The Dream (Final)

There are swarms of people arriving and I feel overwhelmed. I just need to take some time out of the chaos so I rush away to an empty room and allow the silence to envelope me.

My breathing slowly starts to normalize and after a few minutes I start to feel normal again. I try hard not to think about the ceremony today but I can’t stop my thoughts from drifting towards it. It brings with it fresh anxiety and slowly I start to feel my eyes well up with tears.

Oh, Salma – I think with deep heartache. I miss you so much. I wish you were here today to help me through this. Everything has been happening so fast I haven’t had time to sit down and think about her, and now that I do – I feel like my world has stopped turning, but somehow , thinking about Salma and her last days seem to bring some comfort.

It was just a week after she asks me about adopting Nusrat that we could all see that her time was near. I sat with Nusrat next to her all day and I even insisted that she try to feed her. It was then that I realized how unfair it was for me to expect her to keep fighting and enduring the pain that engulfed her. I recall that she seemed almost relieved that the German treatment didn’t work. I think I realize now – more than ever- just how much she was enduring for our sake. The thought is a sobering one as I think of how even in her state of terminal illness she seeked to please us.

I watched her as she tried to feed Nusrat- the little bundle wriggling in her arms. She signaled for a shot of Morphine through the IV and I obliged, trying hard to fight my tears knowing that I was probably witnessing the last attempt at bonding with her child.

It was later that evening, when her breathing began to quicken and we all hovered around her bed trying as best as we can to accept what was about to happen. Aaryaan stood at her head with my mother opposite him. His face was sticken with grief and although h I can’t say that I fully understood their relationship – I could see that he truly did love her. My mother read the Tayyiba slowly to her over and over until we could see Salma’s lips move slightly in unison. Her eyes were closed as if asleep and she looked almost peaceful. I watched on motionless as the life slowly slipped out of her and the melody of the heart rate monitor slowed down and finally dragged into a long and ominous signal when it was all over. The nurses and doctors then came by passing on their condolences but all I could do was stare at Salma, who still looked like she was just asleep peacefully on the hospital bed that had become her home.

I hear the commotion outside and i close my eyes again trying to block it out.

“Sawls don’t be so dramatic” Salma says to me annoyed. I have been moping around the house since my cat disappeared. We both were ten years old- old enough to know that the possibility of the cat being dead was great- but we both didn’t mention it. “Maybe she found another owner she liked that was better than you” Salma teased me , and I punched her hard on her shoulder. “Ouch!”she shouted through her laugh, “I’m just saying…It’s a possibility.”

“Maybe she hated that you kept pushing her off the bed at night..” i tried to hit back, “…and she ran away”. Salma looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Ya- that could be it” , followed by a bellowed laugh. I tried to join her but i missed my cat so much and the thought that she was never coming back really made my heart sink. looking at me Salma knew what i was thinking. She immediately stopped laughing and brought her face close to mine and said softly, “She is gone onely because there is something better on it’s way”

That memory made me think of how wonderful Salma was, and i am so grateful that Allah brought us back together at the end even if it was for a short time.

suddenly there is a knock at the door, “Mum..” my daughter Rehman says tentatively as she scans the room for me. I look up and smile a response. “Everyone is waiting for you.” Rehma says , “…and she is nearly ready to go.” I nod and brace myself for what comes next.

I get up and walk to the door slowly. Rehma’s beautiful smile calming me down. You’ve done this before –  i say to myself, but even as i do – i know it will not be the same. “Is she still in her bedroom?” i ask Rehma and she nods as we walk towards the bedroom.

When i enter Nusrat’s bedroom, i can feel that today it is different. She is seated on her bed and doesn’t see me immediately. scanning the familiar room i don’t see the frame that usually hangs on the wall by the dresser.

Nusrat looked stunning in her white wedding gown today and i try not to think about what Salma would have thought about it.

She sees me and immediately gets up. She has the grace of a ballet dancer and her wedding gown skims the floor beneath her. My cheeks are wet with tears by the time we embrace and i hold her so tightly that I wonder if I will ever let her go. My eyes are closed tightly but when i open them i see the photo frame from the wall, set on her bags, ready to go and it brings with it fresh tears.

The room is emptied now and it is just me and her. She frees herself from my arms and i reluctantly release her. I follow her as she sits back on the bed.

“I can’t believe that you are married” I say to her despite the tears and emotion. “Don’t think that you are rid of me yet” she warns, “i will be back , just now it will be two of us” she smiles, and i see the smile i saw twenty years ago in an incubator in Australia. “You have your mothers sense of humour” i say to her, and she smiles again – this time it is not so wide. she looks at me deeply and i see her eyes fill up with fresh tears. “Thank you for never letting me forget her” she begins, “… and thank you..” she pauses as her tears fall faster, “Thank you for being my mother, when she couldn’t”

i feel my heart break into pieces as Salma’s did the day she gave up her daughter. I try to take some strength from the memory of my sister as i give away my daughter today to her husband.

We stand up and i embrace her one last time. She picks up the photo frame and hugs it to her chest and smiles as she walks out.

when she leaves i look at the spot on the wall with the evidence that something was once there. A mother who watched over her daughter in a framed poem that she wrote before she died.

THE DREAM

The dream I had was big and vast,

It spanned over the ocean.

I searched for it her and there

but it could not be found,

Until one day you came to me

i knew my dream was you.

I had to leave,

you stayed behind

so you can live the dream.

your mother , Salma

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a note:

SO I finally managed to finish this story. Sorry that it took so long – i just did not find the time to get this story out of my head 🙂 I will be attempting the 5 day challenge in sha Allah finally – so look out for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The dream part 6

I can’t contain my excitement. I walk through the hospital with baby goods in hand for my young niece. I am anxious that I may miss the first mother daughter moment, and I add a little more zest to my step. I don’t know how Salma has managed to be in the same building as her precious little daughter and yet not be allowed to see her. my heart swells with the expectant love that will fill the room. The dark cloud of seems to be slowly receding and my heart tells me that things are getting better. We are meant to hear back from the German Oncology specialist regarding Salma’s reaction to the new drugs and I am hopeful that it will be good news and be the cherry on the top today. My attitude is so positive , I feel like my duas that I have been making are finally going to be accepted.

