10. Newfound Relations

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Allaah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “No one is given anything better and more encompassing than patience.”

–Saheeh Bukhari


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Hues of orange and red spread across the horizon as the sun prepared to take its leave for the day. Subtly, darkness had started to creep in, bringing all activities to a lull. Its tentacles had gotten a firm hold on the land, and the people were only too willing to oblige to its commands.

The park was eerily silent except for the occasional chirping of crickets and the swishing of trees due to the breeze. The few people who had been hanging around the park had left a while back; and, right now, the only two occupants of the park, who had remained behind, were seated on a bench near the pond, facing each other without a word. Their silence stretched, keeping them company.

Rida reached from her seat and discarded the crumpled tissue, which she had used to wipe her once tear-stained face, into one of many penguin bins placed around.

She turned around to face her companion before taking a deep breath. “May I know what you are doing here at this time of the day?”

The person to whom the question was directed shot a smile in her direction and mumbled something inaudibly. Rida wasn’t quick enough to read her lips.

“Mehrin,” she stressed.

The young girl gazed in Rida’s direction again. “I am here for the exact reason as you, ma’am.”

The unexpected reply left Rida baffled. She looked at her student with confusion evident in her eyes as her brain started conjuring all sorts of reasons.

Mehrin was a student who attended Rida’s classes. In fact, she was one of the bright ones; and Rida couldn’t think of even one solid reason that could have pushed her into seeking solitude at a park on a Sunday evening. Surely, things would not be so bad for a student, would it?

“I’m sorry. I didn’t get you,” Rida spoke softly as though she was treading on broken glass.

Her student shifted her position, turned to face the pond instead of Rida, and leant on the tree next to the bench. “I am here for the exact reason as you, ma’am. A Sunday evening without a family got to me. I couldn’t,” her voice broke slightly, “muster enough courage to stay alone in the hostel when all my mates were with their families.”

“Oh! Do your parents live abroad?”

“I wish. They live in another world—one they cannot return from.”

Startled by the revelation, Rida’s clear brown orbs dilated. “You mean . . . You mean, you—”

“An orphan. That’s right.”

“I wasn’t about to ask you that,” defended Rida.

Mehrin gave a small smile. “You would have asked me the same thing, ma’am, albeit in a twisted manner. Now, before you apologise, please don’t do that.” She shook her head. “It was Qadr Allaah.”

“Mehrin,” Rida breathed, placing her hand on her shoulder. She was at loss for words at the moment. There was nothing she could think of to say or do that could help ease her pain—absolutely nothing. She felt helpless as she took in the sight in front of her.

Mehrin had her arms wrapped tightly around herself as she gazed at the pond. Having donned a black abaya with a dark brown hijab, she was rocking herself back and forth. A few strands of her hair had escaped her hijab, framing her delicate face. With a round face, a cute button nose, long eyelashes, and lips that were of the right shape, she was indeed a beauty on her own; but, above it all, what entranced Rida was the amount of pain her eyes held and the way she was putting up a fight, not letting it overcome her.

This girl is really something! How did I not notice this earlier?

“Mehrin,” Rida called out softly. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I am, ma’am,” she replied, lifting her gaze to look at the sky. “I wasn’t at first, but now . . .” Licking her lips, she nodded her head up and down, as if telling herself she’s fine.

Rida bit her upper lip. “You know, it is good to let out a few tears if you feel like it. Don’t keep your emotions all bottled up.”

“I’m past that stage, ma’am.” Mehrin maneuvered to face Rida again. “I don’t cry and make a fuss. It was only when you asked me to . . . er . . . word it out that it stung a bit.”

“I’m sorry.” Rida tightened her hold on Mehrin.

“Don’t be, ma’am. I told you it was Qadr Allaah. I came here to the park just to clear my head. When I saw you rush past me, I knew I had to talk to you.” She let out a small chuckle. “And I was right.”

“How did you know?”

“Pardon me?”

“How did you know that I could use some company,” Rida’s eyes strayed towards the bin, “and some tissues?”
Mehrin waved it off.

“Tell me,” Rida demanded.

“You know, they say fools can identify the likes of them.” Mehrin shrugged her shoulders when Rida narrowed her eyes at her. “I guess it takes one broken soul to identify another.”

A soft gasp escaped Rida’s lips.

“Can you deny that?”

“Deny what, exactly?”

“That you aren’t scarred. That you don’t put up a façade just so the ones around you don’t pity you. That you are not hurting on the inside and that sometimes you aren’t afraid of your own self.”

Rida pulled back her hand. “No.” Her voice was very weak. “I can’t deny that.”

“I could see it very well.”

Rida’s lips quirked. “Aren’t you very mature for your age, Mehrin?”

“I did not choose to grow mature, ma’am. I had to. I had to so I could survive.”

For many minutes after that, they sat silently. Rida did not want to pry anything Mehrin did not want to reveal. “My parents were very wealthy, ma’am,” she continued on her own, “a-and they had a lot of relatives who envied them for their wealth. Relatives who would do anything to get their wealth.” A dark look passed over her face, and it was gone sooner than it came.

“Relatives who would even kill them to acquire their wealth. Mom and dad—they died in a fire accident nearly three years ago. Their death was mysterious, and nothing of what I was told was believable. I had my suspicions from the very beginning—still have. There’s no one to help me dig through the case though. No trustworthy people to help me prove my doubts.”

“Three years ago, Mehrin? You stay alone then?”

“Yes, ma’am. Three years ago.” A minute of silence. “With my parents gone, my relatives tried to claim me one by one, but my father was a shrewd man.” A single tear rolled down her cheeks, leaving a trail behind. “He had seen to it that his hard-earned money didn’t end up in the wrong hands.”

