my friend told me.
If it had been today I might have thought it was some sort of not-very-funny April Fools' Day joke but this was yesterday and she looked and sounded much too distressed for that. As she spoke to me she watched her husband at the other end of the aisle. He was talking to someone else.
Amina is Muslim. Her husband is Muslim. They have lived in Australia for the past eighteen years. Both their children were born here. I met them not long after they first arrived and their English was not nearly as good as it is now. They are intelligent people. Both of them have jobs in the IT industry although Amina's job involves working from home.
I have always been aware that her husband is someone who likes to be in control. Amina has appeared to accept this. Sometimes she has told me "This is the way we do things" or something similar. Over the years though I have become aware that she has become more aware of Australian culture and the Australian way of doing things.
Their children were born here, have grown up here, attended school here. They do not speak a word of their parents' first language. They do not want to. The two children consider themselves to be Australian.
There was, I suppose, a hint of trouble several years ago when Amina's husband insisted that their daughter attend the local girls only high school. Most public secondary schools are now co-educational. This one has been retained to cater for the needs of girls from families where - for cultural or religious reasons - single sex education is deemed to be the right thing. Amina agreed. It seemed the better option. There were two other state high schools within the area. They are both very large and there are problems at both.
Now Amina's husband is suggesting that their daughter be returned to their country of origin. She can, he says, go to her great-uncle and his family. There she will, he believes, learn "proper" ways. He is disturbed by the fact that she refuses to keep her hijab on at school and that she is, at sixteen, showing an interest in the opposite sex. He is threatening to shave his daughter's head if she does not agree to keep her hijab on.
I was told all that very quickly and then Amina had to go. I told her, "Ring me when you can if you need to talk."
She called yesterday afternoon. Her husband had just left for the airport. He will be back from one of the mining communities on Tuesday. It turned out that the hijab affair is merely the tip of an iceberg. Over lunch yesterday Amina's husband told her that he has bought all of them air tickets for a holiday during the Easter school break. The destination is to be a surprise but they will need their passports. Amina tells me she has suspected this for some time. She believes the holiday will not be a holiday at all and that her husband plans to leave their daughter behind. Amina and the children are planning on leaving but it will not be to return to her country of origin.
Amina's husband appeared to be fully immersed in Australian culture. There were just small hints that he was not happy with everything. There are other men who do not like women to work away from home, even women who are content to stay at home. There are other parents who would prefer a single sex education for their daughters and who worry when they start to show an interest in boys and do not like the way their daughters dress. There are other parents who like to be in control.
But, this time, it is different. Amina's husband apparently believes in a solution Amina and the children cannot accept.
Amina and the children are leaving. If all goes well they will fly out to another destination this evening. It will not be to Amina's country of origin. Amina's son spoke to me. He is nearly fourteen.
"Cat, I want you to know. We support Mum. Girls can do anything boys can do and they should be allowed to do it."
I hope he goes on thinking like that.