What I have learnt, Episode Eleven: Lower your Glaze.
Subhan Allah, a lot can happen in a single day. And maybe it is true that the entirety of Rome had not been built in one single day, but I’m sure that on any given day, some Romans had been born; some died; some fell in love; entire colosseums had been finalised, made open to the public. A day is a lot of time; each day is significant. And death can take us at any time.
A while ago, a strange experience: I had woken up from a nap [for what is adulthood, but a series of naps, and then the spaces between them?] and started to have some tremendously disorientating thoughts: I’m alive. I exist. These are my hands. Bi’ithnillah, I can move them. I’m alive. I exist.
It is awe and it is terror.
Today, ’twas a Friday. 22nd May 2021. Well, right now it is 01:18AM, Saturday. And it is raining! Alhamdulillah.
Yesterday, I woke up and did my Friday routine: it is Sunnah (following the Prophetic example) to bathe, cut your nails and unwanted hairs, wear perfume, and wear your best clothes on Fridays. I like to see Fridays as mini Eids. A beautiful day.
Having an income and having an Amazon account at the same time… what a thing. I am not an over-spender, however I do tend to buy quite a few bits and bobs from le Amazon. Eid time: my room had become a jungle of Amazon boxes. Yesterday I ordered a bottle of sandalwood oil. Essential oils make for excellent perfumes. Muhammad (SAW) used to wear white musk, and white musk is a beautiful scent: one that I had come to know about last year, at the bookshop. Other beautiful, beautiful scents: the smell of fire on clothes; ‘Sweet Escape’ by Sunna Musk (which my friend Aya – who works there – tells me, is a dupe of a perfume that is way more expensive); Dior Sauvage.
Essential oils: derived from the roots, leaves, flowers, barks, and peels of various plants. How cool.
I have just found out that ‘patchouli’ is an essential oil. I know of the word from the fact that Mama (my uncle – aunt’s husband) would always refer to his daughter (Siyana, AKA Hackerman) as ‘patchouuuli’.
Today, I put some of my dad’s Turkish beard oil into my hair, since it contains oils such as coconut and argan. And, for perfume: I used some of the perfume I had purchased from the book shop near the mosque. It smells alright, but it is extremely diluted and weak.
Today, I found a parcel in my letterbox, and got all excited, expecting it to have been my ‘TLS’ subscription. But, alas… ‘t’had been the COVID test I had ordered, immediately prior to having the quick test done at the school.
On Fridays, at the school I work at, they play Surah Kahf through the tannoys. Such a soothing, soulful thing to walk into.
Today I had form cover for form 10Z. I taught my two English classes. I discovered that somebody had moved my salsa from the fridge… [grr] I had lunch duty on the bottom floor hall. I had Salāh duty also.
Today I learned that there is a ‘flag bandit’ going around sticking little homemade ‘Free Palestine’ stickers all around the school. And that people’s personalities are so great: schools truly are ‘microcosms of society’.
With my Year Eight class, as part of our unit on ‘Appearances Versus Reality’, we’d discussed the idea of ‘masks’, and the things that they associated with the word. On the literal level: coronavirus masks, superhero masks, WWII gas masks. On the figurative levels: emotional masking; avoiding judgement and social rejection; ‘ideal selves’ and ‘getting attention’. I can’t lie: they get me thinking. Certainly, ‘teaching’ is such a two-way experience.
Masks: we all wear them. They hide some things. They show some things. They protect; they allow us to escape ourselves, briefly. And so on.
“Hands up if you think you are the same, at school and at home.”
Only two hands went up, out of thirty.
“Are you the same person when you’re around people, compared to when you’re alone?”
The same two hands went up.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts“
— William شيخspeare
Today I kept humming a song that Tamanna would keep singing, a couple of years ago: ‘Strangers on an Island’. I also learned that improvement is possible: “drop by drop, the river rises” [a Moroccan proverb I’d learnt from an episode of ‘Freshly Grounded’]. One of my colleagues (the A-level Psychology teacher) came in and left a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for us all, in the middle of the table. And maybe it had been because I had just had a cup of green tea – a drink that tends to convince me that I am suddenly super healthy and ‘detoxed’ – but I looked at the box, and then looked away. Me not need doughnuts. Nafs mine just convinces me that I ‘really, really, really want’ things like this. Ultimately, they’re bad for me though. Gotta… lower my gaze. LOWER MY GLAZE. I am so proud of myself, my gosh! Masha Allah, Masha Allah.
