Jun 30, 2014


By Ruksana


Before Khaled’s mother, Maryam, left this world, she only had one wish: “Take your brother and his wife to America. I want you all to stay together…he is your kin.” Aware that she was soon to depart from this dunya and on her way to Allah, the Most High, no one had to remind her to utter the shahada: “La illaha illa Allah, Muhammadan Rasulu-Allah (There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is His messenger).” She repeated this over and over again until her head fell back on her pillow, her thin body having been exhausted from a recurring heart ailment that she had refused to treat as she was afraid of hospitals and doctors. Maryam succumbed to sleep in Khaled’s arms.

It was not long when he awoke and felt her hand drop away from his. It was then that he knew she had gone away. Tears rolling down his pale face, Khaled trembled from the shock of not having his mother with him anymore. Even while whispering the customary statement, “Inna lillaahi wa inna ilayhi Raaji'oon” (To Allah we belong and to Him is our return), he could not help but think about his loneliness without his beloved mother. Who would worry about him while he was in America? Who would give him guidance? Who would he turn to during his moments of sadness and happiness? His mother would no longer be with him. She was…gone. Khaled was left to face the harsh realities of this world alone.

In the days ahead, it was Khaled who arranged for the washing of his mother’s body, the janazah prayer, and the burial afterwards. It was him, rather than his oldest brother Ahmed, who contacted relatives to deliver the news of his mother’s death. This was in addition to him having to complete a myriad of other tasks related to funeral planning and death certificates. The entire village came to make dua for Maryam at her janazah. She was loved by everyone, including the beggars who she had always fed (even on the days her own family was running out of rice). Her death marked a turning point in the village of Hema. It was not only her elderly status that gained her a reputation, but rather her extraordinary kindness and generosity had stood out in a village known to be shunned by nearby residents. The residents of Hema were constantly envious of each other and resorted to all kinds of trickery and deceit for their selfish interests, and few people in that village could be trusted. Poverty made most of the villagers bitter and resentful.

Khaled, who had been away studying in America, was clueless about the bitterness that had been eating away at his fellow villagers’ hearts. The naive young man had big dreams for his brother and his brother’s wife. He even dreamt of building up the village of Hema, having new wells installed, improving the telephone communication lines, and sponsoring the young boys of the village to study in the city. Maryam had always advised him to be a good Muslim and help those in need, especially his own kin. Ever since he earned his first job as a letter reader and writer for the illiterate people in the village, he had helped others in need. As such, Khaled took his mother’s advice to heart and was determined to obey her last wish.

Khaled’s brother, Ahmed, was not at Hema when their mother died. He was away in the city with his new wife Tahmima. Khaled had sent word to Ahmed four days ago that their mother’s condition was worsening, and it was likely she would pass away soon. However, Ahmed came too late. Khaled tried to convince himself that Ahmed had probably been kept at the city for some business he had to tend to. But a nagging voice in the back of his head casted doubt in him.

When Ahmed and Tahmima finally came back, Maryam had already been buried.

“Little brother,” Ahmed uttered, looking grieved, “Did Ama ask about me before she died?”

“She wished you had been next to her in her last moments,” Khaled replied.

“Well, I tried, but you know how traffic is in the city, we were struggling just to get out.” Ahmed avoided Khaled’s eyes.

Khaled forced himself to believe his brother, feeling ashamed that he was having bad thoughts about him. He could almost hear his mother’s voice warning him to always trust his brother, who he had looked up to from a young age. Brushing aside the doubts, he decided to renew their brotherly bond, which had become sour due to petty differences over the last few years. The grief and sadness attached with losing their mother gave Khaled incentive to appreciate his brother more. If it had been possible, he would have sacrificed everything to save his mother. That was no longer possible. He decided he would do everything in his power to bring Ahmed and Tahmima to America.

Khaled imagined how it would be: Ahmed and Tahmima would arrive in New York City, where he was living. At this time, he would have already saved up money from his job at the restaurant to rent out a small 2 bedroom apartment for them. At the same time, he would secure Ahmed a job in the same place where they would work together. After some time, and after he found someone suitable to marry, Khaled and Ahmed would save up enough money to move to a bigger place, possibly a two story house. Tahmima and Khaled’s wife would get along like sisters, and the couples’ children would grow up together like siblings.

This was an ideal dream, and Khaled found himself feeling enthusiastic about returning to America to fulfill it. He could not wait to share the idea with Ahmed, as he was sure he would be ecstatic to hear it. Of course, Ahmed and Tahmima were expecting to immigrate to America with Khaled’s help. However, Khaled’s dream would soon be shattered and he would be left devastated.

Continued ... Chapter 2
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