The merits and virtues of Zul Hijjah…

Salaams lovely readers. The mubarak days of Zul Hijjah have dawned upon us alhamdulillah. We have been given yet another year to make the most of it and gather as much rewards as we can, so let’s try not to waste time, and make the most of this opportunity. The author of “Lives Less Ordinary” has written an excellent article on this, she has basically said whatever I want to, so I’ll redirect you to her page…
Remember me and my family in your special duas!
xxx

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

Mubarak to you! Congratulations! To every person  who is  alive now &has the opportunity to live through and make the most of the days that have arrived, what are they? The 10 most  beloved days to Allah. Let’s not UNDERESTIMATE this. This is a challenge&encouragement to myself  first&others, let’s run to build our bond with our Allah. Let’s purchase paradise.

Virtues…

https://intherealmofheroes.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/congratulations/

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Part 39

Salaams all. I was going to write both parts then post them consecutively, but unfortunately due to time constraints I still haven’t finished the next part. So here’s part 39…next post will be out sometime over the weekend inshaAllah…
Enjoy, and more importantly, take lessons from it…

(وَذَكِّرْ فَإِنَّ الذِّكْرَىٰ تَنْفَعُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ)
[Surat Adh-Dhariyat 55]

“And remind, for verily the reminding benefits the believers.”

Abu Hurairah R.A. reports that the messenger of Allah S.A.W. said,

“Remember often the thing that cuts off pleasures i.e. death.”

Death…something so common and inevitable in our lives, yet it still catches us unawares when it creeps up upon us. We know that we’re going to die yet we live our lives like we’re going to live for forever. And the biggest misconception we have is that death will come to the elderly first. Death has no time, age, gender, or race. Death has snatched babies from the wombs of their mothers; small, innocent children who have barely seen anything of this world; youths who are full of life and energy, who still have their whole lives ahead of them; or so they thought…

A pious saint once said,

“When we are born azaan and iqamah is given in our ears, and when we die salah is prayed upon us. That is how short our life really is; the time between azaan and salah.”

That should make us think. If life is so short, why are we still running after the glitz and glamour of this life? Why are we fighting over petty issues when our loved ones can be snatched from us at anytime? Why is our first worry about food as soon as we wake up in the morning, when we don’t even know if we’ll be alive till our next meal? Why do we compete in building the biggest and most luxurious houses when our final destination is going to be six feet under the ground? And why, oh why, do we sin so effortlessly when we know that we’ll have to answer to Allah one day; and that day could be tomorrow, or today, or one hour from now…

Honestly speaking, are any of us ready to meet our creator? Death is a bridge that we have to cross to get to our Beloved. It is something to look forward to, not to be feared. But we can only look forward to our destination if we have prepared for it. The journey is long and arduous, yet our bags are empty, our luggage is scarce, our conveyance is barely functioning, and we haven’t booked our place at our destination in advance. We are ill equipped to travel so how would the idea of such a travel appeal to us?

Salim’s death was proof that death can snatch us any time, no matter how young or healthy we are. Mum had told me exactly what had happened on that fateful Sunday.

Salim and his friends had decided to go jet skiing early in the morning. The beach had been deserted except for a few people scattered about. One of his friends couldn’t swim at all so he refused to go and sat on the beach instead. The other three went to hire the jet skis. The guy in charge gave them life jackets to wear but only one of them wore it because he couldn’t swim well. Salim and his other friend refused to wear them.

“The water’s really calm today and we won’t go far anyways. Forget the jackets man, we’ll be fine without them.” Salim had said. He could swim like a fish and had swum many times in the ocean as well.

After a while of messing around and getting the feel of the jetskis Salim had decided to race with his friend. They’d set off and Salim had pulled ahead of his friend. After a bit Salim had turned his jetski around to go back the way he’d come. As he made the arc his jetski flipped and toppled him over.

“I saw him topple into the water right infront of my eyes. The water wasn’t so deep so I was expecting him to swim till his jetski and pull himself up again. But it all happened so fast! One minute he was  in the water, his head bobbing up above the waves; the next instant he’d gone under…and he didn’t rise up again.” His distraught friend stammered, looking shocked and dazed.

The current had been too strong for him to be able to swim against it. But all that is just the means to the end. Death had bared it’s fangs and there was no escaping it. People said, “if he hadn’t gone on the jetski he wouldn’t have died.” But that’s not true. It was because his death was written at that particular place at that exact time that he ended up there. If his death was written on his bed he wouldn’t have gone camping at all. But he would have died in his own bed at that particular time. Such is the reality of death…

(أَيْنَمَا تَكُونُوا يُدْرِكْكُمُ الْمَوْتُ وَلَوْ كُنْتُمْ فِي بُرُوجٍ مُشَيَّدَةٍ ۗ )
[Surat An-Nisa’ 78]

“Wherever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high!”

Another thing I learnt from Salim’s death is to never judge a person. Yes, he was modern. Yes, he didn’t keep a beard and didn’t dress the sunnah way. Yes, he was a playboy and his lifestyle was not above reproach. But at the end of the day Allah knows him better than we do. Allah alone knew the strength of his connection to Allah, as all we saw was his exterior. None of us opened up his heart and saw what it contained. And despite the fact that he wasn’t pious or anything, he had a heart of gold. His character and generosity far exceeded many other people’s who had more deen in them. It comes in a hadith that Nabi S.A.W. said,

“The closest person to me on the day of qiyamah will be the one who has the best of character.”

“I guarantee a house in the highest part of jannah for he whose character is excellent.”

Good character is so important. We can make as much ibadah as we want but if our character isn’t good, if we go about hurting people or trampling over the rights of people, what good will all that ibadah be? On the day of qiyamah those very same people will come and take all our thawab and all we’ll be left with is a mountain of sins.

Anyways, back to the point. The fact that Allah chose to take Salim in Ramadan, plus give him the death of a shaheed shows that there must have been certain qualities of his which were so beloved to Allah. It shows us that we can’t judge anyone because we don’t know the strength of their connection to Allah. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to the wrongs of society just because we don’t want to judge anyone. When sins are being committed openly infront of our eyes it is our duty to give dawah to the perpetrators, to invite towards good and prohibit from evil, otherwise if due to those sins the azaab of Allah has to come down, it will affect everyone, the sinners and the pious, equally. But we shouldn’t look down on anyone. As a scholar once said,

“Hate the sin, not the sinner.”

Salim’s death made me introspect on my own life. What had I accomplished so far in deen? How far had I really come with regards to my deen? Was I ready to meet my creator? If tomorrow it was my turn to die, what face would I show my Rabb? And what good deeds will I present to Him? I needed to wake up before it was too late…

“Fazila?” Mum poked her head in my room.

I sighed and turned around in my chair to face her. My chair had once again become my place of solace and comfort. It was where I did my soul searching and introspection, which I had been doing a lot of in the past couple of weeks.

