Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem
Every day is a new adventure. For my nearly-sixteen-year old self, that’s how I had come to see it. An adventure that sometimes takes us by surprise, and at times, never fails to allure, amuse, or even delight.
What we make of life is only how we see it. Although seeing the best and being the best is always a tough call, to conquer the evil that always lurks in the midst with goodness from within, was an unfathomable achievement. Good character, no matter what the situation, takes a strength greater than a 100 men… But it effects are far more worthy than we can ever imagine. It will simply blow you away.
I breathed in deeply as I reached the house that I had now come to know so well, reveling in the scent that lingered and taking in the the natural beauty of spring that was emerging in full force. It was that time of the year again, and as time went by, I knew that my time there too, was limited.
It had become a ritual of mine to take delight in the little buds that were forming on the bushes, and carefully track the constant rustling in the nests that were all being meticulously structured above. The unprecedented structure and beauty of nature never failed to amazed me.
And just like the sunlight brought hope for a new start, the little lights in my life always kept me going. It was like they knew I was there even before I even arrived. The door swung open just before I reached out to press the bell, and Dayyaan and Zia looked at me with wide smirks on their face.
“What are we doing today, Khawlah?” Dayyaan asked, his eyes wide with excitement.
“Dayyaan!” His mother shouted, and I could hear the scrunching of her sneakers as she made her way to the door. “Can you at least let Khawlah come in before you’ll bombard her?”
Rubeena emerged from the lounge area and as she entered my view, I noticed that she looked a little rough around the edges. Her hair was a mess and her eyes were a bit puffy. If I wasn’t mistaken… it looked like she might have been crying.
”Is everything okay?” I asked, a little panicked now.
Rubeena had always seemed so… together. I was a little alarmed to see this sort of discomposure from her.
She opened her mouth, but I could literally see her almost choking on her words, as emotion overcame her again. I knew the feeling. The feeling when you so baldly wanted to speak… but you were scared that all that would come out was … more tears.
She hastily turned away as I watched her, and I quickly got the boys on the important task of setting up our favorite game to divert them, while leading her to the nearest chair in the adjacent kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” she finally spluttered, hastily rubbing away the tears at the corners of her eyes.” It’s just…”
She sighed, trailing off and swallowing as she looked at me, slightly embarrassed. Her cheeks were were flushed and her nose was as red a tomato.
“Everything’s a mess,” she blurted, shaking her head.
I swallowed hard, not knowing how to respond. It had been a few weeks since Zuleikha had spoken to me, and though I had promised her I would be careful and think about giving up my job… I wasn’t ready to leave them all behind as yet.
And yes, it had really got to me when I heard. I wished that I could tell someone what I was truly feeling. She thought I was ‘going out’ with Rubeena’s brother. The thought of what she suspected was even more loathsome to me than her. I was confused, overwhelmed and upset, all at the same time.
The worst part was that I couldn’t even talk to Nusaybah about it, because I was so worried that she too, would think something bad of me. How did I explain to them that I had done nothing wrong? There was just so much of opportunity for people to talk. It just looked so bad.
My heart thudded in my chest once again, whilst I deliberated my next words.
“I’m sorry, Ruby,” I said, genuinely apologetic.
I hated to see her like this. I hated all the conflict that was going on. I never spoke to Rubeena about what Zuleikha had told me but I knew some of the truth.
“The truth is, Khawlah,” she said, finally meeting my eye. “I’ve just had the hugest fight with Shabeer. My parents are angry with me. My brother doesn’t speak to me… I feel like I have nobody but these kids that make me crazy and I just don’t know what to do…”
She sniffed again, and I could see the beginning of another outburst. I could understand her feeling sorry for herself… But fueling that pity wasn’t going to do her any good. I wanted to tell her how lucky she was but I knew she wouldn’t see it that way, and it was at that precise moment that Danyaal chose to scamper in to the kitchen, grab an apple and dash out again, already ready to sink his teeth in.
I forgot that his mother was there, for a minute. It was just instinct from being with them for so long, and part of Foi Nani’s influence, that I had to shout out. Mama too, had always said that when Allah is in your heart, you remember him in everything that you do. Taking his name before eating or drinking was the least we could do, and I wanted these kids to take at least that with them if I had to leave them behind.
