It has been some time since I’ve laid in bed and stared at the ceiling fan
To hear the rain and listen…
To have an arm bent under my head and the other rested on my stomach
To look at my toes and marvel at how I still have ten
It has been some time since I’ve laid in bed and stared at the ceiling fan.
You are the fountain of patience that the inflicted wish to borrow from,
and you are the night star that the dweller longs for.
Teach me to be more like you in a world that is foolish to think you should be more like them,
verily anyone who seeks to change you is misguided in thought,
If only they had a share in the immense joy to me you’ve brought.
Seven weeks after the troops left, Hibaq became pregnant. It was as though her body knew not to bring a child into the world until the clouds of destruction no longer blocked the starry night. Her husband Adam fell to prostration when she told him, such news was deliverance from the hardship they endured— fallen livestock and moving to the outskirts of the land, away from the cities engulfed in the most turmoil. While clinging to her gown like rope, he returned to his feet—repairing the roofs of destroyed homes had damaged his knees. Adam pulled Hibaq close and wept into her shoulder, repeatedly whispering, “Alhamdulillah” praise God.
The two had been married for seven years and the possibility of baring a child became less like thirst and more like the third meal of the day in which you could skip without feeling deprived. The two learned to see through windows rather than colored idealities.
In a way, they were grateful to not have children when war did not have careful regard for whose life was stolen. And it was the war that had allowed them to suppress such insecurities. For in the early years of their marriage, when houses stood upright, and people had gardens, not having a child to bathe or take to gatherings for the elders to bless was a great deprivation. Yet it was something that was never openly discussed between the two, partly because they still had hope, and partly because both did not want to explore the issue only to discover that it was their own reproductive system at fault. For Hibaq, she did not know what womanhood meant beyond sustaining life, and Adam never hinted that it deeply troubled him as it very well could be a fault in his seed and not the soil.
But At last, this was their time.
Hibaq screamed, but no one was home to hear her. The house helper had left to buy watermelon and tangerines as Adam went to the city to trade. The two had not moved back into the inner town, and the closest home was at the least, two kilometers away. Hibaq had been perfectly strong the day before but was now overtaken, governed by what beat against her abdomen and ribs. Sweating with fever, she left from her bed and crawled past the hall and towards the door. Each motion forward was at war with the overwhelming contractions that overcame her—feeling more like convulsions. She had made it to the door, it suddenly opened, and there stood Adam, both surprised to see the other, she then collapsed.
At dawn, it was born.
Hibaq had lost liters of blood and could no longer separate what was being said among the voices outside her room from the whooshing sounds of dizziness, It all was outside of her, her true self was outside of this body—a spirit wanting emancipation but confined to this bed and to the debilitating pains of a stomach that had been ripped open. She could not muster the energy to engage with those who stood on the other side of the door, and to others, this was best, as they needed time to decide on how to tell her. No time would be enough so long as traveling back in time remained an impossibility.
As the daylight waned, Hibaq’s consciousness improved, and by night her speech was in communion with her thoughts. Everyone had left the hospital besides Isra, Adam’s youngest sister. She was heavyset for a nine-year-old but made the crude jokes of the khat vendors, and for that, none of the children picked on her, for their esteem could not withstand the blows of the girl with a way of knowing all that you wished to conceal. Despite this, her heart was sincere, she did well for those who meant well. Her pretext was that she was born during the war and became an older woman encased in a child’s body because of it.
While struggling to sit upright, Hibaq called to Isra, startling the young girl. Isra stood and hastily rushed to Hibaq’s bedside, kissing her hand in respect and relief.
“You’re awake! How are you feeling habo macaan, my sweet aunt?”
“Isra is my child a boy or girl?” Hibaq’s lips were cracked from dryness
“Habo, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you do not know?”
“Nobody let me see her, they all left to the mosque to pray for your child, but they would not let me come, I wanted to come, but they said I must take care of you. Adam told me to tell you that your baby is a gift and that he will come back to you soon, but he was about to cry when he said that, so I was confused.”
