Elham’s story: A tale of survival [Archives:2006/953/Reportage]

June 8 2006

By: Nawal Zaid

Elham Yahya lived with her poor family in a suburban Sana'a village when she was 14, the youngest of three sisters and seven brothers. Every morning, her family members worked in various agriculture fields owned by rich villagers so they could earn their living.

Elham's sisters married and went to another village. Being very poor, her brothers decided to leave for the city so they could find good jobs. The mother accompanied them, leaving Elham alone with her father Yahya, who was quite merciless.

She lived hard days with her father who, when finding nothing to do, vented his anger on her. He forced her to work and earn her own living, so she worked from early morning, returning in the evening in a state of utter fatigue, while Yahya received her with unkind treatment.

Once, finding no breakfast, he got so irritated that he hit her with an iron rod until she fell down. He sometimes threatened her with his fists if she didn't work and bring food. Years passed and he continued treating her ruthlessly.

One day, Yahya hit her so harshly that blood came from her head and the beating left marks on her body. To save her life, she decided to run away, taking the chance when her father went to meet his friends outside the village. In the misty darkness, Elham left her house and walked to the road leading to Sana'a city, sitting at the road's edge until a car came.

Upon seeing her, the driver, an elderly man, stopped his car. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “I'm very sick and I want to go to the hospital. Will you help me?” she replied. The driver, called Uncle Saleh, took Elham to the hospital where his son worked and she remained there four days in intensive care.

Yahya returned home and, much to his surprise, didn't find his daughter. He thought she was in the bathroom or had an errand, so he waited and waited, but in vain. As dawn came, worries began to occupy his heart, so at that point, he went out to search for her. Perhaps she stayed with neighbors, he wondered, so he searched for her in all the village homes.

He then told her mother and sisters the news, so they came to search for her, but nothing worked. Her mother felt sorry and wept for Elham, regretting that she had left her alone.

Rumors circulated among the village that Elham ran away because she committed adultery with someone. Such rumors were fabricated by one villager. Day after day passed, but Elham didn't return. Her father became sick, as he was shocked, and didn't dare go out, as villagers repeated his daughter's story and defamed her name. Yahya kept asking himself, “Elham, where are you? What are you doing?”

Uncle Saleh's son, Ahmed, took much care of Elham until she recovered and he told her she could leave the hospital. Thanking him, she left, not knowing where to go. She sat by the hospital with tears filling her eyes. At that moment, Ahmed saw her as he was heading home.

“Why are you sitting here? Why didn't you go home? Where's your family?” he asked her. Still weeping, Elham replied, “I have no family. I'm alone. I don't know where to go.” So Ahmed asked her to accompany him to his house, assuring her that he lived with his father and five sisters. She felt assured and decided to go with him.

Arriving home, Ahmed introduced Elham to his sisters, considering her his sixth sister. They received her kindly and consented to let her live with them, so Elham lived among them. As time lapsed, the five sisters married, so she was alone again, now living with Uncle Saleh and Ahmed.

Uncle Saleh thought it wrong to allow Elham live with them, so it occurred to him to marry her to his son. Ahmed accepted the idea, as no one would speak evil of the family because she lived with them. So Elham married Ahmed and lived happily with the good uncle, but she continued thinking of her family and how her mother left her after marrying her sisters.

One day, as Elham was shopping for some clothes for her expected baby, she suddenly saw her sisters in the market. Panicking at the thought of talking to them, she hurriedly returned home and locked herself in her room, weeping painfully. Both her uncle and her husband were surprised to see her like that.

Ahmed asked why she was weeping, but she couldn't disclose the secret that had remained in her heart for seven years. Ahmed tried to discover why she was weeping, but she avoided giving him any information. A few months later, she gave a birth to a boy named Jalal. She was very happy with the baby, who became all she possessed.

Elham one day went to the garden for a walk in the company of her husband and child. While Jalal was playing, he got lost in the crowd, suddenly disappearing. Crying, Elham searched for him, but in vain. At that moment, she thought of her parents and how they must have panicked at her disappearance. She felt the same agony of a child's disappearance. Months passed, but there was no sign of Jalal.

Elham continued praying that God would return her child. Once, Ahmed and his father entered while she was praying and saying, “O God, why? Is this a punishment upon me because I ran away from my parents? My son disappeared while he was in front of my eyes. Forgive me, Almighty God. Return my son to me. I'm now searching for my son, as my parents are searching for me.”

At that moment, Ahmed asked her to disclose the truth and her secret, assuring that he would help her. She retold her story to them, saying, “I ran away from home because my father used to torture me. I fear that if I return, they will kill me.” The two men promised they'd help her return to her family.

Four months passed without finding Jalal, when an old woman one day knocked at the door, carrying him. She said she'd spent four months searching for his family. Elham was happy to see her child finally home.

Ahmed and his father decided to go to Elham's village and tell all the villagers her story.

The next day, they purchased a bull as a sacrifice to Elham to offer her family.

Elham and Jalal accompanied them to her village. She was trembling with fear and hesitated, but Ahmed assured her that he would stand with her.

They arrived at the village, with residents gathering in the center of it as news spread that Elham had returned after seven years. Upon hearing the news, Elham's father took up his firearms and hurriedly went to kill her because she had disgraced the family.

Yahya arrived where the villagers were gathered and found Elham carrying a child. He stood in silence as the villagers looked at him. “Have you returned home bringing disgrace in your hands? This is your last day,” Yahya said, pointing his gun at her. However, Uncle Saleh shouted and told everyone what had happened during Elham's seven-year disappearance.

The villagers began to wonder who Ahmed and Jalal were. Then, Ahmed said before them all, “This is my wife Elham and our son Jalal. Elham is an honest and pure woman.”

Fearful, Elham fell to the ground. Feeling Ahmed was true, Yahya decided to forgive her and embraced his daughter warmly. The bull was slain and villagers fired into the air to express their happiness.