On Wednesday, they visited their Uncle, Uncle Dahiru's house, then Aunty Walida's, Hajiya Kulthum's youngest sister. And the rest of their Uncles and Aunts. They visited each house bearing gifts for kids or the women of the house.10 Mubarak had laid a close mark on her, each time he left her at a house, he called at least once afterwards to hear if they were good.11 On the other hand, most of their relatives thought she would stay at Baba's house.6 Hajiya Babba also mentioned that "Since you are not staying long, why open your house at all?"16 She wanted to remind her grandmother that she was with her husband but knew it would be futile.11 But then despite her anxiety, Mubarak looked more anxious about the meeting.3 By the time they left the sixth house, Maryam had to keep up with all the questions of where she was staying.12 "Tell them you do have a house too," Mubarak said, when they came out from Aunt Jamila's house, Hajiya Aisha's younger sister.17 "Yes they know we do, but knowing that I usually..."5 "Now, you have two kids, Shaaden, the usual won't work."7 She squinted her eyes at him, trying to decipher his mood.4 He spoke without turning to face her. "Don't go anywhere with that. I'm good, just tell them the facts, not what they want to hear."10 "I know you are good, why are you being touchy? They were just wondering after all these years, knowing me, they thought I would stay at Baba's."9 Mubarak had remained guarded since their arrival at Katsina, calling her every minute to hear if they were good or if the kids needed something. When he left her at Aunty Walidah's house to pray Zuhr, he called her asking where she kept the spoons in their house. Maryam's jaw went slack.23 "That is what happens when you spend five years without visiting your house." She said. "Check the third drawer on your right."7 By nightfall, they were so exhausted. Maryam only craved a nice hot shower and a soft bed. She received tons of messages from Nafeesah and Surayyah showing their displeasure over not seeing her. They wanted to come and see her but she preferred to finish her visitations so that she would dedicate a day each to them.5 She had still not spoken to her mother.40 *** On Friday, they went to Surayya's house. They found Ja'afar on his way out. His face lit-up on seeing them, he wasted no time in taking Nabeela with him after saying salam to Mubarak and led them into the house.5 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  When they said their pleasantries. Mubarak said he would leave them here and return after asr to pick them up.2 "Maryam London, I thought we'd have to resort to kidnapping you before we get to see you, is this how it is done?"9 Maryam broke into laughter. "Uncle J, you'll have to ask Ya Mubarak that question."4 "Maa sha Allah I'm glad you've finally made it. I thought we'd have to go there for Muhammad's wedding."11 They all laughed. Ja'afar ducked low and picked up Muhammad raising him over his head. Muhammad giggled, covering his face, feeling shy all of a sudden. Surayya said, "Why are you closing your eyes? Are you scared?" Muhammad closed his eyes firmer.9 Maryam laughed. "He always bragged that he was the bigger man since they don't carry him any more. Only babies are carried. A.k.a Nalah."10 "Ah, your Maama has scammed you, even big children are carried. Tell her to do it every day," Ja'afar said.3 "But she'll get crushed. I'm big," he said still not meeting Ja'afar's eyes. They all broke into laughter.15 After they said their proper greetings, Ja'afar excused himself and left the house to them. They settled in Surayya's inner living room talking about all things and everything. When it was time for Asr they went in and prayed. Surayya was still on the prayer mat when Abba's voice pierced their ears calling her, "Mummy!" Surayya groaned.2 "This boy is too demanding."3 "Says the demanding queen herself," Maryam said. She remembered how Surayya would commandeer everyone's attention to her as a child from a fussy breakfast, to I can't find my socks right down to making them do her homework. Everyone was at a time, serving Surayyah.6 Now she beamed at Maryam, "Aunty duty starts now Ya Mimie, over to you."2 "Gladly, lazybones. May Allah bless Abba for taking after his mother. Ya min dai-dai!" Maryam said and went to see what her nephew, Abba wanted. She found them in the kitchen trying to get onto a step stool. Muhammad was going to prepare something for them.11 "What's something?" She asked. Muhammad shrugged, "I don't know, just something, he says he is hungry."24 "Oya, get down from there, let me see." When she reached out for the food warmer to get some food for them they all shook their heads. "Not this type of food. We want something sweet."9 Maryam's jaw dropped. "You fussy little munchkins. You can't have something sweet until you eat something warm and savoury."4 Abba squeezed his eyes, "My father says we can eat sweet something after eating food too. But we ate food."3 "When?" "In the morning."3 Maryam laughed and looked around the kitchen to see what she could give them. She spotted a box of granola bars and reached out for it. She had to get rid of them with a little sweet something as they called it. She let out a sigh when they dispersed after receiving their treats.3 When she returned from the kitchen, she found Surayya in front of the mirror, touching up her make-up.5 "Oh ikon Allah, Surayya I wanted to see if Abba would let you apply all these shine-shine." "Ya Mimie, if someone stops being prim after a baby, that's because they'd never been the prim and proper types."5 "yeah, at Uncle J's expense." STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Surayya rolled her eyes. "It's for his good, do you blame me?"5 "No, I don't." She twirled in front of the mirror to take a final look before she turned to Maryam "So, tell me all about London. You look good, what is the secret?"2 "As you can see, I am content, Alhamdulillah."2 Surayya smiled and went quiet, and Maryam almost knew immediately what she was thinking.3 "Mama said you didn't go to the house."6 "I went to the house."3 "Maybe she wanted you to stay longer. And wait to meet her."4 Maryam scoffed. "You know she wants none of that. If you ask me she is just covering her disappointment."5 Surayya's large eyes almost popped out. "I thought you two are okay now."4 "Yes, we... sort of are. As far as Mama and I are concerned." Maryam had chosen not to talk to anyone about the Mama-Nabeelah-Mubarak issue. There was no use airing all of that. Not even to her sisters, it wasn't worth it.8 "Okay, what has she done this time?"5 "I just chose to stay clear of things. And I think I did the right thing." Maryam tipped her head to the side, gauging her sister's reaction to her words.9 "By not going home to meet your mother after five long years?"16 Maryam's eyes flickered. "She wasn't home and I saw Baba and left, and we met after Muhammad's birth. It's three years not five, by the way. What's wrong with that? She didn't call me when she heard of my arrival."16 Surayya's mouth fell open before she finally got a grip. "You could've waited or returned yesterday. It's been two days, Ya Mimie."10 Maryam narrowed her eyes on Surayyah. "Are you in this with her? Did she put you up to this?"3 Surayya shrugged. "Ya Mimie, she's just worried that you've been in Katsina for two days and haven't gone to meet her."15 "We both know 'worried' is the farthest thing from Mama's mind where I am concerned."3 Surayyah let out an exasperated breath. "Zubaida is getting married soon at least you will talk about that if you are out of things to discuss." Maryam laughed. The irony! How could she be out of things to discuss with her mother except on the subject of marriage, where her mother had only skipped by the breadth of a hair?4 "Last time I checked, I was the one being manipulated by Mama, what happened to you, Sury?"6 Surayya let out a sigh and sat beside Maryam on the bed. "Please go and see her."5 Maryam stared at Surayya long and hard before she shook her head, it was at the tip of her tongue, but she just couldn't do this to Nabeela or Mubarak for that matter.5 "Alright. I'll go. Can I breathe now?"2 Surayya's face beamed. "She can't wait to meet the kids. She always talks about them. It was almost unbelievable seeing how Mama was never close to us growing up. Maybe she wants to amend things."11 Maryam guffawed. She knew her mother pretended to care about Muhammad when he was a baby, but after she came to know that it was all an act, Maryam had stopped caring. If the woman didn't love her why would she go about loving her children?9 "Yeah. Dream away." It was as if Surayya had put a damper over Maryam's mood by mentioning Hajiya Aisha. She wondered what storm she would cook this time around.4 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  May Allah help her.11 *** They were on heir way home when Maryam turned to Mubarak, "Ya Mubarak, can we turn around, please?"2 Mubarak briefly glanced at her then back at the road. "Have you forgotten something?"2 "No, I want to go to Baba's house."2 Mubarak slammed on the break at the same time he signaled to stop at the right side of the road.2 "Are you sure?" Maryam nodded. "Positive." "Alright." She held Nabeelah's hand in hers as if that would slow down her heart rate.3 She didn't know what got to her to fall for Surayya's words, but she needed to do this and get it over with.15 When they stepped inside the compound. Maryam sat still for one long moment before she breathed out. Muhammad had already bolted out of the car when Mubarak opened the door for him. He had remembered the house from when he met Alhaji Muhammad two days ago. He went straight to the main door leading to her father's living room. Once there, he said the salaam and ducked his head inside the living room searching for Alhaji Muhammad.3 When he didn't see him he turned to tell his mother when Hajiya Aisha's face loomed in front of him.1 "Muhammad!" She called out reaching down to hug him. He hugged her back but stared at her weirdly, like who is this woman getting all grabby with me?26 She raised her head a bit and smiled up at Maryam. She held Muhammad's hand and extended the other to Nabeelah.3 "Hello! Who do we have here?" She cooed.4 Nabeelah looked back at Maryam as if seeking permission to go to the hostile-looking woman. Maryam smiled in approval. Mubarak came in after them. They settled in Baba's living room.7 "Ango ba cefene," Mama said, seating Muhammad next to her.12 "Mama he is not doing the marriage again, Hajiya has bought us a plane." Maryam said.2 "Ah, no wonder he no longer calls me. So you've got a plane, right?" Maryam knew those first instalments of words were meant for her ears. She had last called her mother a month ago, right before she found the letter. After that, she just couldn't bring herself to it.3 They all laughed. An uneasy silence fell in the room. But Maryam quickly covered it with a greeting.3 "You missed me the other day, I went to Abdullahi's house to see his wife. She's been sick for a week now."2 "Ayya, may Allah grant her a quick recovery. We went to see her yesterday."2 "That's good." Silence again, then Hajiya Aisha said, "How is everyone at home? How was your trip?"4 Maryam didn't respond. So, Mubarak had to come to the rescue. He wondered what was going on in Maryam's head. "Alhamdulillah. Everyone is good. Hajiya sends her regards."5 First, she abruptly asked to be taken home, now that they were here it was as if she had lost her train of thoughts, he didn't miss how her mother was eager to have her speak to her. For whatever reason that didn't sit well with Mubarak, he wanted to take Maryam's hand and bolt from the scene of a foreseeable disaster but then he remembered Maryam's words, she wanted to do this on her own. But from the place he was sitting now, he didn't see that going down well.8 What would happen if she exploded and said all kind of things to her mother in the kids' presence? What if she didn't say a word? What if Hajiya Aisha gave her a different narrative and manage to plant seeds in her mind?23 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  No, none of that would happen and he needed to let go and let Maryam do this her way.4 He just hoped he wouldn't regret it.2 "I'll leave you here. I'll see Uncle Dahiru after maghrib. So, I'll return after isha prayer to pick you up."1 Maryam nodded. "Aren't you staying the night here?" Hajiya Aisha's question threw them off.6 "Some other time, in sha Allah," Mubarak said as he rose to leave.11 "At least leave the kids for the night." Was it longing she heard in Mama's voice? That must be a first.6 Fatima who had come in at some point and was hugging Nabeelah leapt at the suggestion. "Yes, Ya Mimie. Please, please." Maryam couldn't formulate a lie about Nabeela taking milk at night, because Nabeelah had decided one morning that she was fed up with breastmilk and had since, weaned herself so she had no excuse whatsoever. And there was no way she was staying the night in this house with Mama.8 Mubarak's voice drew out her thoughts. "Teemah borkono..." Fatima closed her face at the pet name, Mubarak had always teased her since the day she threatened him with borkonon-tsohuwa (tear-gas) If he ever made her sister cry. His smile widened, "Alright. But we'll have to go home and get their things ready."6 "Okay, I can go with you all." She beamed.6 Maryam laughed and shook her head. "We aren't vanishing off the face of the earth, we will bring their clothes."1 "No, you know... For security reasons."4 Hajiya Aisha laughed. "You've got Fatima, she won't let you off easily. Now, Muhammad, since you are staying, what do you say we go make that aeroplane?"5 "You can make one?" His eyes grew wide.2 Hajiya Aisha nodded. "Are you an Engineer?" "No, but I know my way around planes."3 "Okay, then. Maama can we stay please? I want to learn how to make planes."2 Maryam had never seen her mother construct a paper plane, she would love to see how she could lie herself out of this one. She didn't want the kids to see her as the cunning woman she was. But she was already in her game.20 Right now, Maryam was having trouble deciphering which of her alter-ego she had adapted.6 She forced a smile on her face and nodded at Muhammad. It was going to be a hectic week!4 *** Maryam opened the car door and got in when Mubarak went to pick her. She had been on needles and pins the whole time she remained in the same house and the same room with Hajiya Aisha. But now seeing Mubarak's grip on the steering wheel, she knew she wasn't the only one agitated.11 How long were they going to walk on eggshells around each other? This was too twisted. Mubarak was anxious to leave her with her mother alone, he may not say it, but she could sense his fear from a mile away. He was afraid of losing her.16 When they returned home, she watched him go through the motions of taking a shower, reading, watching the news as he sipped his cuppa, complaining about the quietness of the house, (which also translated to him missing the kids already.) Then he finally performed ablution getting ready to go to bed. All in all, he said less to her throughout the night.9 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Hence when he came to bed, Maryam turned to face him. "You know, I'd think you've developed a profound fear of your wife if you ask me. Why are being so cautious about everything you do today?"9 Mubarak's forehead rippled. "What are you talking about?" He fumbled with the bed cover.4 Maryam took a long sigh and took the mint green bed cover from him. "I know you are worried about us." When Mubarak didn't correct her, she knew she was right.4 "What did she say?" He asked instead, holding his breath. He looked so cute she could hoard him and love him to bits.8 "Nothing." Mubarak blinked his eyes. "What?"4 "She didn't have anything to say because I didn't bring it up. M.K, what you told me is enough, I don't need to hear any other version. You are my husband, if I don't trust you to tell me the truth then I don't think there is any point of us. It means all our pains, hurts, sacrifices and tears were for naught. So, I don't need Mama's justification. I don't even need her to know there is any such thing that could shake us. So, feel free to break yourself from her bond. Is... that even a thing? Ugh!" She shuddered. "Whatever it is... you are no longer under any obligation to do her bidding. You don't have to do anything you don't want to.14 "At this point, it doesn't even matter if anyone knows, because as far as I know Mama, she won't tell anyone. After all, it would only hurt most, if I knew. Since it won't affect me, it has already defeated the purpose. So she won't push it, trust me..." She paused when she saw how intently Mubarak's eyes were fixed on her.5 He smiled and it touched his onyx eyes, "Did I tell you how incredibly intelligent and beautiful you are? As in completely, in and out. It makes you so attractive I can't help but become captivated by you. I love you so much, Shaadeniey." He took her into a hug.20 Maryam smiled, if she were as fair as him, she would have blotches of red all over her body, from head to toe.3 "I know, You wouldn't have remained in that room with me the night I went ballistic if you don't. I think I had a death threat somewhere in one of the letters I wrote to you."6 Mubarak groaned and sat back on the bed, his