The True Warrior

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah

The horsemen charge in behind the knight. One of them has slashed a head and holds it high.

Inspired, the Muslims turn to fight again. As one body, they raise their swords and follow the black knight into the smoky battle and soon the Byzantines have fallen or run away.

Khalid (RA) cocks his head in wonder. Who is this wild and mysterious warrior who’s won the day? When the battle ends, he canters up to the black knight. The knight’s captains close in like a shield.

“We are grateful to you;’ Khalid (RA) says. “But who are you?”

The black knight’s eyes meet Khalid’s, then drop. 

“I am Khawlah bint al-Azwar al-Kindiyya, sister of Dirar ibn al-Azwar and descendant of Arab kings. I only avoided you out of modesty, for I am a woman of rank and honor. I came to you with the Arab women to strengthen you in your fight.”

The true warrior. 

I slammed the book shut as I heard the door bang, alerted that I wasn’t alone anymore.

How amazing was that story?

My heart was still beating rapidly as I placed the book on the shelf above my bed, eager to read more whenever I got a moment. This was better than the silly books I would borrow from the library. Those were so shallow compared to the truth of these stories. What hardships they endured to get to their amazing rank.

I was inspired. Soaring. Above everything that happened that day, there was a glimmer of hope for me. Those were true heroes. How brave they were.

“I’ll never get married,” Zuleikha said as she plopped back onto her mattress, closing her eyes as she lay back.

“Don’t be stupid,” I retorted, annoyed about the pessimistism after the incident with Aunty Nas. She had sunken into this lull and nothing anyone said could get her out of it.

It was Zuleikha’s worst nightmare. Yousuf’s family hadn’t phoned back. It had been over a week now and there was no word from them. Not even to say they weren’t interested. I knew that things were getting a little hectic that day but a little courtesy never hurt anyone.

”I’m going to die old and lonely,” Zuleikha moaned as she lay on the bed, pulling down her bottom lip and looking for some sympathy.

”You can stay with me,” I said, giving her a quirky smile. She didn’t look impressed.

I was getting fed up with all these grown up problems. Abba’s Divorce. Dada’s sickness. Foi Nani’s getting older. I didn’t want to deal with another death.

Abba had already given Aunty Nas a divorce a while ago, but because she had some kind of problem, she had to be admitted to hospital to treat it. Abba said she shouldn’t be worrying us for a while now.

And now… with Khalid gone, school life was not getting any better.

I sighed, not wanting to open my books to complete the work I was supposed to be doing. I didn’t want to be reminded about school. The friends I thought I had at one stage were not friends at all.

Zuleikha was going on about how terrible her life was and how Aunty Nas was the worst thing that ever came into our lives. I was zoning out as my mind drifted to the events earlier that day, remembering the ugliness of girly problems.

“You can’t sit with us,” the new girl said to me as we stepped out for break. She sauntered arrogantly down the passage, tossing her hair back as she swayed her hips from side to side.

I gritted my teeth as I watched them, Mishka and her sidekick, being the annoying little brats that they always were. It wasn’t like I wanted to sit with them. Faaiza and Mishka were some kind of relatives to each other, and by default, we sometimes ended up on ‘their side’ of the field. I was actually glad that I wouldnt have to watch them snickering behind the backs of other girls or star at the grade 7 boys playing soccer. They were so immature.

I looked around for my own friend, but she was nowhere in sight. I hastily grabbed my lunch that Zuleikha had packed, and made my way down to the passage way behind the grade 6 classrooms. There was a quiet corner with a bench there that I usually went when I felt like being alone. Now was definitely one of those times.

I sat on the cold cement bench  unwrapping the cheese sandwich that was in my lunch bag. I didn’t really feel very hungry, and although it was not entirely my fault that I was alone, I could feel hostile stares as I sat there.

You’re strong, Khawlah, I could hear the voice saying.

Too tough for your own good.

It was Mama’s voice, somewhere within my subconscience.

Didn’t she want me to be strong? Or was it a warning?

I was seeing it in a different light today.

I spotted Faaiza in the center of the playground, but instead of coming to sit with me like she usually would, she completely ignored me and went to join Mishka. My heart sunk a little lower as I processed what was going on. They were ganging up on me, and I couldn’t believe it. How childish.

I breathed in as I felt an urge to cry, knowing that I could stop myself if I really wanted to. I got up as the bell rung, making my way back to class and starting my work silently. I didn’t speak, but my heart held a million emotions as we were let out for the school day, barely noticing the red car that was parked at the entrance as I passed it.

The next few days were no different, but I kept to myself, taking my favorite book with me to break as company instead, knowing that I would never need anyone if I truly believed in my own strength and Allah’s presence.,

It was a few days after as I packed up my book and lunch box, and I passed the familiar passage that I would as I walked to class, when I heard a whimpering from within.

My ears were immediately alerted. I knew that voice. It was soft and barely forming audible words, but I knew it. I knew it and I couldn’t ignore it.

I immediately turned back, venturing into the little lane where my friend stood, quietly bawling her eyes out. I had seen her the past few days, but being the Khawlah that I was, I remained independent and left her to her horrible new friends. I just didn’t realise that they were probably being horrible to her too.

“Is everything….okay?” I ventured, trying to ascertain what brought on this outburst. My own hands were trembling as I reached for her, as her shoulders heaved again with another bout of tears.

She was really upset.

“Faaiza?”

There was no answer. She just kept crying. I thought about leaving her to it. I mean, this girl has completely avoided me when I was left alone and the mean girls made me their target. Was she even a friend worth caring about?

And then, something within me ignited my mind, and there was a huge awakening that I had been completely ignoring.

Wasn’t this what I had been waiting for? Didn’t I want to prove myself in a way that people would actually stop and think… what made her do it? What sparked this change?

It was like the story I had read a few months ago. Not only was it the Sunnah of my beloved Nabi (SAW), but also the Sunnah of all the beloveds of Allah.

It was when I had read the story of Musaa (AS) that I became awestruck by the wisdom of it. The amazing story. The inspiration from Allah to his mother. How Allah had taken care of his Nabi even in the house of his arch enemy. And then, of course, how Allah Ta’ala then instructed Musaa (AS) to deal with Firaun. It was a story of many lessons and multiple morale.

Be good. Be kind. Even if the whole world is against you. Even when people have committed the gravest of atrocities. Even when we feel there is no hope… Allah never gives up. He will still give us a chance.

And this was only true because from the story we see… He instructed Musaa (AS) not just to preach, but to preach beautifully. To preach in a peaceful and kind manner, so that the Pharoah may learn the religion of Musaa (AS) and his manners. So that he too may have a chance to get on to the path of righteousness.

It was a win-win situation, but it took lots of humility to do it.

I sucked up my pride, held my head up, and reached out for the friend I once had.

“Don’t worry,” I said to her, knowing that sometimes we just need to know that we aren’t alone. “It’s going to be okay.”

Isn’t that what everyone wanted to hear at some point?

She looked up at me, slightly baffled, and then, a small smile crept onto her face.

“I’m sorry, Khawlah,” she said to me through tears. “I didn’t want to be mean. That Mishka is horrid. She said she would make my life miserable if I was your friend. For some reason, she has it in for you.”

My heart beat a little faster as I heard that, and although I knew it, her saying it made me aware of how a single person could change my entire school life. Since Khalid had left, I felt so alone… and this just added to it all. I shivered slightly as I procaessed it.

But why?

I grabbed my friends hand with a force, holding tight as we walked, side by side through the busy corridors.

I ignored some of the glances I got from the mean girls. I didn’t care. It seemed like Mishka had done a lot of damage in a short time, and I was beginning to hate her. I had a feeling it may have been because of the hijab that I started wearing at the beginning of the month, but a few other girls wore it too so it couldn’t be the sole reason. I was inspired by the heroines I had been reading about, and besides the fact that hijab was awesome,  it was so much easier with my unruly hair. Though some of my friends had envied my locks, I just found them bushy and unpredictable.

I went home that day, sinking into my book again and knowing that we would get to the bottom of the drama somehow. It couldn’t carry on forever, right?

The next day held small challenges and snide remarks, but I held my ground and got through it. I just wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to put up with it without lashing out. I prayed for the strength to deal with it in the best way possible, and a heart that could still overlook.

