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Friday, February 28, 2014

Short Story #1: Tried & Tested (part four)

"Subhan'Allah wa bihamdihi! It is you," sweetly sang a short, light brown skinned, heavyset woman with beautiful, young but pained, oval shaped light brown eyes, deep dimples in her cheeks, and a button nose. She stood standing in the doorway wearing a shiny black overhead abaya with a fresh blackened bruise underneath her left eye. She quickly embraced me and began to cry. "I've never stopped praying for you," she whispered in my ear.

 My hands instinctively reached up and found their way around her plump body and I slowly pulled her as close to me as I could . She smelled familiar and I knew I knew her. I loved her. And I've never stopped praying for her either.


I questioned her as I stepped into the house followed by Hasan, Mas'ud, and Yasmeen. My eyes zoomed in on over to my mother. She smiled as she held a pretty,chubby little girl with a thick, black curly hair, toasted almond skin, and big dark brown eyes. She looked about two or three.

 "Yea, Iman! It's me!" Ameera said so excitedly. "I just had to get here to see you. I couldn't stop dreaming and thinking about how you would look  like now," she looked me up and down and smiled before hugging me again. "Subhan'Allah, you still look exactly the same--- better. I am  so jealous of you,"

Ameera held my hand tightly as  we walked into the living room. Mas'ud and Hasan were already playing

with Ameera's older two boys. I locked eyes on the one that favored me for a few seconds. From his dimpled chin to his nose to his eyelashes to his mouth, it was like looking into the face of a child I never bore.

 "His name is Imran," she said laughing. "That's my oldest. He's eight and a half. Ya'll could be twins, right? And the other one is Munir," she said turning her full body over to the other side of the room. "He just turned six. He look like Ummi, don't he?" she said laughing. "And my baby girl, Saba, is all her far!"

 I sat down on the old couch  and those old springs squeaked underneath my weight. I wondered about what would happen when Ameera finally sat down. Ameera, my baby sister with the black eye. It was surreal or too real for me. I nodded my head at her. I think Ameera thought I was agreeing with her, but I was demonstrating my confusion. It was like everyone was looking at her, seeing her, but not really seeing what I saw. My little sister had been beat up, bad. Didn't they care? My veins were getting hot and itchy;  I could no longer contain it.

"Who did it?" I asked in a low, shaky voice as I took the straight pins out of my hijab and removed it from my head. I was trying so hard not be disrespectful to Ummi or her house, but Ameera's behavior had me on fire.

 "Did what?" she yelled at me like I'd made her mad. She was way out of her league.

 "Who the hell beat you up, Ameera?" I yelled back at her as stood up and walked over to her and pointed to her face.

 Ameera's mood instantly deflated. She slumped her shoulders, rolled her eyes, slowly inhaled her breath and swallowed it up in my face. "Really, thanks a lot, Iman. I'm here...for you. This," she said pointing to her face. Was for you," she spat at me. She pulled the bottom of her abaya up into her hand and quickly walked over to Ummi and snatched her baby, Saba, from her and walked into the kitchen without any more words for me.

 Ummi shot me a look that said she was disappointed in me and I thew my hands up. "Hasan, go on and take the boys up stairs and put they stuff away. Help them get ready for bed," Ummi said as she guided the boys to the stairs.

 "Okay, Jeddah. When I finish can I play Xbox?"

 "No!" Ummi and I yelled in unison.

 "Tomorrow, enshallah, Hasan. I got you, bro!"  Mas'ud told him. "Ya'll go head to sleep. See ya'll at Fajr, enshallah," 

"As salamu alykum," the boys sang out sadly and mopped up the stairs.

 "Wa alykum as salam," we all responded.

Mas'ud turned to me and said,  "Iman, I know where your heart is, but she's mad stubborn. She's not gonna talk to you about it like this. I've tried for years with her and Umar. Her husband got a real ugly temper, but, so does Ameera,"

 "So what? We just sit around and let Ameera get beat up when ever he feels like it?"

 "Did I say that?" Mas'ud questioned me.

