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SISTERS Original: A Perfect Storm

Miriam Islam’s short fiction piece illustrates an immense sacrifice, but life goes on…

That was how she felt; like a perfect storm had whirled into her life, turned her world  upside down and then suddenly, without a trace, left her devastated  in its wake.

 

 

Manchester, October 2014
This was it, this was decision time. It was an enormous decision to make whilst her heart still bled with so many moments replaying in her mind. Yasir standing in front of her. Yasir laughing, eyes crinkling at the corners as he smirked. Black hair with piercing eyes to match, chiselled features of perfection. Black eyes smirking with a contained smile and a nobleness that only he could possess.

 

White tea with hot milk, a hint of cinnamon mixed in with two sugars, and it is never as nice as the way he could make it.  Presenting her with flowers and then pretending to sneeze for the rest of the day. Memories. Memories.

The way he looked over her shoulder in the kitchen and would say, “Damsel in distress, need a hand with the stirring perhaps?” and then infuriatingly walk away. The way he could probe without speaking and knew she was mad at him even when she denied it. He would look for the twitching in the corner of her lips and say, “So, you’re not mad at me, should I say ’sorry’?” He would uncurl her clenched fists and kiss them softly, whilst she refused to look at him, and then he would laugh with a knowing smile.

 

He would nudge her with his foot every morning to wake her up. She would nudge him back, and then turn her back on him saying, “I thought most husbands wake their wives up with breakfast and a ‘Morning, gorgeous’.”

 

“I’m not most husbands, I don’t know how to use the toaster, and there’s nothing to compliment,” he would laugh at her indignant expression and then grab her before she escaped, “because all other beauty pales in comparison to you, my eternal houri!”

 
Ammarah remembered the week he had suddenly left off work, taking her to see the Northern Lights. Fun filled days and a magical luminous night of a magnificent kaleidoscope of colours and shadows lighting up the whole sky. The sight took her breath away, but all he was doing was staring at her and then whispered, “This is what I wanted to share with you. I want to show how you make me feel: like a great explosion of colour in my life. I want those colours to stay with me forever Ammarah.”

 

Words she would never hear and colours she would never see again; words that had become grey like the rest of her life. Holding back her tears, she turned to her sister and said, “Tell Mum and Dad I accept. I have nothing else to wait for, I accept his offer.”

 

June 2012
He always slammed the door in a way that was never too hard, but just enough to lift her up to smile, just as it always did whenever he entered the room. Wondering how to tell him, Ammarah quickly washed her hands and stood in the doorway waiting for him to acknowledge her. Except Yasir dropped his briefcase, hung up his coat and wouldn’t look up. He fidgeted with the tie around his neck and laced his fingers tightly as he looked past her. And then she knew. She knew, yet didn’t know what to ask, so she blurted out the first thing she could think of.

 

“You look tired.”

“Oh do I? Just one of those days.”

“Just one of those days every day.”

“Yes every day. Comes with the job.”

“You accepted it didn’t you?”

 

Yasir nodded quietly and turned away as her heart sank. He didn’t want to see her unconcealed disappointment or her beautiful, expressive eyes going blank. He didn’t want to see any reaction. They had discussed this at length and talked till they were both blue in the face, but yet Ammarah couldn’t come round to the idea and Yasir wouldn’t give up on the idea. The compromise had been not to discuss it all and brush it under the carpet until it had to resurface.

 

“You accepted?” She whispered, “You really just accepted? I mean not even a quick phone call or hesitation for me?”

“No, no. It wasn`t like that,” Yasir shook his head vehemently

“Then what? I mean of course it’s like that – you either say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it’s that simple.”

He reached for her hand but she folded it across herself tightly. He shook his head and sighed.

“You know it’s not like that. Come on you know it’s not like that. I’ve really taken my time considering it. Do you really think I’ve taken this lightly? And yet I’ve hesitated all the time Ammarah but … I just, just this once Ammarah I couldn’t hesitate for you.”

 

Her head snapped up. She was stung and stared at him accusingly. He avoided her gaze. And Ammarah knew she couldn’t tell him. Not just yet, not when his whole expression would change and all his dreams would fade away. She wouldn’t tell him – not now. Instead she put on a guarded smile and said breezily, “That’s great, I guess, so when? How soon?”

“On the 5th …”  he let the words hang.

 

She stared incredulously, “On the 5th! But that’s just four days away! Just four days and then I’m alone.”

 

5th July 2012
Yasir left that morning, as he did for work every morning, except this morning he was boarding a plane and walked out without wearing his usual suit and tie. It was camouflage clothes from now on, though where he was going nobody would even care whether he wore an Armani suit or a brown sack. He was going to Gaza. Gaza: the country of dates and olives. Gaza: the country steeped in religion and miracles. Gaza: the country where the streets flowed with the blood of children and civilians.

 

Yasir was going to offer his much needed medical expertise and time there. He was going to make a difference in their lives and their survival rates. Ammarah knew the risk; so did he, and that was why they simply couldn’t compromise. Yasir had always wanted to practise medicine abroad, but more specifically in war torn countries where doctors weren’t readily available.

 

“I can just sit safe in the UK, getting rich seeing patients who have thousands of choices or I can really save lives where thousands are dying without choice. I need to go. I’ll be a better doctor and person for it. I can only live with myself knowing that at least I attempted to help those suffering.” That had always been his final argument, banishing her hopes that he wasn’t serious.

