MAMA TWO; THE WOMAN THAT WILL FOREVER LIVE
By: Lubnah Abdulhalim
Photo Courtesy: Salem_Beliegraphy
THE MAGIC PEN
The illustrations just couldn’t be comprehended,
Every feature just seemed faceless,
What was happening?
What were all these creatures etched like lines?
In circles, squares and straight lines
They just didn’t make any sense
in came the illustrator with his magic pen and of course just instantly he got to work
and wow, behold! Suddenly everything made sense.
All the illustrations came to life
All that were lines became features
These features were of beautiful people and trees, houses and furnitures
Then it all made sense
And I realised
That he had done it again,
The illustrator and his magic pen.
My aunt was reciting the poem to the illustrator who was seated in front of him. With a lot of excitement, the illustrator’s eyes twinkled.
‘I am going to print that out and frame it,’ he said as he went on taking notes on the descriptions of the characters in my aunt’s storybook. And as for my aunt, she went on giving explanations with such joy that I could imagine the characters in my head. For months that followed, the illustrator was a frequent visitor at home and my aunt was at the top of the world. At last her dream was going to come true. After almost ten years, she was finally going to publish a few of her many short stories that she had written for us while we were young.
Being a prospective writer, I usually found it interesting to hear her give descriptions and plan on her books. She was my mentor and I loved that spark of life in her. She was a perfectionist and she was very particular about everything.
All throughout my school days, she was the one who attended parents meetings and came for not only my report card but all my siblings’ as well. It wasn’t because my mum was too lazy or negligent do it herself, but my aunt was just really insistent. She loved it. The teachers got so used to this charming woman who always had something to say about the children’s perfomance and behaviour. It was naturally in her; that magic touch that she shared with everyone she met. I remember how she would make us create study timetables and she frequently held pep talks with us. We were what she couldn’t have; children that she could consider her own.
She had married late and unfortunately her marriage was short-lived, but she has lived with us as long back as my memory goes. She was the first woman to hold me in her arms, even before my mother. And I remember how much she loved that I resembled her and how many people thought that I was her daughter. And there are just so many memories attached to her. The woman who, when any of us was preparing for a national exam, would transfer us to her room and take it upon herself to wake us late at night to study. I remember how she would always arrange the study table and every once in a while she would stick an inspirational note on the wall throughout the year from the word go.
Several months later, she had her first two books published and I could read the enthusiasm in her eyes.
‘You will be my personal secretary,’ she told me and ever since, I became so. Days turned into nights and nights into day as she went up and down marketing her books. Her diabetes was eating her up but she wanted to live her dream and so she did. Then slowly, she started losing her eyesight; her diabetes was acting up again.
When she went for the first operation on one of her eyes, she feared it was probably the end. She wanted to give the power of attorney of her books to my dad but my mother quickly refuted; she didn’t want her to think it was the end of her odyssey. As time flew by, her second eye got weak as well and she had to go through another operation. I woke up to days where she would sit for long hours struggling to write. She could no longer write in a straight line and her letters were playfully scattered like that of a child learning to write. I saw her strain futilely to immortalize pieces of her imagination in writing.
Her health deteriorated and she spoke less. I remember those nights I’d hear her coughing uncontrollably and I’d close my ears and turn to the wall. I didn’t want to hear. I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to feel. Those days we grew apart and I could barely look into her eyes. And many of the nights when I’d hear her in the next room struggling with an attack, I’d sob slowly and squeeze myself so hard to the wall as if expecting it to hug back or maybe swallow me and let me disappear. After I had had my share of tears I’d slowly tiptoe to the washroom and would still hear her groans of pain. Most times I would avoid her and she would notice that I did. In the morning I’d walk into her room and kiss her cheek and walk away before any other conversation could come up. Days seemed to be dragging on and the nights seemed longer than the days.
Soon after, she was diagnosed with a swollen heart and was soon admitted to the hospital. But upon meeting the doctor for the second time and showing him her blackened toe, the doctor informed us that the toe was a worse issue than the heart. Since she was a diabetic, the blackness in her toe was poisonous and dangerous. So she was transferred to the hospital…and that was the last time we ever saw her at home…
On the first night that she was admitted, I promptly offered to stay over at the hospital with her. Hours later, my mum informed me that my aunt didn’t want me to stay back. And I felt stung by those words.
‘But why?’ I asked my mum as a bitter lump formed in my throat.
‘She said that you couldn’t even look at her when she was at home so how can you tend to her at this situation?’
