Farida’s Story

In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles – Psalm 34:6, NKJV

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I was 13 when my parents married me off to a 36 year old rich Arab man.  He was the second man who wanted me to be his wife.  The other man was a neighbor and he knew me since I was a baby.  He was in his 60s.  He offered 40 cows but the Arab offered money.  My parents accepted the money.

I had no choice.  I left my village and went with him.  Before we got married, I had to spend 15 days with his family.  I hated it there.  They didn’t like me because I was African and dark-skinned.  It didn’t matter that I was a Muslim like them and that I spoke Arabic.  They would have preferred if he had married an Arab woman.  I think they had a problem with my age.  I overheard his mother ask him why did he agreed to marry someone so young?  His response was that I was very pretty and he wanted me.  I think it was because he was controlling and believed that a younger wife would be more obedient.

My life before marriage was a nightmare.  At night he would ravage me and the following morning at 7am, his mother woke me up to pray and do housework.  I felt like a slave.  I felt so alone and helpless.  Things continued and got progressively worse after we got married.  We moved into his home.  I continued to do the housework, cook and pamper him.  I was forced to have sex every night even when he knew that I was very upset or tired, he didn’t care.  He went ahead and had his pleasure and fell asleep afterwards while I lay there beside him in the bed, in the dark, crying.

My marriage wasn’t anything like my parents’.  I never saw my father mistreat my mother and she seemed to enjoy taking care of him.  It wasn’t like that for me.  I didn’t want to be married.  I wanted to be in school, getting an education.  I was hoping to be a doctor but that dream was squashed by a marriage forced on me by my parents.  My mother even said to me, “This marriage proposal is a gift from Allah, his way of keeping you out of trouble. If you say no, you will be showing your lack of faith in him, and you will be punished.  This man’s rich and he will provide well for you.  All you have to do is be a good wife to him.”

How could she expect a teenage girl to be a wife?  She didn’t even get married until she had finished school.  And she married for love.  Why couldn’t I marry for love too and when I was ready?  It seemed so unfair.  I came to the conclusion that my parents didn’t love me.  If they did, they wouldn’t have married me off to a man almost three times my age.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I imagined that my husband being so much older than me would take care of me.  He would be like a father to me.

arab-arab-culture-arab-man-arabart-757307I soon learned that a husband is never a father.  He expected me to be a wife, despite my age.  I was more like a slave.  He took great pleasure in telling me that he used to have hired help but dismissed them after he married me.  He expected me to keep a house which was very big with a lot of rooms.  I was exhausted by the time I finished cleaning it.  Then, I had to do the cooking, laundry and ironing.  I was exhausted by the end of the day but I still had to satisfy him in the bedroom.

I hated my marriage, I hated him and I hated my life.  I wished that I could run away but I knew that it would be pointless.  He told me once that if I did, he would find me because he had people watching the house when he wasn’t there.  And that life would be a thousand times worse for me.  I believed him.

Night after night, I prayed to God to help me.   I knew that what my husband was doing to me was against our religion. Islam prohibits all forms of oppression and injustice yet he felt that it was his right to beat me if I were disobedient to him such as refusing to have sex with him when he wanted it.  The Qur’an clearly teaches the sexual relationship between a husband and wife should be mutually satisfying but it was never like that for us.  As his wife, he demanded sex from me and whenever I refused him I was beaten and then raped.  He told me that God got angry with disobedient wives but I remember a friend once told me that when obeying a husband involves behavior that is hurtful or destructive to oneself or others, a Muslim wife must remember that her primary obedience is to God.

I wanted God to help me.  I wanted out of this nightmare.  I couldn’t continue living like this.  I felt like I was caught in a trap and nothing or no one could get me out of it except God.  For 25 years I was trapped in an abusive marriage and then my husband died.  He left nothing in my name and his family denied me everything, including the dowry I was entitled to.  He and I didn’t have any children together and that was why they were able to rob me of my inheritance.  I had wasted 25 years of my life.

I’m 38 now and a part of the ActionAid supported women’s group working to advocate against FGM and child marriage.  I don’t want anyone to go through what I did.  A girl should have the right to decide when and whom she wants to marry.  Education should come first.  Marriage should be a healthy, happy and safe choice for us.  Islam teaches that each person has been given freedom of choice and is accountable for his/her own life.  Today, I am pushing for girls to be independent and to choose their own future.

I don’t know if I would ever get married again.  I had such a horrible experience.  I’m just thankful to God that I’m no longer living in an abusive marriage and that I can focus on empowering girls to understand and live out their rights, including saying no to child marriage.

