© Copyright 2004 Linda D. Delgado. All rights reserved.
Blue Planet Adventures – A Hajj Story
Abdul carefully cinched the strap on his yellow and green racing helmet before looking up to see his grandfather waving from the doorway of the metal shop. Abdul waved back and quickly stepped onto the biped. He would be late if he didn’t hurry.
Abdul’s curly black hair was flattened across his wide forehead by the pressure of the helmet. Snug fitting wind goggles obscured his emerald green eyes. In every generation of the Prevaris family, one child received the emerald green eyes that were screened by long black lashes. Abdul used to frown when he looked in the mirror, thinking he had sissy eyes…until Grandfather told him the story of Great Grandmother Allen. She was once a non-Muslim and was not of Middle Eastern descent, unlike all of Abdul’s other ancestors.
Zooming along inside the well-lit tunnel, Abdul felt amazed at the scientific wonder his ancestors had created for travel on the Blue Planet. Inside the long tubular corridor were two rails and a biped motion travel lane. One rail was used by workers going to and from the Bluetone Mines. The second rail was used by the tourists and citizens of NoahCityfor shopping and visiting each other. The tubular corridor wound throughout the city. When seen from above, it reminded Abdul of the linked circles and lines of a scientist’s chemical formula for a fancy compound metal. Every mile along the tubular corridor, there was an official stop at a home, business or community pod. The pods look like upside down bowls, thought Abdul as he zipped along to his own house pod. Actually, they look more like those pictures of native Alaskan igloos I saw in my “This is Planet Earth” schoolbook.
The core of the Blue Planet was solid ice. Oxygen pumped into each pod and the tubular corridor by silent O-2 generators. Living outsideNoahCitywas impossible because of the poisonous gases drifting like a layer of rusty colored film just above the surface of the planet.
Each day after school, Abdul took the biped to his grandfather’s metal shop where he helped clean the shop floor and run small errands, earning five bluerands each week for his hard work. He had been carefully saving his earnings for three years but Abdul would have worked for nothing just to hear the stories Grandfather told about the first Muslim settlers on Blue Planet. Abdul was proud to be a member of the founding Muslim families who emigrated from Earth over fifty years ago to escape the terrible wars there.
Once on the Blue Planet, the early Muslim settlers gained the freedom to worship Allah according to the Qur’an and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Grandpa told Abdul the fascinating stories of how they built Noah City and started the Bluetone Mines—the very mines which produced the newly discovered energy metal needed by citizens of planet Earth to survive! By the year 2090, their oil resources were gone. Atomic energy was deemed unsafe and banned by all nations. Without the blue metal that was mined from natural caves, the Earth’s inhabitants would have long ago disappeared. Yep… the Muslims on Blue Planet were very important to the people of planet Earth.
Abdul never tired of hearing about how the Muslims’ long search of the universe for a clean energy source and for a safe haven away from the mass killings and greed of the Earth dwellers led them to the discovery of the Blue Planet. He was pleased to know his own great-grandfather, Khalid, was the scientist who found the core of solid ice deeply embedded in the planet’s center which allowed life to be sustained on the surface inside the protected pods. Though the Blue Planet seemed humongous to Abdul, he knew it was hard to find in the vast universe. It was a miracle that the Muslim space engineers stationed on Earth’s moon as a part of the World Science Outpost had been able to pick up the barely visible light emitted from the Blue Planet. It was the very closest planet to the Earth’s galaxy of stars and planets, but it was still far, far away indeed!
Abdul, his older sister, Amatullah, and his parents had never been to planet Earth. The closest Abdul had come was traveling with Grandfather to the Earth’s moon as they made a delivery of the precious blue energy metal. From the surface, he had his first look down at planet Earth. It was worth the long ride it had taken to get there. From the Blue Planet, even traveling faster than the speed of sonic light (another Muslim discovery in the year 2060), it took three weeks to arrive. In comparison, it took only fifteen minutes to get from the outpost on the moon to Earth itself. Abdul knew this by heart because in a few short months, he would be twelve years old and his father had promised Abdul that he could make the Hajj—he would walk in the lands of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh)!
Every week for the last three years, Abdul faithfully went to the Prophet Moses’ Gymnasium to work out and become very strong. He didn’t want to be a burden on his parents when it came time to perform the Hajj.
Abdul shook his head as if to chase away the thoughts of the distant planet and his dreams. The hovering biped had taken him almost all the way home in no time. Abdul saw the approaching landing that would lead to his parents’ pod. Relaxing, he took his hand from the switch as the biped came to a smooth stop at the corridor entrance to his home. Abdul stepped off the biped and entered the corridor. He took off his racing helmet and placed it on the waiting conveyor that would return the helmet to his bedroom. The biped wasn’t anything like a real bicycle but Abdul liked to pretend it was. He had seen a picture of a real bicycle and when he went to Earth he hoped to have the opportunity to actually use the pedals to make the bicycle move forward. Here on the Blue Planet, all movement was done effortlessly by the amazing air-motion system that powered the rails and bipeds.
“As Salaam’Alaykum Mother, Father, Amatullah,” Abdul called out, sliding the front door closed. He slipped off his outside shoes, placing them on the waiting shelf next to the doorway.
“Wa Alaykum As-Salaam,” Abdul’s family chorused back as he walked across the living room to the table where his mother sat stitching the narrow hem on a piece of floral cloth that would be a new hijab for his sister, Amatullah.
Amatullah smiled gently at her younger brother and continued folding the paper-thin, rose colored cloth which she would transform into one of the beautiful flowers that grew on planet Earth. Blue Planet’s atmosphere was too hostile to support the growth of trees and flowers, but that didn’t stop its citizens from arraying their homes and businesses with bouquets of flowers made by Amatullah and a few other Muslimahs gifted with this talent.
Abdul loved the living room of his parents’ home. Being circular in shape, one wall ended and began again as if it were a continuous roll of paper only ending at the front door to the pod. Abdul’s father, Yusef, was the true artist in the family. His landscapes were greatly admired by everyone who visited their home. Yusef also painted unique landscape scenes for all who asked him, but none could compare to the landscapes he created for his own family’s enjoyment.
Abdul’s eyes slowly traveled around the circular wall beginning with a magnificent mural of a brown, tan and light orange desert of rolling hills. A green oasis was filled with stately date palm tress casting their long shadows over the crystal blue waters of a small pool. A skinny camel stood drinking thirstily from the cool waters while a young boy sat beneath one of the palm trees, waiting patiently for his friend to quench his thirst.
The desert scene seemed to gradually fade into a landscape depicting rugged snow covered mountains with huge pine and evergreen trees growing up the sides, as if they were ladders placed there to provide the way to reach the highest peaks. An azure sky framed the mountains with the magnificent figure of a lone falcon gliding effortlessly towards a distant peak.
The third and last mural to complete the circular wall depicted a narrow dusty street lined by low, sandstone square buildings. It was bazaar day and small vendor stalls crowded each other in rows lining both sides of the narrow street. Traders wearing multicolored blankets with leather belts and long grey beards framing their ruddy colored faces were shouting to the throng of happy men, women and children who had come to inspect the goods from far away lands. At the end of the narrow street stood the gold domed Masjid with its spire shooting upwards towards the heavens….and Abdul was sure he could faintly hear the Adhan being recited before each prayer time… “Allah is Great…Come to prayer!” the voice seemed to echo in his ears. Abdul often wondered if the rest of his family heard the gentle call, too.
“How was your grandfather today?” Yusef asked, feeling the familiar warm surge of love for his only son as their eyes met.
“Grandfather is pleased today. He finished making the silver knobs for the front door to the Masjid. He has worked on them for two years and is finally satisfied that he can make them no better,” Abdul replied.
Abdul walked over to the low wooden shelf that was fitted to the circular wall. He kept his money box with all of his earnings at the corner of the fading desert scene. Even though the box was almost full of bluerands, Abdul felt worried. What if the money he had been saving wasn’t enough too pay for his passage to Earth? When he had asked permission to go with his parents for Hajj, they had said yes on the condition that he earned the travel money. His parents had saved enough for their travel and their stay on Earth, but they had not planned on taking their children this trip. There just wasn’t enough money for all four of them to go.
Abdul tossed the bluerand coins into the box and looked back to see if his family was watching his daily ceremony. He thought everyone was occupied but then he frowned deeply. Before his sister, Amatullah, could turn away, he saw silent tears sliding slowly down her toffee colored cheeks! Abdul felt a hollow sensation in his stomach—and not the kind a growing boy gets after working hard and coming home for supper.
“Children, go and prepare for Maghrib prayer and Abdul, please try to keep most of the water in the sink!” his mother chided gently as she stood and began walking towards the cabinet where the family prayer rugs were stored.
“You first,” Amatullah mumbled softly as she quickly left the living room walking towards her bedroom with her head bent down.
Abdul quickened his pace and caught up to her just as she reached the bedroom doorway. “What is wrong, my sister? Are you ill? Why are you crying?” Abdul questioned.
