One Remarkable Woman, One Remarkable Story

Everybody has a story to tell, but few have lives colorful enough to merit telenovela status as an acquaintance of mine. For the purpose of this narrative, I shall call her Esmeralda, and this is her account of her life as I remember it. I may have used poetic license to embellish things and fill in the gaps, but this is her story as best as I can tell it.

Esmeralda was as fiery and as feisty as her Disney heroine counterpart. She was just as stunning. Blessed with a leonine mane, a whistle-bait figure and eyes as mesmerizing as Elizabeth Taylor’s, she was the woman guys love to love and women love to hate. Even her voice was sexy and raspy. And did I mention she spoke three languages? Yeah, I know, not fair, right? True to character, even her childhood was like an episode from a daytime soap opera.

Even while growing up with a bunch of much older siblings, Esmeralda felt singled out, lonely and different. Her dad was fickle. He could be affectionate at times, but more often than not, he made it a point to distance himself from her. Her mom was no better. She was cold and dismissive towards her, in stark contrast to how she treated her other kids, whom she smothered. Her coldness towards Esmeralda encouraged her other siblings to mistreat her. She was excluded from most activities and was shunned by them.

Things were no better in school. Her extraordinary looks and long, flowing locks made her a target for jealous schoolgirls, and the latter made a sport out of yanking her hair and playing other pranks on her. Such was the price she paid for her beauty.

The only light in her dark childhood was her aunt, whom she could talk to about all her problems. If only she visited more often and stayed much longer…

It was only at her aunt’s deathbed that Esmeralda found out the reason why. From her dying lips tumbled out the confession that explained everything:

“I was only fifteen when I visited my sister at their ranch. She was much older than me. She had married young and moved away. We were not that close, but I was excited to see her. When I was there, her kids and her work at the ranch kept her busy, so I was mostly left to explore on my own. That was ok. To me the ranch was one big giant playground. Besides, not everyone was too busy. My sister’s husband, your father, was never too busy to show me around. He was always so nice to me. He was funny and not bad-looking for an older guy. We became really close.

“Then the unthinkable happened. I got pregnant. By my sister’s husband, your father. He was the father of my unborn child and that child was you. Yes, Esmeralda. I am your mother, not your aunt. I wanted to tell you all these years, shout it out to the world, but I had committed a mortal sin, betrayed my own sister, and for that I needed to be punished. My silence and my separatiom from you were my punishment. Believe me, it was not easy. My guilt and my loneliness ate at me. My health suffered. It has led to my early grave. Forgive me, Esmeralda, for keeping this a secret all these years. Everybody said it was for the best.”

When Esmeralda heard that, everything suddenly made sense. She was the product of an illicit affair between her father and the sister of her “mother.” The “aunt” who was so motherly to her turned out to be her biological mother, and the “mother” who withheld her love and affection all these years was the wronged woman in the love triangle.

In a small town, reputation was priceless. A scandal would have ruined everything. To escape prying eyes, Esmeralda’s “mom” had to make the ultimate sacrifice: go somewhere far away with her sister until the latter had given birth, then come back to the ranch and claim the child as hers, raising her as her own. To keep up appearances, she had to stay in the marriage and act like nothing happened, outwardly at least, and she had to allow her errant sister to visit every now and then, so to not raise any suspicion. No wonder she could not stand the sight of Esmeralda. She was the constant reminder of her husband’s and sister’s double betrayal. It was only when Esmeralda heard the story that she finally understood and forgave the woman she called “mom” all these years.

Even amidst her unhappy childhood, Esmeralda flourished. Not surprisingly, she matured into a real stunner who was smart and sassy as well. It was no surprise that her lovelife was just as tumultuous as her past.

When I first met her, she was already into her third marriage. She unabashedly declared to anybody who cared to listen: “The first time I got married, I was ruled by lust (pointing down there.) The second time, I was ruled by love (clasping the area above her heart.) This time around, I used my brains (tapping one side of her head.)

That was Esmeralda for you, living life unapologetically on her own terms.

Esmeralda’s first marriage was to a fellow Mexican, a teenager like her at that time. As she herself admitted, the union was fueled by pure lust. Raging hormones could not sustain the marriage, however, and two kids later, it soon fizzled out.

Her second marriage was entered into out of “love.” In true Esmeralda fashion, she got married to no less than an Arabian sheik. Yes, you heard me right. She bagged herself a true blue Arabian sheik.

On the surface, it seemed like a fairy tale. Princess Jasmine gets to marry her Aladdin, and this time, he was no street urchin but royalty in real life. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Little did Esmeralda know this was the start of her nightmare.

It started dreamy enough. They met at the same university. The cultural difference didn’t seem like an issue. Mohammed, as we will call him in this story, was as modern and progressive-minded as any Western-educated foreigner. There was no reason to believe he would change. So when he suggested they pack their bags and move to Saudi Arabia for good, Esmeralda welcomed it as one great Arabian adventure. She was off to the Land of the Golden Sand.

