Resilient Heart

kolkata

It was the day my world propelled into turbulence. I was in junior secondary school three and had just turned fifteen. It was the week of revisions so on that Monday morning when I felt that the malaria was tightening its grip on me I thought staying home would be better. ‘’Make sure to sleep well,’’ my mother encouraged before leaving the house for her shop. As she left the house, I realized how the day would be very quiet. My siblings were all at school and our neighbors had sauntered one by one into the vast world each bent on finding his or her daily bread.

Placidness grazed the compound and rays of sunlight escaped into the living room through the rolled dainty burgundy window curtains. I sat on a dinning chair, a glass cup of water and a sachet of paracetamol sitting by its side on the brown dining table. I sipped the water twice and followed it by two tablets, then gulped the rest of the water, making a few drops to trickle down my bosom, damping a spot on my black sleeveless blouse. I felt the coldness of the water inside me. I glanced at the wall clock towering over the TV shelf, the time said nine o’ clock. The day was still young so I walked over to the shelf and picked up my brother’s Ababio (Chemistry Textbook). I needed to memorize the first twenty elements. I returned to the dining chair and read Hydrogen, Helium, Boron…and my eyes shut themselves.

I realized that a hand was on my shoulder so I jumped up in fright. When I looked up to see who the person was, my dad’s bearded face smiled at me. ‘’Why don’t you go and sleep in the room?’’ He asked. I had no idea I had fallen asleep. He put his hand on my neck to feel my temperature. ‘’I came home to get a document I forgot,’’ he explained, showing me the manila envelope in his hand. ‘’Make sure to sleep.’’ He patted me in the arm and then headed out.

I looked at the time and it was now eleven thirty. I heaved from the chair and started towards my room. I had just started to fall into oblivion when I heard knocks on the door. I growled and growled but the person’s fist was more resilient than my legs. I slid out of bed and walked to the sitting room. ‘’Who is that?’’ I asked, a hand on the hip. ‘’It’s me.’’I got more infuriated. ‘’And who is me?’’ ‘’Kulthum, it’s me. Daddy A’isha.’’ ‘’O’ Uncle, eeyin ni, I’m coming.’’

I rushed into my room in the speed of light and put on my black overall Hijab. Then unlocked the door. I went on my knees as Daddy A’isha entered into the house, a handkerchief in his hand which he used to mop his greasy face. ‘’The sun outside is too hot,’’ he complained, as he sat down on the three sitter furniture. ‘’Please get me cold water.’’

I went to the kitchen where our fridge was and brought out a jug. I placed the transparent jug on a stool in front of him then grabbed a glass cup from the stainless steel tray on the dining table and put it beside the jug. I retreated towards my dining chair. ‘’Come here,’’ he beckoned, ‘’are my going to pour this water by myself?’’   My jaw dropped at his importunity but I went and pour the water anyway. ‘’By the way, is your dad home?’’ ‘’No, he’s not.’’ He fell silent for a while then said to himself that he should have known that my dad usually couldn’t be found at home at such time. ‘’This fan is doing a good job,’’ he commended our brown ceiling fan, ‘’the heat outside is too much.’’

I was feeling drowsy again and I had no time for his repetitions so I told him I was not feeling well and wanted to sleep. ‘’O’ I will be heading out now too,’’ he responded, his gaze turning in my direction.

I took off my overall Hijab as soon as I stepped into my room and flung it on the bed, leaving my leggings and black sleeveless blouse on, and then climbed on the bed. I made the cardinal error of forgetting to lock the door behind me.

The door opened with a thin sound and there came who I always thought as an uncle. His eyes looked bulging and beads of sweat were all over his face, but in a strange way, he appeared calm. ‘’Are you okay?” I asked, as his stoic countenance invoked trepidation in me. ‘’Do you need something?’’ I furthered, but his response was only a smile and an incessant advance towards me. Before I knew it, his right knee was already on my bed. Now on my feet, I moved back towards the wall, trying to find my voice which had become mute. He grabbed my arms and the coldness of his palms chilled my entire body and made my heart pound even faster.

‘’Uncle, uncle what are you doing?’’ I managed to get back my voice. ‘’Take it easy, don’t worry.’’ I mustered all the strength I could and yanked away his grip. I ran for the door but before I could get to the door I felt his hands about my stomach and he threw me back on the bed. And, and…

***

I withdrew from everything and everyone. Passing the second term examination was not mandatory as what counted was junior WAEC so I didn’t even bother to study, but the truth was I didn’t care anymore. I spent days and days in my room coming out only for bathing and, occasionally, eating. I was angry at the world, at everyone, especially my parents who were blind to the pains I was going through. My mother sometimes instead of listening to my unspoken plight would verbal lash me, calling me Oni’nulile Omo. I even heard her one night tell my father that they should call Daddy A’isha and see if he could spiritually heal me!

