Two Hundred and Forty Five

Amaani tugs at her niqaab as she checks her shopping list.

“Done, done, done, done,” she inaudibly ticks off everything inside her head.

Locking her phone again, Amaani turns to head for the tills when a contradicting thought runs through her mind.

She makes her way over to the chocolate aisle instead.

Her eyes scan the collection, stopping on the turquoise Lindt truffle box.

Coconut. Maama’s favourite.

She drops the box into the trolley and then heads for the flowers.

Her eyes scan out the collection as she nears the various fragrant bouquets.

Immediately she knows which one she will get.

Fresh white tulips nestled among soft pink roses.

It’s just so “Maama” and judging from the fact that only one bouquet remains, it would probably be a good buy.

Amz reaches for the bunch, not realizing another hand reaching for the exact same bunch.

An intensely awkward moment follows as she instinctively glances up and hurriedly withdraws her hand.

Oh…

Her gaze locks with a pair of warm, dark eyes for a split second before it drops again. 

“Sorry,” he mumbles at the same time she does, her brain processing what she just saw.

A man.

A good looking man.

Dressed in Sunnah garb.

With a beard.

And nice shoes – she muses, once her gaze is cast downward again.

“Urm.. thanks?” he says, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

What?

Wait.. did she just…

Amz peeks up at him, and sure enough, his face now wears an expression of mild amusement.

Oh gosh, she did. She just said that aloud.

Amz feels her face flush.

He adjusts his topee awkwardly, then shoves his hands into his pockets before turning back to the flowers.

“I’ll.. urm.. get another one,” he says, scanning the bouquets.

“No, no,” Amz hears herself saying. “I’ll just grab this one.”

She picks up the first thing her hand touches – and almost drops it, because it turns out to be a plant in a pot, not a bouquet.

Gosh! What was going on with her?! She felt so nervous.

Placing the pot into her trolley, she turns around and heads to the tills – a little faster than necessary.

*****

It is only once she’s packing her things into the car boot that Amz notices the plant in the pot.

She can’t hold her laughter.

It’s a bloody cactus!!

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Two Hundred and Forty Four

As the days grew into a month, the seeds grew into sunflowers.

Flowers came to life, and with them, Amaani did too.

She loved being in the garden and it quickly became her safe haven.

She could sit for hours on end, watching the sunlight stream through the leaves of the trees, following the sparkles that danced upon the water flowing in the fountains, listening to the birds sing and the leaves rustle, as the wind blew gently. The feel of the wet soil mixed with its rich earthly smell revived her senses.

Sometimes she’d read a book. Other times she and Maama would throw down a sheet and eat their lunch in the shade. But most of the time she’d just sit and gaze in wonderment at how Allah caused green shoots to sprout from beneath brown soil; how Allah caused beautiful roses to open atop prickly thorns; how Allah caused fragrant flowers to sprout from unscented ground. Colourful flowers lined up next to each other, each with different leaves, different scents, different shades. And yet, all planted in the same unscented brown soil. All watered with the same clear water. SubhanAllah.

The garden became her favourite escape.

It had started off with the seeds Dee had given Amz, but when the first green shoot of the first flower poked through the soil… so tiny yet so full of hope, of promise, of growth.. a whole new world opened up to Amz.

She grew vegetables and herbs and flowers and roses.. until beneath every patch of soil was a seed, which would be watered and taken care of with utmost diligence, given everything it needed to grow.

And every time a new bud flowered, a newfound hope filled Amz.

A tiny seed, buried in depths of darkness, could emerge bright and green, and then further still, become a source of happiness and pleasure as a radiant bloom.

That.. gave her hope.

A tiny seed could grow into a flower with a fragrance so sweet, that the one holding it would close their eyes and inhale deeply, until a smile that shames the brightness of the sun would spread across their face.

That.. gave her hope.

Dear reader, once upon a time you were a tiny seed too.

You emerged from beneath layers of darkness. You grew, you blossomed, you flowered.

And then, suddenly, the season changes.

It doesn’t just rain.

It doesn’t pour.

It storms.

Oh how it storms.

Your every delicate petal is torn. Your every spirited leaf is battered. Your strong stem, which had just begun to stand tall and firm, falls to the ground.

The lightning is blinding, the thunder deafening, and the pouring rain threatens to drown you.

But then, again, the season changes.

The storm passes and the sun peeks though the clouds.

A season of hope, of promise, of growth.. but you’re just a tiny seed again.

All that remains is your roots.

And that too, is mangled. It’s damaged.

But it’s not destroyed.

If only you’d just be you. The strong you, the beautiful you.

If only you’d realise that just as the different seasons of weather are necessary for the plants, the different seasons of life are necessary for you.

Don’t give up. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t forget who you are. Don’t look for a quick fix – a plant does not flower overnight.

