Part 154-BASHIR

This post is dedicated to my friend and fellow blogger, the author of finding my way, for uplifting me and making my day yesterday❤ and for the rest of you’ll who kept asking me for Bashir’s POV…

Enjoy xxx

I had thought that life, with its twists and turns and bitter lessons had deprived me of the ability to truly get shocked at anything anymore. I had been shocked when Laila had walked out on me; I had thought she would stick around even when our marriage hit rock bottom. I had been more shocked when I had learnt that she had left me for another guy; I had thought she thought more of me than that. But then I realised that life will throw you around; sometimes with a safety net, sometimes without. You just gotta land on your feet each time and keep walking. And so I did; picked myself up, dusted off the gritty bits of my past and walked on. Then I met Zee and walking turned to soaring. I had finally found the missing piece of myself and I let life carry me to heights unimagined. But then came the twist; from the very top life threw me down, and this time there was no safety net at the bottom. I fell and fell hard, and I realised that I wasn’t past the ability to be shocked after all.

The encounter with Fazila jarred me violently, all the more because I never saw it coming. I was deeply in love with my wife and had no desire to look elsewhere. Fazila was simply my wife’s friend at first and my friend later on. I sometimes noticed how pretty she was but I simply shrugged it off and put no more thought to it. She was a friend, nothing more. Which is why, when I actually lost my head and did something I would never have imagined myself doing it came as a huge shock. That moment, leaning against the table, my cheek flaming from the hard slap Fazila had dealt me, would be imprinted on my mind for the rest of my life. The look of furious betrayal in her eyes, the tears she fought so hard to control. Had I actually broken the innocent trust of a girl in one moment of recklessness??? She had run off from there and I had remained rooted to the spot, trying to wrap my head around what I had really done. Then I heard a sound from the bedroom…Zee…and my stomach promptly turned itself over. I bolted from there, hand over my mouth, and threw up every vile emotion inside me; self-disgust, betrayal, self-hatred and a deep sense of grief and loss. I retched over and over again till there was nothing left inside me except a dull hollowness. Then I slowly slid down to the bathroom floor and put my head in my hands. What had I done?? Had I just done what I had sworn myself never to do; to put my wife through what I had been through? Had I actually betrayed Zee the way Laila had betrayed me?? Did I not know enough of what it felt like to be stabbed in the back by the person I trusted, to drive that same knife into my wife??? Had I destroyed my marriage with one single, foolish action???

No, I moaned to myself, God, no!

I wondered if Fazila would tell Zee what had happened. I didn’t think so as it would destroy their friendship as well but she might, to relieve her own sense of guilt. Not that she had anything to be guilty about, except befriending an idiot like me. I wanted to run after her, to beg her not to tell Zee anything, but I knew I couldn’t face her right now; not after what I had done. I had betrayed two people who had trusted me completely. Words could not begin to describe the loathing I felt for myself.

“Bashir?” A rap on the bathroom door which I had thankfully locked, “are you in there?”

I struggled to my feet and cleared my throat. “Yes, I’m in here, honey. Just getting ready.”

“Okay, I was wondering why it’s taking you so long today.”

“I’ll be out just now.” I brushed my teeth to rid my mouth of the foul aftertaste, washed my face and wore my kurta. I dreaded facing Zee as well, fearing she would see something in my face. No help for it, though. I would have to pretend that everything was normal.

Zee was in the kitchen. I fetched my briefcase and went to greet her. She was making tea for herself.

“Have you eaten already?” She asked.

“Yeah, I have, as you can see,” I indicated to the table and smiled wryly, “forgot to clear up today.”

“Did Faz come? Laaibah was sleeping when I woke up.”

I fought to keep the easy smile on my face. “Yeah she came but Laaibah was sleeping so she went away again.”

“I see,” Zee’s mouth pursed as it did when she was thinking of something. It always made me want to kiss her and I felt the same impulse rise up in me now. I firmly tamped it down again; I felt like an imposter, kissing my wife in the same kitchen where…… bile rose up in my throat and I struggled to repress it and the thoughts battering my mind.

“Bashir? You okay?” Zee was looking at me, a concerned frown on her face.

“Yeah…I’m well,” I forced myself to smile at her. My eyes clung to her face; so pretty, so trusting. What would she do if she knew? Would she leave me? I tried to imagine life without her and found the thought like a fist to my stomach.

“You don’t look well at all. You’re pale and sweating. Maybe you should take off from work today and rest it out. You work too hard anyways.”

“No, I’m fine, honey. My stomach’s feeling a bit funny but I’ll be fine, don’t worry,” I grabbed the hand she had placed on my forehead and pulled her to me. I hugged her tightly, breathing in her scent…trying to convince myself that everything would be okay, “I love you so much,” I said fiercely into her neck.

“I love you too,” she replied, sounding faintly amused. She pulled away and ran her hand through my hair, “well, if you don’t want me to pamper you then you’d best be on your way. You’re quite late already.”

I smiled and kissed her hand, “I’ll hold you to that, jaan. You can pamper me all you want later on.” I winked and picked up my briefcase again.

I held my breath for the next few days, feeling like there was a time-bomb placed in the house, one which could go off at any time. I cringed everytime I saw Zee on the phone, fearing the worst. I left for work extra early each day, way before the time Fazila would normally come, so there would be no chance of my bumping into her. But she stopped coming around. I found that out when Zee grumbled about Fazila disappearing suddenly, and wondered if she had maybe tired of the babysitting duties. I shrugged and feigned indifference, though I was glad that she was staying away. I only started breathing easily again the day Zee told me that Fazila’s madrassah was starting the following day so she had said that she wouldn’t be coming around anymore. I felt like a piece of the rock on my shoulder had chipped off and fallen down. If Fazila hadn’t told Zee anything yet chances were that she wasn’t planning on ever doing so. I kept making dua that this was the case. Slowly life went back to normal for me. Fazila was keeping away, Zee was just the same and I slowly became my normal self again. I locked that day into a box and buried it deep into a corner of my mind, never to be unearthed again. A secret I would take to my grave.

Now here she was again and the box reared up out of the corner and broke open, spilling the jagged memories out which seared through my mind. For a few minutes I could only stare at her back, my mind spinning furiously, wondering what I should say to her. She was shaking, her hands gripping the counter top so tightly that her knuckles showed white, her breath coming in ragged gasps. I felt a spasm of guilt rock through me. I owed her an apology, for abusing her trust and assaulting her. Where to begin though?

“Fazila…..” I began hesitantly.

Her head jerked up sharply. “Don’t come any closer!”

“I won’t. I’ll stay right where I am,” I injected a soothing note into my voice, “I only want to apologise to you.”

“There’s nothing to apologise for. Now if you’ll excuse me and turn your back for a moment, I need to go to the lounge. My niqaab is there.”

“You’ve started niqaab? MashaAllah, that’s nice.”

“Yes,” her voice was brittle, as though it might break at any moment, “I suppose I have to thank you for that. You opened my eyes to my mistakes.”

“You didn’t make any mistakes, unless you count befriending an idiot like me,” I took a steadying breath, “please, Fazila, let me say what’s on my mind. Then you can go.”

“Fine. Say it then.”

“I wanted to apologise for what I did. I know there’s no excuse for my behaviour. What I did was unforgivable but I regret it deeply. Please forgive me for it. I never thought of you that way. You were like a friend to me, nothing more. I love my wife, Fazila, and I would never betray her for the world. I have no idea what happened to me that day…….”

“I do.”

“Huh?” I stared at the back of her head blankly.

“I said I do. I know why it happened.”

“You know? But how…it wasn’t planned at all…….”

“I know that, Bashir, just as I know that we were both at fault there,” she spoke sharply, irritably, “my apa explained to me what happened.”

“Your apa…..” I fought down the angry denial and shame that sprang to my lips. She had spoken of me and what had happened to her apa?

“Yes. I didn’t tell her your name, don’t worry. Just what happened. I needed to confide in someone,” she paused, “she told me that it was the lack of purdah between us. That whenever a man and woman are alone shaytaan is always the third one present. And shaytaan will try his best to deviate them. She said we gave ample opportunity to shaytaan to work his wiles on us. We were supposed to do purdah and keep away from each other from the beginning but we didnt. We broke the laws of shariah and we paid for it.”

There was silence as her words, jerked from her mouth in short, sharp staccato bursts, found their mark in me. As I allowed them to penetrate and absorb into the recesses of my mind. She was right of course. Absolutely right. Why hadn’t I thought of it that way? It didn’t lessen the blame at all but it did solve the riddle for me. A riddle that had kept me awake for many nights; that why would a man so happy with his wife and marriage and so averse to the idea of unfaithfulness stoop to something like that? It was shaytaan, yes…and my own foolish imprudence. It was a lesson both of us had learned the hard way. She had already allowed the bitter lesson to shape her future for the better; would I do the same?

“Jazakallah for telling me this,” I replied finally, “I had not thought of it that way. Your words opened my eyes alhamdulillah.”

Fazila nodded. “We both learned the hard way. We just need to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes,” she said, mirroring my thoughts.

“Yes…” I replied.

I moved away then. Turned my back so she could leave. She stayed in the lounge and I went to my room, shoving those memories back into their box, burying that box again in the corner of my mind. However, this time there was a marker on the grave; one which boldly proclaimed the lessons learned from those memories.

Change was slow to come but I tried. I didn’t really mix with females at home; my cousins were few and scattered. I wasn’t really close to any of them. I, however, mingled with females more at my workplace. That would have to change, beginning with my secretary, with whom I spent many hours of my day alone in my office. At least no one would object to that, except the woman herself. Everyone knew I could get much better than her. What no one expected was me taking on a man as a secretary. There were raised eyebrows, whispered comments and some said right to my face. I smiled and heard it all out but at the end of the day I did what was beneficial for me in this world and the hereafter. I could not say that it was easy. Some decisions cost me more than others but I was not looking at easy anymore. I was looking at beneficial and that it definitely was. In the end it all would be worth it because I was aiming to please the only Being I ever needed to please; my Rabb.


Part 153

On Saturday I decided to go running, to keep my fitness levels on par. It wasn’t the same as working out everyday but it was better than nothing at least. After a vigorous run I decided to stop by at a coffee shop and have breakfast before carrying on home. I had been lowering my gaze all this while but when I went to the counter to place my order I found myself looking at the guy there while telling him what I wanted. I quickly realised this and dropped my gaze but it felt so weird talking to someone without looking at them. Plus for the first time I was naggingly aware that while I was trying to lower my gaze he could and probably was looking at my face nicely.

When the waiter came with my cup of coffee and plate of scones I automatically smiled up at him and thanked him before realisation crept on me once again and I dropped my gaze.

“Anything for a pretty lady,” I could almost feel his gaze resting on my face, a smile on his own face as he placed the order infront of me. I quickly mumbled my thanks and kept my gaze trained on my plate till he walked away.

You mean you can’t look at us but we can look at you?

With a sigh I shoved Asif’s voice and my own nagging thoughts out of my mind and settled down to eat.

On Sunday I went to the shops to get a few things that mum needed. I bought everything on the list, included a few things for myself like a new pencil and a pack of jelly beans, then paid and made my way out again. I was walking along, the shopping bags swinging from one hand, chucking jelly beans into my mouth with the other hand, when I heard a low whistle, followed by voices to my left.

“Pssst! Where you going, gorgeous?”

