“Faz…Salim…Salim is gone…he’s gone!!!!!!!”
I froze at the sound of Zee’s hysterical voice. I opened my mouth but no sound came out. I cleared my throat and tried again.
“What do you mean, he’s gone?”
But the only thing filling my ears was Zee’s hysterical sobs. I heard a loud clatter, like she’d dropped the phone on the ground.
“Zee?? Zeenat?? Are you there??”
There was no reply, except for muffled, heartbroken sobs. I quickly hung up and jumped out of bed, shoving my feet in the first pair of slippers I could find. I pulled open my closet and grabbed the first abaya and hijab I saw, pulling them on hastily. I knocked over a vase sitting on my dressing table in my frantic rush. The sound of glass splintering mirrored the frantic clamouring in my mind. My mind buzzed with a thousand questions but I pushed them all away. It could not be. I had simply misunderstood!
I bounded down the stairs, taking them two at a time, and rushed out through the back door.
“Fazila…??” I heard mum calling behind me. I ignored her and burst through the connecting gate and into Zee’s house, my heart thumping, eyes searching wildly for any familiar faces. My eyes landed on one grief stricken face after the other; I heard loud sobs coming from the next room; I saw sofas and furniture being pushed to one side in the dining room and lounge as I passed, and blankets being laid down on their place; and my sense of foreboding grew with each step that I took. But my heart still refused to accept what my mind was screaming at me. It..just..could..not..be..possible!!!
I pushed open the door to Zee’s room, blinking my eyes to adjust to the darkness that enveloped it. Zee’s room was a mess! The curtains were drawn, the duvet was half on the floor, pillows, cushions and clothes were strewn about, and a vase lay shattered next to her dressing table, mirroring the one that lay in my room. And in the middle of all this paraphernalia was Zee, huddled up on the floor, knees drawn up and head down, resting on her knees. Her shoulders shook with the sobs that were still racking her body. I went over to her and placed my hand on her shoulder.
She jumped slightly and raised her head, staring at me with red, swollen eyes.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“He’s gone…” she whispered.
“Who’s gone?? Where is he gone??” I demanded, although deep down I already knew the answer.
“Salim…he…drowned…fell off…jet ski…gone…he is gone…” she whispered disjointedly, her eyes dull and flat. Fresh tears rolled down her eyes but she didn’t make a move to wipe them away. She stared dully at the wall infront of her, hiccuping every few seconds due to her excessive crying.
As for me…I went numb the minute my worst fears were confirmed. My mind went blank, unable to process the news.
I heard a loud keening sound coming from downstairs. I got up.
“Come on, let’s get you to bed,” I said, trying to heave Zee off the floor. She pushed my hand away and I let her be, going out of her room and shutting the door behind me. I went downstairs, stopping at the bottom of the stairs. I could see Aunt Aisha, Zee’s mum, in the lounge, huddled over a form on the carpet.
“My bachu, oh, my baby, my baby,” she wailed, hugging the still form to her chest. A woman tried to get her up but she pushed her away.
“Leave me alone!” She screamed, “leave me, I want to hug my baby, I want my baby!” She doubled over as harsh sobs racked her petite frame. I blinked, then turned around and went to sit in the dining room, which was slowly filling up as people trickled in. I picked up a Yaseen booklet and opened it, but my mind could not comprehend the words written before me. I prayed mechanically from memory, my eyes fixated blankly on the open booklet in my lap.
I heard someone clear their throat beside me, “bachu, can you get me some water, please?”
“Hello? Are you ok?” I felt a hand grasp mine and looked up to see an elderly lady smiling kindly at me.
I nodded, “I’m fine.” My voice sounded raspy to my own ears.
“I said, can you get me some water from the kitchen?”
I nodded again and got up to get a glass of water for the old lady. On my way back I saw my mum coming out from the lounge. She saw me and hurried over.
“Faz? Are you ok?”
I nodded yet again. Mum looked like she’d been crying as well. She looked over her shoulder into the lounge.
“Aisha is devastated,” she whispered, “she doesn’t want to let go.”
