Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem
”Tell me, Khalid,” I said, letting my legs freely dangle below me, enjoying the soft breeze that caressed my skin. “Tell me about it. What did your father say?”
“About Jannah?” He asked, in his jolly voice. It was still childish. He was probably about 9 or 10 years old at the time.
“Ah, Khawlah,” He said, sounding defeated. “It’s hard to explain. Papa says it’s a beautiful place that the eyes haven’t ever seen and the mind can’t even imagine. All the words we ever know will be finished… and we still won’t be able to explain it.”
I frowned thoughtfully. That sounded deep.
I shifted slightly on the branch of the biggest tree that we had climbed, trying to get myself to a more comfy spot. I still wanted to know more. I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t satisfied. It was a yearning that came from within.
“But the gardens, Khalid,” I insisted. “I want to know about the gardens.”
”Oh, that easy,” he said, with newly found wisdom. “Jannah is full of gardens, Khawlah. Huge trees. Flowers, roses, orchards… you name it. Even banks of pearls and gold! And Khawlah, you know what’s the best part? No-one will scold you if you pick them!”
I grinned. That would be awesome.
Abu Hurairah said that the Messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “There is not a tree in Paradise, except that its trunk is made of gold.“ [At-Tirmidhee 2525]
“All those flowers, Khalid,” I said with wide eyes, already mesmerized by my own childish imagination. “Can you imagine the colors… the smell?”
He nodded eagerly.
“The fragrance of Jannah will be smelt, like, a universe away. The greenery, Khawlah, will be like a blanket spread before you. Jannah, will be so comfortable…. that no one will be too hot or cold. And then… Papa said… it’s not just rivers of water. The magical rivers will be water, milk and wine… and the taste and smell pwill never change. How cool is that?”
Jannah. Where beauty is spread out at your feet. The life of Paradise. Where anything that you want is just a thought away. His description of the gardens didn’t disappoint. That was the only thing I truly cared about. Gardens for me, meant bliss. Rivers of milk and honey. I would probably sit next to them the whole day.
”What’s wine?” I asked innocently, and Khalid looked at me and frowned.
And then of course, he titled his head back in that oh-so-familiar way, opened his mouth to show his white teeth, and let out a rumble of heart-felt laughter, just like his mother always did. As funny as he thought I was, I wasn’t in the least amused.
I wanted to reach my hand out and whack him at the back of his head, but I was afraid of losing balance. The tree branch was already violently shaking from his hilarious laughter, and I frowned at him reproachfully as he chuckled away, obviously miffed at his response.
“Don’t worry, Khawlah,” He said, still smiling a me, even as I frowned at him with disdain. “When you’re older, you’ll find out.”
And he left it at that as Yunus shouted for us from below and we slowly made it down the branch of the highest tree in the yard.
I wasn’t even sure how we had got there, and it looked even more frightening as I glanced at it now as an adult, towering over the house. It was like we were made of pure adventure and fearless ambition. To climb that tree now… I would be scared to death.
Time. Time had changed a lot.
It’s actually quite astounding as to how much can change in what we recall as a relatively small amount of time. People grow. Things change. Most undeniably, much can be lost as well.
All with time. Each minute. Every moment. Because with every moment that passes, we are given a choice. A choice to eaither live by the conforms of society, or to break through. To progress. To focus on our faith, and grow it too.
I blinked now, as I stood in awe, still a little startled by what stood before me.
I couldn’t believe it. I was rendered speechless as I stood there, feeling awkward and at a complete loss.
I couldn’t forget. Suddenly, everything just seemed so clear. The energy. The drive. The restless ambition of youthful splendor. There was so much of it. It was both exhilarating yet exhausting, and I clearly remembered those days we spent, just soaking up the blazing sun and chatting about our childish aspirations. It was rainbow smiles and sheer bliss. The life I knew I would always miss.
This was before it all changed. I never thought that I would see that day, but here it was. And right in front of me, was the painful proof.
It was Khalid that spoke first, but not to me. He was behaving like he didn’t even know who I was. Maybe he didn’t.
“Maaaaa,” he shouted, turning away as he called. “Someone’s here for you.”
He turned back, his icy gaze settling on me once again. He eyed my hjijab, and then narrowed his eyes cynically.
It was definitely Khalid. But Khalid wasn’t Khalid. He was like some seriously deranged version that had morphed over the past few years.
What on earth had happened to him? He didn’t have to talk to me but he didn’t even make any effort to be polite. He was never like this.
My throat had turned dry and my palms were actually getting sweaty, as I waited under his scrutiny. Boy, he had a really serious way of making people feel uncomfortable.
I wanted him to know that I wasn’t scared of him. I was just annoyed at his rudensss. I didn’t want to look at him, but he was making it difficult as he stood there.
His hair had been styled in some weird mohawkish way, and he wore a chain around his neck. I narrowed my eyes.