“Come chill with us and we’ll see if you’re as sweet as the sweets in your mouth!”

There was a burst of laughter at that and my head whipped around involuntarily. There were about four of them, lounging against the wall, eyeing me with lecherous grins on their faces. One of them dragged deep on his cigarette, blew out a ring of smoke in my direction then crooked a finger at me, beckoning me closer. I jerked my gaze away, my face burning. Ignoring their laughter and further catcalls I stalked away from there, my face and temper at boiling point.

“Morons! Bloody, daft idiots!” I muttered to myself, my pumps slapping on the floor as I marched along in ground-swallowing strides. I did not stop till I had reached the car and slumped into my seat, chest heaving in exertion.

Why am I so angry? I asked myself. This wasn’t the first time it had happened. I had started experiencing catcalls and open flirtations from the time I had turned thirteen. They didn’t usually happen when I was with my parents or brother but happened often enough when I was on my own or with my cousins. I remembered Ibu and Ridwaan chasing a guy and giving him a few solid punches because he had dared to pat me on my backside. That had happened only once and before I started wearing abaya; the incidents after I had started wearing abaya had been limited to catcalls like now, but I’d always shrugged them off and carried on, on my way. So why was I letting it bother me so much now?

Because you have a weapon at hand now. Because you only have to use it to stop all this.

I shrugged the thought away as I had been shrugging it away for a few days now, putting my mind to other things. It worked for a while; till other days came by, other incidents came up.

For some reason I had more trips to make in the following two weeks. Dad sent me to the bank when he rarely sent me on other days, mum had more errands than usual to run. Even Adnaan had a couple of favours to ask of me, the result of which was that I went out more, which gave ample opportunity to the voices in my mind to whisper their thoughts to me; whispers that grew more insistent as the days went by. It was amazing how I had spent eight years since becoming baaligh going everywhere with my face uncovered, without the least bit of hesitation or consciousness, yet now that I had started taking these small steps the full extent of awareness was creeping in on me…as though my suddenly revived conscience wouldn’t rest till I had gone all the way…no half-half for me, it seems, I thought, my mouth twisting wryly. Though it was a good thing of course, that I could never deny. After almost ten days of these mental struggles I had to sit down and face facts. As much as my mind insisted on approaching slowly and cautiously, my heart was telling me that I was more than ready to take the final step. So what was I waiting for? I would never be completely ready anyways…I just had to take the plunge and allow myself to get used to it. And nobody said it would be easy. It would come with its own challenges, its own trials, but that was it, wasn’t it… “Nobody said it would be easy; they only promised that it would be worth it.” And it would be, for the rewards of sacrificing ones own will and whims for the pleasure of Allah would definitely be tremendous, inshaAllah.

And so it was, that on a cool, rainy Wednesday I stood infront of the mirror, staring at my pale but determined reflection. With shaking hands I lifted a plain, black niqaab to my face and secured it at the back of my head, concealing me from the eyes of all the strange men outside. For a moment I panicked, feeling disoriented and claustrophobic, but then I calmed myself down.

Relax, man, it’s not so bad. You can breathe…just breathe…

My heart rate slowed down bit by bit as I made my way downstairs, feeling inexplicably nervous. I hadn’t told anyone of this decision, wanting to surprise them with it. I cleared my throat and entered the kitchen, then stopped as three faces turned towards me, their expressions ranging from confusion to suspicion.

“Assalamu alaykum…” mum began uncertainly, probably wondering who this stranger was and how she came to be here, when Haneefa suddenly let out a shriek.

“Fazila! Oh my God!!!” She jumped up, toppling her chair over behind her, and rushed over to me, “you did it! You’ve started purdah! Eeeeeeeeeeeeh!!” She pounced on me, almost knocking me to the ground as well, her arms wrapped around me in a rib-cracking hug.

“Yes…leggo….can’t breathe!” I rasped out, squirming to extricate myself. Han let go and stepped back, her smile stretching from ear to ear, her eyes suspiciously bright. Behind her mum sniffed and held out her arms.

“Oh, my baby! I can’t believe it!”

I removed my niqaab and fell into her arms, hugging her back. Dad also came up to us and hugged me from behind, cocooning me between the two of them.

“I’m so proud of you, beti. Allah accept your efforts,” he said, kissing the top of my head.

Their sense of happiness was contagious and I felt all my doubts sliding away, replaced by bone-deep contentment. I hugged them back and we chatted away happily, only stopping when Han checked her watch with an exclamation.

“Faz! We need to go, we’re late!”

“Oops, yes! Let me tie my niqaab first. I can’t manage without a mirror. Wait up!” I dashed upstairs to re-tie my niqaab then ran downstairs again, making salaam as I ran out. I got in the car and tugged on my niqaab, buckled up my seatbelt, started up the car…and tugged on my niqaab again.

“This niqaab keeps getting into my eyes. I wonder if I’ve tied it too tightly?” I looked at my reflection with a frown.

“I don’t know. Maybe you’ll get used to it in time. Now hurry up, we’re late!”

“Yeah, relax…” another tug on my niqaab, a slight adjustment then we were off. We got to madrassah in record time, despite the fact that I had found it a new and strange experience, driving in niqaab. The apa hadn’t arrived yet and everyone gaped as we walked in, first in bafflement then surprise as they realised who I was.

“Fazila!!! Finally, maaaan!” Hafiza shrieked and ran to me, catching me into a tight hug, “when did you start? Today? How does it feel? See, it’s not so hard, right?”

I laughed. “Relax, fizzpop. Yeah, I started today and so far it’s not so hard.”

The other girls also came to congratulate me and I floated on a cloud of happiness and well-being for the rest of the day.

Being in niqaab came with its own challenges. I got claustrophobic in closed or narrow spaces so found it difficult to breathe through it at first. I sweated more and the niqaab kept getting into my eyes, causing my eyes to become irritable and teary. I also couldn’t eat out anymore since I ended up messing my niqaab totally whenever I attempted eating in public, although mum assured me that I would get the hang of it in time.

What I hadn’t expected was how natural it would feel to wear niqaab. I had always dreaded it, wondering at times if I’d ever work up the courage to wear one. But once I wore it I felt like I had donned an armour, warding off all unwanted looks and words. The catcalls stopped, the flirtations stopped. When I had started lowering my gaze without wearing niqaab there had been situations when I would run into someone I knew from before and he would stop me to talk to me, expecting me to talk back like I had before. It had been very awkward to stop the conversation, make an excuse and bolt from there; more than once they had become angry or hurt. But now that problem was solved as well. Nobody approached me anymore since no one knew who I was. Nobody talked to me…I might as well have been invisible, locked behind an impenetrable fortress, and I found that I loved the experience. Even when I had to talk to cashiers or salesmen, I could easily lower my gaze and no one found it weird. I commanded so much of respect just by the way I dressed that I finally realised the truth of the words, “Allah does everything for our benefit only. Every law of shariah has been set in place for our benefit, in this world and the hereafter.”

Two weeks after I went into niqaab Zee phoned me.

“Have you forgotten the way to my house? Or are we just not so important anymore, Apa Fazila???”

I laughed. “I was just thinking of coming over one of these days. I have a surprise for you.”

“Oooh, what surprise?”

“You’ll see it when you see me.”

“Okay, hurry up and get here then!”

“I’ll come over after madrassah today,” I promised her and hung up.

I managed to shove aside all the doubts and possible scenarios running through my mind for the rest of the day, but they came back to me in a rush as I was driving over to Zee’s place.

“Oh, Allah, please don’t let him be here,” I prayed. I breathed a sigh of relief when the gate opened and I saw the empty driveway.

“Alhamdulillah,” I muttered fervently, locking up my car and making my way to the front door. It swung open as I got there and Zee stood there, her mouth hanging open in astonishment. I wanted to laugh at her shock but I took a step towards her instead.

“How you, ma. So nice you looking these days. Where’s that baby of yours, I want to see her. Must have gone so big by now.” I raised my hands and patted her cheeks, then jumped back with a giggle when she threw out her arms, thinking she wanted to smack me. Instead her hands closed around my upper arms, pulling me into a hug.

“Oh, my God! When did this happen???”

“About two weeks ago,” I replied, moving away slightly and grinning at her.

“Two weeks!! And you couldn’t even tell me??”

“Yup, because I wanted to surprise you,” I replied, my smile widening as I lifted my niqaab.

“Well, you’ve definitely done that! I’m so happy for you, girrlll!” She pumped my arm so hard that I winced, then dragged me inside. “Come sit in the lounge. Let me go see what Laaibah is doing.”

“She’s awake?”

“Yeah, she was playing before you came. She’s not crying so either she’s still playing or she’s fallen asleep.”

“I hope she’s playing still. I haven’t seen her for such a long time.”

“Yeah, and whose fault is that?” Zee asked a little sharply, “madrassah started and you just disappeared. Can’t even pop in to make salaam!”

I laughed awkwardly, squirming a little. “Just been busy, man. Madrassah is hectic.”

“It’s always been hectic but you still used to make time to come by before.”

I honestly didn’t know what to say to that so I simply smiled again and apologised. I couldn’t even promise to come more often because how long could I avoid him for? I was just lucky that he wasn’t here today.

Laaibah was awake thankfully and I spent a pleasant half an hour playing with her, gurgling to her, making her laugh. Zee relaxed on the sofa and watched us, smiling indulgently. After a while Laaibah got tired so, with a wave in the direction of the kitchen, Zee scooped her up.

“Let me put her to sleep. You can help yourself to biscuits and tea or coffee.”

I nodded, forcing a smile. Zee disappeared and I let out the breath I had been holding, then took another deep, calming breath.

The only way to slay your monsters is to face them, Faz. Get moving now.

I walked to the kitchen, bracing myself though I knew it was empty. I stood in the doorway for a while, my eyes riveted to the countertop where it had happened, my heart thudding in a slow, deep rythm. Slowly I walked forward and lay my hands on the granite top, the cold, smooth surface calming me somewhat. It was okay. It was over. It wouldn’t happen again. It was time to bury it and move on.

I was reaching up to get the coffee tin when the door opened behind me. Whirling around I saw Bashir step into the kitchen then freeze, his eyes widening as they landed on my face. I spun back around so fast the kitchen spun with me and blurred for a moment. My heart was hammering in my chest, my breath coming in harsh gasps. My mind was whirling, thoughts tumbling over each other in a confused jumble. Bashir was here. Talk about facing the king of all monsters. Bashir was here. And I didn’t even have my niqaab. Bashir was here! A wave of déjà vu swept over me, making me feel dizzy.

Oh, Crap!

Part 152

My heart was beating erratically as we entered Julie Foi’s house which was already full of people and buzzing with chatter and noise. I had let mum, dad and Han in on my aims and struggles and they were fully supportive of my wishes, though mum had warned me that it wouldn’t be easy with the family since whichever of my cousins and aunts wore niqaab didn’t wear infront of the family. Mum herself wore niqaab but again not with the family, so this would be something new to everyone. What would be even more unusual, mum had told me, was that I wanted to do this while not actually wearing niqaab.

“They won’t understand it,” mum had said, “because they’ll see you like they always do. To them nothing has changed so they’ll find it weird when you avoid them. Are you sure you don’t wanna start wearing purdah first, sweety?”

I had shaken my head. “I don’t wanna look at them and chat to them like nothing is wrong because now I’m aware that it’s wrong. But at the same time I’m not ready to wear niqaab. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, if that’s what you’re comfortable with.” I knew she didn’t fully understand but she supported me nonetheless.

