TURMOIL- CHAPTER TEN
Since I had nothing left to do in school, I headed home. The weight of everything seemed to press down on my shoulders and my feet dragged. It was too much. All of it. Somehow, I trudged on… but every step cost me. The darkness grew darker, the pain sharper and I began to wonder if everything would ever get better.
Outside the school gates now, I walked towards the bus stop to wait for a taxi. There were only a few people waiting as well, and I was glad there wouldn’t be a rush.
Dark clouds gathered up ahead and the sky darkened. Thunder rumbled in the distance- a promise of rain. I used to love the rain. When I was young, I would stand in the rain, imagining it cleansing my body and soul, of the filth I carried. Now, as I watched the sky prepare to release its burden, there was only a creeping sorrow in my heart instead of joy. Any other time I would have called one of the girls; A’isha probably, and sought the comfort I so badly craved… but not anymore. This time, I just let the sadness come, drop by drop, until it felt like a vast ocean falling upon me. The grief of years I carefully suspended all condensed above my head into a cloud so large, it blocked the sun.
The first drops of rain began to fall, and the drizzle caused people to scramble for shelter. I just stood there. Numb, cold, frozen in place. People say it can’t rain forever, that there’ll come a time when the storm will pass. Thing is, I didn’t think the storm in my life would ever abate, and frankly I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted it all to be over. Maybe then I’d have peace.
“Everyone get on the ground now!”
The shrill voice pierced through my thoughts and confused, I looked towards the direction it came from. The rain made it difficult to see clearly, but I made out the shape of a man in a mask, running in the direction of the bus stop. He was holding something- a gun- which he fired into the air repeatedly. All around me, people lay flat on the ground, not minding the mud and dirt.
“No one has to get hurt if you cooperate with me!”
“Hajia, get down. E get gun o.”
The man beside me whispered. He had since tossed his umbrella aside and was lying face down in the gutter, trembling.
Just as I got down on my knees, the robber (at least I assumed that’s what he was) reached me.
“What’s this? I said fall flat now!”
I obeyed and soon I could hear him relieving people of their property. He forcefully collected money here, a laptop there, phones everywhere. I knew I should be scared but I wasn’t. Rather I felt a delicious calm spread through my entire body.
“Hey, you. Give me your purse.” The robber kicked me in the side. I could tell that he was right beside me
Without lifting my head, I raised my hand and handed it to him. He snatched the purse from me and I heard the zip open. Seconds later, the contents of my purse were spilt onto the ground. I inclined my head and stole a glance at him. I couldn’t help but notice how his hands quivered, how he looked over his shoulder every few seconds. He took my wallet and phone and started to leave.
“I want my SIM card.”
Even I wouldn’t have recognised my voice. Calm, with no trace of panic.
He turned. “What did you say?”
“I said I want my SIM card.”
“Are you crazy? I am the one holding the gun, so you don’t get to make demands”
Never in my life had my mind felt clearer. The reason for the sudden feeling of calm I felt since the robber arrived, dawned on me. I wanted something, and he had a means for me to achieve it. His mannerisms earlier and his command of English told me he had probably never done something like this before. An amateur. Perhaps a frustrated graduate turned robber. Maybe if I provoked him enough, he could help me end it. An accidental discharge… one bullet to the head and all my sorrows would be over.
Adrenalin pumped through my veins, giving me courage. I rose to my feet.
“That SIM is of no use to you; you will dispose of it anyway, so please give it back. And return the IDs in the wallet while you are it. You can take all the money.”
In three quick strides, he was standing in front of me. The rain was still pouring relentlessly, and his mask was soaked. I wondered how he could breathe. With his trembling hands, he pointed the gun at my head, and I welcomed the cold muzzle.
“You want to die?! I can end you right now, blow your brains all over the floor!”
Yes! Do it please. His finger touched the trigger, preparing to pull it. I closed my eyes. I could hear the gasps and murmurs coming from the frightened crowd. It would all be over soon.
“Get away from her!”