I simply nodded again. Just then the menfolk came in to take the body, and the commotion began. As they went forward into the lounge, Aunt Aisha began screaming again.
“NO!!! Leave him alone! Don’t take my baby away!” she screamed, throwing herself onto the floor and hugging the body to her chest again. Her brothers tried to reason with her but she wasn’t having any of it.
“Kassam, if you take my baby away, I’ll never forgive you!” She screamed, beginning to sob again, “just leave my baby alone, go away!!!”
Mum tapped me on the shoulder, “let’s go get her. We’ll need to sedate her,” she whispered, moving forward into the lounge. We went in, and with great difficulty we managed to move her away from the body and sedate her with the help of her brothers. Then we got her to her room and settled her in bed before leaving again.
After a while mum went home to cook a late lunch for us and Zee’s family and relatives who were milling around the house, while I wandered around in a daze. I finally sat down in a corner and drawing up my knees, I rested my head on them and began praying quran from memory. Around me I could hear several different conversations going on. Some people were discussing the mayyit and how disgraceful it was to go camping in ramadan.
“That Aisha should not have let her son go off like that,” I heard one woman whisper, “she gave her son too much freedom, now see what happened to him!”
“Ya, if he sat at home at least in ramadan this would not have happened,” another woman chipped in.
Others were discussing the latest fashion trends and discussing what the other women had worn to the mayyit house.
“You saw that Najma? What kind abaya she wore? So tight tight, I could see her whole bum shape from here!”
“Disgraceful!” Another woman concurred, the disdain apparent in her voice.
Whereas some other people were discussing the interesting aspects of their own lives. Only a handful were reading quran or making zikr. So sad that our funeral houses have turned into gossip centres these days!
The whole day passed like that. I went about things mechanically, like my mind was detached from my body. I went to check on Zee once and found her asleep, curled up on her rug. I threw a blanket over her and left her to sleep on. Faiza had locked herself in her room and refused to open the door for anyone. Aunt Aisha was still sleeping off the effects of the sedative. My mum and Zee’s khala sorted out the food and seeing to the visitors that kept trickling in.
After supper, which I barely managed to force down my throat, mum and I left to go home to sleep. Tomorrow would be another long day and we’d have to rise early and go next door again.
I showered and got into bed but sleep evaded me. I sat huddled up on my bed, knees drawn up, staring listlessly at the wall for what seemed like hours, till I finally fell into a restless sleep. I slept fitfully, haunted by vivid dreams. One in particular stood out in my mind;
I was on a boat with Zee and Salim, chatting and laughing as the boat cut through the water, the cool breeze blowing on our faces and whipping our hijabs about. Salim was leaning against the railing, laughing at something I’d said, when the railing suddenly snapped and he toppled over backwards into the water. I screamed out his name and ran to the edge of the boat, my eyes frantically searching the water. Suddenly Salim’s head bobbed up above the water and I breathed out a sigh of relief. I held onto the other part of the railing with one hand and leaned over.
“Salim!” I yelled, “hold my hand!”
Salim grasped my hand, but his own hand kept slipping and he couldn’t grip my hand properly. I stretched out my other hand as well, trying to hold onto his hands with both of my own, but it was if the strength had sapped out of me; my grip was feeble and so was his. Try as I might, I couldn’t hold onto him. His hands slipped from mine and he went under again. I saw the look of pure terror on his face as he went under for the last time. The water bubbled a bit, then smoothened out; till all that appeared before my frantic, searching gaze was calm ripples of water…
I bolted upright in bed, gasping for air, the scream still stuck in my throat. My eyes darted around wildly till I realised that it had only been a dream. I was safe and sound in my own bed. However, Salim was not…….at that moment realisation hit me like a ton of bricks; Salim was gone! He was gone and was never coming back again…the realisation slammed into me, opening the floodgates of tears which threatened to choke me with their intensity. The tears gushed out of my eyes like a dam had burst in me. I sobbed uncontrollably, doubling over onto the bed, my hands clutching at my stomach as the harsh sobs racked my body. The memories flooded my mind then in rapid succession, hitting me like bullets; each one fading away, only to be replaced with another, newer one. The scenes played out in my mind in a kaleidoscope of images;
Salim running after me with a bucket of water…dumping it on my head amidst my shrieks and squeals…..
