Archive for April, 2014

CHAPTER 2 (continued)

transformation definition

“OK, if you change your mind, whatsapp me. I don’t know how long this meeting will take, but I will keep checking my phone” , I nod a response , afraid that any attempt to speak will reopen the floodgates. I watch him leave and then after a minute to compose myself go upstairs to see how Elizabeth and the kids are getting on.


Once the children were ready I drove them to school. I love my kids to bits but I was glad especially today to get some time on my own. My inner Chachima  wanted to do some shopping as she sat in a black panjabi (Indian dress) and gold pointed shoes. She is my more Indian self that sometimes gets her way, but have an ever struggling relationship with her. Although shopping was a good way to distract my mind and emotions, that is not what I wanted top do today. Back home Elizabeth got busy with the cleaning and I quickly got lunch ready. Leaving Elizabeth to check on the food and finish downstairs I headed for the sanctuary of my bedroom. I checked my phone and saw a Whatsapp message from Yusuf.

Yusuf : Slms. Thinking about you since I left. May Allah swt give her Jannah. Insha Allah. You know, Hasina, you just like her. I think you should take comfort in that. I love you. See you later.

He sent the message at 8.45am . He must have just gotten to work. I look at my watch and its already half past nine.

I read the message again, with tears stinging my eyes again. I couldn’t bring myself to write any reply, and instead resolved to get showered and dressed.

When I am dressed I put my phone on silent and I get out my musalla (prayer mat) and begin to read Quraan and make dua (supplication) for my late mother. After all that is the only thing she ever asked of anyone.

Thirty minutes later, I decide to change out of my prayer clothes. I walk into my cupboard and I was comforted knowing that my mother would have loved my large walk-in cupboard full of the latest fashions. She always had an eye for fashion. Although we never had much money for designer clothes back then, she was always admired for her fashion sense. My dad worked hard till the day he died and he earned a halaal rozi , she always said, and that was the important thing. Although my mother was 35 years old with three young children, when she was widowed, she never remarried. When my dad died she was left with the burden of raising me and my two brothers all on her own. I was just 5 years old at the time, my brother Suhail was two years my senior and Waseem the eldest was ten. My elder brother took on the role of man of the house whether we liked it or not. Only when I was a teenager did I realize that losing their father affected my brothers much deeper than it did me. That was probably because it was my mother who had always been my everything.

I remember going shopping with her as a child. She could browse for hours at each store looking at every item. For my tenth birthday she bought me a balloon dress that was in high fashion at the time. I knew it must have been expensive, and on my mothers limited budget – she had began taking baking orders , even more so. It was emerald green, and it made her very happy to see me wear it , she said it made my eyes look like gems.

My mother worked herself to the bone and she never complained. She would be up late at night baking and then up early in the morning, bringing simple cakes and cupcakes to life with her talented hands. It was mostly due to her vast artistic talent that she grew her business catering for the la – di –dah rich ladies that held tea parties and extravagant kiddies parties. I would remember the looks on their faces when they would come to pick up an order. They clearly felt socially superior to her, but there was no mistaking that hint of jealousy when they saw what she could do with frosting, cake and pastries.

The worst thing about having someone close to you pass away suddenly, is not being able to say goodbye. You never think when you leave someone’s house, or put the telephone down after a phone call, that this may be the last time you see or speak to them.

I remember speaking to her on the phone that morning one year ago. She was catering a fancy brunch for a book club in the north. She called for the third time that morning, this time she wanted to know if I wanted to join her. The client was an arty older white lady from Rosebank and “Since you an artists yourself” she said, “Maybe you can come meet her” she coaxed. Thinking about that conversation now, I can almost hear her voice in my ears again. “I’m not an artist , mummy , I do some sketches now and then and I haven’t even got any formal training,  I said. She was always asking to look at my sketches and would keep asking why I wasn’t working on anything . “Well I’m going to tell her about you, your sketches are all lovely” she said, “…Especially the one of the park -that’s my favourite”, , she said proudly. I was glad my mother loved my sketches but it was just a hobby and with two active children, I did not have the time or the urge to sketch anymore.  “Let me know how it goes” I said. With a rush in her voice she had said,  “Ok I want to come pass later, I have some strawberry cupcakes for Jameela to taste, I know how she loves them, I want to bake them for her birthday next month. Ok I have to go now. Assalamu Alaikum.” and with that she hung up.

Had I known that was the last time I would speak to her, I would have changed my mind and gone with her that day, or at least paid more attention to the call and conversation instead of checking my BBM messages while talking to her. I would have told her what an inspiration she was to me, and how proud I was that she was my mother. I would have told her that I loved her and appreciated everything she did for me and my brothers. But most of all I would have told her how much I still needed her around to help me be to my children, the mother she was to me.

The next call I got that day, was from my brother Waseem saying  “Its about Mummy, Hasina, there’s been a terrible accident”. And just like that, the wheel that was turning in my head with everything on my mind, carpooling the kids, supper on the stove, the shopping list I was writing, letters that needed mailing, came to an abrupt halt. I didn’t hear the details, I didn’t care that she was hit by a delivery truck. I didn’t care that the car was dragged under the truck. I didn’t care that the truck driver hadn’t stopped at the traffic light. I didn’t care that it had happened so quickly that when the ambulance came, there was nothing they could do. I just wanted my mother back so she could bake strawberry cupcakes for my daughters birthday the next week, like she said she would.

Like all Muslim funerals, it was held quickly. I don’t remember how I got to my childhood home – the place where the funeral was held – but I remember sitting on the floor in the corner of the room listening to the low hum of the Yaaseen Khatam, by ladies that were already there. There was soft sobbing and zikr and a barrage of women in black abhayas hugging me.