“Yes, mummy?”

“Someone’s here to see you.”

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Author’s note…

Salaams lovely readers! I hope url are enjoying the story:) so…I have some news for url…

We have 2 posts left before season 1 ends! I’m trying to write both posts together so I can wrap things up nicely, so I won’t manage to post today. I will post them sometime during this week, and then I’m going to go on a break…for 2 weeks!😄😆👏💃 yeah I’m excited😜 I feel like all I’ve been doing is brainstorming ideas, and writing away. My mind needs a break now lol;)

Posts will resume on the 19th of September inshaAllah…

Or url can keep dropping in comments, telling me how you’re finding the story so far, which characters are your favourite, where you want the story to go, etc…show me how your mind is working…and I might…might being the key word here…post earlier than intended😛

Right, then, enjoy…and remember me and my family in urls duas…

Ma’as Salaamah!xxx

Part 38

“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.

“Zee?”

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…

“Fazila?”

“Fazila?!?!”

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…

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Part 37

I gazed at the thin silver crescent peeking out of the dusky sky with moist eyes. Ramadan was here!!! I prayed the dua then went indoors, checking my phone. I’d received dozens of ramadan mubarak messages. I replied to all of them then started helping mum to prepare supper quickly. Adnaan and dad would be in a rush today so they’d want supper as soon as they got home. Adnaan led taraweeh at the local masjid every ramadan so he’d eat quickly and leave early for the masjid.

After supper Zee came over to pray taraweeh. Zee and I took turns praying at each other’s houses. We used to lay our musallahs in the lounge or outside in the garden, depending on the weather, and Zee, Faiza, Haneefa and I would pray together. Sometimes our mums would join us as well. And after taraweeh we’d chill together, having milkshake and savouries or desserts till late at night. Though I planned to sit less and sleep early this ramadan, so that I could wake up early for tahajjud. The past ramadans I used to find it really difficult to wake up for tahajjud due to the late nights, and a lot of the days I’d wake up just in time to eat sehri, so there would be no time left to pray even two rakats of tahajjud. And that was a real shame because in ramadan Allah Ta’ala has promised so much of reward in little acts of ibadah.

“Whosoever tries drawing nearer to Allah by performing any virtuous deed in this month, for him shall be such a reward as if he had performed a fardh in any other time of the year. And whoever performs a fardh, for him shall be the reward of seventy fardh in any other time of the year.” (Hadith-Baihaqi)

Ibn Mas’ood reports that on every night of Ramadan, a crier from the heavens calls out,”oh you seeker of good, come near. Oh seeker of evil, turn away (from evil) and open your eyes.” Thereafter that angel calls out,”is there any seeker of forgiveness, that he may be forgiven? Is there anyone with a prayer, that his prayer may be heard? Is there anyone wanting anything, so that his wish may be fulfilled?”

This time I wanted to pray as much quran as I could, in and out of salah. It would be easier for me as I could pray it from memory throughout the day, and even in salah…

The first night, after we’d finished our taraweeh and were chilling in the lounge, I got up as soon as the clock struck ten.

“Right, guys, I’m off to bed.”

The others looked at me in surprise, “it’s still early, Faz!” Zee said, “how come you’re going to sleep so soon?”

I explained my reasons to them and I could see that it got them thinking. After that night, as soon as it was ten o’clock every night, everyone got up and headed off to sleep. It was a start alhamdulillah, one that would hopefully last…

On Friday I went over to Zee’s house for taraweeh. As I entered the house, I spotted a couple of rucksacks stacked up by the door.

“Whose bags are those?” I asked Zee who was in the kitchen.

“Which bags?” She craned her neck to see, “oh, those are Salim’s bags. He’s going camping over the weekend.”

“Camping in ramadan?” I asked, surprised.

“Yeah, imagine!” Zee rolled her eyes, “I asked him what’s so urgent that he has to go in ramadan, and he said I wouldn’t understand!”

I laughed. Typical Salim style reply!

We laid out our musallahs in the garden and prayed on the lawn since the weather was so warm and balmy today. I loved  praying under the stars, seeing them twinkling so far above us, seeing the moon shining down on us, hearing the trees rustling in the light breeze. I’d heard somewhere that the earth we prayed salah on bore witness in the court of Allah on the day of qiyamah, so we should try and pray in different places whenever we could.

After taraweeh we sat and chilled in the garden, sipping on mugs of iced coffee and eating mini milk tarts that Zee had made.

“Where’s my dessert?” A voice asked from behind me. I turned around to find Salim grinning at me. Before I knew what was happening, my milk tart had vanished from my hands and Salim’s full-mouthed smirk appeared before me.

“Hey!” I yelled, “that was the last one! And I barely had a single bite!”

Salim laughed, “so why didn’t you guys leave some for me? You’ll finished all of them!” He reached for my iced coffee. I swatted his hand away.

“Oh no, you don’t! Don’t even touch my coffee! That’s a no-go zone!”

“Urgh, fine, I’ll just have to get some myself then. Hey, Zee!” He yelled, walking off, “where’s my iced coffee?”

I finished off my coffee and headed inside to put my mug in the kitchen.

“Zee, call Faz!” I heard Salim call from his room. I went and peeked in.

“It’s me, what’s up?”

“Oh, Faz, come on in,” Salim said, glancing up from his cross-legged position on the bed where his laptop lay open before him. He motioned me to come closer, “I wanna show you something.”

I went forward curiously, wondering what he wanted to show me. I saw him open his images and click on one. It enlarged and I saw three guys standing on a boat, grinning; one of them was holding up a large fish.

“Do you know who they are?” Salim asked, pointing to them. I looked closer and recognised one of them.

“Isn’t that Arif?” I asked, pointing to the guy on the left who was holding the fish. Arif was Salim’s cousin who had a great passion of fishing. He kept telling Salim and Adnaan to join him as well, and had once taken all of us for the weekend. Zee and I had found it so boring, we had flatly refused to go again after that.

“Yeah, that’s Arif,” Salim replied, “but who’s the guy in the middle?”

I frowned and looked at the guy closely. He looked quite familiar, now that I was seeing him properly, but I couldn’t put my finger on who he was. I scrutinised him for a while then shook my head and turned to Salim.

“I have no idea, bro. He does look quite familiar, though.”

“That’s Ahmed Cassim,” Salim replied quietly.

Ahmed?? My jaw dropped and I leaned in to get a closer look at him. That was Ahmed? He looked so different!! This picture must have been taken before he changed, because he looked totally different to the way he was now. And yet…he looked so familiar as well, with his dimples flashing as he grinned at the camera. I didn’t realise that Salim was watching me the entire time I stared at the picture of Ahmed till I turned my head and found his eyes on me.

“You like him, don’t you?” He asked quietly.

In that moment, with my guard down, I knew my feelings were too apparent to hide or deny, so I finally admitted what I’d been denying to myself as well all along.

