Thursday, June 19, 2008

After Ali

"I will call you, Insha'Allah as soon as I get home."

My mother's voice is almost reassuring to me. She is standing in the doorway of my apartment her face set in a soft smile. She reaches out to me and as I rest my head against her shoulder I feel a fleeting sense of calm. I inhale her familiar scent and we pull back from each other.

"I will not tell you again that I think you need to come home now. Although your father will be disappointed. I will not."

With those final words she is gone. I watch her from the window of my first floor apartment. She climbs into the cab and then there is just the familiar sights of my street. Men standing on the corner waiting for a fare, women in scarves heading home to prepare dinner and the young yuppies new to the neighborhood who bear with this not so fabulous life because of its close proximity to the city. I stare at the people before closing my blinds.

My nighttime ritual begins as if I had not had visitors for the past four weeks. I light an incense. Drink a cup of tea. Pet the cat. I lay out my prayer rug.

After I have prayed Isha I make a long dua for him. So long that my knees and hamstrings begin to ache.
As I fold my prayer rug I whisper: "Allah take this rock out of my heart. Out of my chest. Out of my throat."

My parents did not want us to move to Queens. He convinced them. His cousin knew a man who needed someone to work. My father wanted us to move into the garage/guest house until we could find a place near them. My older brother had lived there, my two oldest sisters with their husbands, even my younger brother when he married. I am convinced that all of my siblings will eventually spend their first year of married life in that garage.

My father was proud to provide the small finished room with private shower to his children as they searched for apartments and houses once they were married. New Muslim couples sometimes need more time to settle on living quarters, he said with a bright smile. Although I appreciated my father's offer I must say that I was excited beyond belief when Ali told him that he had a guaranteed place for us in New York.

My own place. No more fighting for television or the bathroom with my eight (yes, eight) brothers and sisters. My unmarried sisters would not have to worry about throwing their scarves on whenever my new husband entered the shared living space.

My father was, of course, disappointed but Ali had smiled at me knowing that this was what I wanted. I wanted to leave my parents house. And most importantly, I wanted to go to New York.

It did not bother me that the first apartment had only one sitting room for television, a small kitchen and a tiny bedroom. I didn't even let out a big yelp when I turned on the kitchen light one night, in search of a late night snack, and saw roaches everywhere- fleeing from my sudden intrusion. I simply got up the next day and scrubbed everything with bleach.

We went to the Trade Fair around the corner for Borox Acid and Raid and I listened to Ali speak Arabic with the people who worked there. A few of the sisters eyed me. An Arab with a non-Arab and she's brown. I knew that was what they were thinking. What a shame for them, I thought.
I have started working again. On my first day the kids give me a huge card and I thank them with a broad smile. They are quieter than usual and more respectful.

Jamal, a Puerto-Rican and black third grader with huge eyes, tells me that the substitute was mean. She yelled all the time and never let them out for recess. I wonder what tortures my class subjected the poor woman to. Jamal plays innocent when I ask him specifically about his behavior.

I never eat in the teacher's lounge. Instead, I cross the Brooklyn street and eat in a small park. Today I have a cheese and romaine sandwich on a wheat roll. I wash it down with lukewarm water. My appetite has returned.

I have spent the last twenty minutes trying not to hang up the phone on my father who insists that I come home immediately. Key words: Woman. City. Alone. Crime. Bad.

I am tired. The weary tone in my voice mistakenly convinces him that he has finally won.
"Abbi. I am tired. Insha'Allah we will talk tomorrow. I love you."
I am happy to hang up. To eat a small plate of beans and brown rice for dinner. I pray Maghrib and spend most of the night reading Qur'an, grading homework, and doing lesson plans for the next week. It is Saturday night in spring and people are outside. Hip hop music comes in through the open window. I listen to the excited voices heading into the city and the familiar rumble of the train.


Ali was an only child. His mother died when he was ten and his father when he was thirteen. He was raised by a loving older aunt (his father's sister) and her husband. Alhamdulilah they were at our nikah. Two years into our marriage she returned to Allah. This was the first and only time that I saw Ali cry. He did not know that I saw him. I came home late from a meeting at school and he was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in hands. I wanted to cry seeing him like that.

