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 🌸 


“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.

7 thoughts on “Far from Pretty

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