WHEN YOU WEREN’T THERE
Written by Zainab Samad
I wish Sarah lived to see this day, Fatima thought, sitting in the stands, watching Zoya play tennis. Zoya had a concentrated look on her face as she played. It was an expression that was identical to the one her mother used to have. Zoya was competing in the National Tennis Tournament. As Fatima watched her play, Sarah’s words ran through Fatima’s head. Make sure she doesn’t end up like me.
“Sarah Ansari! Put the lipstick back on my dressing table right now! You know you’re too young to wear makeup. Not until college!” Mrs. Ansari yelled, when she caught Sarah pouting her lips at her reflection on her mother’s huge dressing table mirror. Sarah had turned the surface of her mother’s table into a mess of lipsticks, foundation and eye shadow. Mrs. Ansari shook her head and sighed, “Go to your room and get ready Sarah. You know your dad doesn’t like it when we’re late.”
Sarah made a face at her mother and left her room muttering, “Ok mom, whatever you want. I know you still think I’m three instead of thirteen.”
Sarah was an attractive girl with wavy hair falling to her shoulders and strong features. She had everything a girl her age could ever want and yet she could not wait to grow up quickly and be independent. She went into her bedroom and opened her closet. Fitting her personality, she picked a baby pink glittery top
and a bright pink skirt out of her closet and started getting ready.
After dressing up and putting on some shiny pink lip gloss she left her room and came down the stairs.
Mrs. Ansari, who was waiting by the door, eyed her and sighed. “Why would a young girl with such a fresh complexion want to hide behind makeup anyways? Sarah ignored her mother and they joined her dad in the car.
The dinner party was thrown by a wealthy friend of Mr. Ansaris’. The house itself was huge and spacious with large spreading lawns. Inside, everyone was busy eating, drinking and talking. As soon as they arrived, Mr. and Mrs. Ansari joined their friends while Sarah searched for someone she knew. Finally she saw Tina. Tina wasn’t really a friend but at least she was someone who Sarah could hang out with.
“Hi Tina. Good to see you.”
Tina was dressed very grown up and wore more makeup than Sarah ever dared. Tina looked at Sarah up and down before greeting her. “Oh. Hi Sarah. Planning to grow up anytime soon? We’re eighth graders now. Why look like a kid when you don’t have to?” Tina tossed her hair over her shoulder and looked around. “Besides, look how many people are here. You never know who might get
impressed with you.”
Sarah was feeling uncomfortable and thought, Even with no makeup, I still look better than her. God, she’s so annoying. Fatima, I wish you were here.
“Hi guys!” came Nida’s voice. Relief washed over Sarah. Sarah turned to Nida and smiled. “Hi Nida! What took you so long?” she asked.
“Oh I was busy practicing math and then I had to learn todays lecture and then I wanted to go through tomorrows’ lecture but unfortunately the stupid teacher didn’t tell us what it would be. So I was about to start the Science homework but my mother came into my room and reminded me about dinner. So I quickly got ready and here I am!” Sarah blinked after Nida finished her long explanation. She looked over at Tina and found that she had vanished. Sarah smiled tightly at Nida. “Shall we discuss something else?”
“Ok sure!” chirped Nida. “You know, I bought this new book. It’s all about psychology. I know it’s a little advanced but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oh, and I also bought this other book on philosophy. Now, it’s a little confusing because there are so many different philosophers and they all have different ways of looking at the world. It’s hard to remember each and every thing but you know me, my mind is like a sponge…….”
Sarah rolled her eyes and walked to the buffet table to serve herself. Nida followed her, all the while chattering about her new book.
The next morning at school, Sarah entered the class and saw her friend Fatima sitting at her desk, reading a textbook and writing notes. Sarah walked up to her and put her arms around her, giving her a tight squeeze. Fatima jumped, surprised. “Woah Sarah! What’s that for?”
Sarah shook her head and ran her hands through her hair. “Fatima, you’ve no idea how much I missed you yesterday.” she said.