When Esmeralda arrived at Mohammed’s palace, she did not get the warm welcome she was hoping for. The family wanted a more suitable bride for him, a cousin of his, a princess, of royal blood like him. Nobody wanted this outspoken, liberated and opinionated woman. Not only was she a commoner, she was also an American and a divorcee with kids. They made their disapproval very obvious from day one.

Day after day, they found something to find fault with. “She’s too tall, she’s too loud, she wears too much makeup…”

“She speaks without permission, she talks back, she does not respect our laws and customs…”

“Why can’t she be more like us? Why did you have to pick her? Why don’t you marry someone from our kind?”

This went on day in and day out. At first, Mohammed would defend her, but after awhile, this constant harangue finally got through to him.

One day, after another volley of verbal sparring between Esmeralda and the women in his family, Mohammed banged his fist on the table and yelled at her.

“Why can’t you listen for once, Esmeralda? Why do you always have to be right? Show a little respect. We are not in America anymore. Know your place in this family!”

This outburst shocked Esmeralda. Mohammed had never raised his voice at her. He had been her only champion in this godforsaken land, but now he had shouted at her in front of his family. She stormed into her room and slammed the door behind her.

This display of temper caused an uproar at the table.

“What insolence! See how that woman disrespects you? Our women would never do that! You better put a stop to this, Mohammed. You are starting to look weak in front of our people! How do you expect people to follow you when you cannot even control your woman! Begone! Leave. Go do whatever you men have to do. Leave us to handle woman business. We will take care of this problem for you!”

A few minutes later, Esmeralda heard a car drive off then the key turn in her door. Somebody had locked her inside her own room. When she realized this, she banged at the door with all her might, screaming obscenities in three languages, plus others she made up.

Then she heard someone snicker from the other side, “Nobody can help you now, princess. Your prince is gone. He has left you all alone with us wolves.”

Esmeralda was furious. She screamed at the top of her lungs. She threw stuff at the door. She broke everything she could lay her hands on. She unleashed all the fury she could muster, but the door remained locked. Nobody heard and nobody cared. She did not even get dinner that night.

“Ooh, I’m gonna make him pay for this,” Esmeralda swore to herself as she fell asleep that night on tear-stained pillows.

The next day, she expected him to barge in with flowers, chocolate and jewelry, profusely apologetic and offering the sun and the moon. No sign of him or his shadow.

Instead, a covered breakfast tray was slid through an opening at the bottom of her door.

She stared at the tray in disbelief. So this is what that lower flap on the door was for!

She banged furiously at the door. “You barbarians! You cannot hold people against their will! You cannot make me a prisoner in my own home! This is barbaric! Where is my husband? Bring me Mohammed! Hello! Hello?”

Mohammed was gone for days. In that time period, Esmeralda had time to think. She was furious at the world at first, but then those moments of solitide and isolation got her thinking: maybe the womenfolk were right, maybe it really was her fault. If only she were a little sweeter, bowed her head a little lower and bit her tongue a little bit more, then they might see that she was the perfect little wife after all.

By the time Mohammed returned from his trip, Esmeralda was ready to play the meek and submissive wife. Mohammed, for his part, regretted his outburst and was ready to grovel for forgiveness. It was the perfect setting. Weeks later, the couple made an announcement: they were expecting. Things were lovey-dovey for awhile. Even the women left her in peace.

The much-anticipated event finally came. Everybody was eager to welcome the new member of the household, the prince of princes, the one who will carry the family name and legacy…

“It’s a baby… girl?”

The shocked expressions in the room were universal. Everybody just assumed that since Mohammed was such a man’s man that his firstborn was going to be a boy. A boy to follow in his father’s footsteps, heir to the birthright, the one to carry the torch, so to speak.. Not…a… girl…

Esmeralda sensed the disappointment in Mohammed’s face and tried to appease him. “Honey, we have a beautiful baby girl and she looks just like you. Isn’t she a beauty? Of course, we will have a son next time, but for now, let’s thank Allah for this blessing. Alhamd Lilah.”

Mohammed stern face softened with her words, but he was never the same again. He gradually changed. He became “too busy.” He hardly spent time with Esmeralda and the baby. His “business” trips were getting more frequent and lasting longer. By this time, he had given the women free rein over the “discipline” of Esmeralda. If she was deemed “discourteous” by any of the women, she was dragged kicking and screaming into her room and locked there until she “learned her lesson.”

More alarmingly, Mohammed was now increasingly moody and short-tempered. One wrong word or look from Esmeralda was enough to set him off. It started with yelling which progressed to slapping to beating her up. The abuse had now become verbal, emotional and physical. Esmeralda was now officially a battered woman.