“Madam! Madam! Phone call!” I hear Elizabeth calling from downstairs, bringing me back to reality. “I’m Coming “ I shout back at her , aware that my voice is strained from the all the crying that I hadn’t realized I had been doing.

Once I got downstairs I clear my throat and take a long breath.

“Assalamu Alaikum” I say , realizing I hadn’t asked Elizabeth who it was.

“Hasina, are you OK, I’ve been trying to call your cell and you were not answering”, Its Yusufs voice on the other end of the line, and he is trying hard to mask the panic in his voice.

“Sorry, I was reading Quraan and lost track of time, I got your message, I should have responded, sorry Yusuf”.

“How are you doing, Darling ? I know today must be difficult for you. My meeting is over so I am leaving and coming back home. Are you still OK with going to see the house?”

“Yes let’s go see the house”, I say trying to fake confidence.

“Ok I’ll phone Farnaz and see if we can get an earlier appointment”, Don’t worry about the kids today ill pick them up on my way home.”

“Ok, Thanks”, I respond.

“See you later, Salaam.” says Yusuf.

“Salaam”, I reply …. Then suddenly I shout “Wait !” not hearing a click on the other side I call my husbands name softly checking if he is still on the other end.

“Yeessss” comes his reply, and I can hear the wonder charged in his voice.

“I just wanted to say  …er, thank you for calling to check up on me and I appreciate it, and .. er, u know I love you right “ I awkwardly say to the phone receiver.

There’s a few seconds of silence on the other end, I clearly caught him off guard. But I learnt my lesson once, and well, I said it now.

“Yes darling” he responds, I can hear the smile in his voice, “But not nearly as much as I love you. Now go put on something nice, ill see you in an hour.” He doesn’t wait for my response and ends the call.

With a smile on my face, and my mood lifted on again. I readily oblige back to by bedroom cupboard.

Back downstairs all dressed up in an outfit my mother would approve of, I take a look in the full length mirror in the hallway. My inner chachima approvingly wobbled her head like it was attached with a spring to her neck. “Celebrate her life’ I say to myself thinking that is what my mother would have wanted. I put on my brave face again hoping it will get my through the next few hours.


Farnaz, the Real Estate agent meets us at the door of the beautiful house on show. Yusuf has been in contact with her for a month since we confirmed that we definitely wanted to move. Most of the houses and pictures she emailed Yusuf were not worth going to see, but when we saw this one, we knew that it was a definite possibility.

Farnaz , dressed in a feminine pants suit , with her clipboard in hand, greeted us at the door. She looked all business like and formal, like those power hungry women from Lipstick Jungle who eat men up for break fast with their latte and muffin. I feel sympathy for women like that who have to choose between work and real life.

We are given the tour of the house and I am relieved that Jameela and Bilal have decided to heed the lecture in the car, about being on their best behaviour. It’s a beautiful house and I am mesmerized by how each room flows into each other and the harmony of the architechture. I didn’t want to say much, for fear of sounding stupid to Farnaz, who judging from her responses to Yusuf’s questions, really knows what she’s talking about.

I almost completely forget about my earlier melancholy, until we are shown the bedrooms upstairs. My mother’s living on her own had always worried me, and Yusuf promised that she could live with us when we managed to move to a bigger house. Farnaz showed us an en suite guest bedroom, that made me remember his promise that now will never be fulfilled. I could feel my despair raising up to my throat chocking me threateningly, and had to walk a couple of steps behind everyone , pretending to see to the children, in order to compose myself.

Seeing the kitchen, was what clenched the deal for me. My mother was always proud of her kitchen and that is something I inherited. I remember fondly how she once sold my dads tools and fishing gear to buy a thermo fan oven. It was only many months later that he realized what she had done (He never noticed the oven was different, and she made sure it was installed while he was at work). By then she had already proven what a great baker she was, so he didn’t dare to complain. My mother would have been in awe of this kitchen I thought. That thought hurt me so deeply, I found myself looking for faults, to prove to myself that she would not have been happy here. Even after making some lame comments about it, I knew that I was being ridiculous. I walked towards the patio, trying desperately to fight the tears burning my eyes. The children went ahead into the garden, and I watched them running carefree on the grass. I stood there for a minute until I felt Yusuf’s hand on my back, and he whispered in my ear “She would have loved this place”, I put my head on his shoulder and let the tears fall.

reading quraan quraan



Posted: April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. – Maria Robinson

I lay awake very aware of the missing warm body of my husband. Leaving my eyes closed but regaining all my other senses, I hear the shower running and then I know he is up. I roll onto his pillow taking in the scent of him still lingering there – a smell that can only be described as pure happiness. I open my eyes now finally, not anticipating the flood of light that arrests my vision for a moment. As I return to reality I am aware of what day it is and I look through the small gap between the curtains . It must be a bright and gorgeous spring day outside – just as it was exactly a year ago. I feel my heart ache as I remember the funeral I had to endure one year ago. I quickly push the thought out of my mind. I have mourned the death of my mother for a long time, and I have made up my mind to celebrate her life . A life unlike any other. I think fondly how as a child I would wake up each morning with a new and inviting smell luring me into the kitchen. The thought brings a warm glow to my heart as I think of my own two children.   I lie awake for a few minutes , knowing full well that any moment one or both of my children will burst into my room for a snuggle with mummy, before we get up and get on with our day. I close my eyes once more for what seems like just few seconds when I hear the patter if little feet outside my bedroom door. A smile creeps along my lips as I get into position , way down under the covers.