“Sawliha, you must calling me to help you from downstairs” Aaryaan says immediately as I walk in with arms full of baby clothes and blankets and stuffed toy and carrier. “It’s okay”, I say as I set everything down on the bed. “I managed”, I say as I look around for the baby formulae. “Oh , man” I sigh. “I left the other bag in the car” I say looking up finally. “I go get it” Aaryaan responds immediately gesturing for  my car keys.

I look at Salma and she smiles. “thank you”, she says with a tone that carries with it a little more than just a thanks. I try not to read too much into it. “It’s my pleasure, I loved all the shopping”, I say upbeat trying to gather my former excitement again. “Are you excited?” I ask. She smiles and nods. “Mum’s gone to dress her and bring her down”, she says to me, before I can ask where our mother is. I go to sit on the armchair beside her and give her a big smile of encouragement. I can see her anxiety and I think back to when I was given my first little bundle. It was scary at first but I know she will be okay.

My thoughts are interrupted by the slow creak of the door. We both turn and find my mother walking in slowly with the anticipated guest of honour. My heart jumps into my throat and I can hardly contain my excitement and emotion of the moment. My mother walks in slowly with the precious bundle and I direct my attention to Salma looking for her reaction.

Salma smiles, a smile that crinkles at her eyes and shows her teeth. Her eyes glisten with the emotion from within and her pale and weak complexion is almost starting to be radiant. “Yes”, I think to myself. “This is what she needs”, she looks at my mother and i follow her gaze. My mother looks questioning at her, and Salma nods but doesn’t attempt to reach out to Nusrat. I look back at my mother and she is walking towards me. Instinctively my arms open to receive the bundle. Perhaps Salma needs me to help her hold Nusrat.

I have held Nusrat before, through the incubator slots, and when nurses needed help to feed or change her. But this feels different. There are no tubes, or IV lines and just stare at her face for a moment. She is so beautiful. Her once hollow cheeks have filled out to produce plum rosey cheeks , and full lips. I cant tear my eyes away from her. I remove the one large blanket she was wrapped in and hold her closer to my chest so I can get a better feel for her and she squirms slightly. I close my eyes momentarily while i gently rock her to comfort her and she settles again.

When she is settled i turn towards Salma and gesture for her to take her. I look around and see that my mother has left.

“Wait”, Salma says to my suddenly. Her voice serious. “I want to say something first before I hold her” she says. I look at her confused. “er…Okay” I answer puzzled. “What wrong?” I ask a little worried now.

she takes a breath. “i want to thank you for everything that you have done for me…” she begins in that tone as her lips quiver with the emotion. “No Salma…”, i stop her. I can feel my emotions start to surface and tears prick at my eyes threateningly. “Don’t even… there’s no need for any thanks. I will do anything…” i pause. “You are my sister” she smiles.

She takes another breath. This time a tear falls slowly down her cheek. “I…I told mummy to give Nusrat to you first because I wanted to see you hold her to be sure”. I look at her puzzled. “Sure of what?” i don’t wait for her response. “If you i are worried about hurting her or how to hold her -” She shakes her head adamantly stopping my sentence. “It’s not that” she says and tears now start fall freely down her cheeks. she sniffs and wipes them away but they continue. I use my free hand to stroke her and console her until she calms down. when she hold out my arms for her to attempt to take Nusrat.

She shakes her head and refuses. “I want to say something…” she begins. “Please let me finish” she pleads and I nod in agreement. “You are so natural with her. I can see that you love her very much and I appreciate that, ” i smile and nod at Salma and beam with love for the both of them, “I first want to ask you something important…” she pauses and her voice catches with emotion, “… and i may  not have the nerve if i held her in my arms first” Salma is crying again now and so am i.

Salma begins to ask, “What kind of a life will she have with me in the hospital?” i hear anger and frustration in her voice, “With a sickly mother who needs care herself” she is crying more and more. “But the new medication…” i stop her, “It could help you” i say trying to give her hope. She cups her face in her hands and shakes her head.

“It didn’t work Sawls” she says to me now. “I’m not ever getting better” she sobs. my optimism shatters into tiny fragments and i  shake my head trying to unhear what she told me, “No  Salma” i say now having to put Nusrat in the bassinet because my body begins to shake with emotion. “There will be another way” i say wiping my own tortured tears. Salma looks more composed and says, “There is no other way” her voice comes out surprisingly strong. i lean down and embrace her tightly. i feeling of uselessness coming over me.

she holds my shoulder sand tries to shift me to look at her. “I have spoken to Aaryaan…” she begins calm but tearful, “We have decided that we want you to adopt Nusrat and give her the life that we can’t.”

My body becomes numb and i cant interpret my feelings. i look at Salma for a moment and i witness a mothers heart break into two. Her face is a desperate, and i can read the anguish she is experiencing. My heart breaks for her , as  a mother having to give your child away and as a sister knowing this means that she has given up and she is ready to leave us.

I nod slowly as the tears flow down my face and then more vigorously as I embrace my sister who once again has shown how selfless she is.

The Dream (PArt 5)

It is so exciting decorating a nursery again after so many years. The nurses gave us the news that Nusrat will be ready to go home after a few more days at the hospital. I’m so excited, you would think I was getting ready to welcome my own child back home. I do feel a little sad that Nusrat isn’t mine. I still often entertain the fantasy of my third child, if I hadn’t been wrong about my pregnancy the last time. Mum and I had to start from scratch. Salma had only just scratched the surface with baby shopping when her cancer took hold of her. My thoughts turn to Salma and how she will manage with a new child. I feel my eyes start to burn in anguish for her misfortune but before the dam of tears in my eyes burst I remind myself that everything is only due to the will of the Almighty and He is the one with the ultimate plan. Although my throat still tingles from the sadness I manage to control the tears. “It’s a happy time” I say to myself trying to focus on the fact that Nusrat is gaining weight and is well enough to be taken home from the hospital.