Pounding footsteps from the opposite direction rushed towards the bus stop. I felt the pistol leave my head, and the robber took off. No! I almost screamed for him to come back. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. I should be on the floor by now, dead. I opened my eyes and saw that the thief was being chased. Several of the men on the floor got up and gave chase too. He was soon apprehended and forced to the ground.
I crumpled to the ground in a heap once again. Why didn’t they allow him to finish the job? I sat there despondent, tears mixing with the rain. I don’t know how long I remained in that position- 10 mins, 20 mins, I hour. All around me, people sprinted to get back their stolen property, some just milled around talking about the robbery and the crazy hajia who almost got herself killed, while some shook their heads in pity as they walked past me. I didn’t blame them for thinking me crazy- what with me sitting by the side of the road, getting beat by the rain. I just didn’t care anymore.
“Assalam alaykum, sister. Are you alright?”
I looked up to see a man standing above me. The rain had slowed to a small drizzle and I could see that he was tall, and very well dressed. He was breathing heavily, and I guessed it was as a result of the chase. His clothes were soaking wet too. Something about him, his voice, reminded me of someone I knew but couldn’t place right now.
He pointed to the ground beside me. “May I?”
“It’s a public place.” I shrugged, wondering why he would want to get himself dirty.
“Why did you do that?”
“I watched everything unfold from inside my car on the other side of the road.” He pointed to a sleek Mercedes Benz parked on the other side of the road. “I called the police too. A good thing they arrived when they did. Or maybe that’s what you wanted- for him to end your life?”
“What if I said yes?” I asked defiantly. Why couldn’t he mind his own business?
“Well, I would ask you again: Why?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“I’ll say it is, considering I just saved your life.”
“Oh, you expect me to say ‘thank you’? I didn’t ask for anybody’s help!”
“I don’t need your gratitude. I just want to understand why you’d willingly place yourself in such a dangerous situation.”
I sighed. He did have a point. The only problem was I didn’t want to be saved. “You’d never understand. No one can”
Î regarded him again. He seemed like a nice enough person. And he had risked his life for mine, albeit unsolicited.
“My life is a mess, and I am tired of living it.”
“It can’t be that bad. Surely things can get better biidhnillah.”
I shook my head. That’s what they always said. But they didn’t understand the extent of my pain. “I have lost all hope.”
“Even in Allah?”
I didn’t answer. Was it not Allah that allowed all these bad things to happen to me?
“Listen I know I’ve only just met you, so I can’t tell you what to do. But I can tell you this. No matter what you are going through in life, never lose faith in Allah. Turn your thoughts to Almighty Allah and you will find relief, even if it be a little. The light will appear in your dark thoughts, and this, in turn, will morph into more small rays of hope. It is not total relief yet, but it is a start.”
I scrubbed the tears off my cheeks. I was so angry. At him, for being so right. At myself, for failing, and at Allah, for willing all these to happen to me. How could I reconcile knowing what is right and rebelling against it regardless? I was enacting some sort of revenge against the One Who hurt me.
“This relief you talk about, how can I get a complete one?”
“By allowing Him inside. Totally. Without holding anything back.”
That would mean asking for forgiveness… submitting. I didn’t think I was ready for that. Not when my life was going from bad to worse. If something good happened to me, maybe I’d consider it.
This is precisely the time you need to get close to Him.
There was that stupid voice again. I willed it back to the dark recesses of my mind and rose to leave. He did too.
“I must go now.” It was a long way home, but I’d get there on time if I started trekking now. I picked up my already ruined purse, not bothering to pick the rest of the stuff. They were beyond repair.
“We can go get your stuff back.” He nodded towards the crowd, which the police were trying to keep in check.
“Okay. I guess I should introduce myself then. My name is Muslimah.”
He smiled. “My name is Jameel. Are you a student here, Muslimah?”
“Yes, final year. You?”
“I came here to visit my brother- he is a post-graduate student.” He smiled and checked his wristwatch. “I guess that would have to wait now.”
“No, I don’t want to be a bother. You’ve already done enough. I’ll be fine.”
“Nonsense, I am happy to help. Whose sunnah would I be following if I left you out here on your own? Come on, let’s get your stuff and I’ll take you home.”
