“Tell me if you feel this Mr Abdul.”
The doctor produced an object that looked a bit like a shoehorn and ran it over the soles of my feet. I shook my head.
“I felt nothing doctor. Same as yesterday and the day before.” I struggled to keep the irritation from my voice. “Why do you persist?”
The doctor smiled a little. “I know you feel this is useless, but we have to keep trying. The human body and its workings remain a mystery, even to us caregivers. As such, your spinal injury may or may not heal completely. If it does, it could take years or months or even weeks.” The doctor looked to Hajia. “Or God could decide to bless us with a miracle, and it heals within a day.”
“Biidhnillah, biidhnillah.” Hajia said, raising her hands in du’a.
I was unimpressed. Better not to raise my hopes.
“I am not that optimistic doctor. Please don’t give me false hope.”
“That wasn’t my intention Mr Abdul. I apologise if you felt that way. All I am saying is: don’t lose hope. I know you’re trying to protect yourself by not expecting too much yet it wouldn’t hurt to harbour the belief, no matter how minute, that this situation will not be permanent.”
“Thank you, doctor.” Hajia said from her perch by my side. “We will definitely be exploring all options available to us. You mentioned referring us to a physiotherapist earlier?”
“Indeed, I did. I have informed him, and he will be expecting your call.” He handed Hajia a card.
“I shall call him as soon we leave here tomorrow, in shaa Allah”´
The doctor nodded. He looked uncomfortable suddenly, looking from me to Hajia and back again.
“Doctor, is there something wrong?” Hajia asked.
“No. No. I would like to make a suggestion if you don’t mind.
“I would recommend that you book a session to speak with one of our in-house therapists. Your sessions with them would do well to make your transition…”
My eyes shot daggers at him. “You mean my transition from being acomplete man to being a cripple, right?”
The doctor spoke slowly and it only served to aggravate me. “I meant transitioning through this sudden life change. You’ve been through a jarring experience and it’d be best if you had a professional to guide you through it.”
“Thank you, but I do not need any professional help,” I spoke through clenched teeth. “I have had ample time to process my situation and have accepted my lot. I do not require the services of a shrink to make me understand that my life will never be the same.”
The doctor gave me a knowing smile. Like a parent would a stubborn teenager who thought they knew everything. “There’s no rush, Mr Abdul. Think about it, okay?”
Without giving him a reply, I faced the window. He heaved a sigh.
“I’ll see you later, then. Good day, Hajia.”
“Good day doctor. Thank you.”
As soon as the door shut behind him, I rounded on Hajia.
“Can you believe that man?” I fumed. I pushed myself back and up until my head was resting on the headboard. Hajia was at my side in an instant, placing pillows behind my head to make me more comfortable.”
“I’m inclined to agree with him, Abdul.” Hajia started, hesitating.”You need to speak to someone. Since you woke up, you’ve changed. You’re impatient and seem angry all the time…”
“Of course, I’m angry! Look at me,” I spread my arms and waved it across the length of me. “I’m paralysed from the waist down. I don’t know if I’ll ever walk, run or jump again. I can’t even make sujood properly!” I was breathing hard now, my rage at a tipping point. “I tire easily nowadays, mum. Me! That used to be so active. You and ‘Atikah do virtually everything for me now, like I am a child. So yes, I am angry, as I should be!”
Hajia was silent all through my outburst. She remained silent still, obviously waiting for me to calm down. The problem was I had no desire to be calm. I wanted to lash out at everything and anyone. Give vent to the volcano of emotions inside me.
“A’udhu billahi minash-shaitan’irajeem.” Hajia started moments later. “Abdul, dana kaunataccena, my beloved son.” She sat beside me, stroking my head. I am not going to tell you that I know how you feel, because I don’t. But please my son, do not lose faith. Don’t allow yourself to spiral down this path. It’ll do no good. There’s is good in all situations Abdul, even in this one. I beg you to allow your heart to embrace it.”
“What good is there in being a cripple, Hajia? Tell me.”
Hajia’s face was wet with tears. She placed her hands on my chest, right on top of my heart. “I have you here with me, do I not? I feel your heart beating underneath my fingertips. If that is not a blessing then I don’t know what is.”