Amatullah did not answer. She walked into her room, keeping her back to her brother and leaving him standing outside the doorway with a confused look on his usually happy face.
Abdul finished his wu’du and rejoined his parents, moving silently to his prayer rug placed behind his father’s and before his sister and mother’s prayer rugs. A few minutes later, Abdul heard the swish of his sister’s long skirt and then a peaceful silence settled over Abdul and his family as they began the evening prayer.
The days and weeks sped by in a flurry of activity at Abdul’s house. So much to do and there just didn’t seem to be enough blue time to get everything done before their departure date for Earth. Every night for the past month, Abdul and his family studied the Hajj ceremonies and their role as pilgrims. Sometimes, Abdul would drift into his daydreams about the many exciting things he knew he would see and experience. Several times his parents paused in their discussions and smiled gently at their son who was far, far away from their living room.
It seemed that no one noticed how quiet Amatullah had become over the past few months. She worked diligently each evening creating her lovely flowers to sell but her own money box was only half full of bluerand coins. She would be staying at grandfather’s pod while her parents and brother were on pilgrimage. At age sixteen, she knew that it would be many years before she could become a Hajj pilgrim. Probably not until after she married and made the trip with her future husband, Allah willing. Secretly, she had hoped that she would sell enough flowers so that she could also go on the long awaited trip but no matter how many times she counted her bluerands, she knew she didn’t have enough. She wouldn’t be able to purchase her shuttle ticket or help her parents pay for her food and lodging.
Though saddened with disappointment, Amatullah made du’aa at least five times every day. She asked Allah to help her remain cheerful when she watched her brother and parents board the shuttle that would take them to Earth. Amatullah did not want her family to be worried about her and she did not want to spoil their trip by weeping foolishly at their departure.
Amatullah continued on like normal, performing her duties as daughter, sister and granddaughter. The day before, she had taken some pita bread and fresh vegetables from her water garden to Grandfather (because it took so much energy to bring the water from the planet’s core, it was not used for luxuries like growing flowers). Upon seeing her, Grandfather knew she was upset. He had not lived so many years without being able to read the faces of his loved ones. He was troubled by the fact that his sweet Amatullah would not be making the Hajj with her family. The longing was clearly mirrored in her eyes whenever anyone talked about the much awaited trip. Yet his son, daughter-in-law, and young grandson hadn’t seemed to notice how quiet and withdrawn Amatullah had become. Perhaps they were too busy with their trip preparations to notice?
The next day, Abdul rushed through the Grandfather’s shop door, out of breath.
“You are early today, Abdul. Why are you rushing about?” Grandfather asked him.
“I need to talk to you about something very important!”
Grandfather patted the empty space on the bench where he sat and waited until Abdul settled in.
“Amatullah has been acting very strangely. Twice I have caught her hiding tears from Mom and Dad. Whenever we discuss the pilgrimage, she gets awfully quiet. She doesn’t even pull my ear anymore or tease me about anything!” Abdul said seriously, a worried frown beginning to grow across his smooth forehead.
“You know Amatullah has not made enough money to pay for her passage on the shuttle, even if your parents would decide to take her?” Grandfather questioned softly. “It will probably be many years before she can make Hajj.”
“I was thinking this same thing!” Abdul exclaimed in surprise. “I can go almost anytime because I will soon be a man, but my sister requires an escort to protect her and father will not be able to make another trip for many years.”
“This is true,” replied Grandfather.
“Another thing,” Abdul paused and then continued, “Amatullah is always using the money she earns to give gifts to all of us or to help with a charity. This is why she does not have enough money for her passage.”
Grandfather nodded his head and waited for Abdul to continue.
“It is the custom that Blue Plant citizens earn their passage money for their first Hajj pilgrimage. I could give Amatullah some of my money, but this still would not help her,” Abdul said and felt a twinge of relief. His relief was short lived as gnawing guilt quickly followed. Amatullah had often spent her bluerands to buy him treats at the market. He had not spent one bluerand for anyone or anything in three years. He had saved every coin for this long awaited trip while his sister gave freely with much kindness.
“It is true that this is a Blue Planet custom, but who is the maker of this custom?” Grandfather questioned gently. He could see on his grandson’s face the fierce struggle Abdul was feeling. Love for his sister was warring against his deep desire to make Hajj and finally visit the planet where his family roots began. Three years of hard work and his grandson’s goal was in sight!
Abdul bit his lower lip but did not reply. Grandfather and Abdul sat silently as minutes passed. The opening of the shop door drew their eyes towards the brother standing just inside the doorway. “I must go and help Fahd Al-Harbie.”
Abdul nodded and let out a sigh of relief. He knew what direction Grandfather was pointing him towards and Abdul just didn’t want to voice the words. Abdul felt even worse inside than when he had confided to his grandfather.
“As Salaam’Alaykum,” Abdul and Grandfather greeted Fahd Al-Harbie. Abdul reached the doorway, but not before Grandfather said, “Pray on this matter. Ask Allah to guide you, Abdul.”
Abdul crammed his helmet on his head and stepped aboard the biped. Without hesitation, he turned the directional dial and waited for the biped to speed him on his way.
Abdul’s first stop was at the Masjid. He entered, placed his shoes on the bottom shelf and hurried towards the Imam’s office. The door was open and the Imam smiled at Abdul as he entered.
“As ‘Salaam’Alaykum, Abdul. Can I help you?”
Abdul gave the greeting and launched into a jumbled explanation for his unscheduled visit and then asked an even more disjointed question.
Abdul heard the Imam’s answer with a sinking feeling. He thanked him and left to catch the biped and return home. That night, Abdul could not seem to fall asleep. In the early hours before Fajr prayer, Abdul got up from tossing and turning and made his way to the bathroom where he performed wu’du. Abdul padded on bare feet to the living room and quietly took his prayer rug from the cabinet.
After reciting prayer, Abdul remained seated on the floor and made many supplications to Allah. After sometime, Abdul got up, folded his prayer rug and placed it back into the cabinet. He returned to his bedroom and, within seconds, fell into a deep and restful sleep.
Saturday arrived and the family prepared for their usual outing together to the market. Abdul ate his breakfast slowly, making sure his parents and sister had finished their food and left the table before he was done.
“Abdul! You are not ready yet? It is time to leave and still you sit at the table with your plate half full!” Mother scolded gently and gave Abdul a sweet smile to take the sting from her words
“Go ahead and I will join you in an hour, insha’Allah. I have something I must do today.” replied Abdul.
Mother and Father looked questioningly at each other. Amatullah waited patiently by the front door.
“Meet us in one hour and do not be late. I don’t want your mother worrying about you,” Father said to Abdul as he, Mother and Amatullah stepped outside the pod and into the corridor.
“Don’t forget to wear your helmet,” Mother cautioned as the door shut silently behind her.
Abdul raced to his bedroom, dressed quickly and grabbed a single sock from a pair Mother had just freshly laundered. When he got to the living room, he went over to the shelf and lifted up the heavy box holding his bluerand coins. Abdul grabbed two big handfuls of coins and stuffed them into the waiting empty sock. Next he picked up his helmet, crammed it on his head and adjusted the goggles over the bridge of his rather long and pointed nose. Minutes later, Abdul was on the biped speeding towards the market place.
Abdul had some important shopping to do and he wanted to get it finished before he went to look for his family. At Ahmed’s Linens, Abdul got off the biped and hurried into the shop. He knew exactly what he had come to buy and within minutes was headed out the shop door and back to the biped. Abdul found his parents and Amatullah eating sno-cones and waiting for him in the courtyard of the Masjid.
Abdul knew his family would scold and call him selfish and Amatullah would say no way at first, but he would complain and complain until she gave in and his parents agreed. After a long day of shopping and Abdul’s family teasing him about the package he held tightly in his hands (he would not tell them what he bought), Abdul and his family said Maghrib prayers at the Masjid. They took the rail home after having a light supper at the Chinese restaurant. Abdul’s mother loved Chinese food and so they almost always ate Chinese when going to the market each Saturday.
After the evening prayer, Grandfather came by for a short visit. He wanted to leave some presents he had made for relatives back on Earth. While everyone admired the craftsmanship of each item, Abdul left the room and returned carrying his large package. He walked over to his sister and laid the package at her feet.
“I have bought materials to have new hijabs made for our mother to take on the trip. And the white cloth inside requires hemming for our father to wear while in ihram,” Abdul said firmly, looking directly at his sister’s surprised face.
“But…but…” Amatullah sputtered. “There are only five days left until you leave. I can’t possibly get this sewing done in such a short time!”
Abdul put his best woe-be-gone face on and looked at his parents. “I wanted to surprise everyone. My mother must have new hijabs and father is in need of the proper clothes to wear during the Hajj. Surely you can do this for them, Amatullah?” Abdul asked with just the right amount of little boy whine in his voice.
Abdul sneaked a peek at his grandfather and saw the twinkle in his eyes. There is no fooling Grandfather, but Mother and Father seemed to be at a loss for words.
