Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem
Beautiful moments are not always perfect ones.
Some people say that they are unforgettable. Moments that stay with you. Moments that have a special place in your heart, no matter what the situation is, or how dull things may seem.
But there’s no other way to see them than this: Like the streams of light finding their way through the tiny gaps of rickety shutters .. Beautiful moments are like that. No matter what life has thrown at you, they simply blow you away.
“Muhammad,” Zuleikha beamed, wincing slightly in pain as she sat down. “His name is Muhammad.”
I smiled as I watched him, his tiny little fists still as he slept, and his mouth making little movements, almost as if he was still hungry or sucking on an imaginary dummy. I thought he would cry as I placed him down in the little crib that Zuleikha had brought, but he didnt. He gave a tiny moan and settled again, into a deeper sleep, into his own little world. He was so amazingly special. Not to mention, extremely adorable too.
Now, by then, I’d had my fair share of experience with little humans. I was actually beginning to miss the ones I’d become accustomed to quite intensely. Looking at the little bundle and having Zuleikha here was a welcomed distraction.
I gazed at him tenderly. I stil couldn’t believe that he was my nephew.
“So when are you going home?” I asked her, eyeing out the bag she had placed on the floor. It wasn’t very big.
Zuleikha shrugged nonchalantly. She had arrived in the morning, a few days post-birth, and though a surprise, it was great to have them both.
“I don’t know,” she said, and looked away.
She seemed to have something on her mind, but I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to delve into it, because during these past days, my sister seemed so much more at peace. Content. Satisfied.
I realized something beautiful about her at that moment, as I watched both my sister and nephew. Although she may have drifted away, at that moment, her heart was so in synch with reality, that it amazed me.
She had surrendered. Submitted. She had wholeheartedly accepted that even though she had gone a little off track, and forgotten Who she owed everything to, Allah had never forgotten her.
I could feel her peace. There’s always salvation in admitting defeat. The peace of prostration. To stay in that position, with your head lowered. To stay humbled and wait, until He raises you.
When you’ve had th world and searched it for what can be found behind every closed door or even the quietest corners… and then… you finally find Him.
There’s nothing that comes close to that.
It was so ironic that it reminded me of what she had told me once as a child. Finding life a little unfair at that point in time, Zuleikha had gently reminded me of the essence of a believer.
“The beautiful thing about the lives of the Sahabah RA, Khawlah, was that, even though their every breath was that of a surrendered believer, they never called themselves Mu’mins. They just submitted. Whatever it took. Whatever came their way. They submitted and they overcame…”
Thats what we should strive for. That’s the essence of a true Mu’min. Reading my books about the Sahabah again after ages, these few days, was a welcome reminder of what we needed to strive for.
It was about being the perfect believers. It was just about submitting.
I remembered that chat I had with her at the hospital. Zuleikha seemed a lot more focused now. I didn’t often find her in a kind of aimless daze, like I would before.
Besides the fact that Ahmed was nowhere to be found, everything in the household had returned to its former routine. Abba didn’t seem to worried. He said that Ahmed knew how to look after himself. I mean, it was Abba who had been intensely training Ahmed for situations like this and although I wished that Ahmed hadn’t pulled the trigger that night, the best thing he could do now was to let the whole thing blow over.
I sighed, just a little exhausted with all that had happened during the past few weeks. Jameel and Zuleikha. Ahmed. Rubeena.
Everything was so … tiring. I felt drained.
“What are you thinking about?”
Zuleikha’s voice broke through my thoughts as I paced the room, a little unaware of what exactly I was doing.
“I was just thinking,” I said carefully. “How everything works out… in the end.”
“Is it the end?”
“No,” I replied, with a slight smile. “But it’s definitely getting there. You’re looking like you’re in a better place too, Zulz. You’re not looking stressed. Everything sorted out between you and Jameel?”
This was the first time I asked her directly about the issues in her marriage. I had been getting hints here and there about the state of affairs but she had never said anything solid. Now, she looked at me with a slight frown, thinking before she answered.
“I have to learn to stand on my own feet, Khawlah,” she said, looking pensive. “I have to make my own decisions now. I have a little life that depends on me. The counselor at the hospital…”
She trailed off and widened her eyes slightly, feeling perturbed by her last few words.
Counselor? I didn’t know that Zuleikha had seen a counselor.
Aunty Radiyyah’s words came back to me once again, and I felt jolted awake at their magnanimity. I had almost forgotten just how serious and life changing her situation was.
”Your sister is in a lot of trouble, Khawlah,” she had said, speaking quietly, because she didn’t want the rest of the house to hear. It was the first time I had heard Aunty Radiyyah speak so softly. “Her marriage is breaking. Her husband is not to be trusted. He doesn’t like Ahmed, and I’ve heard that he wants to hurt him. He has a reputation of dealing with bad people. Please, my darling… please look out for her. Look out for you all. Look out for Ahmed. You’re strong, Khawlah. You’re strong. I know you can do it.”
Zuleikha looked at me now with determination in her eyes.
“Anyway,” she said blandly. “I’m working through my stuff. Jameel says he’s going to be a better father. He knows he has to change.”
I nodded. She felt guilty. She felt guilty about what happened with Ahmed, and she was trying to make up for it too. Maybe she was doing the right thing. I wasn’t sure. Maybe she was.
Hearing Zuleikha’s hope made me hopeful too. I wanted my sister to be happy, and I didn’t want my nephew growing up on a home that was broken too.
Things were looking up. I prayed that they would stay that way as we went along with our day-to-day lives, until Zuleikha had to go back home.
I missed them when they left. It was like an ache that wouldn’t go away, and it was only after a few days that I realized that all this time, I had just been filling the gap. I missed the kids I used to look after, and now that Zuleikha was gone, that gap was now empty once again.
