The phone kept ringing.
She ignored it.
But she knew. Deep in her heart where denial had no permission to exist, she knew.
Her baby toddled over and tugged at her skirts. She could not find the words to soothe her little angel. She picked her up and placed her in the waiting arms of her sister in law. The search for the missing car keys proved fruitless just as she had known it would. It was as if she was being told that today she would be tested to the maximum. She tried squashing those horrible thoughts but she knew.
She boarded the matatu as if in a trance not stopping to check if her husband had followed her or not. She took the first vacant seat she saw foregoing her typical fussiness. Usually, she refused to sit anywhere where the other commuters would constantly be forcing her to get up and let them alight.
The vehicles around all seemed to be moving in slow motion. Maybe it seemed so to her because today everything had come to an eerie black and white standstill. Her niqab was wet with tears now. It stuck to her face making her gasp for air after every sob. It was with surprise that she looked at the outstretched hand of the conductor asking for her fare.
Did she have any change in her purse?
She turned around to look for Layth. She was startled to find he was seated right next to her. She pointed at him and he fidgeted with his pockets. The conductor was looking at them with puzzlement, his gaze darting from her to Layth. She could tell he was wondering about the tears. She looked at her husband.
His jaw was rigid; his eyes giving away nothing. Oh, to be a man who could pack up his emotions all business like and put them away from public view until he was ready to deal with them!
When they reached their stop, she hoped for a sign that everything was as it should be. The world went on as it always had while hers, she knew, was about to collapse. Then she saw them. Men almost running in the direction of their house stopping only to greet one another and shake their heads sadly.
Still she had hope. They could be running for any number of reasons. It was, after all, a beautiful Saturday in October.
The phone vibrated as it rang. She ignored it and walked on single mindedly until she reached the neighborhood square. Mats had been spread out and she could see people she knew- men- seated and talking softly. They looked up at her as she passed them, recognising her only after seeing the tall figure of her husband behind her. Still she hoped they were gathered for another reason.
She saw the wooden bier outside the house but still she shook her head.
Wordlessly she passed all the people gathered around their front hallway not acknowledging a single one. Some started to move towards her but seeing her expression they thought better of it.
She walked up the stairs. She saw her aunts weeping, saw her cousins hugging each other. She saw the looks of sympathy and understanding from the neighbours. She ignored them. Even if what was happening here was real, there was nothing they could do to take away the sharpness of the pain when it finally started to descend upon her soul.
No. That was going to be all hers. No amount of comforting words would lighten the anguish. No, there was no sharing this.
Straight on, she went to pull aside the curtain that had been set up across their living room.
She walked with focused determination to the wooden bed with the sisal matting back. And there he was. She almost expected him to get up and welcome her in his booming voice. Joke with her that she could have waited for him to roll out the red carpet and get the TV cameras to record her arrival. He had always made her coming home to visit them a big deal. It was his way of saying he loved and appreciated being with them.
There he was. Quiet. Peaceful looking. As if he had said what he needed to say to this world and so now he was leaving it.
Her stupid heart, even then, was trying to convince her that he was asleep; that they were mistaken. He was not dead. Just in a diabetic coma.
She raised her eyes to her husband who had a look of shock and disbelief on his face. And then her legs gave out.
She had not known that her body was capable of producing so much tears. She cried and wept and looked for somewhere to hide so that this pain would not find her. Strong arms led her out of the room. She heard, as if from far away, her grandfather speaking to her.
“Baarakah, Baarakah! You know what you are supposed to do. Take strength, my dear, Say it.”
Between sobs and gasps she recited : “From Allah we came and to Him we will return.”
She felt herself being hugged, words of condolence being said to her, phones being thrust under her ear so that more words of condolence could be said to her. She looked around and found her mother. Mama looked sheet white and in a daze. Her lips were moving but no sound was coming out.