Back to the braai. Our weekly braais usually followed the same routine. The ladies would all be gathered in the kitchen, preparing everything, the men would be sitting in the verandah, talking and some of them smoking, and the youngsters would be outside by the braai bin, sitting on scattered chairs or gathered around the braai bin. Us girls would go up and down, bringing everything outside where the guys would braai the meats and garlic bread, then we would all sit outside to eat. All of us together. We would first braai up all the food and eat that, then toast marshmallows and make s’mores for dessert or have just toasted marshmallows or whatever dessert there was. Then we would put a huge pot of tea over the braai bin…and coffee for whoever wanted that…and drink tea while sitting and chatting till late. Us cousins would either talk or play truth-and-dare or charades sometimes… There was no purdah system whatsoever and till today I had found nothing wrong in that, like the rest of my family. Today, however, that only increased my unease. How would I avoid the guys when they were right there? I guess I would just have to try and stay indoors…maybe say I wasn’t feeling well and retire to Aliyah’s room? Nah, then everyone would come and see what was wrong and end up offering a hundred solutions, which would just draw more attention to myself. I hung back slightly, allowing dad and Han to go outside, then followed mum into the kitchen.

“What are you doing? Here, let me help you out with that!” I said brightly to Atiya Chachi, Amira’s mum, plucking the half peeled carrot and peeler out of her hands and starting to peel it myself. Atiya Chachi looked startled then smiled. “Okay, you finish off the salad then and I’ll go do something else.”

After I was done with the salad I looked around then at mum, raising my eyebrows questioningly. Luckily mum caught on and gave me more work so I was able to keep myself occupied…till Amira turned up.

“Oh, there you are! I was wondering how come you didn’t come out. What you doing?”

“I’m busy,” I informed her with my best aunty imitation. Amira laughed but stood there, waiting for me to finish so she could probably drag me outside. I slowed down in the hopes that she would get tired and go away but she just stood there, tapping her foot impatiently and telling me to hurry up. Finally, my work done and having nothing else to do, I sighed and moved out of the kitchen, beckoning her to follow me. She did, looking curiously at me as she did so.

“Uhmmm, there’s something I have to tell you. But go fetch Ally first.” I knew Ally wouldn’t be pleased at being left out and she would be the next one to come looking for me anyways. May as well tell them both together.

Amira called Aliyah and we went to Aliyah’s room to talk.

“Right. Spill,” Amira said as soon as we were in the room.

“Okay…” I quickly appraised them of my situation, at the end of which both of them were looking at me open mouthed.

“So you want to start making purdah from the guys?” Aliyah asked.

I nodded.

“But you haven’t actually started wearing purdah?” Amira asked.

I nodded again.

“How does that work, though?” Amira creased her brow in confusion, “doesn’t everyone start wearing purdah first, then worry about lowering the gaze and all?”

“Not necessarily. I’m sure people must be trying to lower their gaze and not talk to ghair mahrams, right? I mean, not everyone wears niqaab, you know, but they might still be trying to keep away from the other sins!” I replied defensively.

Amira and Aliyah looked baffled. “I don’t know,” Aliyah said finally, “I don’t know much about these things…but why do you need to make purdah with Ibu and them? You’ve grown up with them lot, they’re like your brothers!” She waved her hand vaguely, encompassing the whole troop of cousins in “them lot”.

“Because they’re not my mahrams. It’s difficult to grasp but islamically they’re strangers. I mean, I can get married to any of them!” I grimaced at the thought and Amira and Aliyah both burst out laughing. “It’s weird for us only because we were brought up like this, to regard them as brothers. But that doesn’t make it any less wrong.”

“Hmmm…” they were both silent at this, thinking over it. Finally Amira shook her head and looked at me. “Rather you than me, cuz. But we’ll support you. This means you can’t come outside, then?”

“Yeah, I can’t, otherwise I’ll be expected to sit with you’ll and talk like always. And if I keep quiet everyone will know there’s something wrong. I’d rather stay indoors.”

“Everyone will know there’s something wrong even if you stay indoors,” Aliyah pointed out. I shrugged. That couldn’t be helped.

I managed to escape notice for a while by sitting in the kitchen and having Amira and Aliyah bring me food. Feeling sorry for me they also sat down to eat with me, after filling up three plates so they wouldn’t have to make any more trips to get more food. We were talking and eating when we heard footsteps and Immy walked in.

“Here you are! How come you’ll are eating here and not outside?”

“Just. It’s more cozy here,” Amira replied, making Aliyah laugh and a smile form on my own face.

“Faz, howzit? I didn’t see you outside.”

“Uhmm, yeah. I’m okay and you?” I replied quietly, keeping my eyes on my plate.

“Good, good. What’s up?”

“Nothing. Just eating,” I waved a hand at my food then took a morsel and popped it in my mouth for emphasis.

“Errrr, okay…” there was a pause in which I could almost see him scratching his head in bafflement. I continued to eat, feigning complete absorption in my food. After a while I heard his footsteps receding, then Amira poked me.

“It’s safe to look up now.”

I looked up and breathed a sigh of relief at the empty kitchen. “Well, that wasn’t so bad!”

Aliyah raised her eyebrows at me. “Believe me, it’s only just begun.”

She was right. The encounter with Immy was the mildest in the multitude of encounters and explanations I had to go through over the course of the evening. We had just finished eating when Ibu burst in, with Ridwaan and Asif close on his heels. I glanced up, caught sight of them crowding into the kitchen and quickly lowered my eyes again.

“Look at you’ll! We heard you’ll were having a cozy little meeting here so we came to join you,” Ibu said exuberantly.

“We didn’t ask for your company, dodo!” Amira said dryly.

“Well, I’m not asking for yours either. I came to look for Faz, since I haven’t seen her today. What’s up, Faz? Why you hiding here?”

“I’m not. I am…” crap, the food is also finished, “was…just eating.” I waved a hand at my plate again, keeping my eyes on it.

“Right, so now that you’ve finished why don’t you come outside?” Asif put in. Practical Asif, always going straight to the point, I thought wryly.

“I will…uhmm, later, inshaAllah. I’ll just go pray my esha first,” I said, hurriedly pushing back my chair and standing up.

“Okay…you okay, though, Faz?” Ibu asked, “you seem a bit off today.”

“No, no, I’m fine,” I replied, looking down. I felt so weird, talking to them like they were ants on the floor, and felt like the scum-of-the-earth for being so rude and abrupt. They don’t deserve this, my conscience screamed inside me, they’ve been so nice to you all along, how can you suddenly distance yourself from them and treat them like strangers? They’ll be so hurt at your attitude…they won’t understand…you’re like a sister to them…

My resolve wavered, trembling, dangling from my grasp by a mere thread. A slight shiver would break it, shatter it into nothingness. For the space of a few heartbeats I felt like shattering it myself, looking up and laughing at my cousins, telling them I was just messing with them. My heart thumped slowly in indecision; do it, don’t do it, do it…then a whisper tickled through my mind, ‘it’s always easy to follow the crowd, my dear. Standing alone is what requires true strength…standing for your beliefs, even if that means standing alone…seek to please Allah, not to please people…it’s always hardest at first, ma, but it will get easier with time…’

Jazakillah, Apa, I whispered under my breath, and my resolved hardened again, safe and sound within my grasp once more.

“Faz? You looking for something down there?” Ridwaan had come closer to me. I could see his trainers in my line of vision.

“No,” I took a deep breath and raised my gaze slightly till it was resting on his chest, “I’m just practicing looking down. Protecting my gaze from m-men,” the word trembled on my lips, sounding strange and foreign.

“Looking down? From us?” Ridwaan was sounding incredulous.

“Yes, I have to. You’ll are very close to me but you’re not my mahrams end of the day…” I floundered, wondering how best to explain it to them. For a wild moment I considered spilling Bashi’s incident to them, just to let them know how I came about this decision of mine. Just as quickly I discarded the idea. There was no similarity at all between Bashir and my cousins and if they thought I was pointing out one they would be hurt and offended. Besides, they might try and go harm Bashir and that was the last thing I wanted. No, it was best to bury that incident once and for all.

At the end I just told them about going to meet my apa and our discussion, minus the Bashir parts. Then I told them about how the discussion had affected me and made me want to be a better muslim, which was what I was trying to do, slowly but surely. There was a long period of silence when I finished.

“You’ve gone into purdah?” Asif asked finally.

“No, of course not. I mean, if I had I would be wearing one right now.”

“So then, how? You can’t see us but we can see you?” If he hadn’t sounded so genuinely confused I would have bashed him one over his thick head.

“You can’t see me as well!” I snapped, “but I can’t control your eyes, now, can I??”

“Forget about that…Faz, we’re your bloody cousins! Practically your brothers!” Ibu sounded incredulous, “you mean you’re gonna stop talking to us? Become like a stranger overnight??”

I made the mistake of glancing up, seeing their oh-so-familiar faces, creased, not in mischievous, familiar smiles but in totally foreign emotions; disbelief, hurt, betrayal…yes, betrayal!…and the tight control I had exerted over myself snapped. I felt tears flood my eyes and buried my head in my hands to staunch the warm flow.

“You guys, this is as hard for me as it is for you. I’m only trying to do what’s right, I’m only trying to do what pleases Allah, so please don’t make it harder for me than it already is. Please!” My nose was running, mingling with the tears in my hand. I sounded muffled and croaky, like a frog. I didn’t care.

There was another long period of silence then shuffling. I heard whispers but couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“How should I know?? I don’t know what’s allowed and what’s not anymore!” That was Ridwaan, sounding exasperated…and contrite.

“Alright, guys, she’s only trying to follow islam and change for the better. I’m sure we can all understand that and cut her some slack?” I felt Amira’s hand rest on my shoulder and could almost feel her glaring at the guys. There was more shuffling, more mumbled voices…then I heard their footsteps fading away. I raised my head, feeling a sense of loss rip through me.

“It’s okay, Faz, they’ll get used to it,” Amira said comfortingly.

“Yeah…and so will I,” I replied bleakly, wiping my eyes.

