Raised by him everybody had high expectations or vision of how I should turn out. It’s probably the curse of the standards that he set from the get-go. He had been on the front row long enough to make him the leader. Always an hour earlier to prayer time, but then again what do you expect from a man who only gets his “income” from handouts from rich people coming to the mosque? When he went for Asr prayer he won’t return till after Ishaa. There was no way he could leave while the whole village was looking up to him. He took the “leading by example” phrase to the next level.
‘Imaam Swaleh’ is what everybody used to call him. He was a Hafiz; it is one of the qualifications one has to have to be an Imaam, that’s what he used to tell my brother. He was self-righteous and the whole village looked at him as an angel, but I couldn’t get myself to like him for so many reasons. How could he be so perfect to everyone but me? How could they not see him as I did? He could get away with so many things just because he was ‘a man of God or Sheikh or Maalim.’ I couldn’t get it. My heart almost turned black from all the hatred. Hate colours the soul. It spreads throughout the entire system, shutting down all other feelings, and becoming central to life.
So many things didn’t make sense to me until I was old enough to understand. Once I asked why my brother was going to school and I wasn’t, he said, “I will never educate a woman, your job is to stay in the kitchen and help your mother with the house chores.” “Smile, at least you can attend Madhrasa which is more important anyway,” my mother whispered in my ears. Thinking about it right now makes me sick in my stomach. My mother was old-fashioned, the type that would kiss the ground on which the husband stepped on. She would never disagree with him on anything. He knew that, and he took full advantage. No friends, and no attending weddings, basically, her job was to stay at home, cook and clean, as if she had no purpose in this earth. Her job was to do chores until he dies or she dies, how cruel was that? But no, that’s how it was supposed to be.
I was so bitter and angry all the time. I was not my mother, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life cooking and cleaning with nothing to show for myself. That is how I didn’t go to school while growing up. He could beat my brother to death when he caught him teaching me anything from school. “The only thing you need to teach her is Quran,” he would yell. How ironic because this was the same man who would pound my mother like yam every single night, yes, every night no matter how tired she claimed she was. And if it was that time of the month, he threatened to marry another woman because she was failing to fulfil her duties as a woman. Do the rules change when you are a leader?
Years went by; I stayed in Madhrasa, did my chores, and kept my distance. I stuck to the script but he kept on skipping scenes. His behaviours were against the book he wanted everyone to memorize, that’s the thing about rules; you can’t just change them because they don’t suit you at that moment. I hated him so much and am sure the feeling was mutual. I couldn’t catch a break around him, I had no option but to be perfect. But that’s human nature; we make excuses for strangers and hold our loved ones to impossible standards. It was so clear there was nothing I could do to make him happy so I went ahead and found what made me happy.
My first experience made me deliriously happy, giddy even, the only problem was I couldn’t fully explore my ‘talent’ because I was still Imaam’s daughter, but that was the fun part, sneaking. Ramadhan was my favourite month; during Taraweh prayers, sometimes I could say I was sleeping in the mosque, so I had enough time exploring the big, small, thin, curved, long, black, brown, white all sorts of toys I could play with and get paid at the same time, sometimes not, but still I enjoyed. It was a glorious adventure and it sent chills down my spine. I slept well at night knowing it was his fault.
To be continued…