It wasn’t this Khalid. And although I never admitted it back then, in my heart I always knew it. It wasn’t my Khalid.
Aunty Radiyyah’s footsteps were loud as they finally approached, and I could hear her voice pitch changing erratically.
“Khalid, don’t be so rude,” she half shouted. “Let the visitor in, what are you doing just…”
She trailed off as her gaze finally fell on me, and then widened her eyes emphatically.
She was definitely not expecting me, and I felt stupider than ever at that moment. I could literally hear hear shallow breaths as she stared at me, rather silently, and in shock.
It wasn’t me. I knew what it was. She didn’t want me to see Khalid. It wasn’t me. It was just that she didn’t want me to see him like this.
She breathed out, and it was then that Khalid sharply turned his gaze, and briskly walked away. I felt stunned. Completely stupefied as I witnessed it, my heart beating so violently that I was certain Aunty Radiyyah could hear it.
But of course she didn’t. She didn’t even seem to notice my disorientation. She just started her jovial chatter, as if there had been no awkwardness in the first place. It was so strange. Almost as if she was trying to hide something.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, biting my lip as I replied to her, still feeling awkwardtrying to explain my presence. “The garden. I came to see the garden.”
“My darling, don’t even worry about it,” she beamed, and her smile returned back to its jovial version that I had known from way back when. I felt like she wanted to apologize about Khalid. But what did she really apologize for? Because he didn’t talk to me?
It didn’t matter, right? Boys and girls weren’t supposed to be friends.
The smile was still on her face. I missed it, even as I saw it… I missed the days when there was no pain lingering behind it’s warmth.
”You are always welcome here, my Khawlah,” said, weaving her way through the charming house that I remembered from when I was little. “Come.”
I could feel her energy as she ushered me through the kitchen and the back door. It was contagious. I soon forgot about Khalid and his behavior. If we were still kids I would have rattled him for acting like a nincompoop.
Instead, I glanced around appreciatively at the familiar surroundings, remembering they days of freedom and beautiful splendor I had spent there. I didn’t appreciate it then, but the openness and easiness there with the magical garden was the most perfect reminder of what I needed right then.
Surrounded by concrete and being lost in my own world hadn’t done much for me.
The fact was that, otherwise, I had gotten a little lost. I had forgotten the essence of life… and the purpose that we were supposed to remind ourselves of every day. Of course, as I stepped out, the scene before me was so striking that I almost stumbled over my feet as I gazed in awe.
The garden was amazing. Dazzling. Even more striking than I remembered.
“Oh my word,” I breathed, taking in the scent of the pungent roses that were next to the pathway going down.
There were rows. Rows and rows of roses, each of them a different colour, shade… and I dare say, a different scent too.
“When did this happen?” I asked, clearly in awe.
This was the essence. This was what I had forgotten. Our purpose here was to worship Allah Ta’ala. To praise Him.
Aubty Radiyyah didn’t answer. She just smiled and chatted about the birds that come to visit the garden ever so often, as I looked on, at the next bed in which lay some beautiful lilies that were at different stages of their bloom. They were just gorgeous. Their vivid colors were a true feast for the eyes.
“Oh gosh, Khawlah, I’m sorry,” Aunty Radiyyah said, now slapping her head as she turned to look to me. She stopped in her tracks. “I’m busy yapping away and I’m not even concentrating! You came to see your garden and I’m showing you all this!”
I wasn’t complaining. I was truly amazed at the magnificence. With just a few seeds and soil, the bounty that Allah can provide was unimaginable.
“You want to see your patch, right?” She said, turning to face the opposite direction. “It’s really grown.”
My patch? I didn’t even know I still had a patch. She guided me to another section of the garden that I now vaguely remembered. Little lilac flowers were on either side of the pathway, but as I came nearer I had to blink in disbelief as I saw it.
In front of me, where Aunty Radiyyah had stopped, was the hugest, and most beautiful pomegranate that was definitely ready to be plucked from the sturdy tree. My eyes widened in sheer amazement.
“Wow…!” was all I could manage to say, astonished by the size and it’s most obvious beauty. It was perfectly rounded and shaded too.
“That’s yours,” Aunty Radiyyah said, and I thought she was taking about the pomegranate. I looked at her.
“Mine?” I asked. “You mean you left this one for me?”
Aunty Radiyyah shook her head, and then she tilted her head back in the way that she always had done, and let out a hearty old roar of twinkly laughter. It sounded a bit like clunky wind chimes that knocked together with the whimsical winds.
I couldn’t help but catch the giggles too as she chuckled, holding my tummy as I let her humour, humour me.
Gosh. It had been ages since I laughed that much. It felt so good.
“No, sweetheart!” Aunty Radiyyah finally said, still smiling as she looked at me.
