7 October 2018
The White Picket Fence
I’ve been thinking about the many years that I spent spinning around in my own mind after my marriage to Shafiq. When Faeeq was a toddler we moved from our one-bedroomed cottage in Bosmont to a quaint Victorian style house in Brixton, a suburb near to Mayfair where my mom lived. Shafiq and I kept a beautiful garden always with the prettiest seasonal blooms, fruit trees, a water feature and a pizza oven in the back yard. This was the ’white picket fence’ life I dreamed of as a child.
A year later my son Zameer was born, this time in the private hospital, called Garden City close to where we lived, but still surrounded by drama, which seems to follow me. The anaesthetist administered the spinal block in the ward and I was talking to Shafiq who was next to me. A few minutes later I blacked out and the next thing I remember was being surrounded by a circle of frowning faces with medical masks, and I heard someone saying “You gave us such a shock”. Shafiq who had been in the room with me explained that he saw my eyes rolling backwards and I passed out. He rushed out to the anaesthetist and other medics who were chatting in the passage, and everything went crazy after. They all rushed in and chased him out. A few minutes later they revived me. I had never seen Shafiq so relieved. Oddly enough the night before, I recall saying to him that if anything happened to me and the baby, he should not hurriedly marry someone to take care of Faeeq. Having experienced the step-mom syndrome, albeit in my adulthood, I was not keen for someone to wield their control over my son. I don’t know why I said that, but it caused Shafiq much consternation when I suddenly passed out at the hospital. The drama was not over though because in theatre Zameer was deathly silent when he came out and a pipe had to be inserted through his mouth to his oesophagus and air blown into his throat before he came to life. He proved to be a calm and contented child. I did not have gestational diabetes with him and my pregnancy seemed to have matched his temperament (or maybe the other way around). With two toddlers, I still found myself pregnant twice, but suffered early miscarriages, which were surprisingly traumatic causing me much sadness, even though neither of them was planned. It seemed like a look from Shafiq could cause me to fall pregnant. My body reacted this way to him, but my mind was certainly not in sync. To the world we had the perfect marriage. We were the happy family with the “lively boys”, both of whom resembled our Malaysian ancestors, causing many Asians to give us curious looks when they looked at us with our children, who bore no resemblance to us. My mom would take Faeeq with her to the Chinese owned hardware store and would inevitably get discounts from them. Behind the happy family card, that everyone saw, stirred a world of disquiet, as two human beings with disparate personalities and dispositions tried to find each other.
Shafiq, being a contained, gentleman, never displaying emotion and always carefully choosing his words ever weary of their impact, found it nearly impossible to find middle ground with a woman who was eleven years his junior, passionate impulsive and wilful, with a razor-sharp tongue having the impact of a whipper snapper. I sought more affection and animation and he yearned for more understanding and calm. How is it that opposites attract each other? Do human beings emulate the law of physics or do we subconsciously choose partners who are so different from us that we are forced to gravitate to towards each other to find balance? To achieve balance takes much patience and perseverance and requires growth and maturity, which I was forced to acquire, or I would be heading for a third divorce. This time I had children to consider and could not just up and leave. After my previous experiences, I had adopted a harsher approach to life, leaving nothing to chance and trying to force my will onto everything. Things had to be “my way or the highway”. Shafiq, in typical male fashion tried hard to avoid conflict and would accede to almost everything to avoid conflict. I would internalise my frustrations and then suddenly have a blow-out, that was met with a passive-aggressive wall of steely silence, which was the most provoking reaction for me. I wanted retaliation so that I could wield my war with words in court-room drama style where I was ‘king’. Instead I was met with a stubborn ‘right to remain silent’. It killed me. My frustration mounted. His frustration mounted. This was a recipe for disaster. In the midst of this emotional turmoil we had two little children to care for. We had to think about their well-being above all else.
Johannesburg and its suburbs were becoming increasingly dangerous during those times. Before I got married, I had a running account with PG glass for the frequent break-ins I had in my car. Once, I stayed over at my mom’s house one night and my car was parked in her yard which was enclosed by a high wall and a lock-up gate. I found it on bricks the next morning, all four tyres having been neatly removed. Of course, I knew the spot on Rifle Range Road where I would probably be able to buy them back. The biggest threat at the time was hijackings. I had related how my friend and I narrowly escaped harm in an attempted hijacking some years before. I knew at least three people who were killed in hijacking incidents, one of them a single mom in her late twenties, who was killed for a Toyota Tazz. The turning point for me was when I dropped my sons off at my aunt one morning in Mayfair before heading to work and heard a commotion across the road. The opposite neighbour’s toddler was being picked up by his granny and as she secured him into his baby seat, a group of men came at her with a gun, wanting to hi-jack the car. The little boy was still in the car and fearing that they would drive off with him she threw the car keys over the wall. The Hijackers, running out of time, abandoned their quest and drove off.
I started plans to move to Cape Town. Fortunately, Shafiq, whose family was based there agreed, and a year later we had packed our bags and made our way to the Mother City. I was ironically going to be a mother myself for the third time, being two months pregnant with a little girl this time at the age of thirty-seven, with what was flatteringly called a geriatric pregnancy. After the miscarriages, I found myself yearning for another baby and this time I planned the pregnancy. I had to take insulin injections throughout my pregnancy and it was worth every moment. About a decade before, I recall visiting a karamat (holy shrine) in Cape Town with my dad. A thought entered my mind that I would have a daughter one day and that I should call her Zahra. I had all but forgotten about the experience and when I had Faeeq and Zameer, I dismissed it as fanciful imagination. When this little girl came along as a tiny little pre-mature bundle with pink little cheeks, I knew that she was Zahra. She was born on the birthday of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) and we took her to Tuang Abdurrahmaan’s karaamat and had a quiet doepmaal (name giving) with our small little family in our new home town. Our underlying tensions were unresolved and continued to grow along with our family
My blessings were increasing. I was a mother and a wife. Was I good at it? Are any of us?
Find out more next time, God -willing
With love and gratitude, Radia💜