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Separation
by Madulu Waheed
from Malas 29, 1 June 1990
National Centre for Linguistic and Historical Research


Today the world adds another year to its age and greets a new year. It's a day for life's renewal - a day when new decisions are made, and an anniversary of previous resolutions. But every day can be a New Year's day. And the day twelve months later is its first anniversary.

Sitting on a wooden stool under the bread fruit tree and lost in cleaning rice, Hawa Fulhu doesn't seem to remember today is the anniversary of her second marriage. At least, it's unlikely she's thinking about it, but the first of January is the anniversary of her wedding to Mohamed, twenty-four years ago.

Regardless of the anniversary, for the last three or four days Hawa has been sensing that the life she's shared with Mohamed is coming to an end. She's been imagining how sad and lonely she might be. Not only would she lose Mohamed's kindness and care, but he has become part of her very being as well; part of her body. If he left, she'd be handicapped. As she picks out the black and unhusked grain from the pan of rice, her mind flips through the pages of her past life.

With her coming of age, Hawa wore her first dress, and soon after she married for love, without care or concern for her education. Back then, Ibrahim was her entire life. She spent day and night obsessed with him. All her dreams and thoughts were about the life she would spend married to Ibrahim - in her own house, bringing up their children and making a good life for her family.

Because of Ibrahim's kindness and love for her, Hawa never doubted he would make a good husband. Impatiently they waited for their marriage day. Ibrahim worked hard and built a house, bathroom and cookhouse on his own block of land. He filled it with beds and benches, and spread white gravel inside and across the yard. Soon after, at an auspicious time, he brought his wife to the house and lit a fire in the stove.

Two months later, Hawa Fulhu fell ill. She had no strength for housework. Some people said it was morning sickness and others suggested the presence of an evil spirit. The sickness caused fever, dizziness, vomiting and loss of appetite. Hawa became frail and weak as the days passed. People told her the illness would go away, but she was still suffering even after the premature birth of her stillborn baby.

Returning to the house from the burial, Ibrahim sat until sunset on the same seat without eating or saying a word to anyone. He ignored his wife and never saw her tears of grief. The death of their first child also buried the close relationship between wife and husband. Their marriage broke down. Hawa Fulhu's pleas couldn't save the once strong foundations of their life together; the tears she shed were crab holes on a beach when the tide is out. As the tide comes in, the holes disappear.

Ibrahim wasn't an unkind man, and it was difficult for Hawa to accept what was happening. His parents must have said something to him. Ancient beliefs and customs can sometimes punish innocent people. Her husband's parents now believed she was cursed, and the punishment for that crime was to lose the man she loved. Hawa had to suffer for months and years. In her weakened state, she wondered if she'd survive the double grief of the death her baby and the divorce from Ibrahim. But since life rarely follows the imagination, Hawa Fulhu reached the shores of a new life without drowning in her river of tears.

Today she feels grateful for not having died in the depths of her grief. She found the opportunity to live with a man like Mohamed. The opportunity to learn to love, and the joyful experience of sharing. She learnt to bear pain and heartache. The happy years Hawa spent with Mohamed made her content, and endlessly grateful to the Creator for blessing her life with someone so noble.

After being divorced by Ibrahim, Hawa Fulhu didn't feel like going out of the house. Various men asked for her hand in marriage. The first among them was Mohamed. She gave him the same reply she continued to give the others: 'I am not interested in getting married.'

That was how she felt at the time. What's the difference between a Mohamed, an Ali or Ahmed? she wondered. They are all men; no care, concern or sympathy; no concern for anyone's feelings. They think the hearts of others are stone, just like theirs. Hawa remained single for three years.

It was Mohamed who kept checking how she was. Sometimes he visited her house, or he would send someone to see if she was well. He didn't have the good looks that Hawa wanted, and besides, he was much older. Yet she agreed to marry him. It was for one reason only. After experiencing his honesty, she began to trust him and through that trust her heart opened to him.

What is love? Can anyone love without trust? Can there be trust without love? After entrusting one's body to the other, surely love will be inevitable. It may feel like being in love at first, but when suspicion lurks, there is no security. A trace of love amid mistrust is only a brief glimmer.

Mohamed and Hawa committed themselves to each other and over the next two years they learnt a lot about each other's feelings and thoughts. They didn't marry by erecting a house in the air, or constructing a building on wave crests, or colouring sweet dreams in their sleep. Despite the tragedies of the past, Hawa and Mohamed married to make a future - a new beginning - and they were determined to work hard. People's lives take various directions because of the decisions they make. It's wrong to say that something happened because it was written into a person's life at the time of birth. There is no doubt the all knowing Almighty is aware of the decisions a person takes before they occur, but it is the person who determines the course of life, and who must take responsibility for mistakes.

From the very first day of Hawa Fulhu's new life, up to this day, she has had no complaints. Life with Mohamed meant living for each other. They faced difficulties and hardships holding each other's hands without regrets. They had the satisfaction of watching their three surviving children grow up, become independent, get married and settle down. Debt free, they learned to live together within their means and without complaint; without treating life as a problem to be solved. But grasping the experiences granted to them by God.

Startled by a banging sound, Hawa wakes from her thoughts. That's the signal someone is waiting for her. Taking the rice tray, she hurries into the house, half running.
'I was sitting under the breadfruit tree cleaning rice.'
Hawa Fulhu can't hear the person lying there. She sits on the side of the bed and with a handkerchief, wipes tears from the corners of his eyes, and the saliva at the edges of his mouth. She holds his right hand in both hers, and his grip tightens. Hawa looks around and picks up ball from the ground and puts it in his hand, squeezing it a couple of times. When she lets go, the ball falls down again. She gently puts his hand to his side, and gives him something from a cup beside the bed.

Realising that the man is saying something, Hawa Fulhu puts her ear close to his mouth.
'All of the children came over, they stayed for a while and left because you were asleep,' she whispers.
The man is saying something again.
'What!' she exclaims, a little angry. 'How many times have I said not think of such things. Why would it be a bother for me. Wouldn't you look after me if I were in your condition?'

Mohamed shuts his eyes and begins to cry. As she wipes his tears, Hawa says in a shaky voice, 'Don't cry. Don't cry. It makes me weep too. Be thankful, be patient. With Divine Will you'll get better.'
Her husband looks at Hawa's face and shakes his head in despair.
'Don't loose hope, you'll get well again,' Hawa sighs. 'You'll be able to walk again. Be brave.'

Mohamed takes Hawa's hand and draws her closer to his face. She put her cheek next his mouth and tries to catch his faint words. Then she moves away slightly and says, 'Would I complain? It is not burdensome for me. I will look after you, Mohamed. Accept it.'
Her husband mumbles something again and Hawa replies, 'There's no shortage of things. We have everything. You organised it when you were well. There's nothing more I need. I have children and you have given me a life. Don't you agree?'
Mohamed nods.
'So what else would I want? I'm sad because of your sickness, but I have to be patient and try to be thankful.'
Hawa Fulhu puts her hands on her face begins sobbing uncontrollably.

Someone pats her shoulders. Hawa Fulhu turns around and all her three children are there. Her daughter has tears in her eyes but she says, 'Mum don't cry. Don't do that to Dad when he is in this condition. Wasn't it you, Mum, who told us to be patient in the face of hardships?'

It's not that I'm impatient, thinks Hawa. But when I think of my loneliness after he dies, I can't help but cry. The young can't understand this. Not yet.








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