As narrated by Faizal:
“Someone’s very happy today,” I murmur, kissing her neck.
Lubna tries to hide her grin but fails terribly.
Letting go of her I shut the door and together we head upstairs to my bedroom.
“C’mon, spill it then!” I say, looking at her expectantly.
“No,” she giggles. “I’m not telling you just yet.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“It’s a surprise,” she replies.
“You know how I hate surprises,” I mumble, playing with her hair.
“Hmmm.. since when?” she asks mischievously. “I mean, your whole birthday party in two days is going to be a surprise.”
“When am I going to find out?” I ask, the curiosity killing me.
“On your birthday,” she replies, nuzzling her face into my chest. “No more questions now. Less talking more cuddling!”
“It better be a good surprise,” I say, tugging her closer to me.
“Oh it is, trust me,” she whispers, that contagious grin making its way onto her face again.
They say that the soul cannot live without love.
That life without love is like a year without Summer, a tree without fruit, a bird without wings, a book without words. That life without love is no life at all.
It is like a colourless garden – life without love – where the roses are wilted and the flowers drooped. Where the grass begs for rains and the soil yearns to be tossed. Where the trees bear no sweet fruits and the birds sing no happy songs.
Without love the heart simply beats, a steady rhythm of a monotone thud. But with love, the heart is alive, racing at a thundering speed unbeatable.
Without love, man is a mere being, an empty vessel, a cold dead fire. But with love, man thrives, crossing boundaries unthinkable, achieving goals inconceivable and reaching heights improbable.
At each stage of life, this feeling of love is different yet entirely the same. And it is only a lucky few who experience it, through each stage, in every form.
Two year old Faizal waddles in his vest, press studs undone, out the door to where his father is loading his luggage into his matte black Range Rover.
“Where daddy go?” asks Faizal, his brand new Nintendo held securely in his chubby hand.
“Daddy go to Spain. Daddy bring Za loooot presents if Za be a good boy!”
“Yaaaayyyy! Presents!!” claps little Faizal. “Daddy bring Za presents!”
And sure enough, 2 weeks later, presents was what he got. Lots and lots of presents. The best, most unique available.
It wasn’t long thereafter that Faizal walked out of their massive mansion, a little steadier on his feet now, this time to see not only his father, but his mother too, off.
Once again, promised to be back soon with lots of presents, little Za waved happily as his parents drove off leaving him with the nanny.
But as he grew older, like all children, he grew smarter.
At 4 years he threw tantrums to go with his parents. In return he was given his favourite ice cream.
At 8 years he put on his unhappiest face as he watched his parents leave. In return he was given a brand new Ipod, despite already owning an uncountable amount.
At 12 years he hid cleverly behind the seat, only to be found before his parents even left. In return he was nonchalantly scolded and then given the keys to the bowling room his father had built on his request.
At 16 years he rebelled, anger behind his actions and bitterness in his words. In return he was promised a trip to Anfield as soon as his father got back. In addition, atop his silken pillowcase lay a box containing the just released iPhone 5.
And so the years passed with Faizal growing up being given everything he wanted, except that which he needed.
You see, money can’t buy you love.
Money can’t buy you a home cooked meal made with careful measurements of care and affection.
Money can’t buy you the feeling of security that comes with a mother’s gentle embrace and a father’s kind words of advice.
Money. can’t. buy. you. love.
And when you don’t have something, when you don’t have something you want, something that all your friends have, something that you get fleeting glimpses of but can’t quite grasp, best believe you’re going to look for it. You’re going to make it your mission to find it. You’re going to search high and low, with no guarantee that you’re looking in the right place…
It was at 19 that Faizal first saw Lubna.
Lubna – the girl who loved him so completely, that it almost made up for the years he’d lived without love.
Both of them coming from the same background, they clicked immediately. They didn’t just love each other. They understood each other.
Hesitant at first, unsure how to deal with this new, overwhelming feeling, Faizal trod carefully.
But when it overtook him completely, snatching his self control and making his heart feel like it would burst, he stopped looking elsewhere.
He stopped looking for he had found it.
In Lubna, Faizal had finally found love.
“Holy shit! It looks amazing!” I gasp in awe, looking around open-mouthed.
“Do you like it?” asks Lubna, grinning up at me.
“I love it! Thank you, gorgeous!” I say hugging her tightly.
“You’re welcome,” she replies happily, hugging me back.
I take a walk though the huge yard, Lubna tagging along, looking in admiration at all the little details.
When Lubna had requested that I allow her to plan my 21st birthday bash, I had immediately accepted.
She had somehow managed to not give away even the slightest hint despite me trying numerous times to get something out of her.
It was only this morning when she knocked on my door, an invite to my own party in hand, did I get my first clue.
“You planned a Harry Potter theme?!” I had yelled jubilantly.
“I did,” she replied, grabbing my hand. “Shall we go down and see?”