“This,” she said, using both her hands to gesture to the tree and it’s surroundings. “Is all yours. The tree, the plants. Some things have grown, flowered, fruited… and withered away. But what’s here, is what you planted.”
I widened my eyes. I vaguely remembered grabbing some seeds from the shed and tossing them carelessly into the ground… but this… I didn’t expect. So much of splendour, I was not prepared for.
Aunty Radiyyah left me at that point, giving me the time I needed to digest the beauty before me. I couldn’t believe the pomegranate tree had actually grown and flowered. It was gorgeous. I knelt down and delved my open hands into the damp soil, savouring the feeling of it’s potential.
I still loved it. Even though I hadn’t had much time in the passed few months for my gardening, I was still very much in love with the essence of nature. It’s sheer independence and ability to stop me in my tracks always got me. It was like coming home.
And of course, I had forgotten the ever so familiar reminder that always came with gardening. The texture of the sand and it’s earthy frangrance was always a reminder for my feeble mind.
That the darkness within it had a deeper meaning. Death awaits. That will be our home. The darkness of the grave awaits…. and the earth which we play and toil for too would become our home, where we would eventually reside.
And just as I processed the reality and slipped into my once familiar routine of delving in and turning the darkened soil, a rustle in the bush behind me was all it took to make me jump. My heart was almost in my mouth.
I twisted my head around to attempt a scan of my surroundings, and was pleasantly surprised to see a pretty cat with a red collar idling up to me quite confidently.
“Mieeww,” he purred, slowly rubbing his head against my knee as he tested the waters. Maybe he thought I would give him a treat. Maybe he was just a friendly cat.
He was grey and white and he reminded me of Yunus’s cat. Well, the cat that had become Yunus’s by default.
Of course! I thought to myself, instantly linking the cats together. Khalid had given us the cat and had kept one too. It was the same colour… and of course… as it glanced at me, I couldn’t help but recognize those steely grey eyes.
Their resemblance was uncanny.
I frowned now, remembering Khalid again. Although I didn’t admit it, somewhere within me, I was disappointed. Upset and disappointed. And it wasn’t because Khalid had forgotten about me.. or pretended to. It wasn’t because he probably didn’t acknowledge our bond in childhood and now he barely knew me. I knew that time happened. I knew that it changed.
I also knew what was right. I knew that boys and girls couldn’t be friends.
I just didn’t want to accept how far he had gone. How much he had changed from the person I’d expected him to be. He seemed so far away from us… so far away from Deen. So far away from… what he always was.
I could see Aunty Radiyyah’s concern and almost feel her innermost concerns. He had become a rebel. Was a good home and awareness of Deen not enough anymore?
I was so confused.
I sighed, gently petting the cat that purred in appreciation, and though I appreciated the company too, he seemed ready to be on his way. Seemingly done with his little introduction to me, he turned to leave, heading straight for the shed where I couldn’t resist following him to.
I needed some tools too, and as I entered, I was a bit startled by the darkness in there.
I pulled down th slight switch in the corner, and amongst other things, spotted the familiar red spade that I had always used as a child. There were other spades lower down, but for some reason, I yearned for something familiar. Something that gave me some hope. Something that didn’t change, even with time.
I looked up, almost on tiptoes, as I attempted to reach for my favorite tool. It was higher than I thought, and I flattened my hand, stretching my fingers out to feel for its wooden handle. I couldn’t see it, but my fingers did the searching, and just as I grasped it, something soft shifted out form beneath, and landed with a soft thud on the floor near my foot.
The spade was already in my hand now, and whilst I momentarily savored it’s well-needed familiarity, with the other hand I reached down to put the stray packet back on the shelf.
It was a blue paper bag that was stapled on the top, and whilst I attempted to toss it back on the shelf, the writing on the back of it kind of caught me off-guard. I stopped in my tracks as I processed it.
Khawlah, it simply said.
I was beyond myself with nervous excitement. What was it? It looked so old… did it get left behind? I couldn’t even remember.
Of course, now bursting with curiosity, I couldn’t resist tearing of the paper with haste. My fingers were slightly dusty, but I hastily wiped them on my pants and turned the book over. And I was glad I did.
The title was exactly what I needed. It gave me hope. Ambition. Most of all, it convinced me that it wasn’t the end. Not for me. Not for my family. Not even for Khalid.
Sometimes we don’t see things the way we need to. Sometimes we just need something seemingly small to dispel our worries, and give us some magic once again. There was always a hope beyond what we know right then and right now. There was always a lantern waiting to light up the darkness. A hope for a special place that made it all okay, once again.
The title said, and it didn’t need any caption. It was self explained. It was sheer bliss. It was all-encompassing.
At this point, no-one really knows… but we can all have a hope. Earn it’s pleasures. Pray for admittance.
And of course, right then, as I thought of it all, I knew.
Only time would tell.