And my heart broke to a million pieces. It hurt so.
‘Mum..I just can’t stand seeing her wither away like that. I couldn’t see her hurt and ache. I just couldn’t. ..’ I said between tears, ‘but now I want to be there for her…’
‘You can’t keep on living like this. Were your children to get ill, would you dump them to me just because you couldn’t take it?’ And my mum left me with that. So it was decided that my big brother would be the one to spend the nights with her.
Sorrow engulfed our house and our schedules changed drastically. Every morning, I would wake up to an empty house. Everyone had left to their busy lives while my parents rushed before sunrise to relieve my brother so he could rest as well and I stayed at home all alone and it got to a point that I could actually hear the walls vibrating due to the deathly silence. It was a lonesome time. Every evening I would visit my aunt at the hospital before going for my classes. It was a large ward and her bed was at the farthest corner. The cries of agony, the groans from the first bed were clinging to my head like the limbs of tiny insects. I couldn’t stand the tense pain-evoking environment and I remember that the tenant of the first bed was a young child who was burnt from a fire. I would often hear her scream as she was being nursed. My heart was aching and the acrid smell of the medication made my head ache as well. I would glance at the occupant of each bed in dismay. Truly, people undervalue their bounties. And here was my aunt, still talking less but groaning unbearably in pain.
The doctors decided to cut her toe to stop the poison from spreading . Unfortunately it had already spread and the second time, they severed her whole foot to just above her ankles. I remember how she would scream loudly and would sometimes get hysterical when she was being nursed and my mum would whisper softly ‘Calm down..everyone is watching you…’ and she would reply even more loudly, ‘Ah I’m in pain..I don’t care.’
It was somewhat comical how she would act at times; instructing the nurses loudly not to hurt her or how sometimes she would slap my brother or tighten her grip on his hand so hard. We would smile silently and the nurses informed us that that was because of the many medicines she was taking. She would hallucinate frequently and she slept almost all the time.
Her complications stretched in number; her heart, high blood pressure, the poison rising in her leg and she suddenly had ulcers as well. The doctors noticed that the medication was not effective and they kept writing different prescriptions each day. The medicines were complicating it even further. Sometimes the medicines for ulcers would react with her diabetics or the medicine for ulcers would react with hyper tension and for the doctors, it became like a game of trial and error.
Just across her bed was another woman who had her entire leg cut off and had stayed in the hospital for months since she was unable to pay her bills but she looked quite strong and she was even walking around sometimes. This woman’s survival story was our glimmer of hope; hope that our aunt would survive, that she would be able to walk even with one leg. On the left side of my aunt’s bed was a young girl of my age group who had had a terrible motorbike accident.I always used to hear my mother mention how patient the girl had been and one day during the visits to the hospital, I asked her to show me her covered leg. What I saw was certainly not a good sight.
‘They have to slice part of my thighs to patch it to the leg.’ I took another look at the red leg that seemed to have all of its skin sheared off. I was becoming so affected that I could no longer stand these visits. It was unbearable.
The first time my story was published in a newspaper I rushed to the hospital and showed it to her and she nodded slowly, like in appreciation of my hard work and murmured, mabruk. I knew she couldn’t see what was written well but I still wanted her to see it. I wanted her to see the fruits of her inspiration.
Day after day, night after night found my brother in the ward. He would feed her and take her to the washroom and bring her curtains so she would bath right where she was and when bad got worse, he was the one who bathed her and nursed her in the washroom as well. My heart melted at that. Maybe I had really underestimated my brother’s kindness or maybe I just hadn’t realized how much he loved her. All the other patients in the ward would be mesmerized at my brother and kept asking whether he was her son and when she’d say she’s like their second mother, they’d be awed even more at the beauty of it. Then came the night when she suddenly became unconscious and was taken to Intensive care Unit and we thought this would probably be the end of it. We went down in prayers and each of us at home silently sat in a corner; deep in thoughts. We needed her, we needed her charm and her laughter. We needed to hear her scold us about our duties and responsibilities. We just needed her beside us.
God answered our prayers. By the next afternoon she was fully conscious and was sent back to her ward. That night as my mum was wishing goodnight to the other patients around my aunt called out to her, “You are wishing everyone and you’re forgetting me huh?” And we laughed lightly at that; at her undying humour.