“Did you get the baby formulae and bottles?” my mother asks me. I nod and direct her gaze to the new shopping bag in the corner among all the ones I have previously purchased. I thought I almost heard my credit card sigh in relief with the last swipe today.

My feel my mobile phone vibration in my pocket a few second before the ringtone sounds a call. When I fish it out of my pocket I smile at the screen and eagerly answer.

“Assalamu Alaikum” I hurriedly greet.

The replied greeting sounds especially sweet today when I hear it in my husband’s voice. a smile is plastered on my face , and from my reaction my mother already knows its her used-to-be- only son in law.

“How are you darling?” I ask like a dog begging for a bone, without waiting for a reply I continue, “How are the kids?, did exams go well?” I miss my family so much , hearing my husband’s voice makes my heart ache for all of them. My mother rolls her eyes and leaves the room.

“Wow, one question at a time there” my husband jokes and just like that I am calmed. “Everything is good, the kids are glad to be one the flip side of exams and we trying to get flights to Australia for next week”.

“That’s great, I can’t wait to see all of you” I say with a clear smile in my voice. Hearing his voice makes me feel like everything is Okayand he is just calling tas he does when he leaves work to ask if he needs to pick up bread and milk.

“How is Your sister doing?” he asks.

I take a minute to answer. I haven’t been spending as much time with her now that Aryaan is around. He has certainly only left her side a few times since he came and i am glad they are together.

“she is doing good.” I say confidently. “That new doctor from Germany I told you about was here the other day…” I say waiting for him to recall. “He is trialing a new drug that has worked with her type of progressive cancer and she has started taking it. ” I pause momentarily as I hate even thinking about what I am going to say, “The doctors say that this is the final chance and then she will be too weak for any more medication” the words catch at my throat as I am saying it, and without warning I am sniffing into the phone. I hear my husband breathing on the other end but nothing else. A few seconds later his voice breaks the silence . “this jummah” he begins, “The imaan gave an interesting Khutbah. He spoke about how important it is to visit the sick. He told us that there is a hadith that states that Allah will ask a person, why did they not visit Him when he was on the Earth. And the person will reply that they did not know where Allah was and Allah will respond that He was with the sick people.”

I thought about what he said and waited for the words to sink in.

“he continued, “Sawliha,”, he said, “Stay strong, Allah is with her”.

I smiled into the phone receiver. I still cannot believe how lucky I am to have a husband like him. “Thank you , ” I say .

“I have to go”, he says, “give my salaams to everyone, ” he pauses, “…and a kiss to Nusrat”

“wa Alaikum Salaam, ” I replied and too quickly the call is over.

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On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection:

O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink whin You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me.

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so…I haven’t been posting often enough. But I promise that the last part of THE Dream is coming soon

The Dream Part 4

She speaks slowly and breathlessly, it is noticeably difficult for her to sustain her breath, but she does not stop. She talks and talks, through her coughs and sips of water. when her breathe catches in her throat I can see that she is fatigued and it is difficult for her to continue. “”You don’t have to carry on, Salma” I say to her, making eye contact with my mother hoping she will agree. “Have a rest and you can tell us more when you feel better later”, I say to her. She tried to interrupt me and raise her voice but she simply does not have the strength. “Take a rest now, my darling” my mother finally says, “we will see you later”. I can see the relief on my sisters face and she looks thankful. She closes her eyes out of sheer exhaustion and I turn to my mother we walk out of the room in silence.

My mother does not say anything when we get outside. I was expecting her to be in shock after what Salma told her. She continues to walk through the hospital corridors and I walk with her in silence. After a few minutes of walking I say, “Lets go to the cafeteria.” she nods without saying anything and we turn towards the glass double doors and head to the cafeteria.

“I just don’t know why she didn’t come back home”, my mother says to me while biting on a tim tam biscuit that we both have come to love here in Australia. I have wondered the same thing and I feel guilty that I was one of the reasons she never came back home for good. I try to ignore the guilt I am feeling and placate my mother. “She made a life here” I say to my mother trying to convince both of us.

“My mother looks up at me for the first time with sadness in her eyes, “What kind of life?” she asks me. the life she always wanted I think, but I don’t say it. “Can you believe she married someone and didn’t tell me?” my mother looks like she is asking herself more than me. “… A man who had a wife and a family in another country?” she shakes her head unable to believe it.

Yes this is the what we heard upstairs. Aaryaan, was married when he came to Australia a few years ago. A  Spanish chemist who earned a scholarship to work at the cosmetic company she worked at. He was there to help gain the knowledge he needed to work with the dermatoligists in Spain at the famous Skin Labs to develop creams for congenital diseases like dermatitis and vertiligo. She had known from the start about his family…and his wife. She made this clear to us. She obviously didn’t want us hating him.

She was content with their life once they married. Aaryaan would go back to spain every few months on a break that the company paid for, and then he would come back to her. This continued until his scholarship was over and he had to go back for good. She forced him to go back for good, even though he didn’t want to. He suggested that he take the job her company offered him, but she insisted that he came to Australia with a dream and that he has to follow it. a year went by when he would visit every few months, until she wasn’t feeling well and then a trip to the doctors gave her the news of the cancer. From then on she would make every excuse not to see him when he would want to come over, knowing that he would come to find out about her condition and want to stay with her. She didn’t want to be the reason he gave up on his dream. she even thought of divorcing him, unfortunately by then she was already pregnant.

As she told us the story the memory of my first race i ran came back to me. This is what she does. She is so selfless , she puts everyone elses needs first. Even though she needed me she made me go and get my dream. Even though she needed Aaryaan she made him leave and follow his dream. I feel sick thinking about how all these years i though she was selfish for leaving us , and selfish for telling me that i was wasting my life getting married. She is not a selfish person. actually she is the most selfless person i know.

