This is a fictional story, but a story nonetheless. A story with a moral, but I won’t let the cat out of the bag, because that’s for you to discover. This is the story of two life-long Muslim friends who find themselves in the pursuit of happiness, and with every wish that is answered, another question arises. If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?
They swung themselves higher and higher, their little sneakers reaching up to the sky, back and forth, until finally Hiba panted, “Okay, you win!” Slowly, she let her speed decrease, her pink sneakers skimming the ground softly, her breath coming out in short puffs.
“Told you so,” Maya grinned, instantly relaxing her feet and enjoying the gust of wind that pushed her forward one more time.
Hiba rolled her eyes, not yet ready to give in, “I gave you a head start.”
Maya shoved her sneakers into the ground and skidded quickly to a halt, her hands holding on tightly to the rope of her swing, then turned to face Hiba, “Did not!”
“Hiba,” Maya began warningly, just then she interrupted herself, “Fine, we’ll call it a tie.”
“That’s not fair!” Maya exclaimed, whilst her seven-year old mind mulled it over. She’d already beaten Hiba three times, a tie wouldn’t make a difference to her score, but then again… “You said I won.”
“I was just being nice,” Hiba retorted, her face instantly betraying her as her mouth twitched, her kind nature no longer allowing her to lie.
Realising this, Maya smiled herself, narrowing her eyes jokingly, “I won’t call it a tie, but I’ll tell you this. You are one tough girl to beat.”
Hiba beamed, “Really?”
Maya nodded, “Yup. You’re faster than the other kids.”
And just like that, a bond was formed. They smiled at each other shyly, knowing somehow that this was the start of something beautiful, that tomorrow they’d meet in the playground again for another round of swinging and it wouldn’t stop there. They were best friends now, of course.
Hiba broke the silence first, “I felt like I was flying.”
“Me too,” Maya said, leaning back precariously to look up at the sky.
Hiba didn’t dare, in case she lost her balance, and instead stared at Maya’s tilted face in silent admiration. Although she was only three months younger than her, she didn’t believe that she could ever be as wild and brave as Maya, whom she had got to know over the past week. Looking up to see what had caught her friend’s interest, her eyes fell onto a tiny sparrow, flying effortlessly in the air, and heard Maya sigh wistfully, “I wish I was a bird.”
Hiba thought about that for a moment, wondering about the not-so-bright side of it all, and then eyes gleaming, she wrinkled her nose in disgust, “And have to eat worms? Ewww!”
Maya grinned broadly, catching her friend’s drift, and then winked at Hiba. “Juicy.”
Hiba shuddered in mock horror, and then they both burst out laughing.
“That was so gross,” Hiba giggled, nudging Maya’s swing playfully.
“I know,” she replied with a grin, her eyes catching sight of the sparrow once more, “but just imagine if we could fly, like, anywhere!”
Hiba, who was terrified of heights, shook her head and said with an air of nonchalance, “I’d find it quite boring after a while. Like, what if it rained really hard or… or hailstones fell, or I just wasn’t in the mood for flapping my wings? Yeah, that’s it. Boring.”
Maya looked at her friend in amazement, “Boring?! You’re out of your mind. Flying is… amazing.”
Hiba snorted, “Not really.”
Maya narrowed her eyes, challenging her, “Fine. If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?” The question was one many children asked each other, one many people found themselves wondering about over the years, and so it might have seemed inconsequential at that time. But little did Maya know that this question would go on to rule their lives, shape their decisions and determine their destinies.
Hiba’s eyes twinkled in delight, “A castle! Full of butlers and maids, and winding staircases, and…”
Now, it was Maya’s turn to snort, “And I guess you’d want your very own Prince Charming as well?”
Hiba blushed, “No! I hate boys. All they like is getting dirty and muddy.”
Maya smiled cheekily, “Then I guess we’d just have to banish all the boys from the land. Or make them all workers.”
“Yeah! And we could have a city just for girls. And we could be neighbours and see each other every day. We’d be the… princess neighbours,” Hiba exclaimed happily. “So you wanna be a princess too then?”
Maya shrugged, “Do I get to have my own swimming pool, and TV, and chocolate fountain?!” Her excitement grew with each possibility.
“Of course. And we should banish anyone who wants to give out homework,” she said, her mind faraway.
“I’m in. You know what? Maybe, we should banish all adults,” Maya’s eyes gleamed.
“Banish all adults from where?” her mother asked jokingly, making both girls jump, as she dragged them out of their fantasies and back to the playground. As Maya’s mother made her way towards the swings, Hiba noticed her mother was with her.
“Our cas…” Hiba started, just as Maya nudged her hard and said, “Umm… nowhere.”
Their mothers exchanged a look of obvious amusement at their daughters’ secrecy, and then sadly put an end to their fun, “Time to go home.”
“But Mum…” Maya whined, as Hiba pleaded, “Five more minutes.”
“I’m sorry girls, but it’s about to rain. You can come back tomorrow,” Hiba’s mum replied, turning towards her friend and giving her a brief hug, “Okay, Sarah, I’ll call you up about that recipe later. Assalamu ‘alaikum,” and she began to lead her daughter towards her car.
“Wa ‘alaikum as salam. Come on Maya,” she replied, tugging on her hand as a slow drizzle began.
Hiba turned at the last minute and grinned at Maya, who was hurrying towards her own car now, “Poor birds.”
Maya rolled her eyes, a smile etched across her face. She’d try to prove her point again tomorrow. And every other time they played this game.
Safaa Baig is the author of Soul of a Butterfly. Her aim is to leave Islam’s mark as far as she can reach – and beyond. The continuation of this story is available on her blog, simplysaf.wordpress.com, where you can follow her writing. She has also published articles on saudilife.net.