School had become routine, and every day was more or less the same. It was Nusaybah who kept the day alive, with her bubbly stories and constant chatter. She was truly an awesome friend to have, and I loved that she always brought some light to the dullness of the day. She would often burst into laughter for no apparent reason, and I found it hard to believe that such a small person held so much of joy.
It was Nusaybah who gave me the idea of getting back into my hobby once again.
“You’ve lost your fire, girl,” she said, shaking her head and tut-tutting at me. “You’re behaving like an abandoned puppy.”
”I miss the kids,” I said, sounding a little defeated than usual that day. “And Zuleikha. Maybe I will go and see her later.”
“Again?” She retorted, looking shocked because I had just gone the day before. “Give your sister some peace. Let her sort out her life.”
I sighed. There wasn’t much that I kept from Nusaybah, and I valued her advice.
So that day, I delved into my books again, and fate just had it that I picked the one that Aunty Radiyyah had given me as a little girl.
I hastily opened the book, gliding my fingers over the writing that was at the front. Aunty Radiyyah’s.
Her personality was so alive. Boisterous. Nusaybah reminded me so much of her. Maybe there was a sign here.
I smiled as I opened it, letting myself get lost in the world of the little girl who had lost her mother. The feelings were so familiar, yet still affected me so deeply. As I finished it, about 45 minutes later, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.
I missed Aunty Radiyyah. Her laugh. Her smile. Even her loud voice. The beautiful moments I had spent at her house were now a distant memory, but it didn’t mean that I could never see her again.
As she left, I remembered her words clearly as they came back to me.
“Your beautiful garden is waiting for you, my beautiful girl.”
My garden. She had always called it my garden. Not Khalid’s, although he had probably spent as much time there as me. She always had said that when I wasn’t there, Khalid wouldn’t even step outside. I supposed that was when it became my garden.
And of course, the last time she was here, she had quite obviously said that I could come and see it whenever I wanted to.
Why not? Why not today?
It was a Friday and Abba was home. I’m sure he would take me if I asked him. I dressed quickly, getting permission and making my way to Abba’s car.
I was already excited, as we drove through the streets of our quiet neighborhood. Going back to the street where we used to stay would be trip that would bring back a lot of memories, and I could see Abba stiffen slightly as we entered, almost as if he was anxious. He relaxed slightly as we passed our house, slowly turning to look inside.
Our old house still looked the same. It was still cream and double story, but there were different cars parked in the driveway. I almost expected to see little Yunus run out of the garage door or Zuleikha shout to us from the window, but with a pang, I realized that those days were long gone. Things were different now. Everyone was different too. We had all changed in so many ways.
So many memories. So many hopes. Those little minds held many aspirations and countless ambitions….
I blinked my eyes, trying to erase the past from my mind.
Aunty Radiyyah’s house was coming up, and I quickly averted my mind and looked up, ready to jump off.
My heart hammered as I spotted it. I could see it. I could already see the flowering creepers making their way further up the terraced wall, as we approached. The house was very much the same, but it had an heir of exuberance that I never noticed before. Colors had changed, and I could literally smell the freshness of it all I stepped out into the open and took a deep breath.
That garden. That garden. It was my haven, and I could already feel myself being summoned to it as I climbed the step to the front door, realizing that I’d never entered from there before.
I simply couldn’t wait. I couldn’t wait to sink my hands into the dewy earth. I couldn’t wait to revile in the scent of nature, once again. It’s calmness and serenity would be just what I would need.
I breathed in deeply, already lost in my own little world. And then it hit me.
How stupid could I be?
I didn’t even check if Aunty Radiyyah was home! I didn’t even check if I could come. What if she was busy? Worse, what if she wasn’t home? It was just a simple etiquette that I had forgotten.
I let out an exasperated sigh, hoping for the best as I pressed the doorbell. It had been so long. The memories of Yunus, Khalid and I playing in the patio all replayed in my mind as I waited. Where had the time gone to? How did it all go so fast?
Those were unforgettable times. Beautiful moments that I could hardly define.
I breathed out as I heard footsteps come to the door, relieved that I wouldn’t be waiting outside until Abba came back for me.
I braced myself for Aunty Radiyyah’s dynamic voice, and without doubt, her warm embrace. She was always so welcoming, that I hadn’t prepared myself for anything else. I hadn’t expected anything less.
The door swung open as I looked on, and I blinked in surprise, hardly believing my eyes.
My eyes were still adjusting to the darkness inside, and I still wasn’t sure if I was seeing right
It had been years. Almost 5 years. The time had seemed to go so fast, but at that moment, it felt like it was just yesterday that I had left this life behind.
Instead of Aunty Radiyyah, steely grey eyes peered at me enquiringly, with a hint of something that I couldn’t recognize.
Was it hostility? Disappointment? Maybe even resentment? I wasn’t sure, and I had a feeling that I didn’t want to find out.
I swallowed hard, feeling awkward as I cleared my throat, hoping that the right words would come out of my own mouth.
It was like Murphy’s Law. Even when you have so much to say, something happens that spins you around… and then… you just get stuck.
Aunty Radiyyah’s last words to me as she left that day. The truth of it stuck me now, and the hurt in her eyes was now clearer than ever.
“Don’t lose her, Khawlah. Don’t lose your sister. Sometimes, you can lose someone even when they’re right there. Sometimes, you can miss them, even when they are right next to you. Sometimes, you can have everything but you can’t have peace. That’s the worst type of loss.”
She took a breath, and that’s when I saw it. It was almost like it wasn’t there, but once again, the flicker of untold hurt entered her eyes again, clear as day.
“Trust me, my Khawlah,” she said, In almost a whisper.
“I know. I know exactly what it’s like.”