What is it that compels some women to stay in an abusive relationship with a spouse for any number of years? Why do some women believe that they can change their husbands for the better after everyone, including their own children, begs them to end the union?
Let me tell you the story about Aneesa and her husband Salim (not their real names) and their three children, Fahima, Muhsin, and Malik, and the terrible events that took place during that fateful year.
I remember clearly the evening of 15 February, when I had been urgently summoned to their home, which was not far from mine.
Fozia, my wife, had not been very happy with me leaving the house at nearly twelve o'clock at night, especially since I had just started to recover from a stubborn cold that had refused to budge, no matter what I had doused myself with.
"Why can't she wait till morning?" Fozia had argued, grudgingly passing me my pants. "You're not well! She's forever doing this! I don't understand! Why doesn't she just leave that idiot!"
"But you don't know if it's about him, Sweetheart?" I had parried, not in the mood for arguments at this time of night. We were of course referring to Salim, her husband and the endless fights the two of them were having. "Besides, I won't be able to sleep now in any case."
"Gmf!" Fozia had remonstrated while I had just stared at her. "You are nothing of her. You teach her children, and that is that!
Fozia was probably right, I had thought while dressing myself. Aneesa didn't care what time of night she woke me up, and most of the time it was because Salim had hit her or the children or he came home drunk and overturned the stove with food and all onto the kitchen floor. How many times she had come to the Madressa (Islamic Religious and Cultural Institution), where I taught, to complain about his drinking habits and abuse I couldn't count. And how many times I had gone to their house to talk to him (when he was sober, of course) and even threaten him with 'Judicial Action'? (That is, to subpoena him before the Muslim Judicial Council, which is an Islamic Judiciary Body catering to the social and cultural needs of the Muslim community of Cape Town). He would promise me never to abuse her or the children again, and he would cry bitterly to emphasize his sincerity. But, as with most abusers it wouldn't be long before Aneesa was on the phone, crying that he wouldn't let her into the house.
"You are nothing to her!" Fozia's angry voice had broken through my thoughts. "Just because she always helps with fund-raising for the Madressa doesn't give her the right to invade our privacy! She's a damn nuisance!"
I didn't know what to say. Fozia wasn't one to hide her true feelings. If something troubled her, or got too close to her, she didn't think twice of lashing out. But I, on the other hand, felt I had a social responsibility towards not only Aneesa but to all the members of the Madressa. However, as Fozia had so grudgingly pointed out, Aneesa was the one person I could always rely on when it came to raising funds for the Madressa. No matter what the circumstances, she never said no to the Instituition.
"Don't wait up for me," I had said, leaving the house, knowing full well that Fozia wouldn't close an eyelid while I was gone. She was like that.
I reached Aneesa's place at about 12.30 that night and was surprised to find all the lights on and an emergency vehicle in front of the door. Aneesa and the two boys, Muhsin and Malik, were all standing in the doorway, their faces bearing the strain of great anxiety. I was just in time to see the paramedics load Fahima, their fifteen year old sister seemingly unconscious on a stretcher into the ambulance. Khadija, Aneesa's younger sister, accompanied her.
"Thank you, Muallim! Aneesa had gushed out as I approached them. "Thank you! Thank you for coming so soon!" (Muallim meant "Teacher"). And she had gripped my hand firmly, while her sister had peered silently through the back window of the ambulance as it moved off, emergency light flashing.
"What happened here?" I inquired, not knowing what to expect. "What's wrong with Fahima?"
Aneesa burst out crying. "She took an overdose of tablets!"
"What?" I couldn't help sounding incredulous. "What? When..? I mean..Why? I could only gape at her. "Is she okay?" It sounded silly after seeing her being taken away by the ambulance, but I just had to say something.
"Yes! We were just in time. Thank God! Malik found her on the bathroom floor!
"Oh, my God!"
Aneesa led me into the house, and offered me a seat in the lounge. A lot of questions went through my mind. "Where is Salim? Why isn't he here?"
She went to sit opposite me, wiping her eyes continuously. "I need to talk to you, Muallim! Please! You must help me. I don't know what to do!" She began to sob loudly.
"But why isn't Salim here?" I persisted, getting some of my composure back. "Where Is He?" I was somewhat perplexed at seeing Aneesa's sister accompanying Fahima to the hospital, and, more than a little peeved at Salim for leaving them alone at such a crucial time. How dare he!
The two boys had also come into the lounge now and she hugged them both. "Muhsin..? Malik..? You must go to bed…Please..!" She kissed them on their foreheads. "Mummy wants to talk to Muallim. Okay?"
Muhsin was 11 and Malik was 9. They were all beautiful children and very well behaved. They greeted us and left.
Aneesa waited until they were out of earshot and said tersely. "Salim is in jail, Muallim!"
"The Police came to pick him up earlier on. The rubbish!"
I could only stare at her confused.
"He molested the child!" And she burst out crying again. "She's pregnant, Muallim. Fahima is pregnant!
I felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice water into my face. "Pregnant..? Surely you don't mean..?"
"Yes. The Bastard! She's pregnant with his child! Her own father!"
I blew out my breath; Aneesa stood up. "I need to show you something.." she said and left the lounge. I just knew that this was going to be a very long night for me.
She came back after a few minutes and held out an envelop to me. It was a letter from Fahima.
I opened it and saw there were something like twenty pages inside. My mind was suddenly blank. I read out half aloud:
"Dear Mummy. By the time you get this letter I shall cease to exist. But I want you to know that I love you very much. I love you and I love Muhsin and Malik. But please do not cry for me, because where I'm going to it is safe.
Daddy has done something very bad to me and now I am carrying his child. I've tried to tell you about it many times, but you are always working and when you come home at night you are always so tired and there is hardly time for anything else. You are just working and working.
On weekends, you and Daddy fight so much that we, your children, cannot sleep at all.
You tell us to clean the house and you punish us if we don't do it the way you want it to be done. You always brag about me to the family. You tell them that I am a straight-A student. You tell them that I have been offered scholarships from the most accredited collages. But what's the use of that? Even if I was the most brilliant person in the world- how do I face the world with a child from my father?"
There was lots more, mostly about how unhappy she was with her home situation, and how her father had systematically started to seduce her. She was very explicit and she did not hide any details. Aneesa just kept on crying and crying.
I must confess, that I just didn't see a quick-fix as to what has transpired in this family. How was that child, Fahima, going to go forward from here? I could, of course, tell Aneesa that she should've got rid of Salim a long time ago- everybody had warned her! She should never have trusted him alone with the children. Never! But what's the use of that? The harm has already been done!
If you are in an abusive relationship or if your partner shows signs of a deviant nature: Get help, or get out! Go to a clinic or any institution where the appropriate treatment or advice is offered. Don't wait till it is too late. Don't subject your children to anything unbecoming to them. Don't think for one second that nothing bad can happen to them, because you have given them a good upbringing. Life has a nasty way of surprising us all at times.Powered by Sidelines