 "What are you saying, Mas'ud?  Ameera walks in here with a black eye and you sitting playing with the damn kids? This isn't right. Ummi this isn't right!" I said turning to address my mother.

"Iman, baby, you're mad and you got a right to be. It ain't no kind of right. But everybody got to find their
own way. Your Abu and I tried our best to raise our kids the best we knew how. Allah knows we tried. Ameera got to find her way. You did. Enshallah, she will too."

 Ameera came back into the living room balancing her big baby on her hip and  holding a styrofoam container of food in the other hand. She plopped down on the old sofa next to Ummi  and the springs hissed slowly like it was a bike losing air. Then she propped her daughter next to her as she began to eat her food.  She looked up at everyone and smiled so kindly, it scared me. She'd really had lost her mind. "It feels so good in here now. That cool air is Alhamduleelah. I know ya'll happy ya'll got those air conditioners. Ummi, you out of grape pop, too!"

 "I'mma get up and get to the market tomorrow morning, enshallah. Make sure you write it down on my list so I don't miss it. All right, I'm going to bed," Ummi said pulling herself up off the old sofa slowly. "Ya'll be good to each other. We family, ya'll hear me? See ya'll at Fajr, enshallah."

 "Good night, Ummi," I said.

 "As salamu alykum and good night," Ummi said to us. Yasmeen and Mas'ud got up too and followed behind Ummi.

 "As salamu alykum wa rahmatullah," Yasmeen offered to us meekly as she followed behind her husband.

As soon as everyone vacated the room, I turned my attention back on Ameera. She was shoveling food into her daughter's mouth like she didn't care how I felt. My anger was bubbling up again. I had heard Ummi's advice and I believed she was on the mark. I knew I wasn't in a position to judge Ameera's marriage, but I was. Only thing, I never fought back and I didn't have anyone there to protect me. No one ever reached out to me and said, "You're dying. Get out of there and let me help you!" No one came for me. I was here for Ameera right now.

"You know that that food can't save you, right," I said walking over to  her and sitting down on the couch beside her. "Or change how it feels,"

"Don't do that, Iman. Please, Allah! Don't come out your mouth talking sideways 'bout stuff you don't know nothing about. You don't know nothing 'bout me, my family, or my man," she said putting her fork and styrofoam down. She grabbed her diaper bag off the oak floor and pulled out a package of baby wipes and cleaned off her hands and Saba's face.

"I am not judging you, Ameera," I told her.

"Oh, really now? What do you call this then? 'Cause it feels like you are. And it's the same thing Umar did to you. He don't know you and gonna talk about you. I stood up to him! I stood up for you! I always do. I might not win every fight, but I don't lay down and get whopped up on either, believe that."

"Okay, so he hits you and you hit him back and ya'll fighting and roughing each other up. How is that mawadah and rahma? How is he a garment for you and you a garment for him when you both abuse each other? " I questioned her.

"Iman, do you think I'm stupid? We don't fight every day or even every month. But some couples fight, Iman - even when they love each other. You of all people should know that. According to Ummi  you were the one getting beat down every day. That ain't my life. We got issues, but like I done told everybody in this house, we are working on it. So just respect that and respect my choice. If I need help, I know how to get it," Ameera said defending herself.

"Fair enough," I said putting my arm around her shoulders. "I don't respect your choice, Ameera, but I will respect that you want time to work it out with your husband. Just know that while I was getting beat down every day, I knew exactly who my enemy was, I never pretended that he was Prince Charming. I love you, girl and I just want us to have time together so that I can get to know you and your family, "

"That's why I am here," she told me and gave me a kiss on my cheek.

By the time Ameera and me fell asleep it was almost time to get back up for salat. The house was full and the
bathroom situation was dead serious. I had to wait ten minutes in a line just to relieve myself and make ablution. The boys took over the downstairs bathroom and the rest of us women were all upstairs. Yasmeen and Ummi were the problems. They moved slow and had the weakest bladders, so Ameera and I had to go last. Mas'ud took all the boys with him to the masjid to offer Fajr. Yasmeen, Ummi, Ameera, baby Saba and me stayed behind and prayed in the living room.

