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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

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

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and in my case that was mostly true. Being around my family again allowed me to see how much I’d really missed them in my life. But for my family nothing spelled loving like cold hard cash. The money I had taken with me when I left Mateo was supposed to be more than enough to keep me comfortable for at least a year or so. But after finding out about some of my family’s financial problems, I did what any daughter would do: helped out.

 My Ummi was on Medicaid and had been receiving
social security payments since Abu paased on, but that was her only real income. With Shareef incarcerated, Hasan had no resources. He was totally dependent on Ummi and Ummi’s backbone was Masud. Masud was the only one in the house working and he was working himself to death and he had a baby on the way. Alhamduleelah, Abu and Ummi owned their house, so that was a big relief, but the house was falling apart. I knew coming back that I would need to get a job, I just didn't think it was going to have to be so soon.

 I was fortunate though, I had some education. Right after I got to Atlanta and I saw how controlling Mateo was with me and his money, I enrolled into a nursing program at Georgia Perimeter College. Mateo played like he was so concerned with me going to school and stressing out over exams and stuff. But he was fronting. His real issue was about me catching other men's eyes. He would drive me to school most days and pick me up, even though I had my own car. I wasn't allowed to drive it to school. Iwasn't allowed to take morning classes. I wasn't allowed to stay late on campus to study. I wasn't allowed to make friends with any students.

I wasn't allowed to take classes with male professors and he always wanted a tally on how many males were in my classes too. Thank goodness nursing was a field dominated by women because if it hadn't been, Mateo would've found a way to force me to quit. That's when I knew something was really wrong with our relationship. He fought with me for the whole two years, especially if I had a project to do and was forced to stay later than normal at school. I pushed through though. I would hide my work, study late at night when he was in the streets or out of town. I always kept my grades and achievements to myself to avoid setting him off or making him feel jealous.

Mateo didn't even let me walk at my graduation, but I did't care. I had the degree. Now, I could finally get a chance to put it to use. Wednesday morning Yasmeen and I went to the Ross Park Mall to go shop. Well more like go on a shopping spree last week. I bought new bedding for everyone, two new Harvey Ellis bed
frames for Ummi and Masud from Crate & Barrel, new curtains for the living room and kitchen from Pottery Barn and two air conditioners (it was hotter than the open dessert in the house), tennis shoes and some new dresses for Ummi from Sears, a few new summer and fall outfits for Hasan from Gap Kids, a pair of tennis shoes for Masud and Hasan from Champs, and one of those Xbox game systems for Hasan from the Sears.

Yasmeen and I could barely carry all of the bags and boxes back to the parking lot. It was a true blessing that the furniture stores had delivery services. There was no way in the world we could’ve fit any type of furniture in Yasmeen’s old Toyota Camry. After we finished shopping Yasmeen and I stopped by the Cheesecake Factory and had a late lunch. I ordered the summer shrimp rolls and a salad and Yasmeen had the crab bites, chicken chilli and a salad as well.

As we chompped on our food, I reached into my pocket on the Michael Kors long sleeved green chevron printed shirtdress that I had worn with a pair of black palazzo pants, and my white pashmina scarf. I gave her the rest of the money that I’d brought out that day, which was about $900. I told her to use it as she liked for her and my niece that she was carrying. She looked down at the money and then back up at me several times in shock. I felt like I’d given her some type of contraband. So I said to her, “What? What’s the problem?” only thing I think it came out with a little bit more attitude than I intended it to have.

 “Well, I guess it’s nothing for you, but,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders while wiping a bit of chilli sauce from the corner of her mouth. “people usually don’t just walk around spending thousands of dollars every day. Well at least not anyone that I know.”

 “You know me though.” I said and continued eating my roll.

 “Yeah, but, where did you get it all from?” She asked putting down her half eaten crab bite to look me square in my  face. I could tell it was a question that she really needed an answer to. I’d been going to the Masjid with Ummi on Saturday nights to attend the Islamic studies class. Every week the sister who taught the class would go over in Arabic and English a new hadeeth with the small group of women who attended. Last week I’d memorized that the prophet (sallallahu alyhi wa sallam) said that suspicion in most cases was a sin. Yasmeen had been kind to me from the first day I met her on the front porch a month and a half ago. I didn’t want to give her any reasons to be suspicious of me. I was trying to build a good relationship with her. She was my strongest link to Masud who still hadn’t warmed up to me yet. I couldn’t afford to mess things up with her.  “I’m not trying to be noisy, but your brother is not gonna let me keep this money if he doesn't know where it came from , ya know.” Yasmeen informed me. I sighed understanding completely.