Hibaq’s dizziness began to return, and the color drained from her face. Isra motioned a cup to her lips to help her drink. Hibaq stared blankly at the open door before her and drank from the cup. The water then came back up from her esophagus and into her eyes, letting out a large single tear. She would rather be cut open several times over than be withheld from knowing where her baby was. The little energy she had was converted into overthinking, and after each racing thought stripped from her sanity, soon after there was nothing left, she passed out.
Isra ran into the hall to retrieve the nurses.
“Maymuna my love, are you ready to go?”
Hibaq put Maymuna on her hip and placed a shawl above her as to cover her small body completely before opening the door. “The sun is hot so we must give the princess her shade,” she said to her daughter.
Hibaq was torn between guilt and shame. When buying from the women at the market place, no one ever made the effort to say Masha’Allah to Maymuna, as to invite that she be protected from the evil eye as they would do for the other children, the pretty bride, or the intelligent student. No, to them, Maymuna didn’t need protection as no one was envious of the beauty or skill they did not believe she had to begin with. For this, Maymuna felt a sense of guilt for what she had no control over.
No one would address Maymuna, and the lack of notice was often more painful than the stares the younger children would give when they saw Maymuna’s face. Maymuna was blind and did not see what her mother did, but stark silence transcends ability, and it hurts the same.
When the shawl is not drawn over Maymuna, and the children or strangers see the disfigurement of her face, Hibaq smiles and tells those who stare too long, “Say Masha’Allah”. Sometimes they’ll immediately comply and say Masha’Allah with an embarrassed smile for having stared unabashedly, and other times, people will say some variation of “I’m sorry this happened to you”, or that “this life is full of tests and the child will at least be granted heaven for having been this way”.
Knowing that she cannot change the way other’s see her daughter, her gift, Hibaq puts her lips to the ears of Maymuna and whispers, “you are the fountain of patience that the inflicted wish to borrow from, and you are the night star that the dweller longs for. Teach me to be more like you in a world that is foolish to think you should be more like them, verily anyone who seeks to change you is misguided in thought.”
Hibaq does not wish for things to have been different, only that her daughter grows to see no wrong in being different, for surely there is no wrong at all.
Vicks vapor rub can fix all that is broken. No, wait, a glass of ginger ale is the antidote to everything.
A sip for stomach pains, a sip for menstrual cramps or two sips simply for a sunny day, a one size fits all ordeal.
She weighed 90 pounds. My hands brushed past her upper arms as we embraced, I felt the hanging skin that outlasted any fat or muscle— hanging for the sake of her daughter and grandchildren.
The color fled from her face, aside from the patches of hyperpigmentation around her nose and hollow cheeks. Her bright pink shawl and the blue that outlined her aged irises reminded one that she still lives. She smelled like vanilla and sweet pea. I couldn’t identify which between the two, and quite frankly I know those scents are easily distinguishable, but she smelt equal parts warm and sweet, like wisdom and youth at the same time. Graceful even in her dying days. The boniness of her forearms gave her a type of elegance, the way she motioned her veiny hands when she spoke made me begin to envision how beautiful a gold bangle would have looked on her, her wrists had become as thin as mine. I was wearing one, and I should’ve given it to her.
It has been a year since her diagnosis, and I only visited now. I was ashamed. Had I come sooner, could my prayers have shifted her disposition? I’ve heard that the prayers of a child weigh heavy in the heavens, and while I’m not a child, in ways, I possess the same hopefulness. I know that the jadedness that comes with life experience detracts from the spirit’s optimism, and on the days that I am introspective, I thank God for sparing me from grave hardship. Perhaps it’s wrong to foreshadow tragedy, but I often pray that nothing painful befalls me until I am in the company of my soulmate. Sure, it’s better to pray for the absence of hardship, but if the prophets endured the death of their children and abuse, what should lead me to think that the inevitable won’t find me? One can never prepare for suffering, but surely the touch of an honest lover could attend to the pain that ginger ale would do no good for. Loneliness is the drought to the fruit of heart, and yet the fertile soil for depression to sprout.