Fatima raised her eyebrow. “Hmm…Let me guess. Dinner didn’t go too well?” she asked.
“God Fatima, it was a nightmare! People can be so annoying! Maybe it’s just me. I can’t act all fake and sweet with people if there’s no connection, u know?” Sarah said sarcastically, looking over at Nida who were sitting at her desk, her back straight, waiting for class to start. Tina, on the other hand, was sitting in the last row loudly talking to her friends about how many different people she met at the dinner and how expensive her outfit had been.
Fatima paused and looked serious. “At least you get to go to fancy dinner parties.
My life only revolves around school, homework and responsibilities at home.”
“Fatima,” Sara interrupted, “Believe me, you’re really not missing out on anything. All I wanted to do last night was run away from there.”
Fatima nodded and smiled at Sarah, “Perhaps you’re right.”
Fatima Anwar belonged to a middle class family. Her father had opened up a general store near their house. He made enough money to put the kids in a good school.
Fatima had two younger sisters. Her life was tough because she had a lot of responsibilities in the house. Living in a male-dominated society, she could sometimes see regret at not having a son in her parents eyes. Fatima felt hurt when she thought about this. She sometimes thought that she wasn’t important to her parents but she didn’t want her younger sisters to feel the same way so she always gave them as much love as she could and did as much as she could for them. The only time Fatima was seen truly happy was in school when she was with Sarah. Sarah always made her laugh and she was one person with whom Fatima could always share her feelings. She would talk to Sarah for hours and
share her dreams of becoming a doctor one day and make her parents proud of
her. Other than Sarah, Fatima never confided in anyone and no one could tell that she had big dreams. Although she was naturally very beautiful, she kept her appearance simple. Her long hair was always neatly tied back and her attitude was always reserved with everyone but Sarah. Her beauty and elegance hid her difficult life and hopeful aspirations.
Last day of school
Time went by until only one week was left for school to be over. The atmosphere was full of excitement and tension. Everyone was looking forward to starting college but nervous because exam results were to be announced any day now.
Fatima was a faster learner and harder worker than Sarah, so during the past few weeks, she had helped Sarah study for the exams during her lunch break.
Finally, the long awaited day arrived. Sarah had overslept, so she reached college late. As she quickly walked up the steps, she saw Tina walking down them. Tina didn’t acknowledge Sarah and was looking straight down, her face a thunder cloud. The butterflies in Sarah’s stomach increased and she quickened her pace.
The walk to the result board seemed to last forever for Sarah. All the way, she could see students jumping with happiness or complaining bitterly. Some of the
girls were crying. As she approached the board, she saw that Fatima was already
there, looking at the result sheet. Fatima turned around and looked at Sarah. Sarah’s breath caught in her throat. Suddenly Fatima’s face broke into a wide grin. Sarah squealed with joy and ran the rest of the way and put her arms around Fatima. Fatima laughed, hugging her back.
“Fatima look at this, I’ve come second! All thanks to you and your fantastic tutoring. And you’ve come first! This is so great! Fatima we’ve got to go out and celebrate!”
Fatima stopped smiling and looked worried. “I’d love to Sarah, but I don’t know if my parents will give me permission.”
Sarah waved her hand at Sarah impatiently, “Oh come on, today is a very special day for us. I’ll tell you what. My car is here. Lets us go together to your house and ask your mom if it’s ok that we go out and have lunch this afternoon.”
Fatima stroked her chin, “Hmm, that’s not a bad idea. If my mom sees that I’m with you, maybe she’ll let me go.”
Sarah nodded enthusiastically, “Come on then! Lets go!”
