Chapter 9: Sweetest Devotion
Still not fully comprehending what had happened, I ran anxiously through the hospital corridors. I looked for my son’s face in every countenance I passed. I looked for him beneath the hands of the doctors and nurses in the emergency room.
A nurse told me Waleed was in surgery, but that he would be okay. I rushed to the minor surgeries’ room but couldn’t see my son. Besides, I hadn’t dared to look at him even when he was getting his vaccinations, so how would I have had the strength to see him being treated for a gunshot wound?
His father was standing a little way away, talking on the phone. I walked towards him and told him: “Just so you know, the police are on their way and I’m going to tell them this was a gunshot wound.” I hadn’t actually called them, but I wanted to frighten him.
He hung up the call. “He’s okay; the doctors have assured me of that.”
“You know full well that I didn’t leave my son with you for the day so you could bring him back to me injured!”
“How could I have known that he would be shot?”
“You know that the old traditions haven’t changed. Why did you take him there?”
“Because I’m his father and it’s my right to introduce him to my family, even if you don’t like our traditions!”
“Fine, you can tell the police that.”
I left him in a state of confusion. When I walked into the waiting room I saw one of my uncles standing just across from me. He had come to check on Waleed. My mother and siblings were also there.
I was just starting to calm down when my uncle said to me: “Your father-in-law asked me not to inform the police about what happened. As you know, the groom will be arrested if they find out.”
“I don’t care!”
“Nadia, your father-in-law told me they have already held a tribal reconciliation.”
“And who told them I care about their tribal rituals?”
“I’m just telling you that this is the custom. Don’t worry, our tribe will defend your son’s rights.”
Our tribes are very similar to the clans of ancient times. Each family has a chief, who judges over disputes and solves the family’s problems. Sometimes the tribal decision is more powerful than the law itself. This is certainly the case in Jordan. When the heads and elders of the families gather together during either happy or sad occasions, they act upon judgments based on these tribal rituals.
As a result of these proceedings, a murderer could be declared innocent or a whole extended family could be banished in order to penalize the descendants of a grandfather who had committed an infraction five generations earlier. Even if the family members didn’t know anyone who was related to that grandfather, the penalty still affected the descendants, despite the fact that their only crime had been to share the same last name.
According to tribal rule, my son could justifiably be shot at a wedding seeing as the celebrations were measured by the number of gunshots fired into the air in the groom’s honor! The more gunshots fired, the more celebratory people felt towards the groom, and the more masculine the shooter seemed. But Waleed’s injury couldn’t be compensated with a cup of coffee and a fine paid at the end of the assembly when the two families came together to negotiate.
“I won’t settle for a cup of coffee as a resolution to this, uncle.”
“But we had an agreement and it’s settled. You can’t break the words of the tribal leaders.”
“And who allowed you to agree upon a matter that concerns my son without my consent?”
“Do you think the men of the family would wait for a woman to consent to a conciliatory meeting between their tribes?”
“Yes, when the woman in question is me!”
I could see that my uncle was becoming infuriated. “We are your uncles and you won’t undermine our respect or break our words. It’s over with, Nadia. Your eldest uncle met theirs and they made the decision. Take your son and go home. Thank God he is fine.”
My uncle moved closer to me and said in a lower tone: “If you make a mistake here, my dear, you could drag our sons into more serious matters. So go now and take your boy home.”
I was furious as I stood there staring at my uncle, but the sound of Waleed’s voice immediately washed away my anger as he entered the waiting room in a wheelchair. I felt like a revolution had ended peacefully in my head the moment I heard him calling out for me.
I ran towards him and hugged him tightly as my tears fell. I wiped them away instantly. “How are you, honey? Are you okay?”
“Yes Mom. The doctor gave me an injection. Why weren’t you in there with me?”
I kissed him. “Forgive me, darling… I was —”
He interrupted me. “Mom, I was in pain but the doctor told me it’ll go away.”
“Yes, honey, it’ll go away.”
“You know, Mom, it was a huge celebration, and there were so many fireworks…” He started narrating the details with great enthusiasm, completely neglecting his wounds.
I became distracted as I looked at his face, trying to comprehend what had happened. Nobody could ever know what that face meant to me, and nobody knew how important it was for me to hear that voice every day. Nobody understood the pain I had carried inside me. Nobody knew how many times I had cried in the car on my way back and forth to face the court judges and argue against my ex-husband’s false claims before returning home with a smile on my face so my son wouldn’t know where I had been.
They didn’t realize that their whole tribe counted as nothing to me compared with a tiny wound on his little body. Waleed wasn’t just a little kid; he was my whole life. He was what my life was and always would be about.
“I’d gone looking for Dad, but Grandpa told me Dad was the groom so he couldn’t be around me all the time,” he said on our way to the car.
I paused and looked at him, taken aback. “What?” I yelled.
“Dad was the groom. That’s what Grandpa said,” Waleed explained, realizing too late that this had been a dangerous slip of the tongue.
I wheeled him back into the waiting area and walked towards my uncle. “Who was the groom at this wedding, Uncle?”
He stuttered. “It was… It was your ex-husband, Nadia. That’s why we had to conciliate. We can’t send your son’s father to jail.”
I looked at my uncle, speechless with rage. Who ever said that I had a level of dignity that would stop me imprisoning the father of my son? Who decided that for me? Why did I feel such a strong urge to see him behind bars, begging? Yes, maybe I felt as though this was my chance to get payback for all those years of suffering.
I couldn’t believe he was getting married for the third time, or that he had taken his son to see him being honored as the groom. I couldn’t believe that, after all these years, he was still searching for himself through the false masculinity he had threatened me with during our marriage. That masculinity had been summed up in a series of humiliations and quarrels that had ended up being expressed in physical violence every time; to the extent that I used to have to cover the bruises with make-up every day.
One time he had nearly ended my life when he wrapped his hands around my throat and almost strangled me to death. My screams – “I can’t breathe, let me go” – had begun to fade, but still he hadn’t let go. I remember falling to the ground, unaware of anything going on around me.
Another time I had been forced to call for the maid to rescue me from his brutality. I hadn’t been able to stand up for myself any longer. I remember feeling so humiliated. His violent behavior forced me to reject a reality imposed upon me in the form of blind love. No dignity should be wiped away and no freedom should be stolen under the guise of love! So I had filed for a divorce and hadn’t felt even a flicker of jealousy when he married the second time. I felt only pity for his third wife.
I put Waleed in the car and let him sleep for a while as we drove home. I allowed my mind to indulge in an impulsive flow of flashbacks relating to love and marriage and disputes.
My life, with its series of nightmarish fluctuations, had been a real roller coaster. It had pushed me upwards to dizzying heights only to throw me headlong into unfathomable depths. In such a world, everything but me and my son had ceased to exist.
Everything else had faded away and I had always stood tall. No customs or laws or tribes could define me. I was free! I had been free for eight years and I always would be.
I picked up my phone and called the police. “I want to report a shooting at a wedding.”
I couldn’t explain why I felt such a surge of happiness when I hung up the phone, having given the police all the details. I was just happy; I didn’t dwell on the reasons. I didn’t want to lose the bliss of the moment, so I reached my hand towards the CD player and listened to my usual driving companion, Adele.
While she was singing, I realized that my revolution hadn’t just been empty words. It was a living reality I had created the moment I became a single mother. All I had in the world was my beloved son, who was lying across the back seat. I glanced at him in the rear-view mirror to wash away any doubt. My love for him was greater than any tribe or law.