Betrayal is a hard pill to swallow for most people, for a teenager enduring it from a parent it can have lifelong damaging effects. Soraya Reid shares how taking charge of her life and letting go of betrayal has set her on a path to freedom.
Soraya (17) childhood was spent in the small town of Atlantis outside of Cape Town.
“I lived with my parents and sister in a close-knit community where everybody knew each other. My grandparents from both my mom and dad side also lived close by so I would see them often.”
A happy upbringing was cut short at the age of seven when her mother gave birth to a baby boy.
“He had a medical condition where his organs weren’t fully developed, my mom and dad were never at home they were always at the hospital and we stayed with my grandmother. He lived for two months and the experience was traumatic for the family. After he passed away our home life changed, my dad was never around and my mother was depressed.
“Seeing my mommy cry was the hardest thing, I just wanted to protect and be there for her. Because I am the eldest I felt it was my duty. Me, my mom and my little sister developed a tight circle. We supported each other and grew very close. My dad was missing during this time, we never saw him and heard that he was using drugs.”
Because of this, Soraya’s parents divorced.
“After their divorce we continued to grow as a unit, it was just the three of us. We spent a lot of time together and my mom kept promising that she would never leave us, we would always be together and that she would never remarry.”
Two years later, Soraya (10) and her sister (8) experienced a traumatic time when they thought their mother had left them like their father did.
“My mom worked night shifts and we would always see her in the morning before leaving for school. One morning she did not arrive, my granny called but could not reach her. She told us not to worry and that we must go to school. When I came back, I saw my baby sister standing on the gate waiting for my mom. She asked me: ‘Did mommy leave us like dada did?’ – I didn’t know what to say to her.
“Then a man, who we only knew as my mom’s friend came to the house and told us that my mom just had a baby. No one knew that she was pregnant and we were all shocked! When my mom came home with the baby she never said anything to us. She just greeted us and smiled. Like everything was supposed to be normal. I became very angry because I felt that she had lied to us, and that she had forgotten about the promises she made. Why couldn’t she tell us about the baby? We also found out that my mother’s friend was the baby’s father.”
From that point her mother’s boyfriend spent a lot of time at the house, but Soraya says that she never got along with him.
“We never spoke much, and I avoided him. I did not like him, I felt he was an intruder who broke our little family’s circle.”
Soraya says that her mother’s deceit ran deeper when she lied about getting married.
“I remember my aunt fetching us at home and then we went to her house where she told us that we must look nice. I wasn’t sure why, but she always took us out so I was excited about getting dressed up and seeing where we were going. We then went to a hall at the mosque. Going inside I saw my mother sitting on the stage dressed as a bride. I began crying because I was shocked, she had lied to me again. All my family knew that she was getting married. I was the only one that didn’t know, I felt betrayed. I felt like I didn’t mattered.
“I was crying and I remember my aunty telling me to be happy and stop being selfish.”
Unfortunately, family life for Soraya and her sister got worse.
“After they got married my mother worked, but my step father didn’t have a job so he was at home. As an idea to make us grow closer to him, my mother asked him to help us with our homework. But it was never a pleasant experience because he was very aggressive. He would always raise his voice and one day he hit my sister.
“They were sitting in the lounge doing her homework, my sister was struggling with a part of it and at first he shouted at her that she must get it right. When she couldn’t answer his question, he hit her with a steel ruler and she began to cry. When I heard my sister cry I ran to them and pushed him away. Then I comforted her by hugging and telling her that everything would be okay. When he saw what I was doing he became really mad and began hitting me on my legs with the steel ruler and shouting that I must respect him. When my mom came home I reported him. My mom told me to put Vaseline on my legs to take the redness away. She also told him that he mustn’t do it again and that he doesn’t have the right to hit us.”
But the hitting didn’t stop.
“It would be for weird things, I felt like I couldn’t say anything to him because he would think I was being rude. I reached my limit a few years later when I was 15. One day my youngest sister was in the room and I wanted to clean the room, I told her to go to another room. My step-father said I mustn’t talk to her like that and slapped my face. I hit him back, and kicked him because I wasn’t going to be abused by him anymore. So he slapped me again, this time in front of my mother. I look at her for support but she didn’t say anything. I felt hurt and alone. I ran to the phone and threatened to call my aunty or the police.
“In that moment he cried to my mother and said that she didn’t understand. He didn’t know what to do because he didn’t feel respected. When I saw this I ran out to my grandmother who lived a few blocks away. I told her what had happened and she said that I could stay with her for a week. However, I did not feel fully welcomed as she kept asking me when I was going home. I used to cry and tell her I didn’t want to go back, so she told me I must make a plan.
“I called my aunty who lived in Cape Town and told her that I needed her. She came to fetch me the next day and invited me to move in with her. I said yes but I wanted my sister to be with me. But she was too young and I thought I did not have any choice but to leave her behind. I often worry about her safety but I hoped that my running away would have changed his behaviour. When I lived there I kept her safe, now she didn’t have anyone so I was concerned.”
Soraya says that the pain of leaving home felt heavier because her mother never came to look for her, or even call her at her grandmother’s or aunt’s house.
“My aunt called my mother who told her that if I want to stay there was my decision. I felt once again rejected and unloved. She chose him over me.
“My aunt lived with her daughter (21), I missed my mother and sister but slowly I adapted. My aunty spoke to me about what was going on at home, and asked why I didn’t talk to her earlier. I felt very supported and safe and began to see her as a mother figure because I felt that my mother had abandoned me.
“Tasneem (my middle sister) and I would still be in contact on the phone, and she told me that my grandmother stepped in after I left. She said that my ma is bad ass. I feel like I had to make the sacrifice and move out for things to change at home for my sister.”
Unfortunately for Soraya her aunt was unable to take on the responsibility of raising another child and she needed to move once again. This time to live with a family friend.
Today, Soraya is in Grade 11 and is taking one day at a time. She has learnt the skills of adjusting and adapting to her-ever changing life.
Concluding Soraya says, “everything happens for a reason. It is important to look for the beauty in life, especially when things are hard. As the movie Collateral Beauty says ‘to understand that within dark and ugly situations there is beauty, love and strength, this is the key to overcome our challenges.’ We look for those qualities in those around us, but the beauty is that those qualities have lived inside of us all along. This is the greatest gift of all.”
Soraya is a Leaders’ Quest participant