back pressed to the pillows arranged against the headboard. "Ya Rabbi, the letters! The letters you wouldn't even let me read."13 Maryam burst into laughter when she saw the dread on Mubarak's face. "Can you do me a favour and stop any letter writing in our house?"14 Maryam scrunched up her face, "I don't mind having a love letter from my handsome husband, from time to time. There is something enthralling about a handwritten letter."5 Mubarak chuckled. "Vile girl. Now I'm handsome, ehn? I think I'll pass. I have no interest in your hand-written letters. We don't need any letter writing, I'm not an English student."15 "Oh you are, not pretty but you know the other type of handsome." Mubarak shook his head and hooked an arm around her neck. "You are crushing me." She yelled.7 "Now I know where Muhammad learned this word." He said, his chest vibrating with laughter.7 Then as if on cue they both stilled and at the same time, turned to the door. When they saw it was still closed they burst into laughter.15 How could they both forget that the kids were with Hajiya Aisha?4 "You know you are crazy, right?" He said.5 "Can't blame me, I've been taught by the best."4 *** The next day, she got the kids from her parents' house and visited Nafeesah's house, Fatima came with her as she didn't want to miss any moment with the kids she said. When Fatima did something, Maryam became filled with awe. The crazy girl she left was nowhere in sight, instead, a thoughtful and beautiful young lady was in her place.6 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Nafeesah didn't bat an eye when she smacked Maryam across her back. Then went ahead and hugged Muhammad and Nabeelah. "Go away, I don't want to see you." Nafeesah said. And for the next hour they stayed at Nafeesah's house, she hadn't spoken to Maryam, she was busy with her kids as she said. Maryam laughed hard.5 "Okay, so you are going to keep ignoring me right? You know I have my own kids to worry about." And they swapped the kids for the whole afternoon.4 She brought lunch for them and said. "Ba don halinki ba, how could you spend days in this town and come here after five days. Five days! And you aren't even at home for me to go and see my kids. That is wickedness, let me tell you."5 Maryam couldn't stop laughing. "Alright, Gimbiya, I'm sorry, okay? It's been years and I had to go everywhere and be at a thousand places at the same time, condolences, new babies that have now turned four or three. You see, I have to visit everyone. It wasn't easy, but don't worry you have me for the next hour."8 "What! What do you mean next hour?" Nafeesah glared at her.7 "We are going to Bugaje today, so you see we don't have much time, stop forming and let's catch up."4 "I hate you. Stupid girl."2 Maryam blocked Raudah's ears, Nefeesah's one-year-old daughter who was sitting on Maryam's lap.4 When Nafeesah was done fuming they chatted about all the things they missed and time was still not enough. They left all the carry-over gist until they spoke on the phone.12 Later that day, they ended their visit with a trip to Bugaje to visit Mubarak's paternal Uncle, Alhaji Musa and his other relatives.5 They were at Ummah's house on Saturday, when Mubarak said his greetings to Nafeesah's mother who was more like a mother to Maryam, he excused himself and stepped out to the car. As he waited there, he got Bilaal's call.3 "Assalamu alaikum." "Wa'alaikumussalam warahmatullah, what happened to your phone?" That was typical of his brother, cut the story short and get to the point.3 "I forgot it on silent, you sound worried, what's wrong." "I'm fine. Listen, when are you due home?"1 "Three maybe four days, our flight is on Tuesday in sha Allah. Why are you asking?" Bilaal sighed from the other end, and Mubarak knew that was his brother's tell for hesitation.2 "Now, Bilaal. Out with it." "Baba is in the hospital, he has high B.P and he was refusing treatment claiming it comes with the age. Hajiya finally convinced him now it's been a day, and I think he's holding up pretty well, it's just that... I don't know what to do with him."11 Mubarak got three things from Bilaal's statement, that their father was sick, that Bilaal just addressed him as Baba in the same sentence with compassion in his voice.18 "Uh... let me speak to him." "He is sleeping. The drugs have kicked in perhaps. He hasn't slept in days." "Alright, you can do this. You'll know what to do, just be yourself and I'll come down there as soon as I can in sha Allah. Hajiya is with you, Salis is there so you got this."4 "Yeah, I guess so. Sa'ima also thinks the same. The problem is, I feel far from it. We've talked about things, he is okay with everything, he has apologized too. I keep having these feelings... what if it's not enough? What if this is it?" Now, Mubarak was pricked, could Baba be sicker than Bilaal was letting on? What would make him say such things? Anything that would move Bilaal to drop his hate and embrace the love he had been harbouring for their father must be something huge.7 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "He's always loved you, you know? He is also proud of the man you've become. I'm sure you will do well. Send my regards. We'll talk later in sha Allah." When Mubarak clicked off the phone he closed his eyes briefly and let out a sigh. He really needed to get out of here.3 He drafted two messages and placed two calls, he was in the midst of the second call when Maryam and the kids came out from Ummah's house. He waited until she came into the car before he told her. "I got a call from Bilaal, Baba is in the hospital." Maryam's eyes widened, her hands went to her chest in shock. "Subhanallah! What's wrong with him?"1 "His blood pressure shot up and according to Mr Bugaje, old age."2 "I hope he is doing much better now." "He was sleeping I couldn't speak with him. But Bilaal said it was the medication. So, I've placed a call to the airport. I'm sorry but we'll have to wrap up and leave earlier than planned."1 Maryam patted his hand. "Come on, Ya Mubarak, Baba's health comes first. And he would want us all to be there. Ya Rabbi, Hajiya must be out of her mind with worry."3 "She will hold up fine, in sha Allah." There was a smile on his face, but Maryam didn't miss the slight tremble in his hands. She knew they weren't telling them the extent of the illness but if Bilaal called, that meant it was pretty serious. Otherwise, he would've waited for the three days they were meant to return and see Baba.3 She reached out and gave his knee a firm squeeze. "Baba is going to be better, in sha Allah. Don't worry."1 "I hope so." He let out a sigh and concentrated on the road ahead. They went to see Hajiya Daada first to bid her farewell where she loaded them with lots of local condiments and spices. She even had a bag ready for Hajiya Kulthum. From here, they stopped at Alhaji Muhammad's house.1 He wasn't at home then, but Hajiya Aisha was home, so Maryam told her about their change of plans. "We'll leave for Abuja today. Then be on a flight out tomorrow in sha Allah." "O'o, I wish him a quick recovery, I'll call Hajiya Kulthum later in sha Allah. So, how will you do with the preparation? Zubaida and Fatima should go and help you pack."3 "I've already started, but I could use some extra hands." "Zubaida, oya follow your sister to her house. You can come home when you are done there."3 It was a sweet and sour moment for Maryam and the kids. First, the circumstances they were leaving was sad, and the kids had grown attached to Zubaida and Fatima.1 When they brought them back after they were done with the packing, Fatima shed real tears when Nabeela held on to her veil. She had to take her to the car herself and bribe her with toys and sweets.4 Mubarak came out from Alhaji Muhammad's living room and joined Maryam in the compound, where Malam Muhammadu their driver was waiting. "Ya Mimie, wait Mama is coming to see you off." Well, things kept getting better with her mother, now what?4 She came out and waved at her grandkids. Her hands held a small wrapped box. "Fatima go on, keep this in their bag, it's for the kids." The gesture knocked Maryam in her chest, but she wouldn't have this little gesture remove all her hurt. Especially now that she managed to restrain herself from telling her mother how disappointed she was with her. But this? She wouldn't have her playing with her children's emotions. So, if they were going to do this, she'd rather they did it on a clean slate.6 And right now she was going to give them that clean slate. They were halfway to the car when Maryam pulled Mubarak's sleeve, he halted midstride and turned to her. "Ya Mubarak, excuse me. I need a minute, please."5 Mubarak blinked twice, his forehead dipped with confusion, which soon cleared away. "Sure." He took Nabeelah in his arms who had started crying in the car.2 Maryam returned to the spot she'd left her mother, she had an orange medium veil draped over her pink boubou lace, she looked flawless as always. Smelling good with her expensive perfumes, henna shone on her digits, her face was free from any blemish. Yet only Maryam knew how tainted her mother was. None of this outer glam would startle her and stop her from doing what she was about to do now. She leaned in and took Hajiya Aisha into a hug.19 Her mother must be shocked with the abrupt show of affection after all the aloofness she had shown on this visit. Because her hands stayed stiff on her back, that response must've been out of reflex too. Maryam released her hold on her just in time to catch the shocked expression on Hajiya Aisha's face.7 She knew it was odd and out of the blue, but that was not what she wanted. No, it wasn't Surprise she wanted to see in her mother's eyes, she wanted to see pain. A rude awakening, then pain. Just like she made her go through during her discovery. That would be so much better.11 Maryam smiled and said. "I know about Ya Nabeela. All of it!" Her smile widened.33 She knew then, those eight words were her ticket to freedom. What she wouldn't do to freeze the look on Hajiya Aisha's face when her words finally sank in. Maryam waited and counted until she caught the moment it clicked in her mother's mind that they were done taking her nuisance. Hajiya Aisha's eyes flickered over Maryam's shoulder, and Maryam knew without a doubt she was watching Mubarak.24 Maryam's grin was still in place when she added. "We are all going to miss you, Mama. Take care of yourself." Sacharine had nothing against her.23 She turned on her heels and headed towards the car without a backward glance. She stopped right next to Mubarak, Nabeelah was perched on his arm eager to go to her. She took her from him and slid her other hand into the crook of Mubarak's arm. Together, they walked to their waiting car.7 Maryam could see the question in Mubarak's eyes, but he couldn't ask her because Malam Muhammadu, was already in the car waiting for them. So, she gave his upper arm a firm squeeze and smiled at him.4 His eyes narrowed on her speculatively but the side of his lips curved into a smile and his eyes shone with gratitude and understanding. And she must say, a ton load of pride.13 That look there was worth it all. Now she would love to see who her mother would hate on. Because Hajiya Aisha had just received a memo: She was done hurting Maryam Maigoro, she no longer had the power to.22 Maryam sighed and looked out the passing houses on the streets that witnessed her growth as they embarked on their journey towards the airport. Freedom had never tasted better. 33 *** Uh Uh...πŸ”₯ 26 Hello! Fellow night owls.29 Here is a little surprise. 13 Yeah, I was serious about that shock absorber. Now get in at your own risk. 😳17 I'm out. πŸƒπŸΎ‍♀️πŸƒπŸΎ‍♀️17 *** Seeing Alhaji Umar Bugaje lying weak and frail battered from a brief illness had shaken Mubarak, he saw how insignificant a person really was. Hajiya Daada's words came back to him then, she always said "You can do whatever you want with yourself. Just keep sight of a day when you have no power to alter what you did." She always reminded them of how temporary this life was.21 If a man as enigmatic as Umar Bugaje could age in a few days because of an ailment, it showed how unpredictable life could get.6 It could be him lying there tomorrow. His finger stopped the slow trail of circles he'd been sketching on Maryam's wrist.4 "When I die, I want you to prepare me for my final home." Mubarak's words pierced the silence.30 Maryam was quiet for a moment before she tilted her head up to look at his face, she knew he was worried about Baba's health, but having these thoughts? Where was he coming from?3 "Shhh, stop talking like that." A scowl lined his forehead. "Why shouldn't I? It's the only place everyone is bound to go someday, why then should we deflect from talking about it? I'm serious, I want you to do my final rites. Washing and shrouding. This is a wasiyyah."36 Maryam heard the sincerity in his words. And she knew he was right. "You are too big for me to turn around." She said, matter-of-factly her eyes filled with tears. "And what makes you think I'll outlive you?"15 "I want you to outlive me, even if you don't, I'm just saying. A husband is, after all, supposed to be washed by his wife, and a wife by her husband."14 "What if I can't do it?"3 Mubarak turned to face her, bringing his nose close to hers until they touched at the tip. "What is scary about it? I'll still be me... with a different name. The corpse. But it doesn't matter, it is me you will see, there is nothing scary about it." He whispered.25 "But I don't know how to." Maryam sniffled as his words hit her hard. This could be their reality someday. Why were they even talking about this? He was making her all molten and malleable.5 Mubarak smiled and cupped her face in his palms. "Don't worry, I'll teach you."11 Her breath stopped in her throat, this was getting serious. What was she thinking? It was serious! "Have you done it before?" STORY CONTINUES BELOW  His eyes glazed over for a moment. "I helped... Omar's father."6 "Oh." Mubarak moved an inch, enveloping her in his warmth. "Now, enough about that..." Maryam burst into tears. "I don't know... how to stop crying, why would you talk about it at night? Now I will keep seeing it in my mind's eyes and I can't stop thinking... then I'll dream of it... and..." she hiccupped.12 "Oh, Shaadeniey. Don't mind me, but we need to know it's coming. The prophet SAW has enjoined us to talk frequently about the stopper of enjoyment, which is death. So, as we live and strive and make provisions for it, we should also talk about how our end would be. Because someday, we wouldn't be here. And it will come suddenly without us ever sensing it. Baghtatan..."34 "It's scary. May we have a beautiful ending. And may mine comes before yours because wallahi I don't know how I'll let go. I'm not good at letting go."26 Mubarak's lips stretched into a smile. "Well, now that you have me, do as you wish with me until you get fed up."9 As if waiting for his permission, Maryam smacked his arm once then his bulky shoulder once more.4 "For making me cry. And no, I'll never get fed up of you, in sha Allah, even though you can be so annoying sometimes."5 Mubarak's fingers uncurled around her and dug into her sides. He tickled her until her breath hitched and she couldn't wheeze out his name anymore.6 Then he let go. "May you be my Queen in paradise. The leader of them all. Because I'd die before I get fed up with you too, Mairo."33 Maryam didn't respond. Mubarak looked down at her. His brows furrowed. "What? Why are you quiet? Say it again, so that the angels will keep answering your du'a with an 'Ameen'. Don't keep quiet." She smiled brightly.7 "Greedy little manipulator."5 "Shh... Don't call me that, the angels are still here." She whispered.22 They both burst into laughter. And Mubarak was even more certain then, that life was made, there was nothing he needed more after this.6 He was fulfilled, Alhamdulillah. He may need other material things in life, but in the heart department, Allah got him covered. He had gifted him with the best of gifts. The gift of a pious wife.32 *** OCTOBER, 2015.2 "Shaaden... I'm trying to work here."4 "Yes, I know. But you know there are other things apart from work, right? Like your family? We want to go out tonight. With you."2 Mubarak groaned. She had been on his neck for the past two weeks. It'd been almost two months since they went on a family outing. If he would be honest with her, he would tell her how terribly he missed their time together with the kids, he felt like his life was slipping away without him even noticing.5 He was planning a vacation for them against the end of the year. He'd even booked their tickets and a chalet in one of their destination. But he wasn't about to tell Maryam that. It would be a surprise for her. He had planned everything to fall on their eighth wedding anniversary in December. But right now she wouldn't get off his back and let him concentrate on the workload he had to drag back and finish ahead of the time he would be away for that vacation.16 Just this once, he was going to give them a memorable evening so he could get on with this monster of a work. His father was right, his village girl had monopolized him, but if someone had Maryam as a wife there was just no way around that. He wasn't complaining.6 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Okay, I'll