Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem
My heart was racing with trepidation as I climbed expertly onto the rooftop tiles, trying to steady myself as I walked over the bumpy parts of the roof of our almost-half-a-century-old house.
I grabbed the ledge as I tried to slide down the flatter part of the kitchen roof, hoping that no-one would hear the trudging from above. It was just about a meter distance to the wendy house roof from there, and then I was free. I then I would be out.
I had done it before. It wasn’t rocket science.
It might have been impulsive but there was not an ounce of regret within me.
In my mind, although I knew that others may not approve, I truly believed that I deserved it.
This was my freedom. This was my release. This was my reward for being so good.
I touched down and ran as fast as I could to the gate, Yunus quick in pursuit. I had to do what I needed to do. Abba would understand.
He half skipped with elation, obviously ecstatic that I was out too. The fun times would be back. But first, we needed to do some serious investigation.
I hounded Yunus about what happened all the way to the purple house.
It was so quick and Khalid didn’t listen, he said. All I knew was that we needed to get Khalid out.
My heart yearned to see my friend again, after the extended break, and as I passed the purple house I noticed the rickety gate half open, almost waiting for someone to enter again. But was I going to take a chance?
I paused on the opposite of the road, looking from Yunus to the gate, thinking about my next move very carefully.
I pushed the rickety gate open a little more with the tip of my finger, lifting my leg up to go in, and then pulling it back again.
Should I go through? Should I not?
I placed my shaky foot down, unable to control the slight trembling I felt. I was scared. Very scared.
“Khalid!” I shouted now, even my voice not steady.
That was Yunus from outside the gate, trying his own luck. Maybe it would help. I paused for a few seconds on the cobble stoned path that led to the house, looking at it taunting me.
Dont do it, something told me. Don’t go in.
I shook my head.
But it was Khalid, I thought to myself. He Is the only friend I had.
I took another step onto the broken path, trying to pluck up the courage to take another. It was a fierce battle within my inner being, but I finally made my way to the step of the battered house, now able to see the finer details of the forlorn house. It was even more delapidated than it appeared from far. It had several broken frames and a blanket of grey dust that had settled on all the window sills.
It was just just two steps and I could reach the door. Just two.
Two more, I prompted myself as I slowly climbed up, not anticipating the sudden cries of the hadidahs above me that made me jump. I shuddered with the shock.
And as if that was not enough, just as I got the courage to lift my leg up once again, my heart jumped to my mouth as a clammy hand grabbed mine, causing me to yelp with terror.
”Aaaaaah!” I screamed, clearly terrified by the sudden intrusion. I was ready to get out of there, but I couldn’t free myself ftom the grasp.
I turned my face instantly because not only was I taken by complete surprise by this unanticipated turn of events, but I was about to fall in a really bad way if I didn’t balance myself to keep steady. The person was dragging me away from the steps, back in the direction of the road, and I almost resisted until I realised.
It was only when I heard the voice did everything click into place. Floods of relief filled my chest as my mind immediately eased.
“Don’t go in, Khawlah,” Khalid said, his tone serious and his grip firm. We finally reached the road side again, and I spun around and shook my arm out of his grasp.
I looked at him squarely as I stood on tip toes, half shaking and half furious, frisky, because of his silly tactics, and secondly, his spontaneous intrusion.
Boy, was I glad it was only him. I’ve never been so glad to see my friend in my entire childhood.
I clenched my fists as I stared him down, ready to give him an enormous telling-off, just because of him taking the hugest risk in childhood history by daring to take on the purple house. Only the flicker of terror in his eyes stopped me as I watched him, and it slowly subsided whilst Yunus and I tried to figure out our next move.
Khalid was brave. Like a warrior even at that age. But my mind was racing.
The purple house. It was still a mystery. A mystery that wouldn’t be solved for a long time.
What had happened all this while? Why was Khalid looking like he had been through war and back?
”Let’s just go,” he said, shaking his head and walking towards his house.