Bed hair and pj shorts, too eager to wait any longer, I had followed her down and outside to the yard.
“You even planned games according to the theme?! You’re a genius!”
Lubna laughs heartily and I turn to her with a smile.
“I love it!” I say, wrapping my arms around her waist. “Everything’s perfect.”
“Like me?” she asks, grinning cheekily.
“Just like you,” I reply before kissing her.
As narrated by Rameez:
“Happy Birthday, boss,” I say, handing Faizy his gift.
“Thanks bro,” he replies. “Glad you came.”
I almost didn’t…
I wish I didn’t…
It had been a battle.
A battle against my nafs.
And I had struggled sorely, my mind and heart thrashing wildly against each other, fighting for dominance.
Before today, I had come far. I may have not reached the levels I had aspired to, and I may have slipped many a time too, but I was definitely not at square one anymore.
To a certain extent, there is now a sense of conscious within me, a soft voice that speaks up when sin calls ever so sweetly.
I’ve moved from nafs-ul-ammarah, the controlling nafs, the ruling nafs, the nafs that sins blatantly, remorselessly, over and over again with no amount of guilt, to nafs-ul-lawwamah. Nafs-ul-lawwamah, the nafs that initially feels simply a prick of guilt at doing sin, a prick that grows – that should grow – to a poke, then a prod, and eventually a push, an overwhelming sense of shame and embarrassment. This stage is the battle field. The hard ground. The real test that you must pass to reach the stage of nafs-ul-mutmainnah.
And I, am struggling.
The battle is too fierce.
My feet keep slipping and my shield has been knocked too many a time, offering me less and less protection.
The soldiers are too strong, the swords too sharp and the combat too forceful.
I am struggling.
Struggling to reach my spiritual goals, to stay on track, to stay focused.
Struggling to keep what should be on my mind, on my mind, and to let go of my past habits.
Struggling to stay consistent, to stay sincere.
As Faizy’s best friend renders an eloquent and humorous speech, I barely hear him.
My eyes watch Faizy from behind, my mind travelling at a deathly speed, comparing myself to him, my life, to his.
My eyes follow his actions.. I watch as he laughs, as he frowns, as he hides his face in his hands, grinning.
I watch his arm coming around, pulling his girlfriend closer, gently squeezing her shoulder.
I watch her face turn, her cheeks tinge a soft shade of red, her smile reach her eyes.
I watch their lips touch briefly, their eyes shining into each others’.
And that’s when it clicks.
That is what he has and I don’t.
That is the missing puzzle piece.
That kind of love.
The guests begin leaving and feeling a strange sense of weariness, I decide to head home too.
Going around I greet a couple guys and girls that I know and by then most of the crowd has left.
The remaining of us follow Faizy to the front terrace where I end up mingling a little longer.
The first time I see the black E-class Mercedes cruising past, I brush it off, continuing my conversation with the guy next to me.
But it triggers something within me… a sort of uneasy feeling.
And when it discreetly drives past the second time, my uneasiness grows ten fold.
I look at it carefully this time.
The windows are tinted an illegal shade, making it impossible to see inside.
I glance around, trying to gauge if anybody else has noticed.
But deep in jovial chatter, the car manages to drive pass yet another time, unobserved.
My heart is thudding faster and my brain has set off alarm bells which now blare ceaselessly.
“Dude, you alright?” asks the guy next to me.
“That car…” I say urgently, my eyes scanning the road. “Something’s not right.”
“What car? Man, you partied too hard, bro,” he says, laughing. “Faizy must have -”
Oh god! Faizal!
I look around wildly, trying to find him.
I spot him further in front, walking with his best friend to his left, his girlfriend to his right.
“I’ll be right back,” I mutter, rushing towards the trio a few paces ahead.
My timing isn’t right.
As for theirs, it’s perfect.
The car takes the bend at breakneck speed, tyres squealing as they try to grip the road.
The window is rolled down this time, but when they pause for a split second, directly alongside the trio, all I see is the barrel of steady-held pistol.
Everything slows down.
I open my mouth to scream, to warn the trio up ahead.
But no sound comes out.
It’s too late, anyway.
The car is already speeding off again, before it even really stopped.
I hear Faizal yell, an acidic throat-ripping yell, as he falls to his knees.
“Lubna!!” he screams. “LUBNA!!”
Overflowing with shock, his voice echoes in the night, slicing through my heart.
My body finally regains its senses.
I walk, unsure if I really am walking, forward.
But the moment she comes into full view, crimson blood seeping through her white silk dress, I stop.
My body freezes again, my mind taking me back to a forever haunting memory.
The man with the gun is Scar.
It happens too fast, there is no hesitation, giving me no time to look away.
One minute the victim is a man.
The next, he is a bleeding corpse.
As for me?
I am a robot, controlled by troubled illusions…