Hillary woke up every morning at 4.30 and it had always starts with a prayer. “Good morning, Lord.” Her first line was always very simple. She liked the greeting, because it was very personal.
That was her morning routine, and she had been keeping it for nearly three decades. But, for the past seven years, she prayed harder than before.
She prayed for her family, her jobs, her children, her life, and most importantly, a strength to go on.
Especially for these seven years, she prayed. It had been an exhausting seven years. Being a single mother to five children is tough, really tough, especially when exhaustion was not very friendly.
They tapped her shoulder all the time, tempting her to give in.
Working as a baker at a local bakery six days a week, she struggled between shifts and family time.
There are two shifts every day; 8am to 4pm and 4pm to 11pm and her day off are on rotation basis.
The work is never done. At work, she had to stand for eight hours baking. At home, there were so many chores to do. Between meals, there is laundry, house cleaning, sending her children to tuition, feeding the dog, sometimes bill payments and so forth.
Unlike before, spending time with her children became very difficult. Thus, every opportunity to spend time with her children became very precious.
She preferred morning shift than night shift.
Evening shift worn her out even more.
Some nights she would have to go to bed past midnight, some nights at 10pm, if she got morning shift.
On some bad days, she could get very exhausted and her only wish was to end her day fast, but ironically, sometimes, she hoped that time would pass slower, especially when she felt the need to spend more time with her family.
After everything was over, she looked forward to pure relaxation.
She would do it all over again the next day, but it did not matter. She had everything to thank for and ask for when she wakes up the next day.
Every morning, she prayed with all her soul as she closed her eyes on the floor.
“Help me to get through this day, Amen.” she prayed softly.
That prayer had been part of her since she got married almost 30 years ago.
It used to be a prayer of distress, but now it has become a prayer of hope.
Thirty years, she was living in hell until that fateful night, seven years ago.
She could never forget that night.
Seven years ago, she still stayed with her husband and was still a low paid factory worker, working from 8am to 5pm.
On the night, seven years ago, she was on her knees facing her husband Donald, begging for mercy.
“That’s what you do all day huh?” Donald hissed. “Telling all your friends how I treated you?”
“Please..I am sorry,” Hillary begged.
Hillary did not have many friends. Her only best friend was Janine and she was the only one who knew her secret.
The morning before the fateful night, she woke up at 5am with sore all over her body.
Her back was so sore and was having headaches.
She was pretty sure that she wasn’t feeling well. Her body felt so heavy, her legs were shaky, but still, she pushed herself up.
A man who claimed to have a magic power to multiply money just robbed Donald of his RM1,500 the night before.
Only a fool would fall for that trick.
So, he came home with RM1,500 short, he was furious and Hillary had to pay the consequences.
She didn’t know why, but she always gets it.
She went to the mirror. The bruises started to show on her arms and face, just below her left eye that morning.
But she went to work despite the pain and the bruises.
She did try to hide them with lots of concealer, powder, and cream, anything that was applicable but apparently, it did not work.
Her only hope was that nobody would notice. When no one notice, they will not ask, she thought.
However, people did notice but no one care to ask. No one except Janine.
“What happened to your eyes?”
Hillary was not going to answer that question, so she kept walking with her head down.
“He hit you again?” Janine asked again.
Again, no answer.
“Hillary!” Janine grabbed her hand, and immediately Hillary stopped. Her expression changed. It hurts.
“What is it? Let me see it.” Janine attempted to roll the long sleeve up but Hillary jerked away.
“Let me see it, Hillary” Janine insisted.
The bruises were visible from the wrist to the elbow.
Janine was shocked. So did Hillary.
It wasn’t that bad when I saw it this morning, Hillary thought.
“Hillary…this has got to stop,” Janine said.
Hillary retrieved the hand from Janine “It’ll gone in a few days, I’ll be fine.” She continued walking as she rolled down her sleeve.
“This has got to stop Hillary.” Janine insisted. The tone was forceful that Hillary stopped and finally looked up.
“You think I could just walk away?” Hillary snapped, “I can’t. I have to think of my children. I can’t provide them what Donald could. And…” Hillary voice broke into tears “..and… I have nowhere to go.”
Hillary knew people were staring. She wiped her tears and regained her posture again.
“All of this will go away, I just need to do better,” she said and took another step.
“Janine, if you’re my friend, please, stop this conversation right now, I can handle it myself,” she said.
Janine looked at Hillary disapprovingly, but she knew she had to respect her friend. She wanted to help, but she did not know how.
Janine heard of a centre that would give assistance to abused women. She told Hillary once, but they both wasn’t sure whether it was a correct move.
