel that confronting the issue had been a really bad idea.
She began to tear. “Yes, you’re calling me a liar, accusing me of doing nasty things, thinking the worst of me. Why would you think that way? I could tell, I could tell from the start that you didn’t really like me, and now you’re making plans to make me look bad by my son. What do you know about my son? What do you know about everything I went through to have him, about how sick he was when he was born, about how I sat in that hospital with him night and day, and now you want to take him away from me, so you make up stories to make him think his mother is bad?” She began crying, sniffing, nay, snorting loudly between sobs.
Rajaa felt alarmed. This was not at all how she had pictured the exchange. She just wanted to let Mummy dear know that she was onto her ploys.
“Mummy, I’m sorry, really I am. I didn’t mean to upset you. Please Mummy, don’t cry,” She patted the bawling Mrs Hayat awkwardly on her shoulder.
Mrs Hayat staggered to a kitchen stool and sank into it. She put her head on the kitchen table and continued sobbing loudly. Rajaa was at a loss. The doorbell ringing made her jump. Torn between comforting the clearly distraught Mrs Hayat, and answering the door, Rajaa decided the door would be best.
She stole a quick glance at Mrs Hayat as she made her way to the front door. Surely she had imagined the peek from under one of the arms. And surely she had imagined the eye being surprisingly dry.
Was that a flower arrangement that she saw? It was enormous and she could not see the face behind it. .
“I’m looking for Mrs Hayat,” the flowers said.
“Oh…” Rajaa, who had felt hope burgeon at the sight of the flowers said, “She’s in the kitchen. Just, just let me call her.” She turned around, only to find Mrs Hayat standing right behind her. Not a puffy eye in sight for all the howling.
“Erm, Mummy, there’s someone for you.”
But Mrs Hayat had already brushed past her.”
“Ooh, for me,” she enthused. She grabbed the arrangement with both hands, to reveal a young man, in a jeans and a t-shirt with the name of a well known florist emblazoned across the front.
“Er, Ma’m, you have to sign for it.” She pushed the flowers into a baffled Rajaa’s hands and practically snatched the clipboard out of his hands. She scribbled a signature onto it, shoved it back into his hand, grabbed the flowers back, and pushed the door closed with her bum, right onto his, “Have a good day!”
Rajaa wanted to laugh out loud. Mrs Hayat pompously strutted into the lounge, removed the expensive vase from the coffee table and deposited her bouquet in its place.
“Ooh, Safwaan is too sweet. And our anniversary isn’t for another two months,” she said loudly to no one in particular. “And there’s a card. How sweet.” With great pomp she took up the card, opened it, and began reading out loud, “To my beloved Wife, Each day I awaken to your sweet face, and know that I have a lifetime of such mornings to look forward to. And now you shall be the mother of our child. That turns my love into a raging river, I love you, Haarith. Haarith, mother! What rubbish!” Her face was slowly becoming the most unappealing shade of puce.
She dropped the card on the coffee table, and rounded in on Rajaa.
“So, is this true? You’re pregnant?” The angelic softness of her face had dissipated like mist under the scorching sun of her anger.
“Y,y,yes, We were going to tell you tonight.” Rajaa stuttered.
“What? Are you crazy? This had better be my son’s child. What will the people say? You’re not even married for a month. Haven’t you heard of birth control?” Each sentence stung like a poisoned dart.
Rajaa felt the tears threaten. She wouldn’t cry in front of her, she wouldn’t give her the pleasure. She turned on her heel, and with as much dignity as she could muster, fled to her bedroom. Locking the door behind her, she fell, a battle wounded soldier upon the bed, and gave in to the luxury of tears and self pity.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Haarith leaned casually against his car bonnet. Munir chatted away animatedly.
“So, how’s married life?” He must have asked that question three times already.
“Cool,” this had been Haarith’s response three times as well.
“So, you coming tomorrow?”
“Where?” Haarith spoke without really paying much attention to the conversation. His mind was on a near empty house where at this moment his wife was probably crying. Why hadn’t he spoken to her when she came out and saw him leaving? She hadn’t even tried calling him on his cell phone.
“Haarith, did you hear what I said?” Munir was beginning to sound a little peeved. He’d best pay attention.
“No, man. Sorry about that. Just some stuff from work worrying
“Well, I was saying that the guys were going out tomorrow night. We’ll be doing the Fordsburg rounds. Catch a chow, maybe at Mochachos, and after that just hang out. You in?”
“Erm, I’m not sure. The folks are gone to Nelspruit and Rajaa will be alone.” His expression was sheepish.
“Oh…” Munir gave him that look, the one he knew so well. The one he’d given buddies who had suddenly dropped off the radar because of their new wives. Vrou verskrik, that’s what he called them. Had he not vowed that he wouldn’t do the same?”
“Well, I could drop her off at her parents’. Yeah count me in.”
The slap on his shoulder from Munir didn’t silence the guilt that suddenly became a writhing serpent in the pit of his stomach.