“Danyaal, say Bismillah!” I called out to remind him, thinking to myself how long it took for kids to learn it. It was so frustrating that no matter how many times I told them… they just never got it by themselves.
”I did!” he yelled back, already racing back to the playroom in hot pursuit.
For a second, I even forgot about Ruby who was sitting there, and as I looked back at her, instead of her tearful face, she was looking at me in a kind of daze. Almost as if she was dumbfounded.
“That’s what I mean!” she suddenly half-whispered, and it was like a light-bulb was coming on in her head. “That’s what I tried to explain to my parents! I mean, how are you so amazing, Khawlah? Never in a million years, will I be able to remember all these things. Sometimes I even forget to say it myself, because I’m so useless at being good. But you…”
She trailed off and shook her head.
“My brother saw something in you that I was missing all this time,” she said, almost in awe, and my throat suddenly went all dry. “And then he made the mistake of telling me.”
I swallowed hard as she continued, half-dreading and half-anticipating the version of events that she was going to tell me, from her side of the story.
“He could see you weren’t the typical girl,” she said, a little sadly. ”So he asked me for advice. And who would blame him? You’re amazing, Khawlah. You’re stunning, inside and out. You have such impeccable manners… and the way you are with the kids… honestly, you’re my life saver.”
All I could do was nod and listen, like a robot. I was not sure what to say. It was the first time that Rubeena had ever said anything remotely pleasant about me. It seemed like her being emotional brought out a whole different side to her.
One thing Mama had always told me was that the greatest way to show what a Muslim was about, was through our character. The Prophet Muhammed SAW had a superb form of dawah, and superseding anything else, many didn’t realise that his greatest asset was gained through his impeccable characteristics. Not through war. Not through force of submission. Not through hatred. It was just beautiful character. To be the best type of person, even in the worst of situations was something of a miracle.
I tried… but I wasn’t sure if I really measured up to what Rubeena was saying. They say that whoever you meet, always understand that you should not leave them until you have learnt something invaluable that you yourself did not know. I’m sure that there were some things I could learn from her too. My greatest fault was that I never stopped to see it.
“My parents would kill him, Khawlah,” she said now, clenching her fists nervously. ”My family is so fixated on money and success… and when you came back again… they got angry at me because they blamed it all on me. They blamed me. They thought I had set you guys up… or something outrageous like that.”
She scoffed, shaking her head.
“They don’t know what you’re like,” she said, the shadow of a smile now visible on her face. ”Shabeer asked me once why you didn’t greet him when you saw him in the driveway. I didn’t understand that it was actually you being modest… until I actually googled it. You’ve actually taught me something. Not just one thing. So much.”
I was still stunned. My stomach was in all sorts of knots and twists as she continued, and slowly, as she let it all out and it sunk in, I was beginning to feel a little normal again. A little normal in a new upside down world.
It was a few days after Zuleikha had told me about everything that she had heard from Ahmed, and I had shrugged it off that day, not wanting to worry about something that might have been completely invented. I so badly wanted to meet Ahmed and ask him myself… but something within me was telling me to let it be for now.
He was fine. He was safe. He was in good hands. And if I met him… I wasn’t sure what kind of reception my older brother might give me. I sighed as I thought about it.
I took her advice that day and she left, feeling slightly relieved in the knowledge that soon I would be out of that environment completely.
It broke my heart but I knew that if what she had said was true… there was no way that I could continue to break that family up with my presence.
And as much as my heart could not be controlled, I knew that I had to start making preparations to leave. Slowly, and in a subtle way, I had to give these kids as much as I could before I had to leave them on their way. I was tormented by the thoughts of what would happen to them when I left, but I knew that I had to put my fears aside and let them go.
Life would never be the same, but maybe… I hoped… in the future, I would meet them in a better and easier time of frame.
I sighed to myself as I sat with the kids the following week, trying to muster the words that I knew I had to say.
Rubeena had poured her heart out to me that day, and the feelings that had surfaced were hard to put at bay. Although playing with the kids was the most fulfilling thing, whilst i heard them giggling and squealing in delight during our mini pillow fight, my conscience just wouldn’t let me rest. The nagging feeling was still there at the back of my mind, reminding me that there was always an end to every story. Maybe the end to our story was approaching. Maybe it was time to write the final chapter.