Stay true to your roots for your strength will return.

You’ll find your way up and out again. You’ll pass the darkness. You’ll come out into the light.

You will grow. You will bloom. You will flourish.

See, the storm makes you think you’ve been buried.

But what if..

What if you’ve actually just been planted once again?

Planted firmer, planted stronger.

Planted the same, but better.

Two Hundred and Forty Three

As narrated by Amz:

“What’s this?” I ask.

“Seeds,” replies Dee.

“For?”

Dee rolls her eyes.

“I don’t know hey, maybe you could use them to decorate your room,” she says  shrugging.

“No, seriously -” I start, but Dee cuts me off.

“It’s seeds, Amaani love. To be planted. You know. Outside. In the yard. You take a spade. And dig a hole. A hole, you know -”

I throw the packet at her in annoyance.

She ducks, and the packets lands on the floor.

“You’re acting like such a worm!” laughs Dee, bending down to pick up the packet.

It’s my turn to roll my eyes.

“Why on earth are you giving me seeds?” I ask.

“I have a challenge for you,” replies Dee.

“Oh, do you then?”

“Quit being an idiot and listen!” scolds Dee.

“I’m listening,” I reply with mock obedience.

“The challenge is, you have one month to come back with a plant. But that,” Dee gestures to the packet in my hand. “Is all you get. You have to figure everything else out.”

I frown thoughtfully, studying the packet.

It was a plain, clear packet with a whole handful – if not more – of seeds therein.

I recognize what seeds they are. I use very similar looking ones in the kitchen sometimes. The only difference is, these have their outer covering on still.

“What makes you think I’m going to take on your challenge?” I ask, turning my attention back to Dee.

She raises her eyebrows, a hint of a smirk on her face.

Grabbing my niqaab, I turn around to leave, grumbling under my breath.

Damn her! She knows too well that I won’t turn down a challenge. Particularly not one from her.

“You know I love youuuu,” I hear her laugh from where she is.


Amaani unties her niqaab and slips out of her jilbaab.

She swaps her scarf for a cap and picks up her laptop before heading to the kitchen.

Picking a can of iced-tea to drink, and an apple to eat, she makes her way outside into the back garden.

After getting comfortable in the shade, Amaani cracks open her drink as she waits for her laptop to boot.

Her jade coloured eyes scan the yard.

Steadying her drink on the grass, Amaani types in her password.

A few minutes later, she taps the Google Chrome shortcut.

She murmurs to herself as she types.

“How.. to.. grow.. sun.. flowers… in.. one.. month.”

Two Hundred and Forty Two

As narrated by Dee:

“Dee…”

“Dee. Gorgeous, wake up. Deeyanah!”

I can’t breathe.

“Deeyanah! Wake up!”

My eyes fly open. Zee’s face hovers above mine.

“Breathe,” he says immediately, cupping my face. “You need to breathe.”

But I can’t. I can’t breathe.

“It’s okay. Deeyanah, you’re okay. Focus. You had a nightmare. It’s okay,” says Zee, his voice calm, reassuring. “I’m here, I’ve got you. You need to breathe.”

“Zee..”

I try to speak, to ask him if he’s okay, but my breathing is too short, too fast.

My heart pounds too wildly.

“It’s okay, it was a nightmare. You’re okay, everyone is okay,” says Zee, moving back and pulling me up with him.

“Breathe with me,” he says.

He holds my hands tightly in his, in an attempt to help steady my trembling body.

“Just breathe. You’re going to be fine. It was a nightmare, everything is okay.”

“Can’t…” I gasp. “Zee…”

“I’m here, gorgeous,” he says, lifting my hand to his chest. “I’m right here. I’m okay.”

I feel his heart thud against my palm.

He’s terrified – I can feel from his heartbeat.

But he’s okay, he’s alive.

I meet his gaze and force myself to consciously focus on my breathing.

Zee doesn’t say anything now. It’s quiet, just the sound of us inhaling and exhaling can be heard.

It takes longer than usual but eventually we’re breathing in sync.

Zee’s heart is beating more normally, and so is mine.

“Dee..”

He searches my eyes.

I let him see my fear, my panic, my grief.

“What did you dream?” he asks softly, gently.

But I can’t tell him right then.

In my mind the pictures still play, and it’s all too much.

I bury my face into his chest, and, clinging to him, I sob.


For Amaani, life seemed to have lost its meaning.

Her days passed in a blur of the same meaningless routine each day.

And it was getting to her, for she was a woman who once had limitless dreams and aspirations to make the world a better place.

“Maama, I need to start doing something, or I might go insane.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have anything in mind. I just know that I can’t live like this. I need to do something.. anything.

“Do you want to study? Get a degree and work?” asks Maama.

I think for a moment.

“No, the process is too long. And I wouldn’t be able to decide what to study. What if halfway through I don’t like it anymore?”

