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…