Assalaamualaikum- Peace be upon you! I have had what I hoped would eventually become a novel, Insha’Allah, on the back burner for quite a while now. After recently reading it again I have fallen back in love with these characters. Over the next few posts I would like to share with any readers out there a few (very) rough drafts of excerpts from Part I. The novel is structured in three parts. Part I tells the story of the Aziz family, Part II of an estranged cousin and Part II delves into the history of two brothers.
My story begins in Ramadan.
*********Aisha********* Part I
Fatimah was awake first. While the rest of the Aziz family held onto their last moments of sleep before fajr prayer, Fatimah would sit up; turn off her alarm before it had emitted a sound and place her narrow feet on the bedroom rug. An older abaya, maybe tattered along the sleeve or hem or faded two shades lighter than its original black or blue, was always thrown across her desk chair. The abaya was no longer nice enough to wear outside but it was perfect to throw over pajama pants and a tank top to make herself decent to pray. Kneeling, where the edge of the area rug met the wooden floor, she would grab any scarf from her plastic scarf bin, slide her feet into her slippers and slip quietly through the half opened bedroom door into the upstairs hallway. Fatimah did this all in the dark.
On this particular Friday morning, Fatimah Aziz was up an hour and half before fajr. It was 4am on a surprisingly humid early November morning. It was nearing the end of the third week of Ramadan. Fatimah quickly descended the stairs into the living room. Before she walked towards the kitchen she glanced to her right noting that her parents’ bedroom door was still shut. Entering the kitchen she flipped on the light. After tying her scarf loosely around her head she washed her hands. Five bagels were sliced and put in the oven. She cracked a dozen eggs, added salt and pepper, whisked them quickly and then left them to sit on the counter next to the stove. Gently, she peeled slices of turkey bacon from their package and set them into a hot oiled pan.
On the long wooden kitchen table she set a bowl of rinsed grapes, cold water and orange juice, and finally eating utensils, plates and cups. She stepped from the kitchen into a large room that was painted soft blue. On the walls were golden framed pictures of Arabic calligraphy. Two tall bookshelves stood on one side of the room. On the very top of each bookshelf sat a Qur’an. The room was furnished with only a sofa and love seat. Fatimah turned on the two standing laps. She laid five prayer rugs on an angle on the floor. Before she left the kitchen to return upstairs she turned over the sizzling turkey bacon, turned off the oven and set another frying pan out for the eggs.
She woke Anais up first. It only took a simple shake of his narrow shoulder and he sat up straight.
“Assalaamualaikum Anais, it’s time for suhoor. Go wake ummi and abbi. Turn the bacon off. Then scramble the eggs.”
“Walaikumasalaam.” he replied.
Anais rubbed his eyes and lifted his narrow fourteen year old body from the bed. He was tired but consoled his self with the fact that there was no school today. For two more weeks until the fast ended he would get to work at his parent’s store. Yes, his mouth would be dry as he placed new books on Islamic adab on the shelves, but anything was better than facing Ustadth Ali’s narrowing eyes as he stumbled over the juz that all of the other students seemed to learn so much faster.
Fatimah had already left Anais’s room and prepared herself for the final mission of the morning. She inhaled deeply and opened her bedroom door. She flipped on the light and focused her eyes on the bed directly underneath the only window in the room. A person unfamiliar with the room that Fatimah shared with her younger sister Asma might not describe what Asma slept on as being a bed. Because clothes, scarves, notebooks, toiletries and other miscellaneous objects sat in piles around the bed, it was difficult to discern the bed from the junk. An eye unaccustomed to the mess that was Asma’s side of the bedroom, would not only fail to see any signs of a mattress but might also mistake the body that now slept underneath a funky yellow, black, orange, and red graffiti inspired comforter as another inanimate part of the mess.