“You could take up art classes?” Maama suggests next. “You’re already skilled in kitchen work so it wouldn’t make sense to do cooking or baking classes. Oh! You could teach kitchen work.”

I frown, considering it.

“I don’t know…” I say, thoughtfully, weighing the idea in my mind. “I don’t mind kitchen work, but I don’t think I see myself teaching it to others..”

“There are actually a lot of options – you could help out at the women’s shelter, or the creche. You could teach at the orphanage. You could take up calligraphy or some other type of art. You could write a book -”

“Write a book?! Maama, I can’t write!” I say. “English was never my subject.”

“You never know, maybe that has changed,” says Maama.

“I don’t think so!” I laugh.

“I think I’m going to do some research and then take it from there. Those all sound like good options,” I say.

“Except for the write a book one!” I add, laughing again as I push my chair back and get up to go to my room.

*****

In the month that followed, Amaani tried her hand at the different options Maama had suggested.

She settled on none.

Each different environment taught her something she hadn’t known before about herself.

But time stopped for no one. Amaani felt more and more hopeless with the passing of each day.

Then, Dee gave her a packet of seeds…

Two Hundred and Forty One

As narrated by Dee:

That evening we have supper at Ma’s.

She cooks chicken curry, with a small serving of rice just for me, because she knows that’s how I like it.

I stand at the gas stove warming rotis while Ma sets the table and Zee sits at the kitchen nook, studying.

“Ma, let’s go on holiday next week,” he says, out of the blue.

“Get through exams first, Mr,” I say.

“Yes, Mrs,” he replies, looking up and blowing me a kiss.

I roll my eyes and turn my attention back to the stove.

“What you say, Ma?” asks Zee.

“Why you want to go on holiday now, beta? Stay at home, look after Deeyanah nicely, let her rest,” says Ma.

“She’ll get to rest so nicely if we go, Ma. No cooking, no cleaning!” replies Zee, his pen now discarded beside his textbook.

I smile to myself, shaking my head.

“Zee, you need to finish that section before we sit to eat,” I remind him.

“Okay so we’ll go then,” he says, turning his attention back to his books.

“Next week..” he murmurs to himself as he works. “We’ll go to Paris.. eat croissants.. and speak French… next week..”

“Seems like he really hasn’t been sleeping well without you,” Ma sidles up to me and whispers in my ear.

We stifle our laughter and quietly grin to ourselves.

*****

Hot chocolate mugs in hand, Zee and I head outside.

It’s a cloudy night, the moon hidden and the sky devoid of stars.

Zee’s grandparents had finally bought a garden swing to put beneath the big oak tree some time back.

We had always suggested it when we were younger.

“To fit 5 people,” we would tell them. Meez, Zee, Amz, Sumayya, and myself.

Here it was now, yet we sat on the grass.

“If I use the swing I need to lay on it, not sit. You take up too much place for me to do that,” Zee had once teased before.

“So lay on the swing, I’ll sit on the grass,” I had said, after punching him lightly.

“I much prefer this,” he had replied then, leaning against the solid bark of the tree and pulling me close against his chest.

We sit like that now, too.

Zee leaning his back against the bark, long legs stretched out, and me on his lap, snuggled close to his chest, his arms around me.

I sip my hot chocolate, the melty marshmallow top passing my lips before the warm chocolatey liquid slips down my throat.

“I want to travel,” says Zee.

“It’s a common feeling felt by students mid-exams,” I tease.

“No,” he says, after a pause to drink his hot chocolate. “I’m serious.”

“Yeah? Where do you want to go?” I ask.

He tells me then, and I listen.

Our conversation goes on until long after the remnants of our hot chocolate has dried in our mugs and the glass has lost its heat.

We talk about travelling the world, about ticking things off our bucket lists and about just wanting to be together always, even if we don’t.

Zee tells me how happy he is that I am okay and back home.

And when he hugs me close and says he loves me, I have to remind him to be gentle because of my injured shoulder.

I tell him that I love him, too, because I do.

I love him more than anything else.

*****

They come for revenge that same night.

The three remaining thugs of the once five-men gang.

I watch in frozen horror as our bedroom door is brazenly flung open and they barge in.

Zee is instantly on his feet.

“Don’t touch her!” he commands fiercely.

But I’ve already been grabbed and pulled from beneath the duvet cover.

My back is against the chest of one of the men, his arm against my throat holding me in place.

I want to fight but my body refuses to move.

I watch as the other two men push Zee back down onto the bed.

He struggles against them but together they’re too strong for him.

I need to look away. I know that I need to look away.

But I can’t. I can’t move. I can’t even breathe.

And even though my vision is blurred from the tears that gush out of my eyes, I see them kill him as clear as day.

Zee. My husband.

The man whom I love more than anything else.