‘Yes it is, but we are getting used to it. What can’t be helped must be endured.’ She replied stoically.
‘I had hoped to meet you there but I was told you were at home. Do you only go there to take care of him at night or do you take turns with your co-wife sometimes mornings and sometimes evenings?’ I asked.
‘I only go there to greet him and come back, I never stay with him.’ Mariya answered.
‘Haba Mariya, as heartbreaking as it is to see him bedridden, you still have to muster the courage to be there, nursing him. He needs you.’ I urged.
‘I’m not so sure.’ She said lamely.
‘You are not so sure of what?’ I asked losing my patience ‘look your husband is dying, I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, but no one could help noticing that because it’s obvious to all. How can you sit here and claim you are not sure he needs you there? Imagine if he were to die while you are seated here and they just open the door to bring you his corpse? You too will end up dying of guilt I’m sure.’I chided.
‘Don’t be too sure Bint. That man has been dead to me for the last dozen years. It wouldn’t make much difference if his physical appearance ceases as well. I am used to it.’ Mariya disclosed coldly.
‘Last dozen years, what do you mean he’s been dead for the last dozen years?’ I demanded.
‘You won’t understand until I show you something,’ she said rising up from her chair.‘Please follow me.’
‘I am about to show and tell you something I have never told another human being before, not my sisters not any of my other friends. I am taking you into confidence Bint because you have shown so much concern for my husband and you seem like the type who will keep this to yourself.’ At this point we have reached a corridor that leads to another apartment in the house. Mariya stopped at the veranda and said, pointing to a spot there:
‘For the last twelve years this has been the great divide between my life and Iliya’s. The day after he returned with his foreign bride, he called me here and said he longer wanted me to come to his apartment unless he sent for me. But I should know that I will continue to cook for him after every two days. He instructed that whenever his food was ready, I should put everything on a tray and bring it here. I said all right, I was too sad and heartbroken to say anything else. Whenever I held the tray in my hand on my way here, I will remember the days when walking through this corridor to his room was something I took for granted. Even when he was not around I had the spare key with which to open and clean his apartment. Of course the tears will roll down my face when I recall that.
The whole thing was so painful to me I lost a lot of weight those first three years. You friends and my sisters all joked that I was being consumed by jealousy because my husband had taken another wife. In truth I was too ashamed to talk about my real pain. I couldn’t put into words the fact that I had been handed the ultimate ban, not to cross the threshold from my corridor to his. I was to learn later that his bride actually said she wouldn’t marry him until he had divorced me because she couldn’t imagine herself with a co-wife but he said to her if he were to divorce me she will be left to take care of my three little children. So she agreed for me to stay because of my children but he had to promise her that I will be a wife in name only. That was when he came and issued the ban.
For years I bore the pain of cooking and dropping the tray here myself. But when my daughters grew old enough I handed them the task of bringing the tray here. They never knew what it meant but were always happy to help. I used to say to myself if I were an evil person I could easily poison them because I cook the meal they eat after every two days. But I left everything to God knowing that there is death and retribution awaiting us all.’ She concluded, and began to walk me back to her sitting room.
‘But your last born, Hassan, is about eight years old. That means he was born after the ban.’ I observed once we were seated again in the room.
‘Hassan’s birth was nothing short of a miracle. One day Iliya’s foreign bride travelled. It was a little over three years since their wedding. I dropped his meal at the usual joint and went to my apartment. Because my children were allowed to cross the threshold and see him once in a while, they came back to tell me their father had asked to see me. Not wishing to let them know anything was wrong I said all right and pretended to be busy doing other things. When they all fell asleep, I laid them in their room and went to sleep in mine. I was deep asleep when he came and demanded why I didn’t answer his summons. I reminded him of the ban and he said he had told me unless he sent for me. We argued, during which I told him I will not go to his room no matter what. He persisted and eventually had his way, in my bedroom.
It was just that one night after over three years, but that boy was conceived. I kept my secret and even began to go for antenatal. He must have noticed it because one day he came and said to me he will pay me anything to abort this pregnancy because he didn’t want it. I told him that he will have to kill me first. He begged, cajoled and threatened but I never budged. I bore my antenatal and other expenses on my own because he wouldn’t pay. It was not until after the delivery that he paid the remaining hospital bills. From that stage on he did everything required of the father of a new born. I didn’t know how his bride took it, frankly I wasn’t interested. But from that time on he never came anywhere near me.
When he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis six months ago, all of us were asked to go for tests. Because we had had so little of his company these last several years, we all tested negative. His foreign bride and her two children weren’t so lucky. They all tested positive. The only consolation is that they all have mild cases and are already on drugs. He was the worst hit. You have seen him yourself. We can only pray for him.’ She added.
‘Yes the rest of us must pray for him, but you have to do more than that. You have to forgive him. Please go to his bedside and declare to him that you have forgiven him.’ I advised.
‘But he never asked, how do you start telling someone you have forgiven what they did before they asked to be forgiven?’ Mariya asked.
‘You mean he never showed any remorse at all since he fell ill?’ I asked.
‘Not in words, but he does have this habit of shedding tears endlessly whenever I visit him. Now that he is no use to her she allows me to sit by his bedside and talk to him. Whenever I did he will say little and cry much. And it was actually the doctor who advised that I shouldn’t be the one nursing him because I had not contracted the disease. So to prevent me from getting it now, I was advised to pay him only brief visits.’ She explained.
‘Please on your next visit open up and say you have forgiven him the moment he begins to cry. He might not have the courage to ask you to forgive him, but he knows that unless you forgive him he cannot hope for Allah’s mercy after what he did. Please be magnanimous now that you have the upper hand. You will definitely get the heavenly reward you deserve due to your patience in the face of such humiliating treatment. According to scholars, patience is the one virtue that can’t be measured on the heavenly scales. It is so special that it is entirely up to Almighty Allah to reward it the way He pleases.’ I said encouragingly. The tears choking her, Mariya could only nod her head in agreement.
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