This story is fiction but child marriage is a disturbing reality.  I was inspired to write this story after reading Aleyna’s* story in an email sent to me by Equality Now.  She was 13 year old Lebanese girl and forced to marry a 36 year old man who abused her for 40 years before he died, leaving her nothing.  Equality Now’s partner in Lebanon, LECORVAW (The Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women) is working with women like Aleyna who need legal support to access the justice they deserve.  Aleya says that, “I have a lawyer who works for LECORVAW, she is defending me in court and that is very important. LECORVAW is giving me psychological and legal support. I feel so much better thanks to them as before I was struggling to cope.”

Child marriage is an evil practice which has to be eradicated from society.  Girls should be allowed to finish their education and to decide when they want to get married.  Marriage is for adult men and women NOT adult men and children/girls.  We need laws to protect girls from child marriage.  Let’s raise awareness and support the organizations which are working to end child marriage.

 

Sources:  Religion Unplugged; Faith Trust Institution; ActionAid

 

In Sanaya’s Memory

Web1It was love at first sight for me when I saw her walking towards me.  It was a blind date.  I don’t usually go on blind dates, mind you, but for some inexplicable reason, I went on this one and man, was I glad I did.

She had to be the most beautiful girl on the entire planet.  Those eyes did things to my heart and those Angelina Jolie lips–my, my, my.  Up to that point, I’ve only dated African American women but this girl was Pakistani.  I could tell from the way she was looking at me that she liked what she saw.

Needless to say, we really hit it off and that first date turned into other dates and before I knew it, I was telling Raj, the friend who set us up, that I wanted to marry this girl.  Raj was blown away and quite pleased with himself.  “I told you that you were going to love her.  If I weren’t already married, and happily married, I would have dated her myself.  I’m thrilled for you, Man.  So, have you popped the question as yet?”

“No, but I’m going to tonight when we’re having dinner at my place.”  And I did.  She was so moved by tears that for several minutes she couldn’t say anything.  After I slipped the ring on her finger, we stood and hugged.  She ended up spending the night.

We got married in an elegant but intimate ceremony.  Raj, of course, was my best man.  My family were all there but none of hers was–only friends and co-workers.  I knew that they didn’t approve of me because I wasn’t Pakistani.  I later found out that they wanted her to marry a friend of the family who was rich but old enough to be her father and she refused.  She moved out of her parents’ house and moved in with a friend.  b2052d4a374f85a4821cc75859f32472--full-lips-beautiful-eyes

When her family found out about me, they were livid.  They tried to get her to end our relationship but she refused.  She told them that she loved me and planned to spend the rest of her life with me.  Her father was especially opposed to this and told her that she was a disgrace to her family. Even there in America, she had respect their family’s caste, religion and customs.  He warned her that if she didn’t stop dating me and agree to the marriage they had arranged for her, she would be very sorry.

I didn’t know that she was afraid that something dad would happen to her.  If I had, I would have packed up everything and taken her far away.  It never once occurred to me that my father-in-law, whom I never met, would take my wife’s life.  Even now, I still can’t believe that a father would kill his own daughter because she chose to marry a man she loved instead of the man they wanted her to marry.

It happened a couple of months after she gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Alaya.  She was on her way home from the supermarket when she was struck by a car driven by her father.  She was rushed to the hospital.  Her condition was very critical.  She suffered multiple vertebrae fractures, an ankle fracture, a severe closed head injury and multiple soft tissue injuries from head to toe.  To say that I was devastated would be a gross understatement.  I was beside myself.  I cried and prayed for her to pull through but she slipped into a coma and never woke up.  My family and friends rallied around me, supporting me.  I had lost the love of my life and the mother of our child.  How on earth was I going to get through that?

Her father was charged with murder.  He’s still serving time.  I don’t hate him anymore.  I have channeled the negative feelings into something positive.  I have created a foundation in my wife’s honor.  It’s called Sanaya after her.  The organization is geared towards preventing honor killings in America.  This is America.  It’s supposed to be the land of the free.  What about the message at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty which says, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Yet, honor killings are no longer happening in other parts of the world.  They are happening right here in our own backyard.  And it has to stop.  It is an issue that cannot be ignored.  Right now, I am working to expose the issue and help train front line responders, victim service providers, and counselors.  I have to do this for Sanaya, our daughter Ayala and other women.  There is no honor in killing and women are not objects or possessions.  They, like Sanaya, should have the right to marry the men of their choice and not be murdered for it.  It is my hope and prayer that honor killing will be a thing of the past.  Until that time, I will continue to honor Sanaya’s memory by fighting to “end the practice of Honor Killings and shift the mindset of Pakistani society to one of gender equality.” 

This story is fiction but it was written for National Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women which is today, November 25, 2019.  This story was inspired by the true tragic killing of Noor, a young Iraqi woman who was run over by her father in Arizona.  She was killed to preserve the family honor.  In her father’s eyes, she was engaging in behavior that could taint her family’s status.

