This is a story about a how difficult and complicated motherly love can get.
It is a 79 year old story. It ended over 10 years ago in August 27th, 2010; the day the last protagonist of this story died.
I only know the story as he told it. She never had a chance to tell her version of the tale. Her voice, like the voices of many women was barely heard.
He was born in 1945 in a small village in a beautiful oasis southeast of Morocco.
It was the summer. Back then, nobody recorded births and deaths but he could identify the day of his birth because his mother remembered every detail of it. How could she forget. He was born around the time the Medjoul dates are covered with a white bag to protect them from insects and birds; this usually happens in August.
Fadma is her name and she was his mother…
She was 15.
This story starts when, after a first unsuccessful marriage to her cousin, Fadma married Ali. She was not his first wife either. When Fadma and Ali married, she moved in with his family as it was the custom. She was young, beautiful and extremely intelligent: what a blessing, to have a beautiful bride grace the family home! This happiness, however, was not to last. They found her “difficult”.
A long history of enmity was about to start.
The center of power in Fadma’s husband’s family was the older sister and the two women did not get along. Despite her young age, Fadma never accepted any type of authority. She refused to live by rules that weren’t hers. Ali’s personality, on the other hand, was non-confrontational. He never questioned authority and this made it impossible for him to defend his marriage from his sister’s constant criticism. Ali and Fadma divorced when she was pregnant. She married again and her son was taken away from her by Ali’s family: it was accepted that her marriage to another man after the divorce disqualified her from being a mother to this child. Her son, thus, grew up at Ali’s home.
She had 10 other children but a mother’s heart never forgets.
Years later Fadma told her daughter in law about her heartbreak on this. She used to walk miles every day and hide behind palm trees just to be able to see her son and observe him. The son, grew up knowing nothing about his mother. He had called his father’s wife “Ma” until he was 7 years old, when someone told him that he was going to take him to see his mother
“Who? How can I have two mothers?”
He was then told a story he would never forget: “She has abandoned you to get married and she even tried to poison you! She breastfed you while she was pregnant!” These sort of old wives tales were widespread back in the day: it was believed that pregnant women should not breastfeed as their breastmilk becomes poisonous.
Fadma’s version of events was different: when she told her story to one of her granddaughters, she said that she got married a few years after her divorce and that these were all lies. She had hoped Ali would come back for her. She also confessed that after their divorce they used to meet and cry together, as they were still very much in love.
It is an irony of fate that one of Fadma’s sons married her ex-husband’s daughter. Fadma did not miss an opportunity to tell her daughter-in-law that her father was a liar. She couldn’t forgive.
How did all this impact Fadma’s relationship with her son? They met every now and then but none of them could overcome that initial, imposed separation. He carried a last name that reminded her of dark times and he could never get rid of the thought that she left him behind and started a new life.
The filial love was there but their relationship was forever stained. Deep inside he was still a 7-year-old child angry at his mom, and she was a 15-year-old that had to fight an entire clan and that lost her child in the battle. He never found the courage to confront her and she never got a chance to explain. She told everyone how much she loved him but never found the words to tell him.
They were both very proud and because they never had an honest discussion about what had happened they both held grudges. Maybe she expected him to understand and he expected her to apologize.
They had a special bond, though, and he looked a lot like her. He admired her strength and resilience and was happy to tell his daughter that she has his mother’s eyes and temperament. On his first pilgrimage, he took her with him. She kept a picture of that trip in her wallet and showed it to her other children and grandchildren.
He couldn’t see her before her death as he was himself very ill at that time; he passed away 2 years after her. They both died with that wound still open.