The Haaj

Khadijah, the great prophet’s wife is my namesake. I’m not sure if it was meant to be that way or if my mother just thought that the name sounded pretty. My parents had this pact when they first got married that they would each get to name a child. My mom took the first and named my sister Lujaina, after her grandmother whose soul made it up to paradise long ago. And like my grandmother, my sister had disappeared. She was married off to a boy who didn’t look you in the eye when he answered your polite dinner questions about his home life and who was constantly preoccupied with finding out the time. He only won the approval of my father because he had offered a very impressive dowry.

I used to think my parents didn’t care about satisfying the neighbors with gaudy displays of wealth until life taught me that it isn’t safe to be sure about anything. Sometimes I wonder why my mother let her first born slip from her that easily and if she’ll let me go the same way.

I wonder and daydream a lot. I hope too. I hope that maybe one day when there’s a knock on the door, my mother will shout at me to open it. When I finally listen to her, I’ll find myself face to face with a familiar stranger as slender as a twig and enveloped in a matted gray beard. Suddenly all of the nightmares will be blown away like the fingered engravings in the desert sand, when I notice the glint in his eye. I’ll open my arms wide and my mother will drop to her knees and weep because just like me she has hoped and dreamed and prayed that this day would come; the day of my father’s return.

When the Prophet Muhammed passed away, my father stopped speaking. I remembered when his deep vocals filled the house and jokes unsuitable for children’s ears poured out of his grinning mouth. My mother tried everything to coax him out of his silence. She stroked his chin, ate with her fingers and even poked fun at his mother’s weight who, to be honest, was always on the heavier side. May she rest in peace. But nothing could wipe off his grim expression and his wide, blank eyes continued staring off into the vast emptiness of nothing. My father always took things too personally.

Whenever there was a knock at the door, I was expected to assume my duties as the family porter and open it. I heard the knock, swung the door open, and unveiled my father’s brother.

My head patiently waited for a friendly pat, but my uncle was too preoccupied. “Boo-boo,” he called to my mute father.

Since Uncle Aarif was a baby he’d been calling my father Boo-boo. His first attempt at pronouncing Abdul failed miserably. My father regularly tried to force him to stop using the childhood nickname by ignoring his persistent “Boo-boos” in hopes that Aarif would finally cry out “Abdul!” but my uncle was stubborn just like my father.

“Boo-boo,” my uncle called again. He received no reply. Frustrated, Aarif lifted a hand and carelessly shooed me out of the room. Brushing off the fact that I was unwanted, I obeyed the hasty command and proceeded to take an uncomfortable position, squatting awkwardly in my bedroom doorway and craning my neck to test my talent at lip-reading. I watched Uncle Aarif’s mouth form the words “You can’t live forever” and “Seize the day.” Maybe it was his magic oratory or the stern furrow in his brow, but somehow Uncle Aarif managed to pry my father’s stuck mouth open. Something wasn’t right.

After what felt like infinite hours of thumb-twiddling on my back and staring aimlessly at the roof, I finally heard my father’s voice. I now relished the moments when he uttered just one single word.

“Once you walk out that door, we might not ever see you again,” whispered my distressed mother. Parents are convinced that if they whisper, children won’t be able to hear them. “What are you going to tell Khadijah?”

The sound of suppressed tears from my mother could now be heard coming from my parent’s bedroom. I wanted to run to her and hug her, but I protected her instead by letting her continue thinking that she had secrets.

The next week was a blur. Clothes were tossed in bags, tears were shed, relatives were summoned and friends were called until our front room was packed with sobbing sisters and solemn friends. My father, my Uncle Aarif and two of their best friends were on their way to the city of Mecca, to fulfill their duties as Muslims and journey to the holy land. My emotions were all mixed up like a big pot of boiling stew. I was happy that my father could finally make a pilgrimage. I knew he had been longing to for some time, but I selfishly wanted him to stay by my side and tell me stories of the silly village idiots that caused havoc in his town when he was a boy. I didn’t want to make a scene and embarrass him in front of his friends by throwing myself in front of the door and begging him not to leave me. Secretly, I was willing to give anything to stop him. I couldn’t take that he was letting me slip away.

After hugs and kisses were doled out to everyone in the room, my father finally got to me. He even said goodbye to my mother before me which I felt strangely honored by. He knelt down so he could see straight into my welling eyes and he said, “Listen kid. When I get up to that beautiful building they call the Ka’ba, I’ll make sure I get close enough to kiss it and when I do, I’ll dedicate that kiss to you, Khadijah.” And with those parting words, he kissed me on my wet cheek, waved goodbye and gestured for the three other men to leave. He winked at me before he left and I could tell he’d been trying not to cry.

The next six months were like hell. I spent every night twiddling my thumbs, lying on my back and staring at the roof wondering where my father was at that exact moment. Soon, endless days turned into painful weeks and painful weeks turned into unbearable months and during that time my mother tried to be brave for me. She tried to tell me stories like my father did before she tucked me in at night, but she wasn’t a very good storyteller. She tried to tell the hilarious jokes that he told, but her laugh didn’t have that friendly bellow my father’s did. As much as my mother tried, she could not repair our happiness.

And then one day as I was tracing my hand with my finger on the floor in my room, humming some tune I didn’t quite know the name of, there was a sharp rap at the door. Ever since my father left, I had lost my duty as porter and every time there was a knock, my mother was the one to answer it. This time the guest was Uncle Aarif, who my mother embraced with a wide smile and a grateful hug.

“Where’s Abdul?” she cried, but her smile quickly faded, when she saw that Uncle Aarif did not return her joy.

“Where’s Abdul?” she repeated anxiously.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Nadra, but Abdul isn’t coming back.”

“What are you saying Aarif? What are you trying to say?”

“We were riding through the desert on our way home from Mecca and we were stopped by a band of robbers. When Abdul refused to give them any goods, one of the bandits managed to maneuver his camel alongside Abdul, close enough to slit his throat….”

After I heard that, I plugged my ears so tight they were red and burning hot in an instant. I did not want to hear more. I did not want to know how my father’s life ended so brutally; the father that I respected, revered and loved. I never asked how the rest of the story ended, but I refused to believe he was gone.

As the years went on my mother remained strong. She is the strongest, bravest woman I have ever known. I try to convince myself that the right thing to do is move on. I try, but sometimes I can’t help but find myself staring at the roof, twiddling my thumbs and hoping, just hoping, that the next knock on the door will be his.

Gussie Roc
Age 16, Grade 11
Saint Ann’s School
Silver Key

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