It was finally the end of a long day, and my heart soared as the final bell rung. I jumped up as the teacher opened the door, waiting for the major part of the class to pass through and following behind. My lanky legs carried me swiftly through the corridors, and being smaller built, I could easily navigate through the crowds at a good pace. I reached the gate before most of the class that had left before me, looking out for the mini bus car pool that usually took a few of us to our homes.

“Hey Khawlah.”

The voice was loud and brazen.

I swung my head around to find its owner, nearly coming face to face with Mishka as I did so. She took a step back, slightly alarmed, as I stared at the person next to her. It was an older boy who looked slightly familiar, but what was more mysterious was the car that he drove.

It was a red BMW.

My breathing ceased for a few seconds as I made the link, blinking my eyes profusely in confusion. Mishka. The boy. The red BMW.

This was all no coincidence. There had to be some kind of  story behind this… but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know it all.

Before I knew it, the couple was gone and I was left standing there, even more confused than before. I walked in a daze to the kombi, almost in zombie mode. I had to get to the bottom of this. It may be hard to, but I had to figure it out somehow.

And I would do it, whatever it took… because now I knew that this wasn’t just some bully who was trying to try her luck with me.

This was going to be a little more challenging. It might take a lot out of me… and it may even break me.

But most of all, what I hope for… was to bring out the true warrior within me.

Advertisements

An Extraordinary Heroine

 

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah

“Zuleikha.”

I said her name softly before I entered our room, not wanting to intrude.

Although it was my room too, I didn’t want to be rude. It was one of the things I had learnt as I matured. Privacy. It was actually an important thing for bigger people.

There was no sound nor any reply from my sister. I pushed the door open slightly, and looked inside the room.

Zuleikha lay on the bed with her head propped up on the pillow, staring blankly at the ceiling above. Her eye didn’t even flicker as I walked in. It was like she was completely oblivious to her surroundings… lost in a world where no-one could reach her.

”Zuleikha, can we talk?”

It was Abba. He had just come up, and stood with his hands stuffed in his pockets at the door to our room. He looked somewhat apologetic, but at the same time, I could see the shame in his eyes. It was a look that my Abba didn’t often wear. He was embarrassed.

I don’t want to talk to you,” Zuleikha retorted, turning around and sinking her head into the pillow.

She turned her flushed face to where I was sitting on my bed and I could see her amber eyes were puffy. Her long hair was open, and a bit dishevelled as she tossed it around trying to avoid eye contact with my father.

”Zuleikha, I’m so sorry, my baby,” Abba said, stepping forward into the room and  looking like he was about to break down.

I was not going to feel sorry for him, I told myself.

Abba used to be my superhero. He was the perfect dad. The best husband. And then he married a woman with a dirty heart who ruined our lives.

He stood just in front of the couch in our room and kind of slumped down into it, almost as if he had no energy to keep himself up. His head fell into his hands as he sat there, witnessing his daughter sobbing into her pillow, knowing that this time, it had gone too far. This time, it was too much.

He looked up. Sympathy was creeping in from somewhere within the boundaries of my hardened heart. Although I didn’t want to, I was feeling sorry for Abba.

He was saying that he had left Aunty Zuleikha two weeks ago at her aunties house, because he wanted a divorce. He didn’t think she’d come back to the house because she was really angry.

”I know it’s been hard,” he said, now to us both as we sat there and spoke. “And I put you’ll through so much after your mother passed away. It was such a hard choice to make for me, but you’ll must understand… she was different then. I thought she will help us. ”

She was different then. She was never nice. But in the first year or so I still gave her a chance. After she twisted my ear and targeted me as a doormat, I wrote her off. I didn’t realize it but I had written Abba off too, the day he pushed aside my concerns and fell into his own world of wealth, power and luxury.

That’s what Aunty Nas did to him, and with all the damage done, it was a little too late for regret.

“I never want to see her face ever again!” Shouted Zuleikha, as she lifted her head up from the pillow. She was completely Infuriated and I didn’t blame her.

Abba just nodded and swallowed.

“Me neither,” he mumbled, looking out the window with a pensive expression.

He played with the threads of his stubble, that had seem to gotten a little longer during the past two weeks.

He seemed… sad. At that moment, he looked a little more like the Abba I remembered before Mama had passed away. With his slightly reserved nature, he had always kept to himself, but he was still the best. Caring, comforting and fun too. He didn’t have big ideas about the world and the things he owned. I missed Abba, even though he was sitting right there.

Without any warning, as I looked again, Abbas head drooped. His shoulders heaved ever so slightly, and were it not for the heavy breathing that accompanied it, I wouldn’t have known.

My ears were alerted as he shook his head, almost to himself, hastily rubbed his face, and looked up. The only evidence that his face wore was a slight glistening in his eyes. He was trying to hide it but I knew. I knew. Abba, my superhero, was human too.

”Dont cry Abba.”

It was my voice that spoke out but I didn’t expect it. It was like my heart cried it out before I could even think.  Although I had always been the strong one, to see someone else crumble before me was something that I couldn’t bare. Seeing Abba in distress was like my very own mountain crumbling before my eyes.

Abba pulled me to him, holding me tight within his outstretched arms. My father’s arms had always been open and strong, but today they seemed insignificant as they clung to me, almost for dear life. He hung onto me and I held him back, feeling slightly awkward but breathing in that familiar scent that I remembered as a child.

It had been months. Months since I had felt the consuming embrace of my dear father.  Months of a cold and pre-occupied father figure that was present in our home. Months that I had felt the warmth of Abba’s engulfing warmth once again. It felt so strange yet so welcome. I wanted to accept it and then lock it in, wishing it would never go away.

“I’m so sorry, so sorry…” Abba cried, still breathing into me, as he held on, his hazel eyes filling with regret once again.

“I don’t know why… what to do… how to stop it…”

Zuleikha’s head shot up, and her swollen eyes open wide as she watched us. She snarled as she said her next words, with not even an ounce of pity within her next sentence.

“Just give a damn divorce and let her overdose. She even got Dada sent to a home. She deserves to die.”

I sucked my breath in as Zuleikha spat out the last word. Dada. I thought Dada had gone to stay at his brothers farm. That’s what he had told us. I missed him.

I wasn’t sure what Zuleikha was saying about overdosing. My heart jumped to my throat as Abba looked at her in shock and then got up.

“I know you are angry, Zuleikha, but that’s not nice.”

”I don’t care,” Zuleikha retorted. “She’s a witch, even when she’s sober.”

“I’m going to sort this out, okay?” He said to her, pleading with her to be easy on him. Pleading with her to just keep it contained a little longer.

All Zuleikha did was exhale tiredly, and roll her eyes. I wasn’t sure who to feel sorry for anymore. This was all so confusing.

Abba ruffled my hair, kissed both of our foreheads and then left us in a hurry. Ahmed and Yunus stood outside the door, almost in anticipation, wondering where the next part of this road would lead us all.

I looked at my siblings, wondering how we had gotten here. The glimmering sunlight was streaming in onto that oak sideboard once  From running carelessly playing catch in the passage to losing the most important person in our lives. From streaming sunshine on and endless giggles as we would escape outside to play. From loss to hardship, and an ease within.

We had so much, yet been through so much, and yet still… we pulled through. It was tough and it was harsh, but we were still standing. Our fragile hearts had been battered and bruised, but instead of pushing us to the ground, it was our restoration. It was like a rehabilatiom for our mutilated souls. It was the means for us to withstand so much more than anyone had ever thought our little hearts could bare.

I breathed in, and almost as if the scar had penetrated within, the aching within my gut was now far, but very much still there. A lost mother. A lost friend. A lost hope.

If only someone had explained to us that all that is beautiful on the outside doesn’t always shine from within. That this world was not meant to be the eternal bliss that a kid always wished it would be.  That life hurts. That love hurts. That it hurts a lot.

But most of all, that it all ends. The hurt ends. The pain ends. Nothing in this life will push us to the point where it will break us completely, becAuse a Mu’min was not one who would lose hope. A true believer would never give up. That this life that played before our eyes was never the entire truth. A beautiful jannah awaits that not even the most brutal memories can penetrate.

But reach it, we have to comprehend. Our journey only begins here, at that point. The route to discovery was open, but it was our duty to explore, and find the beauty that can rest within your inner being. The beauty that lay beyond the obvious treachery of the world.

