The wedding week was more jam-packed and hectic than the regular bride-to-be would have because I was no regular bride-to-be. I was a student as well so I had to juggle full days of madrassah with whatever I had planned for the day.
On Monday I went to the tailor after madrassah and got the final fittings done for my wedding and walima dresses. The lady sewed so well that I had preferred to have my gowns sewn by her rather than buying them. That way I could have them made to my exact requirements; decent, with full sleeves and matching hijabs, but breathtakingly elegant as well. That done, I brought them home in their dress-bags and hung them up in my closet, to be removed on the day of my wedding.
On Tuesday I went to have my arms and legs…till my knees…waxed at the salon then came home and spent the next hour gritting my teeth and waxing the hair on my thighs. I’d never done this before and it took so long and hurt so much that I spent the time alternately cursing and making fervent duas that Tariq liked my legs just the way they were and did not mind if I didn’t wax ever again in my life!
On Wednesday I went for a facial, manicure and pedicure at the same salon. This time Han, Amira and Aliyah accompanied me.
“What you’ll whispering about over there?” I asked suspiciously in the middle of the facial, raising my head and peering at them with half-open eyes. Han had seemed unusually jumpy and excited today and she refused to tell my why.
“Nothing!” All three of them chorused, matching wide grins on their faces.
I raised my caked eyebrows and lay back down. When I was getting my manicure and pedicure done I saw Amira wink at Han and mouth something to her, tipping her head in my direction. She saw me looking and quickly looked away again but the smile on her face lingered. As a result my curiosity was at its peak by the time we went back to the car.
“Alright, you’ll, spill!” I ordered, “why are you’ll being so secretive? What’s going on?”
“You’ll get to know sooooon, big sis,” Han smirked.
“Is it a surprise?” I asked.
“Yup. A big one.”
“Oooh!” Most of my annoyance at being left out evaporated, “give me a hint at least. Let’s see if I can guess.”
Han shook her head. “Any hints would make it too obvious. Wait till we reach home.”
I wondered if she was maybe planning a surprise party but it was already so late that it couldn’t be that. I thought of a few other things, rejected them then decided to just wait till we got home. We dropped off Amira and Aliyah then carried on home. As we approached Han grew so excited that she started bouncing on her seat.
“Can you sit still? You’re distracting me,” I said with an exasperated smile.
“No, I can’t! Drive faster!”
By the time we got home I was imagining many different scenarios. The house looked the same as usual. Han let me precede her so I opened the door and stepped inside the quiet house.
“Assalamu alaykum,” I called loudly as I entered. I heard a slight shuffle as I bent down to remove my muddy shoes and place them by the door. A movement on my left caught my attention and I straightened just in time to see nana step out of the lounge, nani just behind him. I blinked…stared…blinked again, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t imagining things…then let out a piercing shriek and leaped forward into nana’s outstretched arms.
“Nana! Ya Allah, nana! You’re here! You are actually here!” I was laughing and crying and hugging him fiercely, unable to believe that they were really here.
“It’s so nice to see you, beti,” nana’s voice was gruff with emotion, his eyes suspiciously bright as he leaned back to look at me nicely, “you look well, mashaAllah.”
“Now that you’re here, of course,” I laughed, slipping out of his arms and into nani’s, who was crying openly.
“My baby. My bachu, I’m so happy to see you.” We clung to each other until the storm of emotions had passed.
“Come eat now, you’ll,” mum put in. We followed her into the kitchen where we sat down to eat together amidst talks and laughter. I kept looking at nana and nani throughout the meal, smiling fondly at them, noticing the extra lines that now marred their faces. I had missed them so much and was only now realising just how much I had missed being around them. I noticed them looking at me as well, our shared memories parading through each of our minds.
Towards the end of the meal nana leaned back at fixed his eyes on me. With a bland yet challenging smile he recited in his deep voice;
He paused halfway and looked at me expectantly. I returned his smile with one of my own and promptly rattled off the next three lines, watching the smile grow on his face.
