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Chapter 6…in which Falafels and a phone call save the day

hafsah and sarah In the hours preceding her after-school pick-up arrangement, Sarah found herself standing on the doorstep of long-time neighbor and best friend, Hafsah Habeeb.

On days that she didn’t work at the Gold Coast Hospital, Sarah had Amir’s Autism therapist/tutor hold sessions at home, and usually afterward, both Sarah and Amir felt drained and (in Sarah’s case) in need of companionship and strong coffee.

Assalamu alaikum- Peace be on you- Habeebty, come in, come in!” Hafsah’s thick accent fell on Sarah’s tired ears like a soothing balm after the drones of a rather unproductive day with Amir and his tutor.

Wa alaikumus salam, Hafsah – Peace be on you too – It’s so good to be out of my house and visiting my home.” Sarah stepped over the threshold and fell thankfully into Hafsah’s warm, bear like embrace.

“This will always be your home, Azeezi.” Hafsah smiled and then bent to hug a disinterested Amir, before closing the door and leading her guests into the house.

“Chaotic day, yes?”

“ Oh, you wouldn’t believe it,” Sarah fell on the couch and covered her eyes with the back of her hand. “We’ve been going through the same routine since the beginning of last month. Amir just won’t budge!”

Insha’allah – God Willing – he will soon, habeebty, don’t fret. There is a time for everything.” Hafsah gently coaxed Amir onto his favourite little beanbag, reserved especially for his frequent visits.

Sarah quickly jumped up from her relaxed sprawl on the couch. “Oh, how silly I am, allow me,”

“ No, no, go seet, seet dhown!” Hafsah chided her. “ I handle heem. You go help yourself to some nosh I keep for you on kitchen counter.”

“You’re too kind,” Sarah tried to inject every bit of gratitude and warm respect she felt for her old friend into her clichéd words. But as she watched Hafsah painstakingly put Amir’s favourite DVD on and shower him with toys, books and lastly a warm throw, Sarah knew that their friendship exceeded the realm of corny statements or congeniality presents…

It was just another night shift at the hospital.

Just a couple of coffees down and a few pages into a romance novel that was the complete opposite of Sarah’s crumbling marriage, a paramedic broke the stillness of the night by catapulting into the nurses’ station shouting, “Emergency! Emergency! There’s been a car accident and medical staff needed stat in room five!”

“Right behind you, Colin!” Sarah hastily stashed her much-interrupted novel in the drawer and with two other nurses at her heels, sprinted to the emergency room.

The sight that greeted her, as she burst though the double doors, wasn’t pretty.

An injured and heavily pregnant woman was being transferred from a gurney to a bed by two paramedics. She was covered in blood right from top of the scarf that was matted against her head.

“What happened here, Jason?” Sarah asked one of the paramedics, trying not to let the sight of the swollen, vulnerable belly distress her.

“Drunken driver smashed into their car from the passenger side,” the paramedic replied as he and Sarah worked side by side to staunch the bleeding and discover the extent of the wounds. “This woman got the worst of it. Her husband who was driving and the daughter in the backseat narrowly escaped. They’re in the observation room.”

“Her name’s Hafsah Behary Habeeb, aged thirty-six, lives in Arundel,” supplied one of the night-shift doctors, while she strapped the moaning patient to a machine that monitored her vital signs.

“She’s lost a lot of blood and is dilated.”
“How much?”
“Five centimeters, and she’s twenty nine weeks along the way.”
“The ultrasound’s not picking up baby’s heartbeat,” Jason, the paramedic announced after a few minutes, while he looked at the fetal monitor next to him.

Sarah’s hands worked mechanically, tending to the ugly gash on the woman’s forehead. Drunken driver…pregnant woman injured, probably on the throes of death…leaving a family behind.

And then an icy feeling crept up her spine. Her husband Imtiaz spent most evenings at the pub and usually returned home drunk as a skunk. Sometimes his friends would drop him off but then they were more or less as inebriated as Imtiaz himself.

She thought of six and a half year old Aisha cozily waiting her mother’s return at their neighbour Suzanne’s house while this woman’s child was probably feeling emotions no child of that age should ever experience.

Fury wallowed in her throat. Even though reason argued with her saying that she had no proof it was Imtiaz who had initiated the accident, she mentally condemned her husband for his nefarious hobby.

Ya Allah, save my baby,” whimpered the patient, her eyes struggling to flutter open.

It was as if a hand gently nudged Sarah’s soul at that moment.

“Your husband and daughter are doing fine, Mrs. H,” Sarah forced a smile into her sketchy words.

“But my baby,” she continued to cry softly and a doctor from the medical team announced that the patient’s blood pressure was rising.

Her own pulse quickening, Sarah squeezed the bloodied hand and whispered fiercely,

“Mrs. H, pull yourself together now! We are here to help you. Your family is waiting for you!”

“No, no,” the lady was shaking her head, seemingly gaining more energy with suppressed passion.

“Stabilize her,” commanded a doctor. “We have to get the baby out. Put her on Oxytocin.”

“You can’t help me, only Allah can!”

For the second time in several seconds, Sarah felt a mini quake inside of her, for, the words rasped out carried a resonant weight with them.

Wow, for someone who is on death’s bed as she is, she sure has the spunk to not believe in us, Sarah thought as she cleaned the wound on the forehead as much as she could.