That wasn’t the end of it. I had to explain myself again, to the other guys who were just as disbelieving, and to all the aunties and uncles as well who all got to hear of it. Ibu laughed and called me, “Apa”, Julie foi asked me how I can do purdah without wearing purdah, Imraan chacha said they were all just family and I mustn’t complicate things for nothing, and Tahir said I was the last person he would have imagined to turn all “holy-holy”. It was the most draining evening I had ever passed in my life and by the end of it all I wanted to do was go home, crawl under the covers and sleep for a hundred years. I swore to myself then, in a fit of sudden rage and helplessness, that I would never bring up my kids this way. I would never let them mix with their cousins without finding anything wrong, then put them in a position of severing close bonds when they realised that those bonds weren’t allowed in islam. I would teach them right from wrong from a young age, so they kept their distance from the time they became baaligh. I didn’t blame mum and dad for what had happened but at that moment I did wish they had brought me up differently, then I wouldn’t be in this fix right now…

I suppose something good did come out of it at the end of the day because, unbeknown to me at that time, that evening turned out to be a major turning point in my life…

Part 151

I stood infront of the mirror, pinning up a plain black hijab that matched with my flowing black abaya. Finished with that I took a handbag from the closet, dumped my phone, a pack of tissues and my purse inside, then hesitated, my hand hovering over the lip balm and eyeliner on the table. I never left the house without applying both these things, the extent of my makeup on normal days, but since I was trying to do purdah…without wearing purdah…I grimaced and dropped my hand. Much to my shame, especially in light of what had transpired at both Zee’s and Apa Tasneem’s houses, I still wasn’t ready to go into niqaab. One step at a time…and the step into niqaab seemed like a huge leap over the Grand Canyon. I was trying to take steps, it’s not that I wasn’t. But I was treading slowly and carefully, not wanting to rush into anything and burn myself out. I had seen too many people rush into niqaab, then stop wearing it a few years later. I didn’t want to be one of those; if I did go into niqaab it would be for life, inshaAllah…

So far I had tried to lower my gaze and not speak to any ghair mahram men. Not speaking to ghair mahrams had been easy, since I hadn’t bumped into any that I knew. Lowering my gaze, though… I had expected it to be hard; I hadn’t expected it to be this hard. The first few days had been a bit simpler since I was only driving to and from madrassah, so the only time I had to avert my gaze was while driving. Though that had also been a bit difficult. I was so used to looking anywhere that I wished that it was difficult to train my mind and eyes to look away as soon as they landed on any men…while stopping at the robot, glancing automatically at the driver of the car that stopped next to mine…a young male, must be in his twenties…oops, look away!…drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the pedestrians to cross…hmmm, that man is walking so slowly, wonder why…is he limping? Squinting at his face, trying to see if he was in pain…oops, look away!…stuck in traffic, watching the people walk rapidly by on the pavement to my right…lost in thought, noticing details abstractedly…young guy, fat lady, really tall man…oh my word, what’s that on his face? Looks like a huge wart…ouch, that
looks painful…oops, dammit, LOOK AWAY!!!!!

All that was still easier than the day mum sent me to the shops to buy a few things. I decided to go to the mall because I had a list of my own and wanted to kill several birds with one stone, so to speak. Once I’d parked off and walked in I was surrounded by people, male and female. The females were probably as many as the males but to me, there seemed to be only males everywhere!! I was used to looking around as I walked, noticing everything from what was on display in the various shops, to the most mundane and random things like what colour shirt some guy was wearing or whether some girl’s lipstick was too garishly bright for her face. Now I found that I couldn’t look anywhere because wherever I looked there seemed to be some guy in my line of vision. I tried to look down but I honestly couldn’t walk when I couldn’t see where I was going. How did people do it, look down?? Didn’t they bump into something or someone?? There had to be some trick to this that I was missing! And everytime I looked up, in any direction, some guy seemed to pop up like jack-in-the-box. I was so frustrated and distracted, trying to get it right that I walked right past PnP, where I was supposed to start my shopping, and forgot half the things I wanted to buy as well. With a sigh of frustration I stopped on one side.

Okay, Faz, you can do this. Everyone does it, no big deal. Just look down and put one step infront of the other and you’ll get there. Now, where’s PnP?

I turned around, got my bearings then started walking again, concentrating on the pattern on the floor that rolled past my feet. One, two, one, two…see, it’s not so bad….OUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!

I walked into a brick wall that had loomed up suddenly infront of me, banging my head with a resounding thump. “Ouch!” I cried out involuntarily, clutching my head, “what on earth??”

Looking up I discovered the “brick wall” doubled over in laughter, arms clutched around his stomach, causing quite a few heads to turn our way. Folding my arms I gave the top of his head a hard stare, hoping I looked stern enough despite my flaming face.

“It’s not funny.”

“Yes…it…is,” Brick-wall gasped, still laughing. He gasped and wheezed some more while I tried to get over my embarrassment, then straightened up.

“What were you doing? Trying to locate a bug on your foot?” And he burst out laughing again.

“No!” I scowled at him, my glance passing over the pristine white kurta and topi he was wearing, then shifting to his eyes, still flashing with amusement above his neat beard, before looking away again, “I was trying to practice looking down. Not looking at any men, I mean. I obviously don’t know how to do it, though,” I added with a sigh.

“I see.” Brick-wall sounded serious now, “I’m sorry for laughing at you. I had no idea.”

“It’s okay. I probably looked like a weirdo,” one corner of my mouth turned up in belated amusement.

“ did look funny. Like you had dropped something and were trying to search for it. You don’t need to look so down, you know, or else you won’t be able to see where you’re going.”

“That’s exactly what is happening!” I exclaimed, “I can’t look around because I see guys everywhere, and I can’t look down because I can’t see where I’m going. Where am I supposed to look?”

“You look below face-level. Lucky you’re a girl so you don’t need to worry about seeing bare female legs when you look down,” he chuckled, “so you look at the shoes or legs of the men, then you can see things around you. Anything below face-level is okay, you know.”

“Hmmm, yeah. Makes sense,” I nodded and smiled at him before I realised that I was looking at him when I was not supposed to, and talking to him, again when I was not supposed to. With a hasty salaam and jazakallah I walked away, silently making a heartfelt dua for him when following his advice got me successfully through my shopping trip without further accidents. It was still very difficult, though. I still ended up looking at loads of guys unconsciously, without even realising it half the time. It was frustrating and so many times I just wanted to give up and go back to leading my former care-free life where I didn’t have to worry about such things. That night as I sat morosely in my room, combing my hair and contemplating my lack of success…it had been so many days but I still felt like I wasn’t improving at all…I suddenly recalled Ahmed’s words, spoken years back but reverberating through my mind anew, each word etched into its crevices indelibly like engravings on a rock.

The next step was guarding my gaze. The gaze is an arrow of shaytaan, and that’s the root of zina. I tried to lower my gaze as much as possible but it was so difficult! I was so used to just looking wherever I wanted to that now to keep track of where I looked was difficult. And at campus girls were everywhere. I actually started appreciating the cold weather here, because in summer girls barely covered themselves, and that just made it harder for us guys. Because if I looked down also I would be able to see her legs! Where was a guy supposed to look?

I tried and tried, and slipped up as many times. I would wake up everyday for tahajjud and cry my heart out in dua, begging Allah to grant me strength, pleading to Allah to guard my gaze and keep my nafs in control. Every day I would walk at campus, struggling to look down and not turn impulsively at every feminine voice I would hear; I would manage for a few hours then slip up again when my gaze inadvertently found another feminine face. Every time that happened I would beat myself up mentally; why wasn’t I improving? Why couldn’t I succeed? And the tears would pour down my face in dua; oh Allah, forgive me; oh Allah, grant me strength to look away.

Until finally the day came when I managed to go through an entire day without casting a glance at any chic. And when that happened, when I looked away for the sake of Allah, when I squashed my nafs for the pleasure of Allah only, wallah the sweetness of imaan that I tasted on that day made every tear and every struggle well worth it…

I found my eyes prickling at the memory. Ahmed had told me the story of his reformation back at campus. Those words had receded to the back of my mind but now they were there, as fresh as the day he’d uttered them.

If I could do it, so could you. I saw his eybrows raised at me in my mind’s eye, his gaze challenging me.

Yes, I can and I will, inshaAllah. Now shoo, you’re not supposed to be here as well. I shook off all thoughts of Ahmed but his words lingered. I would try it his way then, because only asking the Controller of my eyes to help me would make me succeed.

Now I grabbed my lip balm and eyeliner and dropped them into my bag even though I knew I wouldn’t apply them, then turned to go downstairs, firmly squelching the nerves that threatened to choke me. Tonight would be the most difficult battle I would face since I had stepped on the battlefield, preparing to fight my way through any and all obstacles, because tonight was the family braai, where the whole family got together. Everyone would be there, including all my male cousins. If you live through tonight you’ll win the battle hands down. My mouth twisted wryly as I walked down the stairs. I had no idea what I was going to do but I hoped that whatever it was, it wouldn’t turn out to be a disaster…

Part 150

A few minutes later…minutes that ticked by excruciatingly slowly, the slow thumping of my heart keeping time with the seconds that ticked by…the door opened a few inches and a pair of eyes peered through cautiously, the bottom half of the face concealed by a peach coloured scarf. The eyes widened in recognition then the door was thrown open.

“Fazila!” The scarf promptly dropped as well, I beheld a familiar, round face before I was enveloped in a warm hug, “how are you, ma? So nice to see you. Come in, come in!” She stepped back, her face creased in a broad smile, and I felt my apprehension slowly dissipate. Returning her smile I followed her into the house and into the small lounge on our left. Apa Tasneem waited for me to sit down before taking a seat opposite me.

“How are you, ma?” She repeated.

“I’m fine, alhamdulillah, and you?” I replied.

“I’m okay, shukar. Glad that madrassah is starting tomorrow. I get so bored staying at home…though I know you probably aren’t happy,” she laughed.

“Oh, no, I’m looking forward to madrassah as well. I miss it,” I said with utmost sincerity. I caught a flash of surprise in her eyes and smiled inwardly. She would be surprised, given the amount of times she’d caught us fooling around in class.

After a while the conversation dwindled and I looked down at my hands, twisting them over and over again in my lap. Cold fingers of apprehension were slithering up my spine again.

“Is anything wrong, Fazila?” I heard Apa ask kindly.

“I…yes…” I took a deep breath and raised my eyes to meet hers, wondering how…and where…to start. Her eyes met mine, gently encouraging. Drawing another breath I decided to just plunge in.

I started by outlining my relationship with Zee…and Bashir…then moving on to how I used to keep popping in to collect Laaibah and mine and Bashir’s interactions. I kept my eyes in my laps the whole time, but when I came to that fateful day my hands clenched tight, my breath coming short. I felt the sense of shame, of angry humiliation wash over me again as I spoke but I trudged on doggedly till the end.

“He kissed me,” I mumbled, so low that I wondered if she could hear me, “and I…didn’t do anything. I…I didn’t know it was going to happen. I was in shock.” My hands were clenched to tightly that I could feel my nails digging into my palm. I felt warm moisture tickle my cheeks and only then realised that I was crying.

I felt the seat next to me sag as Apa Tasneem lowered herself into it. Her arm came around my shoulders, pressing my head into her shoulder. I turned wordlessly into her and cried for a little while, then pulled back self consciously.

“I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes…and nose…on my sleeve, “I’m not usually so emo, you know.” I tried to laugh but it emerged as a small, shaky sound.

Apa Tasneem got up and handed me a tissue then waited while I blew my nose, wiped my face and got myself under some semblence of control.

“What did you do after that?” She asked.

“After…?” I was confused.

“After he…ermm…kissed you.”

“Oh! I pushed him away…then I slapped him,” my mouth turned up a little at the memory, “and ran away.”

“Well, there you are. You didn’t do “nothing”, did you?” Apa smiled.

“Yeah, but meaning I didn’t stop him from kissing me! I should have run from the beginning!” I responded vehemently.

Apa shook her head. “It wasn’t your fault, Fazila. Don’t beat yourself up over it,” she paused, as though trying to decide what to say, “can I give you a bit of naseehat, my dear? I’ll try not to make it like a big, long bayan…”

“Yes, of course. I don’t mind!” I interrupted, “I did come here to get guidance and naseehat.”

“Okay, then…” Apa nodded and settled herself more comfortably next to me.