Noor told a friend that her father disapproved of everything she did — from the way she dressed to her choice of friends. According to Noor’s friend, Pesta, “She had a foot in two worlds. She had one foot in suburban America and one foot in Middle Eastern tradition.  In public she tried to put on a brave face…and tried to live her life and enjoy the freedoms that American offered her. In private, she fought with her father all the time.”

Honor killing has been around for such a long time and was thought to happen only in certain countries but it is happening in North America.  According to Aruna Papp, an internationally recognized educator and a survivor, after being raised in an honour-based family structure in India, honor killings are happening here in Canada.  “It’s an epidemic. We have had 19 honour killings in Canada in the last decade. In all developed countries, the highest rate of suicide is among South Asians—why do they come to developed countries and kill themselves? Because we are trained from birth to be self sacrificing…it’s so much easier to kill yourself then to humiliate the family.” 

The issue of honour killing was thrust into the Canadian spotlight back in 2009, after four female members of the Shafia family were found dead in a canal in Ontario.

Honor killing and violence against women are real issues and we must continue to raise awareness and take action.  Girls and women deserve to live quality lives, free of violence, oppression and free.  It is believed that at least 5,000 honour killings are reported around the world each year, but most likely the actual number is far higher since many go unreported.

If you are interested in learning more about honor killing and/or how you can help in the fight to end it, here is a list of organizations you can check out:

 

Violence against women is not just a problem in countries like Afghanistan and Somalia. It’s happening in the U.S. too

Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated that most Americans refuse to accept that honor violence happens there and this is the biggest obstacle to providing effective assistance.  Her foundation receives requests for help from women and girls in crisis.  She mentioned in her editorial, “There is the young woman, an American citizen, who was taken to her family’s native country in the Middle East to marry a complete stranger against her will because her parents feared she was becoming too “Americanized.” There is the college student who fears for her life should her father discover that she is dating someone outside her family’s faith. There is the teenage girl who discovers she is pregnant and is threatened with murder by her family for bringing shame upon them.” 

Refusing to believe that this type of violence is in our country wouldn’t make it go away.  It exists and women and girls need our help.  We must do something.  No more burying our heads in the sand.  We MUST take action.

Honor killings are not honorable by God. They are driven by ignorance and ego and nothing more. The Creator favors the man who loves over the man who hates. If you think God will punish you or your child for allowing them to marry outside of your tribe or faith, then you do not know God. Love is his religion and the light of love sees no walls. Anybody who unconditionally loves another human being for the goodness of their heart and nothing more is already on the right side of God.
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Sources:  Amnesty International; CBS; The Guardian; Global News; Humanity Healing

A Powerful Force

Black woman praying in church

He watched her as she knelt in the pew.  Fortunately the church was empty.  If anyone else had been there, they would have disapproved of the way she was dressed.

Personally, he was happy to see her there.  After losing her fiance and son in a horrific boat accident, she had stopped coming to church.  For a long time, she was angry with God and the world.  He visited her but she wanted nothing to do with him or the church.  She reverted back to her old ways, going to bars, getting drunk.

On one occasion, he had to go to a bar and escort her out.  He took her home and made sure that she was all right before he left.  He was certain that his superiors would not have approved but as far as he was concerned, he was doing God’s work.

Despite her resistance and resentment, he didn’t give up on her but continued to visit her.  In the evenings, before retiring to his rooms, he went into the chapel and prayed for her.

He waited until she was finished praying before he went over to her.  She looked up as he approached.  Self-consciously, she pulled the sleeves up on her shoulders, her expression almost apologetic.  “Good evening, Father Martens,” she greeted him as she got off her knees and sat down.

“Good evening,” he replied.  “I’m very happy to see you.”  He tried not to stare but couldn’t help but notice that she was wearing false eyelashes.

“I know it has been a while since I came here.  You know why I haven’t been coming.  After losing and, I wanted nothing more to do with God or His church.  I was angry with Him for taking and away from me.  I thought He did it to punish me for my sins.”

“God doesn’t take away our loved ones to punish us.  He takes them when it’s their time to go.  We are all here for a time.  It just so happened that their time was before yours.  I know you miss them but they are in Heaven with God.  They don’t want you to be sad or angry anymore.”

She brushed away a tear.  “If it weren’t for you, Father Martens, I would still be bitter and angry.  Thank you for visiting and helping me.  I will be eternally grateful to you.”

He smiled.  “I was happy to do it,” he said.  “Does this mean that I will be seeing you on Sunday?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

He wanted to tell her that she had to dress modestly whenever she came into the church, especially on Sunday but he trusted that the Lord would impress this upon her heart.  “Good.”

She stood up.  “I’d better be going now.  I’m working nights now.”

