She stood at the door to greet us, her face gaunt and pale, especially in contrast to her black attire. Her normally lovely curls is hidden under a black head scarf wrapped tightly round her head. The smile I normally see on her face was not there. I was just so shocked to see the transformation in her.
The last time I came to the house, she was the gracious host who fed us cous-cous and an array of Moroccan food. Today, she is a widow, still grieving for her husband who departed suddenly. I gave her a peck on each cheek, asked her how she was and she answered calmly with Alhamdullilah. But the lustre in her eyes was missing.
The house was as pale as the owner. The last time I came, there were colourful paintings on the walls, beautiful artefacts and exquisite carpets. But its all gone now. All packed away. Even the house was in mourning, a reminder of the loss that the family has just experienced.
Another lady was already there. We exchanged pleasantries and sat down. They were mainly speaking in Arabic, my friend H, Fatma the bereaved widow and A, her friend. They apologized to me for mainly speaking in Arabic and occasionally provided me with a condensed translation of the topic they were discussing. I didn’t mind it so much. Gave me more time to observe them, observe her.
I was still in shock. I saw her before she left for her summer vacation. She looked young and happy. And now aged and bereaved. She has lost a lot of weight. With no make up, she was still very pretty, her skin fair, but I see the wrinkles forming.
Death can really age you. Makes the young grow up quickly, and the adult, age in no time. She has an eight year old son. I asked her is the son was away in school and she replied yes with a small smile. It was obvious that he was her only consolation at the moment. Her only joy.
She offered us Morroccan tea and some sweets. We allowed her to pour us some tea. And she offered us sweets. Sometimes the conversation goes on full swing, sometimes there is just silence. And sometimes there is a rapid exchange between H and A, while Fatma keeps quiet with her eyes down. I have a feeling she was really not there with us. Lost in her thought.
A few times, the telephone rang. Friends and acquaintances calling her, asking her if she was doing allright. And her standard answer was, “Alhamdullilah.” Perhaps saying, I am as good as I can be. I am still here. Praise to Allah.
H and A talked a little about death of spouses. Normally, if a husband loses a wife, he would get himself a replacement in no time. But if it was a woman who lost her husband, somehow it takes much longer for her to heal, or if she ever finds a replacement. With a limited vocabulary in Arabic, I couldn’t and didn’t interject. I just listened and observed. Frankly, I didn’t know what exactly to do or to say.
And then her late husband’s boss showed up. She excused herself and opened the door. We exchanged pleasantries. She excused herself and ushered him into a smaller reception room to discusss some logistics with him.
She wants to say here for another year, at least to give her son some time to adjust to the change and the loss. If she withdraws him from his friends and his school here, and bring him to a different country, the might just crumble under all the changes. He needs some form of stability.
In her absence, A brought us up to speed with Fatma’s current plight. It would have been impolite to talk about it in front of Fatma. Apparently her late husband has grown children from a previous marriage and her husband’s estate in now put under a trustee’s care. The trustee was her brother in law, whom she was not very well acquainted with. Her bother in law wanted her to return to Egypt with them, but she declined. She wants to stay here for a year before returning to Sweden where the rest of her family lives. She was afraid that her son will be taken away from her if she brings her son to Egypt.
In the meantime, she could not get access to his bank account, it has been blocked. So how will she live now? She can’t really get gainful employment.
Dear Fatmah, may Allah give you strength and guide you for the days ahead. May He makes things easy for your and for your son. May He give you good health and peace of mind. May you find happiness again soon.