Its Bilal first , my imaginative and sensitive 4 year old son, he runs screaming into the room , like a soldier into battle. His small body quickly climbs up onto the bed. His excitement is tangible from the emotion in his voice. His small yet very agile body climbs quickly onto the bed while shrieks of laughter can be heard. His volume has decreased to just below painful now, as he pulls frantically at my bed sheets and blankets , trying to reveal me. “Mummy, mummy I found you” , he says excitedly , but I am not giving up so easily today and pretend to be fast asleep, stuck under the covers , despite his performance. Oh, and what a performance , it really could have woken up the dead. Eyes still closed in pretense I hear the slow barefoot footsteps of my elder and more courageous daughter approaching the bed. In her six years she has demonstrated intelligence and resourcefulness beyond her years. “Jameela, I found her”, my son screams out of sheer excitement to see his sister awake and ready for the morning ritual. His enthusiasm is toned down by a silent and nearly inaudible “ssshhhh” and indication from his sister that she has a plan. Then there’s nothing, no sounds at all , and even Bilal is quiet . I almost want to give myself up. I decide to get a sneak peek to see just what my ingenious daughter is up to. Where it is clear to see that my son got his fathers looks, I have no doubt that it was Jameela that inherited his cunning , intelligence and confidence. When I attempt a small peep at my attackers, I see only my son waiting with anticipation , as I am.

I close my eyes again and concentrate, still no sound besides the shower in the background , and I absentmindedly wonder how long my husband has actually been in there. Suddenly, I feel the bed shift slightly, hinting her approach, then she pounces , and attacks me with tickles all over. My son joins her and I shriek with every touch, and scream for them to stop. They know all too well my reaction to being tickled, and they keep at it even more. I burst with painful laughter at the sensation of little hands manipulating me with keyboard precision. My screams are loud but playful and try my best to counter attack, but little hands and feet come out of nowhere. I am in sheer agony, squirming like a child and laughing till my sides hurt. Then they stop, but just for a second, then start again worse then before. Then its laughter and kisses and more tickling and I get the strength to pull myself up and cast my own attack at the both of them. We laughing and shrieking excitedly, when Jameela picks up a pillow and playfully attacks Bilal and I. I’m laughing, breathing heavily from the attack of tickles and give one last burst of energy to grab their little menacing hands. I just manage to subdued both my children when I take a minute to catch my breath and I relish in the return of calm with my eyes closed. It’s a short lived victory of barely a minute when I feel the familiar, strong but tender, hands of my husband on my shoulder, and only then am I vaguely aware that I don’t hear the shower anymore. “Yusuf, NO!” I scream anticipating his eagerness to claim victory for his children. I try to turn my head without losing grip on my prisoners when suddenly his hands disappear from my shoulders and find themselves at my sides tickling the spots only he knows how. I shriek again letting go of my prisoners and burst out in mad laughter by the new attack . I lay breathless on the edge of the bed now as Jameela gets up to high five her father. Spinning around dizzily, I am met by the sight of my gorgeous ,just showered husband , standing in a towel with his hands now up in surrender.

“Sorry darling , I couldn’t resist” he sweetly says guessing my need for revenge. If it wasn’t for that glint in his eye that makes me melt every time ,I would have been mad. I smiled back, “I’ll get you another day” I say as I step back to sit on the bed and fish for my slippers that have been scattered in the chaos.

“That was a good one Daddy” cheered Jameela . “I had her laughing so loud did u hear”.

He nods in response “I think the neighbours heard too” he said laughing. He takes a step towards me and kisses me on my forehead “Assalamu Alaikum darlings” he says and he grabs the kids and plant kisses on both of their cheeks.

“Jameela and Bilaal “ I say now with authority, “Lets go to the kitchen and leave Daddy to get dressed”. They both jump off the bed excited to take their energy somewhere else. I follow them out of the room grabbing my satin dressing gown.

It is In the kitchen where I am the most content. The children are now seated at the tables for breakfast and they are still excited about their morning victory over mummy. I spot a used tea cup in the sink, a hint to my husbands’ goings – on at night. It is not unusual for him to get up in the middle of the night and have some tea and surf the internet. His job as the national security manager at a department store with hundreds of stores in the country, is very demanding. His leadership and perfectionism would demand that he was always on top of all the issues even if it meant surfing the internet for viable solutions at two o’clock in the morning. I felt a tinge of disappointment that he didn’t wake me last night, when he got up. He never does, although I always ask him to. The nights that I do wake up to find myself alone in bed, I immediately seek him out. I love sitting up with him and chatting about his work and trying to find solutions together. I may not be qualified to make any great security break through, but I love the fact that he bounces ideas off of me and really listens to my input. Sometimes the conversation becomes more general and philosophical. We have debating the meaning of life and discussed all sorts of topics. Some of our best bonding has been in the middle of the night, staying awake for hours taking . If there wasn’t much to talk about there was still plenty to do, well at least one particular adult activity. Having the kids around all the time puts a real damper on your libido, but at 2am and no chance of them waking up, just the look of him in his sleeping shorts can spike my libido. I am fully aware of my husbands sex appeal, as I’m sure every woman who sees him is. I may not be the most confident person in many things , but when it comes to my husbands affections for me , I see, I know and I feel his sincere devotion and attraction to me.

My two hungry children disturb my reverie with their breakfast order. “Mummy I want some scrambled eggs with toast and milo please “ says Jameela like she’s making an order at a restaurant. “Yes Madam “ I say playing along , “And what about you young man” , now addressing my son, “Sunny side or omlette?” . He looks at me a little confused not quite getting my restaurant game, and says “I want what Jameela is having”.

My two angels get their breakfast and I just finish with a fresh cup of tea and some cereal for Yusuf when he joins us in the kitchen. He is looking all business with his immaculate dark blue chinos and pin stripe white shirt and tie. Oh and THOSE shoes. The ones I hate so vehemently but he insists on wearing them, those Crocket and Jones URGH !

