Fiona M Khan
I was a little girl then, about five years old. As with all little girls, the feeling of innocent freedom, that joie de vivre. Fear was not in my vocabulary. My father shaped me to be the princess he cherished, being the last born of eleven children. The world revolved around pretty dresses and shoes, an abundance of gifts, lucky dips and books and riding around in the back seat of his Chevrolet Impala. I do not think at that time there was a regulatory need, as we have now, for seat belts. It was all about being cool and cruising as he was in his late forties when the days of wild and free were curtailed. No wild chases and speeding, no drag racing nor envy. I adored my father, thinking he was my world as a larger than life person who feared nothing and nobody. However, I could not understand why my brothers and sisters who were far older than I, feared him so much.
Fear is all consuming. Unlike love that can renew and recreate and transform into a new energy, fear possesses and is a possessive dark lover. It stays in the darkest recesses of the mind and heart because what the mind perceives the heart conceives and vice versa. It is overwhelming, reducing one to outbursts of emotion that leaves residual effects and all it takes is a trigger to awaken the demon of fear. It is deep and haunting. One is drawn to a space of absence of the mind and a regression of the soul because fear unfurls from a foetal posture. It is fear that is so overbearing it encompasses all the other emotions driving one to hold on when one loses one’s grip, to cry when threatened, to laugh in the face of borderline insanity, to be possessive and possessed, to run away from rather than run towards. But it motivates and stimulates, it inspires and becomes a force driving the possessed to zeniths of ecstasy and to the nadirs of recoil and recess.
My siblings would scamper and scatter then disperse almost not to be seen or heard. His very presence created an emotion so deep that they trembled every time he spoke. My Mum went about her work with a placid façade that she was busy in the kitchen or she would take her Qur’aan and read very earnestly.
‘Put the record player on.’
Dad would sit in a quiet repose reading his newspaper while I would have my ears pasted against the radio listening to Bollywood singing sensations Mohamed Rafi or Lata Mangeshkar filling our ears with soulful melodies until his supper was served. Being young and almost invisible in their adult world, I discovered there was a trick that assisted my siblings and Mum in escaping my father’s wrath. I had learnt over some private conversation between them that when Dad turned into the driveway it reflected off a window and wall. This bought them time to escape. Their fear was so intense, so adrenaline gushing, the wooden floors thundered as they sprinted to their respective rooms, pretending they were studying or sleeping or better yet, sitting in the toilet. In my innocence, I laughed. I thought it was amusing. At that tender age how could I understand Fear when I didn’t even know what it was?
The day I regret, the day I killed a thousand times in my mind, was the day I told my Dad in pure childlike innocent conversation, boasting how proud I was of my sibling’s tricks and ingenious escape which was in fact a secret. He was very silent, ears pricked, eyes darting with fitting the puzzle together in his brain and listening very attentively. A week later he arrived home unannounced. There was no flashing light nor shadows reflecting off the wall . . . only chaos. I saw Fear that stood up straight and looked me right in the eyes. I was stupefied and filled with speechless horror!
That night Fear ruled home and the lives of those around me. It became the demon in my dreams and the monster I carried on my back as my father beat my brothers and whipped my sisters with a leather belt. Speechless, I watched the horror unfold like a nightmare. It was not real! I kept thinking this was that nightmare I wanted to go away. I hid it in the deepest recesses of my mind. Never to be revisited, never to awaken a monster so deep within me. It made me recoil from society. That was the night I hid under a table, shivering and wishing that someone would save me from the cold that gripped my body and left my teeth chattering. He beat my Mum for being undisciplined and raising bad children. On that night falling asleep exhausted and supine next to my sister, as she sobbed and sniffled, Fear owned me. Fear burdened me with a secret that I could not share. I had betrayed a family secret of survival against Fear. It did not make any sense but scarred my mind and left me an anxious mess. But like all circles, that Fear haunted me like a pimping cad and came back later to claim a share of ownership.
At eight years of age my father had passed on. We were very poor. After being a very wealthy man he died intestate rather suddenly. But I was dogged as my fate was such that I was the teacher’s pet, the spoilt monitor in the class and the very intelligent fool who always gave the right answers. This riled some of the boys who were slightly older in class. Their stolid stares of warning did not deter my quest for being the smart one. Fear, how I wished had made me brave, now turned me into a quivering leaf.
