Written by: Sophie
Below is a story I wrote about domestic abuse. Before beginning, I would like to emphasize that there are different types of abuse, and that abuse can happen to anyone, male or female, from any community or background. This particular story is about a girl who is mistreated by her in-laws after arriving from abroad.
Please note the characters and incidents in the story are not real. If anything is similar to real life, it is purely coincidental.
Sara, my cousin, had come round this weekend. My mother-in-law was traveling to Pakistan and needed help with packing. My baby Musa was 6 months of age now, gurgling and babbling when he would see anyone–such a happy baby, despite being in my womb when I was inflicted with pain at the hands of Henna and my mother-in-law. I suppose being a mother does make you strong in many ways.
“Sara, can you also pack those creams?” said my mother-in-law, pointing at the many bottles on the table
“Aunty, why are you taking creams with you? Everything is available in Pakistan!” laughed Sara.
“I know, beta, but it’s never original.”
Sara and I looked each other and giggled.
“Quick mum, your flight is in a couple of hours. And the amount of stuff you are taking will probably be too heavy for the baggage requirements,” says Hassan.
Baby Musa needs his nappy changing so I pick him up and turn towards the stairs. My mother-in-law takes him from me and kisses him. “I will miss my baba Musa,” she coos.
I smile and take him upstairs.
“You smelly baby, lets change that nappy of yours,“ I say, laughing.
I look into the nappy packet and realise it’s the last one left, “Oh no, last nappy left, baby. I will have to ask daddy to bring some.”
I change baby Musa and we go back downstairs, as it’s time for my mother-in-law to leave.
“Look after yourself, beta, and after my little baba, okay?” she says.
“Don’t worry,” laughs Amir. “I will look after bhabi. I’m in charge now!”
I look at him lovingly and pull his ear.
“Oh Hassan, Musa’s nappies are finished. Can you bring some more, please?” I ask.
“Mehreen, I have to go to work. Late shift today. Hey Amir, you grab some nappies from the shops, okay? Here’s the money.”
We say our goodbyes and my mother-in-law leaves. Sara stays for a while and we drink tea while her baby girl and Musa play. My father-in-law is sleeping now, as it’s getting late.
“Mehreen, so tell me, are you okay? I don’t know why, but whenever I see you it’s like there is a sadness in your eyes,” says Sara.
I look at her, but no words come out my mouth. The room is quiet and I take a deep breath.
“No Sara, aapi, I’m absolutely fine. Just a little tired.”
“Have you got your leave to remain yet?” she asks
“Silly, your husband needs to apply for your indefinite leave to remain, as your visa is due to expire soon. Otherwise you will be an over-stayer in the UK,”
“I don’t know anything about that. I don’t even know the process, but I’ll speak to Hassan.”
“And what about Henna, how is she with you?” asks Sara abruptly.
“She is ok,” I say, looking away.
“Hey Mehreen, look at me. You can’t lie to me I know you well. I’ve seen how tense you become when Henna walks into the room.”
“No, aapi, I’m fine,” I scoop Musa up to change the subject.
“Mehreen–” Sara grabs my arm. “Tell me.”
Just then, the front door opens and Henna comes into the living room. She slouches on the sofa and switches the TV on. Baby Musa crawls up to her and she ignores him. He begins playing with her shoe.
“Will you take this brat away?” she snaps.
“Hey, Henna, whats the matter with you? He’s only a baby!” shouts Sara.
“Yeah, so? I’m tired and I want some peace and quiet.”
She stands up and gestures both her hands towards the front door.
“Don’t you have a home to go to?”
“You are so–” begins Sara.
“Aapi, leave it,” I say, holding her hand as we walk to the front door.
“Mehreen, my dear, why don’t you say anything? This is emotional abuse,” says Sara, hugging me.
“No ,aapi, I promise I’m fine. Don’t worry.”
I stand at the door for a few moments, stiff, not wanting to return to the living room because of Henna, when I suddenly hear Musa scream.
I run back to the living room and see him laying on the floor, crying on his side. Henna is shouting at him, “I told you to leave my shoes alone!”