“You remember!” He exclaimed in pleasure.
“Of course. I’ve never forgotten it.”
Nana taught Alfiyah Ibn Malik in his madrassah and made all his students memorise the matn (text) since it comprised of most of the rules of the arabic language in poetry form and would help them greatly if they had all the rules on their fingertips. I had overheard one of his students reciting his lines to nana in his study one night and had been fascinated by the eloquence of the words. Later I had asked nana what it was and he had explained it to me. On an impulse I had told him to also make me memorise it. His answer had been to laugh and inform me that it would be too difficult for me, especially since I did not understand the arabic language. That had only made me more determined to learn and I had challenged him to teach me.
“How long did it take your fastest student to learn the whole kitab?” I’d asked him.
“Eleven months,” he’d replied.
“I’ll learn it in ten inshaAllah if you’re willing to teach me,” I had proclaimed. Impressed by my eagerness to learn if not my confidence in my own ability he had started teaching me that very night. And like all the things I took an interest in I had given it my all until I had managed to commit the whole kitab to memory in just four days short of eleven months. I still remembered nana’s pleasure and pride in me that day. After that it had become a sort of sport to us to recite random lines to each other every night. That made me revise my lines as well and nana’s random tests sharpened my memory and placed the kitab on my fingertips as well.
That particular memory brought to mind another; the day I was talking to Ahmed and Zul at campus. I couldn’t recall the exact topic we were discussing but in the middle of it Ahmed recited a couple of lines of arabic poetry that probably applied to whatever he was saying. With a lofty, superior look in my direction he had then proceeded to explain, “that was from a kitab called Alfiyah Ibn Malik. It’s arabic grammar written in poetry form. Your nana makes us all memorise the entire kitab in our fourth year.”
“How impressive,” I had murmured, then, without missing a beat I had rattled off the next three lines. The look on his face had been priceless!
“How do you know the kitab?” He had demanded to know, looking dazed.
I’d given him a smug smile. “He’s my nana, you know.”
“You mean you’ve memorised the entire kitab??”
“Yup! In ten months.”
“TEN!!!” He’d exclaimed and by now both Zul and I were both laughing.
“Yup. Now tell me again, which kitab did you quote from?” I’d smirked at him.
Ahmed had shaken his head, a slow, admiring smile dawning on his face. “Wow, mashaAllah. You have an amazing memory…especially since you don’t even understand arabic…ten months…wow!”
“Jazakallah,” I’d murmured, basking in the warmth of his admiration.
I gave my head a firm shake, banishing all thoughts of Ahmed and the lingering sense of nostalgia that went with it. Unfortunately for me, seeing nana again was bringing back memories of Manchester and the people I’d been surrounded by over there…most especially Ahmed, which would not do at all! I needed to move forward, not backwards…
“How are you finding your arabic now that you’ve memorised the rules?” Nana was asking.
“Much easier. It’s made a huge difference, alhamdulillah,” I replied, “infact Han also memorised the kitab after seeing how much it benefitted me.”
“That’s nice, mashaAllah,” nana turned his warm smile in Han’s direction and she blushed.
“I hope your rotis are coming out nice and round these days,” nani said to me after a while.
“I’ve given up on rotis, nani. With Sumi and mum around who’s bothered to make rotis?” I grinned at her, winking at Sumi.
“You’re not making at all!” Nani leaned forward with a dark scowl on her face, “Ya Allah, Fazila! You’re getting married in two days! Then what will you give your husband for dinner, buns and tea??”
I burst out laughing. Getting up I went over to sit beside nani and gave her a side-hug. “I’ve missed you, nani.”
“We’ve missed you as well, Fazzu. The house was too quiet without you around,” nana replied.
“Fazzu?” Adnaan, Sumi and Han asked simultaneously and I groaned. “Nana! That nickname was one I didn’t miss at all!”
“Aah, you’re my fazzu bear and everyone knows it,” nana replied and everyone started laughing.
“Fazzu,” Adnaan and Han dutifully repeated, sly smirks on their faces. I glared at them which only made them smirk even more.