“Yeah,” I blew out my breath in a gust of air, “yeah, I do like him.”

Salim smiled at me, “I knew it!”

“You’re not angry at me?” I asked him in surprise.

“No, why would I be angry? Feelings is something you can’t control and it would be pretty hypocritical of me to get angry at something like that.”

I laughed at that because Salim was quite a casanova himself, yet he was the opposite when it came to me and Zee. Though once I had asked him how he would feel if someone messed around with me and Zee the way he messed around with girls. He had said he’d break that guy’s nose, so I had asked him that weren’t the girls he messed with someone else’s sisters or daughters? That had gotten him thinking, and recently I had seen a change in him, however slight it may be.

“But whatever your feelings may be, Faz, don’t go do anything stupid, ok? Keep your distance till marriage.” He smirked at me.

I gaped at him, “marriage?? Where on earth did that come from?”

“Isn’t that the natural sequence?” He started chanting softly, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a gorgeous baby in a golden carriage.”

I grabbed a pillow and whacked him over the head with it, “there’s no love here, doofus! It’s a simple crush, one which I’m sure I’ll get over in no time!”

“That’s what you say,” Salim said, still smirking, “you don’t know how quickly feelings develop. But don’t start anything, Faz,” he said seriously, “don’t date or go into a relationship or anything like that.”

“You know I don’t date, Salim,” I said, “after…” I stopped abruptly as I realised that Salim didn’t know about Asif, “…after all that I’ve heard from people, I’ve become put off dating and relationships.”

“Yeah, I know I can trust you,” Salim smiled, “I know you won’t do anything rash. So 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 started laughing, “there’s still a while before I cross that bridge, dude! Why are you giving me your blessings from now?”

“Count it as blessings in advance,” Salim laughed as well.

“It’s getting late, I’d better be heading home now,” I said after a while, checking my watch, “are you going camping tomorrow?”

“Yup,” Salim nodded.

“Why in ramadan, though? Couldn’t you have gone after eid?”

“Ey, you’re sounding like Zee now,” Salim laughed, “the owes planned to go now so I’m joining them. It’s only for two days. We’ll be back on Sunday.”

“Ok, see you then,” I said, walking out of his room.

“Assalamu alaykum,” Salim said quietly from behind me. I turned around to see him smiling at me.

“Wa’alaykum salaam,” I replied, smiling back as I shut his room door behind me.

“Where were you?” Zee asked as I went outside again.

“Just chatting to Salim,” I replied. I didn’t mention the conversation I’d had with him, and instead headed home after greeting Zee and her family.

I showered and got into bed tiredly. I knew Zee would have my head on a platter if I didn’t tell her about my crush on Ahmed, especially if she found out that Salim knew before her. But I knew that she’d make a big deal about it and tease me endlessly so I’d left it out till now. But I knew it would come out sooner or later. I couldn’t keep secrets from Zee, she knew me too well…

The next day was a busy one because mum had invited my uncles, aunts, and cousins over for iftaar. I woke up early to help her out in the kitchen, so that we could get done before noon. I made a quick dessert as well before going to bath and getting ready in time to pray zuhr salah…

Supper was a hit and went off smoothly. We all prayed taraweeh in the garden after supper, Zee and Faiza joining us as well. Then we had desserts and chatted till late, till I could barely keep my eyes open. Finally everyone left and we cleared up quickly, leaving the rest of the clearing up for tomorrow. Zee went off to her house while I went to shower and hit the bed. I realised that I hadn’t gotten a chance to tell Zee about Ahmed today. I’d wanted to tell her before she found out herself but I’d forgotten and there’d been too many people around.

‘I’ll tell her tomorrow,’ I thought sleepily as I fell off to sleep…

The shrill ringing of my phone woke me up from a deep slumber. I opened my eyes groggily, squinting at the sunlight filtering through the crack in the curtains. It must be late morning, I thought, judging from the amount of light in the room. I answered the call quickly without looking at the caller ID.

“Hello?”

The seven words screamed hysterically in my ear sent my world spinning crazily. They slammed into me, burning a hole through my mind, shattering through my consciousness, sending shock waves to every nerve ending in my body. In a split second, the lives of so many people changed drastically. As I gripped the phone tightly to my ear, my hand turning blue from the pressure, one thought was crystal clear in my mind…

Life will never be the same again…

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Part 36

Salim looked at me, baffled, then followed my gaze.

“That’s Ilyas Cassim,” he said.

Ilyas Cassim? Who was that? I looked at Salim, confused.

“Who’s that?”

“Ahmed’s cousin.”

Cousin? I looked closely at the guy who was walking our way. He looked so similar to Ahmed, he could have been his twin. Only the imaama was missing. The man passed us, casting a cursory glance in our direction as he passed. There was no flicker of recognition in his eyes as his gaze passed over me momentarily. I let out the breath that I’d been unconsciously holding. I turned my head to find Salim scrutinising me closely, his gaze sharp and curious. I raised my eyebrows at him.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” he replied, “how do you know Ahmed Cassim?”

“He goes to the same university as me,” I said, “so I’ve seen him around.”

“Are you…” he stopped abruptly, checked himself, then continued, “…friends with him?”

I bet he wanted to use another word there! I thought.

“Nah, not really,” I replied.

“What do you mean by ‘not really’?”

“Gosh, Salim, is this The Spanish Inquisition or what?” I asked, exasperated, “I don’t know Ahmed that well, so I can’t say I’m friends with him. I have seen him around and spoken to him a few times but that’s it. So you can stop thinking that there’s more to it than there is!”

I stalked off to Milkylane. Salim and Zee followed me quietly. Zee looked at us curiously but wisely chose to keep her mouth shut, and changed the topic. Salim was quiet throughout, eating his choc 99 silently; but whenever my gaze landed on him I found him eyeing me contemplatively. It made me edgy and uncomfortable, but I hadn’t lied to him when I’d said there was nothing more to it, so I wasn’t hiding anything.

The drive home was silent as well, with me and Zee talking about random things to break the silence. Salim didn’t contribute to the conversation. He seemed lost in thought.

“You ok, bro?” Zee asked him suddenly.

“Hmmm,” was all the response we got. I jumped into the awkward silence that followed by changing the topic yet again.

Finally we reached Zee’s house. Salim parked the car in the garage, then turned to us with a serious look on his face.

“Zee, please go inside, I wanna ask Faz something.”

“Why should she go inside?” I asked, “say whatever you want to infront of her.”

“Fine,” Salim exhaled loudly, “Faz, tell me the truth, what is going on with you and Ahmed? Don’t say nothing,” he held up his hand as I opened my mouth defensively, “I saw the way you looked at Ilyas outside Milkylane, thinking he’s Ahmed. I know there’s something going on there, even if you keep denying it.”

I shook my head, “I’m not denying anything. There really is nothing going on there.”