Yunus followed after a few seconds, and as he turned back and noticed me still idle, he called out.
“Come Khawla, I have something to show you.”
That was all it took for me to give up my overbearing and motherly-type of interrogative tactic. I slumped my shoulders, digested my childish pride, and followed Yusuf and Khalid to his house.
We walked a little faster than usual, and as we reached, I had already forgotten about the little escapade. Little minds forgot little things in little time.
He entered his house with a big salaam, a huge voice and a certain bounce in his step. I remembered Khalid always telling me about this big salaam to make whenever we enter the house. He said that it chased the Shayateen away. I didn’t stop to think that maybe the salaam he made this time was bigger because of his encounter with the purple house.
Whatever it was, he was almost back to normal and Yunus and I were ready for a new adventure.
What Khalid had to show me sounded so much more interesting, and somehow, it was easy to divert the mind of an eight year old. Khalid’s house was always filled with new and interesting things.
My mind immediately eased as I stepped in, and somehow, as we entered, I could literally feel the radiance within. It was like there was a certain light that existed ther, in this simple home… one that had been absent from our own home for so long.
I embraced it with a fervor that had been suppressed within me, living every bit of vibrance that this was bringing. It was wholesome. Fresh. So real and organic.
“Wa- alaikumus salaam. Yunus and Khawlah!”
The familiar voice boomed from the other end of the passage as we entered it, and I smiled as soon as I heard her.
Khalids mother was the most beautiful soul I had contact with since my mother had died. I loved her to bits. Besides that, I couldn’t help but give them all a cheek-splitting smile when she said my name.
“My darling, how are you?!” She cooed as she came closer, embracing me in the most cushioned hugs.
She was an easy-going, round and dynamic woman with Egyption culture, an Arab accent and South African charm. I simply loved her combination.
“Beautiful Khawlah,” she boomed in her melodious voice, as she released me and looked carefully at me, trying to see beyond the refined, almost robotic expression I usually wore.
Her expression softened as she looked at me, a little more carefully.
”Are you okay, darling?” She asked, now looking slightly perplexed.
I nodded, maybe a little bit too eagerly, not wanting to give away too much of my private life and feelings.
I had become used to the feelings of inadequacy that had brewed. I just didn’t know that they showed so much.
“Come, Khawlah!” Khalid urged, obviously not in the mood for his mothers interference. He was on a roll. She ignored him and continued.
“Whatever you need, just remember that we are here,” she finally said. “Now did Khalid show you what we got for you’ll?”
“That’s what I wanted to do all this time while you’ll were making yap and yap,” scowled Khalid, clearly not impressed.
His mother wasn’t impressed either and she gave him a stern look. He shook his head and stalked off.
He was showing off, she said, winking at me in a playful way, just to show she wasn’t really angry.
Khalid’s mother smiled, nudging me in his direction to see what he was talking about. I actually couldn’t wait to see what this big surprise was.
I entered the room, almost expecting some kind of explosion as I entered. It was strangely anti-climatic, but I paused as I entered, thinking that maybe I had missed something.
I hadn’t been to Khalid’s house that many times but I more or less knew what had been in this room. My eyes settled in a small box in the corner of the room, and I knew almost immediately that this was it.
I sucked in my breath as I saw Yunus leaning over it. Khalid grinned at me from where he stood now, just behind the box, gesturing for me to come closer. He scrunched his nose and grinned in the famous way he always does when he is excited about something, and I immediately knew that this was something big for him.
I inched my way closer, almost hesitantly, until I saw within the box three little fluffy balls. I was a bit baffled at first, but as Khalid bent over to pick them up, my heart burst with excitement.
Oh my goodness!
Kittens! Khalid had bought kittens!
“One is yours,” he said simply, holding the little ball of fur carefully and turning it so I could see it’s face. The eyes of the grey kitten matched my friends almost exactly, and in my childhood humor, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
“It looks just like you!” I squealed in excitement, and Khalid and Yunus both grinned back.
