Footsteps, page 1
Copyright © 2006, 2007, 2012 by Umm Zakiyyah.
All Rights Reserved.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2007920327
Order information at muslimfiction.com and ummzakiyyah.com
Verses from the Qur’an are taken from Saheeh International, Darussalam, and Yusuf Ali translations.
Camp Springs, Maryland USA
Cover design by [email protected]
Cover photograph by Gertjan Hooijer/shutterstock.com
All characters and events in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons or incidents is coincidental.
As always, all praise and thanks are due to the One who endowed me with the gift of the pen. After Him, I am indebted to my parents, Muhammad and Fareedah Siddeeq, who taught me the most valuable lessons of life and faith. I am also indebted to my sisters and brothers for their enduring support, patience, and love.
Thank you, Rihana and Fatiha, for your honesty, openness, and most of all, for letting me into your lives. Thank you, Debra Nasser and Leenah, for your diligence, insight, and advice. This book would not have been possible without you. And to all the sisters who opened their homes and lives to me during my travels, I thank you and appreciate your support.
For the wives.
May you enter Paradise by any door you choose.
There are years, I’ve been told, that one simply skips when reflecting on memories of a long marriage together. For me, 1997 was one of those years. Although my preparations for the second weekend in May had preoccupied me, as could be expected, from life itself. Sulayman had just completed his second year of medical school, and although the weekend celebration had nothing to do with this accomplishment, I was proud of my son. It wasn’t that I wasn’t proud of his wife. How couldn’t I be? She would be the first in her family to graduate from college. That was no small achievement. The party was really for her, for them. June eighth would mark their first anniversary, and what better way to commemorate both milestones than to have two celebrations in one?
Sulayman kept reminding me that they weren’t celebrating their anniversary. They were simply having the walimah they never had. And throwing in an accolade for Tamika during the wedding party was just a bonus, added more to increase the chances of her family traveling to Atlanta for the event than to celebrate the achievement itself. Either way, the weekend was a momentous one, and if it hadn’t been for Kate’s emotional, not to mention financial, support, I don’t know how I would have made it through the eight months it took to prepare. I had no time to focus on myself, let alone my husband and daughter. My sister and I had our hands full, and that we were not in the same city didn’t help any, but I can’t complain. If nothing else, the walimah preparations brought us closer in a way we hadn’t been since I accepted Islam.
In retrospect, I do recall Ismael and Aminah spending a lot of time together during those months, or if not together, at least apart from me, so I should have been prepared. But I was too distracted. Besides, how do you prepare for your life to fall apart?
In all honesty, even if I hadn’t been distracted, I would’ve seen nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to warn me that life as I knew it, however imperfect it already was, was on weakening, aching legs, and that I had little power to fortify it. For I had something more precious to tend to.
“I looked at all friends and did not find a better friend than safeguarding the tongue. I thought of all garments, but did not find a better garment than piety. I thought of all types of wealth, but did not find better wealth than contentment in little. I thought of all types of sustenance, but did not find a better sustenance than patience.”
—Umar Ibn Al-Khattab
“Go with this life behind you, and go with the next life
in front of you. Each life has its children, so be from the children of the Hereafter and be not from the children of this world.
Today are deeds without reckoning
and tomorrow is reckoning without deeds.”
–Ali bin Abi Talib
Sarah pulled another towel from the hamper and folded it, turning her back to her husband until she faced the window that overlooked their backyard. The sky was a dusty blue and the sun a dying glow that even in its dimness illuminated the expanse of grass in need of mowing. Frustrated that Ismael hadn’t done it, she averted her gaze and focused her attention on the growing piles of neatly folded towels stacked on the futon before her. Had it been any other time, someone else would have been responsible for the yard. But just six weeks before, in the middle of the most hectic phase of her and Kate’s planning for the walimah, her husband had suggested they save money by caring for the yard themselves. Of course, Ismael promised he’d be responsible, just as he’d promised his help during the wedding party planning.
“I really don’t feel like talking about this right now,” Sarah said.
“I don’t either, sweetheart, but I think we should tell the family something.”
“Then tell them no. She’s not ready for marriage.” She heard her husband laugh from where he sat behind her on the family room floor matching socks from a pile of laundry between them. This only irritated Sarah more, but she refused to give him the pleasure. He was trying to irritate her. He often said she was cute when she was upset and found it funny when he got to her.
“She’s twenty years old, Sarah,” Ismael said. “She’s ready for marriage.”
“Age doesn’t equal readiness.”
He sighed, and Sarah knew he’d paused his folding and was staring at her back. “You have to let go sometime.”