Salim looked at me closely. I stared right back at him, trying to keep my face blank. Salim could read me like a book! I should have just ignored Ilyas and not asked about him, even if I’d thought it was Ahmed.

“I’m sure you know he’s very charming,” he said finally, “girls have always been drawn to him like moths to a flame. I don’t want you to be one of them. You’re better than that, Faz. Don’t get taken in by his looks and charm.”

I started laughing, “Salim, he’s changed. Hasn’t Zee told you? He’s not the way he was before.”

Salim frowned, “how has he changed?”

He’s become more deeni inclined. He’s got a full beard now, and is in kurta full time. He barely even looks at girls, forget speaking to them. And… he’s becoming an alim!” I finished triumphantly, relishing the dumbfounded expression on Salim’s face, “didn’t you wonder how I mistook Ilyas for Ahmed, since Ilyas was in a kurta and has a beard? The only thing missing was an imaama, which Ahmed wears as well.”

“Wow…I didn’t know that,” Salim admitted, still looking shocked, “I guess you’re safe then.” He smirked at me.

“So you didn’t trust me to stay away from Ahmed but you trust him to stay away from me?” I narrowed my eyes at Salim. He laughed.

“I’ve seen how guys look at you, Faz, so I didn’t trust Ahmed not to make a move for you as well. And for all your looks you’re very naive. You get taken it very easily. But if Ahmed himself has changed then you’re safe from his charm.”

If only you knew, bro, if only you knew how much his charm still works it’s magic on girls! The thought flashed through my mind. Including me…I pushed the thought away from my mind and laughingly responded to Salim. But the thoughts lingered in my mind even after I went home. Seeing Ilyas had been a shocker, and had brought feelings to the fore that I’d tried to bury deep in my mind. I wondered again where Ahmed was, if he was here or still in UK.

No point dwelling over it now, I told myself, and pushed all thoughts of Ahmed yet again deep into the crevices of my mind…

Hahahahahahahahahahahaaaaa!!!

I.am.so.mean!🙈🙊😂😂😂

To be honest, Ahmed wasn’t supposed to make an appearance at all, for reasons that will become clear later on in the story. But you guys wanted Ahmed so much, I simply couldn’t resist adding this. Sorrryyyyyy!!🙈😂😜

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Part 35

Ramadan was drawing closer and indian aunties went into a frenzy of making savouries and filling their freezers to the brim with like almost a year’s supply of these delicacies. My mum unfortunately chose to jump on the bandwagon, and to top it off, she chose to drag me onto it as well!

She stormed into my room early one morning, pulling open the curtains with a vigorous swish, then flinging open the windows with the same amount of vigour.

“Come now, Fazila, you’ve slept enough! It’s time to get in the kitchen and help me make savouries now!”

Before I could respond or even register what she said, I felt the duvet being ripped off my body, causing not only blinding sunlight but a cold breeze to wash over me as well.

“Muuuuuummm!!!” I groaned, throwing an arm over my eyes, and trying to grope blindly for the duvet with my free hand, “I’m on holiday, let me sleep!”

“You’ve slept enough!” Mum repeated sternly, “it’s time to come in the kitchen now. I’m giving you exactly fifteen minutes to bath and get yourself down. And don’t think about going to sleep again, Faz!” She warned me in a dire tone on her way out, “otherwise I’ll send Happy to wake you up!”

That got me up, albeit amidst groans and grumbles. Happy was Zee’s domestic, and she was a happy soul alright! She was so happy go lucky that she decided to make everyone around her happy as well, by chatting nineteen to the dozen to them all the time! She had frikkin’ verbal diarrhoea and the last thing I needed today was to listen to her ceaseless chatter.

“They should have named her ‘Broken Record’ instead,” I grouched on my way to the bathroom. I had no idea how Zee and her family tolerated her the whole day. Five minutes in her presence, listening to her nasal tones, was enough to make me want to run out of there!

I walked into the kitchen exactly sixteen minutes later and plopped myself down on the chair, eyeing the various pots and dishes moodily. Mum was busy mixing several things at once on the stove.

“Eat quickly, Faz, then we can start,” she said without turning around. I rolled my eyes and got up to make myself a cup of tea.

“Why do you need to make so much, mum?” I asked her, munching on a piece of toast, “ramadan is supposed to be a month of fasting, and fixing our inner selves, not our stomachs! You’ll have made it a month of feasting! It’s all about food, food, food! Honestly, what’s the purpose of fasting all day if we’re going to be stuffing ourselves like turkeys as soon as magrib azaan goes?”

Mum looked at me with raised eyebrows, “I didn’t see you complaining all these years when all you had to do was eat, Faz!”

“Well, now I realise what a waste of time it really is. I’m not saying don’t make!” I held up my hand as mum opened her mouth, “make, and I will help you out. Just don’t make it a competition of who makes more and fancier things. Make it simple.”

“Ok, fine!” Mum huffed reluctantly, “I get your point. We’ll just make our usual stuff.”

I smiled at her, my mood improved at this small victory, and started helping her out…

It took us one week to complete all the savouries and I heaved a sigh of relief when we were done. At least we didn’t start filling our freezer months before ramadan like other people did, and we only made a few types, our usual samoosas and pies, not crazy amounts like what had become the norm these days.

I went over to Zee’s house the weekend before ramadan was due to start.

“We need to go shopping, Zee,” I said, flopping down on her bed and propping my head on my hands, “I need a few things and I wanna stock up so I don’t need to go out in ramadan.” I hated going shopping in ramadan. It was such a waste of time, and took us away from the spiritual high that we got in ramadan. I liked to stay at home and make as much ibadat as I could. Shopping, socilising, etc could wait for one month; we did enough of that throughout the year anyways!

“I also need to go,” Zee replied, “but Salim’s using my mum’s car at the moment so I don’t have a car right now.”

“Is he gone out?” I asked.

Zee nodded, “he went out a little while ago. I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

“I heard my name,” Salim said, strolling into the room, “oh, hey, Faz! Howsit?”

“Good, alhamdulillah!” I replied, “can we take your mum’s car? We need to go shopping.”

“I also need to go out,” Salim replied, “can’t you guys go tomorrow?”

“No, we can’t,” Zee replied, “mum said we have to go visit khala tomorrow.”

“Where do you need to go?” I asked Salim, “can’t you drop us off on the way?”

Salim thought for a while, then nodded, “ok, then. Get ready, I’ll drop you off. How long will you’ll take?”

“Not long. Just a couple of hours,” I replied.

“JUST two hours??” Salim raised his eyebrows, “what would you call long then?”

“The whole day,” I grinned at him and jumped off the bed, “come on, hurry up, Zee! We’ll wait for you outside.”

Salim and I went out to the car and waited for Zee to get ready. After a while she came out and jumped into the car and we went to the mall. Salim parked off and got out of the car. I looked at him curiously.

“I thought you’re going somewhere else?”

