Part 5 – Iron Fist

12 August 2018

Part 4 of my story ended with the narration of my experience as a child at the hands of a disturbed adult and my long journey towards healing and forgiveness. Save to say that my view of the world changed considerably, I did not convey how this experience shaped my thinking and behaviour.

I find it quite ironic that I have always been perceived as the “iron-fist” no-nonsense strong woman that no-one messes with. The irony of many an iron-fisted woman is that we create a wall of steel around us to secure the vulnerability within. Having experienced the weakness as a young female against a man with physicality and mental persuasion such as I encountered as a young girl, I found myself wanting that strength, domination and power. I had to be more like a man if I was to survive this harsh world. I never wore dresses, played soccer and cricket with my friends, tumbled, scraped my knees and made sure I had the latest boy gadgets, a spinning top and ‘marlies’ (marbles) with which I tormented my brothers to help me perfect my games. Anything the boys could do I could do better. I was excessively sporty and developed broad shoulders big calf muscles and slender hips, much like a boy. Older men wouldn’t want me if I looked like a boy. I also loved dolls and tea-sets, but these treasures were relegated to the privacy of my bedroom. My toy shelf had a mixture of delicate glass teacups and remote-control racing cars, both of which I loved equally. At about age 12, when the subtlest body changes started surfacing, the boys in the neighbourhood started looking at me differently. I was playing cricket with my usual t-shirt and shorts and the tiniest hint of my developing breasts, caught the eye of one of the boys. The look on his face gutted me. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and cringed as he gawked at me. They would stop looking at me as one of them. To them I was a girl. Girls were weak. Of course, my view of boys evolved somewhat as I went into my teens, although I still maintained my boyish, sporty physique, keeping my hair short and my attitude rough.

I strengthened my resolve, bracing myself against the world, not as a girl or as a ‘half cast’, being of mixed Indian and Malaysian descent, but as a fierce warrior. My birth certificate racially classified me as “Cape Malay/Indian” and I was allowed into the Indian schools only because of the “/Indian”. The latter didn’t make me more acceptable to the Indians though, who prided themselves on being “ghaas” (pure bred) from one or another village in India. Inter-marrying between villages was frowned upon. Marrying outside the race altogether was taboo, and the half-cast progeny of such mixed marriages were quietly regarded as almost sub-human. My mom and her brother and sister had bravely broken the mould by marrying ‘muggles’. Harry Potter would have been proud. I would not let males or Indians make me feel inferior in any way and I proceeded to aggressively dominate anyone in my path. I created my own persona, suppressed my femininity, but despite my best efforts, young boys were still interested in me when I was in primary school. I rejected them with disdain. That attitude tripped me up when I started high school and became fixated on a boy who although initially liked me, was later put off by me. Knowing he was unattainable I remained infatuated with him for the better part of high school and casually tried “going out” with other boys for very short periods of time, in which they were not allowed to be very physical at all. Although I acceded to kissing, I secretly despised all that mixing of saliva, but loved the excitement of the chase. All the while I remained “in love” with someone I knew I would never have. This was obviously the safest option for me to avoid the dreadful girlfriend boyfriend experience in any real way, still managing to hold onto my dignity in the process. My best friend who was my ‘rock’ in high school knew of my broken heart, which I conveniently nurtured, avoiding any ‘serious’ relationship in my mid-teens. I found my place with a gang, called “The Saints”, most of who shared my mixed heritage. My bestie and I, being amongst the few girls in the gang, wore our “Saint” jackets with pride and no-one messed with us. Although we looked the part, we never indulged in any of the high school vices of the time, not even smoking cigarettes. I’m pretty sure everyone thought we did, though. For me, the façade of being a “bad girl” sufficed as a cover for anyone who thought I was weak. We had to endure watching fights with rival gangs from other schools, particularly when there were sports matches. One of our annual school sports day events degenerated into a ‘panga’ (machete) fight with the rival T-Birds from another school. Fortunately, no-one was hurt. Once we were threatened by one of gang leaders of the T-Birds, while walking back from the movies on a Friday afternoon. We were three girls and one of the older boys from the Saints who accompanied us. One of the girls started taunting him about his shaven bald head when he stopped, picked up an empty bottle lying on the pavement, broke it and came towards us threatening to stab one, or maybe all of us with the jagged bottle neck. Our male friend was not armed, but he deftly talked that maniac down and calmed the situation. We were always protected by the boys. They always made sure we were safe if there was any trouble brewing. On occasion though, we’d face a situation that was scary. My best friend and I were walking somewhere and came across one of the boys on his bicycle who stopped to talk to us. I can’t recall if he was a jacket-wearing member, but he was certainly part of us, albeit more timid in nature than most of the others. The very same T-Bird who had accosted us with the broken bottle happened to walk past. He stopped and aggressively approached our friend on his bicycle. “Hey saany! You a Saint nêh?” I think we all stopped breathing for a while. Despite his vigorous denial, the T-Bird proceeded to slap the unfortunate cyclist, and my friend and I witnessed his longish wavy fringe flying as he was stung with the ‘klap’. The T-bird leader then moved off, fortunately feeling satisfied with just the slap. We laughed about it later, the unforgettable image of the flying hair, but we were relieved that nothing more sinister happened that day. My parents had no idea of how my school hours were spent, or the fact that our Principal was a known alcoholic, who had reportedly fallen off the podium in assembly, before my time, and that I bunked school and stole out of the house to go to parties with my friends.

