It is said that true love is rare, but true friendship, rarer. The bond I shared with my three best friends was a rare form of friendship. The kind of friendship that grows from the seed basking in the warm soil to a vast tree with many ups and downs- many but not enough to disguise the grandeur of such a tree. I loved them fiercely and considered them the siblings I never had.
Being an only child orphaned at age twelve, I was raised by my paternal aunt- Big mummy as I called her. Big mummy had no children of her own and she was widowed, so it was just us. Although she loved me like her own, she was a little over-protective. I wasn’t allowed to have any friends. I rarely ever left the house. My guess was that she feared she would lose me too if I stepped out of her protective cocoon. For the most part, I didn’t mind, as I was a loner myself.
That was until I gained admission into the University of Port Harcourt and I met A’isha and the gang.
I crossed over from simply existing to really living life then.
“Penny for them?”
I was pulled from my thoughts by A’isha waving her hand across my face. I smiled apologetically.
“Sorry. I got carried away.”
“Care to tell me what you were thinking about?”
“Actually thinking about you guys and how far we’ve come. Seven years is no small feat.”
“You can say that again.” She stretched her feet out in front of her. “But we are not here for philosophical discussions about our friendship- we are here to have fun! Speaking of which…” She turned her empty cup upside down and gently kicked Muslimah, who was lying right in front of her. “Mrs Host, no more juice ni?
“Like you don’t know the way to the kitchen,” Muslimah said without taking her eyes off the T.V.
“Which kain host be this ke? Honour your guest that’s what the Prophet said.”
Muslimah grunted. “You’ve been coming here once a month for three years and still consider yourself a guest? Siddon there you hear”
I laughed and shook my head at their antics. Their banter was one of the reasons why I looked forward to our monthly get-together- which we liked to call the playdate. We basically hung out, ate junk food, played silly games and maybe watched a movie or just simply gist the day away. Bottom line- the girls made me laugh, an action I rarely performed at home nowadays.
My phone beeped, and I picked it up to read the text message from my husband.
Salam. I’m going to be home late tonight. Meeting. Don’t wait up.
I heaved a long, drawn-out sigh. I wasn’t surprised so wouldn’t even bother to reply. This habit of staying out late had become a daily occurrence for Basheer, and odds were, he was going to be at the ‘supposed meeting’ with HER. I closed my eyes, trying to shut out the images my mind conjured up. Basheer smiling at HER, touching HER, doing everything meant for me, with HER.
Blind, hot, rage took over my body and I squeezed my phone so tight I was sure the screen cracked.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
Aisha’s gentle voice brought me back from the abyss I was sinking into. Again. My ride or die. She possessed this superpower of guessing when I had problems. She called it aishapathy. I called it good old perception. Right then, she left her spot on the floor and sat beside me on the couch, rubbing my back to calm me. It worked.
Without opening my eyes, I handed her my phone.
“Hadiza, this can’t go on. You have to confront him.” She said quietly so the others couldn’t hear.
I opened my eyes, which were brimming with tears and turned to her. “With what proof? A woman’s intuition?
Aisha shrugged, giving me an incredulous look. “Yes! Isn’t that enough? You said so yourself that his mood has been strange, and that day you visited his office…”
I held my palm up. “No A’isha I didn’t see anything incriminating, I only said I got these…” I searched for the right word. “…vibes.”
“Whatever. Point is: something is going on and you have to find out what it is- one way or another.”
A’isha was right. I needed to confront the problem head-on. But the truth was that I was afraid. Scared to death of what I would uncover if I dug too deep. Scared of tearing my family apart with my own hands. Scared that if I pushed too hard my ‘happy Muslimah’ public façade would be ripped to shreds and everyone would see my life for what it was: a sham.
The truth was that I was a coward.
I based the foundation of my relationship with my best friends on the quote by Euripides that says:
Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.
I wanted to be the shoulder they could lean on in turbulent times. Especially for Hadiza- my bestest friend of all. Right from the start of our friendship, before we ever met Muslimah and Jemima, Hadiza always had my back. She stood up for me, by me and with me when times were rough. I owe her a whole lot and feel inclined to give her something in return for all the sacrifices she has made for me. To take away any and everything that threatened her world. I guess that’s why I’m always attuned to her every disposition and could tell whenever she was happy or feeling low- like today. The aura of sadness that surrounded her since her arrival at Muslimah’s did not go unnoticed by me. I watched her try her best to appear normal; she replied when spoken to and even laughed on occasion. But her eyes belied her joviality- mirroring so much sadness and pain.
I was not about to leave my friend to wallow in sadness, especially since I suspected that her behaviour had something to do with Basheer. Few weeks before she had mentioned having a reason to believe that he was involved in an illicit affair with his colleague at work. I decided to speak to her and try to find out what the matter was, and my suspicions were confirmed. I thought the solution was to confront him, but Hadiza would not hear of it.
“Hadiza, I still insist – to find out what exactly is going on, you have to confront Basheer. If not for anything, but your peace of mind.”
