As narrated by Aara:
This was one of my favorite spots in the entire house. Well, this house was designed with most of my favorites in mind so it was difficult to choose at times.. But this place… This place echoed peace like no other place in my home.
It was a mini garden in the balcony of our bedroom, the spot where we would often offer our salaah and sit together in silence reading our Qur’an. Encased in glass with a retractable glass roof.. personally designed by Zoheb… it oozed serenity and my troubles seemed to vanish into thin air the second that I stepped into this sanctuary of sorts.
It was here that I often retreated to in these past four months. A place of solitude and comfort. It was here where I cried my heart out, spoke my heart out, bared my heart out. It was here where I found acceptance.
Acceptance that took less courage than I thought it would, one that gave me the strength to deal with my loss and where hope fluttered around like tiny fireflies on a darkened night.
I didn’t know how I would pass a day without him, but it has been just over four months and here I am. A little stronger, a little calmer, a little quieter and if I was lucky, a little wiser.
In my heart lay buried, memories of a man who I loved so dearly, a man who filled my existence with so much of happiness, a man who even though was now gone, but whose scent I could still smell within the walls of our home. I missed him so much.
I was a fool to think that I would never get by, because my Rabb has been with me before anyone else was and he will always be with me . He has made me realise that we are part of a bigger picture and have bigger tests to fulfill. It isn’t easy. But it isn’t supposed to be easy either.
I looked up for the umpteenth time into the sky, taking in the now burnt orange hues of the horizon. Reminding me that it was almost time to go, to return, to once again blend into the world. All my life, I had always identified myself with the color yellow… as bright as a daffodil happily swaying in the wind, but that stem was now cut.. what color would I be now?
I made my way back into my room to get dressed. Even though I didn’t feel like going anywhere, Riza and Laeeka had invited me for dinner as my iddah was now over and I couldn’t say no to them.
I peered into Hana’s cot and smiled at her sleeping form. Yes, Riza had kept to his word. He had brought her back the very night that he had taken her from me in front of everyone. The charade had passed and we would soon begin the legal process of restoring her to me. That Zoheb had forged my signature on the papers that made Riza and Laeeka her legal guardians, didn’t phase me. I trusted him. But it saddened me that it had come to this, it saddened me that the reasons behind him doing this were real, and I knew that I had to find a way to fix it for everyone. Life was too short. I should know.
I didn’t have to linger in front of my closet for very long, I needed to look presentable not dashing. I was now beginning my journey back into the world after these months of seclusion and it scared me to the point of it leaving me overwhelmed.
I tiptoed back to Hana’s cot and gently placed my hand on her tiny chest, breathing a sigh of relief that yes, she was breathing.
Trepidation. That’s what it was. Not a lack of faith. But that too was a contradiction, and I knew that I needed to work through it.
There was so many things that I needed to do…
The children had played the biggest part in my slow healing and I was so grateful for that.. but tonight there would be no kids. It would be just the 8 of us and I hadn’t really paid much attention to the lives of my friends of late. I didn’t know what to expect. Would I be comfortable? Would I still fit in? Would things still be somewhat the same?
And I would have to face Nemo again…Nemo who just wouldn’t go away!
It was the first time in 5 years that I would be going out for something without Zoheb and for the first time in 5 years I was desperately unsure of myself. But I had to do this…
With no way out of it, I finally greeted my parents goodbye and fired up Zoheb’s beloved Audi. As I ran my fingers across the steering wheel it was as though I could hear him reminding me as he always did, that I shouldn’t be nervous and that it was just a car. I smiled to myself as a tear escaped my eye, remembering my anxiety about driving his car.
I didn’t have any expectations about this dinner… I just wanted to find a tiny piece of myself in this puzzle that all of us collectively were.
And I had no idea that something beyond my expectations was about to unfold itself in front of us…
As narrated by Nemo:
“She’s left” , I said to Laeeka as I pushed my phone back into my pocket and continued with the salad that I was busy with
“Good, I can’t wait! “, Laeeka smiled
I had once read a silly quote on a billboard in Detroit and took it very figuratively. ” Life is like a salad, if you want it colorful, you’ve got to garnish it well ”
I was never particularly fond of salad but I had started making it back then. Almost every day. And each time that I made it, I surprisingly felt a little better. My somewhat obsession with salad making, would lead me to several different ethnic fresh produce markets and numerous cooking websites.. I pursued strange ingredients every single time and garnished it to “almost perfection”. Got to admit, it turned out to be quite therapeutic, becoming an interesting distraction even though I always gave it away and never ate it.