see what I can do. Don't keep your hopes high though." "Yes! That's what i'm talking about. Thank you. May you live longer."2 Mubarak chuckled. "Ameen." "Wait, wait... Have you spoken to Baba?" "Yes, he played golf today." Maryam gasped. "Alone?!" "He practised his swings, Hajiya volunteered." "Aww, maa sha Allah. How lovely. He is back on his feet I see. See you after work."2 "I'll be in a meeting shortly, my phone will be on silent." "Alright, love you." "Love you more."4 *** Mubarak was apprehensive, what he thought was going to be a brief meeting had turned out to be a full-blown day's job. He had to cancel some of his appointments, to go see his father. Which meant he couldn't make it home in time for their evening outing with Maryam and the kids. Maybe the weekends would be much better. That would be tomorrow.2 Maryam had no idea he had planned to fly her parents in. Now that he was certain Hajiya Aisha wouldn't make a scene or cause her any harm, he could have her around. For the kids' sake. Muhammad spoke about them non-stop, so it wouldn't hurt to have them over, their flight would be in two weeks. Beside his uncle had mentioned a plan to come over for some business it would be the right opportunity. He couldn't wait to see how Maryam would react.20 Mubarak's mind was preoccupied and he missed the blue mini cooper clubman parked at the curb outside their house.5 The moment he opened the door, he knew something was not right. The house was quiet. Even though he knew it was Nabeelah's nap time and Muhammad had just returned from the Islamic centre. The silence was eerie, and when he came into their living room he found out why. His legs stopped midstride and his heart flew to his throat.11 It was no more their living room because something sinister had just invaded his world. He didn't know why, but seeing her here after so many years could only spell doom.13 What was she doing here? Most importantly, how did she get here? He had never brought her to his house and his assistant, Gordon would die before he gave out his home address to anyone.17 Something moved and caught his eyes. His heart slammed into his chest at the sight of Maryam in a long-sleeved canary yellow dress, her bright smile knocked the breath out of him. He didn't like the vibe in this room. In his heart he recited, "La'ila ha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntu minazzalimeen." Maryam was now walking towards him, she took his laptop bag from him. This was not good. Was this really happening? Maryam and Sarah in the same room?! Why on earth was Maryam smiling? What did Sarah tell her?40 "There you are. Sarah was just leaving, she's been here for over an hour. We tried calling you, then I remember your phone would be on silent. But I told her you would be home soon and she should wait for you." Maryam laughed then frowned almost immediately the way it did if she was going to scold the kids. "You didn't tell me Ty was engaged. She came to enquire about Baba's health. How sweet of her?" Maryam's voice was fading out fast. She told Maryam she was Ty's fiancee? What in the world was going on here?27 "Hello, Mubarak!" The minx said, her voice faltering a bit. Yes, she should tremble with dread because she knew quite well he wasn't someone she wanted to mess with. For the first time that evening he really looked at her. She was dressed conservatively in a pair of jeans and white silk top with a leather jacket, which indicated she hadn't planned on staying long. Since she was still wearing it indoors. Her caramel hair was let down into cascading curls over her shoulders. Oh, he knew quite well what she was playing at.13 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  He composed himself and spoke for the first time since he stepped into the house. Or tried to.6 "Sarah. What a surprise!" He said, not able to cut back the ice in his voice.5 Her eyes held a bit of longing which he was quick to dismiss. "It's nice to see you." Her face beamed, still beautiful and sure of herself, even though whatever faΓ§ade she was putting on had brought early bags under her eyes. She looked shaken.4 Why is she here?13 Mubarak's eyes darted between his wife and the woman that stood in his living room, waiting for an explanation from any of them.4 "I'm sorry for dropping by unannounced. But I'm here because It's urgent and I need your help."6 Now Maryam looked at her. Apparently, her guest had not been completely honest with her. She hadn't told her all of her reasons for her unannounced visit. Which was rude if they'd ask him.10 Mubarak's jaw bunched under his rage. "Help?!" The word left his mouth with distaste. The princess herself wanted help from him? That act there was an Oscar-worthy performance. He hadn't seen Sarah for more than seven years, now she needed his help! As if all the philanthropists in the world had run out of business? Or was she out of rich boys to trap? He knew Sarah and how manipulative she was, he was sure that was not her game. She had been planning this, for how long, he had no idea. Someone didn't show up at your door in your living room seeking your help when you had no business with them anymore.12 "That reminds me, where have you been for the past eight years?" He forced a smile.12 Sarah twisted her fingers into each other and Mubarak pinned her with a cold look. Her hands trembled. "I know it is absolutely intrusive of me, but I would really appreciate it if you'd listen..." Her voice quivered and tears formed in her eyes, she looked up briefly to take them back. Had he not known her manipulative schemes, those would have moved him. But they didn't.4 "If you will just listen to me, please."7 Mubarak's patience was wearing thin. And he was a very patient man.4 "It is a bad timing now, as you can see, I'm just coming home. I'd like some time alone. With my family, I'd appreciate it if you announce your presence next time before dropping by. Thank you, for the visit ."15 Maryam felt the bitterness in her husband's voice, whoever this Sarah was, was not in good terms with Mubarak, an old friend or not, a friend's fiancee or not she was not welcome in their house. Moreover, the woman lied to her! She told her she was here to enquire about Baba's health. But maybe she really needed Mubarak's help if she would risk lying to her. And she sounded helpless if only Mubarak would listen to her.4 "Hear me out please, I know I'm the last person you want to see right now, but I need to talk to you. Can we talk, please?" Her eyes briefly darted to Maryam. "Alone?"26 What in the world... Maryam's jaw almost hit the floor.4 Mubarak crossed his hands over his chest and Sarah moved forward. Okay, maybe she shouldn't have let the woman in when she stopped at their doorstep.4 "Whatever you want to say, you can say it here, she is my wife." Mubarak held Maryam's hand and pulled her to his side.15 Sarah's eyes darted between Mubarak and Maryam then she hesitantly began. "I did as you said, I stayed away..." Maryam gasped. And she felt Mubarak's hand tightened around her fingers.7 One minute Mubarak was standing near her holding her, the next he was dragging this woman by the elbow towards the main door.5 Something singed Maryam at the sight of the authority in which her husband held another woman's hand right in her presence, leaving her side. There was so much familiarity between this Sarah woman and Mubarak that it blurred her vision and rendered her speechless for a moment. Why was he so bitter with her?17 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam blinked her eyes and cleared her voice a bit. "M.K, maybe you should hear her out, she has been waiting for almost an hour."6 Mubarak pinned her with a murderous glare as if daring her to butt into this conversation again.3 She was shocked by his sudden transformation. She remembered how occasionally, that side of him made an appearance. The side where one minute he was smiling and the next seething with rage. Just like he did when his friend Kamaal made ill comments on her the day she stepped into this house. Like he did when Bilaal divorced Sa'ima. She had a feeling this was worse than that. Mubarak never laid a hand on another woman, that too in front of her. Now he was dragging one out of their home.6 "Your son is dying!" Sarah bellowed, the outburst cutting through the deafening silence long after it had been uttered. Mubarak's hand froze on her elbow before it fell to his side, he staggered on his feet.236 "Get out of here, now!" He said between gritted teeth.11 Maryam had no idea where she got her strength from but she found herself sandwiched between them, she faced the taller woman.18 "What did you say?" She asked.6 Sarah only spared Maryam a glance before she looked past her to Mubarak. "Amir, your son is dying. I went to your office to tell you about him when I found out, but you were in such a rush you didn't give me a chance to tell you. You blocked all means of communication for me to reach you. And I had to leave the city. After that, I decided you would never be a part of my son's life. But he needs you now. He has been diagnosed with Bruton's disease. He has... a wish to meet his father. And... he needs your help, that's the only reason I'm here. I'm not here to cause any trouble. Please save my son's life and grant him his wish, it may be his last." She joined her hands in front of Mubarak's face.145 Between Maryam and Mubarak no one breathed hard, they were both processing the tornado she just unleashed in their living room.6 Mubarak broke the silence first. "You are... delusional, Sarah. Get out of here and never step into my house again. The next time you do that, I'm calling the police."14 "You don't believe me?" Her eyes briefly darted to Maryam, perhaps thinking whether it was appropriate to take the final stab that would send her to her grave now. Sarah opened her purse, brought out her phone and unlocked it. There on the screen was the picture of a fair scrawny kid with short-cropped hair, his complexion clearly showed his mixed race. The Jordanian blood showed in him completely just as his short curly hair decided his Non-Arab blood. But that didn't mean he was his!28 Mubarak staggered on his feet. As if hit by a truck, his eyes darted to Maryam, whose face was stuck in an unbelievable poise. He knew he had to make his move now.11 "I can't believe you will stoop this low, get out now!" He sneered.7 "What hospital are you in?"6 They both turned to the calm words that undoubtedly came from Maryam.6 Sarah, relieved that at least someone was willing to listen to her, rattled off the name of the hospital.4 "I can't believe this!" Mubarak said through clenched teeth, he paced the living room, his hand squeezing the thick muscle behind his neck.9 "I believe you have to go to the hospital to disprove what she said, go and see for yourself and do the needful, then, you can do all the contemplation later. This is not the time for you to slide off your responsibilities."33 Maryam's calm demeanour was baffling. If he didn't know better, he would think Sarah had compelled Maryam to be on her side, when she came to haunt him down for leaving her years ago. Why was Maryam supporting Sarah? Why wasn't she angry? This was ridiculous. It couldn't be.11 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "You are not going to get away with this." He growled at Sarah, his voice dangerously low, he breathed down Sarah's face.6 Mubarak took his car keys from the console and turned to her, "You better be gone by the time I get back." He wouldn't even bear to hear a word more from this manipulative woman.12 He decided to go for a drive to ease his nerves and clear his head. Everything happened so fast it was overwhelming. It was only after he started the car that everything rational came back to him.6 Why would Sarah come to him with this ridiculous claim? As far as he knew there was no reason for her to do that. And to bring a child into this? This must be madness. She must be out of her mind. Was she hooked on drugs? She may have been a gold digger, but would she stoop so low as to bring a child into this?4 Drugs!2 He slammed onto his brake when something popped into his memory. He remembered a particular night all those years ago when he was with Sarah.13 Sweat prodded his upper lip. This was not happening, oh no, this was not happening to him. It couldn't be, because he now remembered vividly, they had used protection. He remembered because it was the last time he let the poison into his system, the night he took Ritalin again trying to escape his growing feelings for Maryam. He thought if he worked it all out of his system he would rid himself of any impossible feelings he had towards Aunty Aisha's daughter.122 Sarah had walked into Cirque la Soiree, where he and the boys were lounging and the boys had dared him to prove he wasn't in love with 'his crazy girl' by going on a date with the woman that had been after him since Uni, a woman that conveniently happened to be Sarah. He had been off and on with her at a time, but that night they went all out. Had someone set him up?23 No it had to be all him. Ya Rabbi!11 He was a bit inebriated when he insisted he had to take out the foil package. No, it had to be someone else's child. He had no idea how he found himself at his destination, he couldn't even look at the street names, he drove in circles.9 Three hours later when he walked into his house, he found Maryam sitting on the couch. It was as if she hadn't moved from the living room since he left her. The kids were both still sleeping. The house was quiet.6 "She wasn't lying, was she? You have a son with her."9 Mubarak couldn't meet Maryam's gaze, he didn't know what to tell her. He was cornered from all angles and was guilty as heck. He didn't even know where to start from. How could he have been so reckless?6 He had never been that clumsy, he... Maryam was speaking but he didn't hear a word she said. He went towards the study, and she was there before he closed the door behind him.2 "When something like this happens, and you are accused of something with such weight, you don't walk away, you man up and face it nose to nose, tell me she isn't saying the truth, Mubarak!"38 Mubarak closed his eyes, his heart pounded behind his chest walls, threatening to combust with so many confusing emotions.10 When he was ten, Mubarak Umar Bugaje had lost the perfect image of his home. What used to be his comfort, his ideal domain had turned sour, his mother was threatening to leave. He had no idea what was going on and nobody was willing to explain. One minute they were all happy and fulfilled the next, the world was slipping right beneath his feet.7 He had lived in that confusion until he was seventeen when everything was apparent to them. His father had done something awful to their mother. But she stayed for them, she endured everything for them.9 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Yet he failed her, his second year at the university was spent experimenting all the frivolous activities his mother's sons were not supposed to experiment with. The pressure was too high, there were expectations, he had to take care of his brother.4 He had to take care of his mother, his father had only him, and for some reason, he needed to get back at his father, hence he chose trouble as his only way out.12 What began as an escape, a grasp for reality escalated so fast before he got the chance to call it foul. He had lost his sense of decency and it had cost him a dear friend.4 How could he forget that Omar had drunk from his bottle of soft drink? The bottle he had spiked with a handful of Ritalin? A drink which caused his friend to lose control and skid off M14. The irony of things, he had turned around and become exactly like his father, only he was worse.9 He learned to survive by being the bad boy, that was the only way he knew how to cope. Only if he did that, would his father's attention go back to Bilaal, who screamed for some love.26 No one knew it, no one understood it, Bilaal had done all he could to bring him out of his bottomless abyss, but he only got deeper. Now Maryam was caught up in the storm of his past.20 He had fun and let no one in except on two occasions and they both didn't work out for him, he went back to the only haven he knew all his adult life. Which he immediately regretted, yet it came with the highest price he could ever pay for his wild life.6 What would he say to Maryam? This would devastate her beyond all measures. His hands travelled to hold his nape, squeezing the thick muscle there, he had never felt as worthless he did now.10 A graceful light-eyed girl who brightened a crowd with her mere presence, a woman with the heart of gold, his young gazelle.12 He had her right where he wanted, loving him like no other, trusting him despite him being reckless, nonchalant, a liar by omission and a rogue. She still loved him, wholly. Her love made him so full that despite giving her his all he was still left with excess from her. This was the woman he was at the verge of losing because of his recklessness.15 He had vowed to protect her from herself. Yet he had pushed her over. He had vowed to make her see what people had done to her, she taught him forgiveness. Under all that crazy bubbly mouthiness, was his angelic queen, compassionate, loving and a jewel. Yet he ruined her.33 Now her ruin was his ruin, he had carried his pain long, hard and deep in his heart. She was the woman he was willing to live through life with. Then she became a blessing. Her voice, what he lived for. Her smile, his home.6 "How long?" she asked jarring him out of his lull. 6 He shuddered from his thoughts, his eyes flickered to hers, and he willed her to see the remorse he felt, and the agony his heart was in.6 "Eight years." His voice croaked. "Eight years... that's... were we married, Ya Mubarak?" She was still using her calm voice even though she had her hands crossed over her chest.13 Mubarak didn't move, he avoided her eyes. "How could you! There..." Maryam went to the three-seater and patted it, "This... right here, I've lain here, in this living room, waiting for you to come home every single night, for you to tell me just one thing. 