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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Short Story #1: Tried & Tested (part 5)

"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 cocked my head over to the left and looked out on to the porch, I saw him. He looked clean and fresh as always standing in a blue and black stripped Polo short sleeved shirt, dark blue vintage Lucky jeans paired with black and blue Air Force One's. He was standing next to Mas'ud chatting as he held baby Saba in his arms with comfort. Saba was a sweet baby, but the way she leaned in on his shoulder and had her little chubby hand wrapped around his neck, told me that she knew him really well and trusted him.  His eyes caught my gaze and he dropped his eyes down and turned away. He grabbed his black knitted kufi off his head, shook it out like it some dust or dirt on it, before sliding it back over his neatly cut hair. Then that same stupid smile flushed over his face and he 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?

"Yeah," Sister Naima chimed in, "Jibril was a bit sweet on you, Iman, when ya'll was younger," she finished.

I just smiled and walked away from the conversation as politely as I could. I couldn't believe my ears. Why on earth would sister Naima think I was ready to talk to her or anyone else about marriage? Muslims were so quick to rush into marriage these days like it was the world's best answer for every ill. Maybe if I was 16 again, I'd blush, make sajdah, and scribble his name in my secret diary. I'm not 16 though. I am 31. I'd seen too much. Knew too way much too. Marriage wasn't a fix.

"So what brought you by our neck of the woods?" I asked her as I sat down and picked up her grandson,  and sat him in my lap and kissed his baby cheeks.

"Well now," she huffed and grimaced as she closed our front door and then came shuffling her feet into the living room and plopped down next to me.  I had a feeling it wasn't going to be good. "Your Umm called me over 
'cause she worried 'bout you and Ameera," she told me. No sooner did the name slip out of her mouth did Ameera pop her head in from the kitchen with a confused look spread across her face that said what she had already told me and everybody,

"Yeah, chile, I said Ameera too. You might as well come on in here and sit down," sister Naima told her.

Ameera whipped her whole head around and looked back in the kitchen at Ummi and this time I laughed! I knew Ummi probably didn't even offer Ameera any eye contact. She was in there cooking and humming and playing with her grand children like she didn't know anything about sister Naima coming over.

"I don't know what this is about sister Naima. Did I do something to you that I don't know about?" Ameera asked as she took a seat in the old Lazy Boy by the door.

"You ain't did nothing to me, Ameera. Worse. You doing something to your ownself," sister Naima told her.

"Like what?" Ameera asked her boldly with a bit more attitude than I was comfortable with her dishing out to our elder.

"Lift up your niqab when you speak to me, little sis!" she Naima instructed.

"I ..I..I got stuff, the flour and stuff all over me. I need to-"

"You need to cut out all those stories, Ameera and fear Allah. How many times you think you got to roll up in your Umm's house looking like you done been in a battle? She tired of your mess. Your brothers are tired of the crap. We all done had enough. It ain't fair! How do you think your mother feels with you walking around her house banged up?" sister Naima demanded from her.

"Sister Naima, I...what you want from me? I can't come to my mother's house now? Is that what you're saying? Where am I suppose to go, if I can't come home when I need to?" Ameera said through flowing tears from her eyes.

" Ameera, you know that ain't what I'm saying. This house, this community that you were raised in, we about this deen and Allah. Forbidding the good and enjoining the good, that's part of praising Allah. That's part of the sunnah. Is it not?"

"Yeah,!"

"Then you gonna have to make up your mind what you gonna do about what's going on in your life, baby girl. Fix it or let it go - for the sake of Allah. But you are gonna make a decision one way or another, even if we got to make it for you. 'Cause at the rate things are going, something gonna give, Ameera. I had a mind to send the boys up to Philly and get that piece of a man that you calling a husband. But your mother wouldn't let me. She's a better Muslim than me this time. But I'm warning you sis, that husband of your's ain't got no more chances left in my book. Mas'ud and my boys been ready to go see him 'cause some folks got to get sense knocked into them."

"So now you telling me that Ummi wants me to leave my husband? That ain't cool, sister Naima. I got children---"

"Them children been watching you get knocked around, Ameera. Are you being just with them? That's right, you got children and they need their mother to protect them. They need they family and community to protect them. Them children got rights over all of us. You ever see your father bust up your Umm's face?" sis Naima asked Ameera.