”Khawlah, we already decided that you can have that one,” Yunus said, in his soft voice. “We both think it’s the best of the lot.”
It clearly was. It’s fur was fluffier that the other two, and the little stripes it wore on its back were more pronounced than the other two. The ginger kittens were pretty, but this charcoal grey one was my favourite. I just wanted to cuddle it and hold it tight. It was so cute. So so cute.
I slowly took it from Khalid, cradling it the way you would a baby, never wanting to let it go. It purred softly.
”It’s purring,” I smiled with delight, clearly understanding this sign as a good one. This kitten was meant for me. It was mine. I was thrilled.
I hugged the creature to my chest, feeling all fuzzy and warm inside, just like the kitten.
“You can take two of you like,” Khalid said to us kindly, looking just as excited as we were.
We played with the kittens for a little more, and the afternoon passed by faster than I wanted. Before we knew it, it was time to go back home. Abba had made it a rule that we bath and change before he gets home. Aunty Agnus would be waiting for us.
I got up slowly as Aunty Radiyyah called us from the door. It was time for Khalid to get ready for the evening too. Yunus and I both looked at each other with a knowing glance, both of us not wanting to go back home. We were beginning to depise the environment that waited for us. The fact that we would take the kitten back home with us made it a tiny bit better.
I trudged our the door with Yunus in pursuit, holding the basket that Khalid’s Mummy had given us for the kitten with both hands. We walked briskly, glancing at the purple house as we passed once again, and realising that I had forgotten all about Khalid and his attempted bravery.
He had seemed to recover fast enough from whatever he was running away from, but he said nothing more about it. It made me all the more curious but there wasn’t nothing I could do now.
I would nag him about it tomorrow, I thought to myself, not realizing that I would only find the truth out years later, when the antics of our childhood and the purple house would be buried by the realities of the brutal world we would encounter as we grew up.
I swung the back door open, basket I hand and Yunus in pursuit. We were careful not to make a big noise, and with the excitement of the afternoon, my childish mind had forgotten about the crime I had committed earlier on by escaping from my room. In my mind, it wasn’t a huge problem since a week was almost over. One day wouldn’t make a big difference, right?
I placed the basket down in the passage, and lifted the kitten out of the basket so I could show my other siblings our new addition. Aunty Radiyyah had said that I needed to ask Abba if it was okay, but I knew that he wouldn’t mind. Abba loved animals. I put my hands inside the basket and felt the soft fur against my skin. whilst Yunus set up the two feeding bowls that Khalid had given us in the kitchen.
I shouted for Zuleikha and Ahmed, thrilled about our new gift. I could hear someone coming down the stairs, and I looked up with a huge grin, only to be met with not only an unimpressed expression but also with the face of my nemesis who had returned from her little vacation.
Now, as a little girl, I never knew much about holding grudges and giving lots of attitude, although the process had sped up slightly over the next few years. For that moment, since I was in such a good mood, and genuinely elated, I was prepared to let bygones be bygones and move on. I grinned at Hannah in excitement, watching her watch me with a curious look on her face.
“See!” I said, holding up the little kitten, so she could have a look. “My friend Khalid gave her to me.”
It took a few seconds for her mind to process what I was holding, and she immediately let out a yelp and jumped back with a hand to her mouth.
“Euwww,” she said, scrunching her face up like I had shown her something disgusting. “Boys are so weird. Why would he give you a cat?”
What was up with this girl? Was she from another planet?!
I shook my head, stuck out my tongue and rolled my eyes at her. She pouted, and then narrowed her eyes. I knew she was about to do something spontaneous, and maybe even vindictive, but I wasn’t really sure what. I should have been on guard.
”Mu-um!” She shouted, so loudly she almost pierced my eardrums. Her squeaky voice sounded a bit like a mauling cat.
“Look who is back! And just come and look what she’s brought.”