Less than two weeks ago, we drove up to Sacramento to visit our relatives when we heard the news of our bhabi's sister’s death.
Towards the afternoon, I took the opportunity to escape the endless crying and sad, drawn faces by ushering my niece, three-year-old Zaynam, and her one-year-old sister – my cousin and bhabi's daughters – out the back door. We sat cross-legged on the lawn as Zaynam drew small gifts out of the goody bag we had brought her, while her sister sat silently in her usual huge-eyed, doll-like stillness. The common consensus in our family regarding Zaynam is that "she’s cute and she knows it," but we can’t seem to resist granting her endless attention regardless. So I spent a lot of time exclaiming over the contents of the goody bag: a dinosaur, matchbox car, plastic palm tree, sparkly noisemaker, a bubble bottle, and various other odd and ends. I’m a big kid, too, you know.
Zaynam must have noticed my special affinity for the bubble bottle, because she thrust it at me with an order to twist the cap off for her. While I removed the cap and then fumbled with the aluminum covering, she cocked her head to the side and exclaimed, "Oh!"
I looked over questioningly. "Someone must have gotten hurt," she explained. I squinted and turned my head, thinking she had perhaps heard a police car or ambulance siren nearby. It took me an extra second to realize that she was actually commenting on the loud weeping that had resumed from inside the house as soon as new guests walked in to pay their condolences to the family.
"My ummy cries a lot. Someone must have died," she continued matter-of-factly, her eyes on the bubble bottle in my hands, and while I sat there in shock at the casual ease at which she made her comments, she added, "Give it to me!" and snatched the bottle out of my hands. We spent the rest of the afternoon blowing bubbles at each other, pushing the matchbox car along the concrete patio, and trying to learn how to play croquet. I stayed outdoors as much as I could that day.
But then just when we thought we could breathe freely, wipe the tears, remove the sadness from the back of our minds and guiltily try to move on with our lives, it hit again. Death is sly like that, you know. Only a week later, we were back in Sacramento, shocked beyond words, descending on the same household of relatives. It took massive effort for me to look my bhabi – Zaynam’s mother – in the face, to see the blank despair in her eyes. What could I say – "I’m sorry...again"? Instead, we asked each other helplessly, "How does she handle it?"
"Dado!" Zaynam shouted to my mother. My mother turned her head with a small smile, and Zaynam, clever child that she is, waited until everyone was silent and she had gotten the attention of the entire room to announce: "My nano died."
Sometimes one can’t help but be amazed at the extent of childish innocence and understanding. And sometimes the human spirit is so resilient and able to withstand any number of blows, that one can’t but help being awed beyond words.
[I’ve had the pieces of this post composed in my head for days. It took my breath away then, last night, to come across a short story passage that epitomized something of what I was trying to say:
Her skeletal body was exhausted by its slow descent through limitless suffering, and her eyes stared up from the pit. But her spirit came up through her eyes in full force. Her spirit was soft and it was powerful, and it could hold her suffering, and it would stay with her until she fell into darkness.May we be blessed with all the strength, courage, and patience we could ever need, insha’Allah. Ameen.
- A Bestial Noise, Mary Gaitskill]