A happy and contented young man, I thought to myself, as I listened to my nephew, Saleh, talking about his work and his young family. His modestly- furnished apartment speaks of a young man with taste, but one willing to live within his means through earning an honest living.
‘Are you sure she will be back soon?’ I asked about his wife. ‘I have a few other places to go to and I only wanted to know how the baby is doing. So if she is held up at the hospital I can leave now and return another time.’ I said.
‘No Aunty, I am sure Raqiba will be here any moment. Let me call and find out what is holding her.’ He offered.
‘No, please don’t get her alarmed for no reason. I told you I can come back another time.’ I said rising up from my seat.
‘Or we can come over to see you instead.’ Saleh countered, putting down his mobile phone and walking me towards the door.
‘And here she is,’ I announced, as soon as I opened the front door and saw Raqiba standing there.
‘Assalamu alaikum, welcome Aunty.’ She said excitedly, handing the baby into my outstretched arms. ‘I hope you are not leaving already?’
‘Well, I was leaving when I thought you will take longer to come. But now that you are here, I will go right back and greet this little queen properly.’ I replied, turning back into the house with their daughter in my arms.
‘What was the doctor’s diagnosis?’ Saleh asked his wife the moment we were all seated back in the sitting room.
‘Well, I think he said it is teething.’ Raqiba answered.
‘You think he said it was teething? You mean you are not sure what he said? How can you forget so quickly when you are just returning from the hospital? In any case, teething was what you said before I insisted that you still had to take her to the doctor because her temperature was too high. Are you telling me that the doctor simply agreed with you?’ Saleh demanded.
‘Yes, more or less.’ She replied, looking away.
‘Look, you have to tell me what the doctor said, what do you mean by more or less? You know how we couldn’t sleep last night worrying about her fever and restlessness. If I didn’t have to go to work I would have gone with you. And now you return from the hospital and refuse to tell me exactly what the doctor said?’ Saleh sounded incredulous.
‘Well, you know the doctor didn’t speak to me. I wasn’t the one who explained the illness to him. It was my aunt Sadiya.’ Raqiba replied.
‘And why would your aunt be the one to talk to the doctor?’ I asked, joining them for the first time.
‘I went to her house and asked her to accompany me to the hospital. On the way there I told her the baby’s symptoms and when we went in she told the doctor everything while I sat and listened.’ She explained further.
‘What kind of madness is this? How can you take your child to the hospital and let somebody else talk to the doctor on your behalf?’
‘But what did you expect me to do? It’s our custom. You can’t expect me to go with my aunt and then act as if I am the mother of the child.
That is the height of immodesty. I have to let her do the talking.
That was why I told her all the symptoms in the first place.’ Raqiba defended herself.
‘I must confess that I am a stranger to your customs Raqiba.’ I observed ‘but since you knew you wouldn’t be free to talk and act like the mother, why did you go with your aunt in the first place?’ I asked.
‘That’s because I am not expected to be going around with a first-child without a close relation to help. It’s almost as if I am telling the world I have no one to help me. So picking my aunt and taking her along to the hospital was the natural thing to do Aunty Bint. What would have been wrong and shameful was to show the doctor that I was the child’s real mother. She wouldn’t forgive me.’ Raqiba explained, with emotion.
‘What a strange custom indeed,’ I responded. ‘Well if that is what your tradition demands then at least, in future, pay attention to what the doctor is saying when he or she is speaking to your aunt. Look at it now, your child is sick, you took her to the hospital but you don’t even know what the diagnosis is because you were busy acting the non-mother. How will you know how to prevent a recurrence of her condition if you don’t know what it is?’ I advised.
‘In fact we are going back to that hospital right now.’ Saleh said rising up. ‘We are going to see the doctor and you are going to tell him or her all about our daughter, in addition to admitting that you are her mother. I don’t care what your strange custom or tradition dictates, all I know is I am not going to allow a continuation of this nonsense. Next time you need to go to a clinic you will not branch anywhere to pick your aunt. I forbid that.’ He commanded.
‘But that’s the way we do things in my family.’ Raqiba insisted.
‘Well forget the way you do things there because you are now a part of my family and we do not have such crazy customs.’ Saleh replied, picking up his car key.
‘Don’t be too hard on her Saleh,’ I cautioned my nephew. ‘But understand one thing Raqiba, a family tradition is only worth the effort if it isn’t detrimental to the well-being of anyone. This custom that makes someone else the mouthpiece for your child’s illnesses can only harm your child. For sure, no one knows the problems of a child better that its mother. And only you can care for her and prevent a recurrence in the best possible way. Please listen to your husband and do what is right.’ I appealed.
‘Ok Aunty, I will try.’ She replied, rising up with him to return to the hospital. I heaved a sigh of relief because I really didn’t think it will be that easy to convince her. What a strange custom? And to think that just moments ago I was ready to believe my nephew was married to his soul-mate and living in his virtual paradise?