“Asalamu Alaikum” i look up and see Aaryaaan standing in front of us. His face looks pained and his eyes are red and puffy. He starts off shakily looking at my mother, “… er  I am Aaryaan” he says cautiously. “I don’t know if Salma tell you … er ..” he looks terrified. “I gave you the flowers for Salma…I am Salma husband”

Time stands still  and my gaze shifts in slow motion from Aaryaan to my mother. My mother has always been protective of Salma. She always kept in touch with her. She always had high hopes for her. The news Salma gave us today definitely shattered all those hopes. I was uncertain about my mothers reaction to Aaryaan. At this point i was ready for anything. I watched my mother get up as if in slow motion. i could not read the look on her face. “was she going to slap him for not being there for my sister. For leaving her in this country with a baby and a terminal disease. i got up as fast as i could, not knowing what was going to happen, when suddenly i see my mother step towards him with open arms and embrace this stranger that is her son in law.

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to be continued

The dream part 3

“No it’s nothing”, Salma says to me trying to shoo me away, “Carry on”, she insists. We had both decided to run the school 10 km cross country race and we had been training for weeks. I stopped next to her to catch my breathe. “You were running too fast” , I scold her, she skidded over some loose sand and tripped just after the halfway mark.  “You were too slow”, she retorts and pulls her tongue out. I look around for a marshal to try to get some help for her. “Hey, you are going to lose your place”, she shouts at me as many runners start to pass us, “Get back in the race. I will rest a bit and start again”. I wave and see a marshal coming over with a first aid kit, “Are you bleeding?” I ask. she wont let me see. “You better get back in the race” she warns, “give me something to chase” she laughs. she seems ok, I think just as the marshal joins us. “Go!”, she says and I do. I run my heart out till I feel my chest burning. I run faster and faster till all I hear is the sound of my feet slamming the ground with each stride. I don’t look back in fear that she is right behind me ready to overtake. I finish in the first 20 and get my first running medal. It’s not until I cross the finish line I see Salma to my left at the first aid tent. She stands balancing on crutches-her leg bandaged till the knee.  “Oh my Gosh” Salma, I say surprised, “you said you were okay” I accuse, slightly guilty that I  left her. “Is it painful?” I ask. “Only when I breathe” she shoots back a me sarcastically. “Is it broken?” She nods, “I think so. they say I need an x ray to make sure”. “Why did you say you were okay?” I asked her angry. “You know I would have stayed with you, you are my sister!” i say angry at her She looks at me kindly and said. “I know Sawls”, she says this slowly just above a whisper, “That’s why I had to make sure you go” she smiled at me proudly eyeing the gold medal hanging around me neck.

After Nusrat’s feeding session in the neonatal ICU I head back to Salma’s Ward. I hear loud voices as I approach her room. It’s a man’s voice with a strange accent. Its Aaryaan! I hear his  voice but I cant understand what he is saying. He shouts something in that strange language he spoke earlier. I stop a few meters away from the door. I can just see him slightly through the open door. He is not angry, he looks sad. I hear my sisters voice now, she speaks the same language. her voice is soft but strong. her voice sounds like she is saying something intimate and I begin top feel odd standing there. I contemplate leaving but the voices die down and the sound of my footsteps leaving will only make my presence known. So I decide to stay. suddenly the conversation turns to English.

“I’m sorry..Siento” she says. Siento… there’s that word again, I think. He was telling me he was sorry, I realize. Salma continues, “You were in Spain, you were going after your dream,” she said. she paused now for a while. “I didn’t want you to worry about me”, she said. there was no response. I tilted my head slightly so i could get a better look at Aaryaan. When I do see him, he looks like  a different man. He is not the proud father i saw upstairs but a grieving man. “I would be her for you Salma, you know” he says to her in his imperfect English. As he does his words catch in his throat. “if you tell me i  would be here” he repeats this time barely getting the words out before the tears come streaming down his face and he walks out of my line of sight towards her. a few patients come shuffling pass in the corridor and I make my escape, my footsteps masked by the passers by.

A few hours later i am back in the hospital. I have so many questions for Salma but i decide not to ask her anything. If she chooses to tell me she will.

“How are you feeling?” I ask casually as I walk in. Her eyes are puffy – more than usual. it looks like she has been crying. “I am fine” she replies. “Did you see Nusrat?” she asks me hopefully and i am disappointed that this is just our usual conversation. “yes”, i reply, “She is started to respond to the stimulation” I say. The nurse is going to try bottle feeding part of her feeds”, I say this as excitedly as I can. She smiles meekly. I can see her mind is elsewhere. my heart aches for her.

“There’s my two girls”, my mother’s voice gives away the joy she is feeling to see her two daughters together again. I turn around to greet her and I see she has a bunch of roses in her hands. There’s a handsome young Spanish man outside who asked me to give this to you”, she says to Salma. she smirks. “A secret admirer?” she asks cheekily.

I look at Salma and she returns my look. in that split second she can tell i know about Aaryaan. She turns to our mother and then says, “Come sit down, i want to tell you both something”.

 

to be continued….

i hope you are enjoying the story. i am pressed for time these days but i will try to post again soon. 🙂

The Dream part 2

The paper gown feels scratchy on my skin and it swooshes with every move I make. I pull the shoe covers over my pumps and shuffle through the automatic doors of the neo natal intensive care unit. It is quite a process scrubbing up and covering up with these sterile disposable clothes, but it is worth it. I look forward to my visit with Nusrat every morning.

I think about how Luqmaan and I were so excited when we thought we were pregnant with baby number three a long time ago. We had been trying to fall pregnant for about two years when a home pregnancy test finally showed up two blue stripes. Luqmaan was ecstatic and frankly so was I. Both my children had been easy pregnancies and I was looking forward to the pregnancy glow once again. Mohammed and Rehma, still young back then were excited to have a little brother or sister. We were all on cloud nine for a few weeks until I scheduled a doctors appointment. “There is a 20% chance of false positives” she said. “Home pregnancy tests are not always accurate”, she said after a sonar had failed to find the white spec on the monitor. “You can just keep trying”, she said to us hopefully. It never was to be. Luqmaan and I still talk about it but with the kids closer to adolescence than childhood, a third child is now something that would have been nice.