During the long drive to Fatima’s house, Sarah was mostly quiet. With a deeply
concentrated look on her face, she looked out of the window in wonder and
amazement at her surroundings. She never knew that streets could be so narrow and she saw more people than she had seen in her life. Fatima spoke occasionally to direct the driver. Sarah on the other hand was lost in her thoughts. Children here seemed different to the children that lived in Sarah’s locality. They seemed freer somehow, with no limitations. They played on the streets, not caring about the dust in the air or that their bare feet would get dirty. Sarah watched a cotton candy seller go by on his cart, ringing his bell. She watched him bring his cart to a halt as the children ran to him. They don’t seem to need much to be happy, Sarah thought. There were hardly any cars on the small streets, mostly men on bicycles or motorbikes. Young girls were meeting their friends in the neighborhood and older women were leaning over their boundary walls gossiping loudly to their neighbors. For Sarah, it was a different world altogether.
Time flew by for Sarah. Before she knew it, they had reached Fatima’s house. As the girls got out of the car, a small version of Fatima came running out to greet them. Fatima turned to Sarah and smiled, “That’s my youngest sister Saba.
She’s six.” Sarah looked at Saba. Although she bore a striking resemblance to
Fatima, her face was devoid of difficulties and hard times. Saba hugged Fatima and looked curiously at the car, bombarding Fatima with questions as Fatima quietly showed escorted Sarah into her house.
Sara’s house was simple but very neat. Fatima’s mother, on hearing their chatter came out of the kitchen, drying her hands on her dupatta.
“You must be Sarah! Welcome to our home!” she exclaimed, hugging Sarah. Sarah was taken aback. She’d never known anyone who would greet a stranger so open heartedly. Sarah didn’t even have that kind of open relationship with her parents. She watched with wonder as Fatima’s mother hugged Fatima as well and kindly enquired about her day.
As they sat in the living room, another of Fatima’s sisters came and shook hands with Sarah. “Asalam Alaikum! My name is Ayesha and you must be Sarah. Fatima talks about you a lot.”
“Yup, that’s me. I hope Fatima’s only told you good things.” said Sarah, winking at Ayesha. “I came home with Fatima today in order to persuade your
Fatima’s mother, Mrs. Anwar, listening to the conversation carefully understood what she meant by ‘persuade’ and said, “Oh Sarah, you can take her wherever you want, but only on one condition. In our house we do not let the guest leave without a cup of tea.”
Sarah smiled and nodded. Mrs. Anwar looked expectantly at Fatima. “So, today was result day, wasn’t it? I hope you both got good news.”
“Oh mother, it’s not just good, it’s great! We both did even better than we expected.” said Fatima, putting her arm around her mother’s shoulders. Mrs. Anwar hugged Fatima back and went into the kitchen, Fatima following her.
While Mrs. Anwar prepared tea and Fatima helped her, Sarah was left alone in the living room where she could hear Fatima’s family happily chattering. Fatima’s families voices mixed and merged with the noises coming from the street. Sarah’s own house, although very big, was usually stone silent. Even a solitary person can never get lonely living here, Sarah thought.
Mrs. Anwar came back into the room and set a pot of freshly made tea and a plate of biscuits on the table. Sarah had never had tea before, but she didn’t
hesitate pouring herself a cup.
After tea, following hugs and kisses from Mrs. Anwar, Sarah left the house with Fatima. Sarah took Fatima to her favorite restaurant in the city, where they ordered pizza and cold drinks. After placing their order, they both sat quietly. Sarah was lost in her thoughts about all she had seen and heard that day and Fatima was busy enjoying the atmosphere. Fatima broke the silence, “What have you planned for your future now that school is over?”
“I’m thinking of going into Arts. It’s an easy field. Other than that I haven’t really done any planning. Besides, who knows what tomorrow will bring.” Sarah replied.
“Well, you’re right about that. One can not predict the future but having an aim in life can’t hurt. Look at your parents and how successful they are. They didn’t reach that level by not planning.”
Sarah, serving herself a slice of pizza, didn’t answer.
Fatima, concerned about her friend, put her hand over Sarahs. “Sarah, you have to be practical. You always wanted to be independent. Don’t let fear stop you
from making decisions about your life.”
Sarah smiled at Fatima. “With a friend like you with me, how can I make any wrong decisions?”
A day so full of new experiences for both girls, made it a day they both would remember for a long time to come.
