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Selma Cook 

The continual negative reactions of a wife and mother nearly break her family apart. She has a wonderful son, but she just doesn't notice.
Nesreen banged the tube of toothpaste into the bathroom sink and rinsed the toothbrush under the cold water. Drops of mint toothpaste adorned the little glass shelf above the sink. She squeezed out the cloth and wiped the shelf clean. The little pink roses on the ceramic, matched perfectly with the pink flowers on her apron. Her hands were shaking and she felt an uncontrollable wave of anger surging through her body.

“Wait til that boy gets home,” she said aloud.

Fortunately she was alone at home that day. The cat had hidden itself on top of the wardrobe and watched her below stomping around, picking up discarded papers and dirty clothes. She shook out the blankets from Mahmoud’s bed and opened the window to let in some sunshine and fresh air. A bird landed on the windowsill, looking for its daily portion of breadcrumbs that he usually left for it. However, this day there was none, so it quietly flew away. During her rummaging through his things, she found one of his schoolbooks. She opened it and leafed through the pages.

“Untidy writing,” she said to herself. “Late homework! He didn’t finish all his homework? That boy will be the death of me,” she said out loud.

Nesreen had two boys. Mahmoud was fourteen and Nabeel was five. Her husband worked in another city and could only come home for three days per month. As a child she and her brother had lived with her grandmother where she learned how to take care of the house and cook and how to do things properly. Nesreen was a picture of organization and precision. Even her watch didn’t dare miss its time. Her home was comfortable and clean but these days she was often lonely. Mahmoud mysteriously left the house every evening and returned home just in time to sleep. Whenever she questioned him about his whereabouts he answered evasively and went to bed.

Any kind of disturbance in her orderly household, threw her out of sorts and made her feel uncomfortable and somewhat insecure. Everything had to be in its place and now Mahmoud had grown away from her and started to do something that he didn’t want to tell her about. She felt afraid but looked furious.

Her inability to understand her son, made her seek to uncover every weakness in his behavior and point out to him his deficiencies, as a shield for her own.

The back door opened, then closed quietly. There were some scuffling sounds as someone removed their shoes, then padded into the kitchen.

“Mahmoud! It’s eight o’clock and you’re late!” she screamed at him as he walked in the room. She forgot to tell him that she'd been really worried. Her hair looked a little tousled and her apron was crooked. Her eyes looked frightening and Nabeel ran to the living room to be far from her anger.

“Assalam alaikum Mum. Sorry I’m late,” he said quietly. Then he started to go upstairs to his room.

“I want to know where you’ve been Mahmoud! she cried again. She went after him and grabbed his arm. “It’s wrong of you to treat me like this. Come and sit over here.” She led him to the kitchen table and sat down opposite him.

“Well, come on son. Tell me what’s going on.”

Mahmoud sat quietly but didn’t say a word.

“You used to be such a tidy person. I never had to pick up after you. Today you left the bathroom in a mess, and your room looked like a bomb had hit it. Then..”

“Mum. Please stop.”

“I found one of your school books with ‘late homework’ written in it.”

“Mum, I came first in the class.”

“Why didn’t you finish all your homework? And your handwriting is disgusting.”

“Mum, I came first in the class. Can’t you hear me Mum?”

“You what?”

“I came first in the class and I’m going to get an award next Tuesday Inshaa Allah.”

“Oh, when did you find that out? You didn’t mention it before.”

“Mum, I’m tired. I want to go to bed.”

“Not until you tell me where you’ve been off to every evening.”

“It’s not a big deal, Mum.”

“So tell me.”

Mahmoud looked at her with sad eyes. Dark circles had formed under his eyes and his face was pale and thin. Nesreen looked at him and only saw the weakness in his face.

“Come on, what’s going on?”

"It's going to make a problem Mum."

"I want to know what you've been doing."

"Ok. You know Ismail's Mother, Aunty Ghada?"

"Of course I know 'her'. What's she got to do with anything?"

"I've been going to their house everyday."

"Why on earth are you going there? You know I don't like her, don't you?"

"I know Mum. That's why I didn't tell you. I didn't want you to be upset."