A part of me wanted to insist for him to leave, but I knew I could really use the help. Besides, I doubted if any cabman would want me as their passenger, given the state I was in: drenched from head to toe in my very dirty hijab. Decision made, I slung my purse over my shoulder and followed his lead.
I am done with all that
Muslimah’s words echoed in my mind over again long after she had left. What did she mean by that? What could have happened that would make her despair of Allah’s mercy? I believed I had a clue from the snippets of her conversation with Prof. Jaiye. It was clear they both shared an unpleasant history and I intended to find out. I knocked on the door and walked in at Professor Jaiye’s prompt.
“Ah, Kamaal. It’s you. What brings you here?”
“Good afternoon, sir. I wanted us to discuss the paper I am planning to submit to that ICE journal.”
We got down to business and about an hour later we were through.
“Thank you, sir. I’ll get started immediately and keep you posted”
“You do that.”
I cleared my throat. It was now or never. I had to confirm what kind of man I was working with. “Sir, when I arrived at your office, I met a lady outside, and she seemed upset. I meant to ask…”
Prof. Jaiye waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, don’t mind that useless girl. She owes me something and I want to collect.”
“Owes you… money? She didn’t buy handouts?”
Prof Jaiye’s chest heaved with laughter. “My good man let’s just say I have a score to settle with her. Don’t concern yourself hmm?”
It took all the self-will I possessed not to punch the smirk off his ugly face. Don’t concern yourself indeed. If only he knew that I was now more determined to bring him down and help Muslimah out of her dilemma. After mumbling an excuse I hurriedly left his office. Prof Jaiye was a pervert that much was certain. Everything I had heard about Muslimah’s sojourn in school made much more sense now. Muslimah had refused his advances and probably got the school authorities involved. Now Prof Jaiye wanted revenge.
“Wallahi, I will make sure you fail, Prof.”
Convincing Muslimah that I was on her side was the very obvious problem, but I vowed to keep trying. I was already hatching out a plan in my head and needed her for it to work. Ya Allah guide me
I reached my office and sat at my desk to continue working when I suddenly remembered I was expecting my brother. He was supposed to meet me for lunch by 3:30 pm. It was already 4 pm. I picked up my phone to call him and found out he had already sent a message:
Sorry, I’ll have to take a raincheck on lunch. Something came up. Will explain later.
Although disappointed I texted him back, then went back to work.
I was afraid of what I would find out, but I entered the compound anyway. It was a bungalow, clean and neatly kept. I walked to the front door and clenched my fist to knock. But I hesitated. What if I was about to make a fool of myself. Maybe the person inside the house was only a client. Or a friend or acquaintance. What if they weren’t? I had only one chance to find out and I was already too close to turn back now.
Bismillah. I steeled myself and knocked on the door. After the third knock, the door opened.
“Yes. How may I help you?”
Nothing prepared me for the sight before my eyes. I was expecting to see someone young, more handsome than I was. The man standing in front of me had more grey hair than black. Even his beard was white. In his late 60s maybe? To top it all, he was using a cane. What was A’isha doing with a man like this? Sugar daddy? Human ATM?
“Young man, I asked who you want to see?”
It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t prepared my excuse. I frantically searched my mind for a suitable one.
“Erm, erm, sir. I…” I failed to come up with anything, and so decided to just come clean. “I am so sorry to bother you sir, but… do you know a woman called A’isha?”
The old man squinted, his gaze travelling all over my body. “Who is asking?”
“I- I am her…”
“Papa Baasit, who is at the door?”
The old man’s eyes left mine and he turned at the sound of the voice. I also moved closer and looked over the man’s shoulders to see who else was in the house. My breath caught in my throat. A boy, not more than 14 or 15 years stood inside the house staring at me. His features were very familiar- the frown line in the middle of his forehead, his creamy chocolate complexion, and the shape of his full lips. A’isha. The boy was a spitting image of A’isha. What did this mean? Who was he to her? Could it be…?
“Go back inside Maalik. I’ll handle this.”
The old man, Papa Baasit glared at me. “I don’t know how you know A’isha but I strongly advise you to leave now, young man. Or else I’ll call the authorities.”
“There’s no need for that Papa B. I know who he is. He is her husband.”