As decided, Fatima and Sarah joined the same college but were in different sections. It was their time to have new experiences, meet new people, and to take the first step towards accomplishing their goals.
Sarah and Fatima met everyday during their lunch break. Although Sarah had a diverse group of friends, she always took Fatima’s advice. Fatima would tell her to make her own limitations and that once they were crossed, it was very hard to return. Sarah thought it was a very wise piece of advice and although well aware of everything that went on around her, she tried her best not to get tempted, although as time went by, it was more and more difficult to do so.
Fatima fully concentrated on her studies from the very first day. She was uninterested in experiencing a “fun time” and thought that college was for learning not for fooling around. On the other hand, Sarah enjoyed the freedom of
independence. Now, like her mother, her dressing table was full and her bright childish clothes were replaced by elegant designer outfits. She had matured into a very pretty young woman. She wore her fresh hair short and stylish.
Due to their ever increasing differences, they stopped meeting as often as they used to. As college years went by, they drifted further and further apart until they were separated by a huge gulf, a gap that neither of them could bridge.
One day, during the last month of college, as Sarah was walking down the college steps, she saw a frantic Fatima running towards her. Sarah froze. She had never seen Fatima in such a state. Her hair had come loose and was all windblown and messy. Her face was tear-streaked and her eyes were bloodshot. When Fatima reached Sarah, she put her arms around her and sobbed. “Oh Sarah! I don’t know what I’m going to do! I found out this morning that my father arranged my marriage! I am to be married as soon as college finishes! You know how much I wanted to make my father proud of me. So why isn’t he giving me a chance to do so. All my years of hard work is wasted!”
Sarah sighed and was quiet. Fatima looked up at Sarah and her hopeful expression changed to horror as she saw the coldness and disinterest on Sarah’s
“Listen Fatima, you live in a middle class family. You should have seen this coming.” Sarah said, shrugging her shoulders. Fatima was shocked to hear Sarah say something so hurtful so easily. She stepped back from Sarah.
“Thank you Sarah, for telling me where I belong. I guess I forgot that only you high class people have a right to have dreams and live happy lives!” she said angrily.
Fatima wanted to say more but she could not control her tears so she turned to run away, when Sarah, who was now regretting her words, said, “Fatima, I….I didn’t….I’m sorry.” She struggled to find words to calm Fatima down, but the damage had been done and Fatima ran away from her crying.
That day, a realization came over Sarah. Have I changed that much in a few years? She had everything that could ever make her happy; she was bright, rich, pretty and popular and yet she could not even comfort an old and dear friend. Sarah felt ashamed.
In the days that followed, Sarah tried calling Fatima so that she could apologize properly but Fatima had told her family to tell Sarah that she’s busy. Fatima
thought that Sarah was too involved and influenced by high class society. In Fatima’s eyes, Sarah’s apology meant nothing if Sarah herself didn’t understand that people should be judged by their natures not by their status and that it doesn’t matter where people lived, what mattered was where their hearts were.
Fatima wanted to be happy with the way her life was going, but she longed to be like the innocent children of her neighborhood who were too busy playing, oblivious to responsibilities. She wished she was like the illiterate women of the neighborhood who were content with whatever little they had. Fatima didn’t know that her marriage would be a first step towards reaching her goals.
Mr. Anwar, like every father, was worried about Fatima’s future and hoped that he had made the right decision and done his best. He was concerned because Fatima was acting very upset lately, so one morning, when Fatima brought in breakfast, he asked Fatima to sit with him.
He spoke to her softly, “Dear daughter, you have no idea how precious you are to me. Don’t think that I don’t understand. I know that seeing us happy, makes you happy. You were always brave and always protected your sisters. You always helped share your mothers burdens and you were always such a hardworking student. Today I am very proud to be your father. Tell me, how could I want anything but the best for you? I arranged your marriage with Saleem because I know he’s a very good man and no one will be able to keep you as happy as he can. But if one day my judgment turns out to be wrong, please forgive me.” With that, Mr. Anwar, got up and left his house to go to his store, leaving his
breakfast untouched on the table.
