(not) a good (wo)manpublished: 2011-07-23
How does one tell a Muslim friend about a separation? I avoided her for a while which is hard because she is my neighbour. I somehow hoped she’d figure it out as I was never at home, and even if I was, I was very much engaged in carrying heavy boxes.
Recently, we had gone baby-shopping together. She is due in October. On many occasions we discussed how I’d be around whenever she needed me, and would help her before and after the baby is born.
Some months ago, she asked me to come upstairs to her bedroom. Her house is clean and simple, sober. No frills, no paintings. Only inscriptions of the Koran and a small replica of the mosque in Mecca where she has recently been.
I sat on her bed and she gently placed a photo album on my lap with pictures of her wedding. Through them, I entered her world. A strange and somewhat daunting place. Faces of men like the ones you see on the news after a bombing in the Middle East. Not as hardened as the ones on TV though. My neighbour hardly smiled on any of the pictures and I asked why. She was shy, she said.
She pointed at a photo of her husband and stated, “he is a good man.” Then she looked at me with those ernest black eyes of hers and asked, “are you in a love marriage?” It took me some time to figure out what she meant. A love marriage as opposed to an arranged marriage? I nodded. “My husband is a good man too,” I said and smiled. Lucky us: we have good men.
Today, I rang her doorbell. As always it was hard to resist her pleas for me to come inside and eat. She was veiled, she isn’t always. It seemed she had visitors.
“I have sad news,” I said and she immediately stepped outside, pulled me away from the door where her two children were closely studying me.
“We are separating,” I said, “and I am moving out tomorrow.” She immediately grasped it, faster than anyone else I’ve told. She asked why. I said I’d explain some time. But how does one explain the way we hope to find purpose in our lives? Our search for a sense of self and identity? Our pursuit of happiness? Our desires and dreams and ambitions? Our escapisms and self-hatred? Our infidelities?
She took both my hands. She is one of the only people I know who does this in the most natural way. In a way that says: I’m here for you.
“Why?” she asked again. I considered our conversation about the good men we have. Then I said, “Because. I am not a good woman.”