Yet, Fatima’s eyes narrowed on the body that lay underneath the comforter and even more intensely on the huge tumbling crown of tightly curled dark brown hair that peeked out of the very top of the funky graffiti print. The older sister knew how to navigate through the piles of Asma’s belongings so that she did not trip on a bright purple platform shoe or slip on a silky Turkish scarf. Fatima’s mouth opened wide and snapped audibly shut as she spotted the sleeve of her own maroon, pink embroidered abaya buried in one of the mountains. Asma had borrowed it to go out to a young adult social at the masjid only a week ago. Aisha would never stand for this crap, thought Fatimah as she finally made it safely to edge of the bed. Well, I’m me and Aisha is Aisha, Fatimah quickly answered herself. She was now staring into the light-brown, round face of her younger sister. At nineteen, Asma’s face still had traces of girlhood throughout. It was not just its roundness but it was evident in the sleepy almost smile that stretched across her soft lips. Despite the arched newly waxed eyebrows that Asma obsessively kept tidy since she was seventeen, there was something in her pretty face that made her sister pause before shaking her awake. Fatimah felt extremely protective over Asma so much so that when Aisha demanded that she not have to sleep in a room with a “slob” like Asma, Fatimah quickly agreed to move into the room with Asma and let Aisha take her room. Even now, with Aisha in campus housing for most of the year, she stayed in the room with Asma.
Anyway, the older and younger sister had decided that when they both started nursing school in the spring it would be great to be able to quiz each other from their beds until they exhaustedly fell asleep.
“Asma…wake up…wake up. We only have thirty minutes left to eat!”
Asma did not move. Fatimah let out a breath. Fatimah was not annoyed. This was indeed a morning ritual. She only needed another tactic.
“Asma There’s chocolate chip pancakes this morning. I made them from scratch.”
Oh, but it was bad to lie, even if it was a silly lie, during Ramadan.
Finally, in Arabic, she said, “Prayer is better than sleep. Prayer is better than sleep Asma.” She said it firmly while shaking her sister back and forth. A smile spread on Asma’s face and her eyes opened. Even this early in the morning there was a light that seemed to dance in Asma’s dark, almost black, eyes.
“I know it is. I know. You lied about the pancakes didn’t you?”
Fatimah laughed a little and nodded yes.
“Ooooh! Fatimah during Ramadan!” Asma said in a mocking serious tone.
Moments later both of the sisters hurried downstairs. Fatimah still in her abaya and Asma in her bright pink pajamas. Their parents and Anais were just finishing their food.
“Assalaamualaikum! Ramadan Mubarak!” their mother called out. She had on her housecoat and her long brownish dred locks hung down her back as she grabbed a few grapes while smiling at her daughters. Her voice, at five in the morning was surprisingly energetic. She smelled like the oils they sold at the family store.
The daughters paused to greet their mother and then their father before loading their plates with food. Their father, a dark-brown, tall man with a neatly trimmed beard and black framed glasses sat down the watch he was trying to fix and smiled at Fatimah.
“Shukran Fatimah for getting suhoor together” he said.
“Oh Alhamdulilah!” Fatimah said. The father and the daughter exchanged smiles. Smiles that were undoubtedly similar in faces that shared the same deep brown skin tone and large deep set eyes framed with long midnight black lashes. The daughter’s face had small traces of the mother in less noticeable places but from her shy, yet bright smile to her soft speaking voice she was her father’s child.
Later in the pale-blue room where the family prayed, Fatimah finally relaxed as her father began the first ayah of Al Fatiha. Her right baby toe touched her mother’s and her left touched Asma’s hot pink painted toe. Her lips moved as she recited along with her father. She was soothed by his slow deep recitation and she breathed in slow and steady.
It was Friday. There was Jumuah prayer. Anais, Fatimah and their father Malik would leave at seven to go open Al Ikhlas Islamic Book and Clothing Store which they would close at a quarter of one in order to attend Jumuah. Khadijah Aziz and her daughter Asma had shopping to do because they had invited the Abdullahs over to break the fast tonight. By eight o’clock all of the Aziz’s were out of their house and moving about in the outside world.
(continue to Part II below)