My eyes darted around the room, almost searching for a comfort within. All that met me was the barren gazes of my siblings, with no promise for me to cling onto. They too, were searching. They were also seeking some solace, and just as I was about to give up completely, I caught sight of a brown paper bag that had fallen between the bed and the headboard.

My eyes widened as I saw it, and I flew forward, grabbing it with fervor as I gaped at it in disbelief.

I could not believe that I had forgotten about it. Khalid’s gift. With the Aunty Agnus drama that night, it had fallen behind my pillow and I hadn’t even thought about it since then.

I sat there for a few seconds, not even blinking an eye. The day he gave it to me seemed like a lifetime ago. Was it really there? 

Ever so slowly, I removed the brown packet from over, sliding my hand inside slowly to pull out the contents with my right hand.

I could feel the hardness of a book and my heart beat a little faster with excitement, understanding that there was so much of potential within this little bag. An entire book of unveiled treasures, promising to add some depth and meaning to my life.

I pulled the book out with haste, revealing its bold cover in the dim light of the night lamp that I had since I was four.

The book, just from its cover, exceeded all expectation. It would be the tool I would use as my inspiration and my daily motivation. It was the foundation of my journey to the uplifting of my soul, and a burst of energy filled my gut as I re-read it’s title once again. It was the driving force I would need for a lifetime of battles that may still lie ahead. It was the hope that would bring me back to where I would find my roots again, and bring to light the struggles of people centuries ago who were raised in status because of it. It would bring me back, connect me, and help me to find my Creator within  the darkened hue of my life.

I didn’t know it then, but just a glance  would have an awesome impact on my life. I would discover not only my own strength, but would draw strength from the stories of the noble companions of my Nabi (SAW) who would teach me about what struggle really was. I would learn patience. I would aspire for their endurance. It was just what I needed and it was the perfect timing for it too.

Khawlah Bint Al-Azwar, it read.

An Extraordinary Heroine.

 

 

 

 

 

Broken

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem 

Zuleikha

“I feel like I’ve seen you before.”

Yousuf’s pale face immediately reddened as he said it, and he looked away, slightly embarrassed.

Wasn’t that like the cheesiest line, like ever?

“Shucks,” he muttered, obviously realizing what he said. And of course, what I was thinking.

“I’m sorry,” he said, all flustered. “I don’t know why I would say something so stupid.”

I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t. I was actually kind of glad he said that. It was a good ice breaker.

I finally got the guts to look up at him, swallowing nervously as I did so.

My worst fears dissolved. He wasn’t ugly. Thank goodness. He was far from it. Somehow I was glad I had made a little effort. Maybe Foi Nani wasn’t that old after all. She kind of knew her stuff when it came to impressing people.

What was most intriguing thing about him though, wasn’t his dazzling smile or his perfect nose.

It was the fact that he was just focusing on me. And okay, maybe I was the only other person on this partition of the dining area, but I had met boys before who would be trying to talk to me, but trying to suss out what venture is next at the same time. As I looked back at him, albeit a little shyly. I wanted to kick myself too, because I had judged him because he said it.

I felt like I knew him too.

Corny, yes. But I’d definitely seen him before.

“Did you go to tuition?” I asked him spontaneously. I wasn’t even thinking.

All I was thinking was; that was probably the place I had seen him. I didn’t want to think further than that because it was also the place where I had done a lot of unmentionable things.

I didn’t want to even go there. I flushed as I thought about it, wishing I didn’t mention it.

He shook his head. He didn’t look like the type that went for mass tuition. He was probably really intelligent too . He had passed his final year and was doing his boards. He said that he wanted to go back to madrassa. We had stopped there when he realized that he knew me from somewhere.

Why must I always open my big mouth?

It was a typical example of the past coming back to haunt me. I’ve heard people talk about it happening before but I never believed it. When you did things in jest, just for the fun of it, you only think about it with remorse when it’s too late.

I shivered, remebering those winter afternoons after Mama passed away… feeling that sinking feeling all over again. The coldness had sunken into my thoughts and bones… and darkness had engulfed from all angles. How great was Allah that he had brought me out of it?

The greatest part was that he made me come out of my sinful ways.

“Are you okay?”

He could see that faraway look on my face and Yousuf was concerned. He sounded so … caring. Concerned. Was it for real or was he just playing the part? My life had made me so skeptical of everyone around me.

This boy was just the perfect balance. He wasn’t an overly ambitious charmer or smooth talker. He looked genuinely concerned. My whole life had gone chasing the things that I had always been lacking. My pursuits were always to try and fill that gaping hole that lay within.  I wasn’t sure what it was about me.

I wasn’t strong like Khawlah. Although she fully understood, she had barely shed a tear when Mama died. Every day for me was a reminder of that gap Mama had left when she had gone. My heart grieved her loss in a way that was terminal… The pain didn’t go away. I was broken.

But even with that, I knew, within the cravices of my  very soul, I truly believed that a strong person could lift me up again. That a solid heart that was filled with the love of the One who Created it, could heal. It’s what I needed to make myself stronger… and to build my faith up once again. Yes, I had been weak at one point, but I was on the road to recovery once again. Some people could do it on their own… but some people, like me, needed help to get themselves to be the best believers. To get themselves thriving spiritually, once again.

Suhaib RadhiAllahu Anhu narrated : Allah’s Nabi Sal Allahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said. “Strange is the case of a believer, there is good for him in everything, and this is only for the believer. If a blessing reaches him, he is grateful to Allah which is good for him, and if an adversity reaches him, he is patient which is good for him.”

[Muslim]

I wished that I could achieve that, and truly understand the gift of being a true believer. As I looked at Yousuf, I could see he showed signs of someone who was Islamic. Not just there, at the borderline, like Abba had become now, but completely devoted.

He wore a traditional kurta with no distinct branding, and his beard seemed to be grown freely with no fashionable adjustments. I knew about these things because Mama used to always tell Abba about them. After Mama died, Abba’s beard had diminished to close to nothing. I just knew Mama would like Yousuf too.

A large noise that sounded like it was just outside the house caught us both off guard, and Yousuf glanced at me, looking really worried.

“Is this area safe?” He asked, immediately getting up and going towards the passage door. He looked slightly anxious. Maybe he had a bad experience in the past.

I wasn’t scared. It was probably nothing. This area wasn’t the safest but we were so used to those noises that it didn’t even faze us anymore.

I took the opportunity to grab a samoosa that was lying on the table nearby, just because my tummy was virtually empty since the morning. With my nerves the way they had been, and Foi Nani making it worse, I had barely been able to put a thing into my mouth.

I walked toward the passage too, seeing Khawlah and Yunus peeping out of the lounge door.

At that moment, the spicy samoosa caught in my throat, and it wasn’t just because of the ambitious flavoring.

It was Aunty Nas, who literally kicked open our front door, and stood there with a vengeance.

Aunty Nas wore purple wedged boots, grey tights and a pink floral sleeveless top. Her hair was it’s usual blonde colour, and it stuck out on the top of her head, almost as if she had gotten shocked.

I wondered what happened to her. Her clothes were way to young for her age. I knew the latest fashion trends, and this was far from it. She had looked so much better on those days when she would adorn the abaya and hijab. This was a cheap alternative.

”My goodness,” she said sarcastically as she spotted Yousuf and Abba coming to the front to see what the din was about. “I heard what’s going on here. Aren’t we just a happy little family today?!”

She said the last few words in a mocking tone, raised her eyebrow and glared at Abba. Abba shifted uncomfortably. Aunty Nas seemed upset.

I looked around me and could see Yousuf’s father there too.

He was staring in shock. Yousuf too was in shock, but he calmly backed away. I could see him headed back to the couch to sit, ready to continue our conversation. The only problem was that now my head was completely out of it. There was no way I could form any audible words with this woman in our home.

”Let’s go to the other room,” Abba said to Aunty Nas, making his way out of the room. He gestured for her to follow but she didn’t. She stared at us all scornfully, with her hands on her hips.

Her face was scrunched up and her expression was tired. She looked like she was charged up for something, but Abba’s reaction to her didn’t allow her to vent. He had forced her to apply brakes and her fuel was running low.

“I’m not going anywhere!” She shouted, and my father turned and raised his eyebrows at her.

All of us four siblings were now gathered in the entrance hall, half awaiting the common hissing and unfiltered arguments that would usually come. We  looked at each other with hesitation, unsure of what to make of the whole thing.