Masud would want to know. I’d seen first hand how selective and cautious he was about all of his affairs. And I certainly couldn’t blame him. I’m sure he had his fair share of shady situations growing up  and the fact was family or not, you couldn’t trust many to put your best interest first. “I get it, Yasmeen and you're right. Masud has every right to know where my money came from. So even though he hasn't asked me yet to my face, you can let him know for me that I've been saving this money for years. Some of it I earned by working and some of it Mateo gave me over the years. A lot of it came from pawning my jewelry and selling my car. You all didn’t think I walked away empty handed, did you?” I said with a wink of my eye.

Yasmeen still looked serious though. “To be honest, we don't really know what you did. I know you haven’t said much about the last 12 years or Mateo, but from the little that I’ve gathered, he didn’t seem like the type to give parting gifts. Did you even tell him you were leaving him?” she asked.

 “No, he isn’t the type to give parting gifts, that's why I started saving money when I could. I wanted to leave him for such a long, long time, but couldn’t. Then, one day a window of opportunity opened up, and I took it. He had to go to London for a couple of days. He wanted me to come, but I played sick to stay behind. As soon as I knew he boarded the plane, I grabbed what I could and walked out the door.

 “You just walked away?” Yasmeen asked again.

 “I walked right of the front door, got in my car and took it to a dealership and sold it. Took a cab to the pawn shop and dumped my whole jewelry box out on the counter.” I recalled with tears. “Got that money and took another cab to the train station, all in the same day,” I explained.

 “That's deep! What if that man is still looking for you? What if he comes here to Pittsburgh?” she asked clearly concerned.

 “Yasmeen, I don't know, but I am praying he won't though. I know Mateo is probably still angry at me and embarrassed even. But he always said he wasn't in the business of keeping a woman who didn't want to be kept. Out of sight, out of mind is what they say. Knowing him he already has another woman wearing my clothes, eating the food I left in the freezer for him, and sleeping in my bed,” I assured her.

 “So what happens when the money you have runs out? What are you going to do then?” she asked.

 “Get a job,” I said.

 When Yasmeen and I got home later that night and brought in all of the new things it was like we were in Prince's video partying like it was 1999. Ummi was speechless for the first time in about 58 years and it was with a bit of happiness that I gave her. She kissed my nose and called me her bunny. Allah knows that was probably one of the best feelings I’d had in a long time. Hasan was so excited about the Xbox
and surprisingly so was Masud. He said a lot men played those games too. I didn’t know one way or another, it hadn't been Mateo's thing, but I was happy for my family. By the time I showered, prayed and made it into bed I was exhausted. As soon as I laid my head onto the pillow my eyes closed. I whispered out loud to myself, Allahu Akbar, and then fell asleep feeling loved, warm, and safe for first time in 12 years.

 Mornings in the Johnson's house were crazy. We’d all get up for Fajr prayer before the sun rose and scurry around to get in and out of the house’s two bathrooms. Then usually Masud and Hasan would drive a couple of streets over to either Masjid Al Awwal or the Islamic Center to pray with the other Muslim men in congregation. Yasmeen, Ummi and I would pray together downstairs in the living room. After that I'd drag myself back up to my room and fall back to sleep only to be reawaken by Hasan an hour or so later. It was so hectic and exhaustive, but day by day I was starting to really enjoy it. Hasan never went back to sleep after fajr and now that I was his best friend (he actually told me that) he expected me to play the part. I didn’t mind. In fact, I was glad to have Hasan’s company. Most mornings we’d cook breakfast for everyone, clean the kitchen, sort clothes, play Xbox of course, and roller-skate outside all before 11 in the morning. The boy made me smile from deep down in my core. He was bossy too, just like his father.

