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Who Is To Blame When a Teenager Commits Suicide?

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Can there be anything more traumatic, crushing, or heart-wrenching than to see someone you love dearly hanging from a rope in your garage? Can there be a more pitiable sight than to see a father on his knees, sobbing like a baby, his fists banging the concrete till blood spurts all over the floor?

Let me then tell you the story about Tariq (not his real name) and the events that led to his demise in this very sad manner. And, let me also convey to you the importance of keeping a close watch on your children and establishing an open rapport with them, so that they may feel free to confide in you, as a parent, whenever the need is there.

Tariq was a good-looking young man who lived with his parents and sister Mariam in Plumstead, one of the more affluent areas of Cape Town, where everyone kept to themselves.

His father, Ebrahim, a builder, prided himself on giving his family everything they needed, as well as the finer things in life, and he made no secret of the fact that his hard work over the years had secured them a good life for some time to come. He simply had no time for hangers-on, he said. He believed that every able-bodied person had the opportunity to better himself, and beggars were lazy people. Life was what you made of it. It was as simple as that.

Tariq’s mother, Fatima, on the other hand, was a good-natured woman, always smiling, and always ready to lend a hand at functions, although her husband never approved of her mixing with the ordinary folk.

Tariq attended a well-known college in the upper echelons of Newlands, where emphasis was placed on A-Grade passes. Students were encouraged to participate in all kinds of extramural activities, as well as all the major sporting codes. Parents had to attend Parent/Teacher Associations meetings, and no one was allowed to abstain without a valid reason.

Students who did not excel were kept behind in detention classes where a specialist in education methodology worked with them intensely. No one left these remedial sessions without emerging a better person. Students who showed a propensity to complacency and laziness were not tolerated for very long. Either you toed the line or you were dealt with in a no-nonsense fashion. The parents would be called in and the student disciplined there and then; if the behaviour or attitude did not change in a given time, the child would be expelled. No one questioned the school's motives – it aimed to turn out leadership material. The parents paid too exorbitant a fee to complain.

Tariq was A-Grade material. His ambition was to become a nuclear physicist and his parents spared no expense in getting him all the extracurricular tuition he needed. Tariq did not disappoint them.

When he turned nineteen, he was already doing his Honours Degree in physics, and the speculation was rife that he was going to complete his training at NASA in America, because his understanding of atomic structures and quantum physics was at a very high level.

He kept mostly to himself. He never attended Madressa or any institution where Islamic learning was offered. His parents allowed him the freedom to busy himself with his own devices. He was a good child.

His sister, Mariam, was his confidante. He loved her and she loved him. If he shared anything with anybody it would be her. She was two years younger, but acted as if she were older. No one could say anything bad about Tariq, or she would would have it out with them. She protected him fiercely.

Then, about four months before Tariq ended his life, Mariam noticed that her brother wasn't as close to her as usual. He never came to her room to chat to her, or even ask her to wash and blow-dry his hair as he always had. She noticed, however, that he always seemed neat and tidy, and took special care in the way his clothes were ironed.

She cornered him and questioned him about his new habits. She asked him directly if there was a woman in his life, and who was she? Was she pretty? Was it someone she knew?

He had answered her vaguely, she recalled afterwards. He had said that she was imagining things, and that there was no one he was seeing. But she had found out soon enough, and so had their parents, that there was a girl in his life and she was much older than he. In fact she had been married before and had two children: a girl aged 7 and a boy aged 5.

Her name was Nadia, and she was very pretty. Tariq was head over heels in love with her.

Their parents were devastated and barred Tariq from ever seeing Nadia again. They even went so far as to confiscate his motorcycle, and everywhere he went he was under their supervision.

They discovered to their shock and horror that the girl was pregnant, and Ebrahim wasted no time in making his intentions clear. There would be no further relations between his son and “this woman,” as he called her; he, Ebrahim, would see that the child had everything, and he would also pay for the woman's confinement. That, of course, was if it could be proven that his son was the father of the child.