He sees me eyeing his shoes and he responds with shrugged shoulders. “Daddy Apa Tasneem is bringing her bunnies to school today” Jameela exclaims excitedly. “I remember you told me about it, you be gentle with the bunnies hey , just pat them slowly now” he admonishes , well aware of her need to experiment with all things. “I wonder if she will bring a white one, I love the white bunnies at the pet store”, Jameela is dreamily wondering. “Maybe she will bring a blue one” suggests Bilal matter-of-factly as if he has seen thousands of blue bunnies in his life. After many family trips to the zoo and farms, it’s my little Bilal who has been fascinated by why animals don’t have brighter colours. He has a great eye for details and colour and is constantly pointing out bright and bold plants, patterns and colours.

As I clear the plates for breakfast and pack the lunches, I hear the chatter at the breakfast table behind me. Yusuf is telling them about a turtle he had as a child. I don’t hear the details of the conversation, just the gasps an laughter in-between the clattering of the dishes into the sink, as I stack it up for Elizabeth to do when she gets here. I idly wondering when she will get here when I hear the door bell ring. Knowing full well that Elizabeth always arrives just after breakfast, there’s no chance that I have suddenly turned telepathic. Telepathic is the last thing I will ever be, even the timing of my monthly period can sometimes get me by surprise.

Yusuf still has the kids mesmerized by his story and I glance Bilal on his lap and Jameela practically climbing on the table eating up every word. This is his magic spell, the ability to engage you with his words to a point where there’s nothing else but the sound of his voice.

I let Elizabeth in, and we both enter the kitchen amidst a roar of laughter from all three of them. “Sameera fooi must have been so cross daddy”, Jameela says in between fits of laughter. Yusuf catches my eye and gives me a knowing wink. Although I hadn’t heard the story I can guess what he has been telling them. Stories of a young naughty Yusuf who would play hilarious practical jokes on his older sister, and from what I have been told by my sister in law, many of them involved his turtle tangled in her hair or swimming in the bathtub. I don’t respond, I think back to my younger days, and the image of my mother comes back to my mind. I really don’t want to breakdown into tears in the middle of my kitchen, but the intense sadness I feel inside is unshakable.

“Aunty Elizabeth!” screams Bilal as he jumps of his chair to hug her. He has been very close with her as she has been around since he was born.

“OK guys “ I announce , “time for your bath , or else you both will be late for school”. “Mummy can Aunty Elizabeth bath me , pleeeeease” pleads Bilal . I Readily agree, hoping they don’t notice my somber mood. “Elizabeth, help Jameela with the shower and run my bath for Bilal, I have put their clothes out last night already” I instruct Elizabeth.

The kids run upstairs with Elizabeth and for a moment I wonder how Elizabeth, this fifty year old hefty woman can make it up the stairs with such speed.

Its 07.30am and Yusuf has to leave so that he can spend at least an hour in traffic before getting to work. “I have a meeting with Clinton today at nine o’clock to discuss the internal security issues at the Head office” he says as he packs his suitcase and lunch bag. “So that’s why u were up this morning, were u planning for the meeting? I saw your tea cup in the sink” I say as I walk him out of the kitchen to the door that joins the garage to the house from inside. “Not really, this is just a routine meeting. I planned for it yesterday. I heard the cats crying at the window again” he says annoyed “…And then I couldn’t get back to sleep”. There has been many stray cats recently in the neighbourhood, and they seem to all gathered outside my bedroom window at least twice a week practicing their opera voices. I, myself had been awoken many times to that annoyance.

He opens the door and we step into the garage. I feel sadder and sadder at the thought of him leaving me, especially today. Its irrational I tell myself and I try to shake the feeling. He walks around to the Red BMW 5 series. He prefers to drive the coupe’ to work and leaves the X5 for me.

“So it’s the eighteenth of September today remember, we have the house to see” he says nonchalantly fishing his car keys out of his pocket. “I will be back by two to pick you and the kids up” . For a split second I don’t understand, hearing the date spoken out loud is my undoing as I feel all the emotion that I was trying to sweep aside, explode through me. The memory of my mothers body lying shrouded in my childhood home just one year ago pricks my eyes with tears.

As if he has seen my thoughts through my eyes , his own expression changes and he drops his briefcase on the floor. “Oh my God, Hasina, I didn’t realize” he says barely above a whisper and its his gentle tone in his voice loaded with sympathy, that is the last straw. Warm salty tears flow down my face and I’m sobbing uncontrollably into his shirt. He holds me for what seems like forever, and I feel him stoking my hair from the crown down to my shoulder. I hear him whisper into my ear “inna lillahi wa innna ilayhi rajioon” – to God do we Belong and to him is our return. I wipe my tears and steady myself on my feet. When I look up at him I realize I’ve nearly ruined his shirt. Reading my mind he says, “it will dry up , and I have a jacket” he smiles encouragingly. “Hasina do you want me to cancel the appointment to see the house, we don’t have to go today, if you don’t want to” he says. I reply almost immediately , “No don’t” I say. “It will give me something to look forward to”.

hiding bed

Hiding under the covers

crying wife

CHAPTER ONE (continued)

transformation definition

“Assalamu Alaikum”  I greet both of them at once and smile sweetly at the children. The little girl returns my smile, with a look of curiosity, and turns to her mother , “Mummy is this the Aunty whose gonna give us the house ?” I can’t help but smile at her innocence. When I look up , Mrs. Vally’s reaction to her daughter’s  question is unmistakable. “shhh Jameela “ she snaps , and squeezes her daughter’s shoulder to emphasize.

“I’d like you to show you the house , and you can decide if you want to live here” I say sweetly , directly to Jameela , who beams at being acknowledged. “I’m Farnaz , so nice to meet you all” I say now addressing the adults.

