“Mummy! Where is my father?”
Fatma had been anticipating this question. She knew one time or the other this question would be asked. She had thought of several answers, all of them not even near to the truth.
Fatma had been working as the domestic servant in Mohamed’s house for many years. She inherited the job from her mother. Since her childhood, she had been acquainted with the family of Mohamed. Her mother used to bring her very often as they did not have anybody to take care of her while her mother was working in Mohamed’s house.
Fatma’s mother was not healthy for a long time. So when Fatma was about 14/15 years old, she had to come and work instead of her mother during her holidays. She started her school late. She was already 9 years old when she got enrolled for the first time in a primary school. She was 16 years when she finished primary education. She could not continue her education any more.
Her mother’s health was deteriorating fast. So she had to replace her mother in Mohamed’s house doing the house maid’s work. After struggling for two years, Fatma’s mother succumbed to death.
She had some relatives, but almost everybody was struggling for a survival. So she decided to continue with the work at Mohamed’s house. Moreover the family of Mohamed was happier with Fatma; she being younger and energetic, she performed better.
Mohamed was already in his sixties, retired. All his children were grown up. He opened a grocery store at the gate of his house to pass his time and also to supplement the family income.
After finishing the household duties, Fatma used to help Mohamed in the shop. She was a smart girl, learnt things quickly. She could manage the two duties easily.
Mohamed was already a grand father. His older son had two children. Playing with the grand children gave him a great joy. He loved the role of being a grand father. Nobody could have thought that he was still young sexually.
Fatma’s youthfulness distracted him sometimes. His old wife had forgotten all about sex. In the beginning accidentally, later casually, he started caressing Fatma. She did not mind about Mohamed’s act. Slowly things advanced. Whenever chances came up, they enjoyed and satisfied each other.
For two three years, they had been enjoying, then the inevitable happened. Fatma was pregnant, 4 months. Mohamed was panicking. How he would face his wife and his children? At the same time his conscience did not allow him to ignore Fatma completely. His religion allowed him to have another wife but the social grudge would affect his otherwise peaceful family life. He had to act quickly. He persuaded Fatma to disappear for few months from her work. She should tell all his family members that she was going to get married. He would bear all the expenses and she should come back only after the baby was born.
Fatma shifted from her previous house to a remote corner and kept a low profile. As she was promised, she continued getting her salary from Mohamed.
When her son Ally was about 3 months old, Fatma appeared at Mohamed’s house as arranged by Mohamed, announcing that her husband had abandoned her for another lady.
He did not even see his child for once; she needed help. She would like to come back to work again with the family of Mohamed as before.
As the head of the family Mohamed took full control and before anybody could answer, he gave the authority for Fatma to start working.
One day when Ally was 5 years old, his mother had given him a Doughnut to eat and play outside as she had work to do.
Ally followed the direction from where the sound of Karim’s laughter was coming. Karim was the third grandchild of Mohamed.
When Ally came to the corridor, he saw Mohamed on his fours and Karim, on his back. Karim was riding a horse, his grandpa. He was ordering the horse to crawl faster and he was laughing, giggling with the childish sound. Karim had fallen down several times; every time he fell, he punished the horse for making him fall by tickling. Mohamed had a sensitive skin. He could not tolerate tickling. But he tolerated the punishments. The pleasure of playing with his grand child was worth tolerating anything.
Ally was standing in the corner watching Karim and Mohamed. He had not touched the Doughnut, he had forgotten all about it. When Karim laughed, he also smiled exposing the missing teeth in his upper gum. He watched till when Mohamed announced the “game over” as he was tired.
Ally came inside to look for his mother. When he found her, very unexpectedly he asked “where is my father?” Fatma was taken by surprise. He had never asked this before. She saw that Ally was still holding the Doughnut in his hand, untouched. She knew something had provoked him to ask her that question.
-Look at you! What is the matter with you?
-I want to play horse horse with my father. Where is he?
-I will buy you the horse while going home. Now go and play outside.
-No, I want to play horse horse with my father; I want to ride on him.
Fatma did not understand her son. Nothing made sense to her. Instead of trying to understand she chased him out again. She succeeded in chasing Ally out, no doubt, but she could not chase away the thoughts from her mind. Mohamed had forbidden her to use the words to Ally that his father was dead. It might bring bad omen to him in reality.
Fatma finished her work of the day. They passed the vendors where they were selling second hand toys. She asked Ally to select the toy horse he wanted. Ally reminded her again it was not the toy horse, but he wanted to play with his father, horse riding.
They came back home without buying the toy. Ally did not continue asking about his father. The guilty feeling made Fatma to remind about the game. She suggested Ally to play with her. He flatly refused saying that she was a woman.
She herself grew up without having a father. While she was a child, sometimes she also felt the need of a father. But as she grew up, the responsibility of taking care of her sick mother did not give much of a time to think about the missing parenthood. She never knew who her father was.
For Ally, it was different. His father was right there but unavailable for him. Mohamed was kind enough to provide her and her son the shelter and the help, she thought. A second thought denied her own opinion- no, they were not providing her any help. She earned it by physically enslaving herself. Rather Mohamed had done injustice. They had been denied of their rights. But then whose fault? She was an accomplice of the injustice as well. She willingly submitted to Mohamed.
She remained awake at night asking herself endless questions, questions which would never have answers.
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