Salim building sandcastles with me on the beach…laughing hilariously as mine went toppling into the water…..
Salim giving me piggy back rides in the back garden… “I’m tired now,Faz, get off!” “No, more, more, one more time, please!”……
Salim running after the bully who stole my lunch in the school playground…punching him one, sending him flying into the dusty sand… “You do that one more time, and you’ll be in deep shit, you hear me?? Now scram!!!” ……….
Salim teaching me how to ride a bicycle… “Go on, you can do it, Faz! Put your foot up now, that’s right, now pedal as fast as you can!” And as I went crashing down for the umpteenth time… “Awwwh, don’t cry, Faz, you’re getting there! Now get up and try again!” ……..
Salim stalking up to the guy who was flirting with me at Nandos… “What the hell is your problem, dude?? Keep your scrawny self away from my sister or I’ll rearrange your nose for you!!! This is my sister you’re messing with! Nobody messes with my sisters!!!” …….
Salim consoling me when the ice queen of the school and her minions had humiliated me infront of Asif and basically the entire school… “Don’t cry, Faz! They’re not worth your tears. Don’t take anybody’s shit, you’re way better than all of them put together!!!” ……..
And…the most recent one…
Salim grinning at me… “I know you won’t do anything rash, Faz! That’s why I give you my blessings to marry whichever guy you do choose to marry in the end, because I know that he’ll be the right man for you.” ……..
I sobbed endlessly as each scene whirled through my mind, till my tears ran dry, and all I was left with was a bruised, bleeding heart…a heart that reached out and clutched the memories to itself tightly, engraving each one of them with the blood of it’s tears…
I sat there till the sky slowly started lightening, staring listlessly at the wall infront of me. Had he known? Had he somehow known that he wouldn’t be present at my wedding to give me his blessings? And the way he’d smiled at me and softly made salaam to me before I’d left… We didn’t have a habit of making salaam to each other unfortunately. But that day he had…as though he was bidding me farewell for the last time…
I snapped out of my reverie and turned my head to find my mum standing at the foot of my bed. I hadn’t even heard her come inside. She looked at me with eyes filled with sympathy and compassion, then she came forward and hugged me. I broke down again in her warm embrace.
“I…can’t believe…he’s gone…he’s really gone…I’ll never…never…see him again!!!” I hiccuped, drenching her shoulder with my tears.
“Shhh…it’s going to be ok, Faz,” mum whispered, stroking my back comfortingly, “just pray for him. Make lots of dua for him. And think of how lucky he is. He drowned which gave him the death of a shaheed, plus he passed away in Ramadan when the doors of jannah are thrown wide open, and the doors of jahannam are closed. He got a good death so we should be happy for him, and just keep praying for him. And keep sending him little gifts in the form of ibadah. Everytime you remember him pray something and send it to him. That will help him more than our tears and grief.”
I nodded wordlessly, taking in everything mum was saying. She was right, I should keep sending him little gifts, it was the least I could do for him now.
“I know it’s hard, Faz, but be strong for Zee and her family. They’re completely shattered, and Zee will need your support now, more than ever.”
I nodded again. Mum stayed with me for a while then left saying she had to pray fajr, and I should go pray as well. I made wudhu and prayed fajr slowly, then raised my hands in dua. I poured my heart out in dua, crying to Allah to make it easy for us to get through this, to grant Zee and her family the highest level of sabr, to grant Salim the highest stages in jannah. I cried again till I couldn’t cry anymore, and this time my tears brought me a sense of relief. I entrusted all matters to my Allah and got up with a renewed sense of purpose…
The days passed slowly as we all struggled to resume some sense of normality in our lives once again. Zee and her family seemed to be lost in oblivion, unaware of the days passing them by, engulfed in their own grief. I tried to help Zee as much as I could but I knew that I could only do so much. Allah would take care of the rest. And, as they say, ‘Time heals all wounds’.
I could only pray that this would prove true for all of us…