Khadija arrived to pick me up promptly at eleven. Luckily I was ready this time, even after whipping up a few batches of cookies for the kids at the orphanage. I didn’t know how many kids there were now or their ages or gender so I’d ended up making roughly fifty small goodie bags for them, filling them with assorted candy and some cookies. Couldn’t go wrong with sweets, could I!
“Something smells good!” Khadija said, sniffing appreciatively as I dumped the large bag in her back seat, “what’s that?”
“Some goodie bags I made for the kids,” I replied. I caught sight of the adorable baby staring wide eyed at me from his car seat and my “awwwww!” was probably heard all the way down the street, “look at him! He’s gone so big, MashaAllah! Can I carry him?” I was already rounding the car to get to him when Khadija yelled, “not now, man! We’re already late! You can smother him all you want when we get there but for now get in!”
I grumbled a bit but climbed in the front seat, buckling myself in. I couldn’t resist twisting around and cooing at Abbas, though he was looking at me in confusion, probably because he couldn’t see my face at all.
“He’s looking at me like I’m an alien,” I chuckled, “I’ll have to play with him when he can see my face.”
“Won’t make much of a difference,” Khadija commented then yelped when I smacked her smartly on the back of her head, “do you want me to crash this car??”
“You brought it on yourself with your wise-ass remarks,” I replied, grinning, “where’s Asiyah? I thought we’ll go together.”
“Uhmm, nah, she had some work to do so she said she’ll meet us there.”
Ten minutes later I was looking at the old brick facade of the orphanage with a huge smile on my face. Khadija laughed at my excitement then led me in. The place was unusually quiet and deserted.
“Must be out back. Let’s see.” Khadija continued to lead me forward while I looked around me with nostalgic eyes, memories playing in my head. I barely noticed where she was leading me as well till she reached the common room. She rapped twice on the door then waited, grinning at me. I raised my eyebrows at her and was about to ask her why we were knocking and waiting here when the door flew open. My eyes widened as Khadija swiftly stepped behind me and pushed me in to a chorus of, “Welcome back, Miss Fazila!”
The large room was done up in colourful ribbons and balloons, with a sign in the middle proclaiming, “Welcome back, Miss Fazila. We missed you!” also in bold, colourful letters. Gathered around it were all the children, looking at us with wide smiles on their faces. Behind them stood the adults; Dora, Asiyah, Mishka, Soraya, Sarah and a couple of other ladies whom I didn’t recognise. All wearing matching smiles of welcome. My hands flew to my mouth and tears sprang to my eyes as I took in the touching scene before me.
“You guys…I don’t know what to say…” I was laughing through my tears and suddenly I found myself crushed in warm embraces as everyone pushed forward to hug me.
“Wow, you’re wearing niqaab now. Remove it, we also wanna see your face!” Mishka demanded.
I glanced around first to see if there were any men around…and that’s when I spotted him. Steve, looking the same as ever as he stood up and came forward, smiling.
“Fazila, how nice to see you again! Well, not that I can see you now but yeah, nice to meet you. How have you been?”
And now came the difficult part. Chatterbox me, who used to chat by the dozen with everyone before now had to draw back and treat them like the strangers they rightly were.
Keeping my gaze carefully averted I softly replied, “I’m well alhamdulillah and yourself?”
He got the message, alhamdulillah. With a brief, “good good, can’t complain, alhamdulillah. Enjoy your visit, right. I’ll see you around,” he was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief and untied my niqaab, smiling around at everyone.
“If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I’d never have believed it!” Soraya said, coming forward to peer at me, “chatty, talkative Fazila now so quiet and reserved! How did this happen??”
I laughed. “I’m still the same old me, silly. I’m just trying to follow Islam as best as I can, as difficult as it is sometimes. But alhamdulillah Steve…sorry, Solly understood. Now, how have you all been? I can’t believe you did all this for me! Jazakillah, all of you. Dora, thank you so much!” I beamed at the older lady who was beaming back at me fondly, “and introduce me to your new teachers, please. I haven’t met you two,” I said, smiling at the two new faces.
“This is Ammarah. She started teaching here a couple of years back,” Soraya indicated to a pretty girl in hijab, “and this is Raeesah. My sister…and Sulaiman’s wife!” She dropped the bombshell casually but she was grinning at me as she did so.
