And that He may try the believers with a fair trial. (8:17)
“Ummi! Ummi! You said I could go to the mall today!” Surayah whined.
“Surayah, you see me cooking, right? I gotta make this food and get these plates made. Then I gotta get to work tonight. I don’t have time to run you up to no mall,” I explained to her as I mixed the batter for a sheet of corn bread. I had two pots of greens on, four pans of barbecue chicken and two pans of macaroni and cheese baking in the oven. I had to sell dinners on the weekends to help keep money in my pocket. Ahmed wouldn’t give me one cent for Surayah. He said him not pressing charges on Kareem was payment enough. It didn’t make me no never mind, I was just glad he was gone for good. I had Allah and I had my kids. That was enough.
“But Ummi you said yesterday I could go with Dominique,”
“I don’t even really like you hanging out with Dom like that Ray! You getting too old to be playing around with non-Muslims. Dom is a sweet pea, but ya’ll ‘bout be in high school. You going to that Islamic school next year, too!”
“Ummi! Dominique is my cousin! We gon’ always be ace boon coons!”
“Nevermind. Why I gotta go to the Islamic school anyway? We don’t got no money for that.”
“Don’t you worry about what I got money for, little girl. I got two hands, two feet, and I am breathing still. Enshallah, you are going to go to that school and learn more about your Lord, how to keep praying and keep your trust in Allah - no matter what. You gonna learn how to be the best Muslima you can be.”
“You done already taught me all of that, Ummi! Dom and all my friends are going to Kennedy High!”
“And they’ll be fine, enshallah! You’ll see them around from time to time. But Surayah you on a different journey than them girls! Don’t forget that Allah chose you from before you were born to be a Muslim. You different, girl! Shoot, you even different than me. You my special baby!” I told then her as I put the sheet of cornbread to put in the oven
“Yeah, him too! He was the one that started it all. He changed my life for the better. Allah brought Islam to me with him. He special, too. He just forget sometimes. That’s why you gotta go to the Islamic school.”
The phone started ringing as I started to wipe down the corners. I thought it was some of my customers, but they knew better than to call me before I finished cooking. I still needed to clean my house before plates could be made.
“Surayah get the phone. And whoever it is tell them I’m busy and can’t talk right now.”
Surayah ran into the living room and jumped onto the couch before yanking the corded phone off the cradle.
“Surayah, cut it out,” I yelled as I turned the meat in the oven. Most days were too much. All I was doing was working, praying, and sleeping. I couldn’t get to masjid for Jumu’ah at all. The last time I prayed in the masjid was during Ramadhan and that was because my best friend Hafsa and her husband came and got me. They insisted on taking me. And now they were insisting on helping me with Surayah’s tuition fees so that she could go to the Islamic School out in Quincy. Allah kept sending me help.
Kareem’s father, Karl now known as Imam Khaleel, was still helping when he could too. Kareem was his oldest of seven children. Now that Kareem was grown, I didn’t feel right taking money from him. But every month, he send me a little something in the mail. Imam Khaleel was living in Hartford with two wives now. He always tried to reach out to Kareem. He'd wanted him to live in Hartford with him, but Kareem wouldn't hear of it. Kareem just was bitter.
I didn’t know if it was my fault or not. I left Khaleel before we had a chance to really grow up. I just couldn’t be bothered with him roaming all over the place. He was a nomad and he always attracted bees. It was in his blood. Islam didn’t extract it out of his system either. After we became Muslims, he just up and left me and went to Morocco for a year. I got a job at JCPenny’s like I said I would. When he came back to the States and told me he wanted to move to Maryland. I went but didn't stay.
Khaleel loved some Kareem though. He’d been a good father when he was around. But it just wasn’t never enough time. For Kareem or me. When he packed up and moved us to Los Angeles, I'd had enough. I headed back north to Boston. He got remarried. I filed for divorce.