Amatullah looked at her young brother again and, as always, her tender heart gave in. Before her parents could speak, Amatullah agreed to sew the garments.
Abdul rushed to his sister and gave her such a hearty hug that even he was surprised at how happy he felt! A small smile began to creep into the corners of Mother’s full lips and Dad just shook his head in puzzlement.
As Grandfather got ready to leave that evening, he had Abdul walk him to the entranceway of the corridor. “Did you ask Allah for help, Abdul?” he questioned gently.
Abdul gave his grandfather a huge grin and bobbed his head up and down. Grandfather patted Abdul’s shoulder and waved goodbye as he entered the corridor to take the rail home.
The next four days seemed to fly by. Each day, Abdul watched as his sister began her sewing tasks early in the morning after breakfast and continued until late each night, stopping only to recite prayer and grab a quick bite to eat. Amatullah got very little sleep during these four days. The morning of the day before departure, Abdul asked his mother, father and sister to wait in the living room after breakfast as he had an important announcement.
To everyone’s surprise (except Abdul, who didn’t seem the least bit amazed), Grandfather arrived right at that moment, even though it was very early in the morning for him to be visiting.
Amatullah had finished her sewing late the night before and the garments were stacked neatly on the table waiting to be packed.
Father checked his watch and then glanced in the direction of Abdul. With a grin as big as theGrand Canyonis wide, Abdul went to the shelf and picked up his heavy money box and carried it over to his sister and gently placed it on her lap.
“This is for you. It is payment for the work you did.” Then he took from his pocket the shuttle ticket he had admired these past few weeks and placed it in his sister’s lap next to the money box. “You can see that your name is written in the passenger name place,” Abdul said proudly and pointed to the awkwardly written name, Amatullah bint Yusef Prevaris.
Amatullah sat there stricken with joy and then pain as she watched her young brother struggle to act so manly. This was a great sacrifice and one that Allah would surely reward! Swallowing her tears and joy, she responded with somber dignity, “I thank you my young brother for this payment for my services and I thank you for your kindness and generosity, but most of all I thank Allah for giving me the best brother in all the worlds!”
Note–> This story was published in 2004 in the Islamic Writers Alliance anthology: Many Voices, One Faith.
I Remember You © 2010 Linda D. Delgado
Esther, aka Essie to her friends, woke up for the second time that day to the dance of sun beams streaming through her bedroom window. Today was The Big Day. One she had been working toward and planning for over a year.
Essie looked over at the chair where she had placed the clothes she intended to wear on this very special occasion. Her favorite hijab scarf her mother had given her for Eid was pressed and on top of her blue silk tunic top and matching loose trousers. The scarf was the same color with a dark blue rose pattern. Her new patent leather shoes with the small ½ heel without any straps were place underneath the chair on the floor.
“Essie. Essie it’s time to get up. Breakfast is almost ready,” her mother called loudly from the kitchen. Essie’s bedroom was the closest room to the kitchen and she could smell the aroma of pancakes and eggs. Her stomach grumbled loudly.
Essie called back, “Salaams Mom. I’m up. Be there in a few minutes.” She hurried to the bathroom across from her bedroom and then back to her room to make her bed and get dressed. Essie combed her long red hair and braided it into one single braid. She twisted the braid and pinned it to the nap of her neck before putting on her hijab scarf.
“You look just like a blue bird, Essie Sanders,” Essie spoke to the reflection of herself in the mirror attached to her dresser. She felt the butterflies hopping around in her stomach. They seemed to be duking it out with the grumbles with each vying for her attention.
Essie greeted her mother with Salaams and took her place at the table across from where her mother sat. There was just the two of them. Essie and Mom, now. Essie looked at the three empty chairs and felt a deep sadness. It had been three years. The first year she was so filled with anger she couldn’t bear to sit at the kitchen table. Essie sighed softly and unconsciously shook off the angry feeling that would occasionally sprout unbidden when she didn’t expect it.
Essie’s mother saw her struggle and reached out to gently pat Essie’s hand. Her warm smile was better than any words. Essie returned the smile and picked up her fork and began to eat.
Sunday – three years ago
“Hurry up Daddy. We’re going to be late for the picnic. Everybody is probably already there!”
“I’m coming. I needed to check the doors and make sure they were locked.”
Essie looked anxiously at the cooler case her Dad was putting in the trunk of the car. She hoped he wouldn’t drink too much. She always got a little scared when her Dad would drive after drinking his favorite beer when they would go places as a family.
Essie looked at her two younger brothers sitting in the back seat of the car with her. Corey was almost 4 years old. He had curly brown hair and laughing blued eyes just like her own. Her 8 year old brother John had green eyes like their mother, Rachael, and black hair like their Dad. Essie’s mother told her that Essie got her red hair color from her great grandmother. Essie was 11 years old and next year she would be in the 7th grade at school. She liked being the big sister in her family and having the responsibility of helping with her brothers.
“Essie it’s getting late. Go find your two brothers and father. I think he is still across the park sitting with some of his friends talking. Tell him I said we need to get you kids home now.”
“Okay, Mom. What if Dad doesn’t want to leave, yet?”
“Don’t argue with him. Just bring your brothers to me. I’ll look for a ride for us with one of the other families if your Dad doesn’t want to leave.” Essie’s mother reminder her a second time, “No arguing, Essie. You know it makes your Dad upset for you to do that. Especially with his friends listening.”
Essie watched her mother begin gathering their things to put in the hamper. “Hurry up now, Essie. It will be dark soon.” Essie turned and headed for the playground where she had last seen her two brothers playing on the swings and monkey bars.
Essie ran as fast as should could back across the park. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she grabbed her side as she felt a painful twitch. She threw her arms around her mother’s waist. “Mom…Mom… I tired…I tried to stop him…I tried, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He just laughed.”
“Slow down, Essie and catch your breath. Where are your bothers?”
Essie looked at the deep furrow on her mother’s forehead and heard the worry in her voice.
“John and Cory went with me to tell Dad. Then Dad said he was going to make a beer run and John started begging to go with him and Mr. Harper our neighbor. Then Cory started crying and asking to go for a ride, too. I told Corey and John to come with me, but Dad picked up Cory and told John they could go with him. Dad said to tell you we were staying longer and to relax. Mom, Dad has been drinking too much. He shouldn’t be driving and he shouldn’t take the boys with him. I told him that and he almost smacked me. I ran back to tell you.”
“Oh honey. I am so sorry. I should have gone to talk to your Dad myself instead of sending you. Sit down next to me and we’ll wait until they get back. Mrs. Harper said we can get a ride home with her.”
An hour later Essie’s mother was still trying to get her husband to answer his cell phone. Mrs. Harper was trying to reach her husband, too. Everyone in their community group had already left the park.
“Did your Dad mention which store they were going to, Essie?” Mrs. Harper asked for the third time.
Essie replied for the third time that he hadn’t said anything about which store. The two women and young girl were worried and not sure if they should leave and go look for Essie’s father’s car or remain waiting in the park for their return.
“Oh God, no!” Essie’s mother whispered out loud as they saw two somber faced police officers with their high-powered flashlights approaching them.
Essie heard the minister and the people at the graveside say amen. Her mother stood and Essie stood up and gripped her had tightly. They each held three red roses in their other hand. Essie and her mother walked to the smallest of the three caskets and placed a rose on the top of the casket. Next they stood in front of John’s larger casket a moment and placed a rose each on his casket. As they approached Essie’s father’s casket she could no longer hold in her grief and anger. She wrenched her hand away and yelled,
“No!” She threw the rose on the ground and raced away from the caskets and people gathered to say goodbye to her brothers and father.
Essie was blinded from the tears pouring from her eyes. She didn’t see the young girl standing alone next to a tree silently crying while looking at the place from where Essie had fled.
Essie ran right into the young girl and fell to the ground. She looked up through her tears and saw that the young girl was dressed in a hijab scarf. From seeing girls at school dressed like this girl Essie knew she was a Muslim.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” Essie stammered not knowing what else to say. The young girl was crying and had such a horrific look of pain and anger on her face.
“I am sorry, too. I am sorry for you and your mother.” The girl turned and quickly left.
Essie sat on the ground starring at the back of the Muslim girl as she practically ran from Essie.
The year after the death of her two brothers and father was filled with many changes. Her mother sold the house and they moved into a smaller less expensive apartment. Her mother went back to work teaching elementary school. Essie stayed angry and wrapped herself up in her anger. After 6 months even her mother agreed that the grief counseling Essie was forced to go to each week was only making Essie madder and more stubborn. Essie spent most of her time when not at school reading books. Books were her escape from a world she did not understand and from feelings she did not know how to deal with. Attending a new school didn’t help. Essie knew everyone must know that her father killed himself, her brothers and the man driving the other car that her Dad struck driving drunk. His judgment was impaired. He was driving too fast and ran a red light. Everyone was killed instantly.