"Upset? You always make me upset." Nesreen sat at the kitchen table. Her face was red and her mouth was turned down at the corners.

"Mum. Please Mum. I want to go to bed. I'm tired."

"I'm tired too, my boy. I've been working all day around this house and I don't get any thanks for it. Where are you going?"

"To bed."

"I want to know why you went to Ghada's house without my permission."

Mahmoud sat down again and looked at his mother. He couldn't help it, he started to cry.

"Ismail's father died today."

"What? Really?"

"I didn't know he was sick."

"How could you know Mum, you never ask about them, do you?" His face looked challenging.

"What was wrong with him?" she asked, pretending to feel concern.

"He's had cancer for a long time and then he died."

"Why didn't he go to the hospital?"

"Mum! Why do you always ask questions? The man's dead! He was a good man and I loved him like a father."

Mahmoud's loud voice and unusual display of emotions startled Nesreen into silence.

The doorbell rang and Nesreen rose to open the door. It was her husband.

"Yusuf, you're home. Why didn't you use your key?"

"Assalam Alaikum, I'm fine and I had a nice trip thanks."

Yusuf brushed past her and called his son.


"Dad! You're home at last. Thanks for coming so quickly."

"I got home as fast as I could."

"Would someone mind to tell me what's going on? Mahmoud did you call your father and tell him to come home? Why didn't you tell me first?

"You didn't tell your mother Mahmoud?" asked his father.

"I tried to, well , I started to tell her now. It's hard to..."

"That boy's been driving me insane Yusuf, you have to do something about him. I don't like the way he's growing up and just now he spoke rudely to me. He's talking and talking and I can't make out anything he says. The boy's a fool!"

"If you don't understand what he says, does that make him stupid or YOU?" shouted Yusuf. "This boy deserves thanks and appreciation for all he's done and it looks like he's getting nothing but trouble."

"Don't speak like that in front of the children Yusuf. You'll destroy my position in front of them."

"You destroyed it yourself, a long time ago."


Nesreen stood with her mouth wide open as Yusuf carried his suitcase into the living room, followed by Mahmoud.

"Why did you come home Yusuf?"

"Abu Ismail is dying and asked for me, but, now, unfortunately it's too late."

"Why did he want you?"

"We've been friends for years Nesreen, and my friendship with him has nothing to do with you and his wife. You know Nesreen, I'm sure that if I asked you why you don't like her, you couldn't tell me exactly, could you?"

"I don't like her. I, I don't need specific reasons do I?"

"You know Nesreen, I only know Ghada from what I hear about her but I can tell you, I've never heard anyone say a bad word about her or her family, except you. You have a natural talent for digging out and presenting for all the world to see, the evil in people and I'm sick of it!"

"How could you say that to me Yususf? I do my best, you know that, don't you?"

"Has it crossed your mind to ask what Mahmoud's role was in all this?"

"I tried to ask but he wouldn't tell me properly. He can't communicate properly..."

"Mahmoud was the man of that house for the last two months. He came home from school and went straight there everyday. He did the shopping, organized the children, repaired anything that needed done around the house, helped the kids with their homework while their mother nursed their father and... he sat and read Qu'ran to Abu Isma'il until the moment he died. Ghada swears that she wouldn't have known what to do without him. And you, his mother, see nothing but a few trivial human errors and act as if he's the worst criminal in history. Wake up will you?"

"My boy's been serving Ghada and her family. I can't believe it."

"Nesreen, listen please. You have to try to change the way you look at things or else this family will be destroyed. I don't want that to happen."

Mahmoud sat on an armchair and looked at his parents. He felt numb with fear, thinking what would happen should they divorce. Nesreen stared coldly at the wall and didn't reply. Her thoughts were a jumbled mess.

"You know Nesreen, peacocks have really ugly feet. Did you know that? They have the most beautiful, colorful and spectacular array of feathers you could imagine, but some people look at this gorgeous creature but all they see, is its feet. That's exactly like you. You have this boy here, who's kind, committed and intelligent and..."

"I get it Yusuf. I understand what you're trying to say." Nesreen sat on the sofa, folding her hands on her lap.

"But Yusuf, some people are really like your peacock and they have really big feet!"

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