 

He was deadly serious. Thus, when the appeal came from Medic Aid International, he started putting all his plans into motion, carefully avoiding discussing the details with her. Ammarah couldn’t bear it; she couldn’t bear his lack of communication nor could she bear to hear him talk about it. She was torn between wanting to support him and standing against him. She was tired of trying to make him into the enemy that he wasn’t. She knew deep down that he was doing this for a noble cause, one where he could be the difference between a dying man and a surviving one. How could one stand selfishly in front of such a noble cause? And so she let him go, with a heavy heart and a secret.

 

The moment had come when he would walk through the departure doors and not turn back. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him – just once tell him. Tell him! She wanted to shout it out! But it would change everything so she kept quiet. Instead she clung to him, not bringing herself to look at his face. He would see her burning with anger; he would see her pain and frustration. He may even possibly change his mind, though that she couldn’t live with, but still … couldn’t she try one last time?

 

“Yasir, please.” She implored. “Please, can’t you just?”

“Just what Ammarah? Change my mind?”

His black eyes flashed. “Change my mind. Because it’s that easy, that simple?” She stared at his face, the quiet anger surfacing. No, no this isn’t how she wanted him to go and yet if there was any chance …

“What about next week then? Why don’t you consider it next week?” She asked unconvincingly.

“Ammarah! What difference does it make? Besides, you know that this is the only flight they’re allowing at this moment in time. It’s now or never.” Yasir shook his head in amazement. “We’ve been through this, please. Please don’t do this to me now.”

She nodded numbly, knowing it was selfish and futile to fight it now. Once again she just suddenly wanted to tell him her secret, to blurt it out and watch his face contort. Just shout it out and then he wouldn’t be able to go.

“Yasir… I … ”

“Four weeks away,” he interrupted. “That’s all I ask of you. I promise. Please.” He grabbed her fiercely and tilted her head up. Please houri.”

 

And so she didn’t shout it out. She kept it in her heart. Choking back a sob, she saw his ragged face trying hard not to reveal what he felt. But she knew. His eyes filled and his mouth wobbled with a smile as she lifted his hand to her cheek and wept. He wiped her tears gingerly and whispered, “Remember that gateway to Jannah I’ll build for you when I come back.” She laughed and wept harder.

 

He glanced at his watch and untangled himself from her. “It’s time Ammarah,” his voice breaking as he said her name. Barely hearing through the roaring of her heart pulsing hot searing blood throughout her and too much to her ears, she clung harder as she felt the wetness on his cheek. Her hand shook as she lifted it to touch his face, how could she let go of him? Yet she let him move away her hand and it dangled helplessly beside her as he mouthed, “I love you.” She nodded, her throat burning and finished off his sentence, “More than love itself.”

 

“Peace be upon you until we are together again.” He kissed her softly, longingly. He released her reluctantly and started walking away. Ammarah looked on as he walked through the door, turning back with one last nod and his knowing, secret smile. That smile – it always undid her. She dragged her gaze away as he walked out of sight. With a bleeding heart and eyes that could no longer behold anything, she whispered,

“Peace be upon you until you return.”

 

Dec 2014
The moment had arrived when her life would be drastically changed, again. Her sisters were on either side of her, all modestly bejewelled. She sat calm and composed whilst her mind seemed to shred her from inside out. Her brother and father was striding along with the imam coming towards her, closer and closer, whilst she moved further back into herself.

 

Her dad looked old, frail. He was staring at her filled with hope as well as having a stubbornness stamped across his face. Her brother was standing respectfully behind, smart and dapper, whilst only the twitching of the muscle in his cheek belied his hesitation. Two other strange men, behind them, waited to alter her life. Then there was her, the bride: silent, serene and beautiful like a deep red rose with a secret burden of being pricked by inevitable thorns.

 

They came closer. She could feel her chest constricting with a myriad of emotions. She let her mind wander again and vaguely recalled a few lines of a poem that she had once read; they whispered how she felt right now:
These moments cannot stay behind.
His every letter I could forever try.
No matter which word I hold, it never dries.
Like a dream, it disappears with the morning sky.
All that remains is the broken cry
Of a Weeping Willow left torn
Devastated by a Perfect Storm.

 

 
That was how she felt; like a perfect storm had whirled into her life, turned her world upside down and then suddenly, without a trace, left her devastated in its wake. Yasir. He had been her silver lining on every grey cloud. And then he became her Perfect Storm. Now he was dead. Shot down heedlessly in an instant, dead a few hours later.

 

Dead in a faraway cruel place she could never reach. Dead before she could even tell him he had another reason to live. Dead along with their unborn child he had never known of. Their baby had faded into her womb, along with her grief, searing her like a burnt knife. Dead before their beautiful life together had even blossomed. Now he had left behind a black chasm she was drowning in – she may as well have died with them.

 

Aasiaya, her sister, nudged her to respond as she tried to get past the lump in her throat and form the words everyone needed to hear. Visions of another time and another wedding danced across her mind. Yasir; as a groom, black eyes smiling and a solemn expression that hid his secret love for her. Looking like an Arabian prince, he arrived with an entourage and eyes only for her…

 

Black eyes stormy as he tried to explain himself one last time. Black eyes staring as he walked out of her life. Black eyes lit up and looking back the way he always did, with a slight smile and a nod. Black eyes that tore her apart.

 

“Do you accept? Ammarah Hussain, do you accept?” asked the imam. They all stared intently at her waiting, waiting. A suffocating pain coursed through her once more as she shut her eyes, reimagining his last smile, and then a blessed numbness came. It was time, time to move on. With salty tears and a tightly squeezed heart, she stumbled, nodding, whispered and bled just a little bit more. And so she became Mrs. Ali. She had become another man`s wife

 

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Miriam Islam lives in the UK with her husband and their three children. An aspiring novelist, Miriam spends her time studying and writing for Discover and SISTERS magazine.