Essie took her sack lunch from her book bag and found a table no one was sitting at. She hadn’t made any friends and the school year was almost over. Essie didn’t want any new friends. She wanted to be left alone. She was mad at her Dad and she was mad at God. God took her brothers and they never hurt anyone. Essie had decided that God was not a just God. She didn’t know if she even believed in Him anymore. Her mother tried as did her grandparents to talk about this but Ellie just tuned them out.
“Can I sit at this table?”
Essie looked up and saw a Muslim girl standing across the table from her holding a brown paper bag and milk carton in her other hand. Essie didn’t say anything. She shrugged her shoulders as though she could care less and went back to reading her book. The Muslim girl made no attempt to talk and began eating after Essie noticed her lips moving silently. She’s probably praying to her God, Essie sneered silently.
Essie felt a small niggling of curiosity. The girl hadn’t tried to start a conversation. She hadn’t sat with the group of other Muslims girls. Why sit with me? She wondered to herself. Essie raised her eyes from the book and looked more closely at the girl. She felt as if she should know this girl. She looked vaguely familiar. Where had she seen or met her?
Every day at lunch time for almost a month Essie and the Muslim girl sat across the table from each other. Neither of them speaking to each other. Ellie ate her lunch and read her book. The Muslim girl ate her lunch and then took out some beads and silently said words as she fingered the beads.
One day Essie was walking down the sidewalk after leaving the school building. She looked over to her right and saw the Muslim girl standing next to a large Maple tree. The Muslim girl was watching her. It was at that moment that Essie remembered. This was the Muslim girl she saw at the cemetery. The one who was angry and crying and told her she was sorry for Essie and her mother.
Essie walked over to the Muslim girl and said, “I remember you. Why were you at the cemetery crying?”
The Muslim girl sank down to the grass and pointed to a space for Essie to sit down. Essie stood undecided but finally sat down. She was curious and felt a strong need to find out who this Muslim girl was and why she had been so angry that day.
“I went to the cemetery to spit on your father’s grave. I was angry because he was the drunk driver who killed my father. Then I saw you and your mother and I saw your face as you ran blindly from the grave site. I knew then that you were feeling the same pain and anger I felt. I could not be mad at you. In your face I saw what the anger you felt was doing to you. I saw what my own anger was doing to me. I have watched you all year. You have been alone in your anger and grief. I wanted to reach out and let you know that you are not alone. That I am sorry for your pain. You are not at fault for what your father did.”
Essie felt a great surge inside her heart and mind. It was as if the knot in her chest had suddenly been loosened. Tears streamed down her face as she reached blindly for the Muslim girl and sobbed in her waiting arms of comfort.
Essie soon learned the young Muslim girl’s name. Essie and her mother became very good friends with Maryam and her family. Two years after the death of their fathers Essie and Maryam started a group they called Survivors Together. Essie and Maryam did speaking engagements for schools and social groups. They each talked about the terrible impact that drinking and driving has on the families of the drunk driver and the victims.
Essie and her mother converted to Islam a year ago.
Today was The Big Day. It was the first time Essie’s mother would join Essie and Maryam as guest speakers at a large community event for all members of the community-Muslim and non-Muslim.
Maryam’s act of compassion and giving up her own anger helped Essie to see the Islamic values Maryam and her family lived. Her example helped Essie find her way back to God. Through prayer Essie gave up the hate she was holding in her heart for her father. She came to realize she could hate what he did that caused such a senseless tragedy and could still remember the good in her Dad without guilt.
XXXth Century Monotheism © 2010 Camilla Sayf All Rights Reserved http://kamirusan.wordpress.com
We have a new captain now.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s cool and all that, but what the heck is he wearing when he is off duty? I’ve never seen such a thing and neither did ladies on this ship. Once, he even got mistaken for one by a new fella from the science lab down on deck seven.
Now, this wouldn’t be too bad if not his rather strange habit of mumbling words in an unknown tongue now and then. Rumor has it, he’s been abducted and returned a changed man. We don’t really buy it, but seriously who can tell for sure these days with all this recent chaos in the galaxy?
And he eats funky stuff too. I mean, like really strange food that our chef orders directly from the surface. Okay, he mumbles over it, which is typical… but who eats fresh today anyways? It’s the XXXth Century for crying out loud! Once, I nearly told him we ain’t vegetarians here either and will gladly share with the captain. But like that’s gonna happen… See, he isn’t really that much of an eater. In fact, people spotted him not eating on certain days and then he would go not eating during day time for an entirety of thirty days! I tell ya, somethin’s up with the guy. Our doctor won’t say a word, claims it to be a doctor – patient privilege. Right… and I was born yesterday.
He has this book that he carries around everywhere. I saw some folks on the surface with relics and some artifacts, so I thought our captain’s got one for himself. Turns out, it’s a real book. I mean, like, meant for actual reading. See what I am sayin’ He reads it every day, again and again. No kiddin’, he’s never tired of it.
And what’s the deal with that rug, him sitting and knocking his head on the floor always in the same direction??? He does that every day too. Many times. Never gets tired of it. Says it’s tradition. Heck no… I know odd when I see one! I thought at first it’s some kind of a sport, but he says there’s no competition and everyone’s equal when doing this. He has a picture of a black cube in the middle of a gig all dressed up the way he does when off duty and looking like they really hit it off. Says it’s on our home world and he’s planning to visit after this assignment. The planet’s been uninhabited for centuries, now he’s telling me they have stuff going on there? Get out.
He doesn’t go to a bar cause he won’t drink, and ladies say he won’t look at them the way we do. They kinda like that, I can tell, but still think he’s way too off the scales.
Oh, boy. Today was something. We were talking to folks in the Tripple system – a newly discovered world, aliens, yada-yada…you know the drill, all the usual stuff. But not with this guy! As if someone poked him or something and he just had to do his thing right in the middle of the first contact! Get this, the envoy asks him if he’s got a special message for the Tripple nation. Our captain turns around, looks this funky three-fingered guy in his single eye and tells him to tell his people there’s no god but one God.
No kiddin’! How does he ever come up with this stuff? Still kinda cool, but beats me!
News Flash Copyright 2010 Linda D. Delgado
NEWS FLASH-PHOENIX AZ – 06/22/2010: Award winning author of the Islamic Rose Books series, award winning poet, and adult fiction writer of the new Rainey Walker mystery-detective series, Catch Me If You Dare, HAS BEEN BANNED by a diverse local group from a competition in progress this week.
Linda D. Delgado AKA Widad AKA L. D. Alan, joined, against the protests of other competitors, a week-long competition for top honors in the Best of the Best. Delgado was booed by spectators and competitors and calls for the judges to toss her out of the competition finally got the attention of the contest judges. What took Delgado’s actions over the top and got her disqualified was her refusal to modify her outer covering (a huge hijab scarf and voluminous abeya) that kept getting caught in the rope in the doubles competition.
Delgado claimed her age as giving her the right to choose her own style of covering. Her partner in the doubles elimination, Delgado’s own great-granddaughter, complained that Delgado could have used a different style hijab and a more stream-lined abeya that would not have got entangled in the jump rope and that caused them to lose the match.
Delgado’s great granddaughter apologized to her group of friends for her grandmother’s stubbornness in insisting on being a competitor. Mothers of the young ladies were hard pressed to control their laughter that came in fits and starts as great grandmother Delgado and the group of 4th grade jump rope competitors faced off after the competition.
By unanimous ruling of a higher court of judges, three fathers that came by to pick up their daughters, Delgado was BANNED from any future Jump Rope competitions.
When asked how she felt about the ban, Delgado responded, “It’s not Fair! It’s not Fair! I like to jump rope and have a right to do so. This is age discrimination and I am seriously thinking about contacting the Hijab-Ez Friends group to set the judges and the jump rope competitors straight.”
When asked what future sports competition plans were in the future for Delgado she responded, “I was crowned the #1 Queen of the playground marble competiti0n my 5th year at Grover Middle School. I am going to get my bag of cats-eye marbles out of the cedar chest and begin practicing . I have two great grandsons I intend to compete against. I am a little rusty after 53 years being away from this great sport, but as my great grandsons are just 6 months old, I figure I have plenty of time to practice and hone my skills to competition level.”
When asked if the banning from the jump rope competition would cause a rift within her family and her relationship with her great granddaughter, Delgado replied, “ No, not at all. I forgive her because she is young, but just so she knows the competition was important to me and I am a tad embarrassed about getting tossed and banned, I am not making her favorite chocolate chip cookies today. She’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
Best Friends © 2010 Linda D. Delgado
James and Eric were best friends. Heck they were more than best friends, they were like brothers. They were both 12 years old and had lived next door to each other since their mothers brought them home from the hospital. Yep! They were born in the same hospital just a day apart with James being the “oldest”. A fact he often whipped out on Eric when they were doing their usual one-upmanship on each other. All in good fun, mind you. Like the time they went around the neighborhood cleaning yards to earn money for model airplane kits they had their hearts set on. Eric told their first customer that mowing the yard and raking was a $5.00 job and weeding was an extra $2.00. James jumped into the business discussion claiming to be the elder and quoting a price of $4.50 for the mowing and raking and $1.50 for the weeding. The perplexed “customer” looked from James to Eric as the two boys faced off. Both with cheeks and chests puffed out and giving each other the “don’t mess with me” kind of look. The bone of contention was settled, as usual, when James pulled his “I am the oldest” trump card and Eric, as usual, gave in…much to the relief of their customer.