Now this would probably never have happened if Esmeralda was in the United States. She would have left him in a heartbeat, taking her daughter along with her. But she was in a foreign land where she did not know anybody else and did not know her way around. Women were not even allowed to travel alone and without their husband’s permission. Heck, she couldn’t even venture outside her room anymore. She was, for all intents and purposes, a prisoner in her own home.

Now the old Esmeralda wouldn’t have taken this lying down, but she was a mom now and had to think of her daughter as well. So she bided her time and waited for the perfect opportunity.

The perfect opportunity did come, but it was not welcome news.

*I’m getting married.”

“What! You are married already, or did you forget?”

“I am taking another wife, Esmeralda.”

“What! Who? Why? How?”

“I am marrying my cousin. Islam allows us to have more than one wife. You know that, Esmeralda.”

“Well, well, well. How convenient. Mama finally gets her dream daughter-in-law, with the blessing of Allah, no less.”

“Esmeralda, I warn you. Don’t be disrespectful, especially in front of my mom. You make me lose face every time. I am doing you a favor by telling you first before I announce it publicly, so don’t make a scene. If you can’t promise to behave, you will have to stay in your room again.”

“Oh, how considerate of you to tell me before everyone else. Remind me to mention that in my speech on your wedding day. ” She was dripping with sarcasm.

“Esmeralda, you know damn well I married you against my family’s wishes. I was selfish. I only thought of myself. Now I realized my parents are getting old, and I need to marry a woman of their choice who will give them plenty of grandsons.”

“I cannot believe the words that are coming out of your mouth, Mohammed! Listen to yourself! This is not the man I married! I want him back! I don’t want you! I don’t know you anymore. ”

She screamed at him. She wanted to pummel her fists on his chest and scratch his eyes out, but that would have just gotten her another beating, so she ran into her room and slammed the door behind her. Pretty soon, she heard the key turn. Oh, how lovely, she thought. I just ran back into my cage so they can lock the door behind me.

From her room, she could hear the jubilation and the congratulations. She would never have thought in a million years that Mohammed would take another wife. Not that modern-thinking guy back in the days who scoffed at his culture’s notion of women inferiority and practice of multiple marriages. But his behavior had changed drastically along with his clothes. He was always in traditional attire now. He rarely wore a shirt and tie. He even grew his beard longer. He had also become more extreme in his views. And the beatings. Yes, the beatings. They were becoming more frequent and more severe. She had also caught him once or twice slapping their little girl. She was only six years old, but that had not stopped him from striking her. She knew it was only going to be a matter of time before things got worse.

Suddenly, she heard the key turn. She saw the door opened by one of the women and in rushed her daughter, tears streaking down her heart-shaped face.

“Mommy, is it true that Daddy is getting a new wife? What about you, Mommy? Daddy doesn’t want you anymore? What about me, Mommy? Does Daddy still want me? Is Daddy getting a new daughter, too, Mommy?”

Esmeralda tried to reassure her sobbing daughter, while she assessed their situation. How can she escape this nightmare? She did not have their passports, she didn’t have her own money and she didn’t know anybody who would risk their life to sneak them out of the country. It seemed that they were doomed to spend the rest of their lives in this gilded cage. She prayed for guidance.

In the morning, her prayers were answered. She had come up with a plan.

“I wanna go on a trip to America, ” she declared dramatically at the breakfast table.

“What makes you think I’ll let you go on a trip to Amerrrica?” he asked mockingly, not even looking up from his toast.

“Well, you get to have your fun, you’re getting a new bride. I want to have my fun,too. I want a break from here. I deserve a break from here.”

“Esmeralda, I am not getting married for fun. I am doing this out of duty. I have told you that.”

“Oh whatever, Mohammed. Keep repeating that so you will start to believe it yourself.”

“Don’t be difficult, Esmeralda.”

“Oh, I’m being difficult? That is just precious. There you are getting a new wife while your first wife is still very much alive, and I am the one being difficult? Do you think I have a heart of stone, Mohammed? Do you think I enjoy being discarded like a rag? If there is any love in your heart left for me as you claim, pls allow me to get away from this place, at least until the wedding is over. Pls don’t let me swallow my pride in front of all these people. I know how much they hate my guts.”

Mohammed grew silent, but Esmeralda knew she got through to him. It was only a matter of time.

That night, Mohammed spoke up.

“I will allow you to go away on a trip, but not to America. You can go anywhere in Europe. I will accompany you.”

“Awww, thank you. You are the best! I promise when I come back I will be a brand-new woman. I will be very nice to your new wife, my little sister (making kissy noises)…. And don’t you worry about a thing. We’ll go by ourselves. You just stay right here and take care of business. We’re gonna miss you, of course, but us girls will manage.”