"No."

"Well then, how you thinking your children deserve less than you?"

"They don't. I don't want all of that for them. But ---"

"But you need help! And ain't nothing wrong with that. You don't think I ain't never called on your Umm to come help me? I been you, little sis! Been that sister fussing and fighting with my children's father at night and rolling through the streets like the Muslima of the year during the day. Playing like I had it together, praying Allah didn't take my life during the wars I allowing myself to be dragged into. You got to make a step for you, to Allah. He's there, ain't He Iman?" she turned around and asked me. I couldn't even speak. The tears were caught so far down in my throat, I couldn't I was afraid to let any new air. I just nodded at her.

"You know, I'mma tell ya'll my story. Once upon a time, I called myself falling in love and running away with this knight. I met this man with a beautiful face, smooth, deep Barry White voice. He dressed funny and had a
funny name. But all he talked about was Allah. I was raised Baptist, but I couldn't get the stuff he was telling me out of my head. He had such an amazing life I thought you know because in the '70's it was about Black folk knowing who they were. Reclaiming our true selves. I didn't mean to hurt my family. But man, I left as soon as could for the cause. Got married and became a Muslim. It wasn't until way after I had my third baby that that strong Muslim man started messing with drugs and alcohol. We lost our first home that he had worked so hard and long to get for us. I had to go crawling back to my parents for help. I was angry and mad, and embarrassed. Allah had brought me right back where I had ran from. But I wasn't the same. I'd learned a whole lot about life and its purpose and who Allah was. I'd been given something beautiful and special called Islam. My Mama wouldn't let me start no pitty party in her house. She told me to get up and take care of myself and my kids. She told me that if I believed in the way I was on then I needed to be who was meant to be; married or single.

"I got up and prayed tahujjud that night and asked Allah to make a way for me and my children and it came. It came, you here. Never went back to my first husband. Ever."


"The religion is advice." We said:  To whom? The Prophet (saaws) said: "To Allah and His book, and His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk." (Muslim)

It wasn't until after sister Naima left, after we cleaned up the dishes and the kitchen, prayed salatul isha and played with the kids and then put them all to bed did Ummi say a word to Ameera or me. The whole night I could feel her angst and I actually saw her I think for the first time since I'd been back as more than my mother. She'd been through so much her whole life and her face, with skin looser than it's ever been, much duller than it had ever been, hid bones much weaker than they ever been. Old age and heart break and weariness was painted on her body and I'd knew some of those colors came from my own brush with selfishness and despair. Ummi...

"Ummi?" I called out to her from the kitchen where I sat alone drinking a cup of lemon ginger tea. I had a feeling she was getting ready to go to bed.

"Yeah, Iman? You all right?" she asked peeping her head into the kitchen.

"Yeah, I'm all right. Are you?"

"Yeah. Why you asking me questions this late a night. I've got to go get in the bed."

"I just...I just want to know that you can talk to me too. I won't break, enshallah."

"I know that, Iman. I carried you for nine months and birthed you. Have a good night and get some rest. Stop thinking all the dag on time. 'Salamu alykum."

"Wa alykum as salam."

Stop thinking? I wasn't sure how to do that. Yet. Most nights when I closed my eyes, I saw things that I couldn't - wouldn't repeat. His name still made me nervous. The sound of his voice still felt commanding. It was like being caught in prison. My own mental prison. But, maybe it was time to break free once and for all.

The next morning I stayed up as usual with Hasan, Imran, and Munir after the Morning prayer. We made French toast, eggs, and beef sausages for the family. Then at eight in the morning, I took the boys out to the park to run around.  As I sat on a bench watching the boys toss their football back and forth, my cellphone began to ring.

"Hello?"

"Hi. May I speak Miss. Johnson?" a female voice requested.

"This is Miss Johnson. How may I help you?

"Miss. Johnson this is Sandy Parks from Hilltop Community Health Clinics HR department. I have your
application for the registered nurse position and I would like to schedule an interview with you. Are you available tomorrow around ten a.m.?"

"Yes, that would perfect."

"Great. So you have our address already?"

"Yes, I do."

"Perfect. So I am located on the second floor in suite D. Just let the receptionist know that you are here to see me. Please bring your license, resume and at least three business references. Okay?"

"Oh, um, sure. Thanks."

