A Mother's Tale

“We couldn’t figure out what we should do, it was like Qiyamah (Doomsday) was upon us, because we were so worried.”

Aunty Nazia sat in her warm home, sipping a cup of specially made Pakistani chai and looked lovingly towards her son, Usman. She was guilty of having a favourite amongst her children, but she couldn’t help herself; whilst her other sons were constantly in need of her, Usman had taken care of her needs. Her husband was unwell and they were living off just a pension, but Usman worked day and night to provide for them, always putting others before himself.

“He was very nice boy, my other two sons don’t understand me, but he is very, very understanding of me, and my husband is also very close to him… He used to work in two places, he worked part time in the day and he worked part time at night. He had children and he was looking after them, himself and his parents.”

It was a Friday afternoon and Nazia was returning home, as she turned into her street she looked up towards her home. She stopped. ‘Who are all those people in black?’ she thought. She continued to walk, slowly pacing herself, her eyes fixed on her home, until she reached her front door. A mighty swarm of police officers had swept into her home, everywhere she looked she was met with the sight of them entering and exiting. She stepped forward to go inside, but was immediately blocked off.

Nazia paused. She noticed her husband and her daughter, who had come to stay with her, with her children were standing outside the home. Nazia looked bewildered at her grandchildren, the sight of their tears and sounds of their weeping cut her deeply; the situation had upset them but the violation they felt when their games and phones had been confiscated by the police had left them distraught.

“He is 9-10 years old, he is small. They took his computer, the games he was playing with, they took everything. My daughters were there, they said he was really upset, (such) that afterwards, out of fear, they would not come to our house.”

Nazia and her daughter tried to enter her home to pick up her husband’s medicine, but they were sent away, by the officers. Nazia and her husband retreated to their daughter’s home for the next few days. Although she was constantly prevented from entering her home, Nazia was far more concerned by the lack of news of her son. None of the police officers would answer her questions. She knew that by now someone arrested would have been allowed a phone call, so why hadn’t Usman called?!

“We couldn’t figure out what we should do, it was like Qiyamah (Doomsday) was upon us, because we were so worried.”

Although Nazia was eventually allowed to enter her home again, each day passed by painfully. She wouldn’t hear the sound of her son’s sweet voice again for an entire month.

“They didn’t let us speak to him. They didn’t allow us to call him or anything…   So much time had passed by, an entire month passed, and they didn’t allow him to speak to us.”

Nazia rejoiced when she was finally able to speak to her son on the phone, but the calls were bittersweet; the officers had told him they would have to speak in English which Nazia could not do fluently. She would stumble and pause after every word, trying desperately to express her troubles to her son before their short calls would end. She would end each one feeling foolish and humiliated.

Determined, Nazia tried countless times to arrange a prison visit, so at least her eyes could find comfort at the sight of her beloved son.

“They don’t give him visits; they have not allowed us to see him yet. They just don’t give us permission. Sometimes they say complete a form, police came to our home, they checked us, took our photos and then the police said now it’s fine. But afterwards they started writing letters again saying now we cannot visit him in his other jail. Since that day we have not seen him. We have not gone; they didn’t give us the visiting order.”

But even as she tried to push away the pain of his absence, she was met constantly with reminders of just how valuable her son had been in her life.

First, her council tax bill came and she paid it quickly. Then her phone bill, which she also paid. But soon followed a tide of reminders: her mortgage, her gas bill, an old tax credit repayment reminder. Bill after bill caused the papers to form a sea below her letter box. Without Usman, how would they survive? ‘My community’ thought Nazia. When times were tough she had always stepped forward for others, taking care of her neighbours and looking after the poor. Now she would turn to them in her time of need.