“Wait…what???” I stared at the girl standing next to Soraya, who resembled her slightly, “our Solly?? I mean, not our Solly,” I blushed slightly, “but this Solly? Steve???”
“Yes, Fazila, Steve, Sulaiman, our very own orphanage Solly,” Soraya replied, laughing. They were all laughing at my obvious shock.
“When did this happen? None of you even told me anything!” I especially glared at Khadija and Asiyah as the main offenders.
“Chill, Faz. They got engaged at around the same time you got married. Infact you were busy honeymooning in…where was it? Puerto Rico?”
“Yeah, Costa Rica, when they got engaged…and married. It was such a whirlwind engagement as well. They got married within a week of being engaged, so we thought we’ll tell you everything after you come back to earth,” Asiyah grinned, “and then it somehow just slipped our minds. Sorry.”
I humphed. “Such an important event and no one even bothered to inform me,” then I grinned, “congratulations, Raeesah. You got yourself a wonderful husband, alhamdulillah. Remember, Soraya, how I kept telling him to get married but he kept refusing. Then he told us that story about himself…” I stopped abruptly and shot a quick look at Reesah, wondering whether she knew about it or not.
“His previous marriage? Yeah, Rae knows all about it, don’t worry. He kept saying he’ll never marry again, remember? But he changed his mind pretty quick when he saw Rae,” Soraya chuckled, “I convinced Rae to teach here and she finally agreed. I took her over to meet Sulaiman and that’s it. Love at first sight, man! I’ve never seen Sulaiman so tongue tied. He barely said anything the whole time, kept staring at Rae. And she was no better,” she nudged Rae, “till I started feeling like a third wheel there so I got up and said, “when you two are done discussing marriage and the number of babies you’re gonna have, you can discuss your teaching and work something out. I’m done here, bye!” and I walked out.
We all burst out laughing. Soraya was so outspoken she even put me to shame at times!
“We did discuss marriage,” Raeesa put in then, grinning, “though it wasn’t easy once my parents found out. My parents blew a fuse of course,” she rolled her eyes, “here I was, almost thirty and unmarried because they said I was just too fussy and turned down all the good proposals. Then I come home with a goro (white man) and say I want to marry him. And my parents are traditional Indians. They were not happy at all. Soraya’s big mouth actually came in handy that day,” she chuckled.
“Yeah, I told them to stop being so narrow minded and look at the bigger picture. Their daughter was happy and she was marrying a good, kindhearted muslim, not some drug dealer off the street. Wasn’t that more important than caste or race or whatever? It got them thinking at least. And Rae had to be all dramatic here and threaten to elope with him…but they came around in the end. And here she is, two years later, happy as a lark and with a baby on the way,” she patted her sister’s stomach affectionately. That piece of news was apparently a surprise to everyone because there was a round of congratulations and hugs again. Finally Dora cleared her throat.
“If you guys are done yapping these kids are also waiting for your attention.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” I exclaimed, turning to the kids guiltily, “how are you all? I’ve missed you all so much!” I hugged them and kissed them then handed out the goodie bags to them, seeing their faces light up with joy. There were some old faces, though they’d changed and grown with time of course; some new faces whom I’d never seen before; and some old faces were missing, having moved on from the orphanage and made their own way through life. Omar and AbdurRaheem, my two favourite hifz students had been sponsored to study at Darul Uloom Bury and were becoming alims, much to my happiness and joy.
“And Brianna? Where is she?”
“Here,” a voice said shyly from behind me. I whirled around and my eyes widened when they landed on a beautiful girl of around sixteen or seventeen, her vibrant red hair hidden under a floral hijab, her deep blue eyes still as gorgeous as ever. She had grown into a beautiful young girl and the smile stretched on my face as I looked at her, feeling something like maternal pride in my heart.
“My word, Bri. Look at you, so beautiful and all grown up now! Come here to mummy Fazila!” We laughed and hugged each other tightly. I noticed that she wasn’t limping and dragging her leg behind her anymore like she used to do but was infact walking normally like the rest of us. I touched her leg and looked at her questioningly. In response she smiled and lifted her pants to expose a metal prosthetic leg underneath.
“You had your leg amputated?”