My time in primary school was spent somewhat differently. I became outspoken and won the speech contest in standard three. My voice was not going to be drowned ever again. I led the opening prayer for the school concert every year at Pentarosa Primary, was chosen to play the part of Hamlet; and became the head girl in standard 4. I was in control of me and the unfortunate souls around me. When there were staff meetings at school, the prefects would be assigned to supervise the classrooms and Madam Head girl would get to oversee everyone. I was ruthless. I strutted around frightening everyone and stamping my authority with resolve. I waltzed into a standard 3 class on one occasion on my usual rounds, when one of the boys in the class dared to challenge my authority. I was not going to let some boy ignore my command. I challenged him to a fight in the classroom and with much jeering and prompting from his class-mates he reluctantly came up to face me. He hesitated, presumably feeling uncomfortable to take a swing at a girl, and I quickly grabbed him, side swiped my right leg across both his legs and swept him to the floor. I leaned over him, clenching his shirt around the neck with both my hands and looked at him menacingly. The class was roaring by this time, jeering him for being beaten by a girl. He did not resist. I released him with an air of victory and smugly sent him back to his seat and exited the class with an air of satisfaction. On another occasion a boy in my class who had always lied about me being his girlfriend earned a stinging slap from me one cold morning as we were lining up to go into class. He didn’t retaliate even though he was obviously stronger than me. I had officially become a boy-hating bully.

Oh, but my come-uppance was not far. I had gotten into a tangle with a girl in my class, whose mother, being notorious for terrorising people came to the school one day. The Principal, God rest his soul, was nick-named ‘Bulldog” for his pug-like face and scowl as he walked through the corridors of our face brick school with his cane in his hand. He came with her to my classroom and called me out. I was mortified at the sight of the woman, whose reputation preceded her. I accompanied them outside. She menacingly asked me why I was fighting with her daughter. I looked up at the Principal, hoping he would protect me in some way and he looked at frightened as I was. She pointed her finger in my face and venomously said in a raspy voice “You know that woman who had acid thrown in her face? I was the F…ing woman who did that. Watch out, I’ll damage you!”. Woe was me. I lived in fear for the next couple of weeks, looking over my shoulder, unable to eat and having the worst nightmares about being defaced. Madam Head girl who thought she was invincible was terrorised by someone more ruthless than she. I was too afraid to tell my parents, thinking they’d probably blame me, so I shut my mouth and hoped I’d survive. My mom picked up on my anxiety and eventually got it out of me. When she told my dad, to my utter surprise he was livid, not at me but at the woman. My word! My dad was going to fight for me. Mixed with trepidation and euphoria I watched the events unfold as he immediately went to pay the woman a visit. I was on tenterhooks. He returned some time later and told my mom and I that she would neither touch a hair on my head nor ever say a word to me again. I needn’t worry. She never came near me again. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked. At that moment I wasn’t quite sure. I guess I thought that no-one would protect me because somehow it must have been my fault. This was how I dealt with most things in my life since I my lost innocence at age 6. I probably apportioned some blame to my parents for not keeping a watchful eye on me and protecting me from sexual predation. In fact, my fear of their reprisal made me feel blameworthy somehow. I always felt like I would be blamed in any situation and that I needed to defend myself before that happened, so I inevitably ended up smashing many a mosquito with my proverbial sledge hammer. The fact that my folks protected me now came as a surprise. My relationship with my father never really blossomed until I was older, but after this episode, I always I felt like he had my back. Even when he disappointed me, that feeling never left me. So, many years later, after my first divorce, when he suggested that I marry the Arab man who asked for my hand in marriage, I thought “Why not”. That, however, was the one time I should have ignored my father’s advice…

More next time, God-willing

With love, Radia💚