 This morning I had to go job hunting so I told Hasan that I wouldn’t be able to play with him as long as usual. Of course, when I told what I had to do, he insisted on tagging alone with me. Ummie never let him go much of anywhere without her, so there wasn’t much for him to do during the day besides sit on the porch, color, kick the ball or ride his bike. I didn’t actually have any job interviews lined up. I just planned on dropping off my resume at some clinics and filling out some applications. Yasmeen had said I could borrow her car so I gave in and told Hasan he could come. We’d left right after breakfast. It was a sunny and warm mid summer’s day. I wore a pair of white wide legged palazzo pants with navy blue long sleeved baby doll shirt that had a peter pan collar, white leather wedge sandals and my good ol' white pashmina hijab. We drove through downtown, Strip district, Bluff and Oakland. I needed to find a job close to Hill district.

It would be at least a couple of months or so after I started working that I would be able to purchase a car of my own, which meant I couldn’t work too far out since I would be relying mostly on public transportation. My last stop was at the Hilltop Community Health Center. I didn't want really want to work there because it was such a busy clinice, but the saying goes desperate times call for desperate actions. Hasan stayed in the car for all of my stops since he didn’t want to come with me. He’d been great so far.

 I knew he was tired of waiting though and had planned to reward him for his patience and good company with a trip to the mall for lunch and a quick stop at the arcade, but when I came out of the clinic he was gone. I don’t know if I simply screamed or laced it with a couple expletives. But I started sweating, shaking, and felt nauseous all at the same time. If I would've spotted a bottle of Vodka, I'd left without him and drowned it down in some alley way. But I didn't. I ran back into the clinic frantically while I made tahleel out loud. I thought that maybe he could have came in one of the other entrances looking for me since I’d taken a little longer than expected. I stopped by the front desk and asked the female attendant if she’d seen my nephew and described him to her, but she said she hadn’t. I started to cry right there. She offered to call the police but I declined her offer. Hasan had to be some where around there. He just had to be, but where was the question?

 I rushed back out of the clinic back towards where I had parked the car and every horrible thought that could come to me, did. I’d already caused my family enough heartache for a life time. They’d never forgive me if something happened to Hasan and I would never forgive myself either. I starting yelling his name out a couple of times and tuned in all directions but he was no where in sight. I saw a couple of different store fronts and a bodega a little bit up passed the parking lot. I locked Yasmeen’s car doors and began to speed walk up that way. For the most part, I knew I probably looked a little – well a lot, off walking the down the street talking to myself and crying, but I didn’t care.

The tears mixed with the brown eyeliner I had applied that morning to my eyes were running down my cheeks leaving muddied residue stains. My hijab was crooked and loose and sweat was dripping off my forehead profusely. It was bad. When I finally reached the bodega, I cupped my hands and looked in the glass door but didn’t see any children inside. Something told me to go inside anyway. I went in looking around all the racks of snacks and vending machines, but like I knew, Hasan wasn’t there. The store clerk, an old Hispanic man wearing a dirty New York Yankees baseball cap, watched me carefully as he sang along out loud to an old salsa song by Tito Puente that was playing on a small radio behind his counter, but never said a word. Briefly our eyes connected. I felt he understood without any words from me that I wasn’t in there to cause him any trouble. He tipped his cap at me politely as I exited the store but I was too low-spirited to return the gesture.

 Outside the store I stood looking around and again, I didn’t see any children. I started crying loudly again as I walked. I didn’t know where I was going, but I kept walking. I must have walked two blocks up before I came to an intersection. I didn’t want to cross it because it was getting into unfamiliar parts of for me. I
looked back down the street and finally decided it was time to go back to the clinic and call my mother. No sooner did I turn around though, I heard my name being called from across the street. Hasan and two other boys that looked around the same age as him were standing outside of a T-Mobile store.

 I quickly crossed through the traffic on the busy street and ran over to him praising Allah. Hasan greeted me as usual these days with a wide grin and clear, easy hazel brown eyes. I grabbed him by his shirt – one of the new shirts I’d bought him from Gap Kids and pulled him to me and kissed his face.

 “Are you OUT of your mind, boy?” I yelled through tears. “I’ve been all over looking for you. You don’t just get out of the car that I left you in without telling me. You must be out of your mind, Hasan!” Each word that left my mouth made my grip on his shirt tighten. I was furious.

