If I Should Speak, page 24
Megan’s gaze lowered, suddenly feeling sorry for Aminah, handing her the newspaper. Aminah accepted it in her numbed hand, her head seeming to spin. She felt sick. She needed to sit down.
Unsure what else to say or do, Megan hesitated then walked away, returning to her room. Megan’s door shut too quickly, leaving Aminah to her thoughts, her confusion…her pain.
The apartment door shut slowly until it was finally closed. Dazed, Aminah forgot to lock the door as she dragged her heavy body to the couch, where she collapsed and leaned her head back on the headrest.
There had to be some mistake.
“So we’ll just be sashaying past in a few hours!” Durrah’s voice echoed in Aminah’s head, her dimpled smile so real, as if before her, her tan face smooth, appearing almost exhilarating behind the perfect make-up and carefree expression.
No, nothing had happened to Durrah. Aminah was going to talk to her when she returned. They were going to be friends again, like they had been before, as children. Aminah was going to use wisdom and kindness to show Durrah back to Islam. They were going to go out again, laugh again, and have late night talks again, maybe even pillow fights. Yeah, they both still had that kid in them, and Durrah still had that dynamic personality she always had had, and that humor. She was always one to make you laugh, even if you didn’t want to…
Aminah forced herself to unroll the rough-textured paper, and before she could decide if she wanted to read, the headlines screamed, “Spring Formal Ends in Disaster, Car Accident, Four Injured, One Dead.” She swallowed, the last word stinging her, abruptly disturbing her peace of mind, her sanity. Irrational, she checked the date of the paper, hoping it had been a hoax, a back issue, a cruel joke. But the day’s date stared at her, confirming what she did not want to believe. Her heart raced as her eyes skimmed the page, not wanting to read more than she needed,
“Friday night ended tragically when a car collided into another, killing one and injuring four others, two seriously. Authorities say that Streamsdale sophomore Robert Samuels, 18, had been driving while intoxicated after leaving the school’s Spring Formal when his car that was carrying two friends hit the driver’s side of a vehicle belonging to Streamsdale junior Durrah “Dee” Gonzalez, 19, killing her and injuring passenger Tamika Douglass, who is hospitalized, though no serious injuries have been reported….”
Aminah read the words again, a lump developing in her throat, but, still, she did not believe it, as she could not—would not—believe that the ink on this page was telling the truth. She would call Durrah’s mother, who would laugh and say Durrah was fine and say that Durrah had called this morning to say she was all right.
No, it could not be true, none of it, Aminah concluded, thirsting for mental relief, realizing then that, if it had been true, Aminah would have heard from her mother or Durrah’s mother. They would have called if anything—
…Called. Someone had called, not once, but several times, and someone had called last night, but she did not answer, wanting to concentrate on her paper.
Panicking, Aminah’s heart pounded so profusely she could barely breathe, pulling herself from the couch and picking up the phone. With the receiver to her ear, her heart sank, the stuttered dial tone telling her what she rather not know. Feeling helpless, heavy, she dialed the voicemail, impatiently waiting for it to inform her who had called. Three new voice messages—and each from home. Her parents rarely called her once a week, let alone three times in less than twenty-four hours.
She swallowed hard, hands shaking, regret engulfing her, suffocating her. But what did she regret? She pressed the button to listen to the message, but as soon as her mother greeted, she hung up, as desperation was traceable even in those short words. She covered her face with her hands, frantically searching her mind for what to do. Call a taxi? Call home?
The phone rang.
Aminah groaned, dreading picking it up. It rang again, and, still, she did not move. It rang again, then again, the last time it would ring before going to the voice mail. She picked it up hurriedly and calmed her voice.
“Thank God!” her mother’s voice said, relieved, too distracted to remember to greet her daughter. “I’ve been trying to call you all night.”
“I know,” Aminah mumbled, her vision blurring, at that moment knowing it was true.
“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard by now,” Sarah said, her voice fading, sad.
“Yeah,” Aminah replied, her voice cracking, not wanting to say that a stranger had told her only moments before.
“Sulayman’s on his way to pick you up. The janazah is this afternoon.”
Janazah. The word had meant little to Aminah before, having been merely a word on the page of a book. Why did that word sting her, pierce her heart, today? She had learned it years before as a child, having been unaffected, unmoved by its implications, its meaning—its enormity. Yes, she knew it meant that a funeral would be held for a Muslim, and she had even attended one. But she had not understood then, the person having been a stranger, not anyone close to her, not a friend—not Durrah. Durrah had even sat beside Aminah that day, her mind wandering as had Aminah’s, their immaturity now sickening Aminah, as she remembered how they had been staring at the clock the entire time. They did not want to be there, Aminah recalled. It was their parents’ friend, a man, a woman, Aminah could not recollect; it had been insignificant at the time.