“This isn’t about me.” She shook out a towel and quickly folded it before picking up another.
“This certainly isn’t about Aminah. She was ready years ago.”
She turned slightly and narrowed her eyes as she met his gaze. “Just because she wanted to marry someone at sixteen doesn’t make her ready. She was a baby.”
“Then what does?” He shook the black sock pair that he held in his hand and laid it next to the others, allowing him to avoid his wife’s gaze momentarily.
“I’m her mother. That should be good enough.”
“If this were Abdur-Rahman proposing—”
“This isn’t Abdur-Rahman, and our answer is no.” She abruptly pulled a T-shirt from the laundry basket and resumed folding with her back to her husband, but her mind was not on her chores.
“Well, they’re having a meeting next Saturday.”
Halting her folding, Sarah slowly turned around and glared at Ismael. “This is not the time for a meeting. My sister will be here first thing in the morning, and Tamika’s family should be here tomorrow night.”
“That’s why I scheduled it for next weekend.”
“Where?” She could hear the exhaustion in her voice as if groping for reprieve, knowing she’d find none.
“Here?” She mentally scolded herself for raising her voice.
“Where else would we have it?”
Drawing in a deep breath, Sarah sat on the edge of the futon. She began rummaging through the socks and undergarments that remained in the laundry basket, but her mind was far from focusing on arranging them according to color. She really didn’t have the energy to argue with her husband. These past eight months had been exhausting, and she was
She knew it wasn’t her husband’s fault that the planning had become more than she could bear. But that didn’t change the fact that it was inconsiderate of him to agree to meet with the family of the young man interested in marrying Aminah, and schedule it just one week after the walimah. Couldn’t he have waited a month? At least then she would have had time to catch her breath and remind herself that she had had a life before the weekend of May tenth.
“You’re doing too much,” Ismael said.
Sarah pulled a green undershirt from the basket and let it fall on the floor before she found the matching short pants and dropped it on the shirt to create a pile.
“I’m glad you noticed.”
“Look, Sarah, I’m sorry if this is bad timing, but—”
“It’s not just bad timing, Ismael, it’s selfish. You didn’t even ask me if next weekend was good.”
“If it was up to me, I’d cancel it completely.”
“Then cancel it.”
“I can’t. Aminah would be heartbroken.”
Sarah started to laugh, but it came out as a cough, making her sarcasm appear crueler than she intended. “Heartbroken? You make it sound like she’s losing the love of her life. She doesn’t even know this brother.”
“She knows of him.”
“Like that means anything.”
“Sarah, that means more than we’ll ever understand. It’s all she can go on.”
Sarah sighed and rubbed her forehead with her hand. She knew what her husband meant, but she didn’t want to think about her own life right then. They were talking about their daughter. They couldn’t be blamed for how they themselves had come to marry. They weren’t Muslim when they met. How were they supposed to know that setting limits was more valuable than testing, or crossing them? Besides, they didn’t have the luxury of parental support had they even known, or cared, that there was no way to really get to know someone before marriage. Marriage was marriage. And in the cruel irony of life, marriage was its own teacher. There was really little one could do to prepare for the union. Except to have faith. And they hadn’t even had that.
“Where’d you say this family’s from? India?”
Sarah nodded, trying to appear as if she were unperturbed. “We know nothing about that country.”
“We don’t have to.”
“Of course we have to. If we don’t, we might as well just count down till her divorce.”
Ismael sighed. “I know there will be cultural differences, sweetheart. I thought about all that.”
“Cultural differences? You say that as if we’re talking about an international buffet. This isn’t an exotic dinner, Ismael. This is our life, our daughter’s life. Marriage is too serious to open our arms to any Joe who proposes.”
“Maybe I am. And maybe you should be overreacting too. Do you really think she can handle someone who expects her to be in the house all day, serving him hand and foot?”
Ismael laughed. “Don’t you think you’re being a bit, uh,” he searched for a word, “stereotypical?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You know just as well as I do that that’s what the women from those countries are expected to do.”
“Aminah’s not from those countries. She’s American.”
“That’s exactly my point.” Sarah shook her head. “Those marriages don’t work, Ismael. How many cross-cultural marriages do you know of that even lasted to their tenth anniversary?”
Ismael was silent as he smoothed the wrinkles from a pair of socks he was holding, allowing his gaze to fall there momentarily. “Ours.”
Sarah opened her mouth to respond but found no words. She reached into the basket but was able to only half-heartedly toss clothes to and fro, the motion slowed as his words permeated her. Inadvertently, her gaze fell, and she studied the whiteness of her hand against the dark fabrics and the pale peach of her skin against the white. Loosened strands of blond hair fell in front of her face, and she tucked them behind her ear, letting her finger trace the soft of her ear with the motion, buying time, time she didn’t know she needed.