 “Yo,” Hasan said sang trying to pull away from me. “Stop pulling on me!” he demanded. His smile had suddenly disappeared and those beautiful, easy, hazel brown eyes turned hard like steel as he tried to show me that he wasn’t fazed by my anger. The little boys that he was with stood there laughing as they watched us. He looked more concerned about them, then about how I was doing and that just angered me more.

 “Stop pulling on you? Little boy, do you know what can happen to you out in these streets. Children are getting kidnapped all the time. You better be glad I saw you, I was just about to go call Ummi and then that would have been your behind,” I informed him. My energy had actually started to readjust back to normal levels since I saw that he was okay. But I just couldn’t believe he didn’t understand the seriousness of his offense.

 “Call Ummi over kindnappers? Aunt Iman, now you trippin’. We still in the Hill. Who gonna kidnap me here?” He asked folding both of his hands on his chest and cocked his head to side and smirked. “I’m a black boy and I’m almost as tall as you. Ain’t no kidnappers kidnappin’ me!”

 “Okay, what about all the child molesters, dope fiends, and thugs? You’re not that tough, Hasan and whether you believe it or not you are a child and you’ll be a child for the next eight years. Now, you listen to me and you listen good boy: don’t you never ever pull this kind of stunt with me again.” I said and continued to give him the tongue lashing that he deserved.

A couple of people walking by turned their heads and were giving me strange looks, but again I didn’t care. I had to get Hasan told. It wasn’t until some man came out the T-mobile store complaining about the noise that I momentarily took my attention away from Hasan. I turned around with every attention to give the man a real live and uncut “around the way” Pittsburgh girl piece of my mind with all trimmings; head bobbing, finger swagging to boot, that was until I looked up and saw his face.

“Well, well, well. As Salaamu alaikum, sister …ah, Imania, was it?” he said laughing that same friendly laugh that I had heard weeks ago with the biggest Kool-Aide smile I’ve ever seen as his pot belly heaved up and down. Hasan with his grown self corrected him right away, giving all my business away.

 “Imania? Who's that? That’s not my aunt’s name. Her name is Iman. Don't you rememher her, uncle?” Hasan asked him.

 “Yeah, Hasan, you right. I  do kno your aunt Iman, Iman Johnson. That’s it,” he said giving Hasan a wink while he held on tightly to the slick smile. “We go back to back to the playground days,” he replied putting way too much emphasis on choice words. “Hey, ah, how’s those business associates doing, sister?

 “They’re fine, they’re all fine,” I said finally speaking up, but I was in no mood for games. My patience had been pushed beyond its limit once already and I was not about to be further humiliated in front of a group of children. “Let's go, Hasan.” I ordered.

 “Awww, aunt Iman,” Hasan whined sounding like the ten year old that was. “Can’t I stay just a little longer here with Musa and Nasir?”

 “No, you can’t. You know what you’ve done, so now its time to go. C’mon.” I said walking away but Hasan didn’t budge from his spot. I stopped and walked back to him. “I said let’s go.”

 “This is wack," he yelled. "I can’t believe you’re mad at me for nothing,” he cried. I started to reprimand him, but I was cut off.

 “Ay, akh, you gonna watch how you talk to adults when I'm around. That’s no way to speak to your own aunt, now is it? I think you ought to apologize.” The brother, who still stood in the store’s door, said. Hasan looked at him and then at me before whispering a nonchalant apology. I accepted and restated my order.

 “As salaamu alaikum sister Iman and Hasan,” the brother yelled out behind us in a tone that was far too hood for my tastes as we walked away.

 “Wa alaikum as salaam, brother Jibril.” I replied, this time loud enough for him to hear it.

 Hasan looked out the window and was quiet the whole ride back home. I could tell by his slouched demeanor and twisted mouth that he was angry at me of all people. I didn’t care. Hasan had been wrong, dead wrong and I had a right to be worried and afraid for his safety. I had absolutely no experience rearing children, but I’d been a big sister. I knew that some times children would have to be upset. He’ll just have to get over it.

 As I pulled into Ummi’s driveway and turned off the car, Hasan looked at me with his big light brown eyes and I was taken aback by the seriousness that he held within them. You could just tell from his eyes alone, he already knew too much, seen too much.