I worked with my dad on one of his leaflets for his shop. I used to love going to his shop, to ‘help out’ [hang around, do random things, get given great food].
What else, what else? Oh! Today, I found out, from a handful of sources, that ‘the entirety of Key Stage Three’ (according to Miss Rafia) is convinced that I am leaving. I did tell them that I will likely be leaving in July, Insha Allah — though I do not want to. But, as a result of a number of factors… they had strongly come under the impression that I were to be leaving immediately.
Reason the first: a member of the admin team who is training to become a teacher had been given one of my lessons, to be observed during. The students saw: me not being there.
Then, I had been unwell, and so they had to be covered by other teachers.
Finally, today, the school had a prospective teacher come in to deliver an observation lesson. I had been told about this in advance, but had forgotten to note down that it was today. Halfway through my double-lesson, the Assistant Principal walked in, with the candidate. And I felt extremely embarrassed, since I had forgotten.
They (the students) had seen: me… leaving… halfway through a lesson. And another teacher taking my place. On my (awkward) way out, I was bombarded with questions. Even while walking through the hall: questions of “are you leaving, miss?” They had become certain that I had been leaving. And small things can make for ‘big news’, at secondary schools…
I learned a number of things from a range of conversations: staff room, students… You can learn so much about people, just from three-minute-or-so conversations with them. There is always more to find out: about how Ms. K’s mother used to help out with the cleaning at the local mosque; different perspectives on things; about people’s hometowns.
I learned which hijāb style I would like to consistently keep: I can’t do the whole ‘one style, one day, another day another’ thing. We have reached a decision! It’s what Mazhar refers to as “Year Seven Sadia style”.
I also learned that the middle-floor Qur’an room is a lovely retreat to go to, after the school day, to read Qur’an. Amazing acoustics, lovely atmosphere. Peace, recollection.
After work, I waited around for Sweetie: Sweetie is basically my mother; ‘Sweetie’ is not her real name. She is my youngest maternal aunt, and she is the one that encouraged me to apply for this job in the first place [I call nepotism!] She is an A-level Biology teacher. Normally, she is at work on Wednesdays to Fridays, half-day. And normally, on these days, we either walk home together, or Mama (her husband) picks us up. Turned out she had not been in yesterday.
Next, and since I had been starving, I went on a quest for food [I blame the salsa bandit who moved my salsa. I tried to eat toast with nothing, but it tasted how one would expect toast-with-nothing to taste… toast-with-nothing-y.] Tesco meal deal, or café food? I decided to check out one of the nice-lookin’ cafés outside of the mosque [I had been there, once with Tamanna and her mum; once with Didi; a couple of times with my extended family — whom I shall henceforth refer to as the Ahmed-Ali-Alam family… although this might be a little exclusionary, as Didi’s surname is ‘Shamim’, and she married a person whose surname is ‘Suhel’, last year]. The management of the café has since changed.
Previously, I have dipped in and out of this shop: for a quick (coconut-milk) coffee, and a brownie, during a break at work. Today, I wanted to see if they did any ‘proper food’. And, nope: they do not. Only ice-cream, and a somewhat bare collection of cakes. Since I had already spoken to the two women standing behind the counter, and since the rest of the shop had been empty, I felt too embarrassed to leave without buying anything. I bought a little cup of chocolate ice-cream, which they had fitted with a lid that made it look like an astronaut.
I like the word ‘serendipity’, but these days I am strongly favouring the word ‘Qadr’. [I still yearn to learn more about that whole free-will-versus-determinism stuff. though]. I looked around the café, and noticed some stairs leading downstairs. I asked them if they have additional seating capacity downstairs, and they said, yep, with a capacity of fifty-eight! They invited me to go down and have a look, if I wanted, so I did.
In Khayr [our weekly online sisters’ circle], we had been wanting to have a little event. To get together, to meet one another. I had been thinking about venues: two restaurants I know of — one, Turkish, one, the grill place down the road from Quality, the grocery shop — that have basements. But this one seems perfect! No, I am going to try to stop using the word ‘perfect’. This one seems stellar: star-like, excellent, but never perfectly spherical, smooth. ‘Perfect’ things have no character. I much prefer the idea of ‘stellar’ things.
