Felicity sat with her legs dangling, feet hovering right above the stream. There had only been mere millimetres between the tips of her toes, and the icy wetness of the water. She recalled a question her father had once posed to her: “Is water wet?”
This had been back when he had been around, for that brief period, at least. Felicity had been around ten years old. She would spend her evenings, that year, curled up under the mustard-coloured fleece blanket in the orangery, ruminating over possible answers to her father’s many random questions. But, more often than not, there were no concrete answers. Only one thought, giving way to another, giving way to a dozen more: words spilling like tree branches.
Then, there were those bursts of thoughts about what ‘big school’ might be like: that entire presently unbeknownst adventure. And there were the orchids and the orange trees, which, when the house had been empty (as it often had been) Felicity would speak to. They had been her truest friends. Sometimes, they would end up being her only companions for the evening: on some days, her father would come home, would make himself a mug of hot chocolate, would sink comfortably into his armchair. A half-stranger, in the only home Felicity had ever known.
On other days, however, he would not come home. Half here, her father had been. And mostly not.
She found herself thinking about her father quite often, these days – about his health, about that enduring sadness of his – and about that tree in the garden (the one with only half its leaves there — and even the ones that remained were quickly becoming more and more yellow) that she found had quite resembled, in nature, her mother.
Did the presence of two half-parents come together and equate to one sort of ‘whole’? Half a mother, and half a father. But, also, elsewhere, the entirety of a world, contained within the glass panes of that orangery. A room, a tiny universe, which had been quite alive, quite quietly. Known to let the sunlight right through, and on those blessed cloudless evenings: entire constellations, too.
But, even despite the delightful company of her floral friends, Felicity did often feel quite alone in the world; this had been a persisting feeling. And even at school, where she had not been without friends; even when swarms of other people would come around: when her mother would finally emerge from her tower, would come downstairs with her sorrows masked in powder and lipstick, would almost look… whole again. Like the moon, periodically coming into fullness, even if for a mere moment: even then…
Felicity felt alone. But she knew that love was there, out there and everywhere. She would wear that little old fleece blanket as a cape most evenings, walk outside and sit on that large rock by the stream. And she would remind herself, beneath the silver glow of the moon: that her father, too, was still there, somewhere at least. That the truest of loves never really do ‘die’, do they? When it is true, it cannot be destroyed.
That, rather than peering out with binoculars onto the outside world; seeking to come to know all of it, and to find all that could ever possibly be found… The world, in its largeness, could often be quite dizzying, Felicity found. And everywhere, there had been destruction. Millions and millions of all these other people, and other lives, other concerns, and…
Maybe the orangery had been enough of a world, for Felicity’s own good. Maybe she did not have to worry so much. It had been God that had placed her there, specifically, in that half-glass world of hers, in the first place.
And it is He who puts love between hearts. And it had been He who had placed watchful old moon right there, right there, thousands of miles above Felicity’s head.
And “he who is not grateful to the people is not grateful to God”. God gives us, in our lives, certain people. And certain orange trees and orchid plants. And it is through love, Felicity concluded, that God oft speaks — and in this knowledge she found a unique sort of peace. That word, that word in Arabic, what had it been, again?
Had it not been in the bittersweetness of her aloneness, that Felicity had found God? And, would any other person, any other fellow creature — be it her father, or a dear friend, or a boy — be able to give her something (love, perhaps, and warmth) which God had not ordained, decreed for her? Nay. For it is God, as Felicity had told her assembly of orange trees, with all due conviction, who places love in the hearts of mankind, between one man and another, between a sister and her brother, between son and mother.
We receive what we receive. And we nurture certain things. We pick and we choose. And some things do blossom, do come into fullness, while other things… fall. What to do next, Felicity wondered. What to do, what to do, though, about her fallen, autumnal – moon-like – mother?
Regardless of the heaviness of these crepuscular thoughts of hers, which had followed her all the way to sleep: as the first rays of dawn broke through the glass panes of the orangery that nascent morning, Felicity looked all around her. Something had surely changed; she wanted to pay attention to, study, all the little changes. Things felt rather more real, more alive, and Felicity felt a remarkable sort of satisfaction in this morning’s aloneness. Mother, asleep still, but birds, though: wide awake, and quite loudly so. Sky streaked with a line of pink.
Other people will be other people, Felicity concluded. Including mother and father. Friends will be friends. Orchids, and birds, and orange trees. But in all those hours and crevices in-between: there is only she, in truth, and there is always God.
أولا وأخيرا ودائما
First, last, and always.
Sadia Ahmed J., 2020