 “Aun’t Iman, listen,” he started and I nodded at his attention. “I know you were just looking out for me, and I know I shouldn’t have left the car like I did,” he took a quick breath and blew it out hard. “It won’t happen again. I promise.”

 “Insha’Allah, Hasan.”

 “Insha’Allah,” he repeated. “Your not gonna tell my Jedda or uncle Mas’ud are you?”

 “No. Not this time, Hasan. But you are going to be punished. You made a bad decision and you behaved badly in front of your friends, so no playing the Xbox tonight.”

 “Aw, man! C’mon aunt Iman, that’s too much.” Hasan whined.

 “Sorry, Hasan, but I don't think it is. Lock your door and let’s go inside the house so I can make you lunch.”

 Hasan got out the car and moped in the house as I walked behind him. I prayed I had handled the situation appropriately and that Hasan wouldn’t take this as a deal breaker for our new friendship. I still had a lot of work to do with him, and now wasn’t the time to be thrown back to square one. Although, I also knew I couldn’t afford to let him walk all over me either. Hasan’s situation was turning out to be much harder to work on than I expected. Who would have known children could be so complex.

 Later that night, Yasmeen had invited me to go with her and Mas’ud to the Islamic Center to attend one of their friends’ aqeeqah for their new baby. I was a little nervous about going. Thus far, I hadn’t even ventured out to Jumu’ah yet. I’d only been to the Islamic Center for the sisters’ halaqah on Tuesday nights with Ummi. It was usually a small group of sisters. Most of the attendants were new Muslims, so I didn’t know them and more importantly they didn’t know me. The aqeeqah was going to be a larger crowd of people. Most likely they were going to be friends of Mas’ud and their wives who probably did know me. Or at most, they had heard of me.

I wasn’t naïve. I knew I had been the focus of gossip in the community, at least for the first few years after I left. And I knew I couldn’t blame those Muslims who talked about me, after all I’d been the one to supply them with the food they’d eaten. But should I have face them when I know they’ve talked about me? And would my going around them just add fuel to an already burning fire? When I told Yasmeen about my reservations, she said I should go, of course. She said the Islamic Center was the house of Allah. I had a right to go any time I wanted, not just on the days when it had few occupants and I knew that, but I couldn’t help still feeling scared of all those people.

 “Those who want to backbite you Iman, are gonna do it whether you come or not. Just about everyone who knew you has probably already heard you’re back. So don’t worry about them. Let them say what they want, it’s their sin they will have to answer to Allaah for, not you.”

 “Everyone knows I’m back?” I asked Yasmeen sitting on her new bed in disbelief. Just the thought of people knowing where I was and talking behind my back made my stomach knot up. It had been the reason I stayed at the Birch Inn instead staying at one of the five star hotels that I could have afforded to stay at downtown. I didn’t want to face anyone.

 “Iman,” Yasmeen said sitting down on the bed next me started. “I don’t get it. I know I didn’t know you back before you left, but you seem to be a really strong woman today. You left Mateo and you came back home and back to Islam. If you came back home for Allah like I think you did, then don’t be ashamed,” she said trying to scoot her pregnant body off the bed again. “Here,” she said tossing me a pale blue garment.

“It’s a jilbab, practically brand new. It’s way too snug for me in my belly now though. Why don’t you try it on and see if it’ll fit you.”

 I glanced at the jilbab that she gave me and looked out the door at the stairs. I could tell Yasmeen had no intentions of allowing me to stay home and act fearful one way or the other. I got up and took the jilbab with me back downstairs to my room on the second floor. I quickly showered, combed my hair and put on a full length, short sleeved sundress before trying on the jilbab that Yasmeen had given me. The jibab was a one piece garment made of very light crepe material. It had white decorative embroidery on the bodice, sleeves and the hem and three white-silverish buttons in the front. It was pretty, more my style than the darker colored jilbabs. I pulled it over my head quickly and went into the bathroom to catch a look of myself. I liked it.

 By seven in the evening Mas’ud was waiting on the front porch with Hasan for Yasmeen and me to come down. I put on my white hijab and paired it all up with off white flat sandals. When I finally came down stairs, Yasmeen was just stepping out the door. Ummi was sitting in the living room so I walked over to her offered her salaams.

