The First Mistake

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem


The day that Zuleikha gave birth was a rollercoaster for the entire family. With the ups and downs of emotions, all I could do by the end of the day to avoid dropping to the ground was dwell on the simultaneous splendor and heartache of it all.

Motherhood. Over the past few years I had seen many different types… different forms. Mama was, of course, the highlight that would never escape my mind. Aunty Nas was the rejected substitute, and I didn’t wish that for anybody ever. Although I saw Hannah from time to time in school, and she seemed to turn out okay, I didn’t think that her mother’s methods in our home were ideal.

And then there was Rubeena. She was the typical spoilt and privileged housewife, who took motherhood in her stride and did the least possible for her children, whilst shrugging off the necessary tedious  tasks to an underpaid employee. Although she wasn’t a bad person, I found myself thinking often that as a mother, I would never want to be anything like her.

Because when I saw Zuleikha with her baby, I just knew. I knew that no matter what, Zuleikha comprehended the value of this. I knew that she wouldn’t take this as a light thing. I knew that not only would she devote herself selflessly to the task at hand, but she would also do it with the utmost love and care.

I wasn’t being biased. I just knew my sister.

“I have to go,” I hastily rambled into the receiver, glad that Rubeena had answered the phone on the first ring. “My sister went into labor. She has no one else. I need to go.”

I knew that I was sounding slightly deranged but I couldn’t help it. This was something of an emergency.

“You can’t leave the kids alone!” She almost shouted, and I held the phone away from my ear as she did so.

Her helper had left. Again. So me leaving with no-one around was impossible.

“Of course,” I said, my voice now calm. “I jus’ thought that maybe you could come home earlier.”

”I’m in the middle of my Pilates session!” she snapped, not even attempting to hide her annoyance. She sighed, and I almost thought she was going to apologize.

Of course, she didn’t.

“I’ll check if Shabeer could come home a bit earlier for a change,” she said, sounding a bit calmer. “After all, they are his children.”

She cut the call after that and I paced the room, picking up balls and other gadgets that were lying around. If her husband was coming now I needed to make sure the house looked decent. I had yet to meet him, although I had seen the back of him once while he was getting into his fancy car. Other than that, he was still a mystery.

I paced the room a couple of times, checking on the kids a few times while the two middle ones played with some LEGO’s  quietly, for a change. The smallest was still napping and the biggest was busy with some school work. He stared intently into the book as I offered to read the rest of the instructions. They were turning out to be pretty good kids, and since I had cut back on technology and made them devote more time to the beautiful garden and regular play, I saw a major change in their moods. They were friendlier, more alert… and definitely, they were on the most excellent behaviour they had ever been.

”Are you going now?” Danyaal asked me asked as I sidled up to him, checking on his work. “So soon?”

I smiled at him and ruffled his hair.

“My big sister needs my help,” I said to him quietly, squatting slightly so I could be eye to eye with him while I spoke. “She’s having a baby and I want to be there for her.”

Of all the others, he was big enough to understand. He nodded solemnly with a serious expression on his face.

“Like when Mum had Zaydaan,” he said seriously. “I helped a lot. To bring nappies and the wet wipes. You know mummy even called me the big brother helper?”

I smiled again.

“I’m sure you were the best helper ever,” I said, nodding at him.

His expression changed suddenly.

“I miss Mummy,” he said, looking morose.

My heart sank. What did I tell him?

His mother barely spent much time with them. Especially since I was around and her training routine had become more intense… she was barely at home. When she came home it was time for bed and then school was the next day.

“And now you’re going early too,” he continued sadly. “I’m going to miss you too.”

My heart contracted slightly as I heard the sincerity in his little voice.

Kids. They were just so… real.

“Mummy says Dad will come,” I assured him, hoping it would cheer him up.

Instead, the little creases on Danyaal’s forehead deepened.

“Dad’s got no time,” he said, sounding strangely like a grown up. “He’s always busy on his phone or his laptop. Mummy also says she’s doing work but I see her taking selfies all the time. Is that grown up’s work?”

I stifled a giggle as he looked at me questioningly. How did he even know about selfies?!

“Your mummy and daddy love you very much, Danyaal,” I said to him now, not wanting to entertain the selfie topic. “And they know just how special you are… even if they don’t say it all the time. I’m sure they wished that they could play with you the whole day if they didn’t have work to do.”

Danyaal didn’t look very convinced. I felt sorry for him. How did you explain to a child why their parents didn’t have time for them? How did you explain to them why love doesn’t go beyond nice toys and those three words? I was stumped.

And even more so when he uttered his next words.

“Khawlah, I think I love you.”

He said it so naturally, but the enormity of his words just stunned me. I swallowed hard as he turned back to his books, without any expectation.

It was just so real. No conditions. No reservations. For a child, love was so natural and unconditional.

“Tell him,” a deep voice from behind us said, and I jumped as I heard it.

I didn’t even hear the car pull in or anyone open the door. I was so busy taliking to Danyaal that I noticed nothing.

