“Didn’t expect you here,” he said as he spotted me at the mall on that fine Saturday.
Not sure if I have to call it a fine Saturday after that conversation, but I am sure it was a ‘great’ end to my weekend. He was with his new wife and a kid I assumed could not be his. I heard from his cousin he married only a year ago but the kid looked like he was four.
I forced a smile and tried to keep going. With Amal in my hands, I could not speak much so I smiled at his wife and kept walking to the next store. I heard him follow us and stopped to turn and roll my eyes but he seemed concerned.
“Is this our child?” he asked. I was not apparent of an answer to give but I scoffed under my breath, not wanting to sound rude. I knew I was better than that. And spending my time on something toxic from my past, definitely not something recommended by my therapist.
His wife was still at the other store, pretending to not be worried about her dear husband talking to his ex-wife, I assumed.
“You must have built a lot of guts in these three years, Mizan,” I said and turned my sight away from him to wipe my girl’s face. Luckily she was not in the mood for a boo-hoo and I was not ready to turn my supermom mode on. I was too exhausted physically and after seeing him, I lost it mentally as well.
“… because I can’t believe you managed to ask me if she is ‘our’ daughter after all these years” I shrugged.
I kept my eyes busy like I was trying to look for something that I was going to buy but in truth, I was becoming weak and the alarming chills running through my body kept telling me I should not give in for a conversation with him. All I could do was to remind myself that I cannot have a panic attack. No, not in front of him.
“I only saw her in pictures when she was born, Dalia. Our friends said you had left the country when I wanted to come to see our baby before I got married to Keira,”
It annoyed me how easily her name slipped out of his tongue and he pointed at her with a guilt-less smile.
“First of all, this is my baby and not ours. Secondly, Congratulations on your marriage, and if you intended to invite Amal to see her ‘non-existing’ father’s marriage to another woman, then you are still a dolt! And this time, I am not afraid to say it to your face!”
I felt mom’s hand pull Amal away from my shoulder and hush me, trying to take me away from the raging conversation. But I did not want to go. I wanted to speak. And tell him that it was not easy to protect a child from him in my stomach for nine months and seven days all alone. It was not a joke to go through all the labor pain and bring her out to the world to see an empty space in the place that she should have seen her dad. It was not easy to hold her in my shaking hands when my mind kept telling me I should have died in the labor room.
I breathed in and out, trying to prevent more attacks. I felt my knees weakening but I held myself strong. He stood there, still, with the guilt-free smile stuck on his face trying to get a proper look at Amal like he was a concerned dad.
“Look Mizan,” I said. “If I am standing here, still holding on to this conversation with a cheat like you then it is because I foolishly did give in to your ‘sweet words’ one day and admitted that I loved you. But after all that you have put me and Amal through, you shall never receive a bit of humane respect from us. You and your dear mother better know that” I exclaimed and turned my eyes at his wife and the kid who walked towards him sensing the conversation was not right.
I heard her talk to him in a low voice, probably advising him to leave the mall but he refused and asked her to continue shopping. I felt myself in places, unstable with a lot of emotions overwhelming at once. I did not know if I was feeling funny, angry, or hurt. But all that sensed to one word and that was a ‘betrayal’.
“Look, Dalia, what I did to you and our baby was wrong,” he said.
I looked at him angrily demanding him to correct his ownership and he rephrased.
“Okay. What I did to you and Amal. It was wrong, I admit. But you know I cannot go over my mother’s words and hurt her to be with you. I could not make a choice, I couldn’t let her down,” he spoke as if words flowed right out of his heart but I knew those were scripted by his mother.
“I have been guilty throughout. There weren’t days when I had not checked your Instagram to catch a glimpse of her little feet, your WhatsApp, and your cousins’ for updates about her growth…”
I shook my head as he went on telling me about the so-called ‘efforts’ he had made to be a part of Amal’s growth. It felt like I was talking to a clown suddenly, who was talking at a stretch but stammered in truthfulness. When he finished, he reached for his pocket and pulled out his wallet.
“I could not spend on Amal after the divorce, here, take this. Please get her something on your shopping,” he handed me a note or two, pushing his thick eyebrows in like he was sorry.
What did he think? That he could cover all the ravaged places in our lives with money?
I looked at him, then at my mom, expecting one of them to detail me on what he was up to.
“Right now, Mizan, I could slap you on your face and push you off the escalator and you will still not go through the pain that I had to go through in all these years, but you know what your mother would transliterate to you about it?” I paused for a second then raised my eyebrows at him, expecting him to pull out his vain argument like he always did whenever I tried to make him comprehend the evil things his mother was capable of doing to me. But he kept quiet.
“She’d tell you that childbirth is nothing and that she has been through it ten times, like God almighty delivered babies to her doorstep through storks and again shame me, blame me and go talk about me to her women so they can help promote a bad image about me in their circles then watch it spread like wildfire in town. Damn you and your mother, Mizan. I shall never forgive neither of you for all this,”
My mother stood there, holding baby Amal in her hand, weeping. It wasn’t the first time in five years after Mizan had been in my life that I had seen her crying. She’s been through the hell that he put me in and helped me come out of it, burning herself.
“Go tell your mother and your friends that I am still the mean, characterless woman that I was in your eyes when I started speaking out about all those injustices you and your mother caused. None of that matters to me now, because you and your dear mother taught me lessons to carry for a lifetime. You taught me lessons about men that I must warn this little girl here about and your mother, all about how a woman should never be like! now thank you two for that.”
I could see his face redden. If not for the place we were having the conversation, I knew he would have slapped me. I was hurting him, but more than anything insulting his mother, which I should not have but I could not take control of my painful self. He made me do things that I never imagined I would. From labeling men with wrong titles to criticizing women in all possible ways, I did it all. But it was after talking to Mizan that day that I realized that I shall never unleash that side about him or his mother to Amal, ever again.
“You are going to regret talking to me like this when Amal grows up and needs a dad, Dalia. Remember, the society can convince you about bringing a child up as a single mom but you can’t. I told you the same at the court and I am saying the same now. You will regret this!” He finally spoke, the muscles on his face shivering in anger.
I smiled and carried Amal from mom. She was asleep, like the angel she always looked like. I touched the back of her head and then looked at him with a wider smile.
“My only regret after our divorce was the fact that Amal will not have her father. I did cry and break every time I saw her cousins play with their fathers and died to talk to you about withdrawing my adamant remarks about how you cannot see her again,” I confessed.
I saw his silent smirks then adjusted my baby to a comfortable position and completed my response, “but the moment I realized that it was not just a father that she needed but a ‘man’ who will keep his promises, protect her and be the example she can search for in other men when she grows up, I knew Amal did not need you. She will never need you because you have never been that ‘man’. And my regrets died with that. Amal will grow up to be the strongest woman one day and she will not come in search of you. I can guarantee you that. Thank you for your concern, Mizan. I pray Amal or I will never have to meet you again.”
With that, I walked away with Amal still fast asleep, my mother walking beside me. I cannot say it was easy, to look in his eyes and tell all those hurtful words but those were nothing compared to the grief he and his mother had put us through. If I did not speak up for myself, nobody would have done it for me. I knew it.
And one thing I believe that a daughter must never see or the least, know about her father is that he could not keep his promise, and worst of all, leave her half orphaned, fatherless. I knew I could give everything to her, everything she needed and more. But what I knew I would never be able to give her was the love she should receive from her father.
As a daughter who had been through that pain, I realized it and that shall remain as the only wound in me that I knew would never heal.