"Thank-you and see you tomorrow, Miss Johnson."

I clicked the end button on my smart phone and threw it in my Coach clutch bag feeling troubled. Business references? Who was I going to get to act as references for me in Pittsburgh? Everyone one I knew here were my relatives. It just always had to be something or another going on with me. I no longer felt like being outside, smiling, or having a good time.

"C'mon ya'll. Let's get on back home,"  I called out to the boys as I got up off the bench. The littlest one came running over to me first and jumped into my arms. I couldn't help but smile at him. "Did you have a good time playing, Imran?" I asked.

"Yeah, aunty. It is so fun here. I wish Ummi would let us stay here forever."

"You don't want to go back to Philly? I thought you guys told me that Philly had so many great places and things to do?"

"It does," Imran said then dropped his head away from my sight. "But ...it's not good. Abu is not nice there. He acts nicer here."

"Okay, baby. Well, enshallah, we are gonna make sure your Abu is nice where he is. Hasaaaan, get over here, now!" I yelled back over to the field.  Hasan and Munir ran over to me while tossing the football back and forth. The were panting, sweating, and musty by the time that they reached me and it made me laugh out loud like Ameera would have. "Phew! It is definitely time to get home. You little guys need a shower,"

"You saying we funky, Aunt Iman?" Hasan asked me.

"Yes, I am," I told him laughing. I felt better. My nephews were such a blessing even in the fog of my mind, they shined through. Love shined through. "How about we stop by the store and get you guys some juice before we walk back home?"

"Juice and Doritos, too?" Little Imran asked as we started walking out of the park.

"Now, I didn't saying anything about Doritos. We have fruit at the house. That's better for your body than chips. Too much salt."

"Aunty," Munir said. "Are you one of those vita-tarians or something?"

"Vita-tarian? Do you mean vegetarian?" I asked him laughing.

"Yeah, that too. You them weirdos that only eat grass, ants, and water!"

"No. I am not a vegetarian, Munir. But vegetarians don't eat ants and they're not weirdos. Just because some likes something you don't doesn't make them weird. Just different, okay?"

"It is weird. My Abu said that Muslims are supposed to eat meat cause that was the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alyhi wa sallam. So if you don't eat meat and stuff that makes you weird, right?"

"No, it doesn't make you weird, Munir. People have different needs and views. Some people can't eat meat because of health issues and some people choose not to eat it for health reasons as well. Eating meat isn't mandatory, Munir."

"My Abu said it was and he knows more about Islam than you," Munir said matter of factly. I didn't really
know how to respond to him. His father probably did know more about Islam than me in a black and white, there is only one way to understand everything type of way. I didn't want to disrespect his father, especially not in front of little Imran who are already had some conflicting views of his dad. But before I could find a quick retort Hasan had.

"Yo, Munir, you need to watch how you talk to Aunty. She's our elder, right?"

"Yeah, but," Munir responded.

"Yeah, nothing! You ain't even listen to what she said. You just trying to back talk her. She said not to call people weirdos.If you know like I know, you betta quit before Jedda or Uncle Mas'ud pop your fresh butt when we get back. Just chill out, yo! We ain't getting no Doritos. Dag!" Hasan said reprimanding him and handling the situation better than I ever could of.

When we got to the convenience store on the corner of our street, the boys rushed inside. I reminded them
again only to pick out 100% juice. I stood at the counter waiting on them and watching the door. For some reasons, I still always felt like I had to watch my back.  Yasmeen was so true, I really had no idea what Mateo was feeling. He could retaliate against me any time. Then what was I going to do?

"Imania Colon? Is that you?" a low, deep, male voice called. Before I could look up the sound of his laughter: that same annoying cackle that made his pop belly heave up and down like he needed to vomit let me know exactly who he was. He came out of the aisle wearing a black and white LRG raglan tee, black cargo jeans, black leather flip flops, and a white kufi holding the hand of Imran in his right hand and and large grab bag of ranch Doritos in his left hand. The two other boys were right behind them.

"As salamu alaykum, sis. You didn't hear me calling you back there?"

"Wa alykum as salaam," I replied to Jibril and then turned away from him and addressed my nephews. "Now, ya'll already heard me tell you not to get any chips. Hasan, go take back the chips, please."