I refused to accept that being reliant and dependent on others was preferable to being dead.
“Hajia, I disagree.”
“I have been praying non-stop at Tahajjud. I have faith that this will be temporary biidhnillah. You’ll see.”
“But what if it isn’t? What if I never walk again?” Hajia had sounded so sure, she’d almost convinced me. With that question, I had managed to turn away from the enticing call of hope. “I have finally come to terms with that fact, Hajia.”
“No Abdul. You haven’t come to terms with this. I would be surprised if you had. Which is why I want you to reconsider the doctor’s suggestion.”
“I promise to think on it.” I had no intention of consenting, but I wanted to give my mother something, no matter how small. I took her hand and looked right into her eyes. “Jazaakillahu khayran . Thank you for taking care of me.” Her tears tugged at my heartstrings, melting away the rest of my anger. Subhanallah, she looked so tired. The wrinkles on her forehead and around her eyes and mouth were more pronounced. Hajia’s skin had always been soft and shiny for as long as I could remember, now it was dull and calloused, devoid of its shine.
Just then, ‘Atikah entered the room, a huge grin on her face. I couldn’t help but return the smile. ‘Atikah never failed to lift my spirits with her abundance of cheer and positive energy. She crossed the room quickly and squeezed Hajia’s shoulders.
“Assalamu alaykum Hajia. Sannu, how are you?” She joined Hajia on the bed. ”And how’s my favourite grumpy uncle doing?”.”
“I’m doing well, except nothing’s changed, I’m still your favourite crippled uncle”
‘Atikah made a face. “Aww, don’t be like that. You’ll get through this biidhnillah. We’ll be here for you, won’t we Hajia?”
Hajia nodded. I pointed my chin at the basket in ‘Atikah’s hand. “What have you got there?”
“Food.” She rose and placed the basket on the drawer by the bed. “It is from Jemima. She’s waiting outside.” ‘Atikah avoided my gaze as she spoke.
I thought as much. Sighing deeply, I closed my eyes. I didn’t know if I was ready to face Jemima yet. When I had regained consciousness, all those days ago, her name had been the first thing on my lips. Hers wasn’t the first face I set eyes on, though. Hajia had calmed me down and assured me Jemima was alright. Everything that had occurred had come rushing back soon after, alongside emotions, I struggled to contain. Chief of them was rage. If she hadn’t left me. If she hadn’t been so stubborn, I probably would not be lying in this bed waiting for Hajia to help me get to the lavatory.
“Abdul, you can’t ignore her forever. She’s your wife. She’s worried about you. You need to allow her to come in and see you.” Hajia said, her tone pleading.
“Hajia, Jemima barely tolerated me when I was a complete man, you really believe she’d want me like this?”
“That’s not true Jemima may have her many flaws but she does love you. I think she’s realised her mistakes and wishes to make amends. Dan Allah please listen to her.” Hajia pleaded.
‘Atikah also chipped in. “I support this. I’m convinced Jemima has learned her lesson. Allow her to see you please, she has been worried sick.”
I turned to ‘Atikah quizzically. “You’ve forgiven her for what she did to you?”
‘Atikah shrugged. “She apologised and I kinda understand why she did it”
I contemplated their words. The one thing I refused to accept from Hajia and ‘Atikah was that Jemima had become a totally different person. A leopard never changes its spots after all. Yet while I felt anger at Jemima and doubtful about her seeing me in this helpless state, I could not deny that I wanted to see her too. If only to make sure she and the baby were alright.
Acknowledging this to myself suddenly made my path clearer. I knew then what I had to do.
“Let her in.” I said to ‘Atikah.
‘Atikah skipped to the door without delay. Hajia stared at me, a smile—which I could only translate to mean pride, playing on her lips. I gave her a small nod. Seconds later, ‘Atikah appeared at the door with Jemima in tow. She stepped inside and held the door ajar for Jemima to follow. I steeled myself.
Weakness was not an option.
“I’ll be outside.” ‘Atikah said and shut the door after her.
Hajia rose, preparing to leave. “I’ll give you two some privacy.”
“No, stay, Hajia. This shouldn’t take long.”
