I was sitting at a café having lunch (Spaghetti Bolognese) when I happened to overhear a conversation between three women at the table behind me. The café had a lot of mirrors and reflective glass as part of its décor and I was sitting in a position where all I needed to do was look straight ahead to see the faces of the three women. Even though I was starving, running late for an appointment, and shouldn’t be eavesdropping, I couldn’t help myself especially since one of the women was crying.

The Three Women
The one who was crying was the youngest of the three. I’d say in her late twenties. She was, what I’d call, a caricature of your typical Dubai girl. The shoes and bag were Valentino with those weird diamond studs that remind me of wrapped chocolate, she wore jeans that had all the right rips on the thighs and knees, her long, fitted tuxedo jacket was navy blue with arching shoulder pads and her hair was up in a high pony tail and could have been blond, caramel or brown depending on who you asked. Lifting her sunglasses to her head, she cried uncontrollably but dabbed tactically around her eyes to not ruin her make up. I chewed very slowly and listened.

‘I can’t handle her anymore. What have I done in my life? I just want to understand what have I done to deserve her? After everything she put us through before the wedding, during the wedding and now after? Enough, I don’t care if she’s my husband’s mother. I want nothing to do with her,’ She took in a big sob and continued, ‘to make things worse when I complain to him, he doesn’t do anything, he won’t take my side! I was telling him what she did with the almond cake, this morning while he was having breakfast and he didn’t say anything. He just ate his eggs, he ate his eggs and I was almost in tears.’

It’s a tale as old as time, isn’t it? The war between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law which can make Game of Thrones look like a tea party with a bunch of three-year-olds dressed up as Princess Elsa from Frozen. I had no idea what the mother-in-law had done or said in this instance and I don’t think it matters either. The Almond Cake scandal (whatever it was) was obviously the last straw.

‘Don’t cry, please don’t cry Lelo. I told you, ever since what she did with the hat at your wedding, which we won’t ever talk about again, I told you that you need to draw a clear line. She has to know that she doesn’t have the right to come to your house, to call whenever she wants. I think you should block her from Facebook. Especially after what happened with the Almond Cake.’

Er- excuse me, what the hell happed with the Almond Cake? I wanted to turn around ask. I didn’t obviously. I just continued to twirl more Spaghetti around my fork and watch Lelo’s mother, comfort her distraught daughter.

Lelo and her mother looked almost identical except the mother’s hair was black and she was wearing white boots and a white leather jacket and she was overly tanned.

‘You’re giving your daughter bad advice,’ said the third woman.

Now this woman was completely different than Lelo and her mother. Older, more on the heavy side, her face was completely round, powdery white and her hair was short, crispy red, and stood on its ends. When the light from the window to our left hit her, I could clearly see the shape of her scalp. Black tattooed eyebrows arched right over her forehead and she had tiny mouth rimmed with red lipstick. She was wearing a golden jacket with patterns of massive black feathers all over it that gleamed. Imagine if you will, a glamorous looking owl.

‘What? How am I giving her bad advice?’ Lelo’s mother said, ‘you don’t understand Hilda. We’ve tried everything with this woman and nothing works.’

‘I don’t know,’ Hilda shrugged and pulled her teacup closer to her, ‘from what I hear, I don’t think you’ve tried everything.’

‘Tell me Aunty, what haven’t I tried?’ Lelo said blowing her nose, ‘give me your advice.’

‘OK,’ Hilda said looking very serious as she dropped a little cookie right into her teacup, ‘but I have to tell you a story first.’

Hilda’s Story
‘A long, long time ago, in a small village in Syria, which probably wasn’t Syria then, a young girl was married off to a young man. As was the custom of that time, the young bride went to live with her husband and his family, which unfortunately for her, consisted of him, his mother. That was it. Now, if you think your mother-in-law was bad . . . this one was ten times worse. The girl wasn’t used to doing housework in her own home but in her mother-in-law’s home, she was ordered to clean, wash, cook, sew, garden and even pluck a chicken! All of this without a word of thanks either. To make it worse, the mother-in-law was rude. She called her daughter-in-law too skinny and when she ate she warned her not to get fat or her son will get a second wife. She made fun of how she talked, how she walked, how she cooked, how she dressed. Soon, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law fought almost everyday and no matter how many times the daughter cried and complained to her husband he did absolutely nothing. Not surprising for a man.’

Hilda took a sip from her tea. When she placed it down, I noticed how massive her hands were. They looked like clumps of dough with red nail polish.

‘That sounds like my situation, except I don’t live with my mother-in-law . . .’

‘Anyway,’ Hilda continued, ‘the girl couldn’t take living like this anymore but she loved her husband too much to leave him. So she decided there was only one way to mend this situation to please everyone. She had to kill her mother-in-law.’

The Pharmacist
At this point, I’d finished my Spaghetti Bolognese and I’d ordered a green tea. I was pretending to read my book, but was looking up at the mirror in front of me to watch and listen to the rest of Hilda’s story.

‘The girl left the house one morning just after dawn and went to the village pharmacist who was very well known. She gave him her wedding jewellery as payment upfront and asked for his complete discretion before she told him, ‘I need you to help me kill my mother-in-law.’ The pharmacist didn’t seem shocked by the request, he probably had many like it and much worse. But he listened to her story and everything the daughter-in-law had to endure before he said, ‘this woman sounds horrible and she must be stopped.’

He gave her a small bottle with a clear liquid inside and said, ‘this is the most potent poison ever created. You have to be very careful how you do this because it has to seem like your mother-in-law died naturally. This will be easy since you’re the one cooking her meals. Put one drop in her breakfast, one in her lunch and one in her dinner. Only one drop and not more . . . She’ll be dead in one month.’