“Hello Sawliha” the nurse says my name in an accent that I am getting used to. I smile and respond to her. its been a few weeks now so I am familiar with many of the nurses. “Have I missed the therapist?” I ask her. The speech therapist has been helping to stimulate Nusrat’s suck so she can feed on her own instead of being tube fed. It’s only when she is feeding on her own and gaining sufficient weight will they allow her to be taken out of the neonatal ICU.  The nurses have shown me the techniques that the speech therapist uses, but I was hoping to speak to the therapist myself. “No, She is not coming here today”, she replies, “…But there is another visitor,” the nurse says with a nudge of her head. I look at her confused. “Another visitor?” I ask. I wonder who that could be. I left my mother upstairs in the ward with Salma and I haven’t seen anyone here before. “Who is it?” I ask the nurse. The nurse does not respond to me, she just nudges her head in the direction of the nursery and manages a weak smile.

I turn and walk towards the nursery. When I push open the door all seems normal. There are several bassinets holding sleeping babies, some new , probably delivered during the night, and some I have seen before. Most of the little ones are asleep. The gentle hum of the oxygen from the two incubators is their lullaby. The attending nurse is shuffling around the incubators. She too has the disposable clothes and she pushes her hands through the incubators to pacify the one crying baby. She smiles at me but I don’t reciprocate. My eyes catch a glimpse of a strange man in profile… and he is holding Nusrat.

A thousand thoughts fly through my head and my body freezes. I do not know what to think. Who is this man? I wonder ignoring my brains obvious suggestions. I stop in the middle of the room, unseen – watching him. He cradles her in his hands. He seems to whisper something to her. He looks down at the little being as if there is no one else in the room. I know that look. I have seen it twice before, both times on my husbands face the first time he held his children.

Is this Nusrat’s father? I ask myself, now accepting the possibility. I study his profile. He does not look Australian, but I have since learned that Australians come in all shapes and sizes. He has olive skin, and a stubble beard a few days old. his hair is longer than it should be and falls over his neck in waves. when he looks up , I can see that he is more surprised to see me than I am too see him.

“Salma” he says in a accent I don’t recognize. I hear hope and happiness in his voice. He thinks I’m Salma. Then he smiles, and that is when I see it. Nusrat’s smile. I shake my head, “No”, I say. and I walk towards the father of my niece.

“Siento” he says to me, his tone soft and remorseful. “Siento” he repeats. I have no idea what he is saying. I shake my head. “I am Salma’s sister”, I say to him and he looks at me incredulously. “Hermana?” he says in a questioning tone. I look at him blankly.”You are not Salma?” he asks. I shake my head. then he looks at me. “Sister twin from Africa?” I nod. “Haaa”, he smiles, “Assalamu ALaikum”, he says and points to himself, “Aaryaan” he says an introduction and  hugs me. “Where Salma?” he asks but does not seem immediately concerned. He  continues to rock Nusrat. “The nurse comes over and takes Nusrat from him , explaining that it is feeding time. We stand together and watch her lay Nusrat down back into the incubator. I notice that for the first time her Oxygen is disconnected. The nurse slowly inserts the tube into Nusrat’s nose. Glancing at Aaryaan he is noticeably pained as this is done and winces as the tube is pushed deeper. The nurse then begins to empty the mixed milk formulae into the tube funnel and then uses her gloved hand to stimulate Nusrats mouth in order to mimic sucking. The nurse calls to me and instructs me on oral stimulation. I glove my hands and do as she says . A few minutes later I look behind me and he is gone.

 

to be continued…

A note: this was meant to have been a short story with only one post. It seems to have developed a life of its own so lets see where it goes.

🙂

 

The Dream

Her eyes were glazed over in anger. “Do you think I was pretending?” she asked, the words fuming out of her. “Do you think I was just joking about everything I used to say?” she spat at me, but she was not done. “All those times we sat and talked about everything we wanted to do, and all the places we wanted to go…” her voice trailed off and toned down a couple of octaves. A determined but hateful look came over her, “I” she emphasized sarcastically, “…was not the one pretending” she said robotically. I looked at her carefully trying to read the hurt in her face. Am I supposed to feel guilty for finding a life? Or for following my own way, instead of just dreaming up in the clouds? I can’t be made to feel bad for the choices I have made. “We were just kids Salma”, I said to her trying to justify my point. “Everyone dreams about those things when they are young, but we are not thirteen anymore. You can’t travel the world and live in a different city every year, you have to grow up”. She looked at me in disbelief. I starred at this face I have known all my life. I know it so well, because… it is my face. Growing up as a twin surely had its advantages. I was never alone, even when I was in the womb. However right now I am probably experiencing the greatest disadvantage of being a twin… realizing that you just are not the same.

“Aren’t you happy for me?” I asked her trying to use my own hurt as a weapon. “You are going to be an Aunt”, I said with a crack of a smile and an unconscious hand on my belly.

Her eyes closed and her head dropped to her chest. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way” she said just above a whisper and without making eye contact. “I knew since the day you met Luqmaan that this was coming”. I laughed reactively.

Salma’s face shot up at me. I have never seen her so angry before. It confused me. I tried to placate her. “Luqman is my husband, of course at some point we were going to start a family”, I didn’t know why I was explaining this to her like a child, but I continued. “We have been married three years now, Salma. This is what married couples do – they start families”. I said smugly as if I had explained cold fusion to a three year old. When I met her eyes again they were fiercely intense. “I am NOT a flippen child Sawliha!” she shouted. Her reaction made me jump and I took a step back. “This is not what WE said we wanted, Remember?” she asked accusingly. “We never wanted to be that woman stuck at home living each day staring at the four walls. You were supposed to be better than that”, she accused. “I am better than that” I said trying hard to match her tone. “And Luqmaan is not like the other men out there… you know”, “we can still see the world and experience life a little” I added hopefully.