“Yeah, but I realised that I need a few things as well, so I’ll join you guys for a bit.”

“Cool, you can carry our bags for us,” I grinned, and he rolled his eyes, “yeah, you wish!”

Thanks to Salim we couldn’t shop leisurely the way we’d have liked to. He insisted that we should get everything we want and leave together, to save him an extra trip in coming to pick us up.

“Phew, I feel like I’ve run a marathon!” I wheezed as we came out of the last shop, “stop laughing at us, idiot! Thanks to you I feel like I just finished exercising, instead of shopping!” I scowled at him.

Salim burst out laughing, “well, that shows that you need to get fit! You got puffed out after walking in like, three shops?”

I raised my eyebrows, “these bags are heavy, you know! It’s like lifting weights!”

That just made him laugh more, “lifting weights?? You call carrying these little pouches lifting weights??”

He stepped back and held out his hands instinctively as I raised my shopping bags. I dumped them in his arms and smirked at him, “well, hulk, I suggest you carry these ‘little pouches’ since they’re so feather-light for you!”

I turned around and started walking again, ignoring his protests. Zee caught up to me, in stitches over the whole exchange, “how do you get away with doing such stuff? I would never be able to do that with him!”

“Go give him your shopping bags as well. Let him lift some real weights for a change!” I laughed.

As we were walking I spotted Milkylane a little further on. I stopped and turned to Salim, “let’s go have ice creams. I’m tired and thirsty from all that shopping!”

Salim looked at me incredulously, “are you for real?? YOU are tired and thirsty?? I’m the one carrying all your bags here!”

“But you said they’re like little pouches,” I looked at him innocently.

“Oh, shut it, will you,” he growled in response and I laughed and turned back to continue walking. I looked towards the entrance of Milkylane and froze!

A guy was exiting the place, talking to another guy who was walking beside him, gesturing with his hands as he spoke. Those gestures, those facial expressions, those features…it couldn’t be…could it???

“What’s wrong?” Zee asked from behind me, peering over my shoulder, “why have you stopped walking?”

“Why are you guys standing here and gabbing away?” Salim added as he joined us, slightly out of breath, “I thought you’ll wanted to have ice creams?”

I turned my head slightly towards him, keeping my gaze trained on the guy infront of me.

“Salim…is that Ahmed Cassim???”

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Part 34

I woke up early the next day, and after praying tahajjud I sat down to pray quran. I missed nana at these times; hearing his deep, melodious voice resonate throughout the house after fajr, and reciting my dhor to him everyday after he had finished his recitation.

After I had prayed quran and completed my fajr salah I wore my track bottoms with a long shirt and draped a hijab on my head. Then I grabbed a water bottle and, jotting down a quick note to my mum, I headed out the front door.

The sky was slowly lightening as I jogged down the all too familiar road to the beach. There was hardly anyone about as I ran along, my takkies beating a staccato rythm on the pavement, my pulse drumming in my ears. Soon I came to the beach and I stopped for a moment, drinking in the sight before me; the endless stretch of water spread out before me, the waves crashing ceaselessly, creating the harmonious, dull roar that was so soothing to listen to. I removed my shoes and began walking on the sand till I reached the shore, the waves lapping gently on my feet. The water was cold at this time but I barely noticed it, so lost was I in the beauty of the ocean surrounding me. I breathed in the crisp, salty air deeply, then let it out in a fog of breath. I pulled out my phone and took a video of the ocean and beach, then sent it to Khadija with a caption, “eat your heart out, babe! I’m in heaven right now!😍😍😍”  Smiling to myself I put my phone away and sat down, leaning back on my elbows on the sand, revelling in the sense of being alone with just the ocean for company.

That didn’t last for long though! As I sat there, lost in thought, I felt two strong hands grasp my shoulders.

“Gotcha!!!”

I yelped in fright and twisted around to see who the intruder was.

“Salim??” I asked in surprise, seeing Zee’s brother standing there, grinning down at me, “you nearly gave me a heart attack, bro!” I narrowed my eyes st him, and he started laughing.

“Ey,you girls get scared at the drop of a pin also!” He dropped down on the sand next to me, “what were you thinking about? You were in your own world just now.”

I shrugged, “nothing in particular. Just admiring the ocean. I missed this place the most while I was away.”

“Yeah, this is your favourite place so I can imagine. Where do you run to over there when you get upset?” He raised his eyebrows at me with a smile.

I laughed, “there’s a river over there. It’s quite soothing as well, though of course nothing beats this!” I waved my hand around.

“So how’s life there? Campus, your social life? Found any hot british dudes yet?” He smirked at me.

I rolled my eyes in return, “why does everyone expect me to fall for some guy over there? I’ve gone there to study and that’s what I’m doing!”

Salim laughed, “that’s good! You’re too young to settle down now anyways. And I don’t fancy making a trip all the way there now to drill any future prospect of yours.”

I laughed as well. I knew Salim would be capable of doing just that, he was as possessive as an older brother can be, with both me and Zee.

We chatted for a while then Salim got up, “I’m hungry. Let’s go have breakfast.” He indicated to the coffee shop in the distance.

I shook my head regretfully, “I have to go now, it’s getting late and I have things to do.”

“Right, catch you later then!” Salim waved at me and walked off towards the coffee shop. I headed home, arriving just in time for breakfast.

“Mummy, you’ve outdone yourself once again!” I exclaimed as I sat down on the table and heaped choc chip muffins and waffles onto my plate.

“Ewww, go shower, stinky pants!” Adnaan exclaimed, holding his nose and moving his chair away from me.

I looked at his full plate with raised eyebrows, “you’re gonna get fat eating this way! I can already see you developing a paunch. Careful, bro! No girl wants to marry a guy who waddles in as he comes with a proposal!” I chortled, then ducked as he threw a banana peel at me.

“Heyyy!” I heard Haneefa complain, and I turned to see her picking out the peel from her hair with a disdainful look, “leave me out of this, you two! Go fight somewhere else, I wanna enjoy my breakfast!”

“Who’s fighting?” I asked innocently, beginning to eat again, “I’m also enjoying my breakfast!”

After breakfast I started making the dessert for the braai. I decided to make mini oreo cheesecakes. They looked so cute, were a breeze to make and simply delicious! I set to work, working quickly, and finished in record time. Then I hit the shower and got ready in time to pray zuhr salah…

“Fazila, hurry up, we’re going to be late!” Mum yelled from downstairs.

“Coming!” I applied the final touches of makeup…not that I put much makeup, eyeliner and lip gloss were enough for me…checked my reflection in the mirror one last time…I had opted to wear a belted abaya with wedge heels and a floral hijab. Wearing abaya to the braai had been a difficult decision to make. I had loads of nice clothes to wear outdoors, and I knew my cousins would be all dressed up in lovely outfits, but I reminded myself that this was a conscious decision that I’d made and I had to persevere, no matter what the circumstances were. Practicing deen in situations where it was easy to go along with the flow wasn’t difficult; practicing deen when it became so difficult to adhere to it was the real test, and that is where we have to pass muster. I did not want to be one of those part-time deeni people; people who wore abaya and hijab on normal days but removed it all during weddings and other occasions…I turned away from the mirror and, grabbing my bag, rushed down the stairs.