Khaleel later moved to Egypt to study Arabic and the deen. By time he made his way back to New England, I was married to Surayah’s father. That’s didn’t last long thankfully. But Khaleel had two wives by time I got divorced. He asked me to remarry him, but I knew to leave good enough alone. We just wasn't meant to be.
“Ummi! Ummi! The phone’s for you.”
“Surayah, I told you tell whoever it is I was busy. I gotta finish this food!”
“Ummi, I think it’s Kareem!”
I snatched the phone from Surayah’s hand and brought the receiver to my ear.
“Salamu alykum. Kareem? A collect call? Yes, I’ll accept it. Kareem? What’s going on? What happened? What in the world you do, boy? What you mean it was a mistake? How much? What? Allah! Kareem, no! Why would…? No! I don’t got that kind of money laying around no where! Kareem! You done ruined your life, boy! I can’t give you that much. Surayah got school coming up. Kareem, did you do it? Yes, it does matter. It matters to Allah. No! That’s not true. I love you on everything, but I can’t help you with this! I can’t! You gonna have to call your Abu!”
I slammed the phone down onto the cradle with all my strength. The phone fell off the coffee table down to the ground. I balled up my fists as tight as I could. I tried to contain the anger. The grief. The hurt. The cloud of sadness colored my vision. The tightness in my chest and burning sensation in my heart was too strong. I gasped before the sound reached my throat. The loudest scream I could muster up rang out of my throat and rattled the house. Over and over again, I screamed. Surayah ran into the living room, but she froze in place when she saw my face. I was enraged. There was nothing she could do for me. He was gone. They’d gotten him. I tried so hard to protect him. To keep him calm. To focus on Allah. I worked so hard to provide for him and Surayah. I gave him all I could. I loved him more than I loved myself. Allah had to know that he was my hope. My heart and backbone. But it wasn't enough. They’d gotten him this time. I failed….
That it is He Who granteth Laughter and Tears (Qur’an, 53:43)
“Ummi, I’m okay! He didn’t mean nothing by it. He’s been working a lot. He’s ....”
“I am fine. Stop looking at me like that, please, Ummi!”
“Surayah, did Abdullah hit you?”
“How many orders we got so far, Ummi? You want me to make the cornbread this time?”
“No Muslim man should be hitting on his pregnant wife. You can act like you ain’t sleeping with crazy if you want to, but sooner or later, crazy will do what it do!”
“Ummi, Abdullah is a good brother! You know he isn’t crazy! He is one of the youngest in our community to study in Yemen with the shaykh. He teaching at the masjid and taking night classes at college and he’s working part time at the garage. What more you want him to do for me? He just been stressed, I'm telling you it's okay! Now you want me to make some green beans or creamed corn for these platters we selling today?”
"He's a good brother, but is he a good man?"
“Ain’t you still paying the rent? The car note? Ain’t you working full-time while you pregnant with his baby? Ain't you stressed too?”
“Ummi, I am a nurse. I make a little more than him. You knew that before we got married. You said it wasn't a big deal and being patient with his finances wouldn't kill me. Now you tripping me out? Soon as I have this baby, Abdullah will be so happy. You’ll see, enshallah.”
“Ummi, c’mon! Abdullah is loan to me. Right? I gotta obey my husband and keep him happy - or sooner or later he'll be looking for wife number two. You even told me that all newly weds issues. He’s not a monster or nothing. I am okay! Don’t worry!”
I started cutting the potatoes for the potato salad and my eyes started watering. Everything she said, I’d said out of my own mouth at one time or another. I never meant for Surayah to run my through my same story. She was suppose to be better and get better, too.
“Is that what they taught you at that Islamic school I paid all that money to put you through?”
“Ummi, this is what I've learned and believe. Allah loves the patient.”
“But Allah ain’t never told us to be a fool! Don’t let this marriage make you over, Ray! Because if it crumbles, and it just might, what you gonna have left for you and that baby boy your carrying?”
She paused and sighed.
“You - I'll have you, Ummi!”
"Not always, Ray. I won't always be here with you."
"Not always, Ray. I won't always be here with you."