This Little Girl

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem


I watched the new visitor carefully that night, noticing weird glances between her and my father, and already catching on to what was happening here. Abba was smiling a bit too much… a bit too happy, since Mama had died.

It wasn’t fair. He shouldn’t be smiling like that at this lady. I felt betrayed. Mama wouldn’t have liked all this.

“So are you in school, Khawlah?”

Attention turned to me as the newcomer asked me a question, and I merely nodded and went back to eating. I didn’t want to talk to the intruder.

After a long time, today we sat at the table and ate, whereas usually, our meals would be on the floor. It was something Mama made us do from the time Yunus was old enough not to collapse the entire layout, and we had kept to it since then. For the new visitors sake, Aunty Agnus lay the table today and Foi Nani had prepared a little extra than she usually would.

I had understood that Abba payed Foi Nani for the meals she brought for us every day, because I often would see Abba giving her envelopes every few weeks. Of course, now that we had a new adult in the house, I had assumed that Foi Nani and her food would stop coming.

She was Mama’s Aunty , and the only grandmother we ever knew. Mama’s own parents had passed away when she was very young, in a car accident, and Foi Nani had done a great job of looking after her. She had only one child herself who had now gone overseas to stay, so she was more or less alone. I supposed we were like the only family she had around.

“Khawlah,” Foi Nani’s voice said, in that warning tone that I knew very well.

It was okay though. Aunty Nasreen had moved on to Zuleikha now and I really wasn’t in the mood to talk.

“I want to be a teacher,” Zuleikha was saying, trying hard to be as polite as she could  to the possible intruder. I didn’t know why she was being nice.

She shouldn’t be making the lady feel welcome. I knew what was happening here. I’ve heard of these things before, when the Abbas find another mother. We were fine as we were. We didn’t need anyone else here.

”We’ve been exploring other careers at school too,” Zuleikha continued, whilst the intruder nodded. “But I feel teaching is so rewarding. Mama always said that.”

The intruder nodded carefully now, quickly and conveniently changing the topic and moving her gaze to my elder brother. It was like a series of unending questions here. I didn’t like this at all.

”And Ahmed, what grade are you in?” She asked sweetly.

“Grade four,” He said bluntly, continuing to eat.

She looked at Yunus now, trying to suss out my nearly seven-year-old brother. He was the sweetest of us all, and somehow, I felt entirely possessive over him, and completely responsible for him. At that moment, he was concentrating intensely on tearing up pieces of Roti and dipping them into the lamb curry. It was his favourite food.

”What do you like to play, Yunus?” She asked now, and I wondered how she knew all our names already. He looked up, slightly surprised.

“I play with Khawlah,” he said obviously, but not in a rude way. “She makes up different games every day. It’s fun.”

I shrugged nonchalantly whilst she looked at me again, feeling proud that my brother had complimented me. After all, it was my responsibility to take care of him. Mama had told me so.

“We play outside a lot,” I piped up, taking the opportunity to redeem myself for Foi Nani.

I didn’t care about the new lady. Foi Nani just mustn’t get cross with me, else would hear about it later. And boy, I really didn’t want that.

“My friend Khalid and I play together almost every day,” I continued. I pointed out the window. “He stays down the road in that house. He said he’s going to marry me when we are old enough.”

I didn’t notice the glances I got from Zuleikha as the adults tried to stifle their laughter. I didn’t see what was so funny. It was true.

It was just about a few months ago when Khalid and I were playing a game with stones, trying to hit a target, whilst we sat at the highest point on the jungle gym. He looked at me and asked me what I thought about married people.

I looked back at him with a frown, wondering why he would ask that. Marriage. I didn’t know much about it. I suppose it seemed okay.

“I think I’ll marry you,” he said afterward, all matter-of-fact. “If you don’t mind.”

”Okay,” I said, not knowing what else to say. It wasn’t awkward. I was too young to feel anything serious. It was a bit like a hurdle I wanted to overcome and get out of the way.