James and Eric were in the same classroom in school, attended the same church with their parents, were in the same Scout Troop, both played soccer for their school team, and both hated peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Something their mothers didn’t seem to have picked up on because the boys kept getting them in their lunches. They had made a blood pact when they were 8 years old by pricking their thumbs and mixing their blood. They would be best friends forever; that was their pledge.
Both boys were “jokesters” and when one got sent to the principal’s office the other was a party to the mischief caused and got sent there, too. Eric had fiery red hair, green eyes and freckles everywhere the sun touched him. James was blonde haired and blue eyed and while he was a tad tall for his age, Eric was considered a smidgen short for a 12 year old.
The day after the winter break the boys were glad, for a change, to be returning to school. Expecting to spend their two week vacation sledding and ice skating on the pond behind Eric’s house they were disappointed when no snow arrived and the weather seemed like it was more Spring than mid Winter. They weren’t exactly bored. They always found something to get up to, but they were making their parents nuts with their practical joking. Both boys agreed that they needed a larger audience and the school classroom was perfect for the boys to pull their pranks.
They were unaware that their school had a surprise ready and waiting for the boys.
When they arrived at the school on Monday the boys headed for their lockers. They were side by side and had been since assigned two years previously. James found a sticky note on what had been his locker. The note told him to report to the principal’s office before going to his first class. James and Eric looked at each other and both scratched at their heads, perplexed.
“What did you do?” Eric asked.
“Me? I didn’t do nuthin. Remember. We just got back from Winter Break. How could I have done somthin?” James protested.
“I’ll be lookin out for you soon as you get through,” Eric said as the boys gave the high 5 sign and went in different directions down the hallway.
James opened the door to the reception area outside the principal’s office and tossed the note on Ms. Jenkins desk. Ms. Jenkins didn’t even look up. “Go sit yerself on the bench and no talking. Mr. Watkins will let me know when he is ready to see you.”
James felt his stomach begin to churn and the palms of his hands began to sweat. Frantically he tried to remember the last day of school before Winter Break. Had he done something… him and Eric that had got by the principal and teacher and they discovered whatever it was and now he was in for it? What about Eric? Why wasn’t he sitting with him waiting to see the principal? James couldn’t recall anything he and Eric did that last day or even a couple of days before Winter Break.
The door to the principal’s office opened and James looked up to see Mr. Watkins standing in the doorway staring at him while pulling at his right ear lobe. Mr. Watkins always did that when he had something serious to tell a kid.
James stood on shaking legs and followed the principal into his office. He looked at the single metal folding chair placed in front of Mr. Watkins’s massive oak desk and sat down and waited.
Mr. Watkins sat in his swivel chair, put his elbows on the desktop, and tented his fingers in front of his face while staring hard at James. His bushy eyebrows were drawn in and his lips were compressed in a straight line.
“How many times were you brought to my office last semester, James?” Mr. Watkins’s voice boomed and caused James to slip off the edge of the chair and fall to the floor. He scrambled up and sat down again as the principal eased back in his chair.
“Well? I’m waiting for an answer James!”
“I dun know,” James stammered. Boy does Mr. Watkins look mad. What did I do?
“Ten times, James and I will not have a repeat of that this semester.”
James nodded his head and tried to smile but his luke-warm smile slipped away when he saw Mr. Watkins scowl.
“I spoke with your parents and Eric Smith’s parents and we consulted with your teachers. We are all in agreement that it would be best for you and Eric to be separated during classroom hours. You are being reassigned to the Purple Home Team while Eric will remain with the Red Home Team.”
James was thunderstruck. He was momentarily speechless from the shock of this announcement. He wouldn’t even get to see Eric at lunch time as they would have the same classes but at different time periods. the Purple and Green Home Teams were in the North end of the school campus while the Red and Blue Home Teams were located in the South end of the campus. The gym, cafeteria and administrative offices were in the middle separating the classrooms and Home Teams. “No!” James finally managed to get out; just the one word.
“Yes!” Mr. Watkins said with steel in his voice and using his Don’t mess with me, kid voice.
James hung his head temporarily defeated. His breathing quickened as he sat there and thought about his parents and teachers betraying him, about being separated from his best friend, and his anger grew. James’ faced turned red as he clenched his hands into angry fists. He jumped up from the chair and shouted, “That’s not fair!” His eyes darted to Mr. Watkins’ desk and spied a large metal stapler. He took an angry step towards the desk with his right arm out-stretched towards the stapler.
Eric walked slowly to his homeroom. He was so worried about James that he didn’t notice as other students jostled him in their rush to get to class before the tardy bell rang. Eric opened the classroom door and headed for the back row of desks where he and James always sat next to each other. He looked up when he noticed how quiet the room was and also the two girls, Mary June and Nancy, sitting at his and James’ desks. He looked towards the front of the room and saw his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Merryweather, motioning for him to go to the front of the room in front of her desk.
“What happened to James and my desk?” Eric said before Mrs. Merryweather had a chance to speak.
“James has been transferred to the Purple Home Team and your new assigned seat is the only empty one in the room to your left.”
Eric slowly turned and saw an empty aisle desk and chair in the first row in the room. Some foreign looking kid was seated next to Eric’s newly assigned desk. Eric gave this kid his meanest look. The smile and ‘Hi’ from the boy’s mouth was cut short by the anger the kid saw on Eric’s face.
“What do you mean James is on the Purple Home Team?” Eric shouted at his teacher. Mrs. Merryweather told the rest of the class to open their text books to Chapter 17 and begin reading. She got up from her chair behind her desk, walked around it and gently, but firmly took hold of Eric’s right arm and escorted him from the classroom to the empty hallway outside.
“Look at me Eric,” his teacher said sternly. Eric continued to hang his head . He was trying hard not to yell and kick and scream. James was his buddy. They had sat next to each other in every classroom since kindergarten. They can’t do this to us! I’m gonna call my Dad and Mom. They’ll come to the school and get this straightened out.
That hope was cruelly dashed when Mrs. Merryweather said, “The principal, all your teachers and your parents and James’ parents have agreed that it is best for the both of you to attend separate classes for school work.”
Eric slumped back against the wall outside the classroom door. He knew this was a real nightmare and not some dream. His next thought was for James. James might get into more trouble without Eric there to hold him back. Everyone thought that James was the “leader” and Eric didn’t mind letting them think this, but it was Eric who was the steadying voice whenever one of James’ proposed pranks went too far with a possibility of someone getting hurt.
What Eric didn’t know was that the teachers and principal knew James was the instigator and had shown instances of a mean streak that Eric hadn’t shown. This was why James was learning about the changes in the boys’ classroom schedules from the principal while Eric was sent to the classroom to learn about them from his homeroom teacher.
Eric looked at Mrs. Meryweather and said, “This is bullshit!”
“That inappropriate outburst, young man, just earned you the job of clearing the gym of the folding chairs after this afternoon’s assembly. I will call your mother and let her know to pick you up from school an hour after last bell today. Now let’s go back into the classroom and I want no more rudeness out of you, period.”
Eric knew that at this point saying anything else would make matters worse. Eric needed to talk to James first. I hope he doesn’t blow up and do something awful, Eric worried as he went back into the classroom and sat down at the desk he was now assigned.
Eric knew his best friend probably better than James’s own parents did and Eric was right to worry about James’ reaction. At assembly Eric craned his neck and searched the rows of students seated in the designated Purple Home Team section. James wasn’t there. Mr. Watkins who normally would open each assembly with some of his corny jokes was absent from assembly, too. The Assistant Principal, Mr. Jonas, was approaching the center of the stage holding a microphone.
“Mr. Watkins has been detained so we will get started with School Announcements from the Student Body President, Jessica Ramos.”
Eric tuned out the voices of the students and teachers on the stage as he chewed on his finger nails. Where was James? What had happened to him? What about Mr. Watkins missing assembly? Eric felt sick to his stomach. He hadn’t eaten his lunch so there was nothing to upchuck, but the feeling of nausea and the beginnings of fear for his friend began to naw at his insides.
Eric was stacking folding chairs on the rolling cart when he noticed that foreign kid collapsing chairs and stacking them on another cart towards the back of the gymnasium. What’s he think he’s doing! I don’t need his help, Eric thought. All his anger and frustration about the day and his worry about James boiled over. He ran back to where the kid was working and grabbed him by the shirt front. “I don’t need no help. Who asked you to butt into my business?” Eric shouted in the kid’s face.
The boy looked at Eric calmly and said, “I know you don’t need or want my help, but I wanted to help you. I overheard two teachers talking about what happened to James and thought you might want to know. I figured if I came up and tried to talk to you that you would just ignore me or get angry like you are right now.”