Fatima spent the whole afternoon in her room, pondering on what her father had said. Her spirits felt lifted and immediately decided that for the sake of her father’s happiness she would happily go along with all of the preparations for the wedding. Fatima’s dowry consisted of clothes, jewelry and 100,000 Rs. that Mr. Anwar had been saving up for the wedding. Her family didn’t provide her with anything else since she was to be going to England right after the wedding and settling down there.
The wedding day finally arrived. To Fatima’s amazement, Mrs. Anwar took her to Selinas, one of the best beauty parlors in the city.
When Fatima entered the wedding hall in her jewelry and clothes with her sisters by her side, the guests couldn’t help but compliment her. She looked like a fairy tale princess that had come to life. She was wearing a maroon dress, with elegant embroidery. Her makeup enhanced her huge eyes and her small lips. Her long hair was up in a bun and tendrils of hair curled around her cheeks.
This was the first time Saleem was seeing his bride and he couldn’t have been happier. Saleem was 27 years old. He was currently employed in a factory but
was simultaneously studying for his Masters in Business administration.
Saleem’s father, Mr. Ajmal, was an old friend of Fatima’s father and had been looking for a girl with a simple yet decent family for his son. Mr. Anwar had agreed to the proposal without any hesitation because he knew that Mr. Ajmal was a pious man and because he knew how well he had brought up all of his children.
A month after the marriage, Saleem took Fatima to England with him. And thus started Fatima’s new life.
10 Years Later
Visitors at the door
“Mom! There’s a lady and a kid at the front door!” hollered a four year old Imaan. 32-year old Fatima, who was washing the dishes, wiped her hands on her apron, went to the front door and opened it.
A woman and a child were standing on the porch. The child was holding the woman’s hand and staring at Fatima. The woman appeared to be in her forties, although Fatima knew she was 32. The woman’s hair, in which she had once taken such pride, was not brushed. Her once curious eyes were lifeless and dead. Her clothes hung off her body. It was Sarah.
Fatima masked her shock and disbelief, “Sarah!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe it’s you, please come inside!” Sarah gave a weak smile and quietly came in, looking around the house, remembering so long ago when she was welcomed into a house just as neat and clean as this one. Other than its neatness, this house was very different from that one. The walls and sofas were chalk white, giving
the living room an extra clean look. Lamps glowed on corner tables, paintings hung from the wall, and the carpet was white and thick. Sarah drew her eyes away from her surroundings and looked at Fatima, “Listen I’m really sorry about all those years ago…..”
Fatima waved her hand, “”Oh no, you don’t have to be sorry about anything at all. Let us leave the past in the past where it belongs. Before you say anything else, let me bring coffee. You look like you could use a nice hot cup.” With that she quickly went in the kitchen and in no time at all was out with 2 cups of steaming coffee and homemade brownies.
“I’m so glad you’re here. How did you find me?” asked Fatima curiously, taking a sip of her coffee.
Sarah wiped her nose with a tissue from her pocked and coughed. “I went to your old house and met your parents. My driver remembered your house. They told me that you lived in England and they gave me your address.”
Fatima took another sip and smiled, “You met my parents! That’s great, how were they?”
Sarah sneezed into her tissue and nodded, “They were fine. They miss you a lot.
They were happy to see me. I guess they remembered that we were best friends
for awhile.” She picked up her cup and continued, “I met your youngest sister too. She reminded me of our childhood. Hopeful and full of dreams.” Sarah paused and said, “I hope that at least her wishes come true.”
“Amen.” said Fatima. “My sister, who you met that day at my house, got married three years after finishing MBA. She’s very happy and she’s got a baby boy now.” Fatima looked with love at her daughter Imaan who was playing with the child who had accompanied Sarah. Fatima’s eyes turned to the child. “She must be your daughter. She has your eyes.” said Fatima.