It was nearly time for me to leave for the day, and with just a few minutes left, the children were bouncing around on the rubber horse that was their latest addition to the playroom.
I smiled as I watched them, whilst holding little Zaydaan in my arms. He was particularly exhausted that day, after our high-energy afternoon, and I felt my heart unexpectedly soaring as I savored the feeling of this little dumpling in my arms. I held him a little tighter as I took in his lavender-scented powder, breathing in the baby-ness as I tightened my arms around his tiny frame.
“I love you,” I murmured to him, overcome with emotion and feeling nostalgic already. He mumbled some intelligent statement of toddler language in reply, and I found myself instantly giggling to myself.
They were growing so fast, and I just could not fathom how these little people had snuck so deep into my heart.
“Do you love me too?”
It was Dayyaan who asked the question, and I looked up to see him watching me with his little brother. His statement was as straightforward as little boys’ ones come. There was no mincing his words.
I was so absorbed in Zaydaan that I didn’t even notice him watching us. I couldn’t help but break out into a grin as he watched me, oh-so-seriously.
“Of course,” I said to him, nodding vehemently. “I love you all. You’ll do know that, right? No matter what happens, remember that Khawlah thinks that you’ll are really, really amazing.”
No regrets. I had to tell them that. I had to let them know. After the chat with Rubeena, I wasn’t sure where I stood. She had to leave in a bit of a rush after her meltdown, so I didn’t exactly get to tell her what I needed to.
Danyaal was looking at me now, with that dreamy look that he sometimes got. My heart contracted momentarily as I thought of leaving them behind… of some day, walking out the door and not seeing them again. I was already having panic attacks about that tormenting moment. I was not sure how I was going to deal. I just wasn’t prepared for it being so soon.
“So, since you love us so much,” he said, looking thoughtful but with a mischievous grin on his face.
I frowned at him, wondering what he was about to say.
”Please can we have one more story today?”
I smiled, shaking my head.
“Mum will be here just now and my father will be waiting for me,” I explained.
”It’s my birthday,” he said, a little sadly. “Please.”
I didn’t know it was his birthday. Although we never celebrated birthdays as kids, I wasn’t sure how to explain it to Danyaal as yet. It was on the bucket list of things I needed to say. I wanted to teach them so much… but there was so little time.
Either way, his puppy dog look was doing the trick.
”Pleassse….” Dayyaan copied.
“Pweeeeeezee,” mimicked little Zia.
I chuckled to myself, looking at the three rascals and shaking my head. They were so unknowingly manipulative, but they still made me laugh.
“Just one,” Danyaal quickly said, sensing me crumbling under their scrutiny. “Here.”
He thrust a familiar book at me, and I momentarily remembered the first day I had brought it for them. There were so many memories I had shared with these kids.
The pictures in the book were a sure winner, and over the almost two years I had been here, it had grown to be a favorite.
“The first one,” he said, knowing exactly which story he wanted. The story of Aadam AS was right of the front.
I sighed, shaking my head. It was the most popular one for the kids, but frankly, I was sick of reading it. I almost knew it by heart.
“Choose another,” I said flatly.
“Okay, let’s read the Lion King,” Dayyaan piped up.
“No!” squealed Danyaal, annoyed.
“Story of Aadam,” he insisted, and as if he suddenly spurred into action, Dayyaan climbed on the colorful ottoman at the center of the room, pumped his first in the air, and started screaming at the top of his voice.
“Lion King, Lion King, LION KING!”
“Aadam, Aadam, AADAM!!” Shouted Danyaal back, just as loud.
How did these kids even learn things like this? It was horrific.
They looked like a pair of those terribly behaved children who would just create spectacles to get their way. I widened my eyes at them and opened my mouth to scream.
My mouth was left hanging as we were all silenced by the abrupt voice at the door.
“What is going on here?!” it shouted, obviously disturbed by the outrageous behavior.
I mean, if I heard that from the other side of the house, I too would have been shocked.
I whipped my head around, blinking as I glimpsed the figure who stood at the door. For a few seconds I was actually dumb-founded as I processed who it was.