“really?” she asked sarcastically. “When I wanted to go to spain for the bull run last year, who needed to stay at home and play wifey?” … I was about to defend myself and tell her that the end of the financial year is not the best time for chartered accountants to be planning holidays, but she didn’t give me a chance, “…And now with a baby coming along, there is no chance of that at all” she finished. I had to agree with her, an expectant mother, or even a mother of a young child cannot be jetting off to crazy locations to do absurd and meaningless things. “Salma, we are twenty four years old, it is time to stop dreaming and start living”. She looked at me as though my words had slapped her hard in the face.

“I cant believe you. I don’t think I even know you anymore” , she screamed. There was no mistaking it. Now we were screaming at each other and I didn’t care. “You don’t know me? I challenged…Salma you never knew me. You were too busy dreaming about climbing Kilamanjaroo, or sky diving in the Serengeti to realize that I AM NOT YOU. Ya Allah. We are two different people.”

“We weren’t two different people when we went to Italy that one time and jumped in the Trevi fountain and pretended to be Sylvia in LA DOLCE VITA.…Or when we drove for three days just to go snorkeling in Mozambique.”

“Salma we were teenagers!” I screamed at her. Why isn’t this girl understanding? “We are grown up now”. “That was a lifetime ago. THIS is my life now”, I said stroking my tiny swollen belly”.

“I thought you were better than this Sawliha” she shouted. “I didn’t think you would settle for the normal mundane life. You always said that that was the last thing you would become”.

I was not settling I said to myself. What is she talking about? My frustration is beyond measurable now. I am not just the normal mundane woman. “AAAAGHH Salma!” I screamed at her. “Why can’t you just grow up and get a life instead of complaining about mine” I bellowed at her with everything I had. Even after the words were out of my mouth I could not measure my anger. I WAS NOT settling I said to myself again. Even more angry that she was causing me to second guess myself. I was choosing the life I wanted and who the hell is she to tell me anything, anyways?

“Yes, I found a husband and Yes I am starting a family. THIS IS what people do Salma, not fantasize about owning a luxury yacht, marrying Brad Pitt and sailing the world”. But I was not done. I was tired of her trying to tell me what to do with my life. “you need to stop interfering in my bloody life and try and get a life of your own!”

“You are so full of shit Sawliha. It sickens me what you have become. I will not stand around and watch you throw your life away. I hate that you think you are so much better than me. Congratulations on the baby. I hope you are a better mother than you are a sister”. The last comment caught me off guard and cut me deeply. Before I could respond she turned around and I watched my twin sister walk out of the room … at the time I didn’t realize she was actually walking out of my life.

Thinking back to that day almost fourteen years ago it doesn’t make me angry or sad anymore as it used to. It makes me very, very, anxious. In a few hours I will be seeing my sister again after all this time. I don’t even know how to feel about that. If we were together for twenty four years and couldn’t figure each other out, what will happen now that we have been apart for so long. My reverie is interrupted by the loudspeaker as it booms above us.

“Good afternoon passengers. This is your captain speaking. I’d like to welcome everyone on BA flight 86A. We are currently cruising at an altitude of 33,000 feet at an airspeed of 400 miles per hour. The time is 1 pm. The weather looks good and with the tailwind on our side we are expecting to land in Sydney 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The weather in Sydney is clear and sunny, with a high of 25 degrees for this afternoon. If the weather cooperates we should get a great view of the city as we descend which will be in three hours time. The cabin crew will be coming around in about twenty minutes time to offer you lunch and a beverage, and the final inflight movie will begin shortly after that. I’ll talk to you again before we reach our destination. Until then, sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of the flight.”

Three hours still to go. Australia is really on the other side of the world. “Mummy, Muhammed hid my cellphone away”, my daughter Rehma squeals from the seat behind me. I turn to Luqmaan with a pleading expression, “Just sort them out please” I say. I really am a ball of nerves, especially after replaying that memory in my head. He smiles at me and turns around and gives them that look that has worked since Muhammed has been a baby. I squirm in my seat trying to find a comfortable position. “Why don’t you walk down the isle?” Luqmaan suggests to me. “You haven’t got out of your seat since we boarded”, he looks at his watch, “that was five hours ago”. I shake my head, “I am fine” I say trying to be convincing. “Are you really?” he asks me, his tone a little softer. I look at him and I see his concern. “I don’t know if I can do this Luqmaan” I tell him, “do you remember what she was like? I just …” I let out a breath and shake my head, “I just don’t know”.

“Look , if things do get to tough with your sister, remember you are not there for her, okay?” he says supportively. I nod and turn away. His words are reassuring. Yes, I must not forget the reason we are flying half way across the globe.

If only my mother had listened to me when I tried to talk her out of going to Sydney. But she was so adamant you would think there was a pot of gold waiting for her at the opera house. Of course Salma had invited her over for a few weeks, but travelling by herself at her age was risky, and Salma can hardly look after herself, never mind her seventy year old mother. Salma had never invited mummy before, when she was staying in Europe or in The middle east and God knows where else. I just knew THIS was a bad idea. I made dua that my mother be returned safely back home, but Allah knows best. When my mother called to tell me that she was at the hospital I was in shock and immediately thought of all the things that could have gone wrong. She was so sketchy with the details of what had happened I was sure that it was worse than she was letting on. From the sound in her voice I just knew that there was something terribly wrong. With my mother’s diabetes and heart problems any number of things could have landed her in hospital. After her call I immediately called Luqmaan and made plans to come to Australia. Everything was done so rushed, getting VISA’s and booking flights and accommodation and collecting mummys medical history files and doctors details to take along, that only now , here in the plane did I allow myself to think about meeting Salma again after all these years.

“Chicken or beef?” I look up to see the air hostess leaning over the isle with a tray. “Halaal?” I ask hoping that my pre-booked meal is available. “Aah”, she says and pulls out a notebook from her pocket. “The Moosa’s?” she asks. I nod. “Okay, I got you for four halaal meals”, she says as she ticks it off in her notebook. “That’s correct” Luqmaan answers and gestures us and the kids behind us. “No problem” she says as she hands over out color coded pre packed halaal meals and pushes her food trolley to the next isle.

