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Selma Cook

This is a true story of a situation which I faced before becoming a Muslim. It served to make me ponder deeply over the ugly aspects of human behavior and the justice that was nowhere to be seen.   

Id known Mrs. Baker for a number of years. We lived just around the corner from each other near the beach. The houses were quite old but strangely elegant and rambling with huge timeless trees reaching skyward, far beyond the misery we daily perpetrate on each other.

I passed her house most mornings to take the children to school and she was usually there, standing at her gate watching the people pass.
Lovely morning, isnt it, I said.
Yes, its a lovely day.
These fragmented conversations continued for a few years. Gradually I got to know her and her family. I knew her cat
s name was Beazley and that she was born in Bendigo. Her gentle face always made me very careful with her. I was afraid to hurt her feelings. She looked delicate.

How are Trudy and Milly these days? I asked.
Just fine, thanks. Just fine.
She never spoke about her husband and I never saw him.

On one particular day, it had started to rain on my way back from school. Id forgotten my umbrella and was quite wet. As I passed her home, I saw her on the front porch calling me to come inside. Her home looked welcoming and I stepped through the gate.

The hallway was nicely covered with old but tasteful carpet and the walls were white and crisp. Green leafy plants adorned the entrance to the living room, which reeked of a cozy, homely atmosphere. I felt perfectly at ease and walked around the room looking at the photos on the mantelpiece and the trophies and medals on the wall shelf. Mrs. Baker beckoned me to come and sit next to her. She poured some tea into two quaint little teacups and cut a nice thick slice of home made walnut roll. It was delicious. I gazed out the bay window that looked onto the back yard. Rambling rose bushes edged the garden. Cane chairs and a neatly covered table were standing on the patio, soaking up the rain. The greenness of the garden, the welcoming crackle of the open fire and the nice hot tea made me want to talk.

Mrs. Baker I love this place. Its really homely.
Thankyou lovey, its nice that youve come to visit me at last.
Really? I didnt know you wanted me to visit you before.
I was always shy to ask but Im glad youre here.

I told her about my studies and my family. On and on I talked about myself. Her home seemed so ideal, so natural and relaxed. I envied her.

You have two lovely daughters Mrs. Baker, I remarked.
Well, lovey actually I have three daughters.
Three? I only ever saw Trudy and Milly, I observed.
My oldest daughter died five years ago.
Im so sorry Mrs. Baker. I shouldnt have…”
Its not a problem my dear. You didnt know.

What should I say now? If I just changed the subject it would be callous and if I asked further, it would be cruel. So I just sat quietly. Mrs. Baker was a very kind woman and understood my dilemma. She got up and walked over to the cupboard. She opened it reverently and took out a photo album.
This is all I have left of Jenny.
She stroked the cover of the album with gentle, shaky fingers and opened the first page.

A cute, pudgy little baby with deep brown eyes smiled at me from the photo. Straggly black hair covered her little head and she was wrapped in a snow-white hand-knitted shawl.
She was a gorgeous baby Mrs. Baker, I said quietly.
Yes, my Jenny was the easiest of them all. She just ate and slept and played. She was a joy from the moment she was born until the day she left us.
Together we leafed through the following pages and watched Jenny take her first steps, play in the sand pit in the back garden, pushing tip trucks and digging with colorful spades. I saw her little nose peeking out from under a sun bonnet and the day she learnt to swim. I watched with great interest all her school photos from first primary until she finished university. A tall, rather pretty young woman with big brown, kind eyes
just like her mother.

Jenny was always a kind person. Always thinking of others. She studied child-care at university and wanted to work in a kindergarten. She was waiting to start her first placement in a pre-school when she started to work as a volunteer in an opportunity shop.
Whats that? I asked.
An opportunity shop is where they gather unwanted clothes and household items and sell them at a cheap price for poor people. You can pick up a lot of bargains there, my dear, she said. Its amazing what people throw away.

Tears filled my eyes as I looked at this womans sadness and her graceful self-control.
How old was she when she died? I asked.
Jenny was twenty-two years old. She was about to be married, when it happened.
What happened Mrs. Baker? I asked curiously. If you dont want to talk about it, I understand.
Its good for me to talk lovey. I dont get much chance these days. The girls are always busy and I find myself alone a lot of the time.

I sat and waited in silence. My curiosity was strong but I certainly didnt want to hurt this lady.
Five years ago Jenny went to work at the op-shop and it was a quiet day. She called me on the phone to chat because there was nothing much to do. Someone came into the shop and so she excused herself, saying shed call back later. That was the last time I heard her voice.
What happened? I asked through knitted eyebrows.
A young man came into the shop. There was no one else there and he took out a knife and stabbed her to death. She wasnt found for some hours.
Oh how terrible, I said. Did they find who did it?
Yes. He was the son of some wealthy politician.
What happened to him?
Hell be out after a few years, they say. His father has friends in high places. The corners of her mouth pointed downwards with a look of deep scorn.
Hell be out?
My Jenny is dead and hell be walking this earth, said Mrs. Baker, with a faraway look in her eyes. If it was a war or something, perhaps it would be easier to bear, but to die for no purpose, no purpose at all, is just too much.
Mrs. Baker put her head down and cried silently. I
d never seen anyone with as much self-composure as she had.
I dont know what to say Mrs. Baker. Its too terrible and too hard on you.
Its ok really. Just when I talk about it again, it stirs up memories and the anger I still keep inside here. She pointed to her chest.
He should be killed. The one who killed my girl, should be dead. She never hurt anyone. She was a kind and gentle soul. Id like to see him die.
I looked at Mrs. Baker. I couldn
t believe that such a gentle, kind lady could say such words.
Its got nothing to do with forgiveness lovey, she added. But its got everything to do with justice. Thats why my husband left lovey. Everywhere he looked in this house, made him remember Jenny and he couldnt stand it. But for me, I didnt want to leave this place because it does remind me of her and I dont want to forget.

I left Mrs. Bakers house that day with a feeling of lead on my heart.
Her words kept ringing in my ears
its got everything to do with justice and continued to do so for some years to come. I moved away from that place and never saw Mrs. Baker again but the memory of what happened to her family never left me.

When I was learning about Islam, I came across a saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that the time would come when someone would kill another and the killer would be asked why they did that, and he would reply that he didnt know and the killed person also would not know the reason why theyd been killed. Here we are. Life has become so cheap. People are killed for a few dollars, for a pair of shoes or for no reason at all. The family of the victims are left desolate in a society that often cares more for the rights of the criminal than the victim and their loved ones.