Rida was still quiet, trying to process all the information that was being revealed.

“They didn’t leave me though. They tried setting me up with their sons. They wanted the money either by hook or by crook. When it got too much to bear, I fled.” Mehrin looked at Rida squarely in the eye. “I left the city. I checked in to a hostel and took the help of one of my friends’s father.” Her body shuddered. “Well, that’s my story. This is why I had to—have to . . . be mature. That is how I landed up here; and to answer your other question, yes, I stay alone—have been for a while.”

There was a newfound admiration in Rida's eyes for the girl. She had managed to single-handedly narrate all the struggles she had been going through for three successive years in a few sentences. Rida wasn’t sure how much of it she could have handled had she been in her situation. Just the thought of going through all of it alone sent a shiver down her spine.

“You are so strong, Mehrin, Masha Allaah.”

“Why thank you, ma’am. You are pretty strong yourself.” The corners of her mouth lifted up in a smile.

“Nothing compared to you, dear. I feel so worthless when I think of all the things you had to do to save yourself. I’m not as brave as you,” Rida complimented her heartily; and as the words flowed out of her mouth, she knew in her heart what she said was entirely true.

“Whenever I feel off, I think of Him, ma’am,” Mehrin pointed towards the sky, “and all my darkness fades away. All I see is light, but I couldn’t deny that I become impatient at times. I yearn for a physical hug and a family to go back to at the end of a tiresome day.”

“I guess I could relate to that,” Rida piqued in.

“So I am very much human too. I am the same as you are, only our fates have the same destinations planned with different routes. You couldn’t say that you are worthless. Each one of us have our own troubles.”

Rida smiled at her student; and then all of a sudden, she pushed herself forward and squeezed her in a hug. “Thank you, Mehrin. You have no idea how much this heart-to-heart has helped me.”

“What will you give me for this session?”

She arched her eyebrows. “I lost you again.”

Mehrin giggled. “I mean, I need something for spending time with you.”

Rida nodded slowly. “What would you like?”

“An elder sister would be just fine.”

Unable to control herself, Rida hugged Mehrin again. “I will be your elder sister, love. I will be your elder sister for eternity.”

This time, however, Mehrin wrapped her arms around Rida too. “Jazakillah khair, ma’am. You have no idea how much this heart-to-heart has helped me.”

Laughing, Rida squatted her hand away. “Hey, thief! You are stealing my line.”

“What can I do, di? You give off elder sister vibes, and I’m tempted to follow your footsteps, even copy you.”

Rida stilled hearing the word “di”. It had shot straight to her chest and had nestled comfortably there. Mehrin seemed to notice her stiffen. “Did I say something wrong?” She tried to make amends.

With unshed tears glistening in her eyes, Rida denied. “Nope. I was just relishing the feeling of being called ‘di’ by my newly found sister.”

“Aww, diii.”

She burst out laughing, wiping the tears accumulated at the corner of her eyes. “Is there even a need to put that ‘aww’ in our convo? I don’t understand why you teenagers are after it.”

“Absolutely! It is of utmost importance.” Mehrin faked her voice. “It is the only word in the English language that has a lot of synonyms.”

“And pray tell me what are those.” Rida joined the act.

“‘Aww’ means how cute. ‘Aww’ means it is lovely. ‘Aww’ means I’m glad. ‘Aww’ means it took my breath away. ‘Aww’ means I love it. It means I’m speechless. It means do it more often. It means I love you.” Mehrin straightened her back and put up the expression of a professional. “It means a billion more things,” she exhaled.

Rida chuckled to herself. “What exactly is the purpose of having so many meanings? To confuse the person you are holding a conversation with?”

“You could say that. That is actually a rule students follow for their teachers—if you can’t convince them, confuse them.”

“It is fun being with you, Mehrin.”

Cocking her head, Mehrin smiled. “Same to you, di.”

“Buttering me up, huh? Don’t think you can manage to sweet talk me into giving you question papers and such.”

“Ouch, that hurt.”

A retort was ready on Rida's lips when a whistle sounded, indicating the end of the visiting time at the park. Both the girls got up from their seats to walk away. Adjusting their scarves, they were about to turn when they noticed a couple of ducks walk out of the pond. One of them quacked when another nudged it; and then fluttering their wings, they started to engage in what seemed to be a friendly flight.

When Rida saw the longing look Mehrin sported, her hand found hers. She squeezed it.

The girl smiled looking at their entwined hands. “I try not to be ungrateful, di. I truly do. I do things to keep myself cheerful. I hang out with friends, trying not to feel left out; but when it is time for them to leave, I become lonely and the very thought that I am alone sometimes makes me go insane.” She smiled even more brightly, looking up to meet Rida’ eyes. “But now that I’ve got a sister, I’d be more occupied so that I won’t think about unwanted things.”

“Yes, you better.”

They started to head towards the entrance. “And Mehrin, I may be the wrong person to tell you this, taking into consideration that I lose my patience always but,” Rida inhaled and looked ahead, “don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Don’t ever despair. For all you know, your destination may be just around the corner. He has a plan for all of us.”

Mehrin nodded, her face lighting up.
They made small talk as they walked away from the park, wondering at the ways of their Lord—how they had gained a sister while leaving the park when they had entered it all alone. They smiled and laughed. Their eyes sparkled, their hearts felt light, and their feet took them away, unaware of the whirlwind approaching them.

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Glossary:

Qadr Allaah: Allaah's Will or Allaah's ordainment!

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