“I don’t know why people complain about airplane food”, Luqmaan says digging into the rice and fish. “This is delicious” he says with his mouth full. I let out a laugh. My husband certainly is something else. Salma WAS definitely wrong about me and him.

I turn around to the kids, “You guys okay?” both kids have the earphones in their ears, they see me and pull them out, “Mum?” they look at me. “I’m going to take a short nap. And move my seat back”. “Okay, no problem mummy, says muhammed, and re inserts his ear phones.

“You will be the princess and I will be the queen”, Salma says to me. She is wearing the white poufy dress that we both wore for eid this year. She has mummy’s brass tray on her head like a crown. I look around and I see my childhood home. I am content and happy to be here “Okay”, I say and I try to make a crown out of flowers. “We need a castle”, Salma declares and runs towards the large double seated sofa in the corner. Behind it is a small space, our favourite playing spot and we both scramble in. From this spot we will reign over out kingdom. The small cottage windows on the one side gives us a great view of the garden with an indoor sill on which we make our thrown. “I want ice cream clouds” I declare, “and chocolate lakes” Salma adds. We giggle conspiratorially. “We need to have a ball”, I say proudly. “…and we can invite all the other princesses”. I can see salma has an idea and she quickly shouts to me , “come”. Before long we are in my mother’s shoe closet. “You try this one,” says Salma and hands me a pencil healed red shoe and chooses a similar white one for herself. We try to dance at our pretend ball in our high heeled shoes. We hold hands to keep our selves from wobbling in our high shoes. We are having so much of fun and we jump and laugh. We try to run in them but I lose one of my shoes. “Leave it,” I tell Salma. “…so my prince can find me”. Salma picks up my shoe and laughs. “you don’t need a prince, sawls, you have me.”

I am rudely awoken by the captain’s final announcement telling us we will be touching down in Sydney in twenty minutes time. I am still shaken by my dream, and it takes me a few minutes to orientate myself. Was that a dream or a memory? I wonder. It has been so long since I thought about my childhood, even memories seem unreal. How did we go so wrong? I wonder. For twenty four years I was a twin. For a long time I forgot what that felt like. The butterflies were back now, swimming in my tummy. I started to feel a little sick. Please Allah let mummy be okay. I say in a whispered prayer. … and silently add, please let my sister forgive me.

It was a mad dash to check in at the hotel and then head straight for the hospital. I could see that the children were starting to get anxious. Both Muhammed and Rehma are very close with their nani. At first just Luqmaan and I planned to make the trip to Australia ourselves, but the children’s reaction at not getting to see their grandmother in hospital broke our hearts and we decided to take them along.

“Salaams”, I spoke into my cell phone. “Mummy?” I asked. There was silence on the other end and I was beginning to get worried. “Sawliha” I heard her reply, and i could hear the joy in her voice. “Mummy are you okay?” I asked quickly. “Er..Yes my darling, how are you?”. She replied quite calmly. I was starting to find this conversation strange. “Mummy we are on the way to the hospital, which ward are you in?” I asked ignoring her question. There was some silence on the other end. “Mummy?” I shouted. “Are you in Sydney, Sawliha?” she asked slowly. It occurred to me that I had probably not told her that I was confirmed to come, or even when I was coming. “Yes, yes, we are on our way to the hospital.” I said trying quickly to clear things up.

“Sawliha you misunderstand”, I hear some panic in her voice now, “I am okay. Don’t worry about me”, she says now trying to convince me. “Ya Allah, mummy, obviously if you are in hospital I will come. I got all your medical records and..” “Sawliha there is something that I need to tell you” she said hurriedly. “what ward mummy?” I ask again trying to stay calm. “I can’t speak for much longer”, I add. “Ward 35 room 3 but Sawliha…” this time I cut her off. Ok I will see you just now.

I looked at Luqmaan. His face mirrors my thoughts. I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know what that was about, but I got the room number.” Suddenly I felt a chill up my spine. What is it that she wanted to tell me? This trip is certainly trying my emotions. Keep yourself together Sawliha, I tell myself.

I am in a foreign country with my family and my mother is laying in some hospital bed in what condition … only Allah knows. To top it all off I am probably going to see my twin sister after fourteen years. Talk about anxiety. We try to get a taxi and give him the name of the hospital. When we are all in the cab I watch the scene around on the streets. The Taxi driver turns around to ask Luqman about South Africa and I can’t understand a word he is saying, but I am sure it is English. I can’t imagine being on my own and I am thankful that I have my family with me.

I begin to appreciate Salma’s confidence to travel by herself. A week after our big fight I was still furious at her reaction to my news that I was pregnant, when my mother told me that she had left to go to London. Trust Salma to have had her passport n bags packed in a day. My mother never fully understood what had occurred between us and maybe it was easier just to leave it as it was. “Just leave it mummy,” I told her when she pleaded with me to call her. “I will speak to her when she gets back”. Little did I know I would have a long wait. Salma stayed in London for a few months and then moved to Portugal and then Somewhere in Africa, and hopped around the middle East. I got tired of hearing about the updates from my mother who was only too happy to report how happy Salma was. It hurt me deeply that Salma never tried to contact me. She came for a few weeks one year to spend Eid. Muhammed was about three years old and I was already expecting Rehma. I saw the disappointment on her face as soon as she walked in and all chances of a reunion was destroyed. I felt it in the empty salaam and fake smile. She didn’t try to be the sister I needed or remembered. I knew then that my sister was gone, she was a stranger who shared my face.

She traveled the world and did everything she said she would. She certainly was stronger than I thought and braver than I expected. Thinking back to the argument that cost me my sister , I wondered…was she right? Did I choose what was easy and allow my dreams to die. My dreams were certainly different from hers, but they were dreams. Passing the Sidney harbor on our way to the Gold Coast, where the hospital is, I wondered if I really had beome the person she was warning me about.