Instead of finding a strange man there, who I assumed would be the boys’ father, a familiar face looked in as I froze, a little stunned by his presence right then.

It had been months since I had seen him, and I knew it was because Rubeena didn’t want him here when I was around. Maybe she sensed my feelings or caught on to my  concerns… but it looked like she just wanted to keep the two of us as far apart as possible and I was so glad. It would mean that I didn’t have to lie to Ahmed every time he asked. It would mean I didn’t have to risk any more sin.

“Tell him,” Adam continued, looking quite serious. “Tell him that you love him too.”

My heart beated momentarily in my chest and I opened my mouth.

I wanted to tell him, but I didn’t want to just say it. How did I make it as real as he did?

“Uncle Adam!” Dayyaan said before I could get word in. I breathed out, a little relieved. I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with Rubeena’s brother eavesdropping on our conversation but I couldn’t do much about it now.  I also wished that I had said what I needed to Danyaal… but now it was too late. I had to leave.

The kids were now occupied with their uncle who they were thrilled to see, and I grabbed my bag as I whispered to Danyaal in his ear that I’d catch up with him tomorrow.

Abba was waiting at home for me, and I knew that I would have to run really fast to stop him from thinking anything suspicious about me. He still thought that I went to Nusaybah to do my homework, and although I didn’t lie, I didn’t correct him either. He had just never asked again.

I made salaam to the boys, who were literally all over their uncle. They loved him to bits because he had time for them.

”You know Aadam was the first Prophet?” Dayyaan said to his uncle, making the connection with the names. “Khawlah told us the story. Allah made him with sand and made him alive.”

I could see Adam smile. And then, he looked at me.

That was when I made the first mistake. I smiled.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not like that. I wasn’t smiling at him. It just happened that he caught my eye as I smiled and as he locked eyes with me, I couldn’t help but notice his new look.

My obsessed friend, Nusaybah, would always describe him as unforgettably handsome, and although she might have argued that he still was, something major had happened in his life to spark some changes.

I immediately realized my error, and headed for the door in haste. What was I doing?

I didn’t mean to stare. I didn’t even want to look at him, since the risk of giving him a false impression was so high. But he just caught me unawares. Instead of the modern, gelled hair type that I had known him to be… Adam was changing. His hair was different, and instead of just stubble on his formerly clean-shaven face, the guy was actually sporting a proper beard.

At least it was good news for Nusaybah, I told myself, shrugging away the ugly feeling that had invaded my conscience.

I couldn’t risk that happening again. I had to be more careful in future. Shaytaan had to be put at bay.

I forcefully shifted my mind to the kids and how amazingly special they were. Every kid was, for that matter. Their feelings, their thoughts… and their unminced words. They were so unique and admirable. Those little humans were so much more than they were given credit for, and truly, I had come to love them unreservedly too.

I sighed, wishing that I would realize the enormity of it if I were ever to be a mother. Allah reminded us in the Qur’an that our children were a test for us. To do the best and fulfill their rights was a reward unimaginable. I know Zuleikha would be a good mother  but I truly wished that she knew just how much she was getting herself into here.

Zuliekha. I had to get to Zuleikha. The sinking feeling I had felt returned as I remembered, and though I knew it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t help how I was feeling.

Guilt. I was ridden with guilt since I heard about the drama that had unfolded that day, and my heart thudded in my chest, knowing that it could bring so much more than we could handle right now. If anything had to happen to Abba or Ahmed or even Yunus… I knew I would blame myself.

I sucked in my breath as I walked, anxious to get home, but Abba was one step ahead of me. I was so lost in thought that neither did I hear the car coming up or hear him calling me.

I jumped in as he pulled up, urgently gesturing to me.

I was still breathing a little heavy.

“Assalamualaikum,” I said, hoping Abba would not ask many other questions.

Abba replied to me and continued to drive. He didn’t say anything about Zuleikha. I supposed he was worried. Foi Nani was already at the hospital and Yunus was getting a lift with a friend from soccer. Abba didn’t mention Ahmed. I should have known that’s something was up but I forced myself to ignore it, hoping for the best. I just didn’t know how bad it would be.

Ahmed. For Ahmed, I was worried.

It all started the day Aunty Radiyyah came home to see me. She had come with good intentions, of course, but the news that she brought wasn’t good. It was something we needed to know… something she hoped would help the family to stabilize again. Something that would bring some hope for us once again.

She had had a dream about Mama. My Mama. She didn’t go into details but the gist of what we neeeded to know was that Zuleikha was in trouble. She was going through some tough times… and eventually, it would affect us all.

Now, I know it was just a dream. Sometimes, dreams are just dreams. But sometimes, there are deeper meanings to it and when Aunty Radiyyah looked into the situation… she found some facts that were quite alarming. She found something that could potentially hurt us really, really badly.

And, innocently, and ridden with worry, I made the first mistake.

I told Ahmed.