Miss Kulsuma and Miss Doli both are, towards me, so very nurturing and maternal. Miss Kulsuma brought in a container of food for me the other day. She came to me and whispered, with a smile, “Have you eaten lunch?” I told her I had. I think she waited for the staff-room to become a little emptier, before saying, “I made you some! That’s why I asked.”
Two pitta breads, and a spicy tuna filling. And, truth be told, I often find myself wondering what I have done, in order to deserve such beautiful treatment. My mind is notoriously known to jump to: it’s because I’m small, isn’t it? Their subconscious maternal impulses are probably being activated by my inescapable diminutiveness. But maybe I should give all that cynicism a rest, sometimes.
I love, for example, the way that Mushfikah refers to everybody as “babe”… but sometimes, she accidentally has impulses to call the senior male staff the same thing, she says. And when I text her to let her know that I’ll probably be a couple of minutes late, in — I’ve been feeling a tad overwhelmed, lately, beneath the surface. Somewhat distracted, exhausted — she texts back, “Wasalam no its ok babe”. And, whenever I see her in the distance, and we smile at one another, she is known to smile this particular smile: nose all crinkled up, like how we know to smile at… babies.
Some of my anxieties are as follows: I don’t deserve to be smiled at, like that! I’m not ‘cute’ like how a baby is. I’m not extremely ‘pleasant’.
When I was younger, I had been the type to get mud all over my shoes; grass in my hair [Mazhar and Safwan rolled down a hill. I felt I had to join them] and rips upon my clothes. Trouble (but things… were interesting that way). Once, my Nana (grandfather, Allahu Yerhamuhu) took Mazhar and Safwan to the park, in the evening. The boys had been wearing their pyjamas. I rushed to join them, also in my pyjamas. The trouble I got into, upon returning, wow.
This is me: I’ve always been quite academically-inclined, and I would always get into trouble as a result of my little schemes and adventures.
Everybody is the same, but grown, today. How should I be associated with ‘cute’, when that has scarcely ever really been me?
It also reminds me of when, at sixth form, a particular girl in my English class, whenever she would see me, would wiggle her finger at me, call me “so cute”, and make a similar “awwww” face. Like I am a child, who requires, warrants, babying. And maybe! I shouldn’t mind so much; should not find it patronising, infantilising in a bad way. Consistently, though, it has been “so cute!”
“Adorable.” Meanwhile, Isa, at home, keeps saying I’m just like this particular TV character, since I’m so “violent and annoying”.
Me trying to convince myself: it’s not a bad thing, to be seen as being ‘cute’ by people! It doesn’t mean that I can’t also be the other things that I am, too. Doesn’t mean, also, that your… views, for example, are not respected, or that you are seen as being incapable. Miss Doli and Miss K do, for instance, ask me for my thoughts on things — on their kids, on which activities they should organise, for the upcoming summer scheme.
But, also, let me tell you who is actually adorable:
Miss Doli’s two little daughters. Aneesa and Zaynab. And her little son, Saiful, who barely really speaks to me. But when he does, Masha Allah, he comes across as being so very noble. ‘Bodroh’, as we would say, in Bengali. Recently, he’s been saying “Assalamu ‘alaikum” to me, and hanging about a little more.
Aneesa and Zaynab’s smiles are, Masha Allah, glittery, somehow: totally unforgettable. And, what did you do at school today? They are, I believe, four and six years old. “Work,” they return, almost always-beaming. One of their dolls: they have named her ‘Elsa’. No: ‘Anna’. The doll’s hair is more… bright orange, and so she actually resembles neither Disney sister. The girls took the doll outside, held her up to the balcony window-glass; gave her a hair-wash with a bubble-gun.
Doli Khala tells her daughters to call me ‘Afa’, since I am older than them. But they want to call me ‘Sadia’, because, as they tell their mum, they know me: I’m their friend. Doli Khala keeps apologising about this, but I tell her I genuinely love it so much.
Khala says she has been meaning to make Biryani for me. Already, she has brought me, to work, sushi, and cornflakes, and chocolates. She’s made me tuna sandwiches, and fita (baked dough, with onions and other things) and pasta. Mixed with chips: a surprisingly tasty combination. Bazi, too (a sort of vegetable stir-fry) with rice. And I heard, from someone else, that at first, one of the reasons as to why she started talking to me so frequently was because she found the way I spoke Bengali “maya laggeh”: endearing. An alternative way, I suppose, of choosing to look at… ‘atrociously bad‘.