“It’s scary when you are being super nice, Esmeralda. Makes me wonder what you’re up to. And sorry, dear, but I am coming with you, whether you like it or not. And dare I ask, by ‘us girls, ‘ who are you referring to? Not our daughter, I hope?”

“Why would you join us and leave your bride here, Mohammed? How would she feel ? What would her family think ? What would your family say? And yes, of course, I am bringing our daughter. Surely you didn’t expect me to leave her alone in this circus! That would be heartless. Remember, Mohammed, you already gave your word.”

“Nice try, Esmeralda. You are NOT leaving with MY daughter.”

“I am NOT leaving without MY daughter, Mohammed. Over my dead body. What would you want her around for anyway? Last time I checked, you couldn’t be bothered with a daughter. All you could talk about is having sons.”

“She is my guarantee that you will come back.”

“Wow! You are something else. You’re not even going to deny that you didn’t want a daughter? Don’t worry, Mohammed. Unlike you, I take my marriage vows very seriously. Besides, I only want the best for my daughter. Even I am not too proud to admit that I could never give her the life of luxury that only your money can give. I am not that stupid. Or selfish.”

Mohammed was quiet for a long time.This got Esmeralda worried. Did she push too hard or did she not push enough? Did he see through her or did she have him completely fooled? It was hard to read his face. Finally, he spoke.

“All right, you win. You could always get your way with me, woman. You and OUR daughter can go to Europe, but you two have to come back the week after the wedding. I am sending you there with bodyguards. When you arrive, my cousins will be there to meet you. You will stay at their house. You will submit your itinerary to them. They will have to approve it. You will be escorted at all times. You are not allowed to contact anybody outside my circle. If you or your daughter break any of these rules, the vacation will be cut short, you will be immediately sent back here, and you will not be allowed outside your rooms until further notice.”

“Fair enough. Thank you, Mohammed. Thank you for your understanding. I will be forever grateful to you. ” She rushed over to him and smothered him with kisses.

He laughed and playfully pulled her off him. “Go, woman. I told you it’s scary when you’re being nice. Go before I change my mind.”

Esmeralda didn’t need to be told twice. She had won a major victory. It almost didn’t go according to plan, but she was able to pull it off. It was hard to believe. She ran over to her daughter’s room to give her the good news.

The day of their departure, Esmeralda tried to play it cool, although inside she was a bundle of nerves. She asked the women what presents they wanted from Europe and even gave last- minute instructions to the help about her plants and pets. Of course, she gave Mohammed a teary-eyed farewell but not too tearful as to arouse suspicion.

When they arrived at Heathrow Airport, she and her daughter were flanked by two bodyguards on each side. Esmeralda opened her passport and handed it to the Immigration officer. He glanced at it and told them to step to the right side. He motioned for the bodyguards to step to the other side. The bodyguards tried to resist.

“We go where they go,” pointing to Esmeralda and her daughter.

“Umm, not unless you want to go to jail first, sir. You are now in the United Kingdom. We have protocols to observe here.”

The bodyguards glared at the officer, but they had no choice but to go where they were told. They tried to keep an eye on the mother and daughter but it was impossible because they were led to opposite sides.

Meantime, Esmeralda and her daughter were escorted to a private room. Almost immediately after, they were whisked to the American Embassy in London. Two days later, they boarded a plane to the United States. They were free at last.

Her ordeal was almost like that movie “Not Without My Daughter” starring Sally Fields. It was about an American woman who married a Middle Eastern man and how she tried to flee from him and his country with her daughter and the ordeal she went through.

How did Esmeralda pull it off? She had planned everything to the last detail. When she handed her opened passport to the Immigration officer, it had a note that read, “HELP!!! My daughter and I are being held against our will by these men traveling with us. We are American citizens. Please take us to the nearest US Embassy.”

The immigration officer quickly took action, separated them from the bodyguards and notified the proper authorities. Once Esmeralda arrived at the Embassy, it was just a matter of time before they got clearance to go to the United States.

Once in the US, Esmeralda filed for divorce and went into hiding. She did not put her guard down. She knew what and who she was up against. She knew how rich and powerful her ex’s family was. She knew how vindictive he could be. For her to outwit him and divorce him was the ultimate insult. He was also not above kidnapping their daughter to get back at her.

Only when Esmeralda found herself a rich and powerful lawyer, her third marriage, was she finally able to relax. Letting her “brains” guide her with her choice this time, she was able to use her marriage as leverage with her ex to finally be on equal footing with him. She was able to thresh out details regarding their daughter, including visitation rights and security measures, in fairer and more equitable terms.

As far as I know, Esmeralda has finally settled down and is reigning supreme in her rich, socialite world. I am sure she is surrounded by her doting husband, beautiful kids and wide circle of friends, and she deserves every ounce of happiness her way. Her life was a baptism of fire, but that is what shaped her to be one remarkable woman with an equally remarkable story to tell.

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