By that time we had been trying to have a baby for a year. We had just moved into this apartment and had acquired an extra bedroom. After a year with nothing-the sisters at the Trade Fair (who eventually warmed up to me) starting giving me things to drink, sharing duas that I needed to make and recommending special "exercises."

Another year drifted by. Still nothing. By this time we knew that neither one of us had any infertility problems. Yet, there was no baby. Until a year and a half ago when two faint pink lines appeared on the test. Ali did a happy dance and made a huge dinner. I ate and ate. Four weeks later I woke up with horrible cramps.

I cried for days after I miscarried and Ali was quiet. He made me soup and read Surah Rahman to me.

At Ali's janaza I stood shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot with my oldest sister and my mother. I thought my knees would buckle but they didn't. My body was held too tight between them. They would not let me fall.


Today I want to move back home. The school year has ended and I am in this apartment too much. I can only vacuum and sweep so much. I open the window and the sky is overcast. It will rain today. There is no point in going out.

How strange that my mother knew that I had not yet washed the bedsheets. On her third day here I awoke to her standing over me. She caressed my forehead and nudged my shoulder. Without a word between us I stood up and watched her gently pull the sheet from the bed's corners.

I sat in the living room and listened to her collecting quarters. When the door clicked behind her I watched the clock. After ten minutes I was sure that Ali's scent was being washed away in the basement below me.

I close my eyes and his calm face appears.
"Still asleep...I've been talking to you for the last five minutes, habibi." I laughed entering our bedroom fully dressed for the school day. He lay there on his left side his arm still enfolding my pillow.I see myself laying next to him and hear that first cry rise up from the center of my body.

The cat rubs against my leg on cue.

"You need food don't you?"

I walk to the Trade Fair and the manager smiles at me. It catches me off guard. She rarely smiles. Her red lips are usually too busy speaking in rapid Arabic or arguing with a cashier over lateness or a customer over a complaint as her huge gold hoops bob back and forth. It wasn't until I heard her speak Arabic the first time that I realized she was Egyptian.

I walk to the cat food aisle. When I turn around she is there.
I return the greeting.
"I have not seen you in so long. I wanted to check on you but I did not have your number."
I nod.
She suddenly stops smiling and touches my shoulder. Her hand stays there firm.
"Allah will take away this pain. Allah will heal you. It was a blessing to have spent so much time with Ali."
She smiles now and leans closer.
"We are here for you. I want you to come eat with me tomorrow night. Me and my girlfriends we get together, eat, and talk. Allah will reward us for our strength. My husband is gone now too. "
She says this last part and I see tears form in her eyes.
"I will come, Insha'Allah."

I have to put the cat food down when she embraces me.

copyright Asma for Muslim Love Stories 2008

Right under your nose

Zaynab was not nervous. For breakfast she ate her usual maple, brown sugar oatmeal. Yes, it was instant despite her oldest sister's warnings about processed food. All Zaynab knew was that it took less than two minutes to zap in the microwave and mix with fresh slices of banana.

She sat alone at the family table. Abu and umm had already left to start their day at work, at the family business-Munir Travel. A traveler's agency that was already beginning to book trips for the hajj season. Her older sister Fatimah was dropping her eleven year old brother at his elementary school. So Zaynab sat with the house to herself. She was quiet and full from her quick breakfast.

It was Thursday. This past semester her Thursdays had been packed with classes. All morning classes then a quick bite, Dhur prayer and more classes. Alhamdulilah she had finished. She was graduating at 5 o'clock this very day with a BA in Accounting. The thought of it made her want to press her forehead against the cold tile of the kitchen out of gratitude to Allah subhana wa ta ala.

There was nothing to do this morning but wait for the hours until graduation. She closed her eyes to picture her name being called. A smile crossed her lips at the thought.

Hours later she stood in the hallway of her college. She wore a black gown with a matching cap. A purple and gold tassle dangled from the cap. She wore a deep purple scarf with gold thread to match. She looked at the other graduates around her and stifled a smile. Now she wasn't the only one walking the halls in abaya!