“You know, Fazila, these things happen quite often. I’ve heard cases of men having affairs with their wives sisters or friends, or with their brothers wives…of women having affairs with their sisters husbands or with their husbands brothers or friends. It happens a lot and then there is a big hoo-haa over it and everyone blames each other and calls each other names. But no one looks at the root of the problem. Why did it happen? What led to such cases of infidelity? Why do people get caught up in such traps? It is the trap of shaytaan, definitely, but how did we give shaytaan the opportunity to deviate us? It all boils down to one thing…lack of haya…and lack of purdah,” her eyes held mine, allowing the words to absorb.

“You see, islam has a set of guidelines on how we have to lead our lives. Allah has laid down a set of rules, what we can do and what we cannot do. And in every rule there’s khair. Every rule has been placed only for our benefit, in this dunya and the akhirah, and only to save us from harm. Wallahi, if we lived our lives according to what shariah dictates we would never have any complications in our lives. Or we might still have, but these would be tests from Allah and not due to our actions. But when we move away from the laws of shariah then we see many problems in our lives and all brought upon ourselves by none other than us. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

“Now, one of those rules is the rule of purdah. Islam is very strict in that matter. It has clearly defined who is our mahram and who is not. Whoever isn’t our mahram, we have to cover ourselves completely infront of them. And not only cover ourselves but we need to protect our gazes and tongues infront of them, only speaking to them when necessary. But us indians are very lax about this. Our parents have brought us up allowing us to intermingle with our cousins and family friends, seeing nothing wrong in this. They allow us to go to mixed schools without educating us on the aspects of purdah and haya. So we grow up thinking all this is normal. You yourself think like this, don’t you, my dear?” Her eyes held no accusation when they looked into mine but I dropped my gaze, nodding, ashamed.

“You see, Fazila, if you had observed true purdah with Bashir and if he had observed true purdah with you this wouldn’t have happened. It comes in a hadith, isn’t, that whenever a man and woman are alone shaytaan is the third one present. You’ll gave shaytaan to work his wiles on you’ll and that’s how you’ll fell in his trap.”

“But I don’t wear purdah,” I mumbled.

“You don’t have to…well, actually, you do have to, it’s wajib to wear purdah, but even if you haven’t started yet you could still observe purdah with ghair mahrams. Firstly you lower your gaze infront of them. Zina starts with the eyes so if you lower your gaze you’ve automatically cut off a very important branch of zina. Then you keep out of their path, meaning try as much as you can not to intermingle with them. And if you do this you won’t have to talk to them as well so that’s another problem out. Even if you talk to your cousins…are you close to them?”

I looked up and nodded. “Yes. It’s like you said. We’ve been brought up like that. They’re like my brothers,” I shrugged.

“Hmmm. Then it will be more difficult but nothing is impossible. Try and lower your gaze first. You yourself will see how difficult it is to talk and joke with them if you look down the whole time. I know, I’ve been there.” She laughed when I looked at her in surprise, “I wasn’t born an angel, my dear. I had my fair share of mischief in my younger days. I was also brought up like that, mixing with cousins and all. We used to hug and kiss on the cheeks, everything. Do you?”

“No, I try not to touch them as much as possible. I’m conscious of that much at least,” I smiled wryly.

“Then your job will be easier than mine. When I started purdah, at first I couldn’t make purdah with my cousins. It was so difficult! Then when I got the courage to finally start it made them so naar! They used to rip off my purdah and tell me not to be so holy-holy, they were my brothers and were not looking at me in a dirty way. They felt insulted. So many times I would run away from family functions when it became too difficult, run away home and cry my eyes out. My aunties and uncles also felt offended and stopped speaking to me nicely. My own parents told me to just stop making purdah with family because it was causing problems…” she sighed and shook her head.

“And then?” I was watching her with avid curiosity.

“I stuck to my guns. I said I won’t meet anyone if they’re offended by me following my deen but I won’t give up my purdah because I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was very difficult for a few months. I didn’t attend so many functions because I was scared of starting arguments again and the few I attended I got the same response. But I continued making dua and Allah finally softened their hearts alhamdulillah,” she reached over and squeezed my hand, “it won’t be easy, Fazila. It’s much easier to follow the crowd and do what everyone is doing, trust me. But if you do this just for Allah’s sake, you will get tremendous rewards and you will see the effects even in this dunya. I was in my second year of alima course when I started purdah and the ilm I learnt after starting purdah was just different because I had cut the major sin of zina from my life. I’ve said this many times, isn’t…ilm is light and sin is darkness. Light and darkness can not be in one place at the same time so the light of your ilm will only truly shine when the darkness of sin is removed.”

“Is what I am doing really zina?” I knew the answer to this but I still asked. It was so difficult to imagine talking to Immy, Ibu, Ridwaan, and all the other guys as zina.

“Yes, it is. Looking at a ghair mahram is zina of the eyes. Talking to a ghair mahram is zina of the tongue. Walking towards a ghair mahram is zina of the legs. Touching a ghair mahram is zina of the hands. And the final, indecent act is zina of the private parts. The problem is, we only consider the actual act as zina and shrug off the other interactions as harmless, whereas all of them are major sins.”

“Yes…” I murmured, lost in thought.

Apa Tasneem squeezed my hand again, her own face abstracted. I supposed she was lost in her own memories as well.

“You are a true warrior!” I suddenly declared. And my role model. I want to be just like you when I grow up. My lips trembled in amusement at the thought.

Apa Tasneem laughed. “I am not. But you are one, Fazila. I can see your determination and I know you will succeed.”

“I hope so, inshaAllah. It seems so daunting, I don’t know if I’ll manage.”

“You will. One step at a time. Don’t do everything too suddenly. Go one step at a time and you’ll get there, inshaAllah. Now, do you want tea or coffee?”

Thirty minutes later I left Apa Tasneem’s house, comfortably full with Apa Tasneem’s hot coffee, fresh, buttery scones and warm words of encouragement. I felt exhilarated and apprehensive at the same time, my mind glad to finally grasp at a course of action but scared of what the outcome would be.

One step at a time…

Part 149

I dreamt at night. A vivid, disturbing dream, shifting and changing in the confusing way that dreams did…

I saw Bashir, smiling, laughing…then his face changed, his eyes boring into mine with an intensity that scared me…he started walking towards me while I backed away, holding up my hands as though to ward him off. He stalked me step for step till I bumped into something which cut off my retreat. Then he was coming closer, closer, leering, leaning towards me, his eyes hot in anticipation…and then, a moment before the gap between us closed he stepped back and laughed.

“I’m joking,” he said, “I’m only joking.”

Then his face changed to Ahmed’s, dimples flashing as he smiled warmly at me.

“There’s nothing to be scared of,” he said, “I won’t harm you.”

Then, just as I began to relax his face changed again…and the eerily familiar face, one I hadn’t seen for years but had never forgotten, loomed before me…and suddenly I was back at the back part of campus and the guy lunged for me, gripping the neck of my abaya hard and pulling it, ripping it apart…………….………..

I woke up with a start, a scream stuck in my throat. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was drenched in sweat that made my top cling to me. I looked around wildly before my eyes registered the dark room, the safe outlines barely visible in the dark.

“Only a dream,” I whispered, trying to calm myself down, “it was only a dream.”

I ran my hands through my dishevelled hair and stood up to go to the bathroom and kitchen. I needed a cold glass of water to ease my parched throat.

I slept after that but restlessly, waking up in the morning in a black mood, ready to murder the next person who crossed my path. I decided to go running as usual, though I steered clear of Zee’s house. There had been no news from her and I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Incase it was bad, though, I wasn’t risking my neck by messaging her first.

I took my usual route and was back before eight. I felt a pang when I thought of Laaibah and it turned to a dull ache when Zee’s face came to mind again. Would we ever meet as close friends again?

“Oh, Allah, don’t let her find out. Save our friendship and her marriage,” I prayed as I had prayed countless times before.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully but there was plenty of activity going on in my mind. I felt restless, like I must do something, but I didn’t know what. I was irritable and annoyed but these were just cover-up emotions for what was really going on underneath; fear, lingering vestiges of shame; and guilt. An overpowering sense of guilt, like I’d taken a knife and stabbed Zee in the back, literally. And the worst part was, I didn’t know what to do about it.

After another night spent restlessly I was done with moping around and feeling low. I couldn’t live with this guilt forever. I had to purge it. I had to tell someone about it, someone who would tell me what to do. I wanted someone to tell me it was okay, that mistakes do happen. But who? I couldn’t confide in my parents or siblings. I shuddered, just thinking about it. They might blame me, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did. Worse was the shame, of telling them that something as disgusting as that had actually happened to me. I couldn’t do it. I’d never be able to look them in the eye afterwards if I did.

In this frame of mind I pulled on my running shoes and took off, running off my various emotions. I ran along the usual route but went further than normal, lost in thought. My phone, vibrating in my pocket, jerked me out of my thoughts. Slowing to a stop, panting hard, I pulled it out and answered it without looking at the caller ID. It would be mum, of course; who else?

Who else, indeed. The familiar voice in my ear gave me such a jolt that I almost fell down. Between the confusion of righting myself and getting my scattered thoughts in control, over the roaring of blood in my ears, I totally missed what Zee was saying.

“Faz! Are you there?” She said impatiently.

“Yes, yes, I’m here,” I said finally, still sounding breathless. But, well, I had been running so she could attribute it to that, instead of shock.

“Are you running?”

“Were,” I corrected, “I stopped to take your call.” Which I wouldn’t have taken if I’d known it was you. Now that I had gotten myself under control, somewhat, coherent thought was returning to me. Zee sounded normal, just like herself. That meant she didn’t know what had happened…yet. So I could keep up the pretense…for now.

The momentary illusion of safety was shattered by Zee’s next question. “Are you going to pick up Laaibah today? You haven’t come since Friday.” There was curiosity in her voice.

“I…errr…” my mind went blank as I mentally struggled for an appropriate excuse on the spur of the moment. I couldn’t go there. Bashir might be there and I couldn’t risk facing him again. I didn’t want to see that slimeball for the rest of my life!

I was casting my eyes around desperately as my mind groped for an excuse, when my gaze landed on a small, neat house just ahead of me on the right. And inspiration struck.

“Actually, I was thinking of visiting my apa today,” I said as casually as I could, “I’m by her house anyways so I thought I’ll just pop in. I won’t manage to pick up Laaibah today. You don’t mind, do you?”

“I see. No, it’s okay. Bashir put her to sleep before leaving for work so I got a chance to sleep in till she woke up. He’s been leaving really early these days. I just thought I’ll ask you because you normally come by this time.”

So Bashir was leaving for work before the time I could go to his house. Good. At least the man had a bit of sense in his head.

“Oh, okay. I’ll try and come from tomorrow…oh no, I can’t!” I exclaimed as a thought struck me, “madrassah starts from tomorrow so I won’t be able to go running anymore.” I felt a flood of relief at that thought. I didn’t think I’d ever been happier at the thought of holidays being over!

“Oh, well. It was good while it lasted,” Zee said with a sigh. I laughed then told her I’d see her inshaAllah (probably when she came to her parents house) and rang off. Then I took a deep breath and eyed the house infront of me. The house of a soft and friendly apa, the type who put us at ease immediately. Apa Tasneem’s house.

Had my mind led me here instinctively, knowing that I needed someone to confide in? Maybe…I hadn’t come this way before. I hesitated at the thought of confiding my deepest, darkest secret to someone who had no relation to me and whom I’d never confided in or revealed anything personal about me before. And yet, even as I stood there, my heart in my mouth, my palms clammy, feeling fear and apprehension course through my veins, I knew that this was the best decision I could have made. Squaring my shoulders I took a deep breath then marched to the front door and knocked firmly on it.


