By Nada Al Mosa
At the age of seven, Hala lost her best friend. “We’re soulmates,” Reem
said. “Because God tied our spirits together before we were born.” Reem
was confident that they shared the angel that had breathed into their
mothers, like how the angel Jibreel breathed into Mariam, the mother of
the prophet Isa. They are connected forever within the foundations of their
soul. In the distant future, Hala will envy the thoughts of children, which
often produced the most profound worlds.
Hala sat at her best friend’s wake, surrounded by crying women. Wailing
women. She was quiet. Her feet, wrapped in shiny black shoes, didn’t
quite reach the floor. Reem’s aunt came around, passing out copies of
the Qur’an to each mourner. These were paid for by Reem’s father, in
hopes that those who read from them would pray in Reem’s name, so that
her hasanat will be added upon while she rests before judgement day.
Hala’s mother said that hasanat are good points that an angel on your
shoulder keeps count of.
Her mother had told her that Reem was in an accident, but did not tell
her more. Did not want those images in her daughter’s head. But Hala
heard fleeting words floating around her in hushed whispers. “Poor girl,
the hit must have made it a quick end.” “They found the car, it had been
abandoned.” Hala began to imagine what Reem’s body might have
looked like after the accident. But women do not look at the deceased
body. The familial men have carried her casket to the graveyard. Women
are not allowed into the cemetery.
There is no doubt that Reem will make it to janna, heaven. I can see her
turn into a songbird and flying. I can also see her eating all the chocolate
in the world, without ever getting sick. Hala knew that Reem would do
this, because they had told each other what they would do in heaven after
they died. Hala wanted to have a bouncy castle made of jelly. It would be
green. She also wanted to have the same exact home she lived in now to
be in heaven, so that she could be with her family, so that she could still
be neighbors with Reem.
Hala looked up from her shoes and to the women in the room. Many of
them were veiled, in long dark dresses. She couldn’t tell one from the
other. Except for Reem’s mother, who had torn off her scarf and was now
working on tearing off her hair. From the corner of her eye, Hala could see
another woman walking into the room. Veiled. By her side was a girl who
looked to be just as old as Hala.
The girl moved from one woman to another, kissing cheeks and repeating
the same words her mother had told her to say to those who mourn.
When she reached Hala, she sat beside her. “My name is Malak,” she
whispered. Hala nodded, and they sat quietly for the remainder of the
evening in the living room where she once spit Coca-Cola on the carpet
and Reem took the blame. Lying was a sin, but are all lies bad? Hala grew
anxious, thinking of Reem’s hasanat, in fear that by taking the blame,
she might lose her place in heaven. She later asked her mother, whose
eyes immediately drew tears. She planted kisses on Hala’s face, and
reassured her that little girls always go to heaven. This placated Hala,
until she remembered being told that children of Adam and Even cannot
decide who goes to heaven or hell, but only God can. Did this mean her
mother was in trouble for saying that Reem is in heaven?
Hala prayed in her bed for forgiveness for them all that night.
When all had left the wake, Hala and her mother stood up to leave. Malak
waved goodbye to Hala, and Hala waved back.
It was another month of scorching heat before school began. Third grade.
The first day of class without Reem. Hala sat at the desk with her name
taped onto it. Beside her was a girl who was scrawling intensely on a
paper, her hair covering her face. When Hala’s chair scraped against the
floor, the girl looked up. It was Malak. A large grin broke across her face.
“Hello, Hala!” Malak giggled at her own words. Hala noticed that no name
was taped onto Malak’s desk.
Malak began to follow Hala everywhere. Hala supposed they were friends
now, which she did not particularly mind. Sometimes Malak irritated
her, because she never played the games Hala enjoyed best. Cops and
robbers, or tag. Malak would not let Hala brush her hair like the other girls
do either. But they found other ways to play.
It was a semester later when Hala’s mother sat her down at home and
asked, “Why aren’t you making any friends at school?” This puzzled Hala,
because she had been with her newfound friend every day since classes
began. “Don’t lie to me, your school called to ask if you are well, because
you always sit alone.” That was when Hala became afraid. She told her
mother about Malak, and her mother grew pale.
Hala watched her mother as she called the school and enquired about
a “Malak.” She asked her daughter if she knew her last name, and Hala
shook her head. Hala did not hear what was said from the other end of
the phone call, but when her mother hung up, she held Hala’s arm firmly.
“Don’t lie to your mother, are you making up this friend?” She watched
her mother’s face begin to scrunch up and turn red, and then tears fell
again. “It’s okay to make friends. Reem wouldn’t be mad at you.”
The name ricocheted off the back of Hala’s mind, and soon enough, she
began to cry too. She embraced her mother, calling “Mama, mama,”
before she fell into an exhausted sleep.
At school the next day, Hala marched with purpose. She walked into
class, stepped up to Malak and commanded, “Why are you here if you’re
not a student at my school? Why would you lie to me? I thought you were
my friend.” Malak looked at her, quiet. She reached out her hand but
withdrew it. They ignored each other for the rest of the day. After school,
Hala was walking into the car park to meet her mother. She heard her
name and turned around to see Malak running to her. Angry, Hala turned
away from her and began to run out onto the street. Her ears were too
full with the sound of her raging heart to hear the honk, honk hooooonk.
When it was loud enough to hear, it was too late. She froze. Then, a hand
pulled harshly at her collar, onto the pavement. Hala lay there, and saw
a face shadowed by the sun. Two souls tied, too close. And it was gone.
The wailing of a mother, her mother. “Hala!” She fell to her knees and
embraced her daughter, then took her home.
Hala did not go to school the following day. Her mother was brushing
back her hair when Hala asked, “Mama, how did you run to me so fast to
save me?” Her mother’s brows came together, her hand stopped moving.
“Albi, my heart, what do you mean?” She heard the sentence again, still
fresh in her thoughts. Two souls tied, too close.
She ran to school the next morning to the unnamed desk. No one was there.
Hala’s mother taught her that every child of Adam has ten guardian
angels, al-mala’ika, who would protect their person from any harm and
evil intentions. Hala asked her mother if two people could share guardian angels. Her mother smiled, “Maybe.” That night, she dreamt of holding Malak’s and Reem’s hands, lying down in a green jelly bouncy house.
Image courtesy of the author