“Ya mate. Just a bounce over the yoohoo to the brown over there” said the cabbie when Luqmaan asked him how far to go. I looked at Luqmaan and we both laughed. Australian English certainly is strange. Yes, I thought – I would never survive here on my own.

At the hospital I asked for the ward my mother had said she was in, and took the elevator to the 35th floor. This hospital was different from the ones back home, they didn’t have wards named as medical or surgical they were just named in numbers. The hospital was clean and crisp. I kept making dua that my mother is Okay and that she can get well soon and come home. I read Ayatul Kursi as we rode the elevator and I heard Rehma echo it with me. As soon as the doors of the elevator opened I rushed out to find her room. The nurses at the desk thankfully spoke the same English as me and directed us to room three that was just around the corner.

We walked slowly around the bend to find a sign that read Oncology. I looked puzzled at Luqmaan and he mirrored my reaction. Why was my mother in the oncology ward? Just ahead of us we saw the back of a couch with some visitors. I stopped in my tracks thinking one of those people could be Salma. Luqmaan reading my reaction held on to my hand encouraging me forward. “Sawliha” I heard my mother’s voice behind me and spun around immediately.

If I was puzzled initially, now I am completely confused. My mother stood in front of me , dressed impeccably as always with her head scarf matching her shoes. “Mummy?” I looked at her closely. “Have you been discharged?” I asked just as my kids registered what is happening. “Nani , I’m so happy that you are well,” Rehma says going in with a hug for her Nani. Muhammed joined in too, but I am too stunned to move. What is going on? I wonder. “Why didn’t you tell me that you are coming?” my mother asks me accusingly. “why wouldn’t I come?” I say back to her. “You said you were in hospital”. My mother’s face softens at the realization of my concern for her. “I said I was AT the hospital Sawliha”, she responds kindly. I still don’t understand and ask dumbly, “Where is your doctor?.. I want to speak to your doctor”. She just smiles and takes my hand. “Come here Sawliha” she says and leads me to the couch in the waiting room.

****

I see myself laying on the bed. There are tubes stuck into veins and beeping of machines. I am scared to get closer to the bed but some force is pulling me towards it. With each step I feel a small part of me die inside. As I get closer to the bed I see my face aged and hollow. The skin is stretched across the bones. The skin around the eyes are dark and puffy. My eyes trace down the body, and find the arms. Bruised yellow and blue from all the drips and IV lines. I thought that feeling would be long gone, but it is here. Filling me up like a force. I was only one half of a whole, and she was the other half, always.

My hand hovers over hers and I feel it. She feels it too. Her eyes open.

AT first we just stare at each other. My hand hovering over hers. No matter what she looks like, her eyes are still the same. Fiery and energetic. She manages a weak smile and tries to lift her hand to meet mine. I feel the energy between us when we touch and it speaks for us. “So I finally got you to fly across the globe” she smirks. I smile. I am scared that I will say the wrong thing. I don’t speak.

“I’m sorry”, she says and the words are my undoing. Stay strong I tell myself but it is no use. My body starts to tremble and I start to cry. It is that painful, throat burning, body shaking cry that has to run its course and cannot be stopped. I cry for all the years I sat angry at her for leaving, I cry for all the years I hated her for not knowing who I was, I cried for all the time that went by, when I could have made things right, and I cry for the woman- a part of me – laying here in pain and there is nothing I can do.

She strokes me softly and jerkily because that is all she can manage- and I cry some more , just because she is the one consoling me. After what seemed like hours of tears I finally regain control of my tongue. “I should have called you”, I begin. “I should not have let you go after everything I said.” I took a deep breath, “I missed you so much” I say with pink swollen eyes. she smiles and closes her eyes, wet with fresh tears. I crawl onto her bed and lay with her.

A while later the nurse had explained everything to me. Salma’s diagnosis six months ago and her rare type of cancer that had progressed so quickly. But the biggest surprise was when I was taken to neonatal ICU to meet my niece. Four months premature but a fighter like her mother.

“You see why I had to come”, my mother asked me the next day. I nodded. “But why didn’t you tell me?” , I said desperate, “I had no idea”. “I didn’t realize it was so bad myself”, said my mother with tears in her eyes, “but when they did the caesarian and she just got worse, that is when I called you”, my mother said now completely distraught. “She didn’t want me to tell you. She hated that she was sick.”

****

Luqmaan and the kids flew down back to South Africa yesterday. I am staying at the hospital to help with Nusrat. She is gaining weight and the nurses say that she is starting to suck on her own. She is still in ICU and Salma only has seen pictures of her. “She looks like you”, I tell Salma when I get back from neonatal ICU. “You mean, us” she says and I smile and nod. “you are looking better today” I say to her. She is sitting up in bed and the nurse is helping her drink water. The colour of her skin is almost normal. “I cant believe how alike you both are”, the nurse comments. “she wishes she was as thin as me” Salma jokes , she is still skin and bones. “well you look pretty great a woman who just gave birth a few weeks ago”. We all laugh. Mummy walks in and takes over from the nurse. The conversation starts to flow quickly about the kids and Australia and the hospital. Salma adds a little. She still tires easily. Soon she is asleep. We stay with her.

When she wakes up its just me and her. “Tell me about your life Sawliha”, she asks. The question is strange. I laugh, “There’s nothing to tell”, I answer. My life certainly is not as exciting as I imagined hers used to be. “from the time you wake up , what happens…” she is adamant. I start my story and she closes her eyes. I tell her about how Rehma is the first to wake up because she takes the longest showers, and how I have to double check on Muhammed because he crawls back into bed after I leave. She smiles, her eyes still closed. I tell her about how we tried to have another baby for years. I tell her about my own accounting practice and the crazy clients we have. I talk and talk until I am sure she is sleep. When I stop she wakes up sleepy eyed. “I wish I had your life” she says half asleep. I look at her stunned. “I was wrong” she continues in her sleepy voice, “you have the dream”.

When I walk out of the hospital room, my mother is talking to the doctor. I walk pass them. I don’t want to hear about her condition anymore. My heart is heavy and I sit on the couch trying to digest her words.

….to be continued