Since befriending Miss Doli, I think my Bengali-speaking skills have improved considerably, Masha Allah. But back then, I would get stuck on, perhaps, the most basic of expressions. I would also think I’m being inordinately awkward and alien. Can I even… keep up a good conversation? I’ve slipped up so many times already!
My biggest concern: am I making other people feel… uncomfortable, somehow? Relax, relax, relax. Let good things happen; say thank you to them, and to Allah, for them, always.
A self-centric over-analysing reflexive mechanism, in this mind of mine. Maybe ‘cute’ is: a little… bleddy helpless. Like when I picked up that sandwich I had bought from that Italian bistro, and… the tomatoes suddenly fell out, and Miss F called me “Miskeenaaa”.
After I’d first come into Kulsuma’s acquaintance, and she saw me walking to work, about five minutes away, she stopped by me and told me to jump into her car. And when she heard that I am really trying to gosh-darn undo all this damage from eating quite a bit of bad food for so long, she brought me a container of homemade guacamole, and I shared some with Mominah and Miss Maisoun, on the roof.
Doli Khala says that she is not learning English in order to “become a doctor” or anything. She is content, in her current role, as a cleaner at the school, she says. “Whatever kismet – from Allah – gives [her], [she] is happy”. She comes into work content; offers to make me tea. But she is older than me: she deserves such respect, not me.
Fourteen years, in total, in this country. And: a very sheltered life. First: under the protection and the maintenance of her father. And then she got married, and she basically says that the time just went, somehow. She worries there is not enough time for her to become fluent. I tell her about something I had come across on Twitter (back when I still had it), about an eighty-something-year-old woman, who didn’t even know how to type and send an email… and then she became, at that noble age, a published author.
We’re born not even knowing how to crawl or read. And now look at us: we can run and debate… matters of Islamic Law and everything. Masha Allah, Masha Allah, Masha Allah.
Yesterday, in the staff-room, Miss F made that Du’a again. She is sixty-something years old, but seems very strong for her age, Masha Allah. And she has this thing of going up to we twenty-something-year-old staff members, asking us if we are married, and making lengthy (and, within that room, pretty universally audible) Du’as, whose entireties I cannot quite understand. But two particular words tell me exactly what their basis is: “Zawjun Saaliha”. In Arabic, meaning: righteous spouses. So I just say, “Āmeen”.
Yesterday, Miss F made that Du’a towards two of my colleagues, and then towards me. This time, instead of immediately saying “Āmeen” in response, I added, to “Zawjun Saaliha”, using my limited Arabic-speaking ability, “wa jameelun!” [“and beautiful!” In the Islamic tradition, both men and women can be called ‘beautiful’ without it being weird.]
That staff room, Masha Allah, is amazing, on account of who it is made up of: all these intelligent and kind Muslim women. The science specialists; the nutrition enthusiasts. The Islamic Sciences ones; the ones currently studying for degrees in Psychology, on the side. One of yesterday’s staff-room discussions, after this exchange between myself and Miss F had been on the topic of:
Mahr. 6k? 10k? Six-hundred-and-fifty pounds? I told them that I’m going to, Insha Allah [where is my future husband, Insha Allah? Where is my dork?] ask for a sword. Like, a really nice antique one. Gem-stones, engravings, maybe. A reaaally nice sword. A lot of my colleagues were curious to know why. The whole staff-room went silent.
“To play with,” I told them. And then they all burst out laughing. But it’s true: I want a real sword so bad. Perhaps this want of mine is closely linked to how I used to love playing Power Rangers sword-fighting with my cousin. We’re still the same old us: everybody absolutely is, at heart.
I have such longings in me. To have a nurturing, fun and intelligent (and yeah, let’s face it, handsome as heck) best friend to live this life of mine with. And then to enjoy Jannah with, I hope. And to do stuff like race with. And ‘accidentally’ shove a bit, while running, so that I win. But then I’ll explain that it was “feminism” all along. Can’t argue against it, homie.