They waited like a pack of hounds snarling and circling. I was a prey. They smelt the fear and relished their vengeful power. My bag, a small brown, square case, was my only weapon. It is indeed strange, the ripple of hopelessness that starts at the crown of my head and cascades over the body to the end of my curling toes. It was flight, fight or fright. Either way in the name of fear, it bordered on survival. Their jeers were acidic baying for revenge. They, those cruel young boys who would one day grow into men, who would one day have children, stuck their tongues out and slurped almost tasting my blood, leering at me being helpless and crying for mercy. Their eyes were wide open and bloodshot. I cringed and wept, biting my nails trying to figure out how to escape that flash of madness. My heart raced so fast I could feel it in my mouth, thumping to be saved. With my back against the wall, there was no escape. The cruelty of having a prey cornered is one can toy and tease it at leisure. They baited and tempted then taunted offering hope then viciously swiping it away with maliciousness. They would open a way for my escape then snigger and laugh, then sneer and humiliate me as they blocked my path. They would then lunge for my bag and after a tussle this way and that, wringing my bag out of my hands they tossed it so far away that I could not reach it. All I could see was my last hope, my weapon of destruction hurtling through the air beyond my reach. Until, the angels looked on me. I was saved by a passer-by each time. The boys would act as innocent as wild dogs fooling around while I ran for my life as if the devil were behind me.
Fear became my nemesis. I hated Fear as much as it loved me because the more I toyed with it and tried to triumph over it, Fear possessed me with a passion so fierce it strangled me. With the threat of Fear evident in my sweaty palms as it made me anxious, I still went bravely back to school each day and walked tall like a champion. When fear stares at you, right into your face, it is an undignified challenge.
Fear on those few days led to bed wetting. At that tender age, I had to deal with arising on a wet bed and the humiliation of my sister cleaning after me. One such day, I was at school. I saw that trickle of urine stream down my legs, that lump of helpless fear stick in my throat as they tried to catch then taunt me during a lunch break. Their game was up! A teacher spotted them when Truth, came pouring out between tears, a snotty nose and hiccups. I thought I was humiliated standing in a puddle of ammonia. On the contrary I was hailed a champion on being bullied. However, it gave me resilience. I was the torch bearer of survival as I went through many such incidents especially in secondary school. The bullying got worse! It now included jealousy and competition, bitchy remarks and feline snarling and gossip. Fear was my champion. The one thing Fear taught me by leaving an embellishment deep in my heart, was to be tough. I could weather any storm and roar through any aggression or negativity. But Fear, like Karma is a mighty fine bitch. It came back like a jilted lover to stab me right between my shoulder blades, at a later stage.
My wings were broken.
Fearlessness was spurred by fear. Brave and strong becomes the razor wire to the outside world, against the marauders. Nobody intruded within my space and I felt just a hint of invincibility. Carrying my armor with bravado, I spoke with braveness. However, it took a mean, fat toad to trigger the stressor of Fear as I could feel the tremors of Fibromyelgia in my crippled movements and Myesthenia wrack my aging body as my eye drooped and the left side of the body caved in to muscular spasms. It was not the fight or flight of the little girl who survived within me, but Fear became trapped and turned against me in a crippling short illness that wracked my body showing me who was the real mistress. I was victimized and harassed by a bully once again and that became the trident that struck deep within my heart. This was not the MeToo campaign of sexual harassment of the body, but a MeToo campaign of the harassment, assault, intimidation and humiliation and the rape of the mind. Yes, the mind! And does one think we are spared in professional places of work? Never!Too often we neglect the psychological impact of bullying and harassment, of assault, intimidation and the indefinite and undefined effects of the trauma.
Oh, how I buckled under the indomitable and shrewd bondage of Fear knotting my muscles and joints into a hapless invalid. The fight had fled and the fright froze all that was within me. Bedridden and bowing to the might of Fear, I crumbled. Every vestige of fight, trapped within the deepest ganglia, were stretched to the limit to drag myself back to light from a painful and somber doom. Fear beckoned. Like a harlot I succumbed to the whims and call of a master planner. But fight is a mean challenger. It ripped into me, pleading for survival. From the edge of almost tipping over and giving in, with my sweaty palms, I clawed and scratched my way back to wrestle with Fear. A formidable opponent, I summoned every shred of might I could possibly have from that frightened girl within and clawed my way back by packing that pain into my little brown school bag, that went hurtling when I was cornered.
Then, as all champions I stood up and fought the big fat toad and the dark forces that raged against me. I had finally embraced Fear and made him my friend. He was not my foe any more but a companion, a global navigation system on my journey and destination. I had finally whipped him into submission. My broken angel wings healed. I was ready to soar.