"Okay line up!!! I need to check in who's here!" a red haired lady bellowed over the excited chatter of the graduating class.

Zaynab recognized her from the afternoon before where they had rehearsed for the graduation. This lady was about business. At the rehearsal the day before she had go on and on about not taping silly greetings to the top of your cap or tossing beach balls over your heads. A group of rowdy frat boys had groaned when they were informed that all beach balls would be confiscated.
Now the woman stood in front of Zaynab checking off her name.

"Hmm...still no sign of Zaid Muhammed."
Zaynab recognized the name. He had been in Accounting I and II with her. He always sat in the front row with two other guys while Zaynab preferred the middle of the room. It was easier to blend in if you were in the middle -even with hijab.

Moments later Zaid was being put in front of her by the obviously stressed out attendant.
"Excuse me...Ms. Munir ...could you please help uh..uh Mr. Muhammed, yes, Mr. Muhammed with what's going to happen?"

Before Zaynab could answer the woman was gone and Zaid had turned to her. She instantly felt a shyness creep up her neck and heat her face. She looked down and then up again.
"Um..basically we walk out to the auditorium and sit in our seats. Then the attendant will signal to us to stand. When your name is called walk across the stage shake Dean Winters hand. Turn and smile for the picture."

Zaynab found herself giving out the information rather quickly. So fast that when she was done she paused to catch her breath and she looked up at him again. He smiled.
"Thanks..." he glanced at her scarf.
"Assalaamualaikum!" he said.
"Walaikumasalaam wa rahmatullahi." she said softly.
They were quiet and she peered down the line to see if it was moving. No chance. Zaid was looking at her now but not rudely.
"I'm sorry...sister but you seem to be so familiar to me."
"I'm Accounting...I mean we were in class together. In fact, quite a few."
"Hmmm. I never saw you. Strange."

Now he looked shy and they both stared ahead. The line was moving now. He smiled at her one last time and they made their way into the auditorium.

After waving to her mother and father, Fatimah, her little brother Anwar and best friend Samira, Zaynab settled back in her chair to watch the graduation. Twenty minutes into the graduation she felt Zaid's leg accidentally graze hers. They both sat up more erect and he shyly apologized.

After another twenty minutes Zaynab was bored out of her mind and another student was singing. The graduation had turned into a musical. Suddenly Zaid was handing her a piece of paper-the program-with a note.

ASA-So what are you're plans after graduation?
Not sure yet! What about you??
I most likely will be working with my older brother for now, Insha'Allah.
Cool. What does he do?

Over the next half an hour she learned that Zaid had missed rehearsal the previous day because his grandparents were flying in from overseas. He lived with his family in the town next to her family and his father was an imam and his mother was a writer. The two became so consumed by their notes that someone had to tap Zaid when the line started to move.

After the graduation Zaynab stood with her family and friend Samira. They had bought her a brilliant bouquet of lilies. She smiled as Fatima took pictures hoping that no one noticed her searching glances around the auditorium.

The family was just preparing to leave when someone called her name. She turned to see Zaid standing with a man and woman. He approached with a small smile.
"Assalaamualaikum. I was hoping that I could introduce you to my parents."
"This is Zaynab Munir-accountant"

A year later, after three tries Zaynab finally managed to parallel park her car between a van and a super sized SUV downtown. She stepped out the car and looked across the street. He was standing there with a huge grin. Zaynab managed to jog across the street the end of her blue shayla flapping behind her.

"You made it Alhamdulilah! I just finished putting up the sign. What do you think?" Zaid said.
Zaynab turned to look at the tiny glass store front behind her husband.
In bold red and gold lettering she read outloud: Z&Z Accounting.
"It's beautiful Masha'Allah. I love it and I love you!"

copyright Asma for Muslim Love Stories 2008

Copyright Muslim Love Stories 2008-2009

You are free to read my stories. You are not free to alter, add to or distribute my writing without my permission.

About Me

Muslim Short stories that explore identity, romance & love.