Aminah had heard the word death almost every day, it having been a normal part of the Muslim’s vocabulary. After all, was it not the only reason the Muslim lived? Was not every moment of a Muslim’s life in preparation for death? Every prayer, every word, every breath was spent hoping that one’s soul would be taken while he or she was in the state of Islam.
Had Durrah died in that state?
Who knew? Definitely not Durrah’s parents or her family or even Aminah’s own mother. None were aware that Durrah no longer prayed. Aminah could not bring herself to say it…to backbite…to break Sister Maryam’s heart. Sister Maryam loved her daughter, Durrah having been a source of pride and joy for her—until Durrah left to school. But no one really spoke of Durrah’s drastic changes, the knowledge an invisible thorn in the side, the pain felt, but no one able to see it there—able to admit it there.
There was another knock at the door, but this time Aminah knew, having come to know her brother’s method of pounding on a door, especially when he was in hurry and had no time to wait. Mechanically, she stood, her body…or her heavy heart…weighing her down. She did not think to pin her khimaar, but she removed an abayah from the front closet, slipping it over her head, too dazed to notice it was wrinkled.
She opened the door, her eyes cast down, replying to her brother’s mumbled greeting with a weak motion of her lips and then followed him down the hall. It was a quiet walk, one that needed no sounds. They were at a loss for words, and their minds were at a loss for thoughts. For what could they think about but dumbness, as awe filled their brains, blocking all other information, rendering it insignificant at that moment?
Aminah still pictured her alive and well, laughing and joking as she normally did.
No, death was not a synonym to that name. For Durrah had come to mean a strong-minded young lady, a beautiful woman...Aminah’s friend.
No, it was not she, could not be she who had been discussed in the article.
In the car, Aminah sat in the passenger seat resting her head against the glass. Then she remembered, but it was probably too late, because patience was at the shock, the initial strike of the pain. But she murmured the words anyhow, ashamed that she had forgotten, remembering so late. “Inna lillaahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon,” she mumbled what meant “From God we come, and unto Him is our return.”
The drive was silent, a delicate, strained silence. Sulayman’s eyes were fixed on the road but his sight was elsewhere, Aminah’s eyes staring o
But did she come around?
Could it be?
But didn’t everyone have to go sometime?
The janazah was this afternoon.
But Durrah? Could there have been a mistake?
She glanced at Sulayman, whose eyes were fixed, his expression tense and fragile.
No, there was no mistake, she realized somberly. Durrah was gone—gone forever—now about to go to the grave.
The thought terrified Aminah, sent chills down her spine.
The dark grave, the questioning, the angels…
Years ago Aminah had thought of angels like most other people did, as nice, gentle, human-like creatures who resembled a beautiful white woman or a cherubic child, adorned with dove-like wings, and appeared only in a person’s life to bring them good. They were always smiling, always glowing in happiness, and ever bringing joy by their mere presence.
But she later learned that she was wrong.
No, angels were not bringers of glad tidings, at least not always. Each of them had a role to fulfill, each role different, God having assigned them different responsibilities. There was the angel who was in charge of rain and others who assisted him. Then there were the angels in charge of recording the actions of a person, one on the right of each person and another on the left. And there were angels who diverted from humans those things that were not fate. There were various angels in charge of many of humans’ affairs. But they were not beautiful women, nor were they children. In fact, they were not human at all. Rather, they were a special creation of God, created from light, who fulfilled their duties to God without protest or question. They were creatures without choice. And in fulfilling their duty, they did not always bring good news, and they were not always smiling. And they were not always gentle. For there were those who were in charge of seizing the souls of humans at death.
…And they had already seized Durrah’s soul.
Durrah was now going to the Barzakh—the Barrier—entrapped. And there was no turning back. She was on the first part of her journey to Heaven—or Hell. Now likely about to experience the torment of the grave, the agonizing torment about which she and Aminah had studied years ago, the torment that had once petrified them both, kept them up many nights, inspired them to fast and pray as much as they could.
And, still, several years later, the words of the Prophet filled Aminah’s mind, the memories of what she had learned returning to her, the words strangely poetic, uncanny, the soundless words like taunting lyrics humming in her mind.