“Yeah, she’s my daughter. Zoya.” replied Sarah. Fatima put two pieces of brownies on a plate and offered it to the girls. Then she sat back on the couch with Sarah. “Sarah, tell me about yourself. What have you been doing all these years? What brings you to here?”
Sarah answered with some hesitation, “I came to England to see you.”
Fatima looked concerned and said softly, “Sarah, I have a feeling that something is seriously wrong. You seem very different from how I remembered you. I’ve never seen you so thin and pale. You used to be so careful about your
appearance. Is everything ok?”
Sarah ran her hands through her hair, smoothing it. “It’s a long story. I’m feeling very tired right now. I don’t want to trouble you, but is it alright with you if Zoya and I stay with you for a couple of weeks?”
Fatima smiled brightly, hiding her concern for Sarah. “My house is your house. You are welcome to stay here as long as you need to. Why don’t you take a hot shower and rest in my son’s room. I have to go and pick him from school and make dinner anyways.”
Fatima showed Sarah and Zoya their room. She then got into her car and left to pick up her son, all the while wondering, What has happened to the girl I once knew?
Later after Fatima prepared dinner, Zoya and Imaan came out of Imaan’s room, rubbing their eyes. “Ah, finally you little ones wake up. Perfect timing, food is ready. Let me just go and wake up Aunt Sarah.” Fatima said to the girls kindly.
As she opened the door she saw that Sarah was already awake. She was in bed and seemed to be lost in her thoughts. With worry all over Fatima’s face she walked into the room and closed the door softly behind her. She sat on the bed
and looked into Sarah’s eyes. “Sarah” she started sadly, “you’re only 32. What’s
happened to you to make you look twice that? Your eyes show the long journey of a short life.” Before Sarah could answer, the doorbell rang. Fatima stood up. “Saleem’s here. Why don’t you wash up and come downstairs. Some lunch will do you good. We can talk later. Saleem will be glad to see you here, I often talk about you.”
After washing her face and brushing her hair, Sarah joined everyone at the table. Fatima introduced her to Saleem. He was an average looking man, but very polite and courteous.
“…And that is my son Ahmed. He’s 8 and just got into second grade.” Soft-spoken like his father, Ahmed said Salaam to Sarah and handed her a plate. Lunch was passed with light discussions until everyone finished their food and Saleem got up to go to the bank, where he worked as an accountant.
“I see that you went along with your father’s decision.” asked Sarah, helping Fatima clear the table.
“Yes, I’m glad I did. I couldn’t have gotten a better person to share my life with.” replied Fatima smiling. Sarah gave her a small smile in return and then
sighed. “No regrets for not becoming a doctor?”
Fatima laughed, “I am a doctor Sarah. I joined a medical college as soon as I came here. My husband supported my education and career even after Ahmed was born. He’s very supportive and is always helping me out with the kids.”
This time the smile Sarah gave Fatima was big and bright. “Wow! Are you practicing?”
Fatima was glad to see Sarah look a little like herself again, “No Sarah, not at the moment. Right now my kids and my husband are the most important things in my life. I need to raise my children myself and teach them about the world and about right and wrong. But I plan to practice after Imaan starts going to school.”
The rest of the day was spent with Sarah and Fatima talking and laughing about their long lost childhood.
The next morning Sarah seemed more relaxed and at ease than she had the day before. Although she still felt that something was terribly wrong, Fatima chose not to ask Sarah any questions, in fear of disturbing her peace. They spent the days talking about all the people they knew growing up and taking the children for ice cream or to the park. In the evenings they would go on long drives with Saleem.
One day after breakfast, Sarah mysteriously left with Zoya, telling Fatima that she would be back soon. Fatima didn’t want to disturb Sarah’s tranquility by asking questions.
A little before lunch, Sarah returned with Zoya. Fatima was alarmed to see that her face was full of tension. “Are you ok? What happened?”
Sarah quickly hid her expression and smiled. “Oh! Nothing at all! I was just thinking about making the children Spaghetti. Zoya loves my spaghetti and I’m
sure that Imaan will enjoy it as well.” Sarah said, all the while staring at her daughter.