”Yusuf “ he says , and putting his hand on his wife’s shoulder he introduces her “My wife Hasina “ he pauses , then looking at the children “and our children “ He doesn’t bother telling me his sons name. “Thank you for seeing us earlier today , sorry for any inconvenience” he apologizes. Im intrigued. Its not very often an Indain man apologises , especially not to a woman. “It was no trouble , at all” i respond.

“Shall we get started “ I encourage them into the house with a gesture of my hand . We move through the house as I introduce each room and give a run down of square meterage, recent improvements  and possiblilities for future extension. I begin downstairs , the foyer , spacious lounge and the dining room . I try to read their comments but Mr. Vally is in business mode. He asks general questions about the houses foundation and structural integrity, furnishing that will be included and plugs and electricity stability. All his questions , good and anticipated are answered perfectly , with the routine answers. “The foundation has been re-inforced with iron and the concrete has been the highest quality used” . “My policy is to have all the electrical surveyed by an independent engineer before I show the house.  Everything is in good working order”.

Hasina smiles but says nothing at all. I smile back to her but wonder why it is that the smile seems so forced. We continue upstairs , and I lead the small group along the passage. As we make our way through Hasina stays constantly one step behind, minding the children. I absentmindedly wonder if she has any say at all about the house , and notice what looks like disinterest. I cant help but wonder  if she really wants to be here today. I’m sure she would feel more at ease half naked covered in a chocolate wrap at some exclusive Day Spa.

“The bathroom has just been renovated “ , I say as we enter the spacious bathroom. It is tiled floor to ceiling in porcelain tiles with accents of chrome mosaics. A beautiful bathroom , with furnishings and accessories to make you think that you’ve stepped into the bathroom in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. For the first time Hasina speaks ,”Oh, look Yusuf they have the twin basins , just like Sameera’s Bathroom” . He smiles  at her warmly, a truly dashing smile, and nods at his wife. “yes Darling “ is his affectionate reply and I am momentarily thrown by his clear devotion towards his wife. She examines the room and I see this as my chance to get Mrs. Vallys opinion and I dive in. “so do you like the bathroom” , I ask her directly turning to face her completely. She seems to have been caught off guard but she  responds quickly. “Yusuf’s  sister Sameera just bought a new house in Houghton”,with raised eyebrows and raised pitch she says “And she redid her bathroom with twin basins. It’s the new thing” she says emphatically.

I thought it shrewd that she did not directly answer my question , but perhaps she only knows what she likes if someone told her it was nice. I mentally shake the mean thought out of my head. So it’s the new thing , I thought . I was pretty sure it was not a NEW thing , but I knew exactly what she meant. Twin basins have been finding their way into bathrooms for a long time now, but its just been a new trend for  muslim Indians , who view the bathroom as a place for a specific purpose. I am vaguely amused as I wonder what my daddi will think about having company in the bathroom , and the need for two basins.

There were four bedrooms upstairs, the master en suite, a guest en-suite and the childrens rooms. After showing the two bigger ensuite rooms and discussing possibilities , we made our way to the children’s rooms. As expected the children’s bedrooms were received with awe by the two children who, after being virtually silent , screamed with excitement when they saw the rooms. “This is a princess’ room mummy” said the little girl , who was clearly impressed by all the trimmings. In the boys room the young boy seemed intrigued by the basket holding balls of all colours and shape. He pulled out the most decorated one small enough to fit in his little hands. . “Seems they already feel at home” I said reassuringly , noticing the anxiety on their mother’s face. Mr Vally seemed to notice too and moved closer to her and curls his hand around her waist , naturally and confidently in a way that makes me feel like a third wheel tagging along behind a teenage couple. “We would just like to see the kitchen and the backyard “ said Mr.Vally but he looks at his wife and not me , and I feel like they communicating telepathically.

We headed back down the stairs to the kitchen that I had purposefully saved for last. Humanising a home , as I do , the beating heart at the centre of it all is the kitchen. As many Indian women would  tell you in the kitchen , the woman is the queen.  I remember fondly my mother moving swiftly between fridge and stove , as if one with a symphony. I would be propped up on a chair closest to her , eagerly awaiting any bits of dough to roll in my fingers or any spices to mix together in my own little pots.  Definitely the living home needs a heart and  the kitchen would be that heart. Judging from the size, this heart was Mother Theresa material.

The open plan kitchen and dining room also opens up into an extended patio area with foldable glass doors. This I took the liberty of opening them up before the client arrived in order to create the full dramatic effect, and it was working. I could see the look in their eyes, they were impressed. Who wouldn’t be , white quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances. Oven ,  fridge , washing machine , tumble dryer, Coffee machine all mirror front and co-ordinated. Gas and electric hobs in the middle of the kitchen  as a butchers block , surrounded by a L-shaped breakfast bar. I wonder for a moment if Sue ever cooked in here.

I expected Mrs. Vally to start the questions, and turned towards her. She asked if the appliances were being sold with the house and when I replied that it was , she did not seem pleased. “we will need a bigger fridge “ she said to her husband , “we so used to a water dispenser “ . She seemed to be gaining confidence now, but  she faced and spoke to her husband and not me directly.  She continued to browse around the kitchen  for a bit then walked slowly out towards the open glass doors and sat down looking out towards the beautifully manicured garden  outside. I couldn’t help feeling her uneasiness , I brushed it off thinking this show today probably made her miss a facial or chemical peel appointment.

I was still watching her when I heard Mr. Vally  say  “This Is a lovely home” . I turned to face him . “It’s a great home for a family to grow into” I replied. Taking the hint I told them to browse around, as there was still 30 min until  my next appointment. He nodded and went to join the rest of the family on the patio , I watched him walk up to his family and put his hand on her back. Without turning around she leaned her head against his shoulder. I turned around and left the kitchen .