She nodded. “It started giving me problems so I had to. This is better though, in a way. Less painful,” she smiled.
She was such a positive, happy girl that I was left in awe of her. Gone was the small, insecure, painfully shy girl. In it’s place was a confident, self assured teenager who made me laugh as she narrated stories of the kids at the orphanage. I learnt that she was teaching them now, having finished her own schooling till matric or O’levels as they had here. She had finished much sooner than other kids due to her intelligence. She had actually received a scholarship to the University of Manchester and was now studying to become a teacher and teaching the kids here in her free time.
“She is such an asset to this place,” Dora confided to me later on, “she’s like my own daughter now and helps me so much with the kids. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
I had a wonderful time with the kids. We laughed and talked and ate all the party snacks that everyone had brought. Sa’ad was also there, playing with the kids and Abbas was crawling around trying to keep up with them. He was such a gorgeous child and I enjoyed playing with him as well. It was also lovely catching up with the adults. Mishka and Soraya were the same and we had a blast reminiscing about our previous days here. Soraya still had the videos of those days, including the one where the kids made us their captives and had us performing the silliest tasks for them. We watched it again and laughed till our sides hurt.
“You two tied to each other and running laps is the funniest,” I laughed, wiping tears of mirth from my eyes as I watched them trying to hobble-run and ending up rolling on the ground more than once. Then the scene changed, to me laughing and dropping my head on the table, only to land with a splat! in a bowl full of cereal and milk. Then it was their turn to laugh at me while I feigned indignance and tried not to laugh as well.
Sarah, Mus’ab’s wife, was much friendlier than before and even apologised to me about her rude behaviour all those years back.
“Jealousy makes us do the stupidest things,” she said wryly, shaking her head, “I still cringe when I think about how I behaved with you that time. Musa also told me off and told me it’s not on, you know. I really am sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry, if that was Ahmed in Mus’ab’s place my green dragon would also have reared it’s head,” I laughed.
“I’m glad you understand. You really are a lovely person,” she said, leaning forward to give me a quick hug.
Raeesa echoed that sentiment when I spoke to her as well a while later. “I’m glad Solly found you,” I said, smiling at her, “I had no idea he’d lost his family, you know, and I kept teasing him about finding a wife. Then one day he told us everything. I felt so terrible! He looked so lost and lonely, you know. He couldn’t imagine moving past such a huge tragedy but I kept making dua he finds such happiness that he heals from his losses. And he found that in you. I can’t tell you how happy I am for both of you. He looks so happy and contented now alhamdulillah.”
“That’s so sweet of you, Fazila. Sulaiman has spoken of you before and he always says you’re such a lovely person in and out. And now that I’ve met you I understand why he speaks so highly of you. You are a lovely person. It’s a pity you live so far away otherwise we could have been such good friends!”
“I know, right!” I sighed with a smile, “I do miss this place a lot. It’s like my second home.”
“Just one question…Solly???”
I burst out laughing. “Only I call him that, I know. I always laugh that it’s an Indian thing, shortening every Sulaiman’s name to Solly or Suli.”
“I’m an Indian but I’ve never heard of that before. Well, not that I’ve known a Sulaiman before this one so…” she smiled and shrugged, “I must try and call him that though. Solly…I like it!”
Now I knew why Khadija had told me to keep my afternoon free. With all the talking and laughing and catching up, by the time we got ready to leave it was already asr time. Zul and Ahmed had also come by briefly. I showed Ahmed around while Zul was with Asiyah and Sa’ad.
“Missing the place, are we?” Ahmed teased as I took him around while relaying old memories of the place as well.
“Of course, man. So many memories of this place.”
“Yeah, here’s where you sang that nasheed, ‘Allah made everything’,” Ahmed grinned as he pushed open a door, “you must sing it again for me now.”
I shoved him. “You were laughing at me that day. Don’t pretend you enjoyed my singing!”
“I did actually. All the hand-flapping and dancing around the room. Best show of my life!” Ahmed laughed then dodged the punch I aimed at him.
We finally left after promising to come back and visit them again, InshaAllah…
Shooh! I’ve probably written more in the past week than I have in months!😨🤣 enjoy it while this writing bug is on me😉 and drop me your feedbacks like always!