Nearby, another nurse, Alana Morris, Sarah’s shift buddy, set up the drip that would induce labour.

“My, my, the poor wretches that come in here,” muttered Alana in her Tasmanian drawl. “This one’s husband can pull up a pretty massive lawsuit on the bugger that did this to his family. And that clod would be in even more peril if this lady died.”

Sarah’s fingers shook as she tried to undo the woman’s headscarf to begin suturing the head wound.

“Here, let me,” offered Alana, reaching out to assist Sarah, when the latter stopped her.

“No,” she said, frowning in thought. “Leave it on. I can work my way around that. The wound’s deep but not wide, and nearer her brow than her hairline. Anyways, why strip this woman of her dignity even more than she already has suffered?”

“Suit yourself,” Alana smirked and in a few minutes Hafsah Habeeb let out an ear-piercing scream as the first pangs of labour began.

“What are you theenking?” Hafsah broke into Sarah’s vivid reverie.

Forced back into the present, Sarah realized she had been holding a falafel halfway to her mouth for probably several minutes without actually taking a bite out of it.

“Oh nothing,” Sarah blushed and hastily shoved the chickpea fritter into her mouth. “Mmm! Can I have another one?”

Hafsah lightly tapped Sarah’s hand as it reached out towards the tray. “Not until you tell me why you look like zombie the whole time I was with Amir. I am mother of Mena for donkey’s years you know! I cannot be fooled!”

Sarah chuckled. “Well, if you must know, I was thinking back to the day I met you.”

Hafsah shuddered. “It would make anyone a zombie. Why you theenk of that now?”

“Because it was the day I found a true friend. And I found myself too. How could I ever repay you?” Sarah squeezed Hafsah’s hands.

“Oh well, you didn’t take off my hijaab. I owe you one too.” Hafsah joked.

“Oh that,” Sarah smiled mischievously. “It was just hard to untie all the knots so I left it as it was.”

Both women laughed.

Alhamdulillah, all praise to God, everything was meant to be.” Hafsah said, wiping away tears of mirth.

Sarah withdrew her hands only to pick up a falafel and thoughtfully chewed a bit off.

“Well, that’s the thing, see. It was how even in that desperate situation you had complete faith in God and totally none in the medical team working to save your life. That got me thinking. Why? How come? And in the days that followed, I learned about your then ‘mysterious faith’ and how it came to be that even after the death of your baby, you were more at peace than you were upset. It totally baffled me.”

“Well, it was tough, I will not deny it,” Hafsah admitted, as she absently traced her finger along the rim of the tray of falafels. “Baby Radwah was a long-waited child for us and a sister for my Mena. Losing her was..” she struggled for words, “ Torture. Reel torture! But then, I reminded myself, I did not lose my Sulaiman or my Mena. Imagine if I had lost them! It was only the mercy of God that they were spared. Subahaanallah, how could I not be grateful for that? That’s what kept me going on.”

Maasha Allah, your level of imaan is astounding, Hafsah,” Sarah marveled.

“No, not to my face, habeeby, never praise me in front of me. That’s the worst thing you could do!” Hafsah chided and to soften her reproach, immediately shoved the coffee decanter in front of Sarah. “Please, help yourself!”

“Those were some days eh?” Sarah poured each a cup of steaming black coffee.

“Well, you were going through tough period too,” Hafsah gratefully accepted her cup. “You were about to divorce your husband and then you found out you were pregnant with Amir.”

“I know right!” said Sarah. “If not for your friendship during those nine months and me finding my Deen, I don’t know how I would have coped! To think that I had been married to Imtiaz for seven years and not known Islam! It’s ironic I learnt about it from observing a total stranger!”

Hafsah smiled. “ If God wants you to have something, then no one can stop that from coming to you and if He does not want you to have a thing, then no matter how hard you try you will not have it. God knows what’s best for you.”

Sarah winced. “The second part does pierce me a bit. What if it’s not meant for me to have my sister’s girls live with me? The meeting with them last week was a diabolical disaster!”

“Then God knows you are unable to have them. For some reason or the other, it’s best for both you and the girls to stay exactly where you are right now.”

“Yeah, that…” Sarah remembered the standoffish attitudes and the stylish clothes Lex and Sophie had sported. And she thought how much more she would have to sacrifice if they were to live here. Yet, to relinquish all hope of ever taking care of them didn’t make her feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

“There’s just this feeling I have. Like I’m connected to them. Like they’re my own daughters out there and I have to protect them.” Sarah shrugged sadly. “ I dunno. Maybe you’re right. Maybe they’re better off where they are.”

Hafsah patted Sarah’s shoulder and stood up to refill their cups. “Don’t worry habeebty. You have two gorgeous children of your own. Spend time with them and make Du’a-prayer- for your nieces. Allah knows your intention. He’ll give what’s best for all of you.”

Just then Sarah’s cell phone rang. Frowning at the caller ID, she hesitantly picked it up.

Hafsah watched in trepidation as Sarah’s face changed from curiosity to surprise, then joy and finally she broke down in tears.

“You’ll never believe who that was!” she said, once she’d disconnected the call.

“Is everything all right?” Hafsah asked, confused.

Sarah’s face slowly lit up like the full moon, her tears twinkling like stars .

Enveloping Hafsah in a tight bear hug, she said, “You’re right. God knows what’s best for me! And he has just answered my Du’a! Today has just got to be the best day in months! Alhamdulillah!”

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