Although I barely recognized him, there was no mistaking it. I could literally feel my face changing all shades of colors as he too, looked at me in shock. He obviously did not expect me to be here, and his next words were very evident of it.
“You?!” He said, looking strangely disturbed by my presence.”Sorry, I thought… Nevermind.”
He seemed genuinely shocked that I was there.
Oh goodness. This was a bit awkward.
The boys were looking from me to him, stunned by the reprimand and slightly shocked at their uncle’s presence. It was also obvious that he thought that I didn’t come here anymore, and hence, didn’t expect to bump into me today. This was a bit of an uncomfortable mess.
“Hey Uncle Adam,” called Dayyaan. “You look like Mufassa.”
Now I wanted to slap my hand to my forehead, like Danyaal often did what Dayyaan asked a unexpected question. I knew that he was obsessed with the Lion King, but how could he call his uncle Mufassa?
Trust Dayyaan’s quirky sense of humor to break the ice. I wanted to giggle but I didn’t dare crack a smile. The tension in the room was still palpable.
His uncle smiled and dropped the box that he was holding down onto the floor as I hastily grabbed my bag to let myself out of the room. From the looks of it, I could escape without much notice from the boys, because Adam was already ignoring me and watching the boys obsess about the electric cars he had bought for them all. I was so glad it didn’t escalate. I always knew that kids were the best ice breaker.
I wondered why he had come. Maybe being Danyaal’s special day, he needed an excuse to visit his nephews. Maybe he knew Rubeena wouldn’t be home tonight, or she had actually stayed late on purpose.
I silently closed the door behind me, letting out a huge sigh of relief as I walked down the passage to the door.
My heart felt strangely at peace as I made my way to my leave. So many plans I had… so much I still wanted to say.
But the defining question was… Right here and right now, on this journey that I had decided to embark on… would it ever end? Would it ever be enough?
Maybe it was time. Maybe it was time for me to let go now. Maybe it was time for me to leave, and just let it be.
Maybe my time here was up. I had said what I needed to… conveyed what I could while I was here. I had been that little window that they so badly to get a glimpse into. How much longer was I going to hold on to them for?
My heart soared and sank almost simultaneously as I heard the joyful giggles from the other side of the house. Hearing those shrieks of laughter and bursts of excitement now were enough to send my escalating emotions into overdrive. I may had been their window to get a glimpse of the other side that they so badly needed to see… but maybe these kids needed more.
I was just a stranger, after all. They needed their family. They needed their uncle too. Maybe there was another window waiting to open for them, revealing a world that would hold so much more than I could ever imagine giving them.
The truth is that we all have this desire. This innate need, put in us by our Creator. The unshakable yearning to help others in need is like a reflex, whether for family, friends, or a stranger on the street. There is nothing evil about our nature, until we make it so.
I was just someone who had stumbled upon their path for a season of their life, and now it was time for me to move on. Things had gotten a little out of control, and it was getting difficult to distinguish between right and wrong.
I opened the front door, forcefully holding back the tears that were threatening to escape. I wasn’t going to cry. I wasn’t going to lose myself on this path that I had so carefully trod. This was all Duniyaa, after all. This was all a part of the beautiful journey to my Lord, that lay ahead.
Today, I needed to be strong. Today, I needed to do the bravest thing. It was no walk in the park, to a destination that would most certainly offer you the sweetest ease. This was hurt. The bittersweet pang that rips your heart apart as you walk away, has nothing on convincing yourself that you need to stay. Only, you don’t.
I halted, swallowing as I deliberated what could be the of the entire game change, or just another weak moment. It was just as I convinced myself and stepped out, a familiar voice called out, as if it was designed to target the vulnerability of my heart strings once again.
The words taunted me, even as I took that one more step I needed to break away.
P.S. Wonder if Khawlah should leave or wait..?
In preparation for Ramadhaan, last week we were working on Reviving the Sunnah of Miswaak. This week, Insha Allah, let’s try and bring in a little about the Sunnah of eating, as touched on in the post. I will try to keep it short, simple and effective🌸
It is mentioned that when eating, if you recite Bismillah before eating and Alhumdulilah when done, your sins are forgiven.
How easy to practise!
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