Why was she here now? What was really going on?

I just wanted her to go away.

“I think they’re going to kill each other,” Ahmed said under his breath, watching them from where we stood.

The four of us clung together like our lives depended on it. It was one thing we held onto always, no matter who was the target. From the day this woman had become an additional limb of our home, we were in this together and always would be.

That would never change.

Just when I thought Aunty Nas was going to turn back, it seemed like her reserve kicked in, and much to our shock and dismay, she started screaming in utter dementia. She sounded like a lunatic.

It was one grievance after another, about how my father emotionally abused her, and how disobedient his children were. She had to add in how corrupt our minds are and how we have thieves that live here. It was like she was possessed by some kind of demonic force, and she didn’t move or stop as she accused us all of the worst of things.

It seemed like she was nearly done, and although she had caused a lot of damage, all was not yet lost.

Aunty Nas had gathered an audience now, and even if she didn’t, everyone in the house had probably heard her.

“Must we leave?”

A voice whispered from behind us, and I could see Yusrah giving me a polite smile as she spoke. Yousuf’s sister seemed really pleasant and quite amusing too. We chatted about quite a few things, and we got along really well. I just hated that they were witnessing all of this. Aunty Nas at her worst tantrum.

“We can come back,” she said when I didn’t answer.

She wasn’t so convincing. If they left now, they would probably never come back to this crazy house. We would have to do something to redeem ourselves. We would have to do something now, before this gets any worse.

Foi Nani was now in the front of the house where all the commotion was going on. Her walking stick in hand, she was trying to appear threatening without actually attacking. Her face dark with anger and her no-nonsense voice was on. Vexation was settling in, and her patience was at it’s wits end.

How dare this woman cause such a scene at this important event? 

“Nasreen,” she was saying firmly. “You need to leave or we will call the cops. You have other problems you must deal with. This is not the time for all of this.”

Foi Nani was right. She knew it. We knew it too. We could work on this at another time. Abba was trying to tell her too. I could hear him saying something else, but I didn’t understand what he meant. Problem? What problem did she have? 

She understood that now it was a threat and she knew that we meant serious business. And just when I thought she was about to relent and leave, her gaze shifted around for a few seconds. It darted back and forward, and she ran her hands anxiously through her frazzled hair as she did so. Within a few second, it settled, and almost as if I expected it, I felt it on  none other than myself.

She stared straight into me, for a few seconds, and I could literally feel the hairs at the back of my neck start to stand. It was almost as if she was seeing beyond me. She looked broken.

Her body was shaky, and her finger trembled as she pointed. She didn’t look okay.

A small, evil smile crept onto her face and to my utter horror, she let out a final blow.

“If only they knew what you are really like,” she said to me with a slight tremble, but a steady gaze. “That rich boy in the red BMW that used to pick you up every Friday… a tramp like you doesn’t even deserve that.”

And with that she turned and tossed her hair back as she walked out through the broken door, leaving a family that was broken once, broken once again.

 

Far from Pretty

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Note: Apologies for the delayed posts. An extra long post to make up. 

Please remember my family and I in your Duaas. Posting should resume as normal, Insha Allah. Shukran for the comments and Duaas 🌸 

Khawlah

“Leave her alone!” I shouted, overcome with an intense over-protectiveness over our ten year helper. “She didn’t do anything!”

Aunty Nas’s finger was still pointing at Aunty Agnus accusingly, but as I shouted out, I could see her confidence dwindle.

Her hand dropped to her side slowly and her mouth turned down slightly at the corners, as she tossed her head back and sighed emphatically.

“And what do you think you are doing?” she spat, narrowing her eyes and staring down at me.

I swallowed hard, standing my ground and looking up at her. She wasn’t that much taller than me. Without her stiletto heels that she habitually wore, she actually looked a bit like a child. She was that much less threatening too.

“I warned you before, missy,” she said in a venomous tone. “If you keep on getting in my way, I will wipe you out.”

She said the least three words with her eyebrows raised and increased venom, but I held my ground, standing between her and Aunty Agnus.

“I’m not scared of you,” I said to her, putting my hands on my hips and glaring at her.

Aunty Agnus was trembling behind me, obviously fearful of this horrible woman. Zuleikha stood on the staircase with her mouth open, watching us in awe. Ahmed and Yunus were loitering on the top, and out of the corner of my eye I could see a figure at four-o-clock. Actually two figures. Aunty Nas saw them too and the words that were on the tip of her tongue died as she did.

”This is so embarrassing.”

The words were head-splitting and abrupt.

Hannah stood in the middle of the entrance hall and rolled her eyes at us both. Her stick straight hair was now a different colour to what it had previously been. Her eyes had dark eye-liner around them and her lips, surprisingly, were puffy and devoid of any colour. She looked far from pretty.

What shocked me most though, was her company. She stood there, all done up, but the person who she was with was a dishevelled bad-boy type who looked like he needed a serious scrubbing. Not to mention, a serious shave too. His moustache was a bit much for me. Maybe Hannah thought it was cool.

A boy. Hannah had brought a boy home, and her mother said nothing. Instead of the angry expression she wore a few minutes ago, she now beamed at both of them, as of they were the most beautiful sight on the earth. I scowled. Aunty Agnus took the opportunity to sneak away silently, and I breathed a small sigh of relief.

“Hannah, darling,” Aunty Nas said, still beaming at them, and fluffing her hair out again.

She smiled at the boy in a different way, and it made me feel uncomfortable. Was Aunty Nas trying to impress this teenager too? Wasn’t she a bit old for him?

There was something seriously wrong with Hannah’s mother if that really was the case.

“Excuse me please,” Hannah said to her ‘friend’, dragging her mother aside and whispering to her in the corner of the room. I could feel eyes on me, and I turned to look at the boy staring at me. He shifted on his feet, and I looked at him in reproach, hoping he would quit the staring. He didn’t seem to care. Who was he, anyway?

I spun around in an attempt to escape, but instead wound up face-to-face with narcissistic Hannah. She frowned at me, shoved me aside and then hastily grabbed her boyfriend’s hand and walked out.

Her boyfriend.

I sucked in my breath. So much had happened in such a short time, and I was still reeling in shock as I headed up the stairs again. I could hear Aunty Nas scurrying behind her and calling for her daughter, but Hannah ignored her.

That was Hannah. She never listened to her mother. Actually, she listened to no-one.

My other siblings had disappeared, but Zuleikha stood at the top of the stairs and grabbed my hand as I went up, dragging me to our room and shutting the door behind us with a force.

“Are you crazy?!” She almost yelled, her eyes wide in astonishment, wondering how I had just gotten away with almost murder in Aunty Nas’s eyes.

I shrugged at her. I didn’t see what I did as wrong. The strong reasoning within the cravices of my inner soul prompted me to speak out. I just wanted to do the right thing.

“Don’t you understand, Khawlah?” She said, in a slightly kinder voice. “We can’t just say and do as we please. There are consequences to everything. You have no idea what Aunty Nas is really like.”

“But Zuleikha,” I said, changing the topic because I was  still awestruck by what had happened with Hannah. “Hannah is wrong. Isn’t Muslims are not supposed to be like that?”

I was thinking about Khalid again. How he had told me boy and girls couldn’t be friends. He was probably getting ready to leave for his Madrassa now. I wasn’t sure when I would see him again. I felt a sudden emptiness in the pit of my gut. I missed my friend so much, that sometimes it hurt.

Zuleikha turned away for a few seconds and then met my eye again.

“This world is not a nice place, Khawlah,” she said, swallowing hard, but speaking with affirmation. “It’s not all about gardening and tree houses. We live in an ugly, disturbed world that has no morals. Sometimes we do things to make ourselves feel better. Sometimes, Khawlah…”

She trailed off, and spoke in a much softer voice.

”Sometimes, we do the wrong things.”

A boy and girl were not supposed to be friends. It meant they shouldn’t be together alone because Shaytaan would always tempt them to do evil. It wasn’t just about what they would do, but when they are involved in those boy-girl things, they leave Imaan altogether for that time.

It is reported that Nabi SAW said: “When a person commits zina, Imaan (faith) leaves him, until it is like a cloud over his head…”

I looked at my sister momentarily, not seeing the farwaway look on her face and the remorse in her eyes.

“Anyway,” Zuleikha said inconclusively, as we closed the curtains after watching Aunty Nas’s car reverse out. I hoped she was going home and wouldn’t come back. She was a lot to deal with.