 “Oh, walaikum as salaam, honey. Keep an eye and ear out for Hasan for me, would you? He got a way to wondering off every now and again,” she said and I thought to myself, now you tell me.

 “Don’t worry, I will. You sure you don’t want to come? There’s enough room in Mas’ud's van for all of us.”
“Naw, I’m too tired and getting too old to be hanging out late these days, Iman. My blood sugar was up today too, I’d much rather sit here in front of the air conditioner, sip on my ice tea and listen to the Qur’an on the computer. You go ‘head and keep close to Yasmeen. You’ll be alright, baby,” she said sensing my misgivings. “ --- and if you’re not, you make sure you tell Mas’ud who done it so he can handle them. All right?” Ummi said and lifted the sweating cold glass of tea to her mouth for a drink.

 “Okay, Ummi. Well, inshallah, we’ll see you later. Lock the doors behind me.”

 “You know I always lock those doors, girl. And oh yea, if Nai’mah Ibrahim is there with her pies, makes sure you bring a couple of slices home for your mother.”

 “Ummi!” I said surprised. “You know you shouldn’t be eating sweets.”

 “Iman, a little sugar won’t hurt me none if Allaah doesn’t allow it. Now go ‘head now and stopping holding everybody for you.”

 I shook my head and walked to the door and closed it behind me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to win any
battles with my mother, at least not about the foods she ate. Mas’ud drove to the Islamic Center in a few short minutes. He took Hasan with him towards the brothers’ entrance and Yasmeen and I headed into the sisters’ door. I forced a smile on face and shook hands with several sisters and even received some cold, stiff embraces.

After Yasmeen introduced me to her friend, Husna and her new baby boy Khalid, I politely made my way over to a sitting area outside of the musalla that was equipped with a couple of old sofas, three folding tables and a dozen chairs. The sisters’ musalla was full of chatter. The women were laughing or talking merrily as old friends do. And the small children were playing joyfully or munching on snacks. But something inside of me was preventing me from my own freedom.

I kept glancing around to see if anyone was staring at me but there wasn’t. I had no idea why I felt so alone, so much like an outsider who was intruding. I wanted to go back home where Ummi was to make me safe. But I didn’t want to mess up the good time Yasmeen and probably Mas’ud were having. I got up from the sofa, smiled politely at a group of sisters nearby fixing plates of food from the folding tables and went to the bathroom. After relieving myself, I walked over to one of the four sinks and began to make ablution.

 As I looked into the mirror while I wiped over my head with the cold water. I looked up into the mirror and jumped back from freight. I saw his reflection in the mirror. He smiled and began to laugh. Then Mateo tried to whisper in my ear, but I splashed water at the mirror and his reflection disappeared. Tears began to flush my eyes as my mind raced through all of the horrible and loving times I shared with Mateo.

He'd been a monster and a knight, and I hated that deep down pieces of me still felt connected to him. I hated that thinking about him intensified my craving for alcohol. Drowning out the pain out was so easy to do, but the hang over was so lonely. I stood at the sink and closed my eyes and there he was in my vivid imagination. Tall as an evergreen tree, toned as the boxer he was, smooth skin, smelling like Armani cologne and more distinguished than he’d ever been. He eyes were a piercing black and his hair, also black as coal, was shiny and slicked straight back. He stood in front of me wearing one of  his most expensive dark blue tailored suits and spit shinned shoes sneering at me. His looked said it all; I was nothing and no one without him. I stuck my fingers in my ears and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to hear him; I didn’t want to believe him any more. I had proven after all that I could “be”. I didn’t need the cars, the jewels, or a  husband who had no faith, no heart - no honor. He hadn’t given me the lavish life - Mateo had given me my coffin.

 I leaned my back into the door of the bathroom and slide slowly pressing my body up against the wooden door to secure it closed. I needed to be alone. I didn’t want to go back to Mateo; I couldn’t go back to Mateo. But did I fit in here with these women? I opened my eyes and my face soaked with tears of distress. Every day since I’d been back home, I smiled and tried to laugh jolly with everyone. I fell right in step, trying to be the ideal Muslima, the devoted daughter, the proper role model – as if I had it together. Who was I fooling? I couldn’t even fool the imaginary Mateo, how had I thought I could fool the family? Were they really laughing behind my back at my failure in life? Or had they really forgiven me?

