After the extremely emotional greeting. My mom ushered everyone into the dining room and served lunch much to my surprise and delight she had whipped up a feast for all of us as she knew I was coming. "You knew I was coming?" I asked her. "No, I had no idea, I just like to cook a little extra over the weekends so that if some unexpected guests do show up they don't have to starve." She replied with a hearty laugh.
It had been so long since I had heard mom laugh like that, it rang in my ears and took me back to when we were young she would take us to the park. Me, Mum and Aminah would all sit on the swings and try to see who could swing the highest. Care free times those were, how I wish they would come back. "Aren't you hungry?" Mom asked me. I snapped out of my daydream. "I sure am, pass the chicken stew please" I replied.
As everyone tucked into their food, I got a chance to study their faces at my ease. Dad looked so much older, his skin was more tanned and I couldn't help noticed how calloused his hands looked from all those days of working in the furniture shop he owned. It startled me to see how frail mom had started to look and it seemed like she had lost a lot of weight and her once round cheeks seem to have sunken in a quite a bit. My parents were getting old, how come I hadn't noticed that before? I was a little appalled at my overlooking this fact and all the guilt that had subsided, resurfaced.
Noura, looked much prettier without her hijaab she had light brown hair same as mine and hazel eyes , fair skin and my mother's nose. My mother used to tell us we resembled our paternal grandmother, both our parents were British and had reverted to Islam together soon after they met. I never met any of our relatives because they distanced themselves from both my parents after they reverted. So, to each other were all the family we had.
I had never really had a chance to see Omer properly, last time I saw him I could only afford a fleeting glance as he had insisted that he wouldn't enter the ladies section of the Islamic center and stood outside expectantly waiting for Aminah to show up at the gate. Omer was your average Pakistani religious looking guy, had a beard, olive colored skin and black hair. He wore glasses and was really tall way taller then Aminah, six feet to be exact.Did I just describe a little too much about my brother in law? OK look away Nourah look away... WHERE ARE YOUR MANNERS?! I mentally scolded myself and continued to eat.
I decided to take a nap after lunch and politely told Aminah that I'd come over to her place the next day as I needed to spend more time with mom and dad.She didn't argue or protest but nodded in agreement and squeezed my hand gently. Aminah was never the one to start arguments she was mellow and calm, when I was running around like a headless chicken she was seemed to be in her own world undisturbed with the events around her , calm and collected, that's Aminah for you.
That day I spent catching up on my parents lives, recollecting old memories and sifting through old photo albums. Its was better this way to while away time. I didn't want to talk and even if I had to I didn't know what to say. Words failed me and thankfully enough I didn't have to think of what to say the conversation ran smoothly along the course of the day.
Next morning , I woke up to a text from Aminah saying she would come to pick me around noon. I climbed out of bed. Did I mention I slept in my old room when I used to live here? It felt oddly comforting to sleep there at night knowing that everyone you love is within reach , should the bouts of loneliness become to much to handle.. I could get used to this.
Aminah showed up 5 minutes earlier than expected and in all honesty I wasn't exactly thrilled to see her. I mean I didn't know what to talk about and above all I was beginning to dread the "religion talk" she always seemed to have a lot to say about Islam and I didn't understand , it was annoying.
We got into the car and the silence was deafening so to break the ice I asked, "Where are we headed?" "Oh you'll see." She answered with a grin. Soon enough we drove into a part of the town I hadn't seen before. We stopped in front of the most adorable looking bakery called "Dotty's". Even as a little girl I loved baking , cookies, cupcakes, cakes and I was a sweet tooth. Growing up baking was a way for me to relax and above all it was a way to have fun with my sister. It had been so long since I had done any of that.
"Are we having a party?" I asked Aminah. "Oh no, well not that I know of, I wanted to show you around town I thought I'd show you some place I like to come every now and then" I followed Aminah into the bakery. "Assalamalikum, sister Jasmin!" Said Aminah to an fair skinned woman in a white headscarf dressed in a light blue abayah. "This is my older sister Nourah". She said extending her hand towards me. "Assalamalikum, nice to meet you." I held my hand out to her, we shook hands. "Walikummusalam both of you, what a pleasure it is to see you." she said with a smile. " I called you earlier about arranging a baking class, I hope you remember" Aminah said.
"Indeed I do." Sister Jasmin replied. "Lets, wait a little till the others get here"
After a little while women started to pour into the bakery and everyone was led into the kitchen at the back of the shop . Women dressed up in abayah, some were wore the face veil and others didn't cover their heads once in the kitchen everyone I was personally introduced to all of them by Aminah who remembered the names of all 15 women. What was even more surprising was that inside the kitchen everyone who wore hijab took off their hijabs and were dressed in colorful clothes and some of the women were really well dressed, which was not something I hadn't seen before because my own mother wore the abayah too but in the city this was a rare site so I had forgotten about the fact that you could dress up as nicely as you wanted around others women.
What followed was an hour long class about baking cupcakes. My favourite, sister Jasmin was a pro. She taught us her personal recipies for the pumpkin and chocolate chip , french vanilla and the Red Velvet cupcakes. The class was lively and sister Jasmin kept everyone entertained by telling jokes and personal stories of how she learned to bake. I don't remember the last time I was around this many women and I had truly enjoyed myself. Back in London the office dinners and lunches were strictly cooperate affairs, you laughed if the boss laughed and spoke only if you were expected to entertain the client as ordered by the boss.
I got to see a side of Aminah I hadn't seen in longest time she was good as sister Jasmin at baking , she too was cracking jokes and conversing with almost everyone in the room. She wasn't subdued as I remembered her to be. Everyone was having fun. After classed everyone helped clean up the kitchen and began to leave. Aminah looked at her watch and said " Sister Jasmin do you mind if I pray here before we head home, I don't want to delay my Salah." "Why, of course dear, why would I say no to that?" Sister Jasmin led the prayer.
Standing there in Salah an unexplainable calm fell over my whole body, I felt safe and I could hear my own heart beat. The pace of life it seemed had slowed down. I didn't have to rush back to my office to receive a phone call or compile reports. That was usually the reason I couldn't concentrate in prayer or gave up praying till the last possible moment.
After salah, I became lost in thought: what has happened to me? Why has this job become the center of my existence? So much so that everything else has taken a back seat? What have I gained from this job that I didn't have before? At first the answer came: Nothing and then I told myself: "I was a nobody before this job , I had to live of the meager salary I got working at the coffee shop near my university and now I am a liberated, open minded, free woman. I am accountable to no one, not even my parents for the choices I can now afford to make. This job has given me everything. O,Allah please help me prosper more and more in my career. Ameen"
As if on cue Aminah spoke, to no one in particular: " You know I can never stop thinking of the Greatness of Allah, we are nobodies in His sight, He could if he wanted take our lives away right now and you and I could do nothing about it. Yet, here we are still breathing while at this very moment someone breathed their last. We walk on this earth as if we are not accountable to anyone for our choices and actions, we think that money, status and authority over a few human beings makes us unaccountable to anyone for our actions but in reality every soul shall return to Him and to Him we are all accountable."
she hung her head low and began to murmur a prayer.
I felt as if the air from my lungs had been knocked out. I could hardly breathe , I scrambled on to my two feet and managed to whisper to Aminah to meet me outside after she was done praying. I hugged myself as the cold afternoon breeze blew across my face. No matter how I tried to convince myself , deep in my heart I knew Aminah was right . It was an unsettling feeling to face this truth.
(Stay tuned for Part 4, Insha'Allah :) )