Eric realized he had the kid’s shirt twisted in his hands. He released the shirt and took a step back from him. “So what’s your name and why do you want to help me. You don’t know me. What’s in it for you being all friendly towards me?”
“My name’s Khalid Hira and what’s in it for me is I am stuck sitting next to you for the next 5 months and figured we needed to at least be on speaking terms. I also heard from the other kids talking at lunch that you and James are best friends and have been all your life. I just moved here and lost my best friend because of my Dad taking a job in this city. I figured it would be hard for you like it is for me. That’s what I was thinking about, Eric.”
“So Khalid what did you hear those teachers say about James?” Eric had to know, but was really scared. Something awful musta happened with the principal.
James got so angry when the principal told him about moving him to the Purple Home Team that he grabbed the large metal stapler from the principal’s desk and…”
“Oh, No!” Eric’s voice whispered and a stricken look settled on his face.
“James threw the stapler at the principal, but he ducked and the stapler hit the window behind him and smashed it. The principal called James’ parents and they came to the school to get him.”
“Did they say what the school is gonna do to James?”
“One teacher, I think she is the Algebra 1 teacher, said that James is suspended from school this semester and he can come back next year, but he has to sign some kind of paper that he won’t threaten anyone or pull any more pranks in classrooms to be allowed back next year.”
“Mr. Watkins, the principal, didn’t call the police?”
“No. James’ parents promised to pay for fixing the window and they have to get James a tutor so he can finish up this year’s courses. They also had to promise he would stay out of trouble and James has to go to some kind of anger management training or class. I didn’t hear anything else as they noticed me hanging around the doorway and stopped talking.” Khalid said.
Eric sat down in one of the chairs. The enormity of what had happened settled on his shoulders like a 100 pound weight. This morning he was so happy and everything was okay in his world but here it was in late afternoon and everything was changed.
“Ah…thanks umm.. Khalid? I appreciate you coming to tell me this and offering to help with the chairs. I guess I owe you an apology. You’re okay.”
“No problem, Eric. Let’s get this job done so you can get home. I know you must have a lot to talk about with your parents.” Khalid stood and began folding chairs; acting as though nothing unpleasant had happened.
Eric walked back to the row he had been working on. He looked back at Khalid already working on a new row of chairs. Khalid’s dark skin, straight black hair and dark brown eyes made him look different from any of Eric’s classmates or anyone else in the 7th grade. Eric was curious about this new classmate. “Ah…Khalid, are you one of them Muslims? I’m just askin ‘cause I never met a Muslim before, no offense.”
Khalid looked up and at Eric and smiled. “Yea, I’m a Muslim. Ya know, I never met the best 7th grade jokester in Montgomery Junior High School before today, either.”
Eric thought a moment and then grinned at Khalid. Khalid grinned back. The two boys got back to work stacking chairs.
Mama’s Steamer Trunk ©copyright 2010 Linda D. Delgado
I hope readers will enjoy this story. Please leave me a comment if you do. Widad
“Hurry up Zarinah or you will be late. Everyone will stop talking and stare at you as they did at the hospital making you more nervous and upset than you already are.” Zarinah barely listened to her best friend Judy giving her advice. It had been many years since she had had any face to face contact with her siblings who had all but disowned her when she became Muslim. That was until she saw them at the hospital visiting their mother. They hadn’t spoken to her even once during the 17 days her mother lingered after having a heart attack and then surgery. The hospital notified her mother’s lawyer at her request before the surgery and it was the lawyer who called to inform Zarinah her mother was in the hospital. By the time Zarinah arranged for her and her best friend to fly to Phoenix and arrived at the hospital, her mother was already in a deep coma which she never woke up from. Zarinah continued to visit and talk to her mother even when her mother could not respond. Zarinah hoped that perhaps her mother could hear her prayers and soft words of love.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you? I can wait outside the lawyer’s office. I don’t like you doing this alone. You don’t even know why you were asked to join your brothers and sister. You know they won’t be pleasant. Why not forget this meeting today. Call the lawyer and arrange a meeting with him tomorrow? We could go to a museum. You know we always enjoy immersing ourselves in history. You really need to take a break, sis.”
“The lawyer said his instructions from my mother were to contact me and request I attend this reading of the will. My mama wanted me to do this and just because she is gone now this doesn’t mean I should ignore her request.” Zarinah straightened her headscarf and checked out her appearance. She was wearing low-heeled flats and a deep charcoal abeya and marching scarf with the pearl white trim. The covering helped to bolster her sense of confidence.
Judy shook her head but knew she could not change Zarinah’s mind. Every time Judy thought of Zarinah’s splintered family she felt badly for her best friend while thanking Allah that when she converted to Islam her non-Muslim family members had taken her decision in stride. Judy had not suffered the slights and loneliness her friend had from the loss of connections with her non-Muslim family. Poor Zarinah had hoped to reconcile with her mother. Knowing her mother had asked for her, she had been filled with such joy. Sadly, she arrived too late. Her mother was in a coma and then days later died. Zarinah’s hoped for reunion was not to be. The blare of a car horn startled Zarinah from her thoughts. She grabbed her purse, hugged Judy, and went out the front door of the motel room to the waiting taxi.
Zarinah knocked on the door the secretary indicated and heard a male voice say, “Enter”. She took a deep breath and pushed open the door. Mr. Bentley, her mother’s lawyer, was seated at the head of a large conference table. Her two younger brothers were seated to his left and her older sister and older brother were seat to his right. They didn’t look towards Zarinah as she stepped through the opened doorway. Mr. Bentley stood and walked the length of the table. As Zarinah placed her hand on the chair at the end of the table, close to where she was standing, Mr. Bentley pulled the chair out from the table for her.
“Good morning Zarinah. I am glad you were able to attend this reading of your mother’s will. Can I get you some iced tea or water before we begin?”
“Nothing for me, Mr. Bentley. I am fine and thank you,” Zarinah replied. Mr. Bentley nodded and walked back to the opposite end of the table and sat in his chair.
Zarinah took the opportunity to look closely at each of her siblings. She had seen them at the hospital but from a distance. Her three brothers were married and each had children. Her eldest brother’s children were now teenagers. Zarinah had never been invited to their homes and had not met their wives or children. Two of her brothers were Christian ministers and the youngest brother owned a restaurant and bar. Her sister had three children, but Zarinah last saw them when they were in grade school. They were now out on their own or attending university. Her sister owned a successful art gallery and had been divorced for the past 4 four years. Zarinah had never married. Not because she didn’t want to marry. She just hadn’t come to a point in her life where she felt ready to share her life with another in such a personal way. Their father had died in an auto accident when Zarinah was six years old. He had left their mother well enough off financially that she never had to work. She had been a stay at home Mom and had never remarried. Funny…they look the same…just older, she thought.
Zarinah realized her thoughts had wandered far from the room; back to the years when she was a part of her family and they all lived close to one another when the younger boys, now men, were still living at home. Mr. Bentley cleared his throat. She thought to possibly get her attention because when she focused on him he was looking straight at her.
“Let me repeat, Mr. Bentley paused, the division of your mother’s property, annuity, cash, and jewelry is listed on the copies of the document each of you just received. Zarinah noted for the first time that her siblings were now busy reading the document the lawyer had given to them. Your mother’s will was appropriately witnessed and if any of you disagree, I think you will find it difficult to succeed in contesting her last will.”
What did I miss while I was day dreaming? Zarinah chided herself. Tyrone, Eugene, Noel and her sister Lea were smiling at each other. Her younger brothers were giving each other the high-5. Her sister seemed to sense Zarinah looking at her. Lea turned her head and smirked at Zarinah then looked back towards the lawyer.
“Zarinah I’d like for you to wait a few minutes, if you please.” Mr. Bentley addressed Zarinah while holding up a sealed envelope in his left hand. Zarinah nodded in the affirmative.
“Zarinah. Ha! Isn’t the name she was given by her parents good enough for her!” Noel said and looked at Zarinah contemptuously.
“Serves her right getting left nothing but that old dented steamer chest of Mom’s.” Tyrone said. Eugene nodded agreement with his brothers.
“All she kept in it was junk she collected and some old photo albums of her friends after we grew up and left home . I think she put in her old journals and that dumb rock collection. Big deal.” Lea’s jeering voice stabbed at Zarinah’s heart.
I won’t cry. I won’t! Not in front of them, at least. Zarinah’s hands had grasped the arm rests on the chair and her knuckles were almost white from the grip she had. Zarinah stared straight ahead as her siblings stood, shook hands with Mr. Bentley, and then filed out of the room; each was clutching their copy of the document Mr. Bentley had given them.
Mr. Bentley looked at Zarinah once the door closed behind her siblings. She could tell he was uncomfortable about what had just occurred. He picked up the phone and she heard him ask his secretary, Mrs. Ames, to join them. When the secretary came into the room Mr. Bentley said, “Mrs. Ames is my confidential secretary. Would you like for her to remain with us as I go over a few items your mother left it to me to discuss with you?”