It was the 7th of June and my younger sisters went to visit her after their annual sports day at school. The sister right after me had won an award in the sports and she went to show her it. Mama two just mumbled slowly, mabruk. My mum told my sister, ‘Ask her if she has recognized you.’ and my sister was like ‘Seriously mum? Why wouldn’t she know me now?’ But mum insisted, ‘Just ask her.’
‘Mama two…who am i?’ And she said, ‘Lubnah…’ My sister was surprised that she hadn’t recognized her and actually thought she was talking to me. Feeling a lump in her throat, she kept quiet. She also had the same fear that I would have later in the day; that maybe she had already lost her sight then.
That same evening, my mum called me as I was left from uni. It was already dark and I was so exhausted.
“You have to come to the hospital.”
“I’m so tired mum. I don’t want to come that side of the town now.”
“You have to. Your brother hasn’t arrived yet and we can’t leave her alone until he comes by. Your younger sisters already saw her this afternoon. You have to come.”
After a lot of complaining and whining I still went and when I got there, my dad was trying to make her lie well on the bed.
“Mama two,” I called out as I patted on her hair. She didn’t say a word.
“Mama two…” I called her again and she looked up at me but her eyes seemed different, like they were seeing in opposite directions and for a moment I feared she had lost her sight. Then my dad called out her name
“Naam,” she whispered and my dad was giving her instructions what she should do so that he could make her comfortable on the bed.
As she turned over she suddenly screamed ‘SubhanaAllah!’ before she went back to her mysterious silence. And those became the last words I ever heard from her. I stood helplessly beside her, trying to hear anything more from her but alas. My brother soon arrived and we all stood stiffly by the bed. I had a lump in my throat and my face was filled with sorrow and that’s when my brother teased at my disastrous posture and came and stood by my side. I understood he was trying to cheer me up but I couldn’t take my face away from the withering flower in front of me.
As we were leaving,I kissed her on the forehead and said goodbye. I walked a few steps ahead and suddenly had a premonition and quickly went back to her bedside, ‘I promise I will take care of your books’ before I kissed her again and left. Now, thinking about it I wonder why did I say goodbye and not goodnight as I always did. Why did I make that promise precisely that night? I never understood why.
It was way past midnight; almost dawn when my aunt called onto my brother.
“My chest…my chest..” she murmured with much difficulty. She was running out of breath. My brother took a glass of water and recited Surat Yasin on the water and made her drink it. And she was still complaining of her congested chest.
“La ilaha illa Llah,” my brother kept saying to her and in slow bits she followed, ‘La illaha illa Llah.’
‘Muhammad rasulu Llah,‘ my brother continued but this time she could no longer speak and in a moment, she took her last breath peacefully as if she had been rehearsing for that moment for so long.
It was earlier on, at around 2 a.m when I suddenly woke up from my sleep and I remembered her. I said a short prayer for her; I asked God to let her live at least till ramadhan or until after my sister’s wedding. We needed her. We still greatly needed her. When my aunt’s health had become really critical, my brother called my mum to inform them to rush to the hospital. Just when they had reached downstairs at the door, they received another call from my brother again. She was gone.
It was on 8th June. I will never forget that date for it was the day I was woken up at fajr hour with silent cries at the corridor. I held my breath as I jumped out of my bed just to see my two sisters hugging each other tightly as tears welled up their eyes. My heart stopped for a moment and I stopped still in my tracks.
“Don’t tell me!” Is all I said as my heart started racing. “Please don’t tell me.” I repeated. But they didn’t have to tell me the obvious. I knew very well why they were holding each other like that at such a time. I knew they wouldn’t cry like that for anyone else so I just joined them in the group hug.
Our parents had already left for the hospital to plan on removing the body from the hospital. We were all alone at home now and just after the prayers, we were all seated narrating of all her last moments with us. That seemed to worsen the pain. It was like living in a worldly hell. I had never lost anyone I loved that much. I had never even thought about her death this soon. And all of a sudden I was lost in a trance. Remembering, remembering, remembering…I couldn’t even cry anymore.
After we had cleaned the house ready to receive the visitors, we realized that our seven year old sister was not with us. Rushing to the stairs, I found her seated silently at the stairs. She wasn’t crying nor did she seem sad but she seemed aware of what was happening. I hugged her.
“Do you know the meaning of death?”
“Pray for her okay?”
She nodded again and I took her with me.