After the prayer, Ameera read Qur'an to us in Arabic and Yasmeen read the English translation. Ummi sat in her rocking chair smiling as she listened. She ended up falling asleep before the boys got back. I covered her with a throw blanket and went into the kitchen to cook breakfast. Ameera and the baby tagged behind me.

"You gon' have to fill me in on how you manage to stay so trim and slim," Ameera told me. "These babies done put a hurting on my waistline," she said as she munched on some grapes.

"You sure it was the babies or your eating habits?" I asked her.

"Wow, you got jokes, really?" Ameera teased.

"Seriously, I'm just saying the truth. But food wasn't my addiction. It's tough though, I know," I told her.

"Yeah, well, I just joined Weight Watchers online. You seen all that weight Jennifer Hudson done lost with them?" she asked me.

"You can't believe all that was just with Weight Watchers? She probably got trainers, chefs, and therapists too working with her. But she does look fab. I met her twice at the Essence Awards," I told her as I remembered the pictures I took with her.

"Really? Ya'll was rolling like that to awards shows and what not? How come Mateo ain't never brought you back home to visit then?" Ameera asked me as she whipped some eggs and cheese together in a bowl and then poured it into a sizzling frying pan.

I heard her question but I didn't really feel like answering it so I ignored her. The truth was Mateo had offered several times to bring me home to visit. He even suggested that I go home for Abu's janaza when he heard about it. I couldn't though. I didn't want them to see me before I was ready: clean and sober and free from my devil.

"I had ah...filled out some job applications the other day. Please make dua for me that Allah blesses me with something and soon! I need to help out Ummi and Mas'ud, too! He got that little baby girl coming real soon, enshallah," I explained while I chopped the potatoes and onions for home fries.

"From the looks of it around here, you've helped out a lot already. I need you to come to Philly and sprinkle some of that makeover money on my apartment - heck, in my whole life," Ameera said laughing like jackal gain. She laughed on and off the whole morning. When we cooked, cleaned, served the food - Ameera was either talking or laughing or talking and laughing.

She was still sweet, carefree Ameera! The little sister that would crawl in bed with me and tickle me when I was sick with the flu and draw smiley faces in her school books. The only thing was that she wasn't a little girl anymore. She was grown-up woman with children and a fighting husband. Wasn't nothing funny any more.

Ummi, Yasmeen, and Ameera left out after we prayed salatul Thuhr and went to the market for food. I stayed behind with Mas'ud to watch the rest of the kids. Hasan loved being the big cousin. Imran, Munir, and Saba followed behind him like little ducks.

"Flip - your- wrist, Imran! You gotta like flex the controller like you really hitting a baseball! Here," he said getting up off the couch, "let me show you again how to do it." He was being bossy again but it was cute. Mas'ud and I were sitting on the porch watching Saba ride on one of push toys.

"Hey, bro!" I said as I pulled the end of my hijab back to middle of my chest and straightened the creases on my head. "I'm sorry for talking to you like that last night. It wasn't right."

Mas'ud looked up at me and smirked. "We're good, Iman. Ya'll Johnson sisters are real tough - I don't want none of it. I do what I can though," he told me.

"It's must have been tough dealing with Ameera all this time," I noted.

"Ameera is ... she's getting tired of it," he said before he went to push Saba so more.  "I can see it. She visits us a lot more and I think she knows that she needs to do better.  Fact is, I used to fight with Umar and her about fighting
each other all the time and it didn't help. They got this toxic relationship and if you try to attack either of them, they just join together and attack you. So I had to stop. I send her reminders about Allah and her responsibilities to her children, them standing in front Allah and having to bear witness against what she exposed them to---- and I wait. You being here now and coming from what you did, that's going force her to do confront this," he assured me.

"Why do you think that," I questioned him.

"Ya'll was close. She lost the most, I think, when you know, you left us. She looked up to you and was following behind you and then she didn't really have that support any more. She just took the first brother that came asking to marry her," Ma'ud explained.  "Shareef, he didn't really care for Umar from the jump."

"Why not?" I asked.