The house was bright and full of chatter when we arrived. I greeted my aunts and uncles, hugging them and talking to them for a while before I handed my foi the cheesecake platter and went off in search of my cousins. I found them sitting in the patio facing the back garden, chatting and watching the guys braaing in the garden. I went and threw my arms around them from behind. They jumped and whirled around in surprise.

“Faz! You’re finally here!” Amira came forward to hug me again, “omg, I’ve missed you, man!”

“Yeah, me too!” Aliya chimed in, hugging me next.

I laughed and hugged them back, “awwwh, missed you guys totes as well!”

We sat and chilled for a while before we were called to go and eat. I asked them how their studies were going.

“Really well, alhamdulillah,” Amira replied, “I’m loving it!”

“Yeah, you would, being the extrovert that you are!” I laughed, “and you Aliya? How’s alima classes?”

“Oh, lovely!” Aliya replied with a wide smile, “it’s so amazing learning about the different aspects of deen! We only know the basics you know, salah, fasting, hajj, etc. But there’s so much more to it than that! Our deen is so vast, and there’s so much to learn! But we are happy with the little that we know, and then we only concentrate on furthering our secular education. We don’t have that same thirst of pursuing deeni knowledge.”

We were quiet after that. It was true, when it came to worldly things we put in our best effort and tried to know as much as we could. But when it came to our deen we learnt the basics and remained happy with that. I remembered once hearing in a lecture,

“We don’t drive the same car for twenty years, we don’t live in a house that has the same furniture, cutlery, etc for the past twenty years, we don’t wear the same clothes for twenty years, we don’t even use one handbag for twenty years, then why are we praying the same salah we were praying twenty years ago? Why are our ibaadaat the same for the past twenty years? Why haven’t we upgraded our ibaadaat to the ‘latest versions’? Why don’t we strive to be bigger and better in our deen the way we compete in being the best in dunya? Where do our priorities really lie???”

We went to go eat after that, and I had a lovely time, catching up with all the family again. I missed this in UK, having these family get togethers, but well, it was only for a few years I guess.

After eating the adults sat in the lounge, having tea and desserts, while us youngsters sat around the braai bin, chatting and having our desserts. Amira had bought graham crackers, a packet of marshmallows and a few slabs of chocolate, and we toasted the marshmallows over the fire and made s’mores. They were simply delicious and I couldn’t get enough of them! My cheesecakes were also a hit and got polished in no time.

We stayed there till midnight then mum n dad got up to leave. Amira convinced me and Aliya to stay over so we set up mattresses in her room and had our traditional sleep over. We had the leftover chocolate and chilled more in her room in our pj’s, till Amira looked at the time, “can you’ll believe it’s almost fajr? We may as well pray fajr then go to sleep one time! I know if I sleep now I’ll never be able to wake up for fajr!”

We agreed and prayed our fajr as soon as the time set in, then got into bed and knocked out!!!

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Part 33

“Fazilaaaaa!!!” I heard a high pitched squeal behind me. I turned around to see Zee running towards me, with Haneefa hot on her heels. They reached me and jumped on me simultaneously, knocking the breath out of me.

“Ufff…leggo…can’t breathe!” I rasped out.

They let go of me and stood there with huge grins on their faces, while I paused to catch my breath. Then it was my turn to squeal.

“Zee, Han!!!” I threw an arm around each of them and pulled them in for another hug, “gosh, I’ve missed you guys so much!!!”

“What took you so long to come out? We’ve been waiting for ages…!”

“We actually came in two cars to fetch you, Faz! You’re gonna get proper VIP service while you’re here…!”

“My word, it feels so good to be back! I missed the sunshine and even the boiling weather here…!”

“So you missed the weather more than us? Some friend you are…!”

We were talking all at once, at the top of our voices. We paused, looked at each other and burst out laughing. Then started talking again!

“My word, is there a circus gone wild here or what? I can hear you’ll all the way from the other end of the airport! Though it did make it easier for me to track you down!”

I turned around at the sound of Adnaan’s voice, to find him grinning at me. He came forward and caught me in a hug.

“Good to see you, sis! I missed your lively chatter!” He pulled away and tweaked my nose playfully. I stared at him open-mouthed.

“What?” He asked, confused by my reaction.

“Ok, who are you and what have you done with my brother?” I planted my hands on my hips and stared at him with raised eyebrows. He laughed.

“Nothing. Last I checked I was still your bro,” he smiled at me innocently.

“Well, since when have you become so touchy-feely, and so affectionate? Wait, are you in love??” I widened my eyes at the sudden thought. He burst out laughing.

“No man, it’s nothing like that,” he swung his arm around my shoulders and started walking, pushing the trolley with his free hand, “enjoy it while it lasts.”

They really had pitched up in two cars, I thought, amused, as I caught sight of the rest of my family and Zee’s family outside. I rushed to my parents and hugged them tightly, feeling my throat close up in emotion. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed them till now.

“My baby, oh my baby, you’re back,” mum kept repeating, stroking my face with tears in her eyes.

“Yes she’s back, Rabia, you can stop smothering her now,” dad joked but his voice was gruff with emotion as well.

I greeted Zee’s family as well, then loaded my bags into the car and got in with Adnaan and Haneefa. Zee went off to her car after telling me that she’d pop in later.

We chatted non-stop all the way home. I kept looking out of the window, taking in the familiar surroundings, noticing the little changes here and there. Then I heard it; the familiar, welcoming, dull roar in the distance. I smiled to myself; I knew the first place I would visit tomorrow, early in the morning…

We got home and I rushed in excitedly, going from room to room, seeing all the familiar things, running my hands over the furniture, sofas, even the walls. I finally reached my room and went in, seeing everything exactly the way I had left it a year ago. My mum had placed my red cushions exactly the way I liked them; a couple on the bed and the other two on the hanging chair by the window, and had even draped my fluffy white blanket horizontally at the foot of the bed, the way I loved draping it. I smiled then did what Haneefa and I used to do when we were little; I ran and dived head first onto my bed, arms spread out, sending the cushions flying onto the floor.

“Old habits die hard.”

I raised my head to find Haneefa standing against the doorway, a smirk on her face.

“Yup!” I said, grinning, “I’m still a child in this house and I plan to behave like one!”

“Well, so long as you clean up after yourself, dear! Anyways, mum’s calling us to go eat.”

The mention of food, especially mummy’s food, was enough to get me up. I freshened up then went down to the mouth watering aromas wafting through the house.

“Mmmm, something smells divine!” I exclaimed, sniffing appreciatively.