She couldn’t look at him. She didn’t have to. Even if she closed her eyes, she could see his skin, a light brown the color of milk with a touch of coffee, and his emerald eyes that humbled themselves to reflect the color of his clothes or mood, which ever was lighter.
She often forgot. Then again, how could she be expected to remember? Twenty-six years of marriage did that to a person. Through their marriage, two lives had become one, and no longer was Sarah “White” and Ismael “Black,” biracial. They were human. Two humans who loved each other. In their home, that was all that mattered, was all that could matter. With the demands of life, they weren’t capable of much else. Only when they left home were they reminded that others perceived them differently. And how awkward it was to be perceived as odd when they were so much alike, so attached, and in need of one another. But even that, the stares and racist judgments, had stopped once Sarah wore Islamic garb. And then, she and her husband were as they saw themselves at home, Muslims, though strangers, outcasts, in their own world. And then the stares changed to disgust.
“With us, it was different.” Even as she said it, she knew it was a weak point. But she needed to say something, to protest somehow.
“You know that’s not true.”
“It is,” she said, beginning to convince herself. “We’re both American. This boy is from another continent. There, you’re not only battling different races. You’re battling ways of life.”
“We met in the 1960’s, Sarah. In the South. If anyone is battling ways of life, it’s us.”
“Still, we came from the same country.”
“But different worlds.”
Sarah looked at the clock that hung on the wall. She didn’t want to have this conversation. “You should go pray.”
Instinctively, Ismael glanced at the clock too. He nodded and stood, running his hands over his slacks to remove the wrinkles.
“Come with me.”
Sarah creased her forehead and stared at him. “Come with you?”
“Yeah. We can pray together in the masjid then go out to eat.”
“I have too much to do.”
“Tamika’s family won’t be here till late tomorrow night, at the earliest, since they’re driving. And Kate’s flight isn’t coming in tonight. We have time.”
“You have time. I don’t.” She gestured her hands to the laundry that was now taking up the futon, couch, and most of the floor.
“I miss you.”
Sarah heard her husband’s voice in all its gentleness and knew he was apologizing. But she wasn’t in the mood for romantic make-ups. It would have been better if he hadn’t given her reason to be upset, through making the offensive comment or agreeing to the meeting about Aminah. He knew this was a major weekend for them. Even her mother and brother were planning to come. And she hadn’t seen her mother since she walked out during Sulayman’s graduation lunch last year. And Justin, she hadn’t seen him since she surprised him with a visit seven years before. And she would be meeting Tamika’s family for the first time. This had been the most dreaded and anticipated event for her. The last thing she needed was a candlelight dinner. She just needed a break, and next weekend would have been her first opportunity for it.
“If you miss me, why did you give up our time together for some silly meeting? We could’ve spent time together next weekend.”
“We still can.”
She shook her head as she stood, turning to face the futon again to study her stacks of towels. She glanced at the basket and spotted a towel she hadn’t seen. “Not anymore. I can’t think straight when I know we’re having guests, especially ones I didn’t know we invited.”
“Sweetheart, I’m sorry.” She heard his voice growing
“I just didn’t want to burden you with anything else.”
She raised her eyebrows and suppressed the frustration she felt rebuilding in her chest. She stiffened as he wrapped his arms around her from behind. “If you didn’t want to burden me, you wouldn’t agree to something like this without telling me.”
“I know.” Ismael’s voice was soft and close as he touched his cheek against hers. “You had so much on your mind, I didn’t think you’d want to arrange a time for them to meet.”
In spite of herself, Sarah relaxed her shoulders and softened under his embrace. “But I deserve to know if my daughter’s being given away in marriage.”
She felt her husband’s laughter against her back before it reached her ears. “No one’s giving Aminah away. It’s just a meeting, with Aminah, the brother, and myself.”
“I thought you said the family was coming.”
“No,” he said, brushing her cheek with a kiss. “I said we have to tell the family something. They won’t be at the meeting.”
Sarah’s gaze fell to the towel she still held in her hands. She attempted to fold it, but she couldn’t move beneath her husband’s arms. She let the towel dangle from her hands as she realized that the meeting would not require elaborate preparations.
“I’ll starve him,” Ismael joked. “You won’t have to prepare any food. It’s a good start, see how he reacts under pressure.”
Sarah laughed in spite of herself. Her husband released her, and she turned to face him, still holding the towel that she now proceeded to fold.
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