"Oh, nah, I told them I would spot them the contraband. If that's cool with you, Iman?"

"No, it's not cool, Jibril. They will not be getting any chips today and that is really final," I told him. He turned around to faced the boys and screwed up his face and made them laugh.

"No problem. I got ya'll next time, enshallah. Take the chips back, Hasan," Jibril grabbed the juices from the boys and started walking up to the counter as Hasan ran back to return the chips. I saw Munir suck his teeth out of the corner of my eye, but I let it go. What was more pressing was that I really hated that Jibril assumed that I needed help with them. I grabbed Imran's hand from him and pulled him to the other side of the counter.

"Look, Jibril, I got the juices. I don't need you to pay  for them. All right?

"Chill, sis. I'm good," he said as he handed the female cashier a ten dollar bill, bagged the bottles and then handed his change.  Then picked up Imran and walked out of the store. Munir and Hasan followed him out of the store and they just left me standing there looking stupid. I was hot. Then I came out of the store and they were half way down the street. I didn't run after them. I just took my time walking thinking about what words I use ever so delicately to slice his whole face off of his head.

He stood at the foot of my mother's porch alone leaning on the step with one foot drinking a bottle of Sprite at eleven in the morning like it was normal.

"Where's the boys?" I asked him.

"Oh, they went inside the house. Hasan said you told them they needed to go get washed up."

"Yeah, I did." I said walking up the steps having the courage I had lost a half block up the street to tell him off.

"What's your deal?" he asked me right before I open the screen door?

"Excuse you?"

"No, that ain't it. Your attitude is the issue. You're mean and I wanna know what the deal with it is?" he questioned me.

"Are you serious? I said turning around walking back over to the banister sitting down. "You came in the store and totally disregarded my instructions to the boys, then proceeded to act like you had more authority then me in front of them. And I have the attitude?"

"Iman, sis, I'm not sure you know this but I am not their enemy or yours. I'm a  life long friend of their father and uncle and grandparents. I am their brother in this deen and I love them. I'm invested in the people in that house," he said pointing at the door. "I grew up here on this street with you. I  ain't even capable of disregarding you, sis. Not in this lifetime."

Then there was silence. Silence so full and pregnant it felt heavy. I sat there trying to process what was said to me for what felt like a eternity. Shame, confusion, old memories, Allah, mercy, and trust all swirled around in my mind like pieces of a puzzle I knew I needed to put together. But something was still missing. The board that the pieces belonged to was missing.

"Ay sis, my Umm and some other sisters we grew up with are getting together tonight at the masjid to start planning some of the activities for  Ramadhan. You should go get in there and -"

"Probably not, Jibril. I don't really think that would be the best for me right now."

"Why not? I don't even see you at Jumu'ah. How you going to make new connections and build a base if you keep hiding from people?"

"I am not hiding. I get out and do what I need to do. Plus, you're mother said everyone in the community knows I'm back already. So what I need to show my face to every single Muslim for?"

"It ain't for them, Iman. You need to do it for you. Get over yourself. You ain't the only one going through something or been through something. And we didn't leave, it played out right on Front street. Got beat up, rolled over, played, schemed and dropped. Then we came back to Him to save us. We all the same. We all the same."

"Have you been over to Chester to see Shareef?"

"Yeah, I've seen him."

"How is he?"

"Alhamduleelah, he's in good health, doing his time, looking forward to the future, seeing you and being free to raise his son, enshallah."

"Why is he there?"

"Complicated stuff from the past, mostly."

"I really want to go see him. Me and Ameerah both actually. I need to rent a car, but I don't have any credit or debit cards."

"I think you two should chill and wait for Shareef to get out. He probably got a good three or four months left. That's what I think. But let me run it pass him and see if he's open to you two coming there to see him."

"Why wouldn't he want Ameerah and me to come see him? Especially me. I haven't seen him in almost thirteen years."

"Think about why you haven't come out to Jumu'ah. What's holding you back?"

"Judgement, I think."

"Yeah, you got it right. I'll talk to him though,"

"Jibril, brother Jibril?

 "Yeah? Sister Iman?" he said laughing as he shook his head.

"I need help with references. I have a job interview tomorrow at the health clinic, but I don't have any business references available to use around here or ...from before."