“Yoh, mummy, you actually made prawns! When was the last time you made prawns for us? Probably when Faz was here last!” Adnaan complained good naturedly.

“Oh, shush! I’ve made prawns for you’ll lots of times. Now let me spoil my baby, she’s not going to be here for long.”

I grinned smugly at Adnaan and Haneefa and dug in! I could get used to this service, that was for sure!

Zee popped in after supper and we stayed up till late at night, just chatting and catching up with the latest on-dits, till I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Zee was full of enthusiasm, planning all sorts of things to do over the holidays. She had even started jotting down the list of things to do, till I laughed and told her to leave it, and we would do whatever we felt like each day.

“You’ve lost weight, Zee. What’s up, are you working too hard or what?” I said suddenly.

“Have I??” Zee beamed at the compliment, “I’ve started this diet, it’s quite nice. Pretty flexible. I’ve been doing it for about three months now!”

“Wow, that’s nice!”

Zee had been on the chubby side from a young age. It hadn’t bothered her while she was young but she had started becoming conscious about it in high school. Since then she’d started more diet plans than I could count, only to stop them halfway when they became too intense for her. She was like me;  having a very sweet tooth and zero will power, so I was happy that this time she’d found something that worked for her.

“You must exercise as well, though!” I told her, “that will help you to keep in shape and make you fit. Dieting alone only does fifty percent of the job. Exercise completes the job.”

“Yeah, I know, I need to start walking or jogging like you used to do. Are you still doing that in England?”

“Yeah, it’s easier to walk there than here. I walk to campus sometimes, or I go jogging after fajr. Then I walk to the shops that are nearby, if I quickly need something. We don’t go everywhere in our cars there like we do over here.”

“Oh I see. That’s nice. I think I’ll have to join you when you go jogging here. That way I can at least get into the habit.”

“Yeah, no problem! No sleeping after fajr though! That’s the best time to go jogging!”

Zee groaned at the sound of that, “well, I’d better get going now. You look like you’re gonna fall asleep while talking. See you tomorrow!”

Zee went off while I went for a hot shower, then curled up on the hanging chair in my room. This chair held fond memories for me; I loved curling up on it in winter, my fluffy white blanket over my legs, sipping on hot coffee or hot chocolate; or curling up on it with a book, lost in the magic of words and an imaginary world; or sitting on it, praying quran and watching the sun rise after fajr. I prayed a bit of quran till I started dozing off while reciting, then I closed my quran and jumped into bed, hugging my fluffy cushion to my chest with a contented sigh…

Being on hols, plus at home, was awesome! No campus, no workload, no household chores! I started appreciating Anna, my domestic so much more now. I gave her a big hug when she came to work the next day. She looked surprised and pleased, and she beamed happily when I gave her the gift I’d bought for her. My mum also noticed the difference in me.

“I must say living in England has made a huge difference on you,” she remarked when I started washing up the dishes that night after supper. I laughed.

“Yeah, I’ve become so used to washing up, I can’t pile them in the dish anymore for Anna to wash up the next day. I just want to get it out of the way.”

“So how’s everything there? Campus, nana, nani…?” She asked once we’d all settled in the lounge after supper.

I spoke about my life there for a bit. Mum smiled at me.

“It seems you’re settling well there alhamdulillah. And you’re liking it there.”

“Yeah, I’m liking it. At first everything was strange and unfamiliar but now I’ve gotten used to it. And I love staying with nana and nani, spending time with them. They’re getting older and frailer as time goes on, so I like being there with them, making their life a little easier. And my chatter keeps them occupied,” I laughed.

“I’m glad you are there, Faz. I worry about them but with you there I know they should be ok.”

Then I spoke about the twins and the kids at the orphanage. I narrated the hilarious things kids come up with and they were in stitches listening to all their antics. While talking about the orphanage Ahmed popped into my mind. I’d been wondering if he was back as well, and if I’d bump into him somewhere. The thought made nervous butterflies swirl around in my stomach. I thought about bringing him up in between my stories and casually asking Adnaan if he knew him, then I decided against it. I did not want him to become suspicious in any way and think more to it than there was, because there was nothing there after all. Just one naive girl’s fanciful thoughts!!!

Mum called me that night as I was going to bed.

“The braai is at Imran Chacha’s place tomorrow night. We have to take one dessert. You’ll make something, won’t you?”

“Sure,” I replied, excited at the prospect of seeing my cousins again. I went to sleep early that night so that I could wake up early for tahajjud since it was the lovely day of jumuah. I dreamt of t-bone and yummy braai chicken, and swirls of decadent creamy cheesecake…

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Part 32

“Khads, my daaarrliingg!!” I chirped merrily.

“Wth, Faz??? What are you phoning me this early for???” Khadija’s sleep-filled, grumpy voice came through the phone.

“It’s not early. It’s…” I checked my watch and calculated roughly, “quarter past 10!”

“Seriously???” I could hear her jumping up from her bed and smiled to myself. Mission accomplished!

“Yeah, it’s not early, see?” I repeated, still smiling, “I need to go shopping so can I pick you up in say, half an hour?”

“Ok, sure. Let me get ready and have breakfast. Wonder why the house is so quiet…?”

I grinned and quickly hung up. Let’s hope I get there before she realised exactly why her house was so quiet!

I was quickly gulping down a cup of tea when Khadija’s text came through,

“You sneaky little twat, it’s only half past 8!!! I’m going back to sleep!!!”

Oh no, you won’t! I thought with a sly smile. I’m coming and you better be ready, Khadsooo!

I downed my tea and grabbed my bag and coat, heading out the front door. I drove to Khadija’s house and called her once I was outside her house. She didn’t pick up her phone. She had probably gone back to sleep, I thought, getting out of my car with a sigh. I prepared myself to face a whole lot of drama as I rang the doorbell, hoping I didn’t end up waking her whole family up. Yusha answered the doorbell, still in his pj’s, his hair sticking up in all directions. He squinted at me blearily,

“Faz? What are you doing here so early? Is there an emergency?”

“Hello there, hedgehog,” I grinned at him, “yeah, there is an emergency. A shopping emergency. And I’m here on ‘operation-wake-Khads-up’!”

Yusha raised his eyebrows at me, “well, good luck with that! My sister doesn’t take kindly to being woken up, especially on Sunday mornings!”

“I know,” I replied, “she’s not too amused right now. Wish me luck.” I tiptoed up the stairs and into Khadija’s room, shutting the door softly behind me. I saw a mound buried under the covers, with only tufts of hair visible on the edge of her pillow. This chic really did go back to sleep! I crept forward and grasped the edge of her duvet, then leaned forward.

“BOOOOOOO!!!” I yelled in her ear, pulling back the covers at the same time. Khadija yelped and sprang up in fright. I quickly stepped back and she went toppling onto the floor in an ungainly heap.

