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.