Canadian Summer, Mama and Softball.

Image credits: Cintia Freitas

Summer of 2019.

36 (and a half) year old me, grass and dirt fields, 27 ounce end-loaded Louisville, cleats, gloves, SPN balls, and softball friends. That about sums it all up. Well at least on the face of it.

I don’t know if I can put words to it all. Words that dig deep and show what it means to me.

When you’re as old as you are.. have a family… work… commitments…you get the drift. When you’re desperately counting on your beloved support system in the form of your husband, parents, relatives, babysitters just so you can make it to the game.

When you’re bubble-wrapped with labels : Muslim Pakistani Canadian Immigrant Woman who isn’t expected to play sports at this age….let alone feel so passionate about a sport that is quite unknown in her culture.

It’s especially harder because it’s always been there. I first learned how to play Softball at school in Quetta(God Bless our principal for introducing the game to us)… more than 2 decades ago. A city where this was as alien as well.. aliens themselves. And then I caught a few glimpses of it in the hot and eager Lahori summers of grades 9 and 10. And that was that. I’d thought this chapter was closed forever. Until it wasn’t.

It’s especially harder when there is always the possibility of injury on the field.. and a mom of 3 can’t really afford that now can she ? A bruised eye.. a broken thumb…a twisted ankle or worse. Or when on some days your post-game body seeks mercy and tons of Tylenol because it hurts everywhere. But you get back up on your life-horse and trot on.

It’s especially harder to explain it to those bewildered and amused looks you sometimes get when you say you play in a softball league.

“Wow really?! The super excited ones.

Or “Oh.. softball?!” The taunting ones.

Or just the silent observers.

Now don’t worry. That’s as hard as it gets.

Because from there on it’s all soul-bursting happy. From there on it’s about exuberant butterflies in the stomach and a galloping heartbeat as I run towards home plate or hear the whip of my bat. From there on it’s all about those liberating and self-defining moments spent playing ball.

And then it’s the women I play with. It’s a LOT about them you know. This passion resurfaced because of them and Sisterhood Softball League (SSL) I am here playing softball, because of SSL. The acceptance. The love. The sisterhood. The motivation. The encouragement. The will. My summers are all about this inspirational juice.

Growing up, I loved sports movies. The underdogs beating the odds at the end and what not! The skills, the training.. the perseverance….oh I savoured every scene. I don’t know if we truly fall under the category. But I do know that we’ve all grown immensely. From Act One of the scene till now… it’s a new ballgame for many of us! Patience. Skills. Getting a hold of anxiety and nerves. Determination. Not giving up even if it feels physically impossible. Learning from defeats and the wins. Keeping your head held high, but with humility. This 90 minute crash course is as real as it gets.

I see that a lot of us are on the same boats. Boats that are bursting on the seams with life. Boats that are sometimes hard to maneuver because docking on a shore for some downtime seems impossible. But still… we manage to sail on by. Every Sunday morning.. or every other nightly game… we steer our boats away from the noise and dock at this safe place … our safe place…on the softball field.

So yes. I still don’t think I can explain it. But as I keep playing every season there will come a day when I won’t find the need to explain it anymore. Even to myself.

Because at that point I might(or might not) have subdued those raised eyebrows , the bewilderment, those self-doubts. But that won’t matter. Because I might have made a difference where it does matter.

My children.

For them to see me taking time out for practice and strategy. To see me anxiously gearing up on Sunday mornings and tip-toeing out the door at 7 am. Or to see me coming back sweaty, dirty, sore but ecstatic. For them to see my eyes light up just at the mention of softball.

For them it will be a norm. Something that mama has to do. And eventually they’ll realize the urgency of it all.

There will be things in life that they must do. While those actions may be hard to define, these same actions will define them. Actions , though within the boundaries of their religion and faith, may still be unacceptable.

And at any point if they stumble. I hope that they will remember how and why their mama played ball.

Image credits: Fatima Q

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Cleansed.

“I still have a lot of issues with my skin. The ugliness is glaringly obvious”, said Sara.

Maira peered closer to examine. She saw active acne, scars and other entities usually accused and hated for trespassing on skin.

“Don’t worry. You have young, vibrant skin! These treatments will help! I already see a difference from when you came last time.”

“I know but I’ve been so depressed. I don’t want to look at the mirror.”

Maira smiled. She always smiled when people casually threw around this word.

She decided to change the conversation as she applied cleansing lotion on Sara’s face. Nice and subtle.. rotating upward movements. Kind of like how life should be lived Maira always thought to herself.

“So what have you been eating? Fresh vegetables, fruits, more water?

“I just don’t have the energy for extra work you know. With the kids’ unending demands and husband’s crazy schedule, endless chores….”, complained Sara.

“If you won’t look out for yourself who will?” Maira replied in her soft motherly tone. “I always cook Kaddu-gosht(pumpkin and meat) curry for myself even though I know no one’s going to eat it but me!”