“FAZILA!!! YOU…YOU…YOU…” words failed her as she sat up on the floor, glaring at me through bloodshot eyes. I couldn’t hold it in any longer and cracked up, holding my sides as I laughed uproariously at the comical sight before me. The next instant a pillow slammed into me, muffling my laughter. I picked it up and saw her picking up her shoe, aiming it at me.

“Whoa!” I yelled, holding up the pillow like a shield, “relax, Khads! Peace!” I held up two fingers in a symbol of peace. She scowled at me in return.

“Peace when you woke me up on a blerry Sunday morning?? What’s so urgent that you have to drag me shopping at this time?”

“Khads, I only have two weeks left! And I have loads of things to buy for people back home and you know it takes me long to shop. So I need to get started if I wanna find everything. You’re already awake now so just get ready, please!” I looked at her with puppy eyes. She scowled again and let off a stream of arabic words at me. I raised my eyebrows at her in amusement.

“You know I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying, right? And I don’t wanna know,” I added hastily as she opened her mouth again, “I’ll go out now so you can get dressed.”

I walked out of her room, shutting the door behind me. I found Yusha leaning against the wall, looking highly amused.

“You look quite happy for someone who probably got bashed in there,” he inclined his head towards Khadija’s room.

“Who said I got bashed?” I raised my eyebrows at him with a grin, “she’s getting ready right now.”

“I could hear her swearing at you from here. You’re just smiling because you didn’t understand what she said,” Yusha laughed.

“Just as well I don’t understand arabic then. And I don’t wanna know what she said, thanks!”

Just then Aunt Safiyya, Khadija’s mum, came up, “Oh it’s you, Fazila! I thought I heard voices!” She smiled at me warmly, “is Khadija up?”

“She’s getting ready,” I informed her, going forward to greet her. I loved Aunt Safiyya, she was so warm and friendly. She always made me feel at home.

“Come have some pancakes while you wait. That child might take a bit long to get ready. I’m surprised she’s even up this early.”

“Oooh yummy! I love your pancakes, khalti!” I smiled at her.

“Charmer,” Yusha whispered to me as we went down, “you actually got her to make pancakes for you. Hey mama!” He raised his voice, “you never make pancakes for me on Sundays, no matter how much I beg you to!”

“That’s because you can have them on any other day,” his mum replied, “Fazila hardly comes over so I have to spoil her whenever she does!”

I smirked at Yusha and followed his mum into the kitchen.

We were finishing off the last of the pancakes when Khadija walked in, “mmm, I smell pancakes,” she exclaimed, sniffing appreciatively. She pulled out a chair and sat down, looking at our plates, “hey, you guys finished them all? That’s not fair!”

“There’s one left. Here!” I placed the last one in her plate, “if you’d taken any longer to get ready, you’d have gotten none!”

Khadija rolled her eyes and finished off her pancake. I thanked Aunt Safiyya for the delicious breakfast then Khadija and I headed out.

“So what stuff do you need to buy?” Khadija asked as I started the car.

“Things for the family back home,” I replied.

“But didn’t you already buy them gifts the last time we went out?” Khadija asked, puzzled.

“Yeah but those were gifts. Now they’ve given me lists of things they want from here so I need to start looking for all that.”

“I hate shopping for people!” Khadija grouched, “they tell you what they want and you have to buy the kind of style they like. Then after spending hours trying to choose the best things for them, they criticise it and end up not liking it after all!”

I laughed, “yeah, some people can be really fussy. Luckily I know what kind of things my family and friends like, and if they still don’t like it then tough! They can give it away in charity.”

We went to Arndale since I felt that was the best place to get most of the things I wanted in one go. By lunch time I had managed to get most of the things on my list.

“See why I brought you along!” I beamed at Khadija happily, “you manage to find things I could never find in days! And at such brilliant prices!”

“Yeah, yeah, show me your appreciation the right way,” Khadija laughed, inclining her head towards McDonald’s. I laughed as well and we headed there to have a lunch of burgers and fries.

“So you’re going in two weeks huh!” Khadija said, biting into her burger.

“Yup!” I replied with a wide smile, “thirteen days and counting!”

“Wow, someone can’t wait!” Khadija teased, “how long are you going for?”

“Two months,” I replied, sipping on my milkshake.

“So long??” Khadija looked shocked.

“Yeah, you don’t think I’d go all the way for a couple of weeks, do you?”

“I’ll miss you,” Khadija pouted.

“Awwwh, habibti, I’ll miss you totes as well!” I made kissing motions with my mouth and she wrinkled up her nose.

“Ok, enough love! People are gonna start wondering if they see you right now.”

I laughed and we chatted about different things through a pleasant and relaxing lunch…

Two weeks later I walked into Manchester Airport with nana, nani and Khadija, pushing a trolley laden with my bags. I’m going home! I thought exultantly, I’m finally going home! The thought brought a smile to my lips and a spring in my step. I bounced along happily, pushing the trolley a little faster.

“Careful with that!” Khadija exclaimed, “if you go any faster you’ll topple your bags down. And your bag can’t afford any hard bumps otherwise it’ll split open,” she finished with a laugh.

“Yeah, definitely! This one is bursting at the seams!” I laughed as well, thinking back to the night before. Khadija had slept over at my request, and helped me pack my bags till late at night. The past few days had been hectic, running around, trying to sort out everything before I left, and getting last minute things for Haneefa who had decided to send me shopping on the last day! I had only started packing the day before and I knew it would take me double the time if I tackled it alone so I’d called Khadija over. By the time I had loaded everything into my bag it had been so full, Khadija had had to sit on it to get it closed. The sight was so déjà vu for me; it took me back to the night Zee had come over to help me pack before I came to UK and had had to sit on my bag the same way to get it closed. Had a whole year already passed since then??? Time really flied!

Soon the boarding call came and I began my round of farewells. I hugged Khadija first, who became teary eyed while hugging me.

“Relax, ukhti, I’m only going to be away for a couple of months,” I said teasingly as I pulled away.

“Agh, don’t mind me!” She said with an embarrassed smile, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, “show’s over. You can go greet your grandparents now.”

I hugged nana and nani tightly, feeling like crying myself then. I had drawn so close to them over the past year, they had become like my second parents. And as happy as I was to be going home, I knew I’d miss them terribly.

“Allah make you reach safely, beti. Pray all your duas. Make dua for us as well. And enjoy your holiday, just don’t come back all burnt from the sun.” Nani laughed amidst her tears. Nana had tears as well in his eyes as he ran his hand affectionately over my head. I took one last look at them amidst my own tears, then turned around and began walking towards the counters…

The flight was long and uneventful and I dozed through most of it, as usual. I woke up with a start as the plane finally bumped down on my homeland, and pressed my nose to the window eagerly, my eyes devouring the familiar surroundings, a broad smile on my face. I was home! I thought happily, I was finally back home!!!

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Living life cloaked in modesty and islamic principles…