“I think we should tell Abba that she mustn’t come here,” I said pointedly, as Ahmed and Yunus loitered into our room to watch her leave.

Ahmed just shrugged. He was taller than Abba now and he had retreated into a world where no-one could reach him or talk to him. Yunus was growing older too, but I still felt responsible for him and made sure he was still half-human.

“Aunty Agnus is not here,” Yunus said, shrugging his shoulders. I shook my head, not believing him. She probably just went for a walk to her friend. She would come back later.

But when Abba came home that night, Aunty Agnus still wasn’t around. Abba called Foi Nani to stay with us for a while, when he went to see Aunty Nas.

I didn’t mention the red box to anyone and Zuleikha didn’t speak about it as well. I assumed that everything would go back to normal the next day, but there was still no sign of Aunty Agnus. A few days passed and she still had not returned. I could see Abba feeling stressed, and he finally asked us what happened that night. I could tell from the look on his face when we explained to him. It the first time he was hearing this version of what had went on the night Aunty had left. He didn’t look happy at all.

A week went into two, and Aunty Nas didn’t return either. Foi Nani had come home to leave food every day, and some days she stayed over.

Foi Nani was getting older and a little bent as she walked. I studied her one night as she slowly lifted the pot lid, spooning the pungent curry slowly onto the platter. She was getting older. Everything was changing. Why couldn’t it all just stay the same?

Foi Nani had started staying with us full-time now, and although she enjoyed having her space, Abba’s desperate pleas to her since Aunty Agnus left had brought our her sympathetic side. She agreed to stay for a little while until Abba found someone else to help him. And as if that wasn’t enough, that night as we all sat around the dining area doing our homework, Zuleikha’s news was another curveball. A good change of events, but a change none-the-less. A change that the stubborn part of me didn’t want to come to terms with.

Being in her third year of teaching was Zuleikha’s dream, but now that she was getting older, Foi Nani had other hopes for her.

“I want to see some great grandchildren before I die,” she said in her no -nonsense voice, in response to Zuleikhas protests. Although she denied it, I had a feeling that Zuleikha secretly wanted to  get married too. She would keep saying taht she would never find the right husband, but in her heart of hearts, she wanted someone to whisk her away.

Her eyes were averted and her cheeks were flushed as the Ahmed family were due to arrive that breezy Sunday afternoon. It was a summery afternoon and excitement was in the air in our home for the first time in a long while. It was abuzz with activity and our nerves were on their wits end .

It wasn’t because of the expectant boys family. Foi Nani was behaving like she was getting married. Everything had to be perfect. I could get a whiff of her strong White Musk Itr that Mama had bought her on their Hajj trip years ago, as she came down the stairs.

“Ya Allah, I don’t know what they are going to think!” she exclaimed, her eyes wide and her voice pitch heightening with every moment that passed where Zuleikha wasn’t appearing to be the perfect granddaughter, wife and daughter-in-law, all at once.

She scanned Zuleikha with an inspecting eye, tactlessly disapproving of her scarf colour and making her change it four times before it was decent enough to get a small nod of approval. I shook my head as I watched them, wondering how this ‘mangu’ thing, as Foi Nani called it, was such a hefty event. Foi Nani was making a big deal about every detail. Do bigger boys really look at the colour of a scarf pin?

“All this effort…. If the boy is ugly I’m going to die,” Zuleikha muttered to me as she walked down the stairs for the last time, determined that she was not changing a single thing more.

Lucky Foi Nani was too busy setting the samoosas on the platter or she would have given her a repeat lecture of ‘looks are not the most important’. I had heard her telling Zuleikha that earlier on but I was wise enough to keep my mouth closed. Getting involved in Indian proposal politics was not a wise decision, especially when you had no experience of your own.

The buzzer rang and literally everyone started running around the house like mad people. Abba was making sure that he looked his best too, and Foi Nani was tying her dupatta for the umpteenth time just to make sure all her greying hair was all covered. Ahmed was teasing her. This happy event had brought out a playful side to him, although I didnt like all of it. He said she was trying too hard to look like a young Nani. Yunus was just smiling. It seemed like a long time ago that we had so much laughter in our home. I wished, a very silent wish, that we could be like this always. I wished Mama could see us too.

A single tear rolled down my cheek, and I hid my face away as Zuleikha’s pretty face glowed too with anticipation. With all her protests, I could tell she was still excited.

Although my insides were churning with mixed emotions, I had a smile pasted on my face as the guests  walked in, and so did everyone else. The first person to enter was a youngish girl, who I guessed was the sister. She looked nice. I could see her shy smile as we looked at her entering, but Foi Nani shooed is away quickly when she saw Ahmed staring and guided her into the lounge.

Next was a older looking man who I assumed was the father, and I wasn’t sure if he was just being respectful as he entered, or rude, but he walked straight ahead with not a word, following directions to the dining room. He was round and stern looking, but he looked like the type who had a good heart.

Third, came in the famous Yousuf that Foi Nani wanted for Zuleikha. I looked at him with interest, and I could tell Zuleikha was looking too. He had a long face, a small beard and the deepest dimpled smile I had ever seen. He had a very nice nose too, and he stood confidently for a few seconds before he was ushered away to the Dining area, where the other men were. He wore a simple kurta and I watched him scanning the room for a sneak pre-view of my sister just as he entered the men’s area.

Abba never really worried about keeping men and women separate, but with Foi Nani, it was a strict rule. Everyone was just getting ready to sit down when the last person finally entered  with a stern look on her face and an unreadable expression. We were waiting for her. I could see her examining our home probably for some kind of fault as she entered, and she pursed her lips as Foi Nani greeted her enthusiastically, determined not to even crack a smile. This lady, I could tell, was going to be a tough one to crack.

She looked around with an heir of arrogance, sitting down with a back straight and an elegant poise. Her daughter spoke easily and asked us questions about our school and Zuleikha’s studies, but her mother said nothing. Foi Nani tried to warm her up by offering her a variety of sweetmeats or impress her with cooking tips, but nothing seemed to work.

And as Zuleikha went off to talk to her prospective husband, I was forced to go around offering guests countless eats, even though I wondered how much these people would be able to ingest. Ahmed was looking at me and snickering, and I was getting so mad that I wanted to kick him. My fingers were sore from all the trays I had to carry, but I didn’t complain. I was just getting annoyed that Ahmed was sitting there like a recluse with no inclination whatsoever to help. Even Yunus was helping to take drinks.

I stuck out my tongue at him as I passed him in the passage, and he gave me a fake smile back, with a condescending glare. It made me so angry that I stuck out my hand to push him back, hoping to hurt him in the process. He jumped back as he saw me reach out for him, and instead of pushing him, my own balance wavered and I could feel my legs crumble beneath me. I tried to hold the tray straight, but it was to no avail. Both the tray and my clumsy body toppled to the ground, right at the entrance of the lounge. I was absolutely mortified!

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, but I tried to hastily clean up the contents that lay on the floor as Foi Nani and Yousuf’s sister came rushing to help me. Ahmed had conveniently disappeared, and the other lady sat as she was seated, with no intention of moving anywhere. I just hoped that this wouldn’t cause it for Zuleikha. I looked up at her, but contrary to my fears, there was actually a crack of a smile on her face. Maybe my little stunt had actually brought out her sense of humour.

“Are you okay?” she asked me kindly, and I immediately felt bad for judging this woman who I thought was a bit horrible at first.

I nodded and smiled, relieved at the turn of events. The rest of the afternoon was looking a little less hopeless, and I smiled to myself a little prematurely, thinking that this was going to be it. Everything was going to be perfect! Zuleikha would get married and it would be happily ever after.

Well, it was just a simple case of counting chickens before they hatch, because no sooner had I given Zuleikha a thumbs up and a dazzling smile to show my ambitious hopes, did we hear a huge noise outside the front door. At first I thought something had fallen, but as the front door was literally kicked open, and a purple wedged boot appeared in my view, I immediately knew that something game-changing was going to occur from this point on.

Aunty Nas had gatecrashed this party, and it was not going to be pretty.

The Red Box

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah

Nothing happens without purpose.

No move. No change. No transformation. Nothing. Not even broken spirits and shattered hearts.

The thing is, every setback is a sign for us.  A change in the path is a sign for us. A sudden death is a sign for us. Broken hearts, too, are a sign for us.

