the following short story is by Azima Mohamed Patel, the winner of the 2019 SA Muslim Women’s Short Story Competition.
I looked on intently. Would this be the time? I had been hoping, praying, waiting…
Hell, I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t want this so badly. My soul ached for it constantly.
Slowly, a faint line appeared. My heart was thudding. This is it, Ya Allah, is this it? The line grew darker, unmistakable now. Yes, yes, it’s really happening!
I was oddly calm though. I gingerly wrapped the stick in a piece of toilet paper and put it into the bathroom cabinet, eager to keep the first ever proof of my baby.
OH MY GOD.
I climbed back into bed next to my sleeping husband, a huge grin on my face that I couldn’t suppress. Oh, how I’d longed for this while watching the happiness that children brought to those around me. This little egg would grow to complete our empty lives. I made a silent prayer of thanks to my Lord for blessing us with this gift after fifteen difficult years of trying to conceive.
The pain of the monthly negative pregnancy tests had worn us thin. Intimacy was more of a chore to reach the end goal of conception. We were happy- kind of, on the face of it- but there was always an underlying current of longing, of knowing that we were living only half lives. The constant haggling by people didn’t help the situation either, as if I’d really be too busy with my career to want a family.
The relentless pursuit of my career became my focus out of necessity, to fill the void of not having little people to care for. Yet the aunties kept prodding my open wound, leaving it bare to the world. Even acquaintances, strangers and nobodies had the gall to remind me that my biological clock was ticking. As if I didn’t know that thirty-eight was cutting it close.
I lay in bed and dreamed of our future, waiting restlessly for the morning call to prayer so that my loved ones could wake from their slumber and I could start sharing my joy with them. I was unable to keep it to myself any longer. I whispered the news to my unsuspecting spouse, and our joint excitement was palpable.
We started to do what humans were meant to do. We nested. Our spare room was cleaned out and turned into a nursery. We spoke about how we would have to change our working hours to ensure that there was always a parent to care for the upcoming miracle. Our home was baby-proofed. I know it was early, but we were so eager and so excited.
Oh, my dear child, I loved you then already; so completely I never thought it possible.
Then came the nausea, the debilitating acidic bile that came up every waking moment. I lost more weight in those few weeks than all my previous dieting attempts combined. My fatigue was worth it though. It meant that I’d be rewarded with a baby in the end.
We played you the Quran, you know? I read, prayed as much as I could, making sure its continuous glorious sounds would nourish you.
We heard your heartbeat; a little flutter within me. You were mine and I was yours. Our hearts spoke of yearning to meet, to blossom in each other’s company. I wanted the best in life for you. We were going to ensure you became a success in this world and the next. You’d study, become a doctor, lawyer, accountant- something important, that’s for sure. You would also become a hafiz of the Quran and balance both worlds perfectly.
We passed the half-way mark. We started buying all those cute baby clothes I’d seen in the shop windows (probably too many clothes, but only the best for my special heart, right?) We bought the latest pram with electronic folding, the Isofix car seat so that you’d always be safe on our travels and the baby swing to soothe you when you cried. We amassed a promising array of paraphernalia to support the child.
I felt you move. Tiny tickles inside me at first, but you just never stopped. We nicknamed you “Mover Shaker”.
You kicked me incessantly, I could never sleep. I’d walk around proudly with my vibrating tummy protruding. I started attending functions that I had previously made excuses to avoid for so long, thinking that I’d show those nosy aunties that I too can have a baby. I welcomed my expanding midriff and stretch marks as a badge of honour for carrying you. Can you imagine that li’l ol’ me can nurture a soul to fruition? I used to spend so long questioning my barren emptiness that this made me feel like a real woman.
The headiness of your imminent arrival spurred us through our days. We felt like kids in a candy store, but with seemingly unlimited funds. At least our years of dedication to work had afforded us this luxury.
I felt a growing sense of uneasiness though. Your heart was trying to tell me something. Were we putting too much pressure on you to succeed in all the ways we couldn’t? To be the best, to have the best? Perhaps we should slow the planning down. So, I did. I rested and I enjoyed the glow you brought me.
Yet, the feeling lingered. Something just didn’t feel quite right. You were still telling me something. I drew closer to my Lord, praying for ease and contentment to once again come my way. I became restless and asked the doctors to check on you again. I was assured that all was well, but I just couldn’t calm down. I knew you. You were a part of me.
I still remember the night our dreams came crashing down. The pit of my stomach had been nagging me all day. The kicking had slowed, and then stopped. Then came the blood. Oh, the red gush that killed my fantasies! Nothing the doctors did could have helped you. Just weeks before you were due to enter this world you were gone; snatched from me. Inna lilah wa inna ilayhi raji’oon – surely we belong to Allah and to him we shall return. This prayer should bring solace, but my heart was being hammered into a million pieces. I didn’t want to listen to anything else.
Your heart was missing in mine. This damn body. How could it betray me like that? It showed me a glimpse of love, dangled it in front of me and then ripped it out of my clutches once I finally caught it. I hated myself. What could I have done differently? I punched myself, hitting my head incessantly until it felt like mush. What the actual fuck…?
I saw your body. My precious little girl. Deathly white, alien like. Your limbs were all there, I even counted your fingers and toes. Nothing was out of place! Why did you leave me? My body trembled, the shaking wouldn’t stop. They pulled you away to put you into the ground. But where were you going? You were mine, our hearts were one. Only, they weren’t. Had I dreamt it, that bond that could stand the test of time and realm? I needed you, dammit!
I was gone, lost in a dark void where all I could do was blame-myself, the doctors, my husband, anyone. If my body was going to betray me, I would betray it. I stuffed myself, gorging on unhealthy food. I stopped exercising, rarely leaving my darkened room. I felt as though I’d let you down. My husband, who himself was grieving the loss of a child, attempted to prop me up. Initially, I rebelled. I was the most hurt as I had carried you. What could he possibly know about how that felt? I was all alone in my grief.
I poured through the nursery, holding on to the fine things we had bought for you to use. None of it mattered now. You were gone. Tears streamed down my face and I cried for all those moments we wouldn’t get to spend together and the experiences we would not be able to have.
I gave it away, all of it. I couldn’t bear to see the reminders of you all around me. I wanted to burn it all, but sanity prevailed as I thought of all those children who currently needed these things more than I needed a bonfire to ease my suffering.
Allah works in mysterious ways though. He must have wanted me back, deemed me important enough to once again guide me to the light. The same aunties who annoyed me now shared words of wisdom. Allah almighty says: “By Him in whose hands is my life, a child will pull its mother to Jannah if she is patient”. It calmed my heart to know that my angel was waiting for me in Jannah.
I slowly came back to life. I wondered how people processed loss in the absence of faith as it’s the only thing that pulled me through those dark days. There is no blame. If Allah willed it; it will be.
I’m back to my career, but I’ve realised how important it is to live life to the fullest. We give back to our community, support orphanages, travel the world and enjoy every moment we have to live.
Time is an amazing thing. It’s now five years since our hearts were severed and while I think of the child I lost and look forward to meeting her in Jannah, I know that Allah is the best of planners and will only give us what we can bear. Until then, we will always have an unbreakable bond.