He looked surprised.  “Really?  Where?”

“At the Cyclone Bar.”

He didn’t like the idea of her working at a bar.  It seemed indecent, somehow.  “Our parish needs a receptionist.  How would you like to do that instead of working at Cyclone?”

“Are you sure you want me to work at your parish?”

“Yes.  You will work at reasonable hours during the day.”

“How soon would you like me to start?”

“As soon as you can.”

“I can start in three weeks.  I have to give my manager two weeks’ notice.”

“We’ll manage until then.”

She smiled.  “Thank you, Father Martens and God bless you.”

“Thank you.  I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.”

She nodded and taking up her handbag, she turned and walked out of the church.

He stood there for several minutes.  Yes, he looked forward to seeing her on Sunday.

Sunday came and she showed up, dressed modestly in a white skirt suit and yellow blouse.  No false eyelashes and the braids were gone.  Her natural hair was chin length.  He greeted her along with the rest of the congregation as they came through the doors, his gaze resting on her a bit longer than was necessary.   Fortunately, no one seemed to notice.

After Mass he wanted to talk to her but it wasn’t possible. He was flanked by church members as they left the church.  So, all he was able to say to her was, “Thank you for coming.”

A couple days later, he stood watching the wide open field and the hills beyond.  It looked like it was going to rain.  Perhaps he should head back now.

“Father Martens.”

Priest3

He turned and was pleasantly surprised to see her but very perturbed as well.  He had been thinking about her all week and looking forward to Sunday when he would see her again.  He tried to appear calm now but his heart was racing.  “What brings you here today?” he asked.

“I called the office and the lady told me that you had gone for a walk.  I remembered that you once told me that this is where you usually come for your walk so I knew that I would find you here.  We didn’t get a chance to talk on Sunday.  I just wanted to tell you that I was blessed by the service and that I will be coming again on Sunday.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.”  He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her.  They were fixed on her face which looked beautiful in the dull light.  Just then a raindrop fell on his head, startling him.  He glanced up at the darkening sky.  “It looks like a storm is brewing.  I don’t think we’ll be able to make back to the parish in time.  There’s an abandoned shack over there where we can find shelter until the storm passes.  Follow me.”  He led the way across the field.

They reached the shack just in time.  As soon as they went inside lightning flashed across the sky, followed by a loud clap of thunder and then came the rain.  Fortunately, the windows and the door were still intact.  He closed the door and turned to face her.  Over their heads the rain beat relentlessly against the rooftop.  Hopefully the storm wouldn’t last long.

“It’s really coming down out there,” she said, glancing up at him.

“Yes, it is,” he agreed quietly.  Being here alone with her was a really bad idea.  He wished he hadn’t brought her here.  It might have been a better idea to bring her here and then run back to the parish.  “Hopefully it will pass soon.”

“It’s my fault you’re stuck here.”

“It’s not your fault.  I knew it was going to rain.  I should have stayed at the parish and come for my walk another time.”

“I shouldn’t have come, Father Martens.  It was selfish of me.”

“What do you mean that it was selfish of you.”

“I wanted to see you but I couldn’t wait until Sunday.”

“Why is that being selfish?”

“It’s selfish because I wasn’t considering that you are a priest and that there can’t be anything between us.  All I could think about was how much I wanted to be with you.”

He swallowed hard.  “We shouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“You’re right.  I’m sorry.  I should go.”

“But the storm isn’t over.”

“It’s all right.  I’ll be fine.  It won’t be the first I’ve been caught in one of these.”  She started toward the door when he caught her by the shoulders.

“Please, don’t go.”

She stared up at him.  They were standing very close.  He was still holding her arm.  Her flesh felt soft against his fingers.  His eyes were restless on her face.  His chest rose and fell swiftly as all sorts of emotions ran rampantly through him.  He knew that he was treading on very thin ice but he couldn’t seem to resist what was about to happen.  Instead of releasing her, he drew her towards him.  His smoldering gaze dropped to her parted lips before his lowered his head and devoured them.  He moaned and trembled when he felt her eager response.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing wildly as the storm raged on outside.

This wild exchange of kisses lasted for several minutes and then he pulled away, breathing heavily, his face flushed.  “We can’t do this,” he muttered thickly.  “I’m sorry.”  He stumbled away from her and dropped to his knees.  With his back turned to her, he bowed his head and clasped his hands.  He remained like that for a long time.  When he turned around, she was gone.  He staggered to the door and leaned heavily against the frame for a few moments before he sprinted through the torrential rain back to the rectory.

The following Sunday, he looked for her but she didn’t show up.  Several Sundays passed and still no sign of her.  She didn’t show up for the job as the parish secretary either so he had to hire someone else in a hurry.  He tried to put her out of his mind and busy himself with his duties and community service but it was no use.  He had fallen helplessly in love with her and was desperate to see her again.  Finally, one night, he went to the Cyclone Bar.

