The Fifth Horseman

Faith, Family, Friend

I couldn’t think.

Exhausted, emotionally and physically drained from all the crying, my eyelids were literally pruning. Abah was amazing. Ibu as well.

They excused us for a lunch break, and the families stayed apart, bunched to their own little corners. Atirah needed her milk. I told Yus, my dear sweet sister, to use the bottle I prepared.

She smiled at me while Atirah suckled fastidiously in her arms. Poor girl. She already made a great aunt, but someday I know Allah will grant her one of her own.

Mother told me I could take as much time as I needed to clear my head, and that I just needed some food in my belly. I was the least bit hungry though.

The sandals really took me back, Sheila. I kept playing the events that took place during our little getaway to Langkawi. I hope you remembered it as well as I do.

It was such an on the spur moment deal. Not everyone could come, except us girls. In some way, that felt more fun; just you, me, Jenny and that other girl. ‘GIRLS TRIP’ we yelled out, and it was just selfies, food and drinks.

It was a private island, and the chalet provided us with everything. Remember the massage, Sheila? Remember the hot Filipino masseur that gave you his home address?

I bought these sandals that day as a treat. I was feeling horrible. I missed my daughter too much. It was the first time I was away from her for so long. My feet were swollen and the sandals just brought a smile to my face for some reason. Remember the pictures we took in the sand? And the waves kissed our toes and the sand hugged our feet, just sweeping our problems away. No work life, no hospitals, no one pushing us around, no patients complaining, no nothing.

I remember there was no signal from any telco operator either. Their wi-fi was substandard at best, but it was your idea because YOU wanted to unwind. I remember I only spoke to Salim once that whole trip. I missed him so much then, I wonder if he felt the same then as he did now?

They all loved you. You and Jenny got hammered with alcohol one night and danced by the makeshift fireplace. I still don’t understand why you girls love drinking so much. You put out that very same fire by vomiting over it. Haha! Don’t you remember? Even those Caucasian tourists left because it bummed them out so much.

You were so different. That girl we all knew the first time around had a complete turnover. It’s as though you flipped a switch. But why? Do you remember what you told me?

You don’t remember! You never did, because of that lousy alcohol.

‘You don’t remember telling me you’ve been drinking every day. Sometimes you cannulate yourself and run a drip at work while doing other things just to help with the hangovers. You fill yourself up with charcoal and antacids to numb the stomach pangs and you go home and just rinse and repeat.

You don’t remember telling me you were crying yourself to sleep. You kept saying you had an accident, but there were no injuries on you. What accident did you have Sheila?

I wanted to sympathize, I really did. I wanted to talk to your parents but I know you wouldn’t like that very much. They had already messed you up with so many complexes that I thought It’ll make it worse. I knew you needed help but I wasn’t the one who could help you. Still, I was present as much as I could be for you.

I was there the next morning when you had your period and you were so cranky. You told me you should have just taken birth control pills to push the date. We told you it was fine. We told you to have some ice cream but as usual, you started complaining about your weight.

I honestly never thought you had a weight problem. Remember the fight we had? Girls get cranky sometimes but this one, this one you just took it too far.

You insisted on more cocktails. I told you to stop drinking because of what you told me the night before. You dissed me, of course, because you had no recollection.

‘Stop judging me,’ you said. ‘you just don’t know how it feels,’

I told you I was never going to consume it, and though you never actually forced me to, it felt like peer pressure. At that moment, it did feel like coercion. What was your problem with Islam, Sheila? Just because I wasn’t drowning myself like a booze-crazed bimbo, that didn’t mean I didn’t understand pain.

You lashed out me, Sheila. Remember?

‘Well, why don’t you fix your own damn marriage first,’

‘What the hell does that suppose to mean?’ I cried hearing you say that Sheila. It tore right through my chest.

‘He made a pass…’ I can’t even finish the thought. It still feels close to home.

‘He made a pass… at me. During Eid, at your house,’

Yes, that’s what you said. I hated you for it. ‘He flirts with everyone,’ I replied jokingly. How could I even let you speak that way to me? Why wasn’t I angry enough that I gave you a pitiful pass? How did I forgive you after that?

I told myself it was OK. You craved attention. My husband is a handsome man and you wished he had a thing for you. You were pathetic and you needed a win.

But what you really needed were rules, Sheila. You desperately required them. Maybe if you were stronger in your faith, or had better family support, or just better friends, maybe you wouldn’t have lost it and did what you did.