'You are enough' You never did. I waited because I still had hope in us, I waited while you go hopping from one furniture to another with God-knows-who..." Maryam sniffed, her eyes distant.24 "Shaaden, no. Don't you think like that, wallahi I've never betrayed you that way. It happened before... the wedding. And I'm so sorry about that. I should have..."41 "So how many of them should we be expecting, we have to make enough room to accommodate them, right? Or do you plan on discarding them?" She asked, her eyes blank.78 The moment that came out, Maryam laughed. Of course, there wouldn't be any 'we' in this equation. She would rather fry up before any of that happened.4 Mubarak was quiet he didn't move a finger, "Mubarak Umar Bugaje, you answer my question when I ask, do not dare look away from me. You are done doing that. Just tell me!"18 "I don't know," he whispered.44 Maryam's eyes widened, she baulked, staggering on her feet, she clenched her abdomen. "You... don't know? Mubarak, you can't tell me you don't know. These are things a man is supposed to know about himself. These are things a responsible man should have no business doing whether he has a family or not talk more of not knowing them! That is the height of recklessness!"27 Her breath ceased. Her chest hurt a lot, she swallowed trying to regain her composure. She braced her arms on the wall nearest to her.5 "Mama was right after all. Men will always be men!" She said, her voice desolate, leaving him paralyzed with contrite.27 Mubarak saw the pain morph into a smile. "Well, tell you what I know, Mubarak? I know that I'm done looking at your face. Now, who is the blacksmith?"14 That was the final straw, he was shattered and he didn't think he could ever be mended enough to mend her back.6 He had always known that destruction only followed him, he knew he was bad for her. He never knew that after making her whole again, he would be the one that would take her apart. Piece by piece until he was left with her hollow being.19 He deserved whatever it was she was willing to throw at him.6 Maryam was worth more than anything or anyone, he couldn't bear to see her this broken.7 She stormed towards the stairs, that was when his eyes widened, a fresh fear gripped him.5 "Shaaden..."6 "What?!" She bellowed. Turning to face him, her nose flaring. His eyes travelled to her legs.2 "You're bleeding..."42 That was when Maryam felt the sticky warm liquid flowing down her thighs. Mubarak hurried to her and held her to his bathroom upstairs. She was too shocked to protest his hands on her.4 What was wrong with her?21 She stood like a statue as he helped her clean up, he left her there and shortly after came in with a change of clothes for her.4 "We need to go to the hospital now."4 She didn't move, she stared at the clothes he was holding out to her. "Maryam." He called out, he went to work on her stained yellow dress when he realized she wouldn't move if he didn't urge her to.8 She was numb from her core, she felt weightless, her head felt like a carved out watermelon. All that buzzed through her mind was. "Your son is sick..."4 What would happen to them now? What would she tell her kids? You have an illegitimate older brother? Was he going to bring the boy to live with them? Or was he going to marry the mother to stay with her sick child? What did the future hold for them? How would she look at the boy and not hurt for hating an innocent child that was clueless about his very existence? Would she be ungrateful if she said she hated Mubarak for putting them in this situation?42 The pain came then, sharp and agonizing it brought her down to her knees and blurred her vision. Everything faded.68 *** πŸ˜ͺ🚢🏾‍♀️ Alright, I'm back and I'm drained.16 How's that shock absorber? Was it any good?😱133 Okay, out with it. What are your thoughts? πŸ™Š79 Did you see this coming?77 What do you think this would do to our favourite couple? 😡82 What next? πŸ€”29 Yeah, it's still vague.🀣45 *** Maryam's eyes were fixed on the motes of dust dancing in the bright light that shone through the hospital window. She would rather focus on those tiny particles than on the shambles that was now her life.6 Her head swarmed with denial and her body buzzed with the shock of the new turn their lives had taken. Someone moved beside her, when she looked up Sa'ima's face came into view, her eyes teared up immediately.8 "Be patient Maryam, in sha Allah you will get better soon. May it be an intercession for you on the day of qiyaamah."25 Maryam shook her head, "I'm confident that Allah has a reason behind this sadness, and I'm happy to know that Allah knows I'm strong enough to handle this trial because He does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear. All I can say is Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un. Alhamdulillah 'ala kulli haalin. May Allah ease our pains and bless us with pious and healthy ones in the future."45 What she didn't tell Sa'ima was that, she wasn't just crying for the baby she had lost, but for a part of Mubarak she had lost, for a part of herself, a part of their marriage and a part of them.42 "For accepting this, you are indeed blessed. May Allah ease your affairs. Prophet Yaqub (AS) had been tested and when he lost Yusuf AS he was patient yet he went blind with tears. He was Allah's messenger, he believed he had yaqeen yet he grieved. So, it is normal to grieve but returning to Allah because He is the one that blesses us in many other ways in our lives will help ease our pain."8 Maryam nodded, she turned her hand to hold Sa'ima's hands that were placed on hers. "Jazakillahu khairan for this, I truly appreciate it."6 When Maryam caught a movement at the door, her eyes held on to the person standing there. Their eyes met, lingered and broke, he looked away first. The pain was twisting. But she pushed it away, they wouldn't do this here. She may be upset, enraged and melting with anger, but she wouldn't bring this here.27 It was his problem, and just like she told him, he should do away with it, he should handle it however he wanted to handle it. But she was afraid, being with him, by him in this situation would tear her apart. He wouldn't do the right thing, and she may be too selfish not to stop him.23 They both needed some time to process the storm that shattered their lives within five minutes.6 Her eyes drifted closed and she could hear Sa'ima telling her aunt and mother that she had just gone back to sleep. When did her mother come?23 *** "Maryam, you need to eat." "Hajiya, let her not eat, who will take care of you when you get home? If you don't eat and gain your strength back, these people will keep holding you here. Stop pampering her Hajiya, isn't she a mother too?" Hajiya Aisha said.31 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Ya Ladi, she is ill, maybe she's lost her appetite, do you want something else, Maryam? Should I pour kunu for you? It's the one you like, the spicy type with millet granules in it."22 Maryam nodded, not because she wanted any kunu, but because they wouldn't stop until she responded. She just needed to be alone. Hence after she took the spicy kunu, she told them she wanted to go home.1 Her father came in shortly after, one look from him and Maryam recognized the reflection of her pain in his eyes. Somehow he felt her pain, it broke her that her mother couldn't see in thirty minutes what her father saw in three seconds.21 Ahaji Muhammad pulled the visitors' chair next to the hospital bed and lowered himself on it. Maryam wished he hadn't stayed, what would she tell him? If it were up to her she would never let another soul know what she was going through now, that was her plan, she intended to keep it that way. So she tried to smile.8 "Maryam..." He said and she knew there was no escape for her, she didn't know how but her father knew.4 He held her hand in his and was quiet for a long time as if gathering the courage to speak to her. "Mubarak told me..."19 Her smile faltered but didn't fade away. "It's okay Baba, I'm okay."7 Alhaji Muhammad tilted his head to the side as if seeing through her brevity. "You may not be fine now, you may think this would never come to an end, but I know you always have trust in Allah in all your affairs, that is what I taught you, it may be a burden today if I tell you to do the same, but remember there is no burden that surpasses the will of Allah.22 "Indeed you have been gravely tested. But so was Mubarak, as much as you are in pain today, remember that his pain and trial is far greater. He had made a mistake, a mistake that brought with it a repercussion years later..."40 Maryam shook her head, her tears rolled down the sides of her face, "Baba..." Let him not tell her to be patient, she didn't know how she could do that. She had lost a lot because of this, she didn't know how much more she could bear.22 "Listen to me Daaso, Mubarak has been good to you, hasn't he?"14 "Baba please..." she looked skywards. "Answer me." She nodded, wiping her tears with her other hand. "I want you to count all the times he has been good to you. You don't have to tell me, just remember, picture all the time when you thought no one would be by your side, all the time he was the only one that got your pain, all the time he held you up when we all hurt you badly."24 Maryam clenched her eyes shut, expelling more tears. This was going to be excruciating.7 "Have you seen those moments? What can you say about them?"2 "Ya Mubarak has been incredibly good to me, he is my greatest support."28 "Good, now does he deserve to be abolished because of his past mistakes? The mistakes he has repented from? Should this one mistake wipe away all the good he has done to you and his parents? From accepting your proposal to being patient with you, to knowing your condition and accepting you the way you were, to holding you up whenever you had a fall out with your mother? He needs a boost of morale also, Daaso am.66 "Yes, he isn't expecting that from you, but at this moment, he needs your leniency more than anything, he is a man caught in shame and a life-changing situation. What he needs most now is to know that you are on his side. You need to allow him in this room, say something to him, even if it's not lengthy, let him know that he can count on your support. Let him share your grief of losing your child. Tell him you have not forgotten about his goodness."41 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Baba, what if I can't?"22 "But have you forgotten?" Her father's eyes had shown his vulnerability, and at that moment instead of herself and her problems, Maryam knew her father had placed himself in Mubarak's shoes.24 Maryam felt like her father was speaking out of experience to something dreadful, almost like history was repeating itself. The only thing she didn't know was if he was the Mubarak in his story or her mother.81 Maryam shook her head. "Then take your time, it doesn't have to be now, whenever you are ready, tell him. Just know that every moment you don't is breaking him more than the fact that in another ward in this hospital lay a boy he may have fathered out of wedlock."15 Maryam's eyes popped out, the boy was here? In the same hospital as she? Was Mubarak there? Had he gone to see him? She remembered telling him to go, but suddenly she didn't know if that was what she truly wanted.17 She sniffled. "When am I going home?"4 "The doctor will give the final report later, if there is no problem, you will be discharged. Our flight wasn't until upper week, but he got us on a plane the moment you were brought to the hospital. He wanted you to have all the support you would need. I implore you to give this a second thought."12 She nodded, then kept quiet for a while. The room was filled with silence. She turned to Alhaji Muhammad, "Do Hajiya and Mama know?" He shook his head. It was subtle, belying the magnanimity of the storm that befell them. "Don't tell them please." She didn't know why, even after feeling all the hurt and pain that crushed her thinking of Mubarak holding the boy, the sick boy, his child that was not Nabeela or Muhammad, in place of the child they lost, she didn't feel it in her heart to cause him humiliation or shame, especially not in his mother's eyes. It would crush Mubarak beyond restoration.40 Ya Rabbi, you are aware of my condition, I thank you for all the good you have sent my way and even now I depend on you. She prayed silently. Her eyes close shut.11 When she opened her eyes, Mubarak was slumped in the chair eyes closed with his hand placed next to hers, fingers almost touching but it was as if he couldn't bring himself to hold her.24 The dark circles under his eyes tainted his flawless handsomeness. How many days had it been since the coming of the storm that was Sarah and her son?3 Where would they go from here? What would happen to them? Her kids? What would happen to poor Amir? 20 Amir...2 Her breath hitched in her throat and for the first time since the revelation, Maryam realized she had not once felt an ounce of resentment towards the sick boy, why would she, when he was not even aware he would be placed in this mess, to begin with? She hadn't even met the boy.22 How was he now? Did Mubarak finally go to see him? Did he agree to save his life? He had to do something to get the boy the treatment he deserved, to save the boy's life. If he could donate something to him and help him get better, then she wouldn't stand in the way.16 Even though Sarah could have easily gotten a donation from the hospital, she chose to go to Mubarak, because the boy needed his father. Maybe he was really dying. She knew how it felt to need a parent and not have them despite their presence. But she didn't know if she could be a part of this.9 When he stirred in the chair, Maryam closed her eyes, with just enough pressure to convince him she had been sleeping.10 *** STORY CONTINUES BELOW  She was discharged in the evening when her results came out clean. Mubarak kept the small tray of medicines on her nightstand and a bottle of water. He was about to leave the room when Maryam spoke. "Nafeesah said you are my one," her voice was hushed and throaty. She let out a little laugh. "That's what she calls Abubakar. She was wrong, you were a part of my soul, my king, my Mafia King but now I can't see you like that. I'm afraid you aren't even my Man Muba. You're someone I don't recognize. Is this what we've reduced to? A fractured part of a whole?" She looked up, trying to stop tearing, but they wouldn't stop. She didn't bother to brush them away, she continued.25 "You know, I've sometimes pictured the worse of us when it got all wrong and crumbly and I felt that we had no hope. But all my visions pale in comparison to this. I had no idea our tattered selves would look like this," She chortled, throwing her head back. "It was better in my imaginations."19 Mubarak groaned and clenched his eyes shut, "Maryam... Please..."4 "I can't, I am so scared, I can't do this. It took me a lot to come here. A lot! And you know all of it."6 He needed to stop her, and tell her it would all be over, it must have been a mistake. He still didn't know if Sarah was lying or not, he had to confirm it first. Which for the love of God, he didn't know why he hadn't done so already. Except he knew why. He dreaded what the outcome would be but it was pointless since not knowing had done nothing to douse the fire that was burning his home.13 "We can get through this, in sha Allah. Believe me, I'm making all the efforts I can to stop this, you just have to... This is me Maryam. I've told you about of this part of me, I don't expect you to forgive me for it, or my warning to cover for my past... There was so much I wanted to share, but my darkest past was none of it. I couldn't because Allah doesn't want us to speak about our past sins."16 "Oh, isn't it funny how our pasts have a way of catching up with us? How absurd of me to think that it would be like in the books. Once the couple is in love and happy, they remain so ever after. Forgetting that there is real. And you just gave me my second dose of real, Mubarak. No man can escape his past, not even for love."18 All the strings that held his heart broke loose. "You want the good in me but not the bad?" Mubarak asked, his voice shook with trepidation.12 "No, M.K It is you that I love, and you are good. You only need to see that you can't keep doing this to me and expect me to overlook it every single time it happens. You restored me, you..." Her lips trembled and she couldn't take it in anymore.17 "Ya Rabbi, by Allah, you are shredding me apart, Shaadeniy." He went