My name is Mehreen, and I am a survivor (part 6)
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.
My baby Musa was my best friend. He kept my sanity going during my tough times. Hassan continued to be a shadow in the house.
It’s bath time now and Musa is undressing. While I wash him up, we have one of our Mummy and baby conversations.
“Mama, what would happen if I fell in the toilet?” asks Musa.
I laughed as I knew this would lead to a funny conversation. “You won’t fall into the toilet because I will catch you.”
“But what if I get stuck?”
“Umm, not sure. Maybe we would have to call the ambulance, policeman, and fire brigade, and they will have to help you!” I laugh.
“How do you call them?” Musa is curious.
“You call 999 from a telephone or mobile!”
Hassan is home this evening, and he takes me and Musa out to the local supermarket. I feel like I have escaped when he takes us out. When we return home my heart, like always, sinks, and I think, Maybe it’s just a dream and I’ll wake up in a better place with my husband and child. But this is a dream, merely a dream.
“Hassan, is it ok if I take Musa to the local children’s center? They came last week and want him to attend. I think it will be great for him.”
I await his reply, hoping it’s a yes. My heart beats faster and my mind is saying Please, please, please.
“Yes, of course you can. Just make sure Mum and Dad are seen to,” he says.
“What? Did you say yes?”
“Yes, I said yes! What’s the big deal? You ok with that, Musa?”
“Yeah, Daddy! I will go on slide! Wheeee!” says Musa excitedly.
I still cannot believe what Hassan has said. It’s as if a beacon of light has been sent for me and Musa.
The following week arrives, and we prepare for our first day at the children’s center. Luckily, Henna is not at home. I prepare all the food, clean the house, and ensure everything else is done. Musa wears a new outfit and so do I. It’s like a holiday, and my heart is jumping with happiness. Musa squeals with delight all day.
I say goodbye to my mother- and father-in-law and head out the door with Musa holding my hand.
“Come, baba, let’s go,” I say.
“Yes, Mama, let’s go on the slide!”
As we walk, I get lost and ask a woman passing by for directions to the children’s center. She tells me she is walking there too with her daughter, and we walk together.
We have so much fun at the children’s center. I cannot express my happiness at being in a different environment than normal, but I also find it strange, as I’m not used to it. Musa makes friends, plays on playground, and paints lots of pictures.
Eventually, it’s time to leave and we feel sad, but also happy that we will return soon.
We arrive home and my Musa runs to show my father-in-law his first painting. My mother-in-law also looks on with a smile on her face, but her expression soon turns to a frown when she looks at me.
“Okay, now Musa you go and eat. And you, Mehreen, wash the dishes. We had guests and I’m too tired,” she says.
“Yes, Mama,” I reply. “I’ll just go and change first.”
“No, go and wash them now,” she orders.
I put Musa on the sofa and go to the kitchen. There is a big pile of dishes and I can’t even find the apron to cover my new outfit.
It takes me some time to clean the kitchen, but I finally finish. I hear Henna walk inside so I try to quickly prepare Musa’s milk and other food so we are out of her way. She barges into the kitchen.
“I’m hungry. Heat some food up for me.”
I obey to avoid conflict and prepare her food and take it into the dining room, laying it on the table for Henna.
Musa is showing her the pictures he painted at the nursery, and she waves him off, ripping the painting. Musa begins crying.
“Oh be quiet, you little girl!” she shouts and rips his painting completely.
“Oh no, please don’t,” I plead. “It’s his first painting.”
She looks at me more closely.
“Oh, really?” she eyes my outfit. “Nice suit, Mehreen.”
Henna lifts the bowl containing the curry and scoops some in her hand; she then uses both her hands and wipes the curry down my outfit. I begin trembling and cry silently.
“You naughty!” shouts Musa.
I grab Musa and take him away to change both our clothes.
I give Musa his milk and pat him to sleep.
“My painting, Mama,” whimpers Musa.
“Don’t worry, baba, we will make another one,” I say wiping my tears.
It has been 4 years now since my mama passed away. I miss her terribly. She was my rock during tough times, and now my Aba was so far away, God only knew when I would see him next.
I am in the fifth month of my second pregnancy. Despite the many moments of joy I feel nervous, and question why I put my children through this. Would we ever be happy?
Hassan is out of town for the weekend, and Henna has gone away too with my mother-in-law, attending a wedding several hours away. There is some peace in the house, but still a sense of uncertainty. My father-in-law is never any trouble. I feel he is also bound by the family atmosphere that we had to adhere too, according to Henna and his wife.
The weather is nice today and I am going for a pregnancy check-up. Pam has offered to drive, as Hassan is gone. Musa really enjoys the car ride. Pam continues to question me about what was happening at home, but I deny everything. Hassan’s pleas echo in my mind about how people will talk in the community.
