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