The guilt rests behind my eyes, but I smile at her, she deserves no less. I sit beside her on the couch and wish I could recite proverbs to ease her spirit, but I cannot speak Somali, and truthfully my understanding of my mother tongue has diminished with age. I wanted to cry. What was my excuse? The busyness of school? Forgetfulness? Life does not ask permission to appease one’s conveniences.
We held hands, the heat from mine was absorbed by hers, a gift of energy.
She began to tell me a story and my mother on the couch next to us translated.
“When my father was still alive, I would fly back to Somalia often to visit him. He was a farmer and didn’t have an inhaler for his asthma. I would bring some for him, along with ibuprofen and other simple medications. The first time he used the inhaler, he was amazed at how it healed him momentarily. Then when he took ibuprofen for a headache, he was astounded!
I visited again three months later, and most of the medication I had bought was almost all gone, I was shocked! I had bought him enough the first time to last a year, La Ilaha, very crazy. Guess what he did with them Karima?”
“Did he not believe in medicine and just toss them?”
“Worse! He gave them to his sick goats! ”
I began to laugh in surprise, “No, are you serious ayeeyo?”
“Yes, yes, he did! He convinced himself that it did something for them, and maybe it did who am I to say, but he had no idea how much that all cost me and here he was using it for his animals! It gave me such a headache I wanted to down a bottle myself!”
We all began to laugh. Habo Sabreen chimed in, “The love a farmer has for his animals is powerful, I mean think about it, the same way white people love their dogs, we love our goats and camels.”
Habo Sabreen had a point, love can make one do seemingly irrational things, but whose to judge but the giver and receiver? Whether that be between two people or a farmer and his animals, what difference does it make?
Shortly after our tea and talk, Ayeeyo said she had to get up to pray the evening prayer, Maghrib. I looked at my phone and saw the notification from my prayer app indicating that the time for prayer began only two minutes ago. How did she know? There was no clock around, nor an athan in the house. I was amazed. Had sickness made her so vigilant of her relationship with God that she developed an internal clock with such accuracy?
She stood up and walked to the downstairs bathroom to make ablution. A minute or two after, I decided I should pray with her. I often pray alone as I enjoy reciting the verses aloud and feel too shy to do so around anyone but my youngest sister. But I wanted to be beside ayeeyo as she prayed, to pray with her and for her. I went to the upstairs bathroom and washed as I do before each of the five daily prayers. I came back downstairs and found a scarf in ayeeyo’s room. She had already begun to pray, so I tugged downwards at my skirt to cover my ankles and draped a shawl around my head. I could make out her recitation as she whispered the verses loudly while I read mine silently. As she began her third rakat and I began my second, we were in sync as we recited Surat Al-Fatihah. It was beautiful.
To be in sync. If the body and soul are blended together, what is to be said about how disease and death are tethered? Can one rectify the dying process simply by choosing to no longer see it as a tragedy? If death is instead perceived as one’s return to their maker rather than a mere departure from this world, than does that make it easier? And for whom does it become a lighter plight? Surely not the loved ones left behind to see an abandoned bed. But if such view of death eases the heart of the dying, then perhaps the loved ones will be at ease knowing one came to terms with their prescribed time, with dignity and grace.
I won’t pretend as though all deaths are equivalent. Yes, the death of a child is more incomprehensible than that of a great aunt, and yes, the unforeseen call of a loved one’s fatal accident is more forceful to the heart than a slow foreseeable departure. While all death may inflict pain, disease before death pacifies the shock factor, and in many cases has a way of bridging relationships between forsaken ties among kin, rebirthing relationships through a loss.