down on his knees with a thud. Eliciting a gasp out of her.20 "What are you..." His hands circled her wrists, he drew them up to his lips and kissed each, right above her pulsing veins. A brush across each pulse as if doing that was like breathing the air he needed to survive.4 Maryam lowered herself from her bed coming down to his level, he was still much taller than her, his eyes intent on her light eyes. She raised her neck until it bent and she kissed his forehead. She lingered for a moment before she leaned away. She took her wrists out of his hold and whispered, "Get yourself together. I'll be waiting for you. Until then, goodnight, Ya Mubarak. I need some rest and so do you. Let's talk about it tomorrow." She rose to her feet.19 Her heart had churned at first, then it seared. And right now, it was mangled beyond recognition, Mubarak had drained all the life out of her heart. He had said she was shredding him apart, well he had incinerated her to nothingness. The only place she really wished to be then was waiting to meet Nana Aisha.38 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Mubarak was everything she ever wanted yet everything she needed to stay away from until he righted his wrong. Until he made her his again. And that would happen only when he truly found himself.21 *** The next day when Mubarak came into her room to take his laptop, Maryam was reciting the Qur'an in bed. She paused long enough to greet him. He must have been shocked that she spoke to him because he didn't respond to her. She looked up and found him looking startled like a deer caught in a headlight. Of course, she would greet him, this thing may have changed a lot of things between them and brought uncertainties to their relationship but it wouldn't change who she was as a human.5 "Have you gone to the hospital?" She asked, the question threw her off too. But she needed to know. There was nothing as grueling as not knowing.5 Mubarak cleared his voice. "No, I don't think..." "You need to go. If... if you don't, we won't know. So you need to set everything aside and sort out this mess. Besides, it sounded like he was critical. Promise me, you'll go."20 Mubarak's eyes steeled and his jaw tightened. He became thoughtful for a moment but refused to look at her, without acknowledging her statement, he stormed out of the room.8 Mubarak couldn't tell her that he had doubts, because as far as he could remember he hadn't been with Sarah without any protection, could this child be the 0.1 per cent that defied the use of protection and came into being or was there more than met the eyes? But saying that to Maryam would infuriate her more, and she needed rest, hence the need for him to check this for himself.31 He didn't even know if she was angry at him or the situation, because one moment she was boiling with anger the next she was cool with everything now she was pushing him to meet the boy as if that was her new mission. He wished he knew what was going on in her head. He wished he knew what to do with himself.22 *** Mubarak was about to burn a hole in his office floor when Bilaal said the salam and stumbled in, he wasn't surprised at the hasty entrance despite his brother's calm nature. Mubarak must have scared the crap out of him when he asked him to meet him at the office and right before he hung up a sob had escaped his lips.11 That must be what prompted Bilaal's haste. "What is it?" Bilaal asked. Mubarak rubbed his hands together and assumed a calm demeanour he didn't feel. He cleared his throat. "Have a seat." Mubarak said. Bilaal, being Bilaal, of course, looked at him like he was the latest drop from a UFO, he refused to take the seat until he told him what was wrong.4 "Trust me, when I tell people to sit down they usually end up needing it. So..."27 Bilaal sunk into the coffee leather couch in Mubarak's office. It didn't swallow him up, it wasn't anything like the bulky couches in the executive wings. He wished he would be a little bit obscured from Bilaal when he told him his problem. "Ya Mubarak, should we take this home?"5 Mubarak snapped out if his mind lul. "Uh... no, I think here is better." He pulled a visitors' chair for himself and took in a deep breath. He felt the cold sheen of sweat coating his forehead as he tried to steady his heart rate. "Do you remember when I told you that you know me better to do something stupid? You've always warned me about my... little games. And when I told you I was only recharging, I lied. It went beyond that. Now..." Bilaal's eyes narrowed on him, waiting to get to the scandalous bit of it. Mubarak let out a heavy sigh. "Okay, to cut the story short. As I speak to you right now, a sick kid is lying in a hospital ward. A sick kid who needs my help apparently to get his treatment a sick kid with a final wish but I can't even go and see him because his mother claims that that kid is mine. And his final wish is to meet his father before he..." Mubarak croaked. Ya Rabbi this sounded so much messier saying it out loud.17 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Silence cut the air they breathed as if death had passed.2 Bilaal blinked once. "Well, that is rather messy."10 Mubarak rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palms. "I know." "Is he yours?"11 Trust Bilaal to be blunt. "How would I know? Okay..." he rolled his eyes "...apart from the obvious. But I'm not sure. I don't even know what to do right now. I don't feel myself. My whole world has crashed, Maryam is behaving as if that is the coolest thing that ever happened on the face of the earth. She is so detached. I don't know what she is thinking and it kills me as if the news hadn't murdered me already... How would I even tell her I'm sorry?"18 Bilaal patted his shoulder. And Mubarak sucked in a breath. "Why didn't I listen to all your lectures? Why didn't I pay heed and lowered my gaze? I pursued my desires and now my nightmares are chasing me."29 "Hey, brother. It's going to be fine in sha Allah. This thing has been written. It has been ordained that one day, we would have this conversation here. And there was no way you could have avoided that unless of course, you refrained from your innermost weak heart. But we know there is no way around it too. It is devastating, I know. But what will be will be. Now, what do you want to do about it?"18 "What to do about it? I don't know." Mubarak threw his hands up in the air. Then he smoothened his damp palms over his black jeans trousers.8 "Have you gone to see him?"3 Mubarak shook his head. "You need to." "I don't know how to."6 Bilaal crouched down before him. "You have to know such things, Ya Mubarak. You need to make up your mind and face reality."12 Mubarak's scowl deepened. "Why do you think you are here?"5 Bilaal's eyes widened as the implications of his brother's words sank in. "No, don't even go there."11 He shook his head. "I may die before I reach the hospital, I'm that knot up."17 "What would I do if I go? That's your call to make and you have to do it." Bilaal blinked his eyes, the only indication that he was also shaken by the whole incident.8 Ya Rabbi! He may start planning for that janazah already. Maybe it was time.11 "Ya Mubarak!" "I know. I'll go... okay? Just let me... Ya Salam! What would I tell Hajiya? If this thing is true and I... I have to face them at some point."16 "I think you should embrace one Tsunami at a time. You don't want to go on broadcasting stuff of such magnanimity only for it to turn out false. That would place a big Q in front of your name, it's like hitting the final nail in the coffin. Speaking of which, how many cases exactly should we be expecting in the future?"61 Mubarak clenched his jaw and glared at his brother. "Last time I checked you aren't the lawyer."4 "But I am the mediator." Bilaal released his breath. "Sorry, I was asking, trust me I don't have a bone in me to make a jest of your situation. So, is it only this woman or..."18 "Why the heck does it matter if there are more? Let's deal with the obvious first."24 Bilaal raised his hands in defence. "As you say, boss. I'm driving," he said, snatching Mubarak's key fob from his hand.6 "Be my guest," Mubarak muttered. On their way out of Mubarak's office, his assistant, Gordon called out to him. Mubarak brushed him off. "I'm sorry Gordon, this has to wait."2 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "But it can't. It's about Sarah!" That held Mubarak in place. Bilaal turned around and faced them before he gestured over his shoulder with a thumb. "I'll get the car."5 Mubarak deadpanned. He slowly walked back to his assistant. Who looked like the light breeze outside would soon sweep him off his trembling limbs. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to listen in but the door was open and I..."3 "Get on with it Gordon!" Mubarak snapped. "Uh... I just..." he rubbed his hands together and rocked on his toes and heels. "I know what happened is awful, but I just wanted to ask if you are sure."13 Mubarak's brows furrowed, and he looked like he was about to brandish a butcher's knife and serve Gordon to the lions for supper. Gordon cleared his throat. "It's not my place of course, but I guess now I should stop talking and get on with the work I'm being paid to do." he practicalized that by getting back to his desk. Once there, he shrugged. "Just saying... I think you should..."28 Mubarak clenched his jaw to keep himself calm. "Hold your thoughts, Gordon. Next time, stop me when you have something comprehensive to say."6 He stormed out of the office more pissed than he had been all day long.14 *** Mubarak needed no goading or refresher to remember the ward that held his life captive. Sarah had rambled off every single detail when she stormed into his life. And now as he walked down the hallways towards the room, first to see if this boy really existed and if he was sick. Then to see if he could help them without him being attached to the boy's DNA.5 If everything turned haywire, what would he do? He had no plan C or B for that matter. He would take a test, if it came down to it to figure things out. Even though every mother knew the father of her child, he doubted from Sarah's reputation he would take her on her word, especially after she'd left him a threatening parting message when he refused to see her in his office- after she had cleared his wallet the last time he saw her- the night she claimed they made this... boy.10 She had been near obsessed with him, and once he gave in, she thought she had had him where she wanted despite him making it abundantly clear they were not exclusive. And he wasn't there for the long haul. Yeah, he wasn't a model for the most pious man then, but everything was possible.3 Could she have done this deliberately to get back at him? Right now he felt so bad that he thought he may have deserved all the things that had gone wrong with him, with his life.4 Mubarak's heart came to a screeching halt at the sight of the frail boy on the bed, behind the glass partition. An IV line ran down his arm. His neck and face were covered with big red blotches.5 He had seen so many sick kids from his time volunteering with Hajiya Kulthum's foundation, he had helped in so many reach-outs. That sometimes he felt at home around the fearless and vibrant young souls beating all kinds of illnesses.2 But seeing this boy lying there knowing that he might be his had almost buckled his knees.4 No! This couldn't be true. He wouldn't waste his time to go for any test. But the boy needed treatment. What would happen to him if he didn't get it? How had he been surviving for the past years? Had it been recent? What did Sarah mean when she said she wanted him to save the child's life? He realized he knew nothing about the disease.6 Mubarak's head swarmed with several thoughts and questions he had no answers to.4 He decided he would talk to a doctor friend of his and find out everything about the disease first. If there was anything he or the foundation could do to help, he would. It wouldn't have to be his son for him to do that, he had helped several children get free treatments before this. He just needed this boy to be like all the other kids. Just another child he was helping.10 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  He retraced his steps and began to walk out but Sarah came around the corner and he stopped right in his track.4 Her eyes immediately lit up with hope on seeing him there. No, she shouldn't look at him like that, because whatever it was she was thinking won't happen. He was not going to be a part of this the way she thought he was. She should convince the boy that his father was no more or had gone missing until she figured out what to do. Until then, he would give her all the help she would need to find the real father and give them all the support they needed.17 That was when Gordon's statement came back to him. He rushed out of the premises, he didn't wait for Bilaal to join him. He left not minding that he had just left them all in suspense. The doctor should deal with that.6 Mubarak kept trying Gordon's phone but it wasn't getting through. He drove to the office via the fastest route. "What did you say?" His breathing was laboured as he planted both hands on Gordon's desk.5 Gordon was still reeling from the shock of seeing his boss as if thrown from the jaws of a mammoth. He was momentarily thrown off. "When you heard about the boy, you asked me if I was sure." "Yes, I did." "Why would you ask that? What would make you think otherwise?" "I figured some possibilities. When Sarah came to the event that night, she was here with someone."7 The event... he was talking about the end of year company party, the party he told Sarah they shouldn't be seeing each other anymore. "And you know that how?" "I plan your meetings I know where you are at... ehm most of the times. But then while you were in Leeds. I saw her with this 'someone'. I wanted to ask if you had cancelled your trip, but then I realized it wasn't you. But someone shorter than you."7 "Gordon I think now will be the right time for you to tell me who the heck this 'someone' is because I swear to God I'm about to..."2 "She was with Mr Garba."59 Mubarak's blood froze in his veins. His friend, Garba?!8 "But when you returned and I saw that you were happy and you may be into this marriage thing you were planning. Moreover, Sarah wasn't stopping by any more I thought it wasn't important, and I let it slide."2 Mubarak was so quiet, Gordon feared he may have had a mini-stroke. "Uh... do you mind me saying something, Sir?" Mubarak rubbed his nape and nodded at Gordon to go ahead.2 "Does Garba know about this?" "Why are you asking?" "This may sound far-fetched, but I think there was something between them even when you were... she was coming here to see you."11 "How sure are you? Besides, if she knows the only person that can save her son's life don't you think that is where she would go first?"6 Gordon's eyes lit up and he smacked the desk in front of him. "That's it! What if she doesn't know? What if she was together with you both around the same time? I've seen them kiss when they were getting off the lift..." Gordon shifted on his legs and ducked his head low before he continued with the same vigour. "Sorry, I may be wrong. But as far as my adult eyes could see, that kiss wasn't platonic at all. And I was quiet about it because you've broken things up with her. No need to stir up unnecessary chaos between friends."21 Mubarak brought out his phone and speed dialled Garba.2 This was getting messier by the minute. He couldn't believe he was caught up in this. Ya Salam!19 He kept repeating Laa ila ha illa anta subhanaka inni kuntu minazzalimeen as he drove to the hospital where he had asked Garba to meet him. Hoping by some miracle Gordon's hunch would come true, and that Garba would turn out to be the father of this sick child.12 "None of you will truly believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself."37 The hadith popped into his mind but right at that moment, anything that would take him out of his predicament was most welcome.10 "Astaghfrullah!" He breathed.26 *** DAN DAN DAN 😰3 We are watching you, M.KπŸ˜•πŸ™Š45 Maryam, weldon ehn... πŸ’”πŸ˜Ÿ36 Alright, let's wait and watch. So many revelations ahead. 