These are all signals that something has to change.  That the very fact that pain exists, is a pointer to where our attachments lie, and what needs to change.

Emotional pain reminds us that we need to detach. That we may have to break free of the shackles that are binding us to this duniya. And the more this world hurts. And hurts. And hurts. The more it hurts, the more we keep our distance.  The more we move towards the eternal fulfillment.

And the path to the purest fulfillment, though necessary, can be painful too.

“I’m sorry, Khawlah,” Khalid said again, and I looked at him in confusion, not understanding what’s the big deal.

“Papa says he’s sending me to the madrassa two hours from here. I won’t come home very often. And they don’t allow girls there either. He said we shouldn’t play together anymore.”

I cocked my head to one side, not really believing what I was hearing. Khalid was going away? And on top of it all, when he would come back, I wouldn’t be able to see him anymore?

I didn’t understand.

“Papa says we are gone too big now,” he continued, sounding like an recording machine. “And boys and girls are not supposed to be friends.”

I could tell he was just robotically repeating everything his Papa said. I only met his Papa twice before but I already didn’t like him. How dare he take my best friend away from me? 

Khalid was supposed to be my forever friend. I didnt know what the problem was with boys and girls being friends. I wasn’t completely naive at that age. I had heard friends talking and seen the stuff on the TV Aunty Nas watched. Maybe Khalid’s Papa was worried about that?

I felt a funny feeling in my stomach.

“I’m sorry Khawlah,” he said, looking at me now with glazed eyes. He looked sad too. Even though Khalid wasn’t the same, he was still my friend. And I would definitely miss him. This was so … terminal.

There was a voice in the distance. It sounded like his mother but I wasn’t sure.

”I have to go,” Khalid said, shifting around now, his shoulders slumping a little more.

I nodded, because I didn’t know what else to say.

Khalid!” The voice rang out from the back part of the house now, and we knew he was being called back.

“I have to go, but maybe I’ll see you before I leave,” he said hurriedly, shifting his feet and turning around to leave. He paused for a few seconds, and then turned back and pulled something out from under his jacket.

It was a paper bag, and I could see there was something a little hard in it.

“Mummy sent this for you,” he said in his croaky voice, giving me a half, almost apprehensive smile and then turning around again to go back to his home once again.

The packet was slightly warm from being concealed under Khalid’s jacket. I held onto it, keeping it close to my thudding chest, letting its warmth comfort me.

My heart sunk a little lower as I processed everything that happened. The hole in my gut seemed to expand as I covered the seeds I had planted, and located a bottle to fill some water. I loved planting but I wasn’t in the mood anymore.

I trudged back home with a heavy heart, feeling betrayed by life and angry at the world. I had lost my mother. Our father was barely around. And now, the one constant in my life was going to be lost too, forever.

This wasn’t fair. I was only 11. Why did I feel like I had the burdens of the world on my tiny shoulders?

I wished I had some place to bury my fears. At that tender age I didn’t know much about talking to Allah. Mama had always said I could, but I had forgotten her wise words.  I had forgotten that Allah knew every single whisper of my bleeding heart. I had forgotten that a Muslim does not complain to anyone but Allah. I had forgotten where to place my hopes and wishes. I needed someone to remind me that He is always there.

Allah says: ‘fa Inna Qareebun’

‘Truly, I am near.’ (Holy Quran: 2:186)

I slammed the back door as I entered, making my way up the stairs in a huff. I didn’t even greet Aunty Agnus as she smiled at me, because I was angry at her too. For what reason, I didn’t know. I just wanted to be angry and show it too. Thankfully, Aunty Nas was not there. That would have been the cherry on the top.

“Hey, Khawlah.”

I looked up as I entered my room, and was pleasantly surprised to see my elder sister there, smiling at me with her pretty eyes twinkling.

She looked like she was getting ready to go out. I studied her with curiosity, noticing her slightly smudged eyeliner and her berry coloured lipstick. She wore her scarf in a turban style, with her neck exposed, and I could see her eyebrows were shaped wven from where I stood. Her long nails were painted red in that new nail polish that some girls at school wore. They said it was okay to use when you made Salah. I wasn’t too sure.

Since I had turned 11, somehow I noticed finer details a little more. And although my sister looked pretty, there was just something artificial about her that I was wary about. She gave me a little bit of the feeling that Aunty Nas always did, and a sneaky feeling of judgement crept into my thoughts. Mama wouldn’t have liked how she looked right now. She would have probably made her change.

“Where are you going?” I asked her inquisitively.

She frowned slightly, looking confused.

“Nowhere,” she said, matter-of-fact. “ I just got home. What’s wrong with you?”

She scrutinized my forlorn expression. Her own face brightened and she rushed to her bedside dresser.

“I have something to show you,” she said, looking excited.

She silently removed a red box and left it on the bed, beckoning for me to have a look while she opened it.

We slowly lifted the lid, and I almost gasped as I saw the contents.

It was the red velvet box full of Mama’s jewelery, and  in it was also the little furniture that Hannah had taken all that while ago. My heart swelled with joy as I saw that, reaching out to feel the little pieces of carved wood. It reminded me of Mama.

Zuleikha slapped my hand away and shut the box.

“You can’t take it!” She said, shaking her head crossly. “What if she sees it? Aunty Nas can never know!”

I looked at Zuleikha, confused. Aunty Nas? What does she have to do with this? It belonged to Mama, not her.

”I heard Foi Nani talking to Abba the other day,” Zuleikha said, in a hushed voice. “I think Abba wants Aunty Nas to go.”

I was still confused. Did she mean like forever? Like divorce?

Divorce wasn’t a nice thing. I heard a bout it in madrassa. Allah didn’t like it. I had also heard about it from one of the boys in school. He asked me why my mother didn’t stay with us. He asked if my parents were divorced. I told him to mind his own business.

“Why?” I asked, as if I didn’t know how horrible she was.

Zuleikha shrugged, and used an ugly word as she spoke. It kind of summed up her true feelings on the matter. She didn’t like her. I wasn’t sure if any of us did. Not even Aunty Agnus.

I was still holding the brown paper bag in my hand, and although I was still sad about losing my friend, I was excited about the gift. It was the silver lining.

I sat on my lilac duvet cover and braced myself for the contents of the packet. The lump in my throat was still there, but there was a slightly accelerated anticipation as I tore the bag open, eager to peep inside.

It was at that moment when I heard a shrill shriek from downstairs, and my hands froze.

“It must have been you!”

The voice was ugly, loud and intrusive.

It belonged to Aunty Nas. I didn’t even know she had come. Zuleikha and I looked at each other, wide-eyed with shock.

Both of us were here, so what on earth was going on? I just hoped that she wasn’t fighting with Foi Nani again. That wouldn’t be nice at all.

We raced to the top of the stair, trying to see over the ballistrade, our eyes searching for the recipient of her screams. Aunty Agnus stood at the bottom of the stairs with a fearful look on her face, tears in her eyes and we didn’t envy her.

”You took it, didn’t you?!” She accused her. Her voice was patronizing, her eyes wide with fury and her finger was pointing at her newest target.

Aunty Agnus was shaking her head fiercely. It was a terrible accusation.

No, missus!” she almost cried. “I’m not stealing!”

Aunty Nas’s eyes narrowed as she stared her down, not backing off.

“It was in my cupboard, and now it’s not there!” She shouted, her eyes flashing angrily. She put her hands up, annoyed at the no response she was getting.

Aunty Agnus was silent, but she was trembling.

“You just wait!” She said after a few seconds, her expression changing again. She had a slight smirk on her face, and her arms were crossed over her chest.

“When boss comes, and I tell him,” she said, almost sadistically. “You’ll see. He’ll send you away and you’ll never come back!”



Dear readers,

I am so sorry about the delayed post. Due to a family death I could not get a post together sooner. I will try and post regularly this week. Hope everyone is enjoying the read. InshaAllah it will be beneficial.

Much love

A xx

Strange Behaviour

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah: One year later

“Khawlah.”

The voice was mild, but still piercing. I frowned as I heard my name being called, half annoyed and half anxious about the repercussions it may bring. I didn’t move.

Khawlah!

Her voice changed it’s tone as it got louder. A bit like a shrill bell ringing. Aunty Nas was sitting on the couch with her head back and her legs up, peering at me expectantly as I approached. I could see her manicured toes. I scowled.