Fatima noticed this but ignored it. “Ok, you make spaghetti and I’ll make chicken corn soup. The kids will enjoy having that for lunch.” With that, they both went into the kitchen and got busy with the cooking.
By the time lunch was ready, Saleem had come back from work for his lunch break. He had picked up Ahmed from school and they both sat at the table as lunch was being served. Zoya’s shyness was melting a little and she seemed very excited to be around so many people. Fatima looked at Zoya, “She has your smile Sarah.” Saleem nodded, “Yes Sarah. She has your exact features.”
Sarah watched Zoya talking to Ahmed and Imaan about how great her mom cooked and gave a small smile, “Yes, and she’s an exact showoff like me as well.”
The next day Sarah surprised everyone with presents. She got Saleem an expensive watch, a dinner set for Fatima, Barbies for Zoya and Imaan and a remote control airplane for Ahmed. Everyone thanked Sarah as they opened their gifts. Sarah sat back on the couch, watching everyone carefully, her face unreadable.
The day after she bought the presents, Sarah once again mysteriously disappeared after breakfast and returned at lunch time. This time when she came back, she looked even more worried than Fatima had ever seen her. Sarah could no longer hide her expression and nor could Fatima hide her growing alarm. “Sarah, what’s wrong?” Fatima asked gently putting her hand on Sarah’s shoulder. Sarah shook her head absently, all the while watching her daughter play on the carpet in front of her. Sarah stood as still as a statue. Fatima helped Sarah sit down on the couch. “Sarah, I have to go and pick up Ahmed right now. When I come back, we are going to talk.” Saying that, she quickly left to pick her son up from school. While she was driving back with Ahmed, she told him, “Ahmed, your dad will give you kids lunch when he gets home, and I need you to keep an eye on the girls. I have to go for some work with your Aunt Sarah.”
Sarah and Fatima sat alone in a corner table at a tea and coffee shop. Fatima covered Sarah’s hand with hers and looked into her eyes. “Listen to me Sarah; I know something terrible has happened. It’s obvious to everybody. For some reason, you’re not happy with your life anymore. You must tell me what is going on so that I can help you.”
Sarah’s eyes filled with tears and with her mouth quivering, she said, “Will you take care of my daughter?”
Fatima frowned with confusion, “What do you mean?”
Sarah wiped her tears with her sleeve. “Listen, I know I have no right to do this but please take my daughter and treat her like one of your own. You are the only one I know who will be able to raise her properly.” She said.
Fatima shook her head, “Sarah, I can’t do that unless you tell me the whole
story.” she said gently.
Sarah nodded and ran her hands through her hair. “Ok, I’ll start from the beginning: Fatima, things just weren’t the same after me and you weren’t friends anymore. Although I was stupid and selfish, time made me realize how much you meant to me.” Sarah sighed, looking down at the table and continued: “I soon found out that my father, who I loved and idealized so much, was a smuggler. That’s how we became so rich. He got convicted and sent to prison. He’s still there. Everyone found out about it, you know no one keeps secrets. All my friends left me. People who I didn’t even know looked down on me and gossiped and laughed at me behind my back. My mother went into depression and forgot that I even existed. She sent me to the college’s hostel and she packed up and went to America to live with her sister. I needed a true friend so badly and you weren’t there. You were the only one who could understand me. I would be quiet and depressed all the time. You don’t know what it’s like to live among people who act like you don’t exist. One day I ran into Tina and her friends, Aliya and Beenish. Like me, no one talked to them either although at the time I didn’t know why. For some reason, they acted very sweet and caring
towards me. Then one day, they spiked my cold drink with alcohol. It made me
feel so good and It made me forget my life and all of my problems. Alcohol became my best friend for two years. I stopped eating, I stopped caring about my appearance, I even stopped bathing. I hardly answered my moms’ calls to me and she became worried about me. I had stopped caring for her or anything else at that time. I think she realized that she had made a mistake when leaving me so she was trying her best to make up for it. But her concern for me came too late; I was too addicted to alcohol to notice all the effort she was making. Anyhow, long story short, it took me a long time to quit alcohol. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life, but necessary. I would get blackouts. Huge portions of my life are missing from my memory because I was too drunk to remember anything I was doing.”