Baarakah got up and put her head on her mother’s shoulder. She searched around and saw Swaaliha, taking charge, in between the rolling tears and standing aside to give in to the grief. Swaaliha was making calls and giving instructions and putting away Baba’s things the way he liked them put away. The way only his eldest daughter knew how. Baarakah realised her sister’s heart must be breaking the way hers was…
When the time came, the men walked in and picked up the bier. ” Baba is in there,” she said to no one in particular not realising that she had spoken out aloud.
“They are going to bury my father,” she said in disbelief turning to her grandmother who was seated by them.
She watched as if it were a movie as they slowly navigated the steps that in his life Baba had so deftly climbed up and down from.
What was left now was to send her duas to Allah to accord him the highest of Jannah.
Some time later Baarakah stirred as she felt her milk come in. She remembered she had a little one who was probably hungry and whimpering for her mother. And a little boy who was almost certainly bewildered at what was going on and asking where they were taking his grandpa.
She picked up her phone. 37 missed calls. 9 messages.
She had known with the first call from her aunt that something was not right although Auntie Nana had tried to disguise it as a random family emergency. That Baba was in trouble and needed her. It did not require 37 other calls to alert her to what was wrong. She had known. But had tried keeping hope afloat; had prayed that she would catch him alive at least for one final hug, for one last “We love you, Baba.”
She had wanted to assuage the guilt she was feeling. That many days -weeks even- had passed and she had not gone to see them… and now it was too late…
After her father’s death, everything lost colour for Baarakah. Food tasted bitter and even her favourite flowers made her want to throw up.
She found that she now envied people who could laugh, plan and look forward to the future. All she could do was dress and feed her kids before crawling back into bed.
She wanted to feel better, she wanted to enjoy all the things that she used to, she wanted to. But exhaustion had become her middle name.
It had been a month since Baba died and Baarakah began to wonder if she would ever be normal again.
Layth took to taking the kids out, pushing their daughter in her stroller. He tried to cheer his wife up the best he knew how. Just when he thought he was succeeding she would go all quiet and then suddenly burst into tears.
One morning he packed a small bag and bundled his wife and kids into the car. His mother in law was not surprised to see grandchildren and daughter coming up the stairs.
Baarakah had not wanted to argue with Layth about coming home. She went straight to Baba’s room and lay down on his bed. It soothed her, this room, knowing just four short weeks ago he had been here. Indeed, his mus’haf was still where he had always kept it next to his reading glasses. She smiled sadly and before she knew it was fast asleep.
She could hear them talk about her. She could see the looks of concern they threw her way. Mama came and sat on the bed. She eyed the lunch tray on the side which sat untouched. She noticed the pallor on her daughter’s face, the darkness under her eyes the hollowness of her once rosy cheeks. To her trained motherly eye Mama noticed that her usual healthy complexion looked dry and sickly.
“You have to start taking better care of yourself. Habibati, baba is gone, that’s Allah’s Will. We have to accept that. But your children are here. We are here. And it worries us. We hate to see you this way.”
Baarakah supposed she could stop hating everyone (it was not their fault she felt like crap) and it would not hurt to adopt a more positive mindset. But it was so much easier just to lay in bed and let someone else worry about things. Her stomach rumbled. The lunch tray looked delicious. She had no quarrel with food but it seemed to disagree her with these days.
Her little toddler clambered over her into the bed and tugged at Baarakah’s blouse. She wanted to nurse and was making pitiful little noises.
Baarakah got up. The room started to spin. She quickly held on to the bedpost afraid she might fall and hit her head.
“I think there is something wrong with me, Mama. I need to go to see someone.”
The doctor smiled at the way she described her pain and her anguish. “It’s like having an elephant sitting on your chest.”
He smiled even more after examining her. “I think that, if your father had been alive, he would be happy that he was going to have another grandchild. You, my dear, are expecting.”
Almost immediately she knew it would be a boy. And she knew just what his name would be…