Part 148

I stood rooted to the spot as his mouth drew closer to mine. My mind and body had gone numb, unable to process what was happening. Through the numbness my mind was processing the most inane of things; the musky scent of him, sleep and sweat mixed with a faint, stale hint of cologne; his warm breath washing over my face, tea, overlaid by a faint scent of toothpaste, mixed with something indefinable; his arm brushing against my hand, the short hairs prickling my soft skin; then his mouth brushed against mine, his lips warm and dry, pressing, trying to mould into mine…and the horror-induced trance that had fallen over me shattered like a huge chandelier, splintering into a million shards, the vibrations rocketing through my body, shuddering in every nerve-ending, jarring me violently. With a gasp I jerked my head to one side, then raised my arms and shoved him back as best as I could. Caught off-guard he stumbled backwards, the back of his knees hitting into the table behind him, making him clutch the table for support. I took a step towards him and, raising my right arm, slapped him hard across his face.

“Bas***d!!! How…dare…you???”

I bit the words off through clenched teeth, my chest heaving, my breath coming in short, quick gasps. My face was feeling hot and my eyes were burning, a sign of imminent tears. I caught a glimpse of horror etched on his face; and then I was running from there, flinging the door open on my way out.

I ran blindly, without having the faintest idea of where I was going. Tears prickled at the back of my eyes but I blinked furiously, forcing them back. Thoughts warred with each other, trying to crowd into my mind but I forced them back as well through sheer will, and ran harder to drown them out. Somehow my mind led my body to the beach. I ran along the shoreline, my feet pounding in time to the waves crashing and breaking onto the shore, creating a turbulent melody. I ran without conscious thought, wanting only to escape the reality of what had happened. I ran until my lungs felt like they would burst into flames and my legs threatened to give way under me. In the end my body refused to obey my mind’s insistent commands, to run, keep running, and simply stopped. I dropped to my knees, back hunched, head down, drawing great gulps of air into my burning lungs. For a time I concentrated only on my heart pounding in my ears, on my laboured breathing. However, as my heart rate and breathing slowed, sense returned; and I could not stop the thoughts crowding in once more, breaking through the fragile barrier I had erected to keep them out.

Why, Bashir????????

And then the tears came; torrents of scalding liquid, flowing down my face unheeded. I wrapped my arms around my middle and sobbed out my shame, disgust and heartbreak. I rubbed the tears over my mouth, scrubbing it over and over it again till my lips felt raw, wanting to erase all traces of the humiliating incident. I clenched my hands hard, my nails digging into my palms, and pounded the sand below me, raining my fists down in a storm of helpless fury. I cried until I felt like there was nothing left in me; and still I cried, silently this time, letting the tears drip off my chin and onto the sand.

After what seemed like an eternity I dragged myself to my feet. With a glance around me…I had run so far that I had reached an almost-deserted spot of the beach, and whoever else was around was too far away to see what I was doing…I pulled off my socks and shoes, tucked my abaya around my knees and waded into the cold water. I gasped as the cold liquid bit into my skin, sloshing over my feet and calves. I was getting my leggings all wet but I was beyond the point where I would care about something so mundane. I turned around and started walking back the way I had come, splashing through the water, allowing the thoughts to tumble through my mind, spinning round and round in a dizzying blur. I felt a multitude of emotions; rage at what Bashir had done, shame at having allowed him to do it, disgust at the thought of what had happened, self recriminations at having somehow led him to it…

How could he?????? I had taken him as a brother, as a friend, as a confidante…how could he betray me like that??? I had trusted him!!!! I had allowed myself to become comfortable around him, letting down my guard…only to be stabbed in the back like this?????

“Bloody, dirty-minded pervert!” I muttered out loud, kicking furiously at the sand beneath the water. I yelped as my toe struck something hard.

Or had it been me? Had I been too forward with him, too friendly, too open?? Had I given him the wrong impression…that I liked him maybe?? I shuddered at the thought, tasting bile at the back of my throat. Why had I let down my guard with him? Why had I smiled so freely at him? Why had I joked so easily with him?? My mind chose that untimely moment to present me with the most damning evidence; me sitting across Bashir in the kitchen, having breakfast cozily with him, laughing and chatting with him…oh Allah, I moaned softly, how could I? Tears trickled down my face again and I hunched my shoulders in shame, staring down at the water through blurry eyes. Bashir was a man, and men obviously had desires. If I hadn’t been so open with him I wouldn’t have tempted him then none of this would have happened…it was my fault, all my fault…

If only I could go back in time; I would never have allowed him to lay eyes on me. I would have stayed the hell away from him. I would never have set foot in his house. I would never have…

But you didn’t, did you? A voice whispered insidiously in my head, you sat at the same table with him. You ate with him while his wife was peacefully asleep…

His wife…oh Allah! I cried as Zee’s face flashed through my mind suddenly. Guilt slammed into me, hard and fast, almost sending me to my knees with the brutal force of it…Zee…soft, trusting Zee…betrayed by her best friend and her husband…

“Oh Allah…oh Allah…not Zee, please, not Zee,” I wept, fresh tears rolling down my face. Would he tell her? Would Bashir tell her? Probably not, if he was feeling as horrified as I was…but he might tell her from guilt and a sense of obligation. What if he did? What would she say? How would she feel, knowing that her own best friend and her husband…two of the people she most trusted…

“Allah, please, don’t let Zee find out. Please, Ya Allah, please don’t let her find out. It will destroy our friendship, Ya Allah, it will destroy her marriage…it will destroy her, Ya Allah, please…” I prayed mindlessly, weeping, feeling like my own heart was shattering into a million pieces.

I stumbled along, my mind a jumbled mess of emotions, my eyes blurred with tears, unable to see anything except for Zee’s face, the trusting look in her eyes changing to shock, then horror as awareness set in…then hardening into hatred; the soft, smiling face turning into cold marble. The mistakes of a moment are expiated only by a lifetime of penance…

When the phone call came I did not register the sound at first, lost as I was in my own thoughts. Then I felt the vibration in my pocket and the muffled nasheed emerging from within and hastily whipped out my phone, swiping my hand across my eyes to see clearly. It was mum. I saw her name flashing on the screen at the same time as I spotted the time mentioned above; it was past ten. She must be frantic. I quickly scrubbed my face free of tears, even though she could not see my face, cleared my throat a few times to sound reasonably convincing then answered.

“Salaams, mummy, I’m coming.”

“Where you??? Do you know what the time is, Fazila???”

“Uh…jee, I know, mummy. I’m sorry, I’m coming right now.”

“Where are you?”

“At the beach…”

“Beach?? What you doing at the beach???”

“Thinking,” I replied simply. Something in my voice must have stopped her because she cut off whatever else she was about to say, told me to come home immediately and hung up. I turned to face the vast blue ocean and bent down, scooping water into my hands and splashing it over my face to erase all traces of sweat and tears. My eyes felt puffy and I was sure they must be red and swollen, but at least my face felt better after I washed it. Turning back I walked onto the sand and sat down, drying my feet as best as I could before pulling on my socks and shoes again. Then I began my long walk home, grateful for the walk and the time it took to reach home, to try and pull myself together into some semblance of normality. Mum would probably know that something was up when she saw me but I could try to hide it as much as possible…and if she was in the bathroom or in her room and I could slip up unnoticed to my bedroom then all the better.

I could hear mum in the kitchen as I entered but I didn’t pause to check. Making salaam loudly I called, “going to shower, mummy,” and scooted up the stairs, into my room to get fresh, clean clothes then into the bathroom in quick order. I felt much better after I had showered, though my emotions were still raw and I knew any little thing was enough to set me off again. Thankfully though, no one pressed me to say anything at lunch time, though they did ask and comment. I simply waved off their inquiries as no big deal, saying it was a small argument that had occured between a friend and I, and I was perfectly okay now. They were not entirely convinced but they accepted it for the time being. I spotted Adnaan looking at me thoughtfully more than once and knew he’d probably tackle me later on but for now he left it as well.

I spent the rest of the day moping around in my room, feeling low and horrible. Thankfully Zee didn’t message at all; I didn’t think I could bear to talk to her at the moment, even on WhatsApp. I had no idea what would happen from the next day, when she would expect me to show up as usual but I did not want to think about any of that now. I tried to sleep after lunch but sleep evaded me, my mind choosing instead to taunt me with images best forgotten. With a loud, irritated sigh I jumped off the bed and went to rifle through my book shelf. A thriller. That’s what I needed. A fast paced book with so many twists and turns it would leave my brain boggled with no time to think of anything else; that would serve the sadistic lump of flesh right!

I tried for fifteen minutes; fifteen minutes of reading the words before me, frowning in ferocious concentration, trying to disappear into the world of fiction and make-believe. But it was no good. My mind could not concentrate on the words for more than two minutes at a time. Finally I gave up and threw the book across the room with all my might, sending it crashing into the wall and drifting to the floor in a swirl of loose pages.

Why was I seeking oblivion in the wrong things? Nothing could help me now except dua and sadaqah. That’s what I needed to do, turn to Allah and beg Him to set things right. With renewed conviction I stood up and went to make wudhu. The cold water sluicing over my limbs made me feel rejuvenated immediately. Then, laying out the musallah, I prayed two rakahs of nafl salah and raised my hands in dua. I begged Allah to forgive me, forgive my wrongs, to not let Zee find out, to not spoil my friendship with Zee or spoil her marriage….I let the tears pour down my face as I let down my guard with my creator; the only Being infront of whom I did not have to put up any guard….the only Being who would never break my trust, who would take my secrets and heartbreak and grant me solace in return. By the time I said ameen I felt infinitely lighter. Wiping my hands over my face I turned around and retrieved my quran from the top shelf. I opened it to the page I had reached and started reading. The soothing, melodious words of the quran dispelled the last of my worries and I recited page after page, letting the words wash over me…my mind for once totally absorbed in the beautiful words of my Rabb. Time flew by but I had no clue; only stopping my recitation when Han poked her head to tell me to come down for tea. I gave her a warm smile and told me I’d be right there. She looked relieved at seeing me as my normal self and nodded before disappearing. I prayed till the next ruku then stopped and closed my quran. This time when I went downstairs I was able to converse with my family and act normal because for the moment I did feel normal and like everything was okay. Tomorrow would bring its fair share of worries but for today I was fine…

Part 147

Surprise, surprise!!! Yes, it really is me. Don’t faint in shock or else you’ll get delayed in reading the post😉

This is for all the times I was late, for all the times I made you’ll wait and for all the times I might do the same again😜

P.S. Next post will be on Friday if I don’t manage to complete it by Thursday.

Enjoy xxx

The next day I took Laaibah with all the excitement of a child with a new toy. Not even Bashir’s repeated warnings and instructions could dampen my mood. I nodded at everything he said, waved jovially at him then Laaibah and I skipped off to our new adventure. I had already completed my run so I strolled along leisurely, pushing the pram, walking in the direction of the promenade. I strolled along the promenade for a bit, enjoying the cool, crisp air blowing on my face, cooling me down, and the waves crashing on the shore on my right, further relaxing me.

After a while I passed a coffee shop, causing my stomach to growl loudly as the mouth-watering aroma of freshly made coffee and hot delicacies wafted out. That was all the encouragement I needed. Within a few minutes I was sitting in a chair just outside the door, the pram parked on my side, ordering a cup of cappuccino and a couple of chocolate croissants. I turned to look at Laaibah who was watching her surroundings in wide-eyed wonder and smiled.