In any case, I know there is supreme wisdom behind Mahr in terms of monetary gifts. As some of my ‘Alimiyyah colleagues had elucidated yesterday, it is generally expected that the man will be the primary earner in the relationship. So, what happens if the two of you separate for a while, or divorce? Mahr is sometimes just gift, just to make the woman happy [hence: sword. *cry*, I want to be happy.] but it is also, often, security. In case anything goes a little awry: the woman should still be looked-after, and should not have to go back to her parents for that support.
Okkkkk. If/when the time comes, for me, I’ll still be too embarrassed. I find it hard, and embarrassing, even, to ask my dad for money. No! How could I ever ask for money. I’ll ask for a sword, hope that he’ll be able to comprehend and enjoy my ‘weirdness’, make Du’a that my marriage works out – eternally – and… be (more than) content with whatever is in my kismet, Insha Allah.
Dear Reader: I know it may seem like I talk about marriage so, so much. But, I figure: it’s okay. It’s natural for people to seek this companionship; we were literally designed to have it, and to seek love and comfort through it. For it to be of massive benefit, to us. But I suppose some people, who consider themselves ‘liberated’ from these needs, consider themselves to be quite ‘free’: a phony desirable-seeming-sometimes ‘value’. Some are known to put everything related to ‘careers’ first.
I would like to be the sort of person who puts everything to do with family first. The cornerstone of a healthy family, which then translates into being able to serve the wider community better, through a ‘career’ or otherwise: the marital relationship. In Jannah, Insha Allah, we will be with those whom we love.
Today I’m a bit mad though: my cousin Mazhar just announced that he would like for his Nikkah ceremony’s colour to be… navy blue. I wanted to keep this colour for me. Navy blue with touches of bronze… starry-night theme. *cry, cry, cry*. If Mazhar Alam Jilany steals the name ‘Jameel’ for his first son, too, I’ll… metaphorically throw hands, I will.
The truth is that in today’s world, ‘liberated’ – what Western ‘feminism’, for example, touts – actually means… lonely. Empty and shallow, though, perhaps, shiny-seeming on the outside. You don’t ‘need‘ anybody; also, nobody really ‘needs’ you, or really remembers you, for any of the right reasons.
The truth is, I am weak: I know I am. And so is everyone. I know I need other people: emotionally/spiritually, and for help with things. Thus, I know I am not ‘cool’, i.e. completely independent, immune to wealths of mistakes and such. So: do I pretend, in order to earn the admirations of my peers and such? Or do I accept and be awight with it? I feel, in my heart, that it is better to be deeply loved by those who truly matter to me, than to be, based on shallow things, ‘respected’ by any masses of anybody. And this love that I so seek: it takes a lot of time. Any time that I am not spending with those whom I love: necessarily, I am losing out on the chance to nurture our bonds better. And: any time I am choosing to spend on nurturing these sacred, important bonds more, I am necessarily losing out on the chance to be ‘cooler’ before ‘society’.
What is very interesting, to me, is that two of the friends of mine whom I ended up becoming very close with: they told me that, upon first seeing me, they thought I was “too cool” to befriend. This had been back when I started dressing in a certain way. I guess I didn’t even speak much, then: stillnesses are far easier to project upon. Solid-seeming: maybe I walked around with some air of seeming self-certainty. At one of these particular friends, I would only smile, and we would not talk more. But nobody is self-certain or ‘independent’ or without (the sheer broadness and complexity of) human feeling.
The other day, this same friend: we could not stop laughing at the fact that her new nickname from me is ‘Psychology Queen’, and I can’t stop calling her it, randomly. To really connect with this beautiful human being, ‘cool’ (which is better for the ego, since it makes people ‘envy’ you or whatever) had to be dropped. To make room for ‘real’: the stuff of the mind, heart, and soul! ‘Body’, too, is ‘cool’ and all. And ‘body’ will also decay, in the ground, while only our deeds – the good and the bad, as well as the wasted, wasted time – will remain, for us to take account of it all. You had all this stuff given to you, including time. Just what did you do with it?
Yesterday, I felt somewhat insecure in my brothership with my brother, again. Sometimes he says things like that he wishes he had a brother instead of a me. I told him, fine, if I’m that unimportant to you, could you go for a while without talking to me?
Forty-eight hours, we decided on. No communication: a challenge. Saif said that if either of us breaks it, we would have to… eat a whole spoonful of sauce. Challenge accepted, little boi. We pinky-promised on this. He broke it within the first five minutes of the challenge, talking to me about something.