“Yes, and thank you for your thoughtfulness,” Zarinah replied and smiled hesitantly at the lawyer first and then at Mrs. Ames. Mrs. Ames sat down in a chair about mid-way at the table between the lawyer and Zarinah.
“I apologize, Mr. Bentley, for the rudeness of my brothers and sister. I know I should have said something to try and connect with them. I should have tried something to open a line of communication. I have tried for years and never once did my sister or brothers respond.”
“No apologies needed. They are responsible for their own conduct. Your mother explained the rift between you and the family so I was not surprised. This is the reason your mother asked me to discuss the steamer trunk she left for you separately from your siblings. She knew they would not be interested in the old trunk and she left a letter for you that is only for you.”
Mr. Bentley slid the sealed envelope to Mrs. Ames who then slid it down the table to Zarinah. Zarinah grasped the letter in her hands and asked, “Do I need to read the letter now?”
“No. You can open it later if you choose. Inside the envelope are two keys. The larger key is to a small storage locker where the steamer trunk is stored. The second key is for the lock on the steamer trunk. There is a sheet with the address and directions to where the commercial storage shed is located. The rent has been paid for the next month. I hope this will be sufficient time for you to make arrangements to retrieve the trunk. Your mother told me to give you a message and to emphasize it to you.”
“That is plenty of time for me to make arrangements for the trunk. What did my mother want you to tell me?” Zarinah clutched the letter. She was anxious for the lawyer to finish so she could leave and find a quite place to read her mother’s letter.
“Your mother instructed me to say to you the following, ‘Check everything. I left important things in funny places.’ Do you have any idea what she meant by this?” Mr. Bentley looked at Zarinah to see her reaction to her mother’s words.
“That’s all she told you to tell me?” Zarinah was puzzled by this cryptic message.
“That’s all except for the sealed letter, telling you about the storage location and keys, and the requirement that you attend the reading of her will with your siblings, she didn’t add anything to that statement. I wrote it down for you.”
Mr. Bentley got up from the table and walked its length to hand Zarinah the paper he was holding. “Thank you Mr. Bentley. You have been very kind and understanding. I thank you for taking such good care of my mother’s legal matters for her.”
“You have my phone number, Zarinah. If I can be of any further service please don’t hesitate to call Mrs. Ames and she will fit you into my schedule. When will you be returning home?”
“My friend Judy, who traveled with me, has three more days leave so we will make arrangements for mama’s trunk first and then I promised to show her around my home town. Our return flight to Phoenix leaves on Thursday morning. I keep my own hours for my work.”
Mrs. Ames stood and walked over to Zarinah. She patted Zarinah’s arm gently. “I am sorry for your loss. Your mother was a lovely woman and so proud of you. Each time she came for an appointment she was carrying one or two of your published books. She loved to talk about her successful New York Times Best Selling mystery writer.”
Zarinah’s eyes filled with the unshed tears she had been holding back when she heard what Mrs. Ames said about her mother. Mama was proud of me and told people about my books? Zarinah’s heart was so full of happiness she could barely speak. Thank you Allah, she said silently while she thanked Mrs. Ames.
After politely refusing Mr. Bentley’s offer to call a taxi for her; Zarinah left the office building and walked the four blocks to the town square and park. She found a bench under the shade of a large oak tree and sat down . Zarinah’s fingers traced the outline of the envelope the lawyer had given her. Taking a deep breath she carefully opened the envelope and looked inside. The two keys and Mr. Bentley’s instructions for the storage shed location she left in the envelope and took out the one-page letter from her mother and began to read it.
Judy and Zarinah stood in the dimly lit storage shed looking at the battered steamer trunk on the floor in the middle of the almost empty room. “Do you think the taxi driver will help us lug this trunk to his vehicle and then help us get it into the motel room?” Judy watched Zarinah as she walked to the trunk and ran her hand over the top of it.
“I don’t know, Judy. All we can do is ask. The manager said he’s let us use one of those hand carts so maybe he’ll help load it and the taxi driver will help unload it. I want to keep the trunk, but I don’t know how much it weighs or what it will cost to ship it. Maybe I need to see what’s inside first?”
“What are you waiting for?” Judy said with a lot more excitement than Zarinah’s face was showing.
Zarinah grinned at her friend’s good-natured impatience. She pulled the key from her pocket and unlocked the trunk. She glanced back over her shoulder at Judy and gave her an impish grin. “Ready?”
Zarinah slowly lifted the lid and pushed it back. What do we have her, Mom? Rainey spoke to herself as she got down on her knees and looked inside the trunk. Hmm, important things in funny places.
Judy stood behind Zarinah then knelt beside her. “Wow! That sure is a lot of cookie tins! There’s even a couple of coffee cans next to the journals your mom mentioned. Would you look at that.” Judy was pointing to a very large glass jug that was full to the brim with all kinds of rocks in different sizes and colors. “What does it say on the front of the jar,” she asked.
Zarinah tilted the glass jar and read, “‘My Rocks of Life.’ I remember that no matter where we went my Mom was always picking up rocks from the ground. She even had her friends who traveled extensively in other countries bring back rocks. It was a family joke when I was growing up that our Mom should have been a geologist.”
Zarinah picked up a cookie tin and after a few minutes struggling to open the canister got it open. Inside where small bundles of tissue paper. A note taped to the lid read, “ my mother’s wedding jewelry.” Zarinah unwrapped the bundles of tissue paper and found a beautiful set of gold and emerald jewelry: a necklace, bracelet, ring, and ear rings.
“Look at those settings, Zarinah. Those are old and look to be done in the later part of last century. Wow! The pieces are stunning!” Judy was a jewelry hound of the highest order. She knew her stuff. Zarinah began to get excited. What else had her mother stored in these funny places?
Zarinah opened the next cookie tin and found it crammed full of embroidered doilies. The kind homemakers used to place on their furniture to protect it and also on their coffee and end tables as decorations. On the lid of the tin her mother had written, “Some of my work before Mr. Arthur arrived and ended my days of doing embroidery work.”
Judy and Zarinah carefully looked at each piece Zarinah’s mother had saved and worked on. “These are just beautiful, Zarinah.”
“I know,” Zarinah remarked quietly. “It’s gonna take us hours to go through this trunk. Why don’t we do this back at the motel room. I can also call and make shipping arrangements today, too.”
“Okay but look inside that envelope there,” Judy said while pointing to a medium sized manila envelope placed behind the glass jar of rocks.
Zarinah opened the envelope carefully making sure she did not tear it. Inside she found several plastic holders with newspaper articles behind the plastic. Zarinah read the headline in the first folder, “President Lincoln’s Killer Identified!” Zarinah looked at the date and realized that this was an original article published in the town’s newspaper. Zarinah slid the folder back into the envelope. “We can look at the others later. Let’s get this trunk moved back to our room. We’ll be more comfortable there.”
Before closing and locking the steamer trunk Zarinah took out the first small brown journal book. She planned on skimming through it, if Judy gave her the chance to do so, while they took the taxi back to their motel room. It looked like there were at least a couple dozen journals in the trunk.
It was almost midnight when Zarinah hefted the last item out of the steamer trunk. It was a medium sized tool box. Zarinah opened the lid and saw the words written by her mother, “Dad’s coin collection.” On the outer lid of the tool box was Zarinah’s grandfather’s name printed in black lettering. Zarinah and Judy stared at the contents of the box and then at each other. Both were speechless. Zarinah looked around the motel room. Every surface was covered with some part of the contents of the steamer trunk.
“Finally finished,” Judy said and covered her mouth to suppress a yawn.
“Not quite,” Zarinah replied. “Remember my Mom wrote that there was a silver lining not to miss and nothing has shown up like a silver lining. Zarinah sat back from the trunk and pondered what her mother could have meant.
“Lining…hmmm…the trunk lining isn’t silver, Zarinah. What could she have meant?”
Zarinah began to laugh and Judy stared at her thinking she must be so tired she’d gone off the deep end. Zarinah got up from the floor and stepped carefully over the ‘treasures” on the floor until she got to the table. She searched on the table until she found what she was looking for…a small pen knife she had carried around with her for years. She had to pack it in her suitcase because of new airline regulations, but once she got to where she was going, Zarinah always retrieved the pen knife and plopped it in her purse until it was time to pack again.
Zarinah weaved her way back to the empty open steamer trunk and began to slowly cut the dark lining that covered the sides of the bottom half of the trunk. “Good heavens,” shirked Judy. Zarinah’s mother had taped $100 bills to the sides of the steamer trunk. A small note in her mother’s hand writing read, “Bette’s Emergency Bank”.
Zarinah just sat there with her mouth hanging open. Her mother had really surprised her. For years her Mom had carted that steamer trunk everywhere, but Zarinah and her siblings had never seen what she kept inside it. It was a true ‘treasure” of money and the wonderful keepsakes that had mattered most to Zarinah’s Mom.
“I think I liked the green and purple men’s socks stuffed with cat’s eye marbles and fifty cent pieces.” Judy said. “That was too funny.”
