16. Shattered Dreams

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The Messenger of Allaah, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon) said, “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, ‘This dog is suffering from thirst as I did.’ So, he went down the well again and filled his shoe with water and watered it. Allaah thanked him for that dead and forgave him. The people said, “O Allaah's Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving animals?” He replied: “There is reward for kindness to every living thing.” 

–Saheeh Bukhari

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Zahra stilled in her act of searching for the ball when she caught sight of the half-opened chest. The image of the chest’s contents arrested her, rendering her immobile, and throwing all coherent thoughts out of her mind. She swallowed. Her eyes blinked in rapid succession, lips thinned, and the rest of her countenance changed, too, as though she hadn’t been talking and laughing a while back.

Gone was the sparkle that had sought temporary shelter in her eyes upon Nadhir’s arrival. In its stead, numbness had occupied a seat without much difficulty. Numbness that surged through her being. Numbness that seized control of her senses, making her oblivious to her surroundings.

Her hands clenched into fists by her side. She let out a shuddering breath.

Life sure did have the habit of throwing curveballs at people when they were least expecting them and of gifting them something entirely unexpected and completely out of turn. Those gifts—or shocks, the better suited term—serve as reality checks for people who forget about the uncertain nature of life; and often though, our reactions to such curveballs go down in the books of our lives and get etched in the pages of our history. Every word uttered and every reaction evoked are noted down with complete precision, the ink drying before the damage could be undone.

Once a word is uttered, it is difficult to retrieve it from the sea of words. Once an act is committed, the effect of it spreads and cannot come undone. The books of our lives are thus woven and bound. The occurrences are set in stone, and the effect is passed on to the forthcoming generations—a chain reaction.

In certain instances where things had gone out of hand, a page of your story that you want to erase from your history becomes dominant and tries to become the opening chapter of your tale, leaving you no other choice but to bear with it. Some learn to take it with time, and others—well, they refuse to accept it, refuse to bow down, and because of that very reason, are affected each time they are made to confront it. They are made to feel worthless and insane.

Sometimes people think so much of this temporary life, pile up too many unrealistic expectations, weave so many dreams that depict fairy tales that when reality finally dawns upon them, it leaves them irrevocably shattered. They are left longing, yearning, but never belonging to the life they once thought could be theirs. Only the broken shards of their dreams remain to prick them time and again, reminding them of their shortcomings—of what couldn’t be theirs.

Zahra was one of the many splinters of someone else’s broken dreams and she abhorred the fact. No matter how many attempts she made at trying to forget it, she was reminded of it at every waking moment in her life. It was a huge part of who she was; and, even though she didn’t want to acknowledge it, it left her feeling incomplete, inadequate, and worthless.

Her chest heaved as she let out a ragged breath. With trembling fingers, she reached out for the chest and opened the lid. Her knees touched the ground and against her better judgement, she peered in.

The violet-coloured dress occupied her vision and thinking. She gulped, trying to force stop her memories. They weren’t good enough to deserve her time and tears—they never were and would never be. Reaching over, she took the velvet dress outside the chest and brushed her hand over it. Having been made of the costliest material of her time, her mother’s wedding attire was still beautiful. The fabric was still in good condition, and the ethnic work on it was still intact. Beneath the dress, Zahra caught sight of her mother’s blackened silver anklets that had changed colour with time. The chest even contained a small jewellery box her mother had once owned. She sighed.

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