I pick baby Musa up and we sit alone upstairs. He is still crying, so we creep down to the kitchen to make him some milk. By this time, he’s gurgling happily again.
“Shh my baby. Mama is making milk,” I hug him close so we don’t make any noise. Amir still hasn’t returned home with the nappies.
We go upstairs and Musa drinks his milk, but he is still restless because his nappy is wet. I phone Amir and his phone goes to voicemail. Hassan doesn’t answer either. What do I do now? I question myself. I daren’t ask Henna so I try to think of something.
I take a pillow cover out of the cupboard and cut it. I make it a bit thick and put it on baby Musa for a nappy. I cry a little as I tie the little knots on the side and then cradle baby Musa close to my heart.
“Sleep, baby Musa, sleep. Mama loves you dearly. God will help us and protect us with His angels,” I sing. My baby Musa finally sleeps, but I lay awake.
I sometimes wondered how much God would test me. I believed that something better would come of everything. But still, I would often think, Why me?
I began becoming emotionally drained and would stutter when Henna spoke to me. She laughed at how I would begin trembling when she called me. It came to the point that even thinking about her would make me unstable.
Is there anyone out there who could help me, understand me or even believe me? Even if I needed help, who would I turn to? I hardly left the house and didn’t know how or where to go. Maybe I should be a bit more patient, otherwise I will bring shame upon the family. Yes that’s right: Wait, just wait.
The next day I met Pam in the garden. I begged her not to tell anyone about what she saw happening, otherwise Henna would do something even worse to me.
“She needs a good seeing to, and I don’t understand what you are doing with that useless husband of yours,” says Pam.
“It’s difficult, Pam. You won’t understand. He’s the father of my child, and I love him.”
“Yes, I know that, but why doesn’t he say anything? Your mother-in-law is useless too. Listen, my daughter’s friend helps girls in similar situations. If you like, I can speak to her and see what she says.”
I look at her thoughtfully. My mind keeps saying, Go on mehreen, ask for help!
But my heart goes soft when I think of baby Musa, and I smile faintly.
“I promise you, Pam, that if I need help, I will come to you first,”
“You’d better, Missy. You’re just like a daughter to me.”
I go back into the house and find Hassan playing with baby Musa.
“Mehreen, can you iron my blue shirt for me, please?” he asks.
“Of course,” I head to the closet, but can’t find the ironing board and iron. Henna must have it.
I stand outside her bedroom door and contemplate knocking. Eventually I do, as Hassan needs to go to work.
She opens the door after I knock several times. “Be patient, woman! I’m getting ready,” she says coldly.
I take the iron and ironing board from her and iron Hassan’s shirt in the spare room. I hear her walking out of her room to go out, but she comes into the room with me instead.
She takes the iron from my hand and places it on Hassan’s shirt.
“Next time, wait until I open the door. Don’t annoy me by knocking.”
The iron burns through Hassan’s shirt.
I don’t dare say a word for fear of where she will put the iron next. Hassan walks upstairs and Henna leaves.
“Mehreen, my shirt is burnt!” says Hassan.
I remain silent and sad. Maybe I really should ask Pam for help.
My baby Musa was 3 years old now, but he would always be my baby. He was my strength for the everyday tribulations I faced. It wasn’t only Henna who would target me; it was also my mother-in-law. Her demands would drain me emotionally, and I would cry at every little thing.
Hassan was the husband who was a shadow, one who would seem like comfort and protection for me when he was in the house, but when he would leave I would freeze, waiting for something to happen that was not my fault. Hassan would plead for me to be patient for the sake of his family.
I began losing weight excessively because Henna would deliberately throw away food that was left over. She knew I had not eaten and yet continued to do this.
She began taunting my baby Musa, saying he was annoying because he would begin crying when he saw her.
Musa was visited by the local play group centre at our house today. I was glad that he would have an opportunity to get out and access activities, as he was not stimulated as other children were.
“Hi, Mehreen, my name is Becky and this is my colleague Aisha, who has kindly offered to do a joint visit with me. We are from the local children’s center and would like for Musa to attend play sessions .We also have various courses that you can access too,” Becky smiles.