“I can’t decide if it’s my Mom’s journals or the shoe box full of photos and love letters between my Mom and Dad that I appreciate the most. But the real treasure is the letter she wrote to me,” Zarinah said.
“If your sister knew about those Indian squash blossom necklaces…all that turquoise and silver she would have a cow for sure.”
“She seemed happy enough to think she got all Mom’s best jewelry…the diamonds and rubies and such. My brothers were interested in the house, land, and who got the insurance money. I guess they can squabble about all that. I am glad my mother chose to leave me her steamer truck and all its treasures.”
Zarinah picked up her mother’s letter from the pillow where she had left it earlier and read it again.
My dearest Jill/Zarinah,
I loved you all your yesterdays, I love you today as I write this, and I will love you all of your tomorrows.
Try to forgive me for my years of intolerance that contributed to your brothers’ and your sister’s intolerance. They need your generosity of spirit and kindness, my dearest. Don’t give up on them. Pray for them.
I have read every one of your books. You are so talented. I enjoyed each story.
I know you will appreciate my ‘treasures’ in the steamer trunk. Use a grain of salt when you read my journals. Don’t forget to look for the silver lining.
All my love,
No Roses For Grandma © 2009 Linda D. Delgado
Susan eased back onto her knees and tipped the wide-brimmed straw hat back from her forehead. She wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her long-sleeved shirt.
It was 7:00 AM and already the Arizona sun beat down on the rose garden Susan was weeding. Grandma’s rose garden. Grandma had died three years ago, but Susan would always think of the rose garden as her grandmother’s. Her grandma and great grandmother had planted the roses together with her grandma learning how to care for the many rose bushes that were planted some 30 years ago. Today each bush still bloomed twice annually.
Susan put her spade down and fingered the rim of the straw hat. She loved the old thing. Her grandmother had worn it for years and Susan had just naturally began wearing it once her grandma was no longer in need of it.
Susan turned slightly to see her grandpa across the yard from her. He was watering the shrubs. Susan grinned. Grandma had finally convinced him to wear the matching straw hat she had bought for him but she was never able to convince him that he should water the plants just before sundown. Her grandpa could be a tad stubborn when he got an idea in his head. Susan’s smile disappeared when she thought of how lonely it would be once her grandpa was gone. He was approaching 80 years now and had slowed down considerably. He fussed and fumed when Susan insisted he take his cane with him whenever they went to the grocery store. Yes, Grandpa still insisted on buying his own groceries. He also refused to wear the hearing aids that Grandma had insisted he get just a year before she died.
“Grandpa. Grandpa!” Susan yelled. No response. Susan got to her feet and walked across the front lawn and touched her grandpa’s shoulder.
“What? What?” Grandpa said in an irritable tone of voice.
Susan grinned at him and said, “I think the tribe is stirring. Want to go to Denny’s for breakfast and escape the family for a little while?”
Grandpa grinned back at Susan, reached into his pocket, and tossed the car keys to her. “Let’s get going,” was his reply.
* * *
The ride to Denny’s was silent but companionable. Susan’s thoughts drifted to the ending of her
junior year at university and the decision she had made. Now would be a good time to tell Grandpa…away from the family.
She knew he would support her decision just as he had been a support for Grandma all those many years before she died. Susan had made another decision. She was transferring to the local university so she could be at home every day instead of week-ends and summers. She worried too much about her grandpa living alone while she was away at the university 120 miles away. He wasn’t the kind of person to have asked her to make either decision, but she knew he would be happy with both of her decisions.
* * *
When Susan and Grandpa got back to the house the family had gathered in the dining room. Susan’s father and her two aunts were seated around the dining room table talking. When Susan and her grandpa entered the room, Susan’s Aunt Lena and Aunt Marie stopped talking and glared at her. Her father looked anywhere but at Susan. Susan knew what they had been talking about—the same thing they talked about each year on this date for the last three years—Grandma’s gravesite visit.
This was the reason for their annual visit with their own families each year. It was never a happy occasion for Susan and Grandpa. In fact her relatives did nothing but upset Grandpa and make Susan mad. They knew from the get-go that Grandma would have disliked this “family ritual” yet they insisted. They’re selfish, that’s what Susan thought.
“Where have you been?” Aunt Lena angrily asked. “We have been sitting here waiting for over two hours. You know we are supposed to leave for the cemetery and you take our Dad and just up and do a disappearing act!”
“You know we all have airline flights scheduled and delaying the visit could just make problems for us. We all have to go home today and your delaying tactics are not going to keep us from going to the cemetery. We made this clear to you over the phone before we left home, didn’t we?” Aunt Marie’s voice was calm but had a hint of steel in her tone. If Grandma were alive my aunts wouldn’t dare talk like this, Susan thought.
Susan waited to see if her Dad would come to her defense. No such luck. He was staring out the window trying to pretend he wasn’t sitting in that chair and didn’t hear his sisters yelling at her. Why did he even bother to show up? Privately he had told Susan he had wanted Grandma’s wishes honored, but he had always allowed his sisters to bully him. Maybe he was just too nice like Grandpa?
Susan looked at her grandpa and noticed he had raised his right hand in a motion for everyone to be quiet. “Get me a chair, Grubbie.” Grandpa had started calling Susan this nickname when at the age of two she had started digging around with Grandma in the rose garden. Susan pulled out a chair and her grandpa sat down and leaned forward resting on his cane.
“Tom! Marie! Lena! I had a heart attack when your mother died and I was in hospital when the three of you decided to give your mother a Christian burial. Susan here read you your Mother’s Muslim will and all three of you ignored it. You were plain selfish back then, thinking only of yourselves and each year you show up here and are selfish all over again!
“But Dad…” Marie sputtered.
Susan’s grandfather said loudly, “Enough! I am doing the talking.”
Susan remembered sitting in this same room more than three years ago arguing with her two aunts and her Dad sitting there, as usual, saying nothing. She had opened the will her grandmother had given to her for safe keeping and read it to them. Her grandmother had requested a Muslim funeral and burial. All the contact names and even the plot of land in the Muslim cemetery had been paid for and reserved. Her aunts had refused to pay any heed to their Mother’s will and requests. Susan’s dad had made a weak effort to reason with his sisters, but they had shouted him down and he’d done the usual, just clammed up and didn’t say anything else. Susan hadn’t been able to do anything to stop their plans then and the Christian funeral had taken place while Grandpa was still in the hospital.
For the last two years her relatives had come back to the family home and did the ritual visit to Grandma’s grave. Each year her aunts had cut roses from Grandma’s rose garden and taken them to the cemetery. Each year Susan got angrier and angrier with them.
“Years before your Mother died you were all too busy to come and visit her. Her grandchildren married and had babies and not one of you had the decency to bring those babies here for her to hold and love. Knowing she was too ill to travel, yet, you still went about your lives not thinking of your Mother. Did you think she would live forever in her state of poor health? Now that she is gone, you want to bring her roses. Roses from her own garden which she never cut and put on any grave. Yet, you come to my home, and it is still my home, and cut her roses and take them to that cemetery where you know she didn’t want to be buried!” Grandpa paused to catch his breath.
Susan looked at her aunts and Dad. Her aunts sat with their heads bowed and silent tears rolling down their cheeks. My Gosh! Susan silently exclaimed. There were tears in her dad’s eyes, too!
Grandpa continued, “Last year and the year before I should have spoken up. I wanted you all to visit and tried to avoid unpleasantness. It was wrong of me to stay silent. This is your home always and I want you all to come and visit, but do not expect Susan and I to join you at the cemetery. The time for bringing your mother roses was while she lived.”
Grandpa looked over at Susan and spoke to her directly, “There won’t be any roses for your grandma today.”
He got up slowly from his chair, looked at each of his children and said, “I’m going to take a nap until lunch. We can talk then if you want.” His children nodded their heads and murmured their apologies.
Susan sat in Grandma’s recliner reading aloud to Grandpa one of the story books Grandma had written so many years ago. Grandpa sat in his recliner opposite her and chuckled now and then at the antics of the book characters. “Your grandma sure could write some good stories for kids, even big kids like your old Grandpa.”
“I know. I think I’ve read these books a hundred times and I still enjoy them.” Susan paused in her reading to reply and then smiled at her Grandpa.
”Have you decided yet about wearing a head covering?” Grandpa asked Susan.
“I was thinking I’d try it out this summer. Kinda of get used to it before school starts in the Fall.”
“You know your Grandma prayed every day for you. For all of us. I think she knew you were Muslim before you knew you were Muslim, Susan.”
“I think so, too” Susan replied with a catch in her voice.
“I have a surprise for you.” Grandpa handed Susan a square bundle wrapped in tissue paper.
Susan took the bundle and carefully opened the layers of tissue. Inside was Grandma’s very first hijab scarf…the one she wore the day she said Shahada.
“Your Grandma asked me to save this for you.”
“Oh Grandpa! Dearest Grandma!” were the only words Susan could manage as her heart was too full of joy to say more.