Prayer mats.

Water beads fall, ice-cold, from your washed limbs, as you bend, stand, and then prostrate, shrink yourself in submission to that which you cannot see, like a butterfly returning to the safety of its cocoon,

newly baptised.

There is an inexplicable ring of certainty to this: the feeling of your nose, pressed against the purple velvet – of knowing exactly which words to utter next, even if their meaning is preserved, lost, to you, in Arabic,

and of your fingertips brushing through the fibres, as the heaviness of being momentarily flows out of you. There is an unmistakeable solidity in these rituals; there is even an unmistakeable solidity in faith: a presence, you will find, but it is not quite touchable.

Prayer mats come in various shapes and sizes: some have glittered edges, embroidered minarets, colours – the entire spectrum. Others are more austere – black and white and a space on which to place your head, and block-coloured borders adorned with little spirals.

Spirals. Conversations do not always require two audible participants. You whisper prayers, let the vibrations exit your throat, let those vibrations pass themselves on, spiralling, losing their intensity over little compressions of time.

You can sit, rocking rhythmically, spiralling, passing prayer beads through numb, cold hands, hopeless and yet suspended above imagined flickers, clinging onto every last bead of hope.

These conversations are the ones that take insomnia and turn it into trances of worship, like water into wine. Spiritual beggary into quiet wealth – mastery – into rugged harmony between ink and blankness. Where pen nib meets paper, where forehead meets floor, this is where the lost find themselves when they wish, rather desperately, to be found.

Pieces of paper, you will find, are prayers, and all prayers are inherently pieces of paper, written on, all over. With our gratitude, and with our woes. With all that we are certain of; with all that we do not, at present, know.

We close our eyes and allow words – sometimes our own, often anything but– to spill from us, spiral, catch pain and hope beneath their wings, rise and fall, bow and prostrate, and then when we are done, in satisfaction amid restlessness, we seal our letters,

breathing life into endless sighs of amen.

Sadia Ahmed, 2019