As he walked in and made his way over to the bar, he attracted quite a lot of attention.  The bartender looked a bit taken aback to see him.  “Hello, Father,” he said.  “We don’t usually get priests in here.  What can I do for you?”

“Hello.  I’m here to see one of your waitresses who also happens to be one of my parishioners.”

“Oh, you mean Zahra.”  He glanced at his watch.  “It’s almost quitting time for her.  She’s over there.”  He pointed behind him.

Father Martens turned and when he saw her, his heart skipped a beat.  He turned back to the bartender.  “Do you mind if I wait here?” he asked.

“Not at all, Father.  Have a seat.  Can I get you anything?”

“No, thanks.”  It felt strange being inside a bar but he thought of Jesus who went to the homes of tax collectors and had dinner with sinners.  He looked around.  Jesus died for these people too.

“Father Martens?”

He swung around, his face flooding with color as he looked into her face.  “Hello, Zahra.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you.  The bartender told me that your shift will be ending soon.  I’ll wait until you’re done.  It’s rather urgent that I speak to you.”

“All right.  I will be finished in about ten minutes.”  She turned and walked away.

Twenty minutes later, they were leaving the bar and walking down the sidewalk.  “You haven’t been to church for several weeks now,” he said quietly.  His hands were shoved deep in the pockets of his cassock but they ached to hold her.

“I couldn’t come,” she replied.  “I thought it would be best if I stayed away.”

“I miss you, Zahra.”

“After what happened between us the last time we saw each other I didn’t think you’d ever want to see me again.”

He stopped and turned to face her.  “I tried to forget you and what happened but I couldn’t.  I can’t stop thinking about you and missing you.  That’s why I had to come to see you tonight.”

She sighed.  “So, where do we go from here?” she asked.  “You’re a priest.”

He ran his fingers through his hair.  “I won’t be for much longer.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think we should continue this conversation in a more private place.  We’re drawing attention.”

“All right.  We’re five minutes away from my apartment.  We can talk there.”

Five minutes later, she was letting them into her apartment.  “Do you live here alone?” he asked.

“Yes.  I moved in here a couple of months after I lost my fiance and our son.” She turned on one of the lamps.

“Do you still miss them?”  What he really wanted to know was if she still missed her fiance.

“I miss our son.  Would you like something to drink?”

“No, thank you.”

“You said that you won’t be a priest for much longer.  What did you mean?”

They were facing each other now.  His eyes were restless on her upturned face.  How he longed to reach out and touch her cheek.  “I’m thinking of leaving the priesthood because of you.”

Her eyes widened in shock.  “Me?  But in the shack you said…”

“I know.  It felt wrong.  I was a priest and I had no right to be feeling the way I did.”

“When I saw how broken up you were about what happened between us and you kneeling there, I realized that the best thing for me to do was to leave.”

“Perhaps it was the best thing at the time but when you stopped coming to church, I was distressed.  It’s true what they say you know about absence making the heart grow fonder.  Your absences from church made me realize that I loved you.”

Zahra swallowed hard, her heart racing.  “You love me?”

“Yes,” he admitted, moving closer.  “I think I have always known it but was afraid to admit it to myself.”

“I didn’t want to fall in love with you because you were a priest but I couldn’t help myself.”

He reached out and cupped her face between his hands.  “Love is a very powerful force,” he murmured huskily.  “It’s best not to fight it.” His eyes darkened as he gazed down into her upturned face.  Then, he lowered his head.  She closed her eyes when she felt his lips on hers.  They kissed passionately for several minutes and then, he released her.

“You have to go,” she said.

He nodded.  “Yes.  If I don’t leave right now…”

She smiled.  “I understand.”  She followed him to the door.  “When will I see you again?”

“Come to church on Sunday.  It will be my last service.”

“I’ll be there.”  She reached up and kissed him on the cheek.  When she drew back, she asked, “So, what do I call you when you’re no longer a priest?”

He smiled.  “Call me, Guus.”

“Good night, Guus.”

“Good night, Zahra.”

Guus Martens left the priesthood and returned to Amsterdam where Zahra and he got married.  Although he missed saying Mass, preaching and administering sacraments, he knew he had made the right decision.  He couldn’t continue to deny his love for Zahra nor hide his frustration over the sex scandals plaguing the Catholic Church and its social positions on issues such as divorce, remarriage and mandatory celibacy.  He got a job teaching in a parochial school while Zahra worked at a cafe where one of the regular customers was a member of  Amsterdam Black Women Meetup, a group she was more than happy to join.