“Don’t do that to your face,” she spat, clearly irritated. “You look like a devil.”

I frowned at her, wondering why she called me to her. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say. I don’t know why she just didn’t go away. I supposed she wanted to be there because my father stayed with us.

Sometimes I wished that he’d also go and stay somewhere else, so I wouldn’t have to look at this annoying woman.

I put my hands on my hips and pursed my lips, waiting for her to talk. She raised her shaped eyebrows and looked at me up and down.

“You’re filthy.”

She stared at me, not impressed by my dressing. Of course, I wore my oldest jeans and my white sand shoes. We had just finished playing outside. Of course we would be dirty.

I rolled my eyes as I turned around, eager to escape her gaze.

The woman was strange and she made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t think it was possible for me to even feel more weird, but Aunty Nas always had a way to make a situation worse.

“Were you playing with that boy again?” she said suddenly, causing me to stop and look at her again.

If I was rude I knew Abba wouldnt be happy. I had to be tolerant, as hard as it was.

“That boy,” I said, turning and looking at her again, with a hint of irritation in my voice. “He has a name.”

“Don’t you think you’re getting a little too old for all these boy games?” she asked, looking at me condescendingly. She thought for a few seconds before she continued, in a sing-song voice.

“Unless you’ll are playing other games…”

She was silent for a few seconds, and then suddenly burst into shrieks of uncontrolled laughter. It was more like a vicious cackle.

At that moment, I honestly doubted that this woman had even an iota of sanity within her. She was that crazy. I wasn’t even sure what she was talking about.

For all I knew, she was probably comparing me to her Hannah who acted like she was 21 insead of just 11.

WIth her posh accent, double straightened hair and cherry lip gloss, that girl was really something. My friend Faaiza from school didn’t even believe that she was our age. Sometimes I felt the same way.

Aunty Nas’s strong perfume was toxic. Abba was doing really well in business and she didn’t miss out.  This woman made sure she had the latest of everything, and I could just tell it was expensive  stuff.

I shook my head and started backing out of the room.

Little did my step mother know, Khalid barely played with us any more. It was mostly Yunus and I, and sometimes one of his friends who lived close by.

What was more strange was the fact that Khalid’s mother would seem happy about it. She said we were always welcome there, even if we wanted to play in the garden, but many a time, Khalid wouldn’t join us. When I finally did see him a few days back, his behaviour was so odd that I actually wished he would go back to his house. He was acting so strange.

I shook my head to myself as I walked up the stairs to my room, taking off the takkies I had been wearing. My cap was fading from the rays of the sun hitting on it, and my arms were extremely tanned. I could see that summer was not far off, and inwardly I was delighted. The holidays were my favourite part of the year.

Yunus was still outside with his friend, and I enjoyed the peace inside as I lay back and took out my favourite book. It was a book that Khalid’s Mummy had gifted me last year, about a little girl who had lost her mama. It was such a perfect gift for a girl like me, because I could relate so well. The most important lesson was that in the end, she found Allah.

I had come a long way from where I had been… but every time I read it, I wanted to be closer to my Creator. I remembered Mama saying that He was always the most important. No matter what. No matter who. He was always there. He remained.

When they slept, He was awake. When they broke, He carried you. When no one else was there, He was. He remained. He always remains. Remember that always, Khawlah. Remember that. Remember Who you owe everything to. 

I jumped out of my bed, not wanting to dwell any longer. I had to show it too.

”Yunus!” I screamed out the window. “It’s nearly dark. You have to come in!”

It was Maghrib time. The time when our crazy household would somehow come to a temporary standstill, and we would all pray.

At least one prayer a day for now, Mama would say when I was six. And though I tried to read more as I got older, I never fully understood the importance of it. About how I should never miss even a single one. About how it cleanses your heart and soul too, when you pray.

Khalid had taught me a lot of what I knew, but how I wished I had a mother to help me with the important things. Zuleikha was so scarce these days.

The holiday, as always whizzed by, but the warm summer days left us with unforgettable memories. Abba had taken us away for a few days, and we were ecstatic at the break without my step mother.

I wasn’t sure what he told her but when we returned, she didn’t look very pleased. I would hear the arguments, but I didn’t want to dwell on it. Abba knew that we weren’t thrilled with Aunty Nas and he was just trying to keep the peace.

Once again, towards the latter part of the holiday as I heard an argument escalate, I escaped through the back door, entering Khalid’s garden gate with a sunken heart. She said such ugly words sometimes.

I loved my Abba but I didn’t like to see him unhappy. I feared that we were making his life hard. Was all this our fault? 

I grabbed a garden tool from the shed, delving into the moist sand and letting the fingers of my other hand revile in its beauty. I fell in love with nature all over again as I sat there. I was thrilled by the fact that the soil was so dark and wet. There was so much of opportunity. So much of potential. It gave me so much of hope.

“Khawlah.”

I looked up, a little startled by the intrusion. The voice sounded a bit different, but I still knew it.

Khalid.

I looked up at him, frowning slightly as I tried to guard my gaze from the afternoon sun. He realised, and came around to the other side of me, smiling slightly as he bent down, letting his own hands toil with the topsoil. He knew that it was the perfect planting opportunity too.

“You have any seeds?” I asked him, tucking into the sand with fervour, and enjoying every bit.

He shrugged.

“Maybe in the shed,” he said in his croaky voice, but he didn’t move to fetch them. I frowned.

I was doing all the work here, couldn’t he at least get something? Why did he even come here?

I stood up forcefully, dropping the tool on the ground with a clank. I wanted to whack him on the head with the spade, but I restrained myself.

Pushing the door of the garden room, I grabbed a pack of seeds from the shelf and tore them open. I ran back and sprinkled some in the hole I had dug, reaching out to grab the garden tool again.

Khalid was thinking along the same lines as me, and also extended his hand at the same time to take the spade. I didn’t think much of it then but as I tightened my grip to show him whose boss, Khalid pulled his hand back in haste, almost as if he had been stung. It was so strange, and as I turned to him with a questioning look, I saw him shake his head and swallow hard, almost as if he was scared.

“Khalid, what is wrong with you?!” I blurted out, studying him for the first time in weeks.

I noticed tiny hairs above his lip, and his facial features had become more pronounced. His eyes were even more cat-like than they had previously been, and I could definitely see a change in his height. Khalid wasn’t Khalid.

“Sorry,” he muttered, almost under his breath. He frowned slightly, fiddling with his fingers as if he was nervous.

Nervous. This was so strange. Why on earth would he be nervous?

“I need to tell you something Khawlah,” he started. I looked back at him, trying to be neutral. I knew something was building up. What was this big secret that he couldn’t divulge for so long?

“But please, Khawlah,” he continued. “I know I should have told you long ago. Please don’t be angry.”

 

 

Good Old Days

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah

Abba looked at Zuleikha sharply, and his expression changed as he processed what she had said. Marriage? 

She was serious. There was not a glint of humour in her amber eye. The trait of my elder sister was that she had the amazing ability to make others just… well, succumb.

Abba needed her. He needed her to be there. Even though he had married Aunty Nas, he knew that he didn’t want to force her out of the family home. Not like this.

When Mama had died, she had been the foundation that formed our home, and kept it stable. Although she was still young, she understood the enormity of three younger siblings, and the burden that my father carried. She cared for us like a mother would, and took over chores that my father couldn’t find the strength to. She matured at an amazing rate and carried herself in a manner far beyond her years. No-one could question the value of my elder sister.

“Okay,” my father said, nodding now. He didn’t ask her who she will marry. He didn’t ask her anymore. Maybe he should have.

I could see that he was thinking. This was a lot for little minds to process. We had lost our mother. We had partially lost our father. We didn’t want our sister to go.

My sister stood straight with her chin out, stubbornly staring my father down and waiting for him to speak again. Her olive skin made her amber eyes seem even more stark, and her eyebrows furrowed slightly just the way my fathers did. The pair of them were so much alike at that moment, I found it hard to believe that they were not seeing eye-to-eye.

She was not backing down on her threat, even as my father seemed to relent.

“We will stay here,” he said finally, his hands tiredly running through his hair.

He got up and looked at us all, probably wondering how everything had gotten to be this way. My father’s tanned skin looked drawn and his eyes was sunken. Although he tried to obscure it in his dress, he was definitely aging in a way that was not so graceful. Abba was getting old, and acting it too.