I was confident in my sale , they looked like the right people for the home. I have to admit it was a lovely home, it had all the creature comforts anyone could ask for , certainly what the typical family would want. The appliances with the right name on it, the huge wall mounted LCD Tv, a garage big enough for four cars, and a kitchen your guests would never stop talking about.  The nagging question on my mind was , was this really all you need to strive for? I couldn’t help thinking that there was more to life than having the biggest home or flashiest car.

The Vallys  were just the type of people who made me feel like an outsider. The people who are nice enough to be around for a little while , but like sugar filled softdrinks , too much of it can make you sick. Conversations with the typical Indian Women  flows around, shopping , Dubai holidays, their mothers-in law , their children and their extracurricular activities and of course  cheap gossip. Mention anything above the IQ of a teenager and it’s a sure conversation killer.

I had a taste of that first hand once when I was invited to a house warming of one of my clients. ‘The global economical meltdown , and its effect on local stock markets ‘  was the topic I wanted to introduce after hours of listening to how they drive all day from , school to soccer practice and swimming and karate and had a wax appointment in between. Having no children myself I couldn’t participate in that conversation, iven if I did lose my mind and decide to.  It was reasonable to assume that since many of the woman present that day had husbands in business and were very wealthy , they surely had to have local and off shore investments. If there was any topic worth debating, it was weather a financial injection into the economy was going to save it or simply delay the inevitable. “The economy is just fine,”  she began “You know my Moosa he just bought two more trucks for his delivery business , and like, the banks were only too happy to give him a loan” said a tall stogy lady , with too much make –up. “Ruwaidah is right “ came a voice from next to me , the host of the party “Muhammed’s Company (her husband was an executive in a telecommunications company) sent him to America last year for training , and he couldn’t stop talking about how advanced it is and how much better people live there” .All eyes turned back to me . I felt like an undertaker at a christening. I had so little credibility with the rest of these ladies, who probably thought I made it all up, I smiled sweetly and said I will send her the article I was reading.  I mentally hit my palm to my forehead. Yes real conversation is hard to come by in these parts and I can just imagine Mr’s Vally talking endlessly about her shoes that she had bought n Italy when they visited, hand made especially for her… or some other stupid mundane story with the same formula.

I was absorbing the early spring sunshine, sitting comfortably on the bench just outside the front door of the house, when I saw the little girl run pass me, followed quickly by her mother. Just as I got up, Yusuf stood in front of me authoritatively , most unnecessary I thought, and slowly and purposefully said, “Look,  we like the house , but there are few things I need to do , before I can commit” . I thought he was a little nervous when he said that , but I ignored it. “I completely understand, Give me a call when you are ready to discuss further.” I said making sure that I look for his wife and make eye contact.  Hasina gathered up their children into their silver BMW X5 that’s probably never seen a dirty road, never mind a dirt road. She took a few minutes extra to strap in her children in the immaculate racing car carseats. This surprised me a little  since its more common see children loosely packed in the back of their flashy cars bobbing around like little paper dolls, then strapped up in carseats. The smallest children get to usually sit their mothers lap in the passenger seat, like possible projectiles getting ready to be fired out the windscreen. When she was done fastening the belts, she walked around the car and got into passenger side. I smiled at her encouragingly, searching for some clue to what lay beneath her actions. I was rewarded was a smile that clearly defied the sadness in her eyes. For a moment I wondered if some deep seeded sadness is what was responsible for the attitude this afternoon. I waved to the children in the back as the car drove away leaving me on the pavement, with a strange feeling in my gut I could not work out.





transformation definition

You cant stop the future. You cant rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret…is to press play – Jay Asher (Author)

The routine and the questions are always the same; even so, I make it a priority to arrive thirty minutes before the client just to make sure everything is just perfect.  When the previous family has moved out already, there is a great deal left to do. I sometimes can’t believe how people can leave a house, a huge part of their life that has been the setting for so many memories, in such disarray. I have come to think that it may just be an Indian thing. The few houses that I sold in predominantly middle class white areas, way up north, seemed to be painstakingly skeletoned so as to not disrupt the ‘inner heartbeat” of the house. Even my short stint as a volunteer in the informal settlements, predominantly black occupancy, proved different. The people in their shack had far less possessions but moving furniture and houses was done with great care so as not to leave evidence that a shack was there. They showed respect to the land that they were on, so much so that, some even performed rituals to their ancestors in gratitude for the land.  Looking back now I realize how long ago that was. That seems like almost a lifetime ago. I have been living in, and selling homes here– a predominantly Indian area – for just over five years now.

The area began as a political movement in the 1950’s to relocate all Indian people to one area. This was the trend with black people and coloured people too. Was it to keep them away from the white people?  Or, away from each other?  Or was it just to have them in one place should a civil unrest ensue? – something that was always one revolutionary away from happening. Whatever the reason, following the 1990 release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the first democratic elections, people could not wait to get out of these areas and fill the vacuum left by the terrified fleeing whites immigrating to the UK, Austrailia and so on.

So actually I have The Group Areas Act to thank for most of my business, well at least earlier on in my career. My grandparents would be so disappointed. Me, benefiting from apartheid…… the way I see it, I am helping put things right. Ensuring the Indian “Uncle” can live in the posh previously whites-only area. That is his free democratic right, surely. If they can afford to, then why not? And oh ……they sure can afford to. Some of my clients had enough money to buy their own secluded island in the middle of nowhere.