They say that when illness befalls a believer, their sins shed. Despite ayeeyo’s inoperable liver cancer, and the insurance company refusing to any longer support her chemotherapy given her lack of progress, she still smelled like vanilla and sweet pea and wore the brightest of pink shawls.
The women with cartons of fresh milk pass by me each morning. They grow quieter as they draw closer, the wind without a scroll and the barrow’s wheels that skip on the rocks fill the space between us. I pray that today they will look at me. I do not seek their gifts or laughter, but only to be looked at, to know that I am still here. But like yesterday, and every day since I saw crimson, they have forsaken me.
I have been tied to this tree since the end of Ramadan. In my long days alone, I’ve pondered this timing. Had they waited till the final days hoping my cure would come in that blessed month? Or did they seek to prolong my torment for a day that was lesser than holy? Does such calculated timing ease the regret for treating another human this way? It must be so, for they have left me here between these two trees, only bringing my two meals and water, but never speaking to me. They tell me that the water is for ablution, but I always drink it instead.
I sometimes wonder where God is. On days that the sun has mercy, I try escaping from the rope around my ankles, but this rope has woven in it, curses that leave me defeated. When the children are released from lessons after the afternoon prayer, some walk by me on their way home. I stop struggling to escape when I see them, for I do not want to frighten them. It always burns, and blood sometimes trickles to my heels. I don’t resume fighting for freedom until the flesh has turned to scar. Sometimes the scars form quicker than usual, and on those occasions, I know God exists.
I try not to ponder, for my own introspection often brings me greater discomfort than this physical disposition. Questioning this circumstance won’t shift my fate. Whether it be day or night, I am void of dreams. I have little hope, despite the promise imprinted in the patterns of my shawl. Patience is my only possession.
Things were not always this way. Hooyo could not bear any more children after me, and unlike the ordinary men in our village, this did not upset Aabo. He did not demand from her body more than it was willing to give, and our surplus was scarce, so this was a rightful omen. We had little, but we never complained. We were different from the other families in the village. My Aabo would cook and clean with Hooyo, and Hooyo would herd animals with Aabo because she never wanted him to feel lonely in the fields, and while Aabo enjoyed his solitude, he enjoyed my mother’s company more. Between the three of us, we carried more than half of all the love in the village, and for this, we were envied.
Some of the villagers say it was the evil eye that destroyed my family, others say it was my father’s grand lie, but neither is the case. The people did this to us. They did this to me.
It all began three years ago after Aabo’s misfortune. He had gone to the fields alone as Hooyo and I went to the market. He did not come back that night, and Hooyo would not wait for morning to question his whereabouts. She would not rest without her beloved. Alone, Hooyo left in the bleakness of dark night to find him. To her, fear was but perfume to the hyenas, so she guarded her spear in one hand, and prayer beads in the other.
I finished my chores alone that next morning. The camels were milked and I had blisters to show for the washed garments. Later in the day, as I sat by the steps of the kitchen door, I saw three figures approaching. They were back. I squinted to see clearer and realized the smallest of the three was Aabo. He was bent over and carried by Hooyo and Adeero Bishar. Forgetting my sandals and shawl, I ran to them.
Aabo had fallen from one of the rocky hills, fracturing his skull. Hooyo said his head painted the rocks crimson. This made me cry. The elder women who visited our family later in the day inspected him and said that his injuries were not life-threatening, as he could still speak and eat. They said his pain would dissipate with time and that he would be normal. Normal. Aabo was never again normal. In the year following his accident, our family became well known among even the neighboring villages.
Aabo had begun to have visions. Some proved to be true, others did not. I knew it was all guesswork, but the villagers thought his unfulfilled prophecies only needed time to yield to fruition. How could they be so foolish! Could they not recognize that he was but a man with an injured mind? They deemed him a saint on the day he said it would rain although it hadn’t in 5 months and not a cloud was in sight. He spoke of rain just like all the other random things he’d mention in the same breath, “Rain, cows, lentils, pomegranates, goats.” Nothing but the words of a farmer, and yet they called him a saint! I wish it stopped there.