I still wear those sandals, girl. Every now and then I can feel the same ocean between my toes, and it’s you I should thank. Nevertheless, I hate the fact that they remind me of the first time you seeded doubt in my mind. I was a good wife Sheila, and I never allowed the darkness to grow. But now, here I am, screaming into my father’s chest, creating a public scene, tarnishing my family’s name in the courthouse, crying. All that ego, a doctor, a mother, a wife, everything just open for judgement by nobodies in suits.

I walked along the long garden trail in the centre yard. The flowers were beautiful, and it was a moment of bliss but then I saw him, Sheila. I saw Salim, walking toward me. I wanted the vines from the bushes to just creep up, strangle him and the ground to just eat him.

‘So, you’re happy that I walked out?’ I yelled.

‘No, love.’

‘Don’t call me that,’

‘I can’t help it,’

‘You call her that too?’

‘Well,’

‘Forget it. Just don’t answer,’ I looked away, holding on to my pride.

‘I just wanted to see my daughter. I wanted to hug you and apologize. I wanted to know if you could see things my way,’

‘How does that work, Salim? You promised your soul to me. Till Jannah, remember?’

‘and it hasn’t changed.’

‘You slept with her,’

He got incredibly uncomfortable, my righteous do-gooder, my Salim. But then, he braved himself to continue. ‘No, we have done a lot of things. Yes. But… NO, I have not done anything like that,’

Could I believe him, my husband? All I saw was a musk of lies oozing from his body. It stung my nostrils, it crept under my skin. But I loved him. How could I ever not?

‘I understand you can’t see yourself as a first wife. The religion is clear that you matter in the decision, but if you walk away from all of this, then everything we have will just turn into some bad memory.’

‘Thank you, Salim, but we are here now. I’m afraid it’s too late for you to try to make amends.’

He was kind and gracious enough to withdraw. I watched his limber body hunch, defeated, turning to walk away. He was not eating well, Sheila. Am I an idiot to care so much?’

**

‘Damia!?’

I turned around and I was shocked beyond my wildest imagination, Sheila. You wouldn’t believe who was standing at the steps leading to the garden.

‘Ram?’

He ran toward me, panting, trying to catch his breath. I gave him all the time he needed. He made me laugh at how ridiculous he looked. Was he always that child-like Sheila? Did you ever see that in him?

‘Why isn’t anybody else here?’ he asked empathically.

‘Oh, they’re all there, in the cafeteria,’

‘No, I mean from “US”?

‘You mean the group?’

‘Yes, that’s what “US” means.’

‘Well, after that dinner, things became a little awkward don’t you think?’

‘Damia, this is a huge deal. Fuck that dinner,’

I peered around hoping nobody heard him use that word. ‘Remind me to never let Atirah anywhere near you,’

‘Why not? Who’s gonna teach her the fun stuff?’

‘Now you’re actually making me worried.’

We laughed, Sheila. He saw how dry my eyes were. He tried to look past it but he couldn’t resist feeling sorry for me. It was the strangest thing, watching him here. It would have taken him a 2-hour drive.

‘But aren’t you tagging?’

‘Yes, somebody is covering for me,’

‘You mean you didn’t tell anyone you left?’ I hit him over the shoulder, hard. This idiot never learns.

‘It’s alright. I’m a real hero in that town.’

‘Oh, some Clerk Kent of Maran eh?’

‘Yeah, you can say that. I can spot melanic stool from a mile away.’

He kept trying to make me laugh.

Maybe I was feeling vulnerable, and maybe since we always hung out together as a group, me and Ram never really shared time to explore our more personal sides. I realised I was discovering so much about him. Can you imagine that? In these 2 years, I finally see Ram for Ram and not as ‘Ram from the group’.

‘Can I ask you something?’ I peered into his eyes, all jokes aside and he immediately gave me his full attention.

‘Can you please tell me, did you ever LOVE her?’

‘Who?’ the idiot thought he was being clever by pretending.

‘Who else? Everyone knew, Ram. We just thought you were taking your time, or that she had already rejected you. But that’s not my question.’

Ram looked down and sighed. ‘Nice sandals,’ I was glad he noticed.

‘Answer the question, Ram, please for old times’ sake,’

‘Of course, I did,’ he blurted abruptly. He cried, Sheila. I think it was the first time he ever mentioned it to any of us, or maybe just out loud. ‘I still do.’ He reiterated.

‘Did she know?’

‘I thought she did but things ended in a weird way for us.’

‘You fought a lot. Then you stopped talking.’

‘Well, yeah’

Salim came to mind.

‘My husband was always my lover. In college, it was just us against the world. We did everything together, even sex.’

‘Damia, you don’t have to…’

‘But then we got married. Then we got busy. Then, he became my ”husband” and I became his “wife”.

He gave a loud sigh. ‘So, you stopped talking too?’