Three months after that brutal experience, my life took another turn; and the turbulence eased up. My sister in law, Sister Zaharat, the wife of my mother’s little brother came home from Texas and paid us a visit that day. After noticing how casually I had greeted her, she asked my mother if I was okay. I was in my room that day but I heard all they discussed.

‘’Is everything alright with Auntie Kulthum?’’ She asked my mother, both of them in the sitting room. She called me ‘auntie’ because as a wife of the ‘’house’’ she is not allowed to call me just by my name without the prefix meant for respect.  ‘’Ah’ that one, only God can help me on her, since about four months now she has just started behaving like a stranger. She doesn’t talk that much to her siblings. Many days she won’t go to school. I don’t know, my wife. I really don’t know what has come over her.’’

About an hour later, Sister Zaharat opened the door and walked into my room, her black abayah mildly hugging her frame and her pashmina scarf now formed a loose hijab, the front of her braids were visible and her drop diamond earrings were glittering. Her almond skin beaming. ‘’Can I sit?’’ she asked with a weary smile. I nodded in response, sat straight on the bed and leaned on the wall, my teddy bear tightly embraced in my arms. She sat on the edge of the bed, reached into the small brown bag on her thighs and off came a gold necklace. She gestured that I move closer by her hand and then clipped around my neck the jewelry. ‘’This is for you.’’

I was happy a bit so I looked at her and said thank you. She wrapped her arms over me and a warm hug ensued. Her aroma filtered into my nostril. Her cologne scented somewhat like chocolate and her touch on me exhibited the abayah’s softness. I don’t know what she put in that embrace but it made me feel better.

‘’Iya’oko mi, you don’t look happy, and this troubles me. If you ever want to talk about anything, know that you can always call me up and I will be there for you.’’ She stood to leave and as she was about to put her hand on the door knob, my mouth opened:
‘’ Sister Zaharat, please come and sit down…’’

She sat beside me on the bed, our thighs brushing each other’s as I recountedto her the incident of that noon. I hesitated when I got to a point, and when I recommenced, tears began to drizzle from my eyes, pelting her abayah. Her soft breast caressed my head. She let the tears fall, handing me napkin only when my face had become damp. In a strange way, I felt lighter and better after narrating to her what had happened.

I went to stay with her for the rest of her vacation after she had discussed the incident with my mother. A’isha’s mother too was informed of her husband’s callousness, and she mentioned her suspicion of that man towards the young female students.

Spending the following three weeks with Sister Zaharat proved to be the excellent therapy I needed. Herself a graduate student of clinical psychology, she provided an eclectic therapeutic pathway for me using psychology, Islam and family warmth. As her returning date neared, I on one night crept into her room and told her I wanted to come to America with her. It’s not that easy, she replied. But promise you will try, I whined.
She tried and God crowned the effort. Non-Immigrant visa, for three weeks’ vacation, she would sponsor. The consulate accepted, and in few days we were on a Houston bound plane.

That was fifteen years ago. I am now on the path to obtaining my PhD in clinical psychology. O’ yes! I followed her footsteps. I currently intern at Syracuse Pathways, a center where abused children receive care and social support in Upstate New York. I work on a daily basis with girls and boys who have gone through things similar to what I experienced.
Some people say that women are raped because of sassy and provocative clothes; thereby blaming the victims. Have they no shame at all? I was wearing an overall Hijab whilst in the sitting room with that monster yet he still came to my room. And in Islam, dressing style in no way excuses the culprit! A lady can stand naked all she wants, your responsibility as a Muslim is to simply lower your gaze and fight your nafs(soul).

What happened to me was tragic but, see, it didn’t break me; and it shouldn’t break you either. I didn’t blame God for the action of an evil man as some do, rather I accepted the divine wisdom in it even though I didn’t know what the wisdom was. I submitted myself to God, calling Him to heal me, and He healed me for He is the best of those who respond to calls.

As for the monster, A’isha’s mother left him weeks after I arrived at Texas. A year later, he was arrested and sentenced to forty years in prison for molesting two young girls.

 

  This story is dedicated to the victims of sexual and domestic abuse. May their path to healing be quick and rejuvenating.

 

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