"I mean, as young men, we can tell when brothers are running game on sisters. Problem is sisters drink it up and act hardheaded with their wakils.

"Cats think talking real fast, throwing out the hadeeth of the day, wearing big beards, and sajda marks is pious, but it's just real suspect some times. Ameera really didn't care no way. She just wanted to leave Pittsburgh,"

"So what about you, Mas'ud? How come Shareef's issues didn't become your issues like my issues trapped Ameera?" I asked him.

"Who said they didn't?" he said matter of factly before picking up Saba off the toy scooter and handing her to me. "She needs to be changed." He walked into the house and went into the living room with the boys and I heard them all moan when he turned off the television and told them to go get ready to go to the masjid. I stood there on the porch and watched them for a little before I went into the house to look for Saba's diaper bag.

After I changed Saba's diaper, I took her upstairs to my room - the room I was now sharing with Ameera and her, and laid her down for a nap.  I took out a sheet of paper, a pen, and grabbed a book to write on before sitting back on the bed softly so as not to wake Saba. I sat for a couple of minutes and then the words flushed my mind:

Dear Shareef:

Assalamu alaykum! In case you didn't recognize the name, it's Iman Johnson, your sister. How have you been? I miss you more than you know. I am back in the Hill with Ummi. I am trying to step in your shoes and help where I can. It's not easy being here, but enshallah, I'm not going any where. Ameera and her babies are here too. She needs all of our help to make the right decision. Hasan is such a great little boy. I love him a lot. I know we have a lot to talk about. So I am going to come and see you soon. I want you to know I love you and that whatever is going on with you in there, isn't your place. You belong with us. So keep your head up and stay focused. We need you here. I need you here.

Your Sister,

Iman S. Johnson

After I finished writing my letter to Shareef, I fell asleep next to Saba. She smelled so sweet and like...a baby. Holding her next to me was like holding on to a piece of cloud or a marshmallow one. It didn't matter. She was my blood, which almost made her mines. I hated that she'd had to see so much violence in her short time on earth. I hated that Ameera didn't understand that Saba deserved better.

I knew Mateo wouldn't be a good father. He was mean, angry, rude, and violent. The first time I had a miscarriage, I finally understood what people meant when they said Allah was the Just. I never thought sadness and happiness could co-exist. But they could and I was both. Sad that I would not able to have a baby with my husband and happy that I wasn't going to have a baby with my husband.  I had a IUD implanted into my uterus to make sure that I didn't have any more slip-ups.

I wasn't that lucky. Each time Allah found a way to bring about justice for me. Four miscarriages in twelve years were hard. But it would have been devastating to have brought four children into this world with a monster for a father and a drunk for a mother. My children deserved better and Allah gave it to them, with Him.

I woke up to the sound of more laughter and an empty bed. I rolled my eyes at the sound of Ameera's voice, but I needed to get up and pray. I figured Ameera had probably came and took Saba downstairs so I just made wudu and offered salat.

By the time I  finished praying,  the thick aroma of frying fish and baking sweet cornbread had wafted into the the room and was teasing me to come find it. I salamed out of the prayer and rushed down the stairs only to be met by sister Naima's big smile.

"Now there she is," she said. "We've been waiting on you to wake up for an hour now, sis!"

"Well I didn't know you were coming by sister Naima. I surely would have delayed my rest to partake in your company." I said as we shook hands and embraced. "As salamu alykum,"

"Wa alykum as salam, Imani! You know I didn't come alone. I brought them grandkids and you remember, my son?" she asked me.

"Which one?" I replied but when I looked out on to the porch, I saw him. He was standing next to Mas'ud chatting as he held baby Saba in his arms with comfort. Saba was a sweet girl, but the way she lean in on his shoulder said that she knew him well.  He turned and looked right at me with that same stupid smile and laughed at what ever Mas'ud was telling him. I stepped back away from the door and pulled on the ends of my hijab making sure I was fully covered. Ameera came walking in the room wearing her black abaya and face veil on carrying a tray of glasses and shot me a silly look and said,

"Don't play dumb, honey. You ain't been gone long enough to forget Jibril Ibrahim!"

Why was this man always around me?

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