by Mumpuni Murniati (SIF’97)
When I go forward to park my car at night, the headlights would beam on a gleaming silver car, which bears a highly profiled bonnet star emblem. I could only sigh, if not daydreaming as if I would have driven it. In the daylight, amidst the hazy winter morning its shiny body is a contrast with a 1995 Peugeot 306 belongs to the next house. In fact, the car happens to be the most expensive car parked on the street where I live.
My Somalian neighbour opposite owns it, a family with three young children moved in about eighteen months ago. They live in a three bedrooms house that is rented to the council. It means they may have claimed the housing benefit; free-rent accommodation. It is worth £935 per month from the council tax money. How on earth could they afford the C-class Mercedez with 2005 plate number?
I thought at first Fatimah, the wife, is a single parent or had separated. We regularly waved to each other outside, as she was about to walk with the children to the school nearby and I put my children on their car seats. Over the time I saw a man, whom she called as a husband who drove the cars. In the first year, he rarely stayed overnights in the house. When I asked her why, she said he had to look after his ailing mother.
Intriguingly, his car had been upgraded three times in the last eighteen months. Firstly we saw a318i BMW 2000 plate following by a black 530i BMW 2003 in twelve months time. The current one have only been seen in the last five weeks. Honestly, I am not being nosy, but how come that we, a family who owns our house and pays a hefty council tax, needs to be content with a nine years old VW Passat?
“Perhaps the husband’s a drug dealer,” booed an Indonesian mutual friend who came visiting and asked whose BMW across the road. I looked at her in disagreement, an utter dark joke in the wake of Kiyan Prince’s murder. Yet, if it was true that she had claimed the benefit on the basis of her status as a single mother, she has deliberately abused the system. She has told a lie and we pay a fraction of her rent from the tax while her husband can actually sell the car to feed his family. Blimey. She also unfairly shuts the opportunity for other people who genuinely deserve it.
This family, however, is not unique. Quite a lot has found this hole to rake in the money from the hard-working taxpayers. Obviously it is deeply disappointing. Can they sleep soundly at night, I wonder, if they once had ever thought that they have provided their children with haram money, let alone if the authority would ever found it?
This morning I did not see the car, as it would only be seen overnights twice or three times in a week. The law says that if a single mother had a boyfriend, he could only come visiting. If he had lived in, it means he would provide home for her and the children so she would no longer be able to receive the benefit. What the heck. Some people wouldn’t care. There was a case my next-door neighbour told me in which a single mother had been kicked out from the house as soon as the council knew that the boyfriend had been living in quite sometime.
What really made my blood boiling was the fact that she was also a foreigner, an immigrant like us. Fatimah and her parents claimed asylum in the UK, as they fled the
Somalia’s civil war. The UK government used to give the asylum seekers basic benefits until the court decided their cases. Afterwards they could find jobs. But then – I do not know why- a lot are still on the benefits and this has become a blunder on immigration issue. Having been stirred by the anti-immigrants media, the dislike towards immigrants grew. The Home Office then stopped giving the benefits and applied tougher control on immigration.
I was harassed over four years ago because of my physical appearance, an Asian look and wore headscarf. I was four months expecting, tired and shuddering in the blistering cold December weather waiting for the bus. When it arrived, I just sank myself in the front seat without the second thought that it was meant for the elderly or the less able people. The peculiar old lady who stepped in at the next stop did not need to hold her breath at me, as she started to fire away lots of abusing words, which, among many other, was accusing me for receiving benefits. She yelled that I should have gone back to my country. My ears were hot and my eyes brimmed with tears whilst many eyes stared at me. I was ready to shout back when a white lady sitting next to me holding my hands and shaking her head. Her firm but reassuring touch signed that she did not believe on what the lady had uttered within earshot. I thought it was sensible so I bit my lips, listened to the humiliation and looked away as her frothy rude mouth kept them going on. It was my topsy-turvy moment in which I felt like a second citizen. I subsequently did crying overnight; partly for myself but mainly for the similar treatment other immigrants might have endured.
Having recalled that, I therefore am very sad that the crazy lady might have been telling the truth. Perhaps she knew someone like Fatimah. Perhaps it just happened that I wore headscarf like her and she vented off her desperation in the wrong way.
You might suggest I should report my neighbour. It is irritating, yes, but I wouldn’t even spread my suspicion to other people. What for?. They are just such a shame, as they are muslim as well. The recent and widening controversy about niqab and hijab has done enough to twist the arms of mostly moderate muslim in Britain. The case like this would have been happily elaborated in the papers along with the evidences. Would that improve the situation?
Besides, I would not envy what Fatimah has been through. She juggled between school runs, doctor appointments, shopping and cooking for the three of them to say the least. She had baggy eyes, lost weight and in a constant worry about her youngest son who could not speak a word by three years old. She went to and fro for some tests in the community hospital alone. Last August, on a bright Sunday afternoon, she was attacked on the bus less than hundred yards from home. A Caucasian woman pulled her headscarf, harassed her muslim identity and slapped her face while her husband and their ten year old son watching. According to her version, she asked the lady to give way as she pushed in her youngest son in the buggy. The lady did not budge. She tried to avoid arguments but the lady began to pull her hijab and swore. She reacted because she had to protect her son. No one helped. In the end, the bus had to stop as the incident went too far. The paramedics came to treat her wound on the spot. Shocked and scared, she chose to stay at home instead of going straight to the police. When I saw the police car outside two days after, she was gobsmacked to hear that her attacker even filed the charge for hitting her son. “That was a lie and I am sick of this to happen again,” she said in tearful tone when I saw her. Apparently, it was her second incident in the same bus route and the third abuse she experienced since residing in the Broadfields area. I could not help to feel sorry for her agonies.
My opposite neighbour, without a doubt, has undermined the highly-achieved immigrants and the hard-working ones who play by the rules. When I met my professional Indonesian friends, our conversation somehow pointed to the similar cases like Fatimah’s. We felt we were blamed or treated unfairly sometimes because of our skins and the foreign accents we couldn’t possibly change. A couple who lived in Taunton, Somerset, got wind up telling a story of their white neighbour who seemed to have no jobs or no qualifications but was better off than them, both had full-time jobs.
There was another thing. When I used to take buses a lot with my baby son, I noticed teenage mums’ pushchairs were likely more expensive than mine, which I could tell from the models. These young mums- between 14 and 17 years old- dressed fashionably, smoking, wore designer trainers and communicated with the recent mobile phone models. How did they afford such nice things while obviously not earning? Was it I the ancient one or me who was thrifty?
In the end, I no longer feel upset remembering Fatimah’s plan to spend the Easter holiday in her sister in Dubai or when she talked about her Disney Paris’ trip last summer. I would rather show to my white neighbours that we are one of the honest ones and as muslim we respect our neighbours’ western values. In the meanwhile, let the tale continues….
 Kiyan, who played for Queen’s Park Rangers’ youth team, was stabbed in his heart in Edgware, north
London, in May. He was attacked outside his school, the London
Academy. He was allegedly murdered by a Somalis youth who involved in the drug dealear gang.
 A hilly suburban area in Edgware, north
London, where the writer lives.