Yesterday, I really wanted to go to the mosque. I’ve really missed my local mosque: a place I grew up attending weekend circles, summer camps and such at. I went to check if it was open, as the people in the staff room kept saying it is. But, turns out, the corona regulations that had been in place much of last year are still there: for prayer, the mosque opens up fifteen minutes before Salāh time; you can’t randomly walk in any more [for now, I hope…]
I ate my chocolate ice-cream at the bus stop — my most frequented bus stop, so it would seem. Beautiful, increasingly-gentrified, somewhat-grimy, Whitechapel. Awkward interaction with a stranger, whom I asked if she wanted to sit down, and she responded with indifference.
At home, I fixed myself up a plate of rice, chicken, and salad, and went outside to eat [in spite of the cat, who kept trying to dip his muzzle into my food]. I love the feeling of doing things like… wearing a raincoat, and sitting outside to eat. It reminds me of the Adventure Park that Tamanna and I used to always go to. Today I learned that the final part of my campfire kit has arrived! I had been inspired by Lal Mama and Mami’s fire pit, in their garden, to get a (portable) one of my own: a wire mesh pit. I wanted to use it in the garden today, but then it started raining a bit. I carried on eating, in the rain. Adventure Park vibes!
One of the key reasons as to why I decided to get this campfire kit is because… certain things, ideas, (TLS subscriptions,) and such: I kept ‘saving for later’. But ‘later’ is only an imaginary concept. Life is a series of presents [double-meaning. Merit if you spotted that]. I could literally die tomorrow: there is no idealised future. There are only present moments of deep rugged charm.
This is my life; there is no ‘wanting’, no ‘waiting’ for anything else. A quote I discovered on Pinterest: “Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.” [— H.] And, Insha Allah, Jannah – an eternity there – also awaits.
This life does not ‘begin’ with anything elsewhere. Look around you: this is it; it has begun, and it is happening.
Currently, our neighbours — the three girls — are singing together, and I can hear them. ‘Heartbeat’ by Muad, *Scottish accent, but with no intended offence to Aatqa* bless their cotton socks. [I am, at present, dying to go back to Scotland].
Yesterday, I had a few things to do. But then my parents told me that they are planning to go to Canvey Island with Lal Mama and Mami [Lal Mama is a very adventurous person, Masha Allah. Most of the spontaneous and exciting family outings we have had, had been his idea. Scotland, Wales, Lake District, a vehicular tour of Europe…]
Some of these spontaneous adventures, I have said no to, in the past. Many others, I have put other considerations aside to say yes to. This one: I decided, yes, I wanted to go to Canvey Island (assuming that they meant the beach) to use my campfire kit.
Yesterday, I learned that my dad had got me a handful of food containers from ‘The Fishmongers’ Company London’, a charitable organisation: I think they might be Quakers. Father dearest is trying to help me with this whole ‘healthier eating’ thing. He gets me fruits all the time, and oat milk.
I also learned that he had exchanged one of his cars [he has a small car, for daily use, and a big one, for longer trips]: a large Mercedes mini-van, for… another mini-van. This new one is much nicer: at the back, the seats face each other. There are collapsible tables. Iz a nice ride. [I used to die over my dad’s cars. Wanting to show my friends at primary school how his Chrysler’s doors opened automatically; wanting to be seen getting out of his BMW sports car, in Year Seven. Them ones: I thought I was so cool.]
I found out that my cousin Maryam — who has just finished her A-levels — was not coming with us. She and I had sleepover plans for this weekend, but this has had to be rescheduled. My friends for the trip, instead, were Beesa and Soopaf [the nicknames that have come seemingly out of nowhere, for Isa and Saif]. I did not mind: I love hanging out with them, and… annoying them is probably my number one hobby.
When the door opened (“automannically”, to quote adorable brother dearest) I said, “hey Isa, it’s me, your worst nightmare”.
In the car, we talked and talked, as we do. Saif (who is currently eight) described the corona period as “two years of pandemonium”, and then proceeded to do something really silly. We played ‘I spy’ together. Saif kept changing the words: “I spy with my two brown eyes,” “I spy with my one big eye”…
And when ‘I spied’ something begin with ‘N’ [my word was ‘nostrils’] Saif got it in three tries. I thought nobody ever would.