“Such a good baby you are today, hmm? Looks like you love being outdoors too! And no wonder…who wants to be cooped up all day indoors, right?” I tickled her under her chin and she snuffled into my hand like a kitten.

After my delicious albeit impromptu breakfast I started off again. Laaibah fell asleep with the soothing motion of the pram and I hummed as I walked, my thoughts as peaceful as my surroundings. This was the best time of the day for taking walks, I thought. No rush, no throngs of people to maneuver through…

By the time I reached Zee’s house again it was eight-thirty and Zee had already started cooking. She glanced at the time and raised her eyebrows on seeing me, then her eyes fell on her baby, peacefully asleep under her blanket and her face broke into a wide smile.

“She’s sleeping! How long has she been sleeping for?”

“About thirty minutes,” I whispered back.

“Wow, mashaAllah. Jazakillah, Faz. This idea of yours is the best I’ve heard in my life!” She came forward and hugged me exuberantly.

Bashir was just as pleased on hearing about our outing and his doubts vanished under the relief of having acquired a free babysitter and a talented one on top of it…if I had to say so myself.

And so a routine was set. I picked up Laaibah on my way back everyday for the next twelve days and took her out for roughly forty-five minutes. I had developed my own style of knocking on the gate so Bashir would know it’s me and open for me. Zee used to be asleep at that time so I would chat to Bashir while he got her ready or changed her nappy or did anything else that had to be done. Then I’d be off, returning her when Zee was up and about, either cooking or cleaning up a bit before the domestic arrived. Only twice it so happened that I got there, only to find Laaibah already asleep so there was no need for me to take her out. The first time it happened Bashir invited me in to have a cup of tea before carrying on home. Thirsty and tired from the exercise I accepted and joined Bashir for his breakfast of cereal, tea and biscuits.

How do you have cereal and tea together?” I asked, “isn’t cereal filling enough by itself?”

Bashir laughed. “Habit, I guess. I have to have my tea in the morning but I have cereal before it to fill me up so I don’t binge on biscuits with my tea.”

“Hmmm, makes sense, I guess.”

We chatted about different things as we munched our way through breakfast. Bashir was a jolly guy with an easy way of talking and I found it very easy to talk to him. He reminded me of Salim in so many ways; maybe that’s why I became more comfortable with him than I normally would with just any guy. I used to be close to Salim and confide in him quite a bit; I didn’t really confide in Bashir but I grew close to him as well, in a purely brotherly fashion, of course. I had taken Salim as another older brother and I took Bashir as the same.

Until that fateful day…

I had arrived at Zee’s house panting and out of breath as usual, ready to go for my walk with Laaibah. Only when Bashir answered the door he was minus his usual little bundle and the house was suspiciously quiet. Bashir smiled and ushered me in, putting his finger on his lips as he shut the door and turned back to me.

“She’s sleeping,” he whispered.

“Should I be happy or sad?” I whispered back.

Bashir laughed and led the way into the kitchen. “I’m very happy. The little chit was screaming on top of her lungs and refusing to calm down. It took me so long to settle her.” He stretched his back with a groan.

“Well, then, I suppose I should be happy for you,” I said in a disgruntled tone but a smile was tugging at my lips.

“Oh, definitely! You have no idea how precious this peace is. Shall I make tea for you?”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll make myself some coffee,” I said, seeing that he had already made himself a cup of tea.

“Okay, sure. The coffee and sugar is on top,” he waved his hand at the top cupboard.

I nodded and started preparing myself a cup of coffee while Bashir regaled me with stories of his workplace.

“I’ve got a secretary named Linda. God, she’s such a blonde. She makes the most obvious mistakes but she tries so hard to please me that I have to pretend to love her work and send her off with a pat on her back. Then get someone else to come in and correct all her mistakes.”

“You have the patience of a saint,” I commented, watching the kettle start to bubble “anyone else would have fired her in a flash.”

“That’s what the other owes keep telling me but she tries so hard to please, man! I do end up losing my patience and shouting at her sometimes…and sometimes I’ll explain everything to her slowly like I’m talking to a nursery kid. But few days later she’ll make the same mistake and I’ll be like, grrrrr! And she’ll be standing there with a big smile on her face and be like, “oh, sir, how is it this time??” Then I just have to swallow my anger and tell her it’s just fine, she’s done a lekker job!”

I was laughing away at this point. The kettle reached the boiling point and switched off and I poured the boiling water over the ground coffee beans, closing my eyes as I inhaled the mouth-watering aroma of fresh coffee that swirled around my nose.

“Here’s the sugar. Sorry, I forgot I had it.”

I started as I felt Bashir’s chest brush against my shoulder then his arm came into view as he placed the sugar tin on the counter top. I whirled around to face him instinctively, startled by his close proximity. Big mistake. I found myself trapped between the counter top and the bulk of Bashir’s body, unable to move in either direction. My eyes unnervingly fixed on the smooth, brown column of his throat and I saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed convulsively. Jerking my head up I found his face inches from mine. As though in a dream I watched his eyes drop to my lips, linger there for an excruciatingly long moment, then lift to pierce my eyes again, his own gaze heavy lidded and smouldering. His musky, male scent surrounded me as he slowly lowered his mouth to mine…

Part 146

“Faz! Come here!”

I stopped with my hand on the door handle and turned to look back at mum.

“Jee, mummy?”

Mum came out of the kitchen, phone in hand.

“That was Aisha,” she said, gesturing at the phone, “she said can you pick up her tupperware from Zeenat’s house? She wants to pack some biscuits inside to send for one of her relatives and she doesn’t have any other spare tins.”

“Okay, but did you tell her that I’ll only be back after four?”

“Ya, she knows. She said it’s okay, we can send it then.”

“Okay, then. Salaams, mummy.” On impulse I leaned over and pecked her on the cheek, having the satisfaction of seeing her cheeks pinken with pleasure as the door closed behind me. I smiled and got into the car then pulled out my phone. I still had a bit of time before madrassah started so if Zee was awake I could pick the tin up now and save myself the trip later. And I could also see Baby Laaibah if she was awake. Zee had gone back to her house two weeks ago, having completed her six-week confinement at her parents’ house, and I missed seeing Laaibah almost everyday.

Zee replied to my message in good time, though in a brief way that indicated that she was probably still in bed.

“K, u can pass by. I’m sleeping but Bashir’s awake. He’ll give u the tpwr.”

“U msg ppl in ur sleep? Wonderful. Must teach me hw to do it as well.” I grinned and pressed send. She did not bother to reply.

Fifteen minutes later I hooted outside Zee’s gate. It opened and I parked on one side before getting out and ringing the door bell. After a few minutes the door also opened, to reveal a dishevelled Bashir, wearing a stained shirt and a long-suffering expression, balancing Laaibah against one shoulder who was squirming and crying loudly. Bashir crooked one finger at me, motioning me to enter then turned away, rocking Laaibah and patting her on her back.

“Shhh, shhh…..shhh, shhh…it’s okay, baby, it’s okay…” he crooned softly, mindlessly to her. I shut the door behind me and edged into the kitchen behind him, wondering how to mention my reason for coming over the noise. I glanced around the kitchen swiftly but couldn’t see any tupperwares lying around. Seeing Bashir still occupied with the baby I opened a few cupboards and poked my head in but I had no clue if any of the tins I saw were Zee’s or her mother’s. I was about to give up and leave, intending to come back after madrassah when I realised that the noise level was decreasing. Bashir had disappeared somewhere but reappeared a few minutes later minus the baby, whom I imagined was sleeping now.

“Phew!” Bashir ran his hands through his hair, making it stand up even more, and stretched with a sigh, “finally asleep. Wonder how long it will last this time,” he glanced ruefully in the direction of his room.

“Does she wake up a lot?” I asked.

“Every hour!” Bashir replied, shaking his head, “throughout the night. Zee and I are both exhausted,” he stifled a yawn.

“Every hour? Shame, that must mean sleepless nights for Zee,” I said sympathetically.

Bashir smiled. “You think she’d go through it alone? No, it means sleepless nights for both of us. Zee feeds Laaibah every two hours so when it’s time for her feed Zee wakes up. The other times I wake up and rock her back to sleep. So we alternate that way.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Not that she wakes up so much,” I added hastily, “but that Zee at least has help from you.”

Bashir nodded. “It’s only fair that I help out, though it means that I’m dozing at my desk by lunch time.” He rubbed his eyes blearily then smiled at me again, looking like a golliwog. I said as much laughingly and he shot me a look through bloodshot eyes.

“Wait till you become a mother. You’ll understand then.”

“That’s still a loooong way to go,” I waved my hand airily, “I’ll enjoy my full nights sleep for now,” I grinned. Then I checked my watch and my eyes widened. “Oops! I’m getting late! Do you know where your mother inlaw’s tupperware is? I came to pick that up.”

“Must be somewhere here,” Bashir rummaged through the cupboards and promptly produced a blue, square tin, “here it is. I need to be going as well. I’m late for work…as usual,” he grimaced.

“Baby making you late?”

“Yeah. Zee gets knackered so she likes to sleep for a little while after fajr because then she can’t sleep the whole day with her chores and the baby. So I offered to look after Laaibah while she sleeps but it means I’m getting late to work everyday. Daddy would be naar if he heard,” he grimaced again at the thought of his father inlaw.

“Well, it’s his grandchild delaying you so I’m sure he’d understand,” I pointed out.

Bashir shrugged. “I hope so. I’ll catch you later, okay, Faz? I need to go bath now,” and with a wave he was gone, leaving me to see myself out. I shook my head as I left. I had no idea small babies were so much work.

When I had a chance to talk to Zee later on I mentioned the conversation Bashir and I had had.

“How do you cope?” I asked, “I’d be flat in two days!”

“So am I!” Zee groaned, “I don’t have a choice so I do it but if I didn’t have Bashir to help me out I’d have gone mad by now. I’m never having another baby again!”

I laughed in spite of myself. “Don’t say that, Zee. Make dua Allah makes Laaibah a good sleeper and that your next baby is a good sleeper from the beginning. Asiyah was telling me that her baby only wakes up twice during the night, and he’s only a month old.”

“Yeah, but at the moment I don’t even wanna think about having another baby.”

“If you need any help, let me know, okay? I can pop in and babysit her if I’m free,” I offered.

“Yeah, I will, inshaAllah. Jazakillah, Faz.”


Zee did not immediately take me up on my offer but I myself popped in whenever I had the chance to. It was difficult with madrassah but three weeks later we got a two-week break, then I had more free time on my hands. I decided to start jogging again after fajr while I had the chance, before I couldn’t manage again with madrassah. It was on the second day of my run that I had a sudden inspiration. I abruptly stopped at Zee’s gate on my way back and knocked, panting heavily. When no one opened…and I didn’t blame them because who would open the gate randomly at seven in the morning?…I decided to risk Zee’s wrath by calling her. Thankfully she answered, sounding awake enough to be cordial to me. She opened the gate then the door, looking at me quizzically.

“What’s up? What’s the emergency?”

“No emergency,” I said with a grin, still sounding breathless, “I’ve come to take Laaibah if she’s awake.”

“Laaibah?” Zee frowned at me, “what for?”

“To kidnap her of course,” I rolled my eyes.

“Ha ha, you’re so funny. Now tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.”