60 **Rubs hands*** Hihihi 7 How racy is your heart?65 Alrighty, let me disturb you a tad.33 *** Sound of hushed voices downstairs woke Maryam from her deep sleep. Muhammad and Nabeelah were still at Alhaji Umar's house since her hospitalization. She had slept off the effects of her drugs. But she was still not eating well. The only other people in the house were her parents, she had left them downstairs with Mubarak and announced that she was going in to take a nap.11 Now the voices kept getting louder. She knew something was not right.8 Maryam freshened up in the bathroom and went out towards the source of the commotion which to this point didn't show any sign of subsiding. To her dismay, the scene that greeted her was something that left her stunned. Her mother was talking- more like shouting on top of her voice- as her father sat in one of the couches listening to her do her thing.30 "So, now the cat got your tongue, eh? Why don't you say something? If you see people you know how to be a saint then all the blame would be on me. Now you'll say everything happened to her because of me. Why don't you say it? But then you've already said that." She let out a bitter laugh.6 "Aa'isha, I am asking you to sit down for the last time or so help me God you are not going to like what I do to you."25 "Are you going to hit me again? In your in-law's house? What an example you are setting for the young ones."50 "Mama! Baba!" Maryam called out, chagrined. For Allah's sake, what had gotten into her parents? Had they lost all sense and track of time and place? Why on earth would they fight in her house? What was the meaning of this? And Baba, why would he talk back despite knowing how her mother was? And what was Mama talking about? Her father hit her?24 At that moment, Maryam made up her mind because this was the limit! She had had enough.5 "Can you two please calm down and stop this?!" She didn't know if it was losing her child, the storm she was caught up in with her husband, the thought of the innocent child suffering at the hospital, or maybe not knowing what her future entailed that caught up with her, but everything erupted at once and she lost it.12 "Please stop it! If you'd fight, can you at last wait until you are back at your own house? What would the kids think if they were here?" She lowered her voice a bit. "For Allah's sake, Ya Mubarak is home. I just lost a child and you two are here... fighting?" Her voice was tinged with disappointment and tears bloomed in her eyes.25 "It's okay, Daaso I was just leaving." Her father began to rise from the couch.5 "No, you are not!" Her father froze, more than likely surprised by her words and the tone of voice she used. That was what made her lower her tone. "Yes, you should have done that instead of engaging her in a war of words. You need to iron out your differences and stop living with all the hurt. What is it this time?" She sat down on a throw pillow on the rug as she watched her parents, one standing and the other sitting on the couch both were looking away from each other and her. She looked at her mother pointedly and turned to her father on the couch- Hajiya Aisha took a separate couch- she folded her arms over her chest and shook her legs.15 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  When they both stared at her like she was some alien creature, Maryam knew she must have raised her voice on them.6 "I'm sorry, but just be the adults here and get a grip on yourselves." She turned to Alhaji Muhammad. "Tell her all you want to say right now and get over the grudge you are holding."6 Hajiya Aisha scoffed, "What does he have to say to me? The time for that has already passed. He is busy dealing with the important people in his life when and how do you expect him to have time for me? Or to understand a word that comes from me for that matter."9 Maryam held her head in both hands. She may die today from tension, what she was going through today must be what caused sudden deaths. What would she deal with at the moment? Her chest tightened with pain.10 "He'll always be a man first before any other thing. How can he even watch this injustice and keep quiet? I thought she comes first in your book, your favourite. But because that is what you can condone..."9 "Mama please, enough. If we are going to do this, then we have to do it civilly."2 Hajiya Aisha tipped her chin up. "Okay, you are not staying here that is what this is about. You are done staying married to his nephew."30 Maryam's brows furrowed. She looked at her father. "You told her?"14 "Listen, Daaso..." He began.3 "Told me what? That your husband has fathered a bastard?"42 Maryam's breath hitched in her throat, she wanted to scream bloody murder but that was what it was, her mother needed not to be so cruel about it though. She blinked back her disappointment and let out a sigh. She turned to her mother, they were not on the same page from the looks of things.7 "This is not about me. Please, Mama, don't deflect. Baba has always been there for you but your insecurities pushed him away. He has always been there in the shadows with us, but you have been blinded and you chose your friends and the society over us.8 "Before you say it, no, I'm not siding with my father, but we are your kids, we don't want to know every one of your misunderstandings or your misdeeds, we have our troubles to deal with. Yes, we cannot repay whatever you have done to us, for us. For bringing us to the world, but please the right you have over us for giving birth to us has also been given to us as your children. It is your duty to take care of us, protect us, give us sound knowledge, and don't burden us beyond our capacity."10 Hajiya A'isha didn't say a word. Maryam turned to her father. "Baba, you have to be the bigger person here. You should know how to deal with conflicts in your house and not engage in a war of words with Mama, you should learn to communicate like adults. Because from where I stand, your problems sprouted from lack of proper communication and losing any sense of order.15 "You are the person of authority in your house and should, therefore, start to act like one. Is this how you'll go on when you take another wife? Which by the way, I don't think is the solution to your problems, because Mama will always be Mama. I don't know what is wrong with you two but whatever it is you need to apologize to each other and move on or know what to do with each other because you know what? We are not your emotional dumping ground."24 "He is taking another wife?" Hajiya A'isha croaked.29 Seriously? That was all Mama heard from her speech?32 Maryam's eyes landed on her, "Yes he is taking another wife."14 She turned to her father. Who sat coolly as if he was in a room far away from them. Because this room felt like a furnace to her.3 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "You didn't tell her?"11 Alhaji Muhammad turned his face the other way. "We've seen what happened the last time I did."5 "You didn't tell me, I found out myself. So who is it this time around? Huh?!"4 "So you can go and scare her off or do something ungodly..."14 Maryam was about to scream.7 "Now, I want you both to calm down and talk this through."4 "You are taking his side now? So, you knew he was taking another wife? Why am I not surprised after all, you are the golden child. Of course, he told you. Can you kindly tell your super dad that he should release me before he does his thing?"25 Maryam had a strong urge to scream her head off even if it would kill her. "No one is releasing anyone Mama, stop talking about that. Whatever problem you are having won't go away if you do not accept that you're at fault, and I'm right at the verge of telling you to go away, but I won't let you out of this house until you sort it out or be done with this. For good!"10 "I can't believe I'm sitting here letting someone like you tell me off. I didn't give birth to you to see this day." Hajiya Aisha muttered.10 "Daaso, go and take some rest, we will do this some other time. I have somewhere to be." And before she could say anything, her father was out of the door. Maryam picked her jaw off the floor.3 "You called me narrow-minded and say you are not taking sides? I always know you love your father more. And will always be biased, but I didn't think you would call me names in front of him. And to think that you have conspired against me and stabbed me in the back..."28 "Okay, I'm done, because right now I can't deal with anything more, I just lost a child and I'm at the verge of losing my home, so if you like keep acting like this and mess up your life, what is mine to lose? I'm done butting into your affairs, you should do what you dim fit."22 "Your marriage? You complain now about your marriage?! Have you forgotten what I told you years back? But you didn't mind me then, I knew then that it won't last."49 Maryam batted her eyes at her mother's negativity.4 "I didn't tell you I was leaving my husband."20 "What then are you talking about?"4 "You know what? Forget it."6 "If you don't fight for your rights, it won't be long before you become exactly like me. Bitter and filled with hatred." Hajiya Aisha scoffed.36 "Mama, you are asking me to destroy my home."6 "What home are you talking about, Maryam? Yes, I know I pushed you to get married to him, thinking he will take good care of you, but I should have known men will always be men first."14 "You mean taking good care of you? That's all you've been after. You sent him to Ya Nabeelah, but when she was no more, like all her other hand me downs you pushed me to him. Now you are breathing down my neck to wreck my home because he has become dispensable? Is that what I am to you? Just a means to an end?"13 Hajiya A'isha sneered, "Enough! I won't have you talk down to me!"4 Maryam didn't even flinch, "Oh, the truth hurts, right? Whatever happens, is Allah's will upon me, and no matter what happened I'll never be ungrateful to Allah. He has been pulling me out of all my calamities, placing a stepping stone ahead for me which brings me to this phase. No matter what Ya Mubarak did, he has at least genuinely loved me. And I can't deny that he was once good to me, he made a terrible mistake. But I can't just condemn his goodness along with this single act of erring."23 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Oh, who would have accepted you the way you were? At least his past was tainted too..."80 "So a tainted husband for tainted Maryam, huh?" Maryam asked the words bitter in her mouth. "It hurts to feel muted and unheard. That pained more than the atrocity of the crime itself. I haven't thought about the rape as much as I did how much I couldn't rely on my own mother to be there for me. Only when you go through that trauma will you understand the pain I endured."19 Maryam let out a sigh, "But letting myself stand outside of it all today, I feel grateful to Allah for making it this way for me. Had everything not happened to me the way it did, I didn't know what would have been of me, internally. Regarding my connection to Allah.10 Because not having you to rely on has made me rely on Allah alone. I'm not saying if I had my mother's love while growing up, I wouldn't rely on Allah. But not having that has shaped me into the woman I am today, and Alhamdulillah for having the ability to give out love to everyone around me despite growing up with very little of it."26 Hajiya Aisha looked away as if Maryam had not said something so profound. She deflected from the subject as she always did when it came up.7 "You mean you'll stay with this man after what he has put you through? Because you are feeling so generous with love?"22 "I'm staying because he has acknowledged his wrong, he has put some effort to change, it was a mistake from his past catching up with him. What would happen if we decide to separate every time our past catches up with us? What would happen to those willing to repent if we don't look at them with mercy?13 "Mama, Ya Mubarak has looked at me with mercy, even when he learned that I would never be the complete woman he wished for, I was snatched of what people consider my dignity, yet he uplifted me and made me feel like a queen. He restored me, Mama. He restored this daughter that has always been abandoned by her mother." Maryam finished with a silent whisper.10 Hajiya Aisha blinked twice, "Yes, just to tear you apart after that."26 "Not everyone is like you, Mama. I can't be selfish, many things in this equation surpass me and him."2 "You mean these two babies? Or the bastard out there? Don't tell me you are staying for them!"20 Maryam scoffed, "That's the difference between you and I. I will never stay for the kids. I'm staying for me, for us. You left for two years yet we pulled through, but you decided out of nowhere to come back for us and instead of making things right, you ended up ruining what little morale we had left in us. So, no. It isn't for the kids. I'll never be like you, in sha Allah!"20 Hajiya Aisha's sob filled the room. "Have you any idea the kind of hell I went through when I was carrying you? What he "your father" made me go through, what I had to put up for your sake?" 24 Maryam's jaw hit the floor, now she was blaming her for her miseries? Unbelievable!5 " You are taking his side? Do not dare tell me it is wrong to do that for what you believe in. I believed in love and I loved your father so much you have no idea."6 Maryam closed her mouth long enough to speak. "That's an unhealthy love then, Mama."6 "Even you won't tell me what pure love feels like and I won't let you tear yourself down just because you feel like you've risen to the horizon now. Because you'll never experience peace if you let this slide. You think you are doing this for love but it will ruin you. You're not built for this."25 Maryam was baffled. She didn't think her mother had anything up her sleeves left to destroy her, now she knew, with her mother there would never be any limit.4 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Tears slipped from her eyes despite all her attempt to stop them. "I'm sorry I became your child at the wrong time. I'm sorry for taking up space in your womb, for drawing out your blood, I'm sorry my destiny lies within yours, Mama. Am I so horrible to have as a child? I don't wonder why people always leave anymore. Because right now, I'll be happy to join them!"42 Maryam stormed upstairs on trembling legs. She felt numb from her outrage, then what she did, struck her hard. She just said very awful words to her mother. And what she said in front of Baba, the fight she had instigated instead of settling it. Ya Rabbi...3 "What have I done?"15 Her legs were about to buckle beneath her when she felt a set of strong arms around her body, wrapping her like a strong landing brace, she looked up to see Mubarak holding her. His forehead was creased with worry lines.8 "Maryam... It's going to be alright." He said, pulling her to himself.9 She pushed back and shook her head, still entranced from what transpired within the hour.3 "No! Haven't you heard what I just did? I think my parents are about to go their separate ways again because of me. He may divorce her. What have I done? What if she curses me? That's the only thing left... What if she doesn't forgive me?"8 Mubarak's eyes flickered, he stepped forward and reached out for her again as he had done a thousand times. But Maryam pushed him away. He held on, pulling her closer, she struggled out of his hold and almost stumbled down, but Mubarak caught her in time. She grabbed his shirt and fell onto his chest, sobbing hard. He shouldered her bedroom door open and walked in with her still bundled in his arms. He closed the door behind them.6 When Maryam hiccuped with her cries, Mubarak squeezed her shoulders and whispered. "Hey, it's okay. None of it is your fault, Shaadeniey, none of it. We are not going to let her get to you ever again. Remember? She has no authority to do that. You decide what you feel. It's okay. You are okay."8 "It isn't okay. I'm always responsible for all the things that go awful. I'm as useless as ever, nobody even wanted me. Can't you see it? Mama hates me, Ya Nabeelah left because of me..."12 "Shh, Maryam. You aren't responsible for their actions, they are. They are the elders here, they made their choices, they are responsible for their actions. And they get to either live with it or sort themselves out. You are done taking their burdens for them. And as for Nabeelah that has been preordained and you know that. You're done taking anybody's burden on you."9 She swallowed hard, refusing to open her eyes to her reality.5 "But even you didn't want me, wasn't that what pushed you to that Sarah-woman because you wanted to get rid of me. Because fornicating was better than marrying Maryam Maigoro."43 That knocked him out, because that was partly true, at that time he had only gone to hang out at Cirque la Soiree thinking it could help banish Maryam from his thoughts.5 "No Maryam, not at all. Yes, I did go out to clear my head, But that was because I love you so much I couldn't resist the effect you had on me despite how bad I was for you. I couldn't stop thinking about you and I was confused as heck and a big fool for not seeing the blessing bestowed upon me. Not because you were unworthy of my love. Rather because I was too filthy for you. You are priceless my Maryam. You. Are. Unique. Nothing else matters. And that's all you need to know... to believe in. I'll always love you." He pressed her head to his chest, he felt her deep in his soul but his demons wouldn't allow him to enjoy the ease she brought with her.12 He was the one that didn't deserve her. The one-man that soiled her and snatched their future. Yet, he was not even brave enough to tell her. How could he after what her parents put her through today?8 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  After a long time in his arms, Maryam leaned away from him.5 "Come on now, come lie down." Mubarak threw the blankets back, and when she lay down, he tucked her in and smoothed a hand over her head.3 Maryam half-expected him to join her using the opportunity he had of her weak state of mind but Mubarak turned out the lights and walked out of the room.6 Her heart went blank with his exit.11 *** Mubarak had counted the swing of the pendulum for over a hundred counts until the grandfather wall clock had struck noon. His kids had just left with Wafiyya, he had wanted them to stay with him, they were the reason for him to smile in this gloomy world. The reason that