Plans were changed and the body was no longer going to be brought home but rather to our family house and so we had to leave immediately too. By the time we got there, it was too crowded. And the moment we stepped in, everyone rushed towards us. They all knew we were her children and she was our mother; mother not by birth but through sentiment and all else that is good and heavenly. She had already been washed by then and people were just kissing her goodbye now. We walked in to the room where she was and just found several people hugging me. I just went numb and broke down. I wasn’t crying coz of the death but more because of how the people around were wailing. The louder they cried the more tears silently rushed to my face.
“Please don’t cry like that. Haraam.” I heard my sister say constantly to the people hugging us but they went on. So we ended up consoling the rest instead of it being the vice versa. None of us screamed or wailed or overreacted. We were just there as silent as we’d always been. Mum was seated at one corner and even when I went to hug her, we rubbed each other’s tears and consoled one another. We were the ones who loved her more than anyone else. We were the ones who knew her pain and sorrows. We were the ones who knew she wouldn’t want to see us wailing for her sake.
There were so many people at the funeral, majority of whom I never even recognized. Some introduced themselves as her high school classmates, some her long time neighbors, some her old friends. ..I looked at the many faces; grasping none but remembering all those days she’d narrate of her days at school, her very many awards in drama and plays. Her days as an exchange student in America. Her re-known eloquence and her boldness on the stage. She was a legendary storyteller and that crowd was just meant to be there at that moment. Thinking about it, she would have loved to see all these people around her…only they came by a little bit too late.
My friends appeared and we talked and I talked like nothing had happened. They were trying to cheer me up and I played along. When my best friend finally appeared just outside the house I rushed out and gave her a tight hug. Surprisingly, I never cried then. Maybe it was because I was confident that she knew my deepest sorrows just by glancing at me. We walked in and we spent the rest of the afternoon together; talking about everything else and barely touching the topic in hand. The hours were very slowly ticking away. It was the longest day of my life.
That night when we got home I was the first to ask my mother for food and she was surprised.
“Really?? Do you even have the appetite? None of us is thinking of food right now.”
Did I have an appetite really? I don’t know. Maybe I just wanted to get busy with something or just to fill my stomach and numb the acidic lump of pain there.
“You are stronger than I thought,” mum continued after a moment of silence. “In fact today you proved to us all that you were the strongest of us all.”
Was I? Was I really the strongest? I shrugged.
About two to three days passed by and the house was full of gloom. It wasn’t until one of the nights that I dreamt of her. And I broke down. I broke down in the dream and it was so severe that I woke up to find myself crying in reality. And I cried and cried and cried like never before.
“There..now you will be okay. It had just not yet sunk in your head,” mum consoled me. But the next days that followed, I constantly found myself dreaming of her. Dreaming that she was alive still. That she was healthy. And sometimes I would dream of her at home and ask her ‘but are you not supposed to be dead?’ It was haunting me now. It was haunting me that maybe she still died thinking I never cared for her. That she died thinking I did not want to take care of her. That I didn’t love her all that much. I was torturing myself with the thoughts now. Did she die knowing that I loved her so much? Did she understand that I stayed away only because I didn’t want to see her suffer?? Those thoughts never died away but sometimes I think of that last night that I didn’t want to go to the hospital and I say to myself, had I not gone to see her that night then I’d never have forgiven myself. And now I appreciate that night so much like never before and although she didn’t really talk to me but seeing her during her last moments was the best gift God ever gave me.
Almost two years later now, I still dream of her. I still turn to my wall and cry for her but mostly, cry that I stayed away. Had she forgiven me for that before she died?? I hope she did. I hope so…
We all still remember her in everything we do. When we see her favourite food, her favourite tv shows, her large mas-haf that she used to read as she was slowly losing her sight, her photos…and sometimes we just remember her for no good reason; just like that. But what I would never forget is the days we used to joke around about the future. Of how each one of us would have our own family and how she and mum would have special turns visiting each and how they would go to hajj together with dad too and how the house would be more peaceful without us.
I look back at all that and think…she left just too soon. Just too soon. She was the youngest in her family; a woman full of life, and even though she was playing at the early fifties she still had many dreams like she was going to live forever. But who am I to deny God’s will? I know she would have loved to know that I wrote about her. She loved being appreciated. She deserved to be appreciated.
Then one day my youngest sister came and asked my mum, ‘Will we meet aunt Naima in Jannah?’ We were all mesmerized by her question and all mum did was kiss her and say, ‘Ameen.we will all be together in jannah.’ And as I say this ameen, I swallow a bitter lump in my throat.
Ameen Ya Rab, Ameen!