“Okay, so I had a brainwave,” I pushed past Zee, having stood on the doorstep for long enough. Indicating at her to close the door I walked into the lounge and sat down on the sofa, “I’ve started jogging after fajr since I have mads hols. So I thought I can take Laaibah along in her pram and take a walk with her…then Bashir can go to work early and you’d still have the chance to sleep in.”

Zee looked at me thoughtfully, the wheels turning in her head. “That’s quite a good idea,” she said finally, “but you won’t be able to run with a pram, you know.”

“I know that,” I said, “I’d take her on my way back. I stopped here on my way back and it’s still only seven-fifteen.”

“Hmmm…well, you can try it out and see. I definitely won’t say no,” she grinned.

Zee might not have said no but Bashir had more doubts than her. After arguing for quite some time about the dangers of pushing a baby around in a public street he finally gave in to my insistent assurances that I’d seen countless mums pushing their babies around and there was nothing unsafe about it and I would pray all my duas for additional safety, and told me to go ahead but I was responsible if anything happened to his baby…wearing that same long-suffering expression that he reserved for people who had pushed him past his limits. I felt a momentary qualm at the thought of being responsible if anything happened but I pushed it aside and nodded with all the confidence I could muster.

“We’ll be okay. Don’t worry,” I said reassuringly and hoped with all my heart that I was correct.

Part 145

When Zee’s tired but excited phone call came it was one a.m and I was deeply asleep. I only roused enough to congratulate her, feel a brief sense of excitement, then I was knocked out again. In the morning, however, I woke up feeling the full force of excitement and the need to do something about it immediately. Fortunately for me it was a Sunday so after showering and having breakfast I decided to hit the shops for a suitable gift.

Forty minutes later, armed with a bunch of large, pink balloons and a large gift bag containing assorted cute little things for the baby, I entered the hospital. Fortunately I spotted Faaiza as I entered so I made my way over to her to ask for directions to Zee’s room. Faaiza raised her eyebrows and smiled at spotting the balloons but made no comment, simply telling me to follow her. She left me at the door saying she needed to get home. I stared at the closed door hoping this was a convenient time then, placing the gift bag on the floor, knocked firmly. The door opened as I bent down to retrieve the bag again and I straightened up to find myself looking into the face of Aunty Aisha.

“Faz, ma, come in! Come in!” She ushered me inside where Zee was reclining against a mound of pillows, her face glowing through the lines of exhaustion marking it. I squealed and took a couple of excited steps towards her then halted as a thought struck me.

“The baby,” I whispered, clapping a hand…gift bag and all…to my mouth, “where is she?”

“Sleeping,” Zee replied, indicating at the crib beside the bed with a smile, “she won’t wake up, don’t worry. She doesn’t look like a light sleeper so far…you’ve come with quite a bang,” she grinned, eyeing the balloons.

I approached with more caution but no less excitement, tying the bunch of balloons to the knob on the headboard, plonking the gift bag in Zee’s lap before catching her in an exuberant hug.

“Congrats, mummy! I can’t believe you’re a mother now!” I peered over her into the crib, discerning a tiny pink face swaddled by layers of blankets, “awwwww, look at her! She’s gorgeous!”

Zee laughed. “Of course she is,” she replied, glowing even more, “say MashaAllah.”

“MashaAllah,” I repeated obediently. Extricating myself from Zee’s grasp I went around to the crib and stared in fascination at the tiny baby sleeping peacefully.

“Do you want to carry her?” Zee asked, shifting slightly on the bed.

“I don’t know…can I?” I looked at the baby again, “won’t she wake up?”

“I don’t think so. Here, let me give her to you.” It was Aunty Aisha who replied. She came over to stand next to me and reached into the crib, deftly lifting the baby out. She turned to me and held the baby out slightly, looking at me expectantly. I stared from her to the baby…so tiny, so fragile…and my confidence dissipated as quickly as it had come.

“I can’t,” I said, backing away, “I’ll drop her.”

Zee laughed. “No, you won’t. Haven’t you carried a newborn before?”

“I don’t think so.” I hadn’t lifted my eyes from the baby. I couldn’t remember carrying such a small baby before; when they were older, certainly, but not when they were a mere few hours old. This baby wasn’t even one day old yet!

Aunty Aisha solved the matter by reaching over and placing the baby in my arms. I started, my arms closing around the bundle reflexively, nameless panic swirling around in my chest.

“Support her head,” Aunty Aisha advised, “yes, that’s it. Don’t hold her too tightly, she’ll wake up.”

“I…can’t…help…it…” I gritted out. With great effort I loosened my grip slightly, though I still held her close to me, hunching my back around her as though to cocoon her with my body. Aunty Aisha and Zee were saying something laughingly but I paid no notice.

After a few minutes, though, I started relaxing…to the extent that I could finally straighten my back and rock her a little, crooning softly as I did so…despite the fact that she was still sound asleep. By the time I looked up at Zee again the baby in my arms held my heart in her tiny, closed fists.

“It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?” Zee asked softly.

“Yes,” I breathed, face alight, “yes, it’s…amazing.”

I stayed there till the baby finally stirred in my arms and, scrunching up her little face, let out a high-pitched howl that nearly made me drop her in shock. I quickly handed her over to her mother where she began rooting around in search of milk. The source of nourishment promptly produced, she latched on and began to suckle fiercely.

“I didn’t know something so small would have such a loud voice,” I commented, carefully averting my gaze from Zee’s exposed bosom till she threw a blanket over it. I left then, with the sense of amazement and fascination still lingering with me as I walked slowly out of the hospital.

Zee came to her parent’s house the next day which was very fortunate for me since I could keep popping over to view my latest fascination. Baby Laaibah…Bashir’s choice of name…was a tiny but loud bundle who had wrapped everyone around her little finger. She mostly slept or cried…being silently awake for very short intervals, wherein she viewed the world solemnly through large, brown eyes. That did not decrease anyone’s fascination though. Being the first grandchild on both sides she was almost always surrounded by cooing adults; including me. I had overcome my initial fear of dropping her or squashing her and now wandered around the house with her, crooning nasheeds or praying the quran into her ear. Zee loved it when I prayed quran by her and encouraged me to keep doing it and I was more than willing to do so.

One month after Zee gave birth Asiyah also gave birth, to a baby boy. I shrieked excitedly when I received the news and immediately skyped her, though she was still in the hospital. I immediately regretted it though, when her tired, wan face popped up.

“I’m so sorry, Asiyah,” I said guiltily, “I was so excited to see you and the baby, I didn’t think I’d be disturbing you…I’ll call later, okay…you can rest now…”

“Faz!” Asiyah shouted, trying to make herself be heard over my self-recriminating tirade, “you are not disturbing me. Now can you shut it and congratulate me properly?”

“I wish I could!” I wailed, “I’d love to hug you and smother that baby of yours. Where is he? Let me see!”

Baby Sa’ad…named by Asiyah who had fallen in love with the story of Sa’ad ibn Muaadh, especially at the part, “the arsh (throne) of Allah shook at the death of Sa’ad ibn Muaadh R.A.”…was a gorgeous child, chubby and already looking as though he would take after his namesake; Sa’ad R.A. was reported to have been a large, handsome man. He already looked around Laaibah’s size, I thought in amusement, who was still quite tiny.

“MashaAllah! He’s absolutely gorgeous, Asiyah!” I said, feeling an overwhelming urge to cuddle him and smother him with kisses, “awww, look at his eyes! They’re exactly like yours!” They were; dove-grey eyes, fringed by thick black lashes, they were the most startling feature in his face, though the rest of him was not any less gorgeous.

Asiyah smiled, her own grey eyes soft and mellow as she relaxed against the mound of pillows. “Zul said he looks exactly like me. I said that’s only because he has pink cheeks and grey eyes,” she laughed.

“Well, he doesn’t look like Zul in any way,” I said, “but he doesn’t really look like you as well, except the eyes. He’s just a round, chubby bundle right now.”

Asiyah laughed again. “Yeah, newborns have their own look. They start resembling other people only when they’re older.”

“The chin looks like Mus’ab’s though,” I said suddenly, spotting the tiny cleft in the middle of Sa’ad’s chin.

Asiyah peered at the baby in her arms. “Yeah, it does. Mus’ab’s cleft is quite prominent, though. I wonder if Sa’ad’s will become like that or disappear.”

I shrugged, not having the answer to that myself, though none was needed.

“Oh, that reminds me,” Asiyah said, “Mus’ab got engaged.”

“Did he? That’s nice, mashaAllah. I’m very happy for him.” I was. Mus’ab was a really nice guy and he deserved the best. “To whom?”

“To Sarah. Remember her? She volunteered to teach at the orphanage after you left.”

“Oh, her. Yeah, I remember her. She didn’t seem to like me much,” I frowned slightly at the recollection.

Asiyah laughed. “That’s because she knew she had competition in you and she didn’t want any.”

“Competition?” I looked at her blankly, “what kind of competition?”

“For Mus’ab, silly. She’s liked him for ages. Maybe she’d heard something about him liking you,” she shrugged.

“Ohhh, I see.” I had a sudden memory of the guy who had accompanied Sarah to the orphanage…what was his name? ………..Musa! That’s it…Sarah’s brother. He had mentioned something like, “it’s not you. It’s Mus’ab…” then he had broken off and changed the direction of his sentence. I hadn’t known what he meant then but I did now. So that exained Sarah’s hostility.

I laughed. “Well, I’m glad it wasn’t anything about me personally that she disliked.”

“Yeah..persistence pays off in the end. She used to pursue Mus’ab from before he accepted islam but then it probably wasn’t serious on her side and he wasn’t at all interested. But after he accepted islam she started pursuing him even more. He still wasn’t interested…till she officially proposed,” she smiled wryly at me, “then he had no choice but to consider it carefully and when he did he realised that it wasn’t a bad idea after all. His istikhara came out positive so he accepted. See, sometimes women proposing is also very beneficial,” she gave me a meaningful look.

I stuck my tongue out at her. “Yes, it is….sometimes…..anyways, what’s for dinner?”

Asiyah burst out laughing at the sudden and obvious change of topic. “I don’t know…maybe hospital soup?” She gestured at her white, bland surroundings. I laughed as well and we moved on to other topics, chatting easily until Baby Sa’ad decided that he had been ignored for long enough and let out a piercing howl. This time I didn’t jump so much but I did eye him in fascination.

“You wonder where those loud voices fit in those tiny bodies.”

“Yeah, man. It’s their siren, I guess,” Asiyah chuckled, already fumbling with the buttons that ran down the front of her gown, “their only tool till they learn how to talk.”

“And very effective,” I added drily, “I’ll catch you later then, yeah? Salaams.”

Asiyah nodded at me with a brief smile before bending over her son. I smiled in return then cut the call, flopping down on my bed with a sigh. Unbidden a face appeared in my mind…hazy around the edges but the eyes clear and piercing, the mouth curved in a warm smile, dimples flashing impishly at me.

Happiness comes to those who are happy for others. The words popped into my mind as though spoken by him, though his mouth hadn’t moved.

Yes, I know. And I’m happy. See? My mouth curved into an answering smile and I pointed at it, as though he could see. It worked though. The image wavered then vanished, leaving me alone once again…and filled with a sense of peace and well being. Jumping off the bed I skipped down the stairs for my own dinner, humming cheerfully to myself…

Living life cloaked in modesty and islamic principles…