Bismillah Hir Rahman Ir Raheem
Peace and blessings be upon you all
Ants marched in a single file behind the bench Basma shared with another woman. The monotony of insect life intrigued her 3-year-old son, who was exploring his surroundings. Preoccupied with her ice cream cone, Basma’s bench mate didn’t notice the puddle of spilled coffee on her side of the bench. It dispersed the ants into a chaotic frenzy. The toddler squealed in excitement oblivious to the creatures’ plight and his mother’s.
After candy floss and chotpoti (a tea time snack of curried chickpeas), Basma returned home with her son. Her hijab was soaking wet near the chin. The whole time she was at the shopping mall, she wept quietly. The niqab hid her sorrow from the outside world. Couples strolled in front of shop windows, holding hands and talking in whispers. Even the mannequins flaunting banarasi saris scoffed at her.
Chapatis (South Asian flatbreads) and niramish (a mixed vegetable curry) didn’t satisfy The Boss at dinner. He planned a late night coffee with friends and departed without a word. The call for Fajr prayers penetrated the cantonment air. Half an hour later, the tyres of his poorly maintained Probox screeched in the car park. It was a long night for him … and especially Basma.
Shaun the Sheep entertained her son while she sterilised his sippy cup. Pasta dough rested on the countertop and button mushrooms belly-danced in tomato gravy. It was time for The Boss to return from work and hopefully he’d be in good spirits this time to enjoy his favourite ravioli. He didn’t have much success as an engineer, so he offered private lessons for engineering students in the neighbourhood. His flyers yielded an incredible return on his investment.
Despite improved circumstances, the food budget didn’t change. Handouts from worried friends and annoyed relatives ensured a regular supply of food and multivitamin for Basma’s child. To wean herself off people’s charity, Basma started baking classes for university students and working women in the evenings. Financial independence helped to rebuild her self-confidence. But, the modest income was still light years away from her goal.
Digestive biscuits and Reader’s Digest helped her pass the hour right after Maghrib prayers, but didn’t fill in for her mother. Cultural mores translated a 2-km distance into weeks of separation. Cheaper call rates were a blessing in disguise though. They helped to prevent a nervous breakdown on multiple occasions.
A red satin dress raised eyebrows on Eid day. “It’s from my mother,” Basma said almost defensively as if she was dishonouring The Boss by wearing something he didn’t buy. Then again, did he buy her anything? It was already hard surviving on her income and half of his. His best friend’s family is managing with far less, so he keeps reminding her. Should she be surprised this best friend has never been invited home … and probably never will be?
In the days leading to Basma’s brother’s engagement, The Boss set Basma’s iddah (waiting period before the divorce comes into effect) in motion. Struggling to stay focused, Basma piped crème patisserie into the golden bellies of vanilla-scented profiteroles and stacked them in a Tupperware box lined with foil. She was more worried about the cheesecake because it was her first time baking it. The engagement party went well. The whirlwind of emotions in her heart was hidden from plain sight.
Basma intended to keep it that way and started inquiring about hostels for single mothers. There were none. She wasn’t prepared to return to her parents’ house, but she wasn’t willing to part with her child either. The dilemma consumed her to the point of dark under eyes and partial balding. Neighbours ‘started to see’ why The Boss fancied another woman. It didn’t matter as long as she had custody of her son after the divorce was finalised.
The proceeds from selling her wedding jewellery provided Basma with seed capital for a small bakery. The decision was vehemently opposed by The Boss, who tried to persuade his wife to abandon her startup. Undeterred, the budding entrepreneur prepared a neat portfolio to accompany her business plan. Additional funds would be necessary to cover staff salaries and advertising costs. The bank demanded collateral and a venture capitalist wanted three-fifths of her business. Neither option was feasible.
Juggling jelly tarts with Jolly phonics, Basma persevered each day for her bakery’s success without compromising her preschooler’s needs. Although The Boss revoked his decision of divorce, his conduct at home didn’t quite reflect his change of heart. Basma took all of it in her stride, knowing that (as Mordo famously said) the bill always comes due. She was grateful for having somewhere to spend time away from the person who didn’t value her.
With a little help from an investment banker whose children are fond of Basma’s cheese buns, Basma figured out a way to manage her bakery’s running costs. Business started to pick up, but it still wasn’t making enough money to realize expansion plans. Dale Carnegie’s principles helped the successful baker maintain her composure in inflammatory situations. Interactions with The Boss were a glaring exception.
At some point, The Boss became The Invisible. Although this transformation didn’t change the status quo, it certainly helped Basma’s emotional well-being. She was more focused at work and especially in her parenting duties. Her son was coping well at kindergarten and her bakery expansion would come to fruition within a year.
With dates and a glass of milk, Basma sat at her dining table one afternoon and opened the Quran. She recited as much of it as she could before breaking her fast. When the minaret startled the pigeons away, she stopped her recitation and popped a date in her mouth. She half rose from her seat before sitting down again. Tears welled from her eyes when she noticed the verse of the Quran at which she had stopped.
“O you who believe! Seek help in patience and prayer. Truly, Allah is with those who are patient.” An unfamiliar sense of tranquility filled Basma’s mind. She knew almost instinctively that her current predicament was only a phase. All she needed was steadfastness, patience, and a generous pinch of self-love to get her through it, Insha Allah.
Disclaimer: The person’s name has been changed to protect privacy.
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Shaheena Chowdhury is an online language teacher and freelance writer who likes watermelon, wisteria blooms, and Winnie the Pooh. Reading, writing, baking, and cooking are her therapy of choice. When she isn’t whipping up a delicious treat, she’s occupied with Sudoku or taking snaps of her son’s crafts.
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