"Okay. That should be an easy fix. I come back by after Maghrib and give them to Mas'ud. Any thing else you need me to do for you, Imania Colon?" Jibril asked and then started cackling again. "I kid you, I really do! Lighten up!"

"You're not funny." I told him as I hopped off the porch's banister and grabbed my bag off the floor. A black, shiny Lincoln town car pulled up in front of my house and stopped. I could see a white man sitting in the front seat looking through a bag. I froze with fear.

"Ya'll expecting someone or something today?" Jibril asked.

"No!"

"Go 'head in the house," he commanded me and I turned quickly and yanked open the screen door and ran
in the house and slammed the front door behind me. Tears began to stream down my face and the pounding of my heart was so hard and loud, it scared me.  Yasmeen and Ameerah rushed over to me and the boys ran down the stairs probably because the door slamming had scared them too.

"What's wrong, Iman? Is everything okay?" Yasmeen, my sister in law, asked me as Ameerah  wiped the tears off of my face.

I couldn't get all the words to form right in my throat. I didn't know anything for sure, but I knew inside of me that the driver of the car was here for me. And if that driver in the car was here for me, it was because Mateo Colon sent him.  I slid down the door and sat on the floor crying. I had been stupid to come back home and put my family, the people who loved me in danger.

"Outside!" I told them.  Ameerah ran to the living room and looked out the window and then came back.

'Jibril is talking to some white guy. He looks like he is law enforcement, Iman. Not some crazy man." Then Hasan ran into the living room and started giving us play by play what he was seeing.

"Uncle Jibril is pointing at his car. He look like he telling him to take his behind back where he came from. Now the man is throwing his hands up like he bought to go in on Uncle Jibril. Oh shoot. The guy walking back to his car now. Uncle Jibril is following him. You think he going to get his gun?"

"No!" Ameerah and Yasmeen said in unison. "Get ya tail out of that window, right now, Hasan!" Yasmeen yelled.

"Uncle Jibril is coming to the door." Hasan told us before he shut the curtain and came running back into the hallway. "Uncle Jibril is at the door!"

Ameerah looked at me and then looked at Yasmeen, before she grabbed her face veil and slowly tied onto her head and secured the pin in her hijab while Jibril was knocking on the door. "Enshallah, it'll be okay, Iman. All right?" she told me before she pulled open the door.

"salamu alykum," Ameerah greeted Jibril.

"Wa alykum as salam. Ameerah, where's Iman?"

"For what?" I heard my little sister ask him.

"That man over there is an officer with legal papers for Iman."

"How do you know he is an officer, Jibril?"

"Cause, I saw his badge, Ameerah. What type of question is that? Tell Iman to come out. I'm standing right here. He's not going to leave until she comes out and gets whatever he has for her."

Ameerah closed the door and flipped up her niqab. "Iman, I think the guy looks legit," she said kneeling down to the floor next to me and Yasmeen. "I'll go out there with you. Let's just get this over for the kids'sake. C'mon," she said pulling me up with all of her strength.

Munir handed me a wet wipe from the baby's diaper bag and gave me a hug. I could tell he was shaken up from seeing me cry. I smiled at him and hugged him back. "You're going to come out with me, Ameerah?"

"Yeah," she said flipping her niqab down again, "let's go."

She opened the door and I took a really deep breath as I grabbed her hand and we walked out the door together. The white man was balding and gray. He wore a green and gray stripped polo with dark black dress slacks with a pair of black dress shoes. He smiled  and began walking up to the porch as soon as he saw Ameerah and me. He climbed the steps and smiled again. Jibril waved his hands at the man as if to explain he was close enough and he nodded his head.

"Mrs. Iman Colon?"

I stepped up a little and nodded my head in shame. I was still married to the monster. "that's me," I said raising my hand.

"You've been served," he said and handed me a legal envelope. "My apologies if I frightened you, Ma'am!

The instructions should be included in the envelop. Have a good day." The process server turned around, walked down the steps and got in his car. He was gone before I opened the envelope. Jibril and Ameerah stood next to me as I read the summons.

I couldn't believe my eyes. The smile pulled my mouth wide and I let out a cackle so sharp, I think I startled myself.

"Who is it from, Iman?" Ameerah asked.

"Mateo!" I said singing his name happily in the first time in years. "He filed for a divorce! Allah is freeing me, Ameerah! Allah is really freeing me!"