“What about your husband? Doesn’t he like your cooking?” My husband eats everything I cook but I still feel he never really appreciates my efforts.”

Maira turned to switch on the facial machine. She paused a bit before answering.

“I am a single mom,” the smile never left her face.

Sara became quiet. The unexpected reply caught her off-guard.

The initial cleansing was done. Now on to the real stuff. The suction mechanism of this new-age facial was so satisfying. It sucked up all the muck and grime from the pores. Painless. Exhilarating. Life-changing.

“I’m so sorry, I would never have guessed! You’re so lively and positive MashA Allah! I rarely meet people like you. Everyone around me just tends to bring me down.”

“It took some hard lessons. I wasn’t always like this.”

The monotonous whirring and buzzing of the suction filled up the silence. But Maira had more to say.

“He was a loving man. My husband. Not like the typical overbearing sort. But he didn’t want me to work because the children were small. So I always resented that. I took that single issue and obsessed over it. Until it just took over my life. I felt trapped.”

“I know how that feels.. I always….”, sara wanted to say more but stopped midway.

“We moved into our own home. My boys were growing too fast. Husband was busy in work. But he always made time to call. “What’s up wife?” He’d say it in the tone of that famous cartoon…”what’s up doc?!” I always smiled when he did that but something had changed. I reciprocated with a bored, hallow response. I was stuck in my head. I had eyes but I couldn’t see past my desires. I had a heart but I felt numb. ”

“Did you finally break away?” Sara questioned with hesitation.

Maira didn’t reply. She went on. “It was my 40th birthday. I was a deadbeat by then. Moody and passionless. My husband wanted to take us out for dinner. I didn’t want to go but I complied. ”

Maira turned off the machine. It was time for the mask. “Let me know if it stings or anything. We’ll wash it off after 20 minutes InshA Allah.”

“I put on my black and blue shalwar kameez. He never liked it much but I did. And I thought to myself. It’s MY birthday. ”

“He called and said he was running late and that he’d meet us at the restaurant. It was our favourite seafood joint in Mississauga. I resented even that. At this point I thought I had no love in my heart for him.”

“The children and I waited at our table. He was later than usual. I called and his machine answered. I was appalled at his carelessness. ”

Sara wanted to speak but the mask was stiffening so she just listened.

“The waiter came to our table with a thin, wrapped, rectangular box. He smiled shyly and handed it over saying it was for me. I was dying of embarrassment by then. What a bright idea this was?! ”

“I opened up the box. It had an envelope in it with his writing. ”

At this point Maira’s voice started to break. Sara felt confused. She still couldn’t speak. Maira continued.

“I remember that letter by heart.”

“Dearest wife. You might think I don’t see what you’re going through. You might think I don’t feel what you’re feeling. And honestly sometimes I don’t. But I love you too much to waste time in the confusions and the questions. There’s another letter enclosed in this box.”

“It just ended abruptly. My heart was galloping. My kids were looking at me as if I had gone crazy or something. ”

“I opened the second letter with trembling hands. I feared the worst. ”

“Congratulations Maira! You’ve been accepted to our School of Professional Aestheticians……”

“I couldn’t read further. My eyes blurred. It was no secret that this was my passion. I always shared details of this school and programme with him. And I always thought he wasn’t listening. Here he was applying on my behalf all along.”

Maira cleared her throat and said she’d remove the mask now. Sara’s eyes were watering.

“I called him. Maybe a dozen times. His machine answered. I was panicking now. I took the kids and drove home.”

“Your skin looks so shiny and clean MAshA Allah!” Maira suddenly remarked. “I’ll now apply toner, an acne-solution, sunscreen and moisturizer to finish off.”

Sara was too engrossed in the story to care at this point. “Where was your husband?” She was finally able to talk.

“The call came about 2 hours after we reached home. At this point I was on my prayer mat, asking for Allah’s forgiveness. I knew I had fumbled. He had to call soon. He had to.”

“The home phone rang. The call display said, Hubs. Where were you, I sobbed and screamed into the phone.”

“Hello is this Mr. Ibrahim’s home? This is Police Officer Ben. Unfortunately he’s been in an accident….”

“Oh my God…”, Sara had no words.

“You know what I’ve learned from all of this?”

Sara had never seen such hopeful eyes before.

“This tragedy brought out my worst. And best. I was a thankless, impatient person. Someone who questioned Allah every step of the way. What I was really supposed to do was Thank HIM with every breath. This journey tore me apart and ripped away a huge chunk of my heart. But it did something magical in the process. It cleansed my soul. It sucked out the muck, the grime It made me new and shiny…,” “just like your skin,” she added with a smile.

Sara held on to every word. Then she finally summoned the courage to ask,”Did he make it?”

“He passed away a week after my birthday. The accident had rendered him unconscious. And that’s how he left us. Without the blink of an eye. This was 10 years ago. I have two grown kids now just finishing their universities.”

