17. Standing At Crossroads

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Narrated Abu Hurairah (may Allaah be pleased with him): A man asked, “O Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) there is a woman who prays, gives charity and fasts a great deal, but she harms her neighbours with her speech.” He (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said,” She will go to hellfire.” The man said,” O Messenger of Allaah, there is another woman who is well known for how little she fasts and prays, but she gives charity from the dried yoghurt she makes and she does not harm her neighbours. He (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, “She will go to Paradise.”

–Ahmad & Ibn Hibban; classed as saheeh by Sheikh al-Albaani

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It was a warm, pleasant day; and the sun shone brightly. Its rays streaked through the windows and past the curtains, lighting up the room and dancing upon its contents. The yellow attractive curtains flapped about merrily in the gentle breeze. When it parted, one could see the fluffy white clouds that lay scattered in the light blue sky, serving as perfect adornments to its background. The trees, too, for their part, joined the act, rustling their leaves and showering flowers on the passersby.

It was a happy morning, or so it seemed for contrary to the fine weather outside, the air inside the center sizzled with anxiety mixed with shocked stupor for obvious reasons. The cat that had been forcefully trapped inside the bag for so long was finally let out. Not only had it leapt outside and broke things in its wake, but it had also caused the air to close in on them and pressure to descend.

It was only minutes earlier that the students had bustled out of the center in a hurry after the classes ended. Barely a few minutes had passed since the center turned empty, but no one would be able to believe that taking into account how deadly silent the place was—almost as if it were deserted for eons outright.

The four friends sat on their chairs in their usual place unmovingly. With mouths open and eyes either widened or screwed shut, they sat frozen.

Faraway, they could hear the stray dogs barking. A sparrow seated itself comfortably on one of their windowsills and chirped. The clock that they hung in the room ticked louder by the second. The four, however, stayed mum.

Manha had broken the news of her engagement moments before, and they were all stunned to silence—blinking and unmoving. Never in the years that they had known each other were they this awfully quiet. Never. Even during the announcement of their results or the issuance of their degrees, there had always been comments and snide jokes. Today, however, the silence was so dreadful—almost terrorising.

Finally deciding that she could take it no more, Eshaal spoke, intent on finding out if they were being played. The ruse, she had decided, cannot last for long.

“You have gotten ready for marriage. You are getting engaged tomorrow, and you are informing us now! Are you kidding me?”

Manha tucked her hair behind her ears, gathering the courage to blurt out the other things she had been keeping from them for more than three weeks—three weeks since she was apprised of the direction her life was heading. “I’m not joking.”

She took in the surprised faces of her friends again. Eshaal was staring at her, mouth agape. Rida was scowling. Even the usually silent, inexpressive Zahra had furrowed her brows and widened her eyes.

Pursing her lips, Manha took a deep breath. “Guys, I’m not lying or joking. I’m telling the truth. I, myself, got to know about it just three weeks ago. I needed time to digest the info before telling you people.”

“You kept it from us that you’re getting proposals for marriage and meeting people?”

“Well . . .” she dragged. “Not really.”

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