Something else to be deeply cherished from this week: Siyana. What a hilariously adorable little kid. I whispered in her ear, “Siyana, you’re a girl”. She, this three-year-old, returned, also whispering, “you’re a boy”, and my brother commended the fact that she has a sense of humour.
I think I have arrived at the conclusion that I am not, and nobody is, merely ‘one’ thing or ‘another’. ‘Cute’ or… a bit wild and annoying at times. Academically-inclined ‘or’ loves people. ‘Sunshine’ or kinda gothic, actually. Generally, people who first meet me tend to say that I seem “cute”, and “bookish”. Like I have no friends, even, on account of being quiet, sometimes. It is true that I only really want to be around people if it feels like the value of their company is greater than that of solitude. And it is true that I tend to choose my words a little carefully, before speaking. Recently, I came across a Hadith which states that this is how it ought to be.
If I did have no friends: well, having no friends is far better than being a *strong word here. Will not use*. Inspired by a blog article I have recently read, maybe I should speak up when people – and it usually is… non-Mahram men though – say things like this. But I need to find that right balance. Some of these comebacks, I feel, would get to their egos very much: gives me a lil adrenaline rush, it does. But, equally, I cannot just let things pass, so that they feel free to treat other people however they want. “Speak a good word, or remain silent”.
“Hahaha. You have no friends, do you?”
“Well I bet your friends are lucky to have someone like you, as their friend.” And then just stay quiet. Don’t even engage in further conversation: no need. He thinks he has friends. With all due respect, I find him one of the most boring people alive, to speak to. Always bringing up the exact same thing, whenever he speaks to me. But I wouldn’t say that to him. Probably better to have no friends at all than to have some who manage to convince you that you’re actually interesting, when, my goodness, you are not.
I don’t think near-strangers know me at all. I don’t think near-strangers to anybody actually know them at all: because (only) home – in terms of places, and in terms of people – is where we are true.
And you know, I used to fear when little bits of my intrinsic humanity would show. The tomatoes falling out of the sandwich; the awkward Wudhu thing, when I first met Ms M. But: humannesses. Everybody has them, in some way or others. I think I’m okay with my ‘awkwardness’ (which, admittedly, my friends [oh wait, I have none – my soul sisters, then, slices of my Jannah, Insha Allah. (((Psychology Queen)))] insist I don’t have at all. Is it just all in my head?!) since it makes for good stories afterwards, generally.
Fears, perceived inadequacies, grief. Stress. Addictions, loneliness, a feeling of lostness. Uncertainty, traumas. Fears of being forgettable, undesirable; ageing, illness. Universal human tingz. We all go Home, finally [the increasingly-evident norm of ‘existential depression’: Homesickness, is it not?] in the end, too: I hope we go Home, eternally, to good ones. It all depends on all that we are doing here.
And if ‘cool’ means deliberately and always hiding the subtler quirks, the idiocies, the lamenesses, the shed tears and the thunder, the wonders and surprises that are part-and-parcel of being alive here (in order to come across as being a little ‘super-human’, for any while) then: how the flip am I ever going to engage in a sword-fight in this world (me with a real one, and him, Insha Allah, with a fake one. Because f e m i n i s m) ever again? I simply can’t be ‘cool’! I would have to shed so much! Just so people – near-strangers, actually – look at me, fleetingly, and manage to think, “she’s so ‘fly'” or whatever. [Look how ‘uncool‘ I am, dear reader. Who says ‘fly’ anymore?]
But it’s that beautiful line from that beautiful poem, which [and I feel terribly obnoxious for doing this, but feel it’s somewhat necessary] I have decided to edit a little:
“Rage, [with grace] against the dying of the light”.
What matters to me? What will I stand, and hopefully never sit down, for? Islam; family; authenticity. ‘Cool’ is no worthy value to hold to: it’d necessarily betray me, because look how shallow, vain, and untrustworthy it is. Give me noble; give me truth and what is deep[ly] beautiful, and maybe even amazingly surprising, sometimes. And fudge this ‘need’ to compete in these battles of egos; these clawings for vanity, and this life-consuming, soul-destroying, connection-preventing, want
to feel ‘cool’. You know you’re faking things, to seem it; know that everybody else outside is, too.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.