I love Beesa and Soopaf’s friendship with one another. It is the cutest thing ever: they discuss everything from Fortnite and Minecraft, to science. Their conversations with one another tend to be the most endearing, insightful, stupidly funny things ever. [A schoolfriend of Isa’s – Ehsan – recently set up a ‘Smarty-Pants Club’ at school. Population: two. Him and Isa. Nobody else is allowed to join.]
Today, on the car journey there, I learned, again, of the powerful beauty of friendship. Doing things – hard things, sometimes – together. My dad mentioned something about Saif that sort of brought embarrassment to him. But then Isa quickly said that, So? He had done the very same thing.
Isa and Saif, as mentioned in a previous episode, call me ‘weird’, ‘annoying’, ‘crazy’, and a ‘nerd’ all the time. And, whenever they have learnt a new word, or have found out about something interesting, they come to me. Is this an abusive sibling-ship? [Well, they genuinely do just seem to completely ignore the people that they don’t like. I hope their meanness is actually love].
When we arrived at Canvey Island, Isa kept saying that he’s hungry. Definitely my cousin. I think he had been the same last year, in Scotland. Arrival. Primary consideration: food.
Turned out, the object of this journey had not quite been the seaside, but… Lal Mama’s friend’s restaurant. I think quite quite a few of Lal Mama’s – and my dad’s – friends own restaurants: we have been to many, if not most, of them.
Indian restaurant. We had to divide ourselves between two tables, courtesy of COVID. The adults – and the waiters – encouraged me to go and sit with them. But I chose the boys: conversations with the adults tend to be nice. Conversations with this eight- and nine-year-old duo tend to be stellar. I think, (maybe as a result, or maybe not, of having spent so much time around them during lockdown last year) that my sense of humour is the eight-year-old boy sort. Normally, Saif calls me ‘Didimoni’ and Isa calls me ‘Fuldi’. But yesterday, they decided to switch. Maybe it wasn’t really funny, but I found it hilarious.
Yesterday, Saif had struggled with tying his shoelaces. Isa, a wonderful big brother to my little brother (but they are also both my brothers), stepped in to help… even though, as I came to discover, he does not (yet) know how to tie shoelaces himself. Then, Saif decided to put his shoe… on my hand. No warning. For me to do it. I got a bit mad at him for this, but it is near impossible for me to stay angry at my brother.
We did Salāh in a small office room. Other random places in which I have prayed, before: the upstairs room of another-one-of-Lal-Mama’s-friend’s-restaurants; a forest in Scotland; by a lake, in the Lake District; the airport; service stations; classrooms; the roof, at work. You can pray pretty much anywhere that is clean.
Isa, Saif, and I have chosen to name our little squad, ‘The Medium Macs’, after an inside joke from over lockdown, including “school”, pronounced in a certain way, and “Big Macs”.
Lal Mama requested for the waiters to set his cake on a nice cake plate: he has this nice thing of giving his wife at least some token of appreciation, every Friday, however ‘small’. A bunch of flowers, a letter, a bar of chocolate, a cake. The meal therefore came to a close with cake, teas, and coffees. Yesterday, he told me that (it is very normal – inevitable – for couples to argue and that) with something like this, you find you have to “patch things up before Friday”. Because it would be terribly awkward to give your wife a gift when you are temporarily not on good terms with one another.
Lal Mama also showed me a video – of Mami and he, twenty years ago, at his friend’s house. Lal Mama and Mami look so different, compared with back then… and the same.
After our meal, Saif challenged me to a race in the car park. I told him I was wearing my heeled boots. “So?!“
So we raced. And I won. He accused me of cheating. We raced again. I won again. [Maybe I should let him win… but he is eight years old now; it’s character development for him to be beaten by his sister, right?]
And I have learnt, again, that: Islam, good company, good food, learning/writing, adventures, home, and good views [nature]! This is my world, soothingly and soulfully away from the deceptions and dizzinesses of Dunya. The recipe for a good, good, life, Alhamdulillah: sweet slices of stellar-ness.
Finally, I still can’t believe that I exist as a real human being. I could’ve been born… a cactus. And, yet, here I am.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.