reminded him to keep breathing and stay alive. But the sight of them also reminded him of the moment they got the results. When the test results came, Bilaal was by his side, but nothing could anchor Mubarak for what was coming. Garba had apologized for keeping his relationship with Sarah a secret at the time. Mubarak didn't give a damn what they did with their lives. He just wished he could vanish.2 His fate lay within a piece of paper. A paper they had been holding for more than twenty minutes until Bilaal took a long sigh and tore the envelope open. When he read the content, he had turned to Mubarak and hugged him. He could hear the sigh that escaped Garba's mouth. He wished he could say the same about himself.63 Bilaal patted his back.3 "You can do this. Just go in and do what is right."25 "I'm not ready," Mubarak whispered, still reeling in the magnanimity of the truth that hit him. 2 "Time is one thing you don't have right now. And we both know you won't let that boy down."4 Mubarak had nodded. Now he sat in his father's main living room weighing how to break this to his mother.10 He wouldn't want Baba to be a part of this. At least not now. He had recently left the hospital following a hypertensive heart he couldn't put him through more strain. And Hajiya raised him if there was anyone he had betrayed after his Lord, that would be Hajiya Kulthum.15 For that reason, he felt he deserved all her wrath. And there was nothing that would tear him down more than telling her this himself.14 *** When Hajiya Kulthum settled in her bedroom, she regarded Mubarak for a long time. She had never seen him this worried, he had lost so much weight she had to ask if he was sick several times during the past week.2 Now her mouth went slack when he burst into tears. Mubarak may be anything, but breaking down like this came rarely for him.21 "Hajiya, I've messed up real bad." He said, placing his head in his palm. He knelt before her and sobbed into his hands.15 "Mubarak? No, you won't break down now, what is this? It is a miscarriage, it is difficult I know, but you need to have faith and be with her. We've gone through this before and we will go through this now. But Maryam needs you now more than ever. I don't understand why you are crying like this though. Everything will be alright soon, in sha Allah."14 Mubarak clenched his eyes shut, not bothering to correct his mother's misinterpretation. "But I don't know how to fix this." "You know, as brave as your father is, as strong as he is, he has passed down this trait to all his sons, but you've also gotten the romantic side of him. You are sensitive, it is okay to feel that way, I may not know what is wrong but I know whatever happened goes beyond a miscarriage. Tell me I'm wrong."12 Mubarak grunted in his sob. She always knew. He didn't know if it was a mother's instinct or a peculiar perception his mother had but nothing passed her observation. He was counting on that, because otherwise, he didn't know how he would face her with this news. But then even now when the path was opened, it was still harder than he thought.5 "Ya Rabbi, Hajiya I wish I could. I wish I had listened to you all those years ago. I don't know what my stupid brain was trying to prove, but today I'm ashamed of myself, I have failed you all. I am a disgrace to you all."7 "Mubarak?" She placed her hands on his shoulder to bring him up. "I have a son." He blurted.21 Hajiya Kulthum blinked her eyes, her forehead creased as she peered into his face to see if he was in his right senses. "What? Of course, you have a son, Abu Muhammad. And in sha Allah Allah will bless you with more."16 Mubarak shook his head. "No Hajiya, I mean another son, not Maryam's." He said.2 He felt it when her fingers zapped off his shoulders as if she had been electrocuted, she stepped back staggering on her feet.7 "What do you mean not Maryam's? You mean you have a family that we are unaware of?" Her voice faltered with disbelief. 26 Mubarak wished it was that simple, he wished it was a secret family, legalised hidden family, he had stashed in a faraway land. At least then he could explain how it happened. But this, this would break everyone and bring destruction to his family, destruction he had no idea how to rectify.7 "No, Hajiya, I have a son that... that..." He stammered, his eyes downcast. He dared not look up at this moment, it was the death of him. He heard it all. Like an echo off the walls of his heart when she muttered, Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un. Then he heard the sound of her knees hitting the rug in her bedroom, the contact came with a thud. He clenched his eyes shut. Then snapped them open.33 Mubarak crawled to give her a hand. But was met with his mother's disapproving obstructing hands, stopping him. She shook her head her eyes still clenched shut. As if it was too much for her to see him. As if she couldn't bear to see what a shameless man he had become. He wouldn't want to look at himself too.12 "Get out of my house."66 The words uttered lowly was his worst nightmare.3 "Ya Rabbi!" He cried.61 *** Yeah, I know... πŸ˜”76 Our heart goes out to you all: Hajiya, M.K, Amir and Mairo. And a host of others, myself inclusive. It is hard πŸ’”61 Your thoughts... 54 Did Mubarak do right by telling Hajiya? πŸ’”πŸ˜­117 Maryam and Mubarak: Your thoughts... πŸ˜ͺ15 It's rather long. 41 Weldon to us all. πŸ™ŒπŸΌ5 I need to rest a bit but figured It's better to rest with a calm heart. Or is it? πŸ˜†42 ***1 Maryam's phone rang. It was Hajiya Kulthum's call. Maryam swallowed before she picked up.8 "Assalamu alaikum, Good evening, Hajiya."Maryam said in her chirpiest voice.13 "Wa alaikumussalam. Maryam?" Maryam frowned a bit, why did Hajiya Kulthum's voice sound gruff? It sounded like she had a cold. Or like... she had been crying!8 "Na'am Hajiya?" "Can you come over to the house, now?"3 Okay, that was strange. Maryam instantly knew that something was wrong. Had Baba told Hajiya Kulthum what was going on?8 "Uh... sure. I'll just let Ya..." "No!" Hajiya Kulthum's voice sounded clipped. "No need to do that. I'll ask Wafiyya to pick you up if you aren't strong enough to drive."6 Okay, there was no way around this. Hajiya Kulthum knows.8 Maryam brushed her dry lips with the tip of her tongue. "Alright, I'll be waiting." If she had been wondering earlier, now she knew why Hajiya hadn't come to see her today. But how did she know? She would only be this angry at Mubarak if she knew what happened. She didn't even want to come to his house or hear his name.12 Ya salam!3 Maryam saw the string of text notifications coming into her phone from Mubarak all week. She hadn't opened any after the first five, of course, she just read the notifications and swiped them off.12 She was not in the right headspace to deal with anything Mubarak-related.9 Pushing all thoughts aside, Maryam slipped on a black Jilbaab and waited for Wafiyya. She hadn't seen the kids since yesterday, she missed them so much and felt bad that she hadn't even thought of them at all during the day.7 Hajiya Kulthum had insisted they stayed at the mansion with her so Maryam could have a proper rest. She doubted if her recovery was something feasible.3 She felt uneasy on their way to the mansion especially since the car was filled with an uncomfortable silence.3 "Wafis, tell me what is going on." Wafiyya shifted in her seat, she looked around then looked back at the road shaking her head vigorously. "Wafiiyya, tell me, now!" STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "I don't know Ya Mimie... just that, earlier today, I saw... ehm Ya Mubarak leaving the house." "And...?"3 "He was in tears and Hajiya remained locked in her room thereafter. I had to call Baba before she came out for dinner. And they stayed in there for a length of time prior. I've rarely seen Hajiya this disturbed."5 Wafiyyah darted a look at Maryam then gripped the steering wheel. But Maryam wasn't paying her any attention, she swallowed. Maryam leaned her head on the headrest and closed her eyes. Mubarak, what have you done to us?15 She knew Mubarak had told her several times and even hinted at how wild his life had been before her, but no amount of warning would have prepared her for this disaster. When she asked him if he had any bad habits before they got married, Mubarak told her he had none. That may hold true because he had quit everthing then, but why didn't he warn her that what had passed before then was exceptionally wild? She still couldn't believe it. She felt like she was in an elaborate nightmare and would soon wake up. She was so confused, it felt like she was in the movie Inception. Nothing made sense.25 Except this nightmare was now their lives. And at one point they had to be confronted about it.2 Hajiya Kulthum was waiting in the main living room when they arrived. Muhammad and Nabeelah ran to hug her, she went down to their level and scooped them into her arms. She held on tight and sniffed Nabeela's scent. They greeted her with stories. And she had to use tactics to slip away from them and greet Hajiya Kulthum.13 And from her response, Maryam deduced that her aunt was having an incredibly hard time.10 "Okay, Muhammad, go on with Aunt Wafiyya and Nabeelah, she will take you to Maman Fatima. I'll be there with you shortly, in sha Allah." Maryam gulped, what was going on here?4 "Maryam..." Maryam startled at the mention of her name, realizing Hajiya Kulthum had been calling her but she was lost in her thoughts. "Na'am, Hajiya." "Are you alright?" She asked. But Maryam felt like she was testing her. She nodded.9 "Yes, I feel much better." She half-lied. Physically she was good but otherwise she was nothing.5 "Are you... sure?" Now Hajiya peered at her closely, Maryam felt like she was going to burst. She nodded again, keeping a neutral face.3 "I think you are not taking care of yourself well enough. You should come here and stay since the kids are already here and you aren't strong enough to work at your house."21 Maryam seriously considered that several times between the span of days that their lives had taken a nosedive. She had wanted an escape so bad but she also needed to deal with this on her own first, she didn't think she could survive under people's keen eyes. Certainly not her mother's or Hajiya Kulthum's. She needed to grieve alone.6 "Mama comes over to the house. I'll be fine Hajiya."1 Hajiya Kulthum sighed, it seemed all her attempts to break Maryam were not working out, she expected her to say something when she asked her. It seemed she didn't know what Mu... her husband did. It would be so cruel of her to tell her such a thing after losing her child. That could destroy her.17 "Alright, then, If you feel any discomfort, or you feel the need to come home for any reason you come right away. I don't want you stressing yourself in this condition. Still, I insist you stay here tonight."3 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam could only nod, if she dared speak she was afraid she couldn't hold on any longer. What she had in mind for Mubarak, wouldn't be possible if she stayed here. No, staying away would be too easy for him, it would mean she had given him an easy way out. Staying away was professing defeat, oh she would die before she gave him the benefit of seeing her crack. As much as she wanted to punish him by denying him her presence, she had to be close to him to hurt him most.36 "Did he tell you anything?" Hajiya Kulthum enquired relentlessly. Maryam was in a fix. She couldn't lie to Hajiya Kulthum any further just like she couldn't give her what she wanted to know.4 So she settled in between. "About?"8 Hajiya Kulthum took a deep breath. "I really think you should stay here until you fully recover."10 Maryam knew there was only one way out and she used it. "I'll be fine Hajiya. I'll talk to him, whatever he says..."4 Maryam didn't miss the anger that flashed through her eyes. "You are not taking the kids with you then, you need complete rest."6 "I understand," Maryam said with a little smile on her face.5 During the night, as she lay on her bed, flanked by her kids Maryam kept seeing Mubarak's incoming calls and messages until her battery drained. She was sure he went home and didn't find her there. Now he was worried she was gone. She didn't care if he thought her dead. He should sleep on that. She was tempted to extend her stay but knew that would not work either.13 So, when she had her breakfast the next morning she left the Bugaje mansion. She didn't even wait for Wafiyya, she took the tube and trekked the rest of the way home.3 Once at their house, Maryam ditched her veil and her jilbaab in the middle of her bedroom. She went straight into the shower stall and drenched herself in the water, inner wears and all. She cried until she was all cried out and her head throbbed with pain. She slid to the floor and rocked herself until her cries had subsided. She didn't care to check if Mubarak was home or if he even existed on the face of the earth. She wanted to get some relief from all the pain.41 Once the water started to turn cold, she dragged herself up and peeled off her clothes. Towelling off, she wrapped herself in a bathrobe and slid beneath the bed covers. She needed some rest.10 *** "Okay, this is it, Umm Muhammad." The words pierced her ears the same time the strobe of light from the west window blinded her eyes. Maryam squinted against the sudden invasion. Her eyes widened as she sat up on her bed. "You can't keep on mopping around in bed like this. I know you are dealing with a lot right now, but it's been days and every day I come here I find you in the same spot. This is unacceptable."8 "I'm not always in here, I pray and I take my showers." Maryam mumbled, she hoped she did take those showers, anyway. What day was it?10 "Yes, but you look like you are about to drift away. Please get out to the living room or the back yard. Just don't do this to yourself."4 Maryam closed her eyes a bit as she listened to Sa'ima's scolding. She felt an affinity of a sister to her. Either that or her jumbled hormones must have prompted the tears. She broke down into sobs.7 "Ya Subhanallah! Did I say something wrong, Maryam?"6 "I don't know what to do Umm Naja'ah, I still care about him, but things are so complicated and I don't want him to have to make a choice."4 Sa'ima's forehead furrowed. "What are you talking about?" Sa'ima sat next to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.8 "Ya Mubarak, I don't want to lose him..." STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Whoa! Whoa! back up a bit, woman. I'm in the dark here."4 Maryam's forehead folded with confusion. "Ya Bilaal didn't tell you?"7 "Tell me what?" Maryam's cries intensified, she tried to stop it but failed. Sa'ima placated her. "It's alright if you don't want to talk about it now." "No, I need to. I want to... it's just so difficult to say."4 "I understand, just... when you're ready, hmm?" "A lady came forward with a sick child, she says Ya Mubarak is the... father."5 "What!" Sa'ima's hands flew to her mouth. She said the istirja' and the shahaada. "It must be a lie certainly. How could you believe what she said? And where is Ya Mubarak? He must refute such a thing, of course." Her voice shook with trepidation.17 "No, it isn't and my world is such a mess that I don't know where we stand any longer. He isn't talking about it and I'm not sure I know a way forward."4 "I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have pushed. This is profound! But how sure are you?"4 Maryam briefed Sa'ima on the whole story of how her world came apart a few days ago.6 "I can't believe this! I truly can't. How did Ya Mubarak respond to such..."4 "Oh, he owned up to it alright, even though he was going in for a test. I feel empty and I think I don't know how to react in such a situation. I don't know where to direct my anger or who to blame for my heartbreak."6 "I'm so... shook right now." Sa'ima dragged a hand down her face as if to clear her disbelief.4 Maryam sniffled and wiped her tears away. "What do you think I should do?"2 Sa'ima scoffed, "I think you should roast him and feed him to the wolves... that is if they take unfaithful roasted men."82 Maryam laughed despite her current situation. "I don't know why I asked you that, knowing how you dealt Ya Bilaal some hot pepper. But really, my brain is completely blocked. This is not my place to forgive or not. And it is not my place to even take offence, really. Granted we were about to be married when he... strayed. But it is something between him and his Lord. I don't know what to do Umm Naja'ah, how to react. God! I want to hate him so much yet I still care about him so much it hurts. Do you think I'm insane?"22 Sa'ima's brows creased into folds, she let out a loud sigh. "No, Umm Muhammad. It's your marriage hence your decision, I don't have any say in it. But whatever you do, I want you to know that I'll support you no matter what. But Leaving now, is not an option."14 Maryam grunted. "I know. But how do I accept this? How do we recover from this?"9 "Look, you are now grieving the loss of your child. And the shock of the news must still be doing a number on you. I'd advise you to let this go for a moment, sit back and think about it with a cool head. Then have a heart to heart with Ya Mubarak, I'm sure you'll come to a decision together. You are a family and I think you should face this as