“I know, but I- I just can’t bring myself to.”
I looked into Hadiza’s eyes and was taken aback by what I saw- the sadness that resided there only moments ago had been replaced by pure, unadulterated fear. What was she afraid of?
“Hadiza, why do you want to keep pretending everything is fine when it’s not?”
Hadiza immediately squared her shoulders and her eyes glinted angrily. That look was not foreign to me and I wasn’t looking forward to whatever she had to say next.
“Why? The same reason you have decided not to tell Gaffar about…”
I shook my head. No way would I allow her to turn this around and make it about me. “Stop right there. That’s not fair and you know it. Don’t try to make this conversation about HIM.”
Hadiza’s shoulders slumped. It seemed like all the fight went out of her. She took her head in her hands. “A’isha, I didn’t mean that. That was just me being petty and… I’m sorry.”
I nodded, accepting her apology. “It’s fine. You were upset. Forget about it”
I leaned back into the couch we both occupied and sighed. “I guess we both are not so different after all. You are afraid of confronting your husband about his relationship with someone else while I am terrified of my husband finding out about my relationship with another.”
“We are both in serious trouble, aren’t we?” Hadiza leaned back as well and put her head on my shoulder.
“Yes, but I’m sure Allah will guide us to do the right thing.”
“Hey what are you both whispering about?” Jemima said as she came over and sat on the couch’s armrest.
I stole a glance at Hadiza and she discreetly shook her head, telling me what I wanted to know. She wasn’t ready for our friends to find out what was going on in her marriage. My secret, on the other hand, was known to all, but I also wasn’t in the mood to discuss HIM with anyone today.
“Nothing serious. Hadiza here is missing her baby.”
Jemima smiled. “Aww, he’s still at Big Mummy’s right? I bet Basheer likes the arrangement. More alone time for both of you, abi?” Smiling mischievously she nudged Hadiza in the ribs.
I smiled wistfully. You know nothing Jemima.
Nothing at all.
The playdate was turning out to be fun. My best friends, Muslimah and A’isha have been fabulous company and Muslimah had even dug out an old movie for us to watch. Everything was going well… until A’isha opened the door and let HER in. The evening took a nosedive for me from that moment.
What was that saying? One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.
I tried my best to be that one friend to HER. Truly I did. But that feeling that I am in competition with HER, just won’t go away. She had something I didn’t have? I made sure to get it. Made life-altering decisions? I did the same. Literally, anything she did, I did too.
I don’t know why or how precisely, but this feeling started to take root ever since we met in Uni. A tiny spark at first until it grew into an ember and now it’s a full-blown inferno, raging inside of me. My husband calls it an obsession, but I disagree. What do men know about a little healthy competition between friends? Anyway, it’s HER fault for always being so classy, composed, devout, level-headed, beautiful. Or maybe it’s me…
So, today I played nice friend to HER and resolved to continue having fun but the heart (or spirit?) is willing but the flesh is weak. And oftentimes my weak flesh overrides my willing heart.
I tried to concentrate on the movie, but a part of me is trained on her every move. When A’isha went to sit by her and they began to speak in hushed tones, I legit choked. Such was the intensity of my curiosity. What were they talking about? I couldn’t take it anymore, so I left Muslimah’s side and went to sit with them.
As usual, they changed the subject (at least I think they did) when I inquired. It didn’t matter though, I was with them now and they would have no choice but to include me in their conversation.
“So, are you guys having fun?”
A’isha said ‘yes’ and I saw HER nod too. She scrolled aimlessly through her phone and I couldn’t help but notice that it looked new. The cell phone she (we) used was a Samsung Galaxy Note 9. The one in her hand was not it.
“Hadiza, you changed your phone?” I asked and stretched my hand out. She complied and placed the phone in my hand.
“Yes, last month.”
“Wow, it’s nice.” It was. An iPhone XS. Slim. Sleek. Just like the owner. I tried my best to act composed but inside I was freaking out. Why did she always have to be a step ahead of me? Why did she have to be en vogue all the time? I had to – no, needed to get my hands on one of these. In fact, I was tempted not to return the phone. Just take it and give HER mine in exchange.
But I knew that was impossible. With a sigh, I reluctantly handed the phone back to her.
“Aamen. Thanks.” She said and patted my hand.
I almost screamed in frustration. I wanted to shake HER and ask to stop being… herself. I discreetly took deep breaths to calm myself. In, then out. In, then out. My mind cleared a bit, and I realised exactly what I had to do.
I picked up my purse from the floor and fished out my phone. I had to send a message to Abdul, pronto.
As-salaamu Alaykum love. How’s your trip? That gift you wanted to get for me? I don’t want it anymore. Get me an iPhone XS instead. Silver preferably. Love you. Xoxoxoxo
Chapter One is out of the way then! How are you liking it so far? Let me know in the comments.
P.s: Don’t forget to like, and share too. Thanks. xoxoxo