Ebrahim relayed this to the woman and she refused, saying that she was was not a prostitute. She genuinely loved Tariq with all her heart, and that was why she was pregnant with his baby. She would raise the child on her own.

Ebrahim felt somewhat relieved. He hadn't told anyone about this conversation, and had simply said, when questioned about the girl's response, that she was rude and didn't know how to speak to older people. At least, he told his wife, Tariq could now concentrate on his studies once again, and that was all that mattered. The sooner they could get him into NASA the better. He, Ebrahim, would go to the ends of the earth to achieve that. He felt that perhaps the events of the past few months were a sign for him to work harder on his son's future. But that was all going to change, he promised his wife. Tariq was going to make a great name for himself and his family. Ebrahim was going to make sure of it.

Tariq then began to disappear from his room regularly at night. He would wait till everyone was asleep and then slip out his bedroom window. He was like someone possessed.

Mariam caught him sneaking in at about two o’clock one morning, his face all flushed. She did not dwell on the thought, but she knew he was heavily involved with Nadia. His eyes portrayed his inner feelings more than any words could express.

She asked him what he was going to do for the future, because she knew that their father was planning to get him off to America as soon as he possibly could. What if he became aware of Tariq’s nightly escapades?

Tariq smiled secretively and had said that nothing was going to stop him seeing Nadia. He planned on marrying her, and nobody was going to come between them. Nobody! He said it so ominously that she had felt a cold hand gripping her throat. And when she had asked him about his studies, he shrugged, and lifted his hands dismissively. She wanted to tell him that their father had threatened to disown him if he persisted in seeing this woman. What would he do for money then? But seeing the look in his eyes, she kept quiet, and slowly turned away from him.

He suddenly grabbed her arm. She became frightened at the forcefulness of his grip. “Tariq!” she said, pushing him back. “Are you mad?”

She couldn’t really speak out as she wanted to, for fear of waking their parents, but it seemed as if Tariq was past caring. He gave her that sinister smile again and released her arm. He said, as loud as if he intended for their mother and father to hear, “Nobody is going to stop me marrying Nadia, Mariam. Nobody!” Mariam looked round, almost expecting to see their father in the hallway. But there was no one. “Nobody, Mariam!” Tariq added, “Only Death!” And there was so much determination in his voice that she felt very alarmed and told her mother everything the next day.

Fatima first replied that Tariq was a good boy and wouldn’t do something so foolish, but after Mariam had insisted that they tell Ebrahim, and together get professional help for her beloved brother, the mother conceded, and spoke to Ebrahim.

The father’s response was everything the two females had not expected. He immediately summoned Tariq and bundled the youngster into his car despite the desperate pleas of both Fatima and Mariam. He was going to sort this thing out once and for all, he shouted as he drove off, and he would show everyone who was boss around his house.

He returned some time later, with Tariq, and told the two worried females that he had been to see Nadia and promised her that if she did not leave his son alone, he would not only disown the boy, but would make sure that Nadia regretted her actions for as long as she lived. He, Ebrahim, would not tolerate her nonsense any longer! He was been so smug and self-assured that Mariam burst out crying and ran to her room. Fatima said nothing, but anyone could have seen the pain on her face as she silently stared at her husband.

Ebrahim was too confident that he had done the right thing to listen to anybody else’s opinion. He himself had been involved in many puppy-love affairs when he was young, he recalled, and if his father had allowed him to marry any of the girls that he had fallen in love with, at first sight… Heaven knows! He hated to think what would have happened to him.

Later, as he looked at the lifeless body of his beloved son, one could only imagine what was going through his mind. Was he thinking of all the injustices he had done to everyone he had dealings with, or was he thinking of how wrong his son was to do this to him? Was he perhaps thinking of who was to blame for this, or was he blaming himself?

We can't know, can we? Suffice it to say that life isn't as simple as we sometimes think it is. All we can do is to try and live a clean life. By that I mean not to harm anyone, especially those who may be weaker than us. Let us always remember that there is Someone watching, and you cannot escape HIM. No matter how hard you try.

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