His fatal prophecy came. He envisioned that he was immortal. He told the villagers that certain saints were safe from the angel of death. He followed by saying that anyone who tried to kill or steal from a saint would damn themselves and their unborn lineage into the pits of hellfire. On one hand, my father was now insane, but on the other, he was smart enough to arrange protection. But he was more parts insane than he was smart.
As the days went by, the people conspired to test his sainthood and held a feast in his honor. There were lentils of all sorts and pomegranates of all sizes. Then one by one, the village council proceeded with questions for my Aabo. First, they asked if saints were always truthful, which to this he said yes. Then, they asked if he had extraordinary physical powers, and he confidently proclaimed that he did. Finally, they asked him to describe them. At that moment, everyone seized to breathe, the goats did not move a hoof, nor the birds a feather. Then with the smile of an insane man, my Aabo announced, I can fly.
My heart dropped.
In the night I begged Aabo to take back all that he had said, but he did not know between a dream and fib. He had never been the same since his accident, and no amount of rationality could help him reason beyond his mental destruction.
The next morning, the villagers sang songs and beat drums as they followed behind their new saint. Hooyo and I followed behind the crowd, in fear and confused about where Aabo was taking the villagers.
Hooyo grabbed my hand tightly and said that the rocks beneath her sandals felt familiar although she had never come this far.
After the sun had sunk into the midline of the sky, Aabo told the village to stop, and we stopped. He then said he would climb up the hill to make a speech. My mother shouted for him to do no such thing, but in a loud voice, he ordered her to be silent. Hooyo’s face became red with furry, Aabo would not dare utter anything but poetry and compliments to her, this man on the rocks was not really her beloved and not my Aabo.
He stood in silence on the rocks and put his hands on his hips whilst looking into the sky with his eyes closed. The villagers egged him on, chanting his name. We watched him with our mouths open and our hands cold. What was he going to say? What would he do?
Aabo then began his speech. I looked to Hooyo, there was no focus in her eyes, she became a prisoner in her own body, eager but unable. She then broke her stillness and grabbed my arm tight and dragged me to the side of the crowd. The people were still chanting and cheering—deluded by their conspired superstition of Aabo. Hooyo then stopped and immediately, her eyes began to swell. There it was. The crimson rocks. She screamed, and at that moment, he jumped to show the village he could fly. And on that same rock, his head was no longer as God made it. He died that way.
On that same day, Hooyo’s heart broke, and she too died.
I became the orphan.
The village never spoke of the day again, while they easily chose to let go, the events followed me without solicitation. I went on to have terrors about what I saw become of my sweet Aabo. I would not speak when I was spoken to, for I could not forgive anyone for making a pawn out of my father’s insanity. I would not eat so that I could remind myself of the pleasant hungry days before sainthood’s poisoned wealth. I would not shower, for I had no desire to be presentable. This went on for some time.
The village women would visit me, some because it was the social expectation, and others because their compassion was genuine. But eventually I had no visitors, even the compassionate have their priorities. Only the wandering goat would sometimes find its way through the opened kitchen door, and its visitation made me joyful, although I had forgotten how to smile. Maybe that’s why it too stopped visiting.
My isolation became sickening, my thoughts pulsed louder and I would scream in order to diffuse them. When the screams started, the villagers began to remember me, but this time, they decided to deal with me. First, they moved me into a widow’s home. She had three adult children. Two of them I still pray for, as when I became violent, they were patient. It was the elder son who visited on Friday’s that I resented. It was him that advised his mother to take me elsewhere, and as widowed mothers do when their eldest son speaks, she agreed.
I did not wish to always be violent, but it sustained me. My force was the only proof of my bodily autonomy, for despite that I could never control my rampant thoughts, my fist would land exactly where and on who I wanted it to, and that meant something.
This is why I ended up here. On an off-road land where I could scream without disturbing someone in prayer or slumber, where I could sit without harming, and where I could exist and be forgotten.