“Yes, I heard of the activities at the center, they sound interesting–”
My mother-in-law passes by the front hall, and I stop and my change my conversation.
“I’m sorry, but I’m really busy at home and won’t get time to attend. Musa can come, though,” I smile nervously, looking at my mother-in-law.
Becky and Aisha look at me strangely. I become nervous and start scratching my arm. They notice this and turn to my mother-in-law
“Hello, Mrs. Akhtar. How are you? I’m trying to encourage your daughter-in-law to attend the courses we have at the children’s center while Musa is there, but I don’t think she is that interested,” says Aisha.
“Well, we have never restricted her from doing anything, she’s just like my own daughter. Isn’t that right, Mehreen?” She looks at me, her eyes telling me to agree with what she is saying.
“Yes, Mama, you are right,” I turn and look at Becky and Aisha. “But how will baby Musa attend without me?” I ask.
“Yes, that is a problem. I’m too old and my husband is wheelchair-bound,” says my mother-in-law.
“What about your husband?” they ask me.
“Yes, maybe,” I say uncertainly.
“No, he’s busy at work,” snaps my mother-in-law.
Again, my emotions take over me, and I look at baby Musa. Why does he have to suffer like this? These people won’t even let him go out.
“Can I use your toilet?” asks Aisha.
“Yes, of course.”
I show Aisha the bathroom upstairs.
“Are you okay, Mehreen? You seem a bit anxious,” she asks.
“Mama, Mama, I play on slide please,” says Musa, who had followed us.
“I think he liked the pictures we showed him of the outdoor activities,” laughs Aisha.
“But we can’t go. I’m sorry,” I say with resignation.
Aisha looks at me and is about to say something, but I silence her, pointing to Henna’s room across the hall. She takes a card out which has her contact number on it and slips it in my hand.
“Thank you,” I say and touch her arm.
Musa snatches the card from my hand and starts screaming, “I want it, give it to me!”
I try to keep him quiet, but Henna comes out of her room. She sees Aisha and then looks at me trying to take the card from Musa. She takes the card and reads the details.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep this and contact you if we need,” she says, smiling at me.
Oh no! What will she do now? I needed that number.
Aisha looks at me and then Henna.
“Yes, that’s fine,” and she goes downstairs.
Henna rips the card and throws it in the bin.
“Take this brat away,” she whispers in my ear and slams my head on the panel of the bathroom door.
I don’t go downstairs as I’m crying and cannot face Aisha or Becky. I walk to my room with baby Musa and sit on the bed.
I hear my mother-in-law saying goodbye and closing the front door. I stand to look out of the window and see Becky and Aisha walking away. I feel as if my hope is lost, and I scratch at the window glass as if it will send out a message for them to turn around and see me.
“Please help me and baby Musa. . .” I whisper.
“Mama, I want apple,” Musa pipes up.
“Ok, baba, come. Mama will get it for you,” I smile at him.
We head back upstairs and Musa sits in my lap munching on his apple.
“Don’t be sad, Mama. I love you,” he says.
The next thing I know, Henna barges in and snatches the apple from Musa’s hand.
“You liability, get your own apples!”
She mimics me with a high-pitched voice, “I want my son to go to the children’s center!”
“Apple, I want apple!” Musa cries.
“Please Henna, give Musa his apple back. He’s hungry,” I beg.
“Hungry?” she yells.
“Come. I’ll give you food. Stand up now!” she screams.
She drags me downstairs into the kitchen and begins looking into the saucepans on the stove. She then tips all the food in the bin.
“Henna, no please! My baby needs to eat. Please stop,” I plea.
She stomps over and starts slapping my right ear repeatedly. She always does this and it has reduced my hearing.
“You want food, take as much as you want from there,” she points to the bin and walks out.
I turn around holding my ear and look at my mother-in-law in the doorway, but she just rolls her eyes and walks away.
“Mama, apple, apple!” cries Musa.
“Ok, baby, Mama will get you apple,” I say through tears, and take him into the garden.
Pam is standing her garden and looks around “Oh, hel–Mehreen what’s happened?”
“Please help me, Pam.”