Our doorbell rang mid-morning and I went out to the veranda to see who it was. A small wiry man called the name of our househelper, so Amena went down to talk to him. She was gone a good ten minutes, and she came back looking tense, on the verge of either tears or laughter.
“That was my husband. That devil took the tin off our house two days ago to sell for herion.”
“But it’s raining! How can you stay there?”
“I didn’t. Yesterday after work I didn’t go home. I went to my aunt’s house.” She looked at me with a triumphant but sad smile. “That’s why he’s here now. He wants to take me home. He’ll beat me if I don’t go with him.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Run away!” she told me the different roads she would take to get past their neighborhood without being seen. It sounded like a long walk to me.
“What about your son?”
“I’ll take him with me.”
“Good! He’s no husband anyway.”
“He’s a devil. He just wants me for my money. He lives off my hard work.”
Amena is a tiny woman, always smiling and laughing. She finds most everything that we foreigners do funny. You gave too much rice to a beggar, haha! You wore that outside? Hahaha! Did you see them staring at you? Haha! Amena has been told that she has no brain, that she is useless. But this ‘dumb’ lady has learned to cook bread and cakes without a recipe, she has learned to iron and cook beef stroganoff and use the blender. She can whip out meals, clean, scrub, fold in no time at all. Life in
She got married at a very young age to an older man. She had her one pride and joy, her son Babu. Then her husband died. And since she’s nothing in this society unless she marries, she married her present husband – as his second wife. He worked as a garbage man, when he wasn’t high on drugs. He didn’t give Amena anything, except societal acknowledgement of her position as wife (not even sex!). He stole her trunk. He beat her up numerous times. He would take anything in a second and sell it for drugs. One time, when the co-wife wanted to marry off their daughter, both wives bribed the police to arrest him on a fake charge and put him in jail so that they could have a hassle-free month or so. Then they bribed the police to get the poor man out – who was promising and begging and sorry – but back at his addiction all too soon. And now he was sitting in front of our gate, waiting for Amena to finish her work so that he could make sure she went home with him. I wished I could call the police and tell them that he was stalking her, abusing her, using illegal drugs. If it only were that easy.
Today I decided to make meat curry her way, so that my cooking skills would not get rusty, so that our Bengali guests might enjoy the curry the way they like it, and so that Amena can take some precious meat back to her household. They don’t get much meat, especially during the Ramadan fast as the food prices go up. Amena supports her absent husband, her son, her father, and her sister’s daughter. While we were playing with Elias and talking about babies, she told me that her son was born at home with the help of a midwife. She had been too scared to go to the hospital, because her sister had died at the hospital.
“She already had one daughter. Her husband was no good, and all day long all she did was stay at home. There wasn’t enough food. So she threw three babies out.”
“What do you mean, throw it out?” I had never heard of abortions in
“Get rid of. Take it out. The
“Leaves. She pounded them up and ate them, and died.”
“So she killed herself.”
“Yes, she killed herself and her baby.”
“But there is medicine to take so that you don’t get pregnant!”
“It made her head spin. And the man, he won’t do anything.”
The meat curry was finished, with the freshly toasted and ground cumin spread on top. I filled a container for Amena. Her husband had left his spot in front of our gate, so I assumed that Amena would make a run for it and leave that troublemaker.
“So what will you do?”
“I don’t know.”
And, as she put her shawl on, picked up a bag full of our recyclable paper and her umbrella, “Are you going home?”
“Everyone’s fasting, they need to eat . .” she said vaguely. Her eyes were resigned. I felt sorry for her, but happy for her sister’s daugher and grandfather who would get to eat tonight.