As for the disbelieving (or corrupt) man, when he leaves this world and enters the Hereafter, stern and harsh angels come down to him from heaven. Their faces are black, and they bring with them sack-cloth from Hell. They sit around him, as far as the eye can see. The Angel of Death comes and sits at his head and says, ‘O evil soul, come out to the anger and wrath of God!’... The soul will be dragged out of his body with as much difficulty as a many-pronged skewer being pulled through wet wool (the veins and nerves will be destroyed by it). He will be cursed by every angel between heaven and earth, and by every angel in heaven. The gates of heaven will be locked and the people of every heaven will pray to God not to allow his soul to ascend through their domain. He will take it and immediately put it into the sack-cloth. It will stink like the foulest stench of dead flesh ever witnessed on earth. They will take the soul up, and whenever they take it past a group of angels, they will say, ‘Who is this evil soul?’ They say, ‘It is so-and- so the son of so-and-so,’ using the worst names with which he was addressed in the world (They will go on) until they reach the first heaven. They will ask for it to be opened to them, and it will not be opened. ‘...No opening will there be of the gates of heaven, nor will they enter the Garden, until the camel can pass through the eye of the needle…’ God, may He be glorified and exalted, will say, ‘Register his book in Sijjin, in the lowest earth’
Then God will say, ‘Take him back to earth, for this was my promise: I created them from it, I will return them to it, and I will resurrect them from it again.’ So his soul will be thrown down from the heaven until it reaches his body. ‘...If anyone assigns partners to God; he is as if he had fallen from heaven and been snatched up by birds, or the wind had swooped (like a bird on its prey) and thrown him into a far distant place.’
So his soul will be returned to his body. [He will hear the footsteps of his companions when they leave him (in the grave)]. Two stern angels will come to him, rebuke him, and sit him up. They will ask him, ‘Who is your Lord’ He will say, ‘Hah-hah [due to excruciating pain], I don’t know!’ They will ask him, ‘What is your religion?’ He will say, ‘Hah-hah, I don’t know.’ They will ask, ‘What did you say about this man who was sent among you?’ He will not even know his name, but he will be told; ‘Muhammad,’ and he will say, ‘Hah-hah, I don’t know! I heard the people saying such-and-such.’ He will be told, ‘May you never know!’
Then a voice will call from heaven, saying, ‘He has lied; so furnish his grave from Hell, and open for him a gate to Hell.’ So some of its heat and venom will reach him, and his grave will be constricted until his ribs are crushed together. There will come to him a man with an ugly face, badly-dressed, and foul-smelling. He will say, ‘I bring you bad news.’ This is the day that you were promised.’ He will say, ‘And you, may God give you even worse news! Who are you? Your face brings bad news!’ He will say, ‘I am your evil deeds. By God, I only ever saw you reluctant to obey God and ever-eager to disobey Him. May God repay you with evil!’ Then there will be sent to him one who is blind, deaf, and dumb, who will carry in his hand an iron rod which, if he were to beat a camel with it, would turn it to dust. He will beat him with it. Then God will restore him, then he will be beaten again. He will emit a scream that the whole of creation will hear, except for men and jinn. Then a gate will be opened for him to Hell, and his grave will be furnished from Hell. He will say, ‘My Lord; may the Hour (of Judgment) never come!’
From the car window, Aminah’s eyes fell upon the passing trees, their leaves budding, the bright green a sharp contrast to the yellow, orange, and brown of several months before. The colors had dried to a dark brown then and had been scattered about on the grassy lawns, leaving their respective trees barren, lifeless and naked, appearing almost helpless, their branches like aching arms outstretched, begging for life. But they were greeted with the cold of winter, doomed, their silhouettes ominous structures against the pale glow of moonlight, suggesting a lurking death. Yet they had been restored to life, their arms now adorned with coats of green, hinting to budding flowers whose heads would soon blossom in their fullness.
How was it that so many could not understand, could not see? That God could give life to the dead, the lifeless creatures that lay under and upon the earth. Did He not create the trees, take away their life of luscious greenery, dry them to brittle brown, and flawlessly restore them next season? And was that not easy for Him? And could He not return humans to life after death, restoring them to their very finger tips and call them to Judgment?
Then how was it that so many humans were heedless, irresponsible, walking about the world carefree, oblivious to the signs around them, the leaves, the grass, the trees—death? Were those not signs for all to see, to ponder? Or did people think they would live forever, that death would not come to them? Did they think they could do whatever they pleased,
Durrah, poor Dee, what of her life now? What of her not praying? Her singing, her modeling? Did it matter anymore? Was she singing any longer, in the grave? And were any more eyes gawking at her beauty, admiring, praising, and wanting to be her?
Our Lord, Aminah silently prayed, let not our hearts deviate now after You have guided us, and grant us mercy from Your presence, for You are the Bestower!
The day dragged on slowly. Words were thought but not spoken in Aminah’s home that day. Her mother, father, and brother moved about as if in slow motion, not sure what was right to say, what was wrong. Should Aminah dare to say, ‘May Allah forgive Durrah,’ when she was unsure of the state of her friend’s soul, when the last time she saw Durrah prostrate in prayer was months ago? Perhaps Durrah was just a sinner and no more, Aminah wanted to believe. But something eerie pricked at her conscience, taunting her senses, her heart. Aminah tried to think of the Durrah she knew before college, before the music, before the singing, before the modeling, before the male friends. But, with each thought, came the memory of a windy day when she and Durrah had been playing in the sand, grabbing handfuls from the sandy piles, giggling innocently as they opened their fists and watched the dust fly from their hands, disappearing in the wind.
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