Why then do these same people pull wires off the wall , and unhinge build –in cupboard doors and even go so far as to remove curtain rails and door knobs. Door knobs for God’s sake. I shudder with disgust when I think about it. If you are like me and you believe that a house is not just layers of bricks and mortar but a home with character and memories, this behavior is disrespectful and repulsive. Call me sentimental but my childhood home is remembered as part of me, part of my memories. I still remember the tree branch I used to swing on, the yard where I rode my bike for hours and, the pool where I spent most of the summer. My bed room was my sanctuary as a teenager, from there I could see the corner of the garden, and if you sit in just the right spot , you could watch the birds building their nests and feeding their chicks.

I don’t sell houses; I sell an empty box with which to fill with memories. Or at least that’s what I thought I was doing until recently. Now I am just selling a lifestyle, a South African Muslim Lifestyle.  Yes, I am a South African Muslim, yet I seem to find myself always on the outside looking in. The lifestyle and goings-on of the people around me do not appeal to me at all. You would think growing up here and I would feel differently. I was exposed to the same childhood home as many of the people who I find around me now, but yet I feel worlds apart.

Growing up as the daughter of a Surgeon, my father was one of the lucky ones sent to Pakistan to study, our family may have been seen as somewhat privileged to anyone looking in. From within the family that was not so. My mother, a teacher, made sure that her three children were never spoilt. My brother, the only son and the eldest learnt the lesson of needs and wants earliest. From the Atari games that was popular when he was young, to his first car. It didn’t matter how much you wanted something, only if you really needed it or earned it, it could be yours.  Perhaps it was the fact that he learnt all the lessons first and probably the hardest, that when he was faced with the choice of studying in the UK, he didn’t think twice. The age gap between him and I is considerable, such that when he went off to study I was barely 6 years old. This left my older sister (5 years my senior) and myself to fill his void. My mother had a knack for communicating to her daughters though, even when we were just young children, and allowed us to be part of the decision making. Although most of the time I think we were playing into her plan as our decisions were mostly what she would say was  ‘the right thing’ to do. Until that is when we all hit the adolescent years. Looking back now, I can imagine how difficult it must have been raising three children almost on her own. The demands of my father’s job, meant he would be gone most of the week day, and at any given time during the weekends.  So when I was born, my mother stopped working and became a full time mother, wife and do-it-all. She made sure that we all had a strong Islamic foundation, and education was the priority for her. Unlike many other families back then, she was adamant that her daughters would go to university and study a degree for a purpose.  She hated the trend of sending teenage girls to University “as a worm on a hook” as she put it, simply to hook a future doctor, lawyer or engineer. So often once they hooked the big one that was the end of her career.


She was probably the first closet feminist I knew, and I can’t help but think what she could have accomplished if she didn’t have to take on the role of mother, father, driver, tutor, friend and everything in between. It was probably because of the sheer amount of sacrifice and stress that goes with that job, and neglect for herself that caused the cancer to spread so far before being detected. After her death, my father moved us into Houghton in the northern suburbs, where his parents lived. My Grandparents tried to fill the big shoes left by my mother, but with my dad gone more now than ever, it was not easy for any of us. I was just fourteen when my mother succumbed to her cancer. I spent my teenage years under the watchful eyes of my dada (grandfather) and daddi (Grandmother) and it was only ten years later that I returned here through marriage. In those years away, right through high school and my study of Architecture, I thought of myself as a typical South African Muslim. It was only after marriage when I was resubmerged into its culture that I was sure that typical was the last thing I was. Architecture was not a basic skill for a muslim wife, I was told constantly by my daddi. After my marriage I tried to get freelance work , but the macho Indian male who could crush stone with his bare hands, refused to take direction, even if it was on paper, from a twenty something girl. Selling homes then seemed to be the next best thing. I was determined not to forsake my education, and being the best architectural student in my class, I was sure to be a great estate agent. What’s more, it appeared to be best vantage point from where to watch the chaos that was a Muslim Community.

Most of my clients were Indian muslims. They come to me looking for the typical ‘Indian lifestyle’. So much for selling and empty box of memories. It’s not even about the house anymore. It’s all about the name of street that it is on and who the neighbours are. Even how far from the mall it is, and the cars parked in the other driveways mattered more than the build quality. I see the people living here as nothing more than fickle minded people with a desperate desire to fit in, and then once they do, they spend every waking moment trying to stand out.

Today’s show house family is a typical example, a young family of four, that’s still living there until their bank loan is approved, a rather large bank loan I might add, since they will be moving down to the Kwazulu Natal North Coast, Umhlanga. It is the holiday destination for most people up in Johannesburg, and I have spent many summers as a child and even recently basking on the beach soaking up the sunshine that shines all through the year. Moving to this idyllic coastal town is a dream come true for most people. I imagine that an announcement like that in this kind of neighborhood turns even the most meticulous foundationed face, green with envy.

Today’s show was only meant to be later this afternoon, but the client called and asked to have it earlier. Luckily I was able to make it earlier after calling the owners and speaking to the wife.

“Of Course, I was planning to do lunch with the girls anyways “, was her happy reply. Suhayma, the wife of a rich businessman was the epitome of the type of woman I was not. Spoilt, rich, extravagant with more makeup in her bag than brain cells in her head.

“Would it be possible to leave the keys with the neighbours if you were to leave before I get there”  I half asked and half instructed. I am really glad that she remembered to do that. The last thing I wanted to have to do, was to call her during “lunch with the girls”. I would have rather taken my chances through an open window.

I drove up to the show house and parked my Yaris in the driveway. Taking a minute to get my file and bag I became aware of a klocking sound approaching. No doubt that was the neighbour with the house keys in hand. Before turning around I had a wild guess as to length in inches of the stiletto heels making that sound. When I turned around to meet her, I realized the heels were high, but much needed.  The added 4 inches made her eye level to me in my sensible pumps. The next door neighbour handed me the keys not before giving me the third degree about the house, and the family and I couldn’t help feel like I was in a scene from ‘Desperate Housewives’.

