Yesterday, I took a walk to the other side of the tracks. There was an apartment that I needed to reach. It was a place in my head for ten years and the only way to get it out of my head was to see it in reality.
It was the place
where my true love of January, 2002 had a wife and twins
where his mother-in-law called from and pleaded that he end his relationship with me
where I didn't go when I came to Egypt in 2002 to marry him
where he went to say goodbye to the family he broke apart
where his sister's husband would bring money to support those children
where I would send toys and clothes
where she would call from and yell at the man who betrayed her
where a little boy grew up without a father
where a desperate woman lived without a future, in country that devalues the divorcee
where an old computer sat and connected to the webcam in our home
where she learned I was pregnant
where she began to tease my husband
where she wrote that she would return to him if he would divorce me
where she began to send titilating text messages
where she used that computer to send pictures of herself
where I called her and told her to stop
where he went to her in November, 2006
where he played with the children in the salon
where he stayed late into the night and called me in the U.S. from her phone
where he called me a donkey for the first time ever and it was in front of her family
where he lost his mind somehow
where I told him from our broken home in the U.S. that we were done
where he fled to after our legal divorce was decreed in May, 2007
where he learned in June that his father had died on the coast and he hadn't seen him beforehand
where he visited until the courts in Egypt decreed they could remarry after three divorces
where she left in August, 2009 to come to the U.S. at the same time as I was coming to Egypt
where she visited in May, 2011 and stayed without ever connecting with us
Subhanallah, I went to that place yesterday. I won't lie and say that I handled it well. I was scared and out of sorts. My husband felt the difficulties and saw how twisted up it made me. I had to go there to collect money sent and it hurt me as much as to walk over hot coals. However, I knew that I could and that in a way I had to. I waited until I could pray again. I waited until I was strong enough.
So, it seemed strange to me to climb those dark stairs and find a little old woman waiting for me at the end of the hall. The mother of the "other woman" wasn't a threat, was she? She was just as much a victim in this triangulated drama as I was. Her daughter and I fought over a man and no one really won. Both of us were incredibly hurt over the years. Maybe the lines on this woman's face were a testimony to the amount of days she spent watching the babies or the nights she spent caring for a family without a father.
She invited us in. I had agreed with my husband not to enter but in Egypt it's very hard to say, "no." I took off my shoes and in I went. The apartment was small; smaller than ours. I couldn't help comparisons. As I sat, I spied and hated myself a bit for putting myself back in that role. Why had I thought I could go and yet stay detatched?
She offered us juice. I declined. She insisted. She opened the fridge next to the couch. When I think about it now I'm struck by the strangeness. A fridge next to the couch? Small apartments are like that. Lives are like that when you have to make do with what you have. She pulled out a juice box. Thank God it was a juice box. I could not have allowed my son to take something prepared by her hand. May Allah forgive me but I know that family has wished that I had never happened; have wished that my mashahallah beautiful boy had never happened. I can't ever trust them. It's sad but I know they have wished us dead.
Yes, we sat sipping our juice. Like a hidden camera, my roving eye would pick out a detail in the room and "click" it into my head.
There's the buffet the little girl stood in front of in that photo.
There's Batman stickers stuck to the wall from the boy.
I saw some framed photos in a china cabinet---and I looked away. I didn't want to see my ex acting as if the 'happily ever after' was between his arms.
I looked away and saw a bedroom door open and beyond three beds crammed inside. This was where a mother slept with her children until they were eight years old. There was a posh apartment he had bought on the other side of town but she couldn't stay there; it was no longer hers. She stayed in a place without personal space. She was jailed in a way for hating a man who wanted to take another wife.
I can't blame her for changing her mind. I can't blame her for wanting to get out of that small room. She got out the only way she could. She gave up her independence and her dignity. She fought tooth and nail to get her man back. She got out. She got remarried to the man who once said he could never live without me. I'm sure he told that to her too. However, only one of us believed him.
"Do you know who I am?" The woman asked my son in Arabic.
He looked at me and tried to remember how I had coached him. Yes, I knew she would ask.
She didn't wait for him to answer. She answered it for him. Yes, she was the grandmother of his brother and sister. This would be the same brother and sister he has met twice in his life. Meeting her once would be half as much as he knows them.
"Does he look a little like his brother?" I ask her, trying to get a response. I didn't want to speak the name of the man who connected us all.
She didn't really see it. She didn't really warm. She wasn't rude. She was guarded. She was perhaps clicking away her own observations about us in her head.
She asked me if Egypt was beautiful.
"The most beautiful thing in Egypt is the azan, " I answered and watched as her eyebrows raised. "If the whole counry was garbage but it had the azan then it would still be beautiful."
I tried to make small talk but it all fell flat. Really, neither one of us knew what to say so we asked many questions with only one answer every time, "inshahallah." Maybe that's OK. It's OK for two women, who have nothing in common except for past pain, to simply remember Allah.
She got out the money and I made Mr. Boo reach out and take it. I wasn't going to have her pay me. That money; that 500 LE was AbuBoo's Eid money for his son. It's not even $100. That's what we were supposed to get. It wasn't supposed to be a peace treaty. It was supposed to be a hand-off. My husband called after that and it was the perfect time to leave.
We said our goodbyes and away we went.
After hardship there is ease.