Her eyes gleamed with pride. Those brown eyes had no room for sadness anymore. No regrets. No complaints. Just humility. And a full, open heart beating to the rhythm of Alhamdulillah.

“Fiction Story but Inspired by true events”

Nida Shahzeb

***short story written and selected for Global Muslim Writers contest***

http://www.globalmuslimwriters.com/2019/07/cleansed.html?m=1

http://www.globalmuslimwriters.com/2019/07/short-listed-writing-contestants-for.html?m=1

Hopeful ever after

I read something beautiful. Actually re-read an old shared post by a dear big-hearted writer. About happily ever after. It spurred up all kinds of thoughts about how we exploit the big, crazy, wonderful, enigma that is hope. And how we overestimate the poor critter that is happy.

When I think of the first half of my life. I think about my doting parents who never wanted to see their daughter get hurt. Like most parents I suppose. I lead a protected life. And not the regular kind. But the triple layered bubble-wrapped-kind of a life. Where I read fairy tales, watched magical cartoons, and made up big castles in my head… because I had no reason to do otherwise. I think I really had it good…that good. And that happy too.

And then it was time for me to grow up. Somewhere along heartbreaks and heartmends…friends lost.. friends gained.. messed up exams… Misfit jobs…mistakes.. lessons…tears.. laughter…marriage. And then wait some more… kids. These wondrous beings make you grow up like there’s no tomorrow.

But there are a lot of tomorrows if you’re fortunate enough. Tomorrows when you see life like the real explosion it is. Where the mundane drives you nuts and though you dream of the ‘rare’ like a gorgeous black stallion riding off into the sunset… in reality it scares the pants off of you. Where you rummage through your childhood memories holding on to bits and pieces you accumulated for your happily ever after. But all you feel is sand slipping away through your fingers.

For some of us life truly happens after the intermission. Like those predictable movies where you know the first half will just drag on inconsequentially. The second half is what matters. Where emotions, choices, decisions, pressures, rights, wrongs,,… everything sucks you into a numbing vortex. And then bam! Epiphany! ‘Happily ever after’ becomes a fallacy. You realize that you don’t always want to run after it. Because you can’t. This constant tug and pull of adrenaline when you’re happy vs. when you’re not… is excruciating. You want to feel the fullness. And taste the ripeness of everything your life offers. You want to get pricked by thorns and remind yourself to not go there again. You want to sink your bones into the meaty flesh of pain, of confusion, of difficulty, of struggle. You want to smell sweet little successes and sing tunes of strength. You don’t want to whine and complain when you’re not happy. You want to keep looking forward with twinkling eyes. Because running after happy weakens the daylights out of us. Just like running after the end of the rainbow would. It’s temporary… relative….and sometimes irrelevant too.

In the good, bad, and the in-betweens of life it’s easier to look for hope than happy. God’s Glorious Quran is brimming with hope. There is hope for those who err. For those who repent. For those who make the wrong choices. For those who have a sick heart. For those who are lost. For the hopeless. There is hope times infinity.

Now I am a parent. And seeing my children happy when I take them to the park, or make their favourite meal, or goof around with them does give me a fleeting sense of mom-awesomeness. But deep inside I wish to see them hopeful more than happy. When they stumble and fall I want them to know that they can get up.. they will get back up. When no one has their back but God and hope that HE instilled in their hearts. I want them to run after it as selfishly as they would happiness. I want them to cling on to the idea of being better, brighter, every single day. Even if some days are dark, damp, wet…hopeless.

I want my children to be hopeful in a world that sells happy.

People being humans… at their best

Hospitals. They are intimidating. Places of anxiousness and fear. But they are also homes of exceptional strength and patience. And raw human kindness.

My beautiful, strongest nano is at the hospital these days. There’s a LOT you need to know about her. That’s the kind of person she is. A book in herself. A wealth of learning, and not in a preachy sort of way.

Nano is never stingy with praise. When she likes someone she will make sure they know it. Really well. She loves her attending nurse these days and calls her Beauty Queen, cute baby. Her limited English vocabulary never stands in the way.

I witnessed a small exchange between them the other day. The nurse was doubling up with laughter. Nano who was in tremendous pain herself, was telling the nurse to rest, eat something and take a nap. At work. That was her way of expressing her love for the lady. I translated a little bit but I don’t think it mattered. The two would have understood each other just fine.

In this mix of Urdu, English, sign language exchange, I realized the power of honest human interaction. Where love, empathy and kindness outshine all emotions. Where there’s no pretence. Skin, faith, language, tradition, philosophy, background…. nothing matters. It’s just two people giving each other their rights. It’s just two people being humans, at their best. The Nurse was doing her job really well. And she wasn’t expecting anything in return. But Nano had to let her know that her work was exceptional. And that she, was exceptional.

So as the nurse was about to leave she nurse asked me if my Nano was always like this, so lively?!

I said the only thing I could, “Yes!!”.

“What a blessing!” said the Nurse.

I have a feeling she will have a hard time forgetting my nano!