Society can be cruel sometimes. Hillary had every reason to be afraid. She could not risk living a life of shame forever.
“OK. But promise me you’ll call me anytime you need me,” Janine finally said and they went to work as usual that day.
Hillary got off work at 5pm and by the time she reached home, it was almost 6pm.
Donald wasn’t home until 7pm that night.
“You bitch! You told your friend what I did to you?” Donald screamed. He grabbed her hair and slapped her.
“How long have she known this?” he asked. “Speak up! You ugly woman! Speak up!”
He raised his right fist and gave a blow to her face.
Hillary was seeing stars. That blow was hard. Extremely hard, she could not feel her face.
Donald was extremely furious and it sent shivers to her body. She must get out, but she felt so helpless.
As she struggled to her feet, something wet ran down her left side of the face. Blood.
Donald stood in front of her and unfastened his belt. “I gave you the warning, didn’t I? didn’t I Hilly?”
Hillary was terrified. Her body trembled, heart racing crazy and tears were running down her cheek. She looked at Donald, then around the house, she did not know what was it she was looking.
Then, the house phone. It was within reach.
But, Donald saw it coming. He reached for the phone first, threw it against the wall, and smashed it.
He turned to Hillary and gave her a hard slap.
Hillary feared for her life.
“Adam!” she screamed with the strength she had left. “Please…help! Call the cops…please!”
All her kids were upstairs, under Hillary request.
She was afraid that the kids would get hurt. Who knew what the maniac would do when he was all boiling up.
Adam was her oldest son, and was very protective of her mother.
He tried to defend his mother several times, but he ended up got beaten as well.
Every night when the beating would start, Hillary would insist all her kids to go upstairs, sometimes, Adam refused and sometimes, he listened.
Adam heard his mother cried for help, he grabbed his phone.
Donald stopped and ran upstairs.
Now is the time, she thought. It’s time, do it, or die.
Hillary knew she had few strengths left and she was going to use it.
She pushed herself to her feet, and immediately, she felt lightheaded and everything around her was spinning.
Despite that, she struggled to the door, turned the knob, and ran to the neighbour asking for help.
Her life was saved that night, so did her children.
The kind neighbour called both the ambulance and police.
The ambulance brought Hillary and Adam to hospital for treatment. Adam got hurt too, probably from the fight with his father.
Donald went straight to lock up in a police car, handcuffed.
The family was finally free. Free from the confinement of humiliation and sadness.
Hillary never finds out how Donald knew that Janine knew about the abuse, but none of it matters anymore now.
She did not even know what happened to Donald and she did not want to know. She knew he was imprisoned and was forbidden to make any contact with Hillary and her children.
Starting over was difficult.
Without enough education qualification, it was hard to find a job with a decent salary to support the family.
Luckily, her mother, Carissa was there. For over the course of six months, since that fateful night, Hillary was somehow lost and did not do anything about her life.
However, Hillary managed to get through it with the help of a centre that Janine talked about.
She gained new confidence and vowed to change her and her children’s life for the better.
Hillary knew she had always wanted to become a baker, so she attended baking course and when she finally get her certificate, she landed a job as a baker in a local bakery.
She saves some money, hoping that one day she could open her own bakery.
The smell of freedom and happiness felt so good and her morning prayer has always been the prayer of thanksgiving.
Three of her children are now out of town, two working, and one in college. Right now, she’s staying with Jonathan, 16 and Peter, 12, and Carissa.
After the prayer, she went down to the kitchen and make pancakes for her children.
The children loves mama’s pancakes, they always say ‘Mama makes the best pancake in the world.’
She loves to hear that word of compliments. For almost 30 years of marriage, she was convinced that she was good for nothing, but not anymore.
“Wake up now, time to go to school,” she called up to her sons.
After the children got ready for school, Hillary walked towards the front door to go to work.
“Come home early Hillary, I cook your favourite meal for your birthday today,” Carissa told Hillary.
“Thanks mom, I will.” she said.
The children rushed from the kitchen to the car and everybody was shouting “Happy birthday mama.”
“Well, thank you children,” she said.
“We have a surprise for you tonight mama”.
“Really? What is it?”
“Well, if we tell you now, it would not be a surprise.” said the other children.
Hillary walked out that door with her children and breathed the air of freedom.
She could never see freedom the same way again. For her, it has become sacred and she holds it to her heart dearly.
She smiled to the kids and said “Well, I’m looking forward to it.”
(P/S: This is the work of fiction. The characters are an inspiration from various people I met and interviewed)