We sat there nonchalantly and looked down as Yunus played on the slide below us, swinging our legs over the edge of the jungle gym and enjoying the summer breeze giving us some relief from the scorching day.

”I’m not cooking though,” I said boldly,  knowing that wives usually took over that responsibility.

Maybe Foi Nani could cook for us and bring. I hated being in the kitchen. The outdoors was my element, and I preferred a mud kitchen any day. It’s just that we couldn’t exactly eat mud.

“I just want a huge treehouse and a big garden.”

It was always a dream to have a tree house. To keep it short, a treehouse was my dream house. Khalid didn’t have many demands to fulfill. He nodded eagerly, probably thinking he was lucky to get such a low maintenance wife.

“A garden, yes!” he announced, overflowing with excitement . “With lots of trees. And we’ll plant so many things! I’m going to plant every type of flower I can find. The coolest colors ever, Khawlah. You’ll see!”

He sounded ecstatic. He loved gardening, and that was one of the reasons we would get along so well, and just spend hours outside.

The amazing feel of fresh soil as we would dig into it, and the earthy scent that lingered and I so loved… gardening was one of my favourite hobbies. When I would see those first few sprouts peep out of the ground and admire its progress every day… that feeling of accomplishment for me, was unmatched. It was something like having my own little babies at that age… something I could nurture, take in and enjoy.

I never thought at that time how amazing the creation of my world and everything within it was. I never did have the knowledge of reviling in the beauty and splendor of what our Lord had so mercifully blessed us with. And that, of course, was where Khalid came in.

“Its so easy,” he said wisely. “Papa says: ‘if you make shukar to Allah, you are the King.’ Just say SubhaanAllah. And the world is at your feet.”

Khalid squinted into the sunlight as he thought about it and hummed to himself.

I nodded and he nodded too. He knew what I was getting at though.

What was the point of having fancy furniture and all those type of unnecessary things when you couldn’t even jump on them? A house was meant for living. For taking in. Enjoyment too, of course. Just not for display.

Abba cleared his throat now to break the somewhat humorous silence, and we all watched him as he spoke.

“I’m so glad that you’ll are all getting along,” he said, a little forcefully.

I narrowed my eyes slightly, forgetting that I was supposed to act a little more rigid. I had let my guard down a bit and I wasn’t happy about it.

We all looked at him expectantly. He didn’t say anything more but got up hastily and the intruder followed. My heart was beating a little faster because I knew that something strange was going on here. There was a big suitcase in the passage and the visitor didn’t look like she was going anywhere.

I could hear muffled voices, and finally Abba emerged with a feigned smiled on his face, measuring the risk of catching even one of us in a slightly off mood because he definitely wouldn’t want the repurcussions of that.

“Children,” he said, sitting down next to us, and I could tell he was trying to be extra confident. “You know I love you all. I want to give you’ll the best. Since your mother died it’s been very hard. I loved her and always will remember her. Aunty Nasreen will be here from now on to help us too from today. She will make things easier for me and -“

He stopped in mid sentence as the doorbell rang, and I blinked a few times wondering if I was hearing (and thinking) right. Was he saying this lady wasn’t going away? 

I couldn’t even think anymore because someone else’s voice down the passage caught my attention, and I couldn’t help but strain my neck to try and see the owner of it. A knock on the door was the diversion I needed to be finally freed from the curiosity that had gripped me like a plague. It felt like that, because not only was I curious, for some reason, terror gripped me too as I anticipated the worst.

The little girl stood in front of her mother, the intruder, and I just knew that she was not as she seemed. Sweet-cheeked and doe-eyed, she wasn’t a thing like me. Her stick straight hair was an abrupt contrast to my unruly locks, and her tiny nose was a little too dainty compared to my sharp features. But her mediocre height was spot on with mine, and although spotless in comparison to mine, her long fingers matched mine to the tee.

Little did I know that this little girl would turn out to be my sworn adversary.

5 thoughts on “This Little Girl

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