Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.
It was the end of the school day for myself and my fellow teacher, who's originally from Turkey.
It was sunny and stinking hot in this corner of Western Australia.
“Did you know that the full moon appears only once in two decades on Halloween night? It should shine brightly tomorrow night,” Leila told me excitedly, wiping the sweat from her brow with the beautiful silk veil that she wore over her sleek, long dark hair. Her three year old boy was kicking excitedly in the stroller, while her five year old daughter smiled at her Mum. She pointed to her backpack as she helped her Mum push the pram with her other hand: “I made him a ghost mask to wear tomorrow at school. I hope he likes it.”
“Pity my husband's working up north. It's only us at home but we make the most of it. I'll take the kids around the neighbourhood in their costumes tomorrow for trick or treat. You know, I feel almost Australian now! I've been here for five years already.” Leila smiled at me as I walked next to her and I smiled back: “Don’t worry, I've been here for twenty five years now. It took the first ten to acclimatise! It takes time. You're a great teacher and they love you here at school. Your kids are little Aussies now.”
As we walked in the middle of the deserted side road that shimmered in the thirty nine degree heat, far from the school ground, we failed to notice the menace behind us. I turned to see a burly tattooed man in black jeans and a black tshirt holding up a crowbar, hissing: “I'll chop your heads off, you Muslim shit!” I watched in horror as the crowbar was aimed at the tiny dark head of the three year old boy, who was playing innocently with his Ironman toy in the pram. Leila quickly leaned over the pram, protecting the boy's head, as the crowbar glanced off her cheek, ending up on her shoulder. She screamed, falling to her knees, still holding on tightly to the pram. I caught her shoulders, steadying her as blood poured from the side of her face. Her daughter, who was holding onto the pram on other side, ran to her Mum, crying. The little boy started to cry too.
There was the sound of a car starting up at a nearby house, before the man ran away.
I waited in the emergency department with Leila, as she held on to the crying children.
She tried to calm them down: “It was just a boogie man. Don’t worry, he was playing a Halloween trick on us.”
Fortunately her cheek bone was not fractured, nor her shoulder bone, which was a relief. But she refused to go to the police station to report it.
After we'd been dropped back at her house, not far from school where my car was parked, the bandaged and stitched Leila made her children afternoon tea. She sat them down to watch cartoons as we drank delicious Turkish coffee from delicate glass cups. She finally explained to me why she'd refused to make a report to the police, and why she'd played down the incident in the emergency room: “My whole family perished in Syria, during the war. I ran away with my neighbours across the border to Turkey to start over and forget. You know, I finished my teaching degree there in Istanbul on a scholarship. I found a good Turkish man to marry. He's an electrical engineer who found contract work in Australia. I finally got my life together. And now this!”
“One more reason to report it to the police,” I persisted gently. She sighed as a news report about the latest French terrorist attack appeared on the TV. She quickly rushed to change the channel, as the children were watching. She turned to me: “I think that I recognise that man from our street. He always watches us closely. If I report him, I know that there'll be a reprisal. Some bikies hang around his garage. Imagine being at home alone with my children if they were to come? With my husband only coming back every third week?”
I nodded: “Do you want me to stay over for the night?” I asked, worryingly. She shook her head bravely and patted my hand: “I have a gift for you, for your kindness today.” She disappeared into her bedroom, bringing me back a beautifully designed woollen shawl with an oriental pattern: “This is from where my ancestors come from, on the Turkish border. I would like you to have it. Remember that good Muslims we are just displaced people. You know, I believe that the Muslim people of today are just lost people.”
I sipped the sweet, aromatic coffee and nodded.
I got angry and he didn't understand why.
Leila smiled sadly: “I had this discussion online with my cousin, who lives in America. She said that when there's a school shooting, no one says that guns are evil. Even if the shooter is obsessed with guns and owns hundreds of them. They say that it's just his mad state of mind.”
“The guy who gunned down those innocent worshippers in Christchurch was a Christian, who killed them in the name of Jesus. No one would dare say that Christianity is evil, because of that.”
We both sat there, sipping our coffee. Leila looked at the framed photos of her family, pictured in front of her house in Syria, that didn't exist anymore: “Sometimes I feel that the West is too quick to blame all Muslims and their religion for the actions of psychopaths. Just because they pick up our book to justify their madness.”
“It might be a political move too. You know, like Bush tried to justify his Iraqi war. If you make all Muslims look evil, the atrocities in the Middle East that are committed by armies from outside, are then easier to justify.”
“And also attacking innocent Muslim children and women, who ran away from war to live as refugees and migrants, all around the world!” she smiled sadly. "I'm just one of a hundred thousand victims of anti-Muslim hate, all around the world. It'll never reach the news and no one will ever know about it.