‘No, we talked a lot. But not like how we used to. We “talked” but never really “talked”. I hope you understand that,’

‘Strangely I do,’

‘Good. Because that brings me to my third question. If she were alive now, would you…’

‘YES!’ he jumped before I even finished. ‘YES! YES! and YES!’ he said, sobbing, wiping his eyes frantically like a scolded child.

I felt bad for him, Sheila. I reached around his shoulders and hugged him. I don’t touch men, Sheila but I do my brothers. I walked him to the cafeteria and I got us a cold glass of Milo each.

Ram was fine after that. We spoke about his new hospital. You should hear him talk, Sheila. He looked genuinely happy.

Then lunch was over, and we had to go back to that dreaded conference room.

‘You sure you can handle this?’ Ram was sweet to ask.

‘I have made my decision.’ I smiled, resolute. ‘Thanks for helping me out today,’

‘I didn’t do anything,’

‘No, you did so much. You really did. I can’t thank you enough actually,’

My parents were calling, and I was just about to walk away, then I remembered I forgot to ask him the most important question of all.

‘Hey Ram, how did you know I was here?’

**

I saw past the tinted windows of the aged Pajero that the detective was fast asleep in deep slumber. She was not what I expected, I will give you that. I felt bad to go in but if there were to be a better time, I would still pick today.

It make a loud crank when I opened the latch, the car’s age couldn’t mask itself.

The detective shrieked and quickly reached for her holster, pulling out a Magnum.

I had my hands up, equally shocked.

‘SHIT!’ the detective cursed.

‘Let’s put the gun down,’ I mumbled scared.

‘Yes!’ she obliged. She then took a moment to catch up to herself. ‘Right, Doctor Damia Ridzuan. Glad to finally meet you. Although this was not supposed to be a meet. It was more a reconnaissance mission, but…’

‘Fancy word for “spying”’

‘Well, yes…’

‘The Vios parked in our front street every night wasn’t any of our neighbours’. It wasn’t really fooling anyone with that inconspicuous white finish either. And to think, all those times you could have just knocked on my door and said, “Hi”. I could have used your help on some nights,’

‘Well, we weren’t going to blow our covers. Besides, you handled It well. He never bothered you after that.’

‘That man is my husband,’

‘Well, nevertheless from what I’m seeing here, you are not going to be bothered anymore then.’

I don’t know what she was seeing, Sheila. Even my ring was still on, so what the hell was she deducing? ‘THIS’ was the so-called ‘detective’ handling your case?

‘He won’t be bothering me anymore since he is going to continue staying with us,’

‘OH!’ she looked surprised.

‘So, you’re not going to…’

‘I’m going to see the bitch, and decide whether or not I’ll cut her later,’

‘My, my, the mouth you have for a mother of one,’

‘This mother can handle more than you think,’

She backed away, impressed, insulted, and maybe even a little intimidated. It felt great. She was biting her lower lip, getting stressed, looking out the windows, checking and it looked as though she was withdrawing something from her jacket pocket.

‘You mind if I smoke?’

‘YES!’

She immediately switched hands and flipped to the other side of the jacket. She handed a something, Sheila and you wouldn’t believe what it was.

It was a photo of us, from that trip. You took it from your camera, and you hated it. You told me you deleted it, but here it was. What were the odds, girl?

‘You took this from her phone?’

‘Yes,’ she nodded.

‘Do you still have her phone?’

‘No,’

‘Well, what do you want to know?’

She kept smacking her lips and looking outside the windows again. I had a strange feeling even she knew not to be here. I didn’t think I’d see the day a cop would act as guilty as a thief.

‘Maybe you should keep my card, Doctor, and the photo. We’ll meet up sometime, in a more “appropriate” setting. And of course, if there’s anything, don’t hesitate to call. You know, just in case there are “troubles”.’

I wanted to punch this woman, Sheila, I really did.

‘No, don’t worry, there won’t be.’

I left with a lot of mixed emotions, Sheila. I was glad she let me keep the photo. Tonight, my parents decided we would just stay awake until Zohor and just talk. Dr James said I could take all the time I needed. He was wise to say that, because it was hard.

As we sat on the floor of our living room, I looked at everyone, heard their stories and I realised something. Unlike you, Sheila, I have faith, I have family and I also have friends. I just wished you had those things when you were still alive. Maybe they would have kept you sane, because mine are desperately trying to. All I can do now is hope that Atirah has all of that too, and if it means keeping Salim around and having another go at it, so be it. Maybe I’ll like Mira. Maybe she will make him happy. What I know is that my life is my daughter now. I believe you know that too and that’s why I sincerely hope you are fine with this.

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