“You know my sister’s brother in law’s niece also went to settle down in Umhlanga, but they keep saying it’s not like lenz” she says as if she has been eating straight from the sour grapes vine. I make an excuse about the client getting her any minute, and thankfully, Stilettos gets the hint.

Key in hand, I let myself in to this lavish house, and set my things down on the round table in the foyer .

A fool could tell you these people come from money, and lots of it. The husband is doing very well in a family business, that no doubt his grandfather built from scratch. From what I hear, the business is a motor spares business that’s been around in Lenasia and been in the Adam family for more than thirty years. Adam junior, the youngest son and my client today is moving down to Umhlanga to manage the new spares shop and expand the empire on the coast to include petrol service stations down there. His wife was thrilled to be moving so close to Gateway Mall, the “biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere” she said with so much excitement, I actually thought she was going to combust, but when she went on about her last shopping trip there a few months ago, her voice faded into oblivion as I slowly counted backwards from ten. Somewhere between six and nine in my counting reverie I imagined her shopping at the boutique stores in Gateway, blinged up on jewelry and caked up on makeup . I saw her in my mind with far too many shopping bags in her hand, when her red soled Laboutines give way and she goes tumbling head over gym toned butt into the famous fountain. This enlightening thought may have brought a smile to my face because she said “Oh so you like shopping too”. … I nodded a little ashamed at my fantasy at her expense.

Mr. Motor spares house was a lovely one. Not overdone, but architecturally elegant. No doubt it was a home bought, demolished and done up again from scratch. The family are still living in the house so it does not need too much sprucing up. A few vases of fresh flowers, and some magazines on the coffee table is all this house needs. The young couple have two children, 3 and 5 years old, and both have their own room and a special playroom, yet I seem to be picking up little toys all through the house. From the little I have seen of the young children I can tell you, Mrs Motor Spares or “Sue” as she had insisted being called when introduced as Suhayma, definitely was not nominated for Supermom of the year. The day of my initial visit was unfortunately, Maria -the domestic’s, day off. I watched in horror as each child ran circles around their parents, until they were each given an ipad and daddys iphone to keep them busy. The electronic playmates kept them entertained for about 30 min until mummy had to phone nana (grandfather) who had turned up and saved the day and… my appointment.

The childrens’ bedrooms were elaborate. Princess pink for the daughter and blue for the five year old son. My heart ached a little at the sight of them. The little girl’s room was enchanting with a carriage bed, no doubt the best money can buy, with all the girly girl props you can think of. Im sure mummy had a ball shopping for this room. The sons bedroom was a sports theme, with a child sized freestanding basketball hoop in the middle in the middle of the room and a huge Manchester United framed banner on the wall. Typical I thought. Scanning all the rooms i optimized light by opening all the north facing curtains as much as possible, before heading to the bathrooms. I just had enough time to put fresh towels in the bathrooms, when I heard the doorbell ring.

Mr. and Mrs. Vally stood at the open door. All that separated them from the house was a folding gate. I swiftly descended the staircase to the left of the front entrance and got into seller mode.

I saw  Mr.Vally first , a tall and attractive man , even at first glance. He looked older than his years with slightly greying hairs at his temples and an immaculately shaped beard. Far too fair in complexion for an Indian, I thought admiringly. He had well defined and sharp enough features that made me immediately guess that he was once an perhaps even now, a very good looking man. He wore a dark blue chinos and a pinstripe white shirt. No tie, but by the looks of the collar and top shirt button, I’d say there may have been one there a few minutes ago. Work clothes? I wondered. I didn’t wonder for long, no one could miss those crocket n jones look on his feet. Definitely work clothes. He stands with folded arms a foot or so in front of his wife, who holds a young boy on her hip. The handsome boy is a clue to what is father may have looked like at that age.

Mrs. Vally, stands a little shorter than him but  average for an indian lady and wears a headscarf just forward enough for me to see some highlighted gold strands. I recognize the scarf, the new craze of pinless draping scarves. Her outfit is modest, yet fashionable. Dark blue skinny jeans, a long white linen shirt and a, OMG is that gold pumps dotted with little gemstones. Hmm a bit flashy for the middle of the day, I thought.   She is looking down as I approach them, but when our eyes do meet, I am intrigued. She isn’t what you would call stunning, no undeniable sharp features, the average oval shaped bone structure, but her clear olive skin contrasting with green emerald eyes is so unusual you can’t help but be amazed. She stands upright but with shoulders turned inward, possible from holding the weight of her son. She catches my gaze and gives me a weak smile and shifts her weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably. As she does so, her husband’s hands lock instinctively around her waist. Her young daughter stands proudly next to her mother. She is distinctly her mothers daughter in looks, the same bland features, olive skin and smile. Her eyes are not green but brown yet the shape and expression is unmistakably her mothers.  I immediately notice the confidence in her body language from way she stands next to her mother with such purpose and confidence tells me the similarities with her mother start and end with her looks.

I take a breath to steady myself…. IT’S SHOWTIME.





Posted: April 29, 2014 in Uncategorized
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“Why you do go away? … So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” Terry Pratchett
Transformation is the name for a book I wrote. A book I needed to write to put so much into perspective for me. After writing it I felt a sense of peace. Not only because it made me come to terms with my own loss, but also because I felt like, now, I had something to share with the world.
That is when this blog was conceived. What better platform to share my thoughts with the rest of the world. I wanted to reach people who at sometime or the other felt my loss, my happiness, my pride, my love. Who at sometime or the other felt alone, scared, different or even the same. And I know this person is out there. And I know this person is you.