Fatima listened, thinking the whole time, If only I knew that this was going to happen. “When did you get married? Where is Zoya’s father?” she asked.
“Five years ago, I become close to a man named Akram. I had known him for years; he was a friend of the family. We were close for about a year and after that we decided to get married. We lived happily the first year of marriage, but
he changed after Zoya was born. I realized that he had just married me for my money and was not interested in having a family, or the responsibilities that came with it. We got divorced. My mother gave me a lot of emotional support during that time and I moved back in with her. But I went into a deep depression after the divorce. I felt abandoned and alone. Once again I turned to alcohol. I drank more heavily than I ever had. My mother took care of Zoya as I was no longer capable of looking after her or myself for that matter. One morning, I woke up with a terrible pain in my stomach. My mother rushed me to the emergency room and I was admitted in the hospital. They did all sorts of tests on me and strictly warned me to stay away from alcohol. My immune system was very weak and I had developed a serious infection. I was put on all kinds of medication. In fact I’m still on medication even now. After that, my health kept getting worse. Six months ago, the doctors told me that my liver was failing.”
Fatima had listened to Sarah’s tale with growing horror and now she covered her mouth with her hand. “Your liver is failing? But…what did the doctors say? There are all kinds of treatments available nowadays in medicine. Can’t they….”
“No Fatima,” Sarah interrupted softly. “I went to the hospital every day for
checkups and treatments and other options, hoping that maybe they could fix me. Today, after evaluating my case thoroughly, my doctor told me that my liver is in its last stages. I…I don’t have much time left.”
Fatima put her arms around Sarah and cried into her hair, while Sarah sat motionless.
Sarah now spent all of her time with Zoya. They spent the days going to the park or playing in the garden. Sarah bought Zoya toys, books, and games, and played with her.
One sunny afternoon, Fatima watched them playing from her kitchen window. Saleem stood by her side. “Saleem, Zoya doesn’t even know that these are the last moments that she will spend with her mother. It’s breaking my heart.”
The next day when Fatima got up, she couldn’t find Sarah anywhere. She checked her room but only found Zoya sleeping soundly on the bed, lost in her dreams. On the bedside table there was a folded piece of paper that said “Fatima”. With trembling hands she picked it up and read,
I am leaving my daughter with you. I want you to bring her up so she turns into
a good strong woman like yourself. There is a blank check for you in my
wallet along with some documents. All of my property and wealth is Zoyas now. I want to spend my last days with my mother. I’m also going to visit my dad for the first and last time in prison. I’m a little nervous about that but I must do it so that I can forgive him. All my life my one regret was losing your friendship but I don’t have that regret anymore. I’m not scared of death, but I was scared about my daughter’s safety, but I can put that fear to ease now. I know that you will keep her happier than I would ever be able to. I don’t want her to have to watch me die. But I’m not scared. I will be able to die peacefully. Sarah my dear friend, you don’t know how blessed I’ve been to have had a friend like you. And now that my end is fast approaching, I only have one wish. Please don’t let my daughter end up like me.
All my love,
Sarah called a week later on Eid day. She talked to Zoya for a long time, telling her how much she loved and missed her.
After that, Sarah never called again and Fatima knew in her heart that Sarah had departed from this world.
After Sarah’s death, her father opened an orphanage in his daughter’s name, after he was released from prison.
Imaan is the best student in her class, like Fatima once was, and received a scholarship.
15 year old Zoya lives with Fatima and spends her vacations with her grandparents. They are proud of her and they understand why Sarah wanted her daughter to be raised by Fatima instead of them. Zoya is now a national tennis champion. She has her mother’s smile.
"Hell found me...............but I found my way to the heaven"