She thanked God for blessing her with another good man and she had come to peace with the death of her son.  God took him for a reason but she knew that she would see him again and that gave her comfort.  She remembered her fiance with fondness.  She had loved him very much but she knew that if he had survived the accident, she wouldn’t have married him.  It wouldn’t have been fair to him if she had because she had fallen in love with the priest who had helped her through her grief.  God had blessed her with Guus and now they were happily married and expecting their first child.  Her favorite scripture verse became, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.  

Love is a very powerful force and even priests are not immune to it.  

Sources:  Bible Gateway; Amsterdam Black Women MeetupDutch ReviewNorthwest50Plus

Remington/Fragrant #writephoto

rose-garden

It was a beautiful summer day.  The roses were in full bloom.  Their sweet fragrance filled the air.  Blue lavender added more color to the lush garden.  Mrs. Middleton was throwing one of her extravagant Garden parties.  Guests milled about, chattering and admiring the rows of flowers which lined each pathway.  She stood by the weeping rose which stood where the four pathways intersected.  Everyone was there by invitation only.  For her part, she was there because she worked for Emma Middleton, the hostess’s eldest daughter.  Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen Emma for a while now.  Sighing, she was starting down the path which led to the pond when she heard her named called.  She turned around.  It was Emma hurrying towards her.

“Oh, there you are,” Emma exclaimed.  “I’d been wondering where you had gone off to.  Come, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”  She grabbed her hand and hustled her over to where a tall, well-built man stood talking to a group of people.  Emma drew him away from them.  “Remington, I’d like you to meet Talisa, my assistant.”

Remington looked at Talisa.  His amber eyes studied her.  He was blown away by her eyes which were slightly slanted and the most striking features of her face.  She wasn’t a beautiful girl but she was stunning.  She looked to be in her early to mid-twenties.  Her hair was pulled back in a hairdo which didn’t quite suit her.  It seemed rather severe but the dress she wore was very flattering to her figure and her complexion.  He held out his hand.  “A pleasure to meet you, Talisa.”

She smiled as they shook hands.  “Likewise.”

Emma tucked her arm in his.  “How’s my favorite cousin?” she asked.

“Busy.  I just got back from Singapore.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“Business.”

“Hmmm.  Well, I’ll leave you to tell Talisa all about it.  Excuse me.”  And she was gone.

Remington and Talisa stood there for awkward minutes and then, he smiling apologetically, said, “You’re not obligated to hear about my trip to Singapore, you know.”

“Actually, I would like to hear about it,” she said.  He was extremely good-looking with his dark hair and amber eyes.  He looked elegant in a white silk shirt which accentuated his olive complexion and navy blue trousers.  She realized that she was staring and looked away.  “Was it your first trip to Singapore?”

“Yes, it was.”

“And how did you find it?”

“Pleasant.  The Singaporeans are generally very open but it’s best to avoid topics like religion, racial issues and politics.”

“What did you think of the women?  I read somewhere that they are ranked the 4th most beautiful in the world.”

“The ones I saw were attractive, pretty and beautiful but as far as them being the 4th most beautiful women in the world, I don’t know if I agree.”

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to put you on a spot.”

“You didn’t.  Where are you from originally, if you don’t mind me asking.”

Luanda, Angola.  I came after high-school and came here as an international student.  I studied at the University of Brighton and after I graduated, I moved to London after applying for and getting the job with Emma.”

“How do you like working with my dear cousin?”

She smiled.  “I like it very much.  She’s a great boss and friend.”

Remington was about to ask her something when a woman’s voice exclaimed in delight, “Remy, darling!”  They both turned to see a vivacious blonde with outstretched arms and a big smile on her face.  She brushed past Talisa as if she weren’t there and wrapped her tanned arms around Remington’s neck.  The hug lasted for a few minutes and then she drew back to look up at him.  “You’re back from your trip.  Welcome back from the world’s priciest city.”

“Thank you, Evie–”

“Are you free this evening?  Please say yes.”

“Well, I am free but–”

“Good.  There’s this new Italian restaurant I’ve been dying to go to.  I have a friend of a friend who knows the manager and she could get us reservations this evening.”

“Fine.  Evie, allow me to introduce you to Talisa.”

It was the first time Evie even acknowledged that someone else was there.  Her green eyes swept over Talisa.  There was disdain in them.  Without offering her hand, she said rather grudgingly, “Hello.”

“Hello.”

“Remy darling, I’m starving.  Let’s go and see what there is to eat.”  She clutched his arm possessively as she said to Talisa, “Excuse us.”

“It was nice talking to you, Talisa,” was all he managed to say before he was hustled away.

Talisa watched him go, crestfallen.