“So how was your previous scan, Mehreen?” asks Pam during the drive.
“Sorry, umm, this is my first one,” I reply.
“What you mean? You haven’t had any before?”
“No, I didn’t know you have to have them that early. Even during Musa’s time I only had one or two,” I say, quite confused myself.
“Mehreen, you are supposed to have more than that! That damn family.”
“Don’t be angry, Pam,” I turn to look out the window.
At the hospital, we sit in the waiting room, and Musa plays with the toys.
“Mehreen Akhtar” calls the nurse.
“That’s us,” smiles Pam, and we call Musa to come with us.
I lay down on the bed and the nurse asks me to lift my kameez, applying gel to my stomach. It’s cold and I laugh.
“Fat belly, Mama!” laughs Musa.
I giggle, “Yes, Musa.”
The nurse scans my stomach and we hear the baby’s heartbeat. Musa looks on excitedly, and tears come to my eyes.
“Oh look, Mehreen!” squeals Pam, and we see my baby move.
“Do you know the baby’s gender?” asks the nurse.
“Would you like to?”
I look at Pam for an answer.
“Yes, go on, Mehreen. Don’t worry, we can keep it to ourselves.”
I agree and the nurse continues scanning me, my heart beating faster and faster.
“It’s a beautiful baby girl,” smiles the nurse.
“Baby sister? Yeah!” shouts Musa.
“Oh, Mehreen!” Pam kisses my forehead.
I begin crying, and suddenly start thinking about my daughter and reflect upon myself. I don’t want her to be subject to what me and Musa are going through.
“Mrs. Akhtar, I notice you haven’t attended previous scans. May I ask why?” asks the nurse.
I suddenly look around “Sorry, I–”
“Because her husband is useless, her in-laws are bullies–”
“No, no! They are good people. My husband works and is very busy,” I reply.
The nurse looks between me and Pam. “Mehreen, if there is something going on at home, you can talk to us. We can help you,” says the nurse.
“No, I’m fine,” I say and begin rubbing the gel off my stomach.
During the car ride home, I keep crying and thinking about the scan, and my little daughter who is safe right now but may not be for long. . .
My name is Mehreen, and I would like to say thank you for following my journey and sharing it. Some of you shared in my tears and joys, but some of you were judgmental towards me and said I was stupid, weak, and a coward for not standing up to my abusers.
Women like myself, who experience domestic abuse, do not remain silent because we are cowards. It is because we think every day will be a new beginning. We live in hope, and yes, we also sacrifice our happiness for the honor of family and community, because we fear that our children will not have a good upbringing, and for many other reasons.
When I was hurt or crying, I knew the pain would heal eventually. I always hoped things would get better. I would forget everything when my husband would just smile at me and say hello or when he would spend an hour with me and my children.
But you are probably wondering what happened to me. No, my journey did not end quickly. It continued for some years. My son’s health deteriorated. He began withdrawing at school and would jump at every little sound. Henna would pinch him and taunt him saying he was not normal. It got so bad that my baby Musa would wet himself in class and was bullied by the other students.
I never said anything to anyone for fear of my immigration status. I thought I would be threatened and sent back home, my children taken from me. Hassan began spending even more time away from home due to work. Whenever I would try to talk to him he cut the conversation short. It came to a point where he was no longer interested in me, Musa, and my baby Aisha.
Yes, remember my daughter whom I was expecting? She was born, my beautiful angel, but she has disabilities. The doctor says this may be due to her being born early when I was pushed down the stairs by Henna. Wait, please don’t judge me again, don’t say I was to blame for the suffering I experienced.
One day, my cousin Sara was coming, and I really wanted to tell her everything, but I didn’t know how to. It was Pam who contacted her instead, and she came with the police. It was so difficult for me; I was shaking and did not know what to do. I had been told the police were not nice people, but the officer I met was so supportive, Sara took me to her house and helped me and my children secure our immigration status.
Now I live as a single mother, a brave and strong mother who is on a journey which is positive for me and my children. My Musa is now 7 and Aisha, 3 years old, is receiving medical care. I have accessed courses to improve my English and learn how to drive.
I urge anyone who has read my story to take action and seek help. There is always help out there, and we have a right to live a life free of abuse. It’s not easy, but living with abuse wasn’t easy either. I have made the right decision. Domestic abuse it is not acceptable in society or religion.
If you ever see a woman who had the signs I displayed, take time out to help her and hear her silent pleas before it’s too late. Two women die every week in the UK due to domestic abuse.
Please look up your local domestic abuse numbers and keep them on hand.
Thank you for hearing my story.