I chose to be old school when it came to veggies unfortunately. Aara, Zainab, Laaeka and Maariah though, like many other woman.. loved salad! So a treat for them and a distraction for me. Slicing almonds and chopping dates took my mind away (momentarily) from the fall out that Aara and I had just days ago. And her words pierced through my ears like swords dipped in hot oil.
“Do you think that you can take his place???”
“Hana is NOT your daughter!”
I was just trying to help. I had no ulterior motive. And the last thing that I wanted to do was to anger a friend who seldom spoke or interacted with any of us recently and I understood that. None of us would completely understand what she was feeling or what she was going through, I get it. But after her sharp words,I realised one more thing too.
That the Aara I grew up with and loved was no more. We had buried her along with Zoheb on that day… And this version of her that was still physically here was partially just a shadow of her old self and a mixture of a new person who I didn’t know. Who none of us knew.
I looked up at the security camera in the kitchen. Immy and Maariah had arrived and by the looks of It, Mari had gone on a baking spree!
Zainab and Arshad then made their silent appearance and eventually wandered off into the kids play area at the back to “talk”. Lol… Yeah right
The hands on the clock moved by painstakingly slowly…
After a solid twenty minutes, while I leaned against my car, cigarette in one hand, phone in the other… the familiar roar of a silver Audi caught my attention. I closed my eyes for a split second, envisioning Zoheb grinning at me as he revved the engine on this infamous contraption that left many wannabees in the loop.. We had laughed about it every single time that we had raced random cars down the freeway!
Half expecting Zoheb to jump out of the car, I lifted my eyes and grinned unconsciously.
” Naeem ” , Aara said stoically, exiting the vehicle
I nodded and looked down. Okay I rolled my eyes too but I wasn’t going to let her see that!
She took longer than it normally would take to remove a single packet from the boot, as though she was hesitating or thinking about something that pulled her back into an old memory…
I decided to take my chances and walked towards her car.
“Need some help? ”
She shook her head slowly and closed the boot. She had definitely been lost somewhere and had now, maybe unwillingly, been yanked back to reality.
“Listen Aara.. “, I continued.. ” I’m sorry about the other day, I should have asked where the line was… I was really just trying to help ”
I stepped back slowly yet immediately.. if that made any sense.
Aara turned towards me and either I had something stuck on my face or she had seen my stupid reaction, but her demeanor changed. She seemed somewhat amused even though she didn’t laugh as she normally would have.
“It’s okay.. I know that I overreacted, I’m sorry”
She looked around for a few seconds, taking in the house that she hadn’t been to in months and instead of singling out a new flower patch or something, her eyes fell on a small pitchfork that was lying not that close to us….
I was right! She asked me to pick it up and put it into the shed and I obviously didn’t know where the shed was.. So here I was following Aara in the direction of the kiddies play area in silence… but not for long.
Voices coming from that very area made us stop dead in our tracks in shock…
“I’ve had enough of this! ”
“Why don’t you want to try?? ”
“How many times must I tell you that it’s over Arshad.. I kept quiet because of the situation but I can’t keep up with this facade anymore! ”
“We can make it work please love.. ”
“No.. I want the divorce Arshad and I’m not changing my mind! ”
I was glued to the spot that I stood in, and a few steps ahead of me, Aara was too. She eventually turned around, her eyes mirroring the same bewildered look that was locked in mine.
Arshad and Zainab’s ugly spat continued, with both of them being completely unaware of our presence.
How long had this been going on for…we had no idea. Were we really this oblivious to the misery that they were seemingly in all this time?
Images of their hot air balloon ride flashed through my mind, Arshad’s heroic transformation, their wedding..their son…
And the only thought that boomed through my mind as we silently headed away from them was that…all that glitters was certainly not gold because pure gold was not visible for everyone to see, you had to dig deep for it, finding it didn’t mean attaining it and attaining it didn’t mean that it stayed with you forever. Sometimes it slips through your fingers, sometimes you’re only meant to keep it for a short while, sometimes you take it for granted and don’t realise its worth until it’s no longer yours to hold…