Hajia turned worried eyes to me, a million questions evident in them. She was probably wondering what I was up to but said nothing and took her seat by the window. I returned my gaze to the door where Jemima took faltering steps towards me.
My innards clenched in pain when I saw the state she was in. She looked disheveled… for lack of a better word. It was a shock, to see prim and proper Jemima, appearing so gaunt and unkempt. Her hijab was rumpled and dirty. So were her clothes. I reckoned she must have been wearing them consecutively for a while. Her face told the tale that she had been crying— a lot. Tear stains marred her cheeks, her eyes were red and puffy, with bags ringing them. Jemima’s protruded tummy looked even more pronounced, no doubt because she had lost weight. Concern and worry filled my heart. I longed to pull her close. Tell her everything would be okay and that I couldn’t wait to meet our son.
Those words, however, remained unspoken. Instead, I shelved those feelings, locking them away in the meantime.
Weakness is not an option, Abdul.
“Assalamu alaykum Jemima. I was told you wanted to see me. Now you have.”
Jemima took another step forward. “Wa-waalaykumsalam warahmatullah. My love, are-are you alright? I’ve been so worried.”
Her voice was soft. Quiet. It sounded strange. In the months leading to the accident, Jemima had taken to speaking harshly. I would not allow a soft voice to deter me from my mission though.
“I’m fine, as you can see.However I’m sure you’re aware that I’m cri… not the same anymore.” I couldn’t bring myself to mention that word to Jemima.
“I know and I’m sorry…”
“I don’t need your pity, Just as there’s no need for you to be saddled with me. Jemima, I have no wish to see you or be in your presence. I cannot look upon you and not remember how I got here. For that reason, I would very much like for you to leave.”
“No…” Jemima’s voice broke.
Hajia looked ready to speak to my left, but I shot her a warning look and she backed down. Jemima’s tears had already escaped their prison, travelling down her cheeks to stain her hijab. She was clutching her belly, her head bent. Like a tornado, guilt and anger at myself and Jemima spiralled within me. I could no longer bear the sight of her, so I bowed my head and counted to twenty. She was still in the same position when I raised my head, only on her knees now.
“Get up.” My voice sounded gruffer than I had intended. “Leave. Go home. Hajia and ‘Atikah will take care of me at their rented house. Maybe someday…”
“Abdul, I am begging you… I can’t be without you by my side.” Every word she spoke was punctuated by her heart-breaking sobs. “Please. I have realised my mistakes. I’ll make amends…” She broke down completely now. Hajia was at Jemima’s side, casting disapproving glances at me. I looked away, to hide the pain in my own eyes.
Weakness will not be an option.
“Jemima, you trampled on my heart. You chewed it and spat it in my face. I won’t put myself through that anymore and I can’t forget so easily. I beg you not to ask me to.”
All of a sudden, exhaustion claimed my entire being. The rage and fear. Shame and guilt. Worry, uncertainty, and disappointment plus a lot more I was unwilling to confront had all taken their toll. I closed my heart and ears to Jemima’s pitiful sobs even as tears welled in my own eyes.
Weakness cannot be an option.
“Please go, Jemima. Maybe someday we’ll work this out biidhnillah, but for now, I want you to leave.”
I waited. Long moments passed before she slowly picked herself up, gently brushing away Hajia’s hand. Finally, she stood straight, sniffing and drawing in shaky breaths.
“I’ll do as you wish, Abdul. But I want you to know that I love you Abdul and I’d give anything to take this horror away from you. I pray you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”
With a nod to Hajia, she turned around and left.
I slumped back against the pillows. Silence reigned in the room. From her sniffles, I could tell Hajia was crying too.
“You shouldn’t have done that Abdul.”
“Hajia, I had to. I feel this uncontrollable rage when in her presence. I don’t want to lash out at her or our child needlessly. Allow me to heal, away from her. Then we may talk about the future in shaa Allah.”
“But she can’t be alone now…”
“I already called her mum. She’ll be here soon, I’m sure.”
Hajia shook her head and narrowed her eyes at me. “You’ve already thought this through, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Hajia. I have.” I said sadly.
I’d gotten my wish. Yet Jemima leaving caused the chasm in my heart to plummet.
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