 The light tap on the door was almost sobering. I quickly stood up away from the door and went back to the sink and washed my face. When the door opened an older sister dragged her body slowly through with several pans in her hands. “Oh my word!” the older plumb sister squealed. “Get out of town! Would you look at you, what a blessing this is,” she said with hearty laugh and grabbed me dropping the pans to floor and squeezing all 206 bones in my small framed body. I smiled and wrapped my white silk hijab back around my head before placing my hands around her. “You remember me, don’t you?” she asked. “Of course you remember me, baby girl. Your mother and I go waaay back. Came to Islam together and ev’thang. I helped her deliver you, right there in the kitchen. I caught you child with my own two hands,” she said without taking a breath.

 “Of course, of course.” I said clearing my voice and willing another smile to appear. “How could I ever forget you sister Naima. You were like a second mother to my siblings and I.”

 “Still am baby, still am,” Naima said and hugged metighly again. “You come on out of this bathroom, Iman. I didn’t even know you was here. If I’d known, girl, I would of had you helping with the food or sum’thing. You remember my daughter Latifah, she’s never been one to cook, it’s just gotten worse through out the years. And you know I got 10 grand babies now? Don’t ask me how, ‘cause I’m not in the mood for that story. But half them out there tearing the place down cause they parents won’t watch ‘em right. Goodness, c’mon, Iman, c’mon and help me out here.” Naima said pulling me out the bathroom.

I didn’t feel up to going back out into the sisters’ area. But the sister didn’t give me a choice. Underneath the fake smile, I was relieved. Allah had sent her to help me right before I tore myself down, again. Shaytan almost had me, but, Alhamduleelah, I felt better and I acted better. I met a few new sisters and even talked with a few I knew from before. As I got in the mix: fixing food, cleaning the soiled dishes, and playing with the children, I had less time to think about me and more time to think about what I was doing. By the time we prayed Isha, most people had gone home. The Imam gave a short talk right after the prayer on repentance being a mercy from Allah to His servants.

Before than, I’d never thought of it like that. I always equated repentance with shame and shame was for wrongdoers, not people Allah had mercy for. I’d used it to dodge all the guilt. But the brother used verses from the Qur’an and passages from different hadeeth to explain otherwise. He’d said that shame was actually a characteristic of faith for the believers since only those who had faith would Allah allow to return back to Him to seek his aide and pardoning and that this was a mercy. As those who didn’t believe in Allaah were not concern with shame so they were allowed to disregard their ills until the day of reckoning. It made sense and was just the right type of advice for me. I was so relieved that I had stayed.

 When Mas’ud finally tapped on the sister’s entrance to let Yasmeen and me know that he and Hasan were waiting in the car, it was well passed ten in the evening. As Yasmeen prepared to leave several sisters embraced me and invited me out to different events. Sister Naima had given me a plate of food for Ummi complete with three slices of her famous pecan pie. She told me to call her tomorrow so she could stop by and visit with me. Sister Naima was such as wise and sweet Muslimah. I had every intention to call her. I needed her to help me to remember me.

 As soon as I got in the van and sat in the back with Hasan, Mas'ud started asking me questions. "Did you
feel okay, Iman?" "Did you get enough to eat?" Did you get to hold the new baby?" "Did you aunty Naima?" "What did you think about the lecture?" "How many new sisters did you meet?" he ratted off, one by one. I answered all of his questions with pleasure. It dawned on me that this was the most talking Mas'ud and I have done since I got back.

My baby brother was concerned for me and he was checking to make sure that his big sister was good. It felt good to know that he cared for me and that he was concerned about me. We talked the whole way home; just laughing and sharing stories. He even shared with me that a few brothers were asking him about me. Asking about me? If they only knew how mountainous my tests were, they'd run away and never look back.

When we got home, Hasan rushed out of the van and started to run up the steps talking about he had next on the Xbox. I shut that down real quick. How quickly children forget. I walked up before him, turned on the porch light and reached into my purse to pull out my key, but the door opened.

 "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, dimples, 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 pulled her as close to me as I could . She smelled familiar and I knew her. I loved her. And I've never stopped praying for her either.


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