 

This was written for the #writephoto Prompt at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

Sources:  Denmark in Singapore;

The Plants

ronda-del-boccio
PHOTO PROMPT © Ronda Del Boccio

 

“Where did you get these strange plants from?” Wei asked.

Sue tried not to panic.  “They are gifts.”  Why does Wei have to be so nosy?  And why is she here instead of at the market?

“Who gave them to you?”

“A friend, I think.  I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember who gave you these ugly plants?” Wei sounded skeptical.

“Wei, aren’t you going to the market?”

“Oh, yes.  I’d better leave now.”  She scurried off.

Once the coast was clear, Sue went over to the plants and removed the Bibles.  It was time to find new hiding places.

99 Words

This story was inspired by an article I read about China shutting down churches and seizing Bibles in an “ambitious new effort to lessen or even eradicate the influence of Christianity and religion from the country”.  So far, the government has shut down hundreds of Christian house churches.

According to Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, “Xi is a closet Maoist—he is very anxious about thought control.  He definitely does not want people to be faithful members of the church because then people would profess their allegiance to the church rather than to the party, or more exactly to Xi himself.”  Faithful Christians would rather obey God than men and will do so even if it costs them their lives.

This was written for the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.  For more details, visit Here.  To read stories of 100 words based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Walking Away

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14

There signs were there but either she was blind to them or she didn’t want to see them.  They spoke at odd hours.  She never met his family or any of his friends and he didn’t seem keen on meeting hers.  She had no idea where he lived. He never invited her to his place and always ended up at hers. They never spent the holidays together or attended special events.  Once when she got tickets to a play she had always wanted to see, he told her that something had come up and he couldn’t go. She had to ask a friend to go with her.

He never used his credit card.  He paid everything in cash.  He took her to lonely and secluded places.  And whenever they were in public, he was different, not showing any display of affection.  To the casual observer, they were just friends, nothing more but behind closed doors, it was a different story.  He couldn’t seem to get enough of her. And then there was the wedding band line although he hadn’t mentioned anything about being married.  And on more than one occasion she had invited him to go to church with her but he always had an excuse why he couldn’t go.

Her gut told her that something was not right.  It kept nagging her driving her to pray about it.  God led her to two passages:  The first was: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 which said, For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

And the second was Hebrews 13:4:  Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

God was telling her plainly that her boyfriend was a married man and that she needed to end their relationship.  After she closed the Bible, she collapsed on the carpet and began to cry.  The pain was unbearable.  She loved him and he had been lying to her all this time.

Hours later when she was composed, she called him on his cell.  It rang a long time and just as she was about to end the call, he answered.  “Sorry,” he apologized.  “I was in the middle of something.”

“I need to see you,” she said simply.  “Can you meet me this afternoon?”

“I can’t this afternoon.  How about tomorrow afternoon around 4?”

“Fine.  I’ll meet you tomorrow afternoon at the entrance of Craigleigh Gardens Park.”  They had been to the park before because there was an air of secrecy about it and not many people were around.  Whenever they were there, they felt as if they had the place all to themselves.

“Why I see you at your place?”

“I prefer to meet you in the park.”

“All right.  I’ll see you then.  I love you.”

She didn’t say “I love you” as usual but, instead mumbled, “Bye” and ended the call.  She went out onto the terrace where she sat for a long time, dreading the inevitable.

As she stood at the entrance to the park waiting for him, she prayed and asked God to give her the strength to do what she must do.  And she had this assurance, fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Knowing that God was with her gave her comfort but it was going to be hard and very painful to say goodbye to the man she loved.  How she wished he weren’t married or lied to her about it.  What else did he lie about?

Five minutes to four, he showed up.  Her heart leapt in her throat and she had to fight the impulse to throw her arms around him.  He wouldn’t have minded there wasn’t anyone around.  He looked handsome in the expensive looking striped navy blue suit, snow white shirt and no tie.  His thick, silky bronze colored hair was neatly combed as usual.  He exuded sophistication and virility.  As he approached her, she felt her resolve weakening and she frantically said a silent prayer.

She saw his eyes travel over her in the yellow top and black skirt and the desire in his eyes.  She tried to ignore her body’s reaction.  Not seeming to notice that something was amiss, he said, “Hello, Erika” and was about to take her in his arms when she stepped back.   Frowning, he asked, “Is something wrong?”

“Let’s go inside and find a bench,” she suggested and turned away.  She went through the entrance and he followed her.  Nothing was said until they found a bench.  He waited until she was seated and then he sat down.  After taking a deep breath, she said, “It’s over between you and me.”

He looked startled and for a few minutes, he was at a loss for words and then he finally asked, “Why?”

“You’re married, Cyrus.”

“How did you find out?”