On days where death feels closer, I am happy that Aabo at least got to be free in the air, perhaps such is better than dying on a bed or grounded to the limits of some surface with no latitude for the possibility of sailing or soaring.
Months later, heat and hunger overtook the young girl tied to the trees. Below is a poem she wrote in the sand before her departure from this life.
Betwixt and between the tree I am tied to & the remains of the dead bird at my feet
I am not in eternal slumber but nor am I in flight
At the mercy of how my people see me, at the mercy of what they decide to do with me
This is how I will remain until the angel of death calls for my soul
and gathers the meddlers of my fate to their accountability on judgment day
Peace & Blessings,
I really like gold. I like to sleep in my gold, & to shower in it. Of course, that would then suggest that I’m practical about the amount of gold I wear. Dainty necklaces and rings suffice for daily wear, perhaps a bangle or two on days I want to feel more put together.
I only wear gold gifted to me. I don’t wear my pieces unless they carry sentiment. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t buy gold for myself someday, but when I do, know that I am celebrating some momentous occasion in doing so. I never wear jewelry for the sake of extravagance, I’m not so concerned with a reputation endowed by what dispensible wealth can acquire. I will not be like the aunties on wedding days who decorate their chests with gold heavier than the infant who must be fed. My jewelry must be as modest as it is beautiful. The question that then begs is why gold? Well, there’s no other way for the daughter of Munisa. I cannot be without my gold.
I also like the smell of burning charcoal. It carries me to the streets of Hargeisa, to my harsh ayeeyo, and to the goats that enter the open kitchen door. I remember smelling the same scent in New York, and another time whilst in Uganda. It is unparalleled. I wish I could leave a washcloth in Hargeisa’s streets and let the trucks run over it, or the people with sand buried in their toenails kick it out of their way. The cloth would collect all the filth and all the particles of burnt charcoal, the ashes of my people’s troubles. I would then guard that washcloth, for fear if the rain washed over it, the uncontained stream would redistribute the unsolicited dirt and tribulations among the people. No, I wouldn’t let such a thing happen! I would sleep with that cloth by my feet and smell it each morning to renew my promise to my people.
Peace & Blessings,
Like the wood anemone that grows in bounty,
she widens her spirit with a rolling pin & throws it out the kitchen window.
Letting it roam vast oceans and municipal roads,
deciding for itself whom to love and where feels like home.
After days of unassisted travel, her spirit boomerangs back
& splats against the kitchen window.
She smiles, knowing that her spirit feels most honored behind the ribs in her chest,
not imprisoned, but guarded against the ills of the world’s unrest.
Peace & Blessings,
how beautiful are the birds that soar in a V through the cotton candy sky?
how forbearing is the leaf that holds to its branch irrespective of the wind that wants it damned in flight?
what good are tears that don’t bring resolve or relief to the desiccated parts of the heart?
Stop expecting from them what they haven’t learned to give.
Don’t nurture another’s potential when you can manifest the validation you crave from within.
Peace & Blessings,
This is a message by me for me.
One major disclaimer. If anyone in my inner circle listens to this and feels any type of way. Don’t! This is all about me being more intentional in showing up for myself and being accountable for my own emotional growth. Much love xoxo
And above all, I Love you Karima. (wow that felt weird to say, but it SHOULDN’T) lol
Peace and blessings y’all! 😉
(Beat by yonder)
When the steed of my heart aches in weariness,
slit its throat with the sword of your tongue.
Move me with your wisdom, I can handle it despite that I am young.
Allow my blood-soaked sins to trickle into the river of purification.
Then bring your lips to the incision you made, and with your affection, make the pulsing pangs of this world dissipate.
You’re never too far for me to feel,
but if the cries of my steed prevent me from hearing,
call to the wind and convince her of all the goodness a union like ours could bring.
& if we are deserving, she will whisper your message to me.
Peace & Blessings,