Lelo and her mother listened in complete silence. Scared, curious, interested? I don’t know, but they were definitely intrigued.

‘Now, the pharmacist gave her one more piece of advice to make sure everything goes according to plan. He told her that as the poison starts to do its work, her mother-in-law will slowly get weaker. She’ll go to bed earlier, sleep in, and complain over the next month of weak muscles and sore legs. Indulge her, the pharmacist said. ‘Treat her kindly,’ he warned her, ‘don’t argue with her no matter how horrible and nasty she is to you, because believe me, she will get very nasty as the poison takes effect. I say this so that when she dies, no one will ever suspect you had anything to do with it. Everyone will just remember that you were good and kind to her.’

The pharmacist’s advice makes sense, no? It’s the perfect murder. So, the girl left the pharmacist with the little bottle of poison and went back home, excited for the first time since she’d been married to make her mother-in-law breakfast.’

The Next Month
‘The girl followed the pharmacist’s instructions in every detail. She cooked every meal to perfection, making sure it tasted delicious and was presented beautifully on a plate before adding one drop of poison. The girl also started to treat her mother-in-law like a queen. Every morning she greeted her with a smile and asked if she needed anything. When she saw her mother-in-law reach for anything from a high shelf, on the table, in a cupboard, the girl ran in front to fetch it for her instead. She asked her mother-in-law to inspect her cleaning, she asked her advice on what to wear, how to have her hair, how to be a better wife to her son. She would even go out of her way to make sure her mother-in-law was comfortable by giving her extra cushions to sleep on, to massage her hands and feet whenever she complained. The girl was playing her part so well that her husband was secretly getting annoyed that his wife’s attention didn’t solely belong to him but was focused much more on his mother. Not surprising for a man.’

‘Definitely not surprising for a man,’ Lelo’s mother said.

‘But Aunt Hilda how did the mother-in-law react? She must have suspected something,’ Lelo asked.

‘The mother-in-law found all this very suspicious at first but the more kind and helpful her daughter-in-law was, the less she complained. Then, one day, almost a week before the month was over, the girl was massaging her mother-in-law’s hands when out of nowhere, the mother-in-law started to cry.

‘Forgive me for treating you so badly, forgive me for not being good to you. He’s my only son and I have no family I thought you would both be so in love that you would forget about me and I would be left alone. But you have been so good and kind to me despite all the horrible things I’ve said and done to you and I can’t imagine my life without you now. I love you more than I thought I could, even more than my own son who has never massaged my hands no matter how much I’ve complained about them. Can you forgive me?’

Completely shocked, the girl told her mother-in-law that she forgave her. Then everything changed. The mother-in-law insisted on helping her daughter-in-law to cook, clean, forcing her to sit down while she did the housework. She started to compliment her, telling her that she was too good for her son and she even started to reprimand her son for not paying more attention to his wife. Suddenly with the month almost over the girl was rattled with guilt and fear. She realized that after all this, she loved her mother-in-law and that she’d completely misunderstood her. But the poison was already taking effect and she’d be dead within a few days. She had to do something.’

The Antidote
Lelo and her mother were leaning forward and Hilda in all her owl glory cupped her tea between her giant fat hands and continued telling the story like an actress on a stage.

‘Please I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want her dead!’ the girl said barging into the pharmacist’s little hut. The pharmacist looked at her with a lot of concern.

‘You’ve changed your mind? You don’t want to kill your mother in law?’

‘No, God forgive me, I don’t want her dead!’

‘But why? The last time you were here, you were determined to have her killed, she was making your life unbearable. What changed?’

‘Everything!’ the girl said.

‘But what specifically changed? What reason do you have that you don’t want her dead anymore?’

‘Because I love her,’ the girl said, ‘please help me.’

‘I’m sorry I can’t,’ the pharmacist said looking concerned, ‘I can’t reverse what’s been done. There is no antidote.’

The girl then started to weep but the pharmacist only smiled at her.

‘Don’t cry you silly girl,’ he said, ‘I meant there is no antidote for love. The poison I gave you, was only water. All I told you to do was to treat the old woman as kindly as you possibly could and as I suspected, the old woman eventually treated you kindly too. So wipe your tears, your beloved mother-in-law isn’t going to die. And here take back your wedding jewellery, I have no use for it.’

The girl thanked him over and over again before returning home in complete euphoria, genuinely excited to cook breakfast for her mother-in-law.

Hilda and the Two Idiots
‘So what I’m trying to tell you Lelo, is that you should try to treat your mother-in-law with some kindness. To me, it sounds like you’ve tried everything else except kindness and kindness is the strongest medicine.’

Lelo and her mother looked like statues for a minute. They had no expressions, they didn’t talk, I don’t even think that they blinked. Then Lelo looked at her mother who sort of shook her head a little confused and then Lelo turned back to Hilda and said,

‘But Aunt Hilda you don’t understand. She took a bite out of the Almond Cake I made for her birthday and said in front of everyone, ‘this cake tastes like a rock? Where did you buy it from? I think I’m chocking, someone get me some water before I die. How can I be kind to such an animal?’

Lelo then fell into another bout of sobs while her mother, looking flustered, took her into her arms and comforted her.

Through the reflection I saw Hilda shake her head slightly and shrug her shoulders. She looked perplexed and I couldn’t blame her. Then I saw her looking back at me from the reflection right at me. I looked down quickly into my book and after a few seconds I looked up again I saw that she was still looking at me and smiling. I smiled back and waved at the waiter to order the bill.

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