“Abba, can we go to the park tomorrow?” Yunus asked, his eyes suddenly lighting up. He saw an opportunity and he didn’t want to miss it.

“Okay,” Abba said, without even a batter of an eyelid. Maybe he was feeling bad. I didn’t realised it, but guilt was settling in as he stood and looked at the kids he had left to bring themselves up. Well, that’s how I saw it, even at that tender age.

”Abba,” I blurted out now, seeing an opportunity too and not able to keep it in any longer. The guilt was consuming me too. Was this my fault?

“I’ll be better, okay? Please don’t make us all leave,” I cried, my eyes were burning as i tried to hold back the tears.

What would I do? I wouldn’t have my friend Khalid down the road. Our lives would change. Everything would just be so messed up. The simplicity of a nearly nine-year-old caught my father off-guard.

My father’s mouth turned up at the corners, and he shook his head at me.

That was my Abba. That was precisely how I remembered him. Not the harsh, unapproachable version that had become Aunty Nas’s husband. I liked the obliging, hopeful, and always cheerful one that kept our family going. The Abba That would surprise us with a pack of jelly tots late at night. That would whisk us off after bed-time, with a complete disregard for Mama’s rules. He was the fun parent. I missed that.

“Alright,” he said, his eyes sparkling. It was like the light within him had been switched on again. He seemed so much more alive.

“Tomorrow we will go out. And tomorrow we will be like the old days with ‘the gang.’”

I forgot about the antics of the afternoon then as my heart expanded in my chest, excited about the upcoming day. Abba was true to his word and took us out the next day. He seemed to give us more attention than the past few weeks during the months that followed.

True to his word, the mention of the other house dint come up again. I remembered the arguments that followed that day, accompanied by hushed whispers and disgruntled voices, but being so young, I brushed in under the carpet and carried on with my childish day-to-day life.

Every day would bring a new adventure, and though we seemed to sometimes collide, I found my step mother and sister not home as often as they usually would be. In keeping the  peace, my father had split his former family and his new one, and that way, there was much less conflict. And of course, they got the new house.

It was only one day, when I ran from outside into the house that I realised how much had been going on behind the scenes. I climbed up the little ledge on the kitchen skirting, trying to each for a glass to get some water. I could hear the voices in the passage, but I ignored them until I heard Zuleikha.

“Thats not yours,” she said, in an acid voice.

”Well, she doesn’t know it, and we are just borrowing it,” my stepmother said, her ugly voice even colder than usual. “We’re not stealing it. And you better keep quiet before I tell your father about your Mister with the red BMW.”

I froze as I listened, trying to figure out what they were talking about.

“You can’t just come in here and act like you own this house,” Zuleikha said, her voice icy. “It doesn’t belong to you, and we don’t deserve this. You’re not my mother so don’t try to threaten me-“

Zuleikha!”

It was Foi Nanis voice that came from somewhere further than where the pair of them stood, and I too got an enormous shock as I heard her. I didn’t even know she was around.

The glass dropped from my hands, and as it crashed to the ground all the voices ceased. The footsteps scurried to the kitchen where I stood, shattered glass around me and a guilty look on my face.

Aunty Nas stared at me as she usually did, with complete dismay, while Foi Nani put her hand to her mouth in shock, obviously disturbed about what the nine-year-old ears might have heard. Zuleikha was nowhere to be seen.

Now don’t get me wrong. Aunty Nas was not the best person for me in my childhood years, but it didn’t mean that she was ugly on the outside too. She was actually a very attractive woman who kept herself physically on top on things. But as a child, Mama had taught me a very important lesson as I would gaze into the mirror and admire my own aesthetic beauty.

Character. Beautiful character. That was what truly mattered.

It was the greatest asset a person could ever have. I remembered her  words so clearly, the day I got into trouble for making another girl cry after she picked on me. I sought revenge. It was a trait I tried hard to break.

“It’s not about how people look, Khawlah,” Mama had said wisely. “It’s about the inside. About how you treat other people. You have to be good to everyone, not just the people you like. People may forget what to say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

And of course, she would, as always, tell me about the Hadith of Nabi (SAW), and bring to like the beauty of his character in a completely differing perspective. Mama knew these thing and she always pushed us to learn it too. Though I missed her every day, it was one thing that I missed most about her. The fact that she just made us want to be better people. It was things like this that you couldn’t learn in books. It is the very deed that will lead people to enter Paradise the most.
When the Prophet ﷺ was asked about which act leads people to enter Paradise the most, he replied, “Piety and good character.” (Sunan Ibn Maajah)

I ran out of the kitchen as fast as I could that day, back outside to where Yunus was waiting for me. Khalid was supposed to be there too but ever since his Aunty had bought him that PlayStation thing, he had been getting more and more scarce. It was like we had to drag him out of the house. I tut tutted as I walked down the oath to his house, shaking my head and complaining mercilessly about my friend.

I didn’t realize that Khalid was now entering another zone of his life, maybe even early adolescence. He was a full year older than me and my own mind was too naive to understand the changes that were taking place. His mother came to the door with her usual smile, beaming at us both with enthusiasm, and telling us to get Khalid out of the house to have some outdoor fun.

I simply loved her. There was just something amazing about her character that just drew people to her. The cherry on the top was that her smile was infectious.

I raced through to the lounge, knowing I would catch my friend there.

“Khalid, this is so boring!” I complained as I sat on the edge of the couch and watched him dart from side to side as he tried to aim at something with the remote controls.

“That is so cool!” Yunus said in contrast, as he fixed his gaze on the screen, his eyes wide with eagerness as he watched every move Khalid made. I shook my head and rolled my eyes at them both. This was simply torturous.

Boy stuff. Ugh.

“Five minutes, Khawlah,” Khalid said as he turned and looked at me, trying to assess how annoyed I was. He gave me a small buttering-up smile and then turned to play again, with Yunus at his side. I sighed.

Maybe we were getting too old to play outside. Why did I feel like everything was different? How had everything changed so quickly? Even Khalid was starting to look different. Was something wrong?

The five minutes lasted about 15 more, and I sulked in a corner as they finished, reluctantly getting up as Khalid gestured to me to come with them.

“Let’s go up,” Yunus said, and I got up ready to follow.

“Outside, please, my darlings,” Aunty Radiyyah said, her smile not wavering. “I’m sure you’ll know that us Mummies get worried about the mess in the rooms.”

I wanted to tell her that we knew all about it. I sometimes I felt like I couldn’t even breathe in the house, leave alone mess.

When Aunty Nas was around I did my best to disappear. I didn’t know that Aunty Radiyyah had ulterior motives for sending us outside. In her adult wisdom she knew the harms of indoor activities at our age. Though not yet teenagers, our childish innocence was dwindling away.

We made up a fun game with a soccer ball, a net and a few beacons we found outside. I had always been the Tom-boy type and although I found myself slowly outgrowing it, for Khalid, I would sacrifice my girlishness. It just went without saying. Even though I had recently befriended a new girl in school who I had really come to like, I treasured my friendship with Khalid because it had always been my security. I thought that we would be that way forever. I didn’t know that our days were numbered.

Yes, I hated the dust and perspiration as we played, with the hot sun beating down on us from above, but it’s what made it all the more exciting.

The endurance. It was both exhilarating yet exhausting, and we finally took a break as we sat on the tarred pavement outside the house, just soaking up the blazing winter sun and chatting about our ambitions. It was rainbow smiles and sheer bliss. The life I knew I would always miss.

This was before it all changed. From dreams of building the fanciest of tree houses to comparing the high hopes we had. From childish banter to actual serious chatter… The problems of the wide world were far fetched for us. I couldn’t help but allow myself to get lost in the moments, living in them as if they would never end.

For now, all I knew was that I had passed. I had passed the biggest tests that life threw at me. It was a childhood that I would never forget, but was made so unforgettable by the little things of beauty that I woke up for every day. Those were the days of our life… the good old days.

The days I would never forget.


Dear readers

Shukran to all for the comments and feedback. I know the story may be a bit sad and I apologise in advance if there are any more depressing parts. But please remember that I always aspire to have a good ending so Insha Allah, it will be, with lots of lessons to be learnt. Always appreciate the feedback.

P.S. Are posts too long? Too boring?

Just checking 🌸

Much Love

A xx