2. Memories Which Never Die

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Sa’d (may Allaah be pleased with him) reported that he asked the prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) who amongst mankind had the most trials and he replied, “The Prophets, then those most like them and then those most like them. Man is tested according to the level of his faith. If his faith is good, his trials increase in severity, and if there is weakness in his faith, he will be tried accordingly. Trial will continue with a man until they leave him walking on the earth without a son.”
–At-Tirmidhi; graded as Saheeh by Sheikh al-Albaani

* * *

The curtain of heavy silence blinded them all for a few seconds, Rida a little more than the rest. She was acutely aware of how their laughter, which had earlier drowned the noise of the rain, had disappeared now; and how the pitter-patter of the raindrops on the glass windows was heard even more distinctly.

Her eyes closed and her fingers clutched the end of her top as she tried to forcibly stop all the negative thoughts that were trying to stream into her mind. The images and the memories that tried to resurface were fought off with determination. A ragged breath left her lips at the same time her back rested on the wall for support.
No one seemed to know what to say next for it was a long moment filled with tension before Rida heard Manha speak. “Was your mind in the gutter, Eshaal, when you prepared these chits?”

“Well, no, Ms. I-am-the-most-clever-of-them-all. I didn’t prepare them. In fact, I don’t even know what is written down on those chits,” Eshaal defended weakly.

“Where did you get them then?”

“Actually,” Eshaal drawled, “I tried to imitate the badass tutor from those series you read and grabbed them from my girls when they were playing the other day.”

“You just took them away then?”

“More like confiscated, yes.”

The bickering went on for some time until Eshaal huffed in indignation. “Forget about postgraduation. I don’t even know how you graduated with such attitude. Ughh!”

“Says the girl who is still a student.”

“Excuse me, I was among the top five of our batch even in postgraduation, alright.”

“What’s the point in topping if you could do nothing better than chew my brain all day?”

“I don’t.”

“You do.”

“I don’t.”

“You do. Take now, for example.”

Rida tuned herself out. She knew for a fact that this entire conversation was nothing more than a ruse to ease the tension in the atmosphere and give her enough time to become comfortable again. Her friends, she was aware, were going frantic on the inside despite their calm demeanor. They droned on and on, the words appearing on their tongue before they could process them in their head.
She felt Zahra, who was seated beside her, squeeze her shoulder. A wordless assurance of her presence and support. Despite herself, Rida smiled.
In truth, Rida was nowhere close to what she came off at the moment—a weakling, vulnerable to what other people said or did. Rather, in the span of a couple of years, she had waged her own battles and had come off as a victor. She was strong and brave. Or at least she considered herself to be. Today was one of those rare occasions where she had let her guard down and a sore point had so easily been struck.

* * *

The girl had only just turned eleven when her parents had met with an accident on a highway. Hit and run case with no leads. People from a motel nearby had found her father’s body shielding her mother. Apparently, he had tried to take the blow himself to save his wife. Her mother had made it till the hospital bed where she stopped breathing.
As a girl who still believed in the existence of unicorns and fairies, Rida had been shaken after the incident. She had gone into shock and had outrightly refused to let the reality of the situation sink in.
Her relatives had tried to talk to her and tell her the truth. She had screamed at them, even snatched someone’s phone to ring up her parents to prove them wrong. Needless to say, the call would not go through for the phone had been smashed to pieces. The owners had returned to their Lord—to a world from where they cannot see or speak to her.
She had lain awake for many nights after that, anxiously waited for her parents to return and told herself that they had just been delayed at the wedding they had gone to attend—that they would arrive, that they would come home. But they had not.

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