a united front."17 Maryam rolled her eyes. "We weren't united when he decided to have fun chasing anything on a skirt."33 "Well, things changed and now you are. You should consider everything before you take the next step. It is a delicate situation. But most importantly do what you think is right. Do Hajiya and Baba know?"5 Maryam shook her head. "I think Hajiya knows. But I'm not sure. I don't know how they will take this, it will crush them. I asked my father not to say anything about it. I don't know if Ya Mubarak had said something. She called me and wanted me to move back to the mansion. But I'm not about to give him that satisfaction. He has to deal with seeing my face everyday as long as he lives, I can't think of a better punishment than that."9 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Subhanallah! Your Baba knows?"5 Maryam nodded. "And mama too. He asked me to stick to the good image I have of Ya Mubarak and remain patient. If only he knows how difficult it is to do that in such a situation. Sometimes I have to dig really deep before I remember that good image. It's human nature, I know, to forget all the goodness in one once we have been betrayed. But I really want to hold on to the good side of him, that is the only thing that will keep me sane. I am praying over it. The istikhara salah is my companion. But I feel so stiffled..."20 Sa'ima pulled her into a warm hug and held on for a long moment before she let go. "You'll be alright in sha Allah, you are strong."8 Maryam wiped a lone tear and smiled. "I'm not so sure right now."4 Sa'ima smiled briefly at her. "Sleep over it and we shall think of a way to get over this."3 "I hope we do," Maryam whispered. "In sha Allah. Allah is sufficient for us. Now, come on up you need to eat something and replenish your strength."3 Maryam's forehead dipped into a V, "Did Hajiya put you up to this?" Sa'ima smiled brightly now. "Something like that." Maryam returned her smile and accepted the mug of tea she offered her. "Thank you, Umm Naja'ah."6 "Any time, sis."6 *** The doorbell rang and when Maryam opened the door she found her father-in-law standing outside, dressed in a cream Babbar riga and traditional cap. She knew she had been made. He was here to tell her what she already knew and pretended not to know about Mubarak.7 She didn't know why but her in-laws talking about this brought with it a sense of finality, it was official, her husband had a son out of wedlock and it was time they took its responsibilities and face the world.4 They?2 Of course, she was staying so now whatever happened, she shared that responsibility with Mubarak.4 Alhaji Umar Bugaje had to call her name before she snapped out of her thoughts and move out of the way.9 "You're welcome, Baba." She said and held the door open for him to step into the living room. "Bismillah." Alhaji Umar shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I'm not here to stay." Her heart broke at his statement.5 "Please, Baba." "I'll not stay in this house a minute longer." She had never heard so much anger in her father-in-law's voice.4 "Baba, you are here already, please come in and have a seat. People are passing by."3 He took a deep breath and looked at Maryam. And with a rsigned sigh he came inside the house. "Your Hajiya doesn't know I'm here. But I guess you already know what brought me."6 Maryam nodded slowly. She sat on the heel of her feet, her knees to the area rug as far as she could go to the end of the living room without being out of earshot.3 "I know everything that happened is too much to process. I'm rather sorry about what you are going through and I'm deeply disappointed in Mubarak. I want you to know that I'm here to take you home if you want, do not hesitate at all in order to give me or Kulthum face."19 Maryam's eyes shot up, her eyes teary. Yes, she wanted Mubarak to pay for some part of his misdoings, she wanted him to feel the hurt but she was also aware of how strict his parents were. The moment she showed them that she was hurting then she was sure their generosity and kind-heartedness wouldn't let her stay with him for a moment longer. That meant Mubarak was done being her husband. She may hate him for what he put them through. But she still loved him, that was a strange fact she had been struggling to deal with since the occurrence of the storm. She wondered how one could have so many conflicting emotions going on in their hearts.20 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Alhamdulillah, Baba. I'll be alright here."7 "What?!"9 "I know it will take some time, but I hope that one day all the hurt will dissipate."5 "You mean you want to remain married to him after knowing about the boy?"16 Maryam nodded. Thick drops of tears fell from her eyes, she wiped them with the back of her hand. 7 "Then it isn't true that you want to leave him?"23 Maryam's brows furrowed. What would have made him ask that?15 "No, Baba. I want to give this another try. May Allah forgive us all."24 Alhaji Umar let out a sigh. "If you say so, but I want you to know that my house is always open for you whenever you feel the need to come home, your room is always ready. You should take care of yourself. As for Mubarak, I'm taking strong measures over what he has cost this family."21 "Baba..." Alhaji Umar was almost at the door when she tried to speak up and make her case. By Allah she had no idea what case she was about to make, all she knew was that she was tired of being nothing. She was tired of all the numbness. But the fatigue returned and all she wanted was to get some rest.11 *** Maryam woke up with a jolt. It had been eleven days since Sarah's visit. Nothing was right with them as expected.10 Mubarak had come home two days ago, not speaking to her, he had locked himself up in his room and only came out to go to the fajr salah this morning. She had offered him breakfast, but he didn't acknowledge her presence, he changed his clothes and left the house, she hadn't seen him since then.36 She knew she needed to do something. Anything! Because sitting here and thinking of all the would-be's and what-ifs would do nothing to take them out of their misery.10 He wasn't answering his calls either. She knew he was in a dark place, but so was she. And if she knew him as well as she thought she did, he was out there beating himself up over this. He wouldn't take proactive measures towards their situation. She needed to do something to get them out of this mess.13 The kids were still at the mansion with Wafiyya. Her parents had left to Manchester to see Baba's friend there about some business proposal. So with Mubarak gone, the house felt empty and the loneliness was growing on her. She needed to get out of here. But first, she needed to find Sarah.7 She had spent the past two days researching the disease she said her son was ailing from. After she had found enough she was certain she knew the way forward.10 She searched all of Mubarak's directories from his desk in the study and his bedroom but couldn't get Sarah's contact. Mubarak came home well after midnight that day. She heard him open the door, hovered for a moment in the doorway and closed it when he found her in his bedroom. He left the room to her.10 Why was he avoiding her?13 She tossed and turned in bed until finally, she fell asleep. The next day she continued her search. When she couldn't get hold of anything Sarah-related, in the house, she took a calculated risk and called Mubarak's office.5 "Mubarak Bugaje's office, good morning. How may I help you?" "Good morning Mr Gordon, this is Maryam speaking, Mrs Bugaje." There was a brief silence before his voice came up again. "Hello, ma'am. Mr Mubarak is not in his office at the moment, Mrs Bugaje. May I take a message?" STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "No, I'm calling to speak to you if you don't mind."5 "Uh... sure. I'm right here."6 "I need a favour from you if it won't be too much trouble, please."5 *** On Thursday morning, Maryam, finally armed with what she needed, took the biggest step in her life. This would either bear goodness or wreck havoc between her and Mubarak, but she knew it was what she needed to do and it was the right thing to do.3 Maryam drove to Greenwich after she punched in the address she'd gotten from Sarah.2 She didn't think it would be easy to get a hold of her, but Gordon had been really helpful as he 'sourced' Sarah's number for her after she assured him she wouldn't mention him as her source.6 Sarah had warmed up to the idea of having her over so they could talk. They'd been discharged the previous day, which was even better for Maryam, so they would talk in privacy.4 She knew what she was about to do was going overboard and Mubarak may never forgive her for it. But she needed to do it, for him, for Amir, for her kids and her.9 Eventually, she hoped Mubarak would get the wisdom behind her doing this.5 The mustard building on Devonshire Drive was easy to spot. Most of the parking spaces in front of the building were empty, the owners perhaps still at work.7 She scanned the building until she spotted a red bike outside the balcony one floor above her. She took a deep breath and proceeded into the reception. Sarah had been expecting her, she didn't find any difficulty going up.6 She pressed the doorbell and waited. Maryam's stomach coiled and for a minute there she felt like bolting and running for her life. But she had to do this. She only had to erase the fact that her husband had once been intimate with the woman she was about to meet for the second time. That, she too had held his seed in her womb. Ya Rabbi this was awful! She rocked on the balls of her heels and blew out some air. She would do what brought her and get out of here before she regretted coming. Simple.18 Then the door flew open and everything flew out of her with it.3 The tall woman with curly caramel hair and dimpled beauty smiled warily at her. And Maryam hoped that she too was half as nervous as she was. "Maryam, you're welcome. Please come in."6 Maryam nodded and found herself moving into the flat. It was on the wide side. A blush coloured couch was pushed against a white wall, a fleece blanket thrown over it. An entertainment unit took up the opposite wall. The flat smelled of citrus and cinnamon. On the other side of the living room was a small dining table with three rainbow chairs and an open-kitchen farther inside. It was modest and lovely for a single mother. She didn't think Sarah was well off, but the place looked well taken care of and decent enough. She wanted to ask Sarah what she did for a living but refrained from doing that.13 She inhaled sharply and settled on the couch. "Sorry for coming on such short notice." Sarah laughed, and her beauty shone. Maryam was dazzled for a moment, no wonder Mubarak didn't find her appealing at first, he was used to women with glamorous beauty like superstars. She quickly pushed that thought aside, she wasn't here to dig up unnecessary things.18 "I think we can call it even now," Sarah said. And quickly realized what her words sounded like. "Of course, I don't mean..."3 "It's okay." Maryam forced a smile. STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Sarah smoothened her hands down her trousers. "How is... Amir doing?" Maryam asked. "He is better, he is in his room. There haven't been any crises since we came home. Hopefully, he will hold up before the next appointment."6 "How often does he follow up on his doctors' visits?" "You can say we practically live in the hospital and come home for vacations." She smiled but this time Maryam saw the distress in the woman's dark eyes.7 "I'm sorry." "No, don't be. Amir has a rare and incurable disease. His weakened immunity makes him prone to infections. It continually puts his health and life at risk, it has hurt most of his vital organs. He has a weak heart and he lives with one lung. He had just started going out, but he doesn't attend school. I home-school him. on His worse days, he can't have a normal childhood because of the recurring infection.22 He was first hospitalized when he was 3 years old, it took us a year to figure out that he is suffering from XLA.12 Once he twisted his ankle and I thought it was okay, it would go down within a few days and he would heal soon. But after a week, I discovered something else was going on with my baby. Amir couldn't walk." Sarah covered a sob, she looked upwards and huffed out some air and tapped her fingers to the base of her eyes.7 "We were admitted at the hospital, they did all these tests and told me that his hip bones were fractured. And that one hip had started to deteriorate. It took more than a year and almost a hundred doctors' appointments before his chronic arthritis went into remission.8 Just when I thought he would have a normal life again like other kids, he went down a few more times, last month was one of the grueling attacks he had. It's a miracle he got out from the hospital this quick. I was afraid he wouldn't survive more of this. When he kept asking about his father..." Sarah sniffled, her face reddened to an impossible shade of red. "I don't know why I gave him the hope that one day he would meet his father when his father did not know of his existence. I believe this must be a punishment for what I did years ago. But I don't understand... why him? Why didn't I suffer in his stead?" She wiped her tears away but more came down.9 Maryam could only hold Sarah's hand in hers. "Why didn't you come forward earlier?" Sarah looked away and clenched her eyes shut. When it took long and Sarah didn't respond. It all clicked in Maryam's head.3 "Oh..." Sarah had no idea who the father of her son was! "How did you figure it out then?"6 She shrugged. "I don't know... I just hoped, I guess. And some of the things he does... reminded me of..."20 Maryam let go of Sarah's hands and moved back on the couch. She smoothed her damp hands over her hijaab. The woman was still hooked on Mubarak. She didn't even think twice before guessing her son's father, and she went right ahead and broke the news in the presence of his wife. What sort of woman does that?14 The boy that may be Mubarak's son was being raised by a woman who didn't know the number of men that passed through her bed. She wondered what could be worst than this. But could she blame Sarah? Once, her husband was one of those men.7 But Maryam had long learned not to judge people in a situation she had never found herself in. So, what Sarah did was none of her business. But what happened to Amir, if she didn't do something would be on her.23 "But you are from Egypt, right?" "No, my mum's Jordanian and my father is British."7 Maryam nodded, that explained where Amir would get the disease then. Because from her little research on Bruton's disease she knew he couldn't have possibly gotten it from Mubarak's side... she cleared her throat, blocking the thought away. That would mean they had to get Muhammad screened too. But they could never be too careful, since such cases weren't unheard of in Nigeria, maybe someone from their family had it. She shuddered when she considered the possibility of her boy being at risk. But the sad thing was, Amir was already suffering.4 "If he undergoes this... treatment would he get better?"2 Sarah wiped her tears. "He won't get cured, but life would be bearable. He'll be out of pain for a while and if he is lucky for good."5 By the time Sarah was done, Maryam was at the brink of tears. She inhaled sharply. "Don't worry, then. Amir will get better in sha Allah. I'll make sure I do everything in my power to make that happen."7 "Thank you so much. You won't ever know how much I appreciate this." Sarah seized her into a hug and sobbed on her shoulder. Maryam brought her hand up and patted her back awkwardly before she eased herself out of the woman's hold. She would help Amir get better, but she couldn't think past the fact that this woman had once been intimate with her husband and was probably still in love with him. She wasn't here to make BFFs.14 "I'll leave now." She rose to her feet but paused for a beat. This was what Mubarak needed, she had to do it for him. "Please do you mind if I say hello to Amir?" She asked before she changed her mind.6 "No, not at all. Come on, back here." Sarah walked into a long corridor that led back to the rooms and Maryam followed. She really wanted to know what Sarah did for a living to be able to afford such a house.7 Amir's room was the farthest on the left. It was a different room. Everything was made of fibre. It had white, blue and yellow hues blended into the deco. And the accents in the room almost knocked Maryam off her feet.11 They were aeroplane models dangling from the ceiling and painting of soft white clouds against the palest blue walls.1 If Maryam had any doubt, this picture just cleared it.8 Amir was indeed Muhammad's half-brother!71 *** Making progress are we? 😱31 Maryam has an abdomen I must say, this is the whole jollof of guts, liver and intestines.πŸ™ŒπŸΌ80 Chai!πŸ™†πŸ½2 Wait, M.K hasn't told her about the test yet, she deduced it by herself. Oh! Her parents happened and he couldn't tell her. Sannunku ko? πŸ˜ͺ54 Now what next?😰15 Dan Dan Dan feels so much safer now after all the tension we've been through. ☹️πŸ˜°πŸ™ŠπŸ”₯😩26 But we all know there is more. 😰26 Haaan! Wata zata fadawa garinsu. Abi, is it 'wani'?πŸ™Š

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