He returned to a darkened house. Rajaa was curled up on the couch fast asleep. Next to her, a pile of crumpled tissues spoke of tears that he had been imagining. Whether it was the guilt at what he planned on doing or just the fact that he was beginning to feel a deep love for her, he wasn’t quite sure. He sat down on the couch beside her. Stroked her shoulder gently. She stirred. Suddenly he felt a stirring of his own. Perhaps it was the sight of her calves, exposed by the dress that had slipped upwards. Or the smell of her warm skin. He bent over, and pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth. She moaned. He followed this by another, and then another. Tracing a path with his mouth down her neck, he began working on the buttons of her dress. She moaned some more, arched her body towards him.
And then her eyes flew open. She sat up abruptly, pulling her dress back into place, for while his one hand had been working the buttons open, the other had been working its way towards her thighs, and the dress had rode even further upward. She pulled away from him, pressed herself into the furthest corner of the couch, and began buttoning up her dress.
He thought of their wedding day, of her sitting, demure, beautiful, practically creeping into the upholstery of the couch on the stage. He thought of the efforts he had had to make to get her to trust him. And now he had ruined it. While his desire became an throbbing ache, he accepted that this was what he deserved.
She pulled her knees up to her chin, and hugged her legs to her chest.
“Rajaa…”he began uncertainly. “I’m, I’m sorry about today.”
A tear slid down her cheek. He stood up, walked to her distant corner, and sat down beside her. He wiped away the tear with the pad of his thumb. This action let loose a flood. She sobbed, her delicate shoulders shaking as she buried her head beneath her folded arms. He pulled her to him, she resisted. His grip became firmer, and her resistance melted. She cried against his chest. And the serpent of guilt in his stomach began to feel as though it had reproduced a few hundred more.
They awoke that morning, a tangle of arms, legs and bedclothes. Rajaa felt radiant. Haarith was miserable. He had taught her a new meaning for the phrase ‘kiss and make up’. But he knew that the extra effort was really because of guilt. She had explained to him about her plan, the supper that she had hoped to surprise him with. And this just heightened his discomfort.
If he were to back out now, the guys would think him a sissy. There was nothing for it. He had to go ahead with his plans. He readied himself for the Fajr prayer at the mosque in silence. She prayed at home. They enjoyed another nocturnal meal at daybreak, and drifted off into a peaceful slumber in one another’s arms. The awakened, to a sun high in an enamelled blue sky. They were ravenous. Funny how all that eating makes you even hungrier, Rajaa mused, a happy smile on her face.
She slipped on her gown, and went to the kitchen. Mary, where was Mary, the domestic helper? Today, of all days, she really needed her around. Especially if she was to prepare that supper for Haarith.
Rajaa went back to their bedroom. Haarith was in the shower. She popped her head into the bathroom.
“Haarith, do you happen to have a telephone number for Mary. I see she hasn’t come in today.
“Oh, man, I forgot to tell you. Mummy told me to let you know that she wouldn’t be coming in to work today. Sorry…” he threw that irresistible grin at her.
“Okay,” she retreated. This was more than just a little inconvenient, she thought, her irritation growing.
She decided to check up the phone book. There might yet be a telephone number for Mary.
She found the number and dialled. After two rings, Mary’s cheerful voice greeted her.
“Erm, Hello Mary. It’s me, Makoti. How are you?” Makoti being the term by which a daughter in law was normally referred to, in African culture.
“Oh, hello Makoti. Yes, I’m okay. Any problem?”
“Well, see, I was planning this supper for Haarith tonight, and I really needed help. And I wondered why you didn’t come.”
“How?” Mary sounded perplexed. “But don’t you know? Madam gave me the weekend off. And tomorrow Winnie won’t be coming either.” Winnie was the helper who normally came in on Sundays
“Oh. Well, okay. Thank you, Mary. Enjoy your weekend.” Rajaa hung up, her brow furrowing.
She went to the kitchen, and set about preparing breakfast. She chopped up some red and green peppers; onions; tomatoes and mushrooms. She stir-fried strips of chicken, spiced with garlic, lemon, chilli and a few of her favourite condiments. These she needed to add a spicy bite to the eggs, which could sometimes be a bit bland. She grated cheese, and chopped up fresh coriander. The smell was heavenly.
By the time Haarith came to the kitchen, a table had been laid in the garden. The aroma of a Farmer’s Omelette, competing with that of bread toasting, filled the kitchen.
“Hmm, smells yummy in here.”
“Well, I hope you’re hungry.”
“I am, I am. You’re finishing me you know,” he said, feigning a faint.
“Well, if I recall correctly, it was you who suggested the supper last night. I just asked for breakfast.” Her eyes sparkled.
“Precisely. Who eats two meals in a night?”
“Well, we’ve been known to eat three,” she teased.
“Aah, that. Don’t remind me. But you see, my father taught me that it’s rude to refuse a beautiful woman.”
Rajaa flushed with pleasure. “Well, actually your parents look like they’ve been refusing each other for ever. Your mother especially. Looks like pleasure is not something she takes to very well. Explains why they have only one child.”
“Well, that was Allah’s wish. Not for lack of trying I can tell you.” His tone had lost the jovial edge. “We’ll have to make up for the shortfall. My parents want lots of grandchildren.”