We sat up till almost midnight, talking and reminiscing over old memories, then finally retired to our rooms, yawning widely. Nana and nani were sleeping in Adnaan’s old room and I went there before going off to sleep.
“I just came to make salaam to you…and to tell you both that I’ve missed you’ll so much and I’m so happy you came all the way for my wedding!” I said in a rush, feeling emotional all of a sudden.
Nana and nani smiled at me affectionately. “We wouldn’t have missed your wedding for anything, Fazzu,” nani said, “we had to come.”
“I had to perform your nikah, neh?” Nana added with a grin.
“Of course! That’s been my wish for so long!” I beamed.
Finally, tired but feeling exhilarated I went off to sleep.
The next day was my mendhi which I’d decided to keep extremely small and intimate, with just my immediate family and Hafiza and Zee around. I had come home, dumped my madrassah bag in my room and freshened up before I realised that I had completely forgotten to pick up the mendhi cones on the way home. I groaned and went downstairs to tell mum.
“Fazila! You see, that’s why I always tell you not to leave things for the last minute! Now everyone’s here and waiting and we don’t even have the cones. And it will be maghrib soon!” Mum grumbled.
“Does no one else have any cones?” I asked.
“Swaleha came with two of hers, I think. And Aunt Shamim has one.”
“Perfect! Tell them to start putting on other people while I quickly pop out and get the ones we ordered. It won’t take me long, inshaAllah.”
“You’re the bride. You need to put first. Let Amy or someone else go instead and you go start putting your mendhi,” mum said.
I shook my head. “This is my fault and I don’t think Amy and them know where this lady stays. I won’t be long, don’t worry.” I grabbed my phone and car keys and dashed out again.
The lady I had ordered the mendhi cones from lived ten minutes away, in a flat above their shop. The shop was already closed by the time I got there so I pulled out my phone and called her, praying that she would answer and fast. Luckily she answered on the third ring and said she’d be right there. Five minutes later, cones in hand I turned to go back to the car…and almost tripped over a furry bundle that twined itself around my legs.
“Aaaah!” I cried out, flailing my arms wildly to regain my balance. Once I had righted myself I looked down and saw a scrawny grey cat purring softly and rubbing against my legs.
“What are you doing here? You almost made me trip! I do not want to be lame on my wedding day, thank you!” I scolded it. In response it looked up at me with large green eyes and purred louder. I noticed the bones sticking out at its sides and crouched down beside it.
“Awww, look at you. You’re half starved!” I exclaimed sympathetically. I looked around quickly to see if any other shop was open so I could buy a carton of milk for this poor homeless cat. I didn’t have time though. I needed to hurry. I saw a shop open two doors down and hurried there, buying the milk and exiting in record time. The cat was still there and promptly wrapped itself around my legs again.
“Move, tabby. I can’t give you milk if I can’t walk, can I? And I don’t have time so we need to rush.” I looked around me again. I was on the pavement and in the way. I couldn’t give the cat its milk here. I needed to go to a quieter spot. Round the corner, maybe…
I rounded the corner of the mendhi lady’s shop and found myself in a narrow side street. I walked into it with some trepidation. It was getting dark and I needed to be going. I quickly walked ahead till I came to the corner of the side street which opened out into the narrow alleyway that ran behind the shops. Bins lined the wall on one side and on top of one of the bins was…a rusted tin bowl. I gave a triumphant cry and took a step forward when movement out of the corner of my eye made me halt warily. I looked that way, noting the figures that moved in the deepening dusk, almost obscured by the tall shadows thrown by the line of shops. My first instint was to move back into the shadows myself to avoid notice. My second instinct was to freeze as one of the figures moved out of the shadows and turned my way, sharp features thrown into relief in the weak light of the fading day. In slow motion I watched the scene play out before me in all its lurid details, and not once, not even once did I think of moving away…not even when the sick feeling in my stomach grew till I felt like I would puke out all my churning, roiling insides until there was nothing left in me except a hollow, empty shell…