“The signs were there but I didn’t want to see them.  When I see you it’s usually at your convenience.  I have never met your family or your friends or been to your place and we only go to certain places.  Things haven’t been adding up and my gut kept telling me that something was wrong.  And your finger,” she said looking down at his left hand.  “has the mark of a ring.  When you’re with me you don’t wear it.  How long have you been married?”

He sighed.  “Ten years.”

“Do you have any children?”  She fought to keep the tears back.

“Yes.  Two.  A six year old boy and a four year old girl.”

She buried her face in her hands and groaned.  He was married with children.  All those times when they couldn’t spend Christmas or New Year’s together, it was because of his family.

He reached out to pull her towards him as he muttered, “Erika, I’m sorry.”

She pushed his hand away, the tears rolling down her face.  “You’re sorry,” she cried angrily.  “Sorry that you lied to me or sorry that I found out?  All this time you and I were seeing each other, you were really cheating on your wife.  If I had known that you were married I never would have gotten involved with you.”

“That’s why I didn’t tell you.  I didn’t want to lose you.”

“Am I your first affair or have you had others before me?”

“No.  I’ve never cheated on my wife before.  The thought never occurred to me but that changed when I met you.  I knew it was wrong to get involved with you but I couldn’t help myself.  I wanted you so much…”

“I fell in love with you, Cyrus, not knowing that you had a family.  When you were with me, did you think about them and how this would hurt them?”

He ran his fingers through his hair, his face pale.  “No, I wasn’t thinking,” he admitted tightly.  “All I could think about was you and how much I loved you–”

“Please, don’t tell me that you love me.”

“But, I do.  I love you more than I love my children.”

“What about your wife?  Do you love her?”

“No.  I stopped loving her after our daughter was born.”

“Why are you still married?”

“Two reasons are preventing me from getting a divorce–my religion and my children.  So, I’m stuck in a marriage to a woman I don’t love while I’m in love with a woman who doesn’t want me anymore.”

For a brief, maddening moment, she wanted to put her arms around him and tell him that she still wanted him, desperately.  But, as a Christian, she couldn’t stay in a relationship that wasn’t right for her.  She loved him so much that it hurt but she had to obey God’s Word.  Sometimes, you had to walk away from love.  She stood up, her heart breaking and the tears streaming down her face.  “Cyrus, I’m sorry that you are stuck in an unhappy marriage.  I hope and pray that things work out for you and that you find happiness but it won’t be with me.  I have to find my own happiness.”

He stood up, anguish marring his features.  “What are you saying, Erika?”

“I’m saying goodbye.  I’m saying that it’s over between us.”

“But, I love you.”

“And I love you but you’re a married man.”

“So, it’s really over?”

“Yes.” The word was choked sob.

“Could I at least kiss you goodbye?” he asked thickly.  “Please?”

Against her better judgment, she allowed him to take her in his arms and kiss her.  When she felt his lips on hers, she put her arms around his neck and eagerly kissed him back.  They exchanged passionate kisses for several minutes and then she pulled away from him.  She turned away, gulping for air.

“Erika…”

“Please go,” she begged, still with her back turned to him.

There was a brief pause and then he was walking away–out of her life for good.

To truly love is to have the courage to walk away and let the other person who wishes to be free go no matter how much it hurts – Taylor Swift

Photo by: blogTO

Source:  Belief Net; BlogTO; Bible Gateway; Culture Hook;

Being a Neighbor

Only Jesus could simplify spiritual matters in a way that anyone can understand.  He summed up the Ten Commandments into two–love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:30, 31).  When a lawyer asked Jesus the question, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by telling a parable about the man who was attacked on his way to Jericho by robbers and left for dead on the road.   Two men passed by, first a priest who passed by on the other side and then a Levite who looked and passed by the other side.   It’s interesting that both of these men who were associated with the priesthood did not minister to the injured man but left him there until a kind stranger stopped to help him.

Through this wonderful illustration of love and compassion, we learn that our neighbor is not only the person who lives next door or opposite but any person in need.  To be a neighbor is to care for others–show kindness and to help them in whatever way we can.  After Jesus finished telling the story, He asked the question, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”  The lawyer replied, “He who showed mercy on him.”  Jesus told him to go and do likewise (Luke 10:36, 37).

A neighbor is not necessarily someone of our race, culture, background or religion.  It was a Samaritan, not a Jew who stopped to help the man.  In those times, Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans (John 4:9).  To be a neighbor is not to allow our prejudices to prevent us from helping those who are different from us.

When it comes to loving your neighbor partiality isn’t a factor.  The Samaritan didn’t see an enemy lying at the side of the road but a person who was badly in need of help.  He felt compassion for him and getting off his donkey, he went over to him and bandaged his wounds before taking him to an inn where he could recuperate.  Being a neighbor means setting aside our differences and demonstrating the love of God to others.

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right – James 2:8