‘Salaam!’ Nazia said to the local maulvi’s wife as she walked passed her, but perhaps she didn’t hear? ‘Salaam!’ Nazia tried again; the maulvi’s wife definitely heard. But the community leader’s wife had ignored her. Nazia tried a different neighbour, but was met repeatedly with blank faces, as if she was being boycotted…

“Our neighbours won’t come in the house. If I see them outside… sometimes they will ignore me. In front of me lives a Maulana, who is the maulvi of our masjid. So him and his wife, they do not call us at all. If we are outside and my husband is standing there and he is standing there, they never gave salaam. I say Salaam but she doesn’t.

“The rest of them, they moved back, they think that perhaps if they come to our house, then they will get raided. That’s why they were scared. They never spoke to us, or called us, or asked us how your son is doing.”

Nazia was lonely and desperate without the support of her son. But she wasn’t alone in feeling his absence; Usman had not only been there for his parents, but he was an active father for his children.

“He was always with the kids, either he was bringing them from school, or he was feeding them. He would get them ready in the evening. Then at night, he would himself go to work. He used to look after every little thing for them; ever since they were born he has been looking after them.”

Usman’s children were inconsolable; they would cry constantly, begging to speak with him. Much as it pained Nazia, she would have to refuse them, sometimes sending the younger children into fits of anger and tears.

“She was very attached to her Daddy. She would say, ‘I want to speak to him now. I want to speak now, now.’ She cried, so I started crying too. She gets so angry and hits everyone. In the house, whoever she gets angry at, she starts to throw things at them. She says, ‘I don’t know where he has left me and gone.'”

Nazia’s heartache quickly manifested itself in her frail body. Under such intense stress, Nazia’s already ailing husband’s health began to further deteriorate.

“In life, a person is not alone – they have a parent, children and siblings with them. In one go, they all fall. When a person falls, they don’t fall alone, they take the entire family with them.

“I get very stressed. Today, in the morning, I cried a lot, I don’t know why. I didn’t know what to do. I just get stressed thinking about my son…

“My husband’s kidneys, from before that day, used to work 35%. Now it works 15%, because of this tension, because of this worry. His kidneys are moving towards failure. He gets sick and always wonders when his son will be let out, whether he will be alive to see his son. He is losing his memory; he forgets to take his medicine, so my life is a real struggle… Yes, we find it difficult to sleep. I sometimes wake up feeling very bad, where is my son? When will he come back?”

Meanwhile, Nazia’s household bills continued to mount until she was falling into dangerous levels of debt. Nazia was on edge; it was if she was standing at the bottom of an unstable mountain, if she made the wrong move, it would collapse upon her, crushing her and her husband to pieces.

Little did Nazia know that there were a small group of people who were willing to help, who weren’t afraid to visit her and wanted to support her.

One of HHUGS’ keyworkers heard about Aunty Nazia and immediately worked to trace her and contact her, offering her the advice and support she needed.

“The keyworker helped a lot; she came to my house and filled in all my forms.”

After HHUGS’ keyworker submitted Nazia’s application for support, HHUGS immediately stepped in to provide emergency debt relief, paying off her gas bill and overdraft before they accumulated more interest. To lessen the impact that Usman’s absence has on Nazia’s life and to protect her from falling into debt again, HHUGS provide her with monthly Asda vouchers so she can purchase food and essentials for herself and her husband. In the cold of winter, they provided help with her fuel bills.

“I receive a lot of help from you. I was struggling with a bill, the gas company had sent a big bill, it was a little less than £300 and for this too HHUGS helped me. I felt happy that someone was coming to help me. Thank God, Allah, that someone came to help me.”

Living in an area where she had been ostracized by her Muslim neighbours, her HHUGS keyworker stepped in to provide her with the emotional support she needed.

“I call her for help and she comes. I get happy when she comes to my house. The key worker is a very nice, good girl. The keyworkers always call me and talk to me. The company is good, the people are very good.

“I thank God for them. I am very grateful to them and Allah for the help. Everyone should support HHUGS. It’s good to support through donations. In the future, I want to support and donate to HHUGS so that Allah supports us.”

Usman’s absence is a wound which continues to fester for Nazia, but she is learning to ease her pain slowly. With the help of HHUGS, Nazia is finally beginning to live again.