Rajaa repented instantly. She had crossed a line.
He went out to the garden and sat down at the table. She arrived, omelette in one hand, toast in the other, to find him picking on the fruit slices that she had arranged like a flower on a platter. Melons, a pale orange and green; watermelon a luscious pink, black pips contrasting sharply; peaches, fanned out in slices, the delicate yellow flesh fanned by a pink tinged skin and strawberries at the very heart.
His mind seemed a million miles away. Or perhaps with his parents in Nelspruit. She forced an extra cheerful smile onto her face and laid the food on the table. She poured for him a glass of fruit juice and sat down beside him.
“I’m sorry.” She studied the placemats as she said this.
He remained silent.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated a second time.
He seemed to notice her only then. “What was that you said?”
“Do I have to repeat it again? Are you enjoying having me beg?” She was suddenly annoyed. “I said that I am sorry, if you really must know.”
“What for?” His face mirrored confusion.
“For what I said about your mother. It was meant as a joke, and was unfair.”
“Oh, that.” He looked relieved. “No it was nothing. Just that I always wanted a brother or sister, and never got my wish.”
Rajaa reached out and took his hand in hers. She stroked his knuckles with her thumb.
“I’ll remember that. But we’ll have a family someday. Then you’ll have your children for company.” Should I tell him now, tell him that I am late. No tonight, I’ll do it tonight.
She cut for him a generous slice of the omelette, cheese dripping down the sides, like molten gold, and put it on his plate. She buttered for him his toast, for she had seen Mrs Hayat do this for Mr Hayat, and she sensed that this is what he expected from her. She then did the same for herself, and they began to eat.
“This is delicious, honey,” Haarith said between mouthfuls. He had taken to calling her that lately. “Except, next time, cut down on the peppers and mushrooms.”
“Okay.” Except, I love peppers and mushrooms, she though to herself as she watched him removing them from his slice.
Rajaa did the dishes, while Haarith watched a cricket game on TV. She went to the bedroom, made the bed and cleared up the bathroom.
Amazing, she though, it’s the Twenty First Century, and in this home men behave like they did fifty years ago. She thought of her own father. Of how he cooked for them on weekends, of how her mother never lifted so much as a spoon on family holidays, since he saw to all the meals. She felt a sudden surge of homesickness. Maybe she should speak to Haarith about going home. She phoned her mother and spoke to everyone twice a week. But it just wasn’t the same. She longed to see them. They had stopped for a short while on the return trip from their honeymoon, but she hadn’t seen them since, and that had been just over two weeks ago. Yes, she’d ask him. Perhaps tomorrow they could go for a visit.
Haarith was not a very convincing liar. He had never been. Rajaa sat on the couch beside him, her face earnest.
“So we’ll spend the weekend with them? Really? Oh Haarith, jazakallah. This means so much to me.” She hugged him.
He struggled free of her grasp.
“Um, well, it’s not really like that. You’ll get to spend tonight with them. I’ll be at home.” He looked out of the French doors, at the satin surface of the sapphire swimming pool.
“But why? I don’t want you to be all alone.” Her concern was genuine.
“Well, I won’t be alone. The guys asked me to go out with them, and I agreed.” There! He had said it.
“Oh. Well, fine,” her tone hardened.
She got up, and without another word, went to the bedroom, he presumed to pack her bag. With a deep sigh, Haarith followed her to the bedroom. She wasn’t packing. Instead, she lay face down on the bed, and he could hear a gentle sobs. Gheez, but women can be such cry babies, he thought, his irritation mounting.
Still, the coiling guilt serpents enabled him to sit down beside her, and try a little placating.
“But what about our supper? I planned everything. Bought all the stuff.” Her tear stained face reminded him of a little child’s.
“Take it with you. You can cook it for your family.” He stroked her hair.
“But,” She hesitated, “I wanted to tell you something.”
“So tell me now.”
“But I wanted to tell you tonight,” she very near whined.
“Oh, come on Rajaa, just spit it out. I don’t like secrets. So spill!”
“Well, I was due for my period earlier this week,” She played with a thread on the comforter.
“And?” he prompted. A little bubble of hope had begun to grow in him.
“And well, I’m late as you can see. We’ve been having night time meals, uninterrupted.” She was smiling now, a little shy, a little mischievous, and oh so endearing.
He gathered her into his arms, lifted her straight off her feet, and spun her around.
“I can’t believe this! You mean?” He was grinning like crazy.
Her own giggly grin swelled the bubble to near bursting. Then she sobered.
“But I don’t know for sure. I was thinking maybe I need to find a doctor and make an appointment for next week. She can do a test.”
He whooped and cheered. He hugged and kissed, and they fell onto the bed, exhausted, delighted by the prospect that they could soon be parents. And while they lay there, they decided that another breakfast wouldn’t be an all bad idea, except it was already well past lunch time when they finished.
As he washed her back in the shower Haarith promised himself that he’d make up to her for this weekend.
© Saaleha Bhamjee - 2006
© Saaleha Bhamjee - 2006