The Inspirational Ant
By Saaleha Bhamjee
Naeema’s face fell. She felt crushed. Her eldest brother Talha, gazed at her intently, his eyes a mixture of pity and concern.
“I’m really very sorry Naeema, but money is a bit tight at the moment. Most of my money is tied up in the farm. If I had the full R80 000-00, I would have gladly let you have it. If I looked around, I might be able to come up with R20 000-00 – Maybe! But I don’t think that I could manage more than that. I’m really sorry.”
Naeema bit hard on her trembling lower lip, trying to stave off the tears that prickled her eyelids. Swallowing hard against the painful lump in her throat, she said, albeit rather unconvincingly, “It’s okay, Talha. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure I’ll manage to get the money together somehow.”
She squirmed uncomfortably under Talha’s intense scrutiny and stood up rather abruptly. Very softly, she added, “I’ve got to go now. I’ll see you sometime during the week. Jazakallah, anyway.”
With trembling hands, she straightened her headscarf and smoothed the lines from her impeccably tailored cloak. She made her way to the heavy mahogany doors and reached for the ornate chrome handle. It was icy cold and as she tightened her grip on it, she could almost feel the icy cold hand of a man with an equally cold heart tightening its grip on her racing heart.
As she stood before the elevator she was overcome by an intense feeling of weariness. Would she ever see the shore? She was tired of swimming against the current. Mahmood, oh Mahmood. Did you have to leave me? I need you. The children need you, she pleaded inwardly.
The tears threatened once more. “Don’t cry. You must not cry. Think of the children. Think of the children,” she repeated.
Suddenly a white speck moving on the emerald green surface of the carpet demanded her attention. She knelt down beside it. An ant struggled with its load of dried crumb.
Involuntarily the tears escaped. It was as though the flood gates had been let open and the salty river let loose. The tears washed over her cheeks, over her soul, washing away the laboriously built walls, washing away the pain. In the three years since her husband’s death, this was a luxury that she had resolutely denied herself.
The “ting” of the elevator, announcing its arrival, startled her. With new-found courage, she stood up. Oblivious to the curious stares, her tear-stained face attracted, she headed for the masjid. When last had she been there? After Mahmood’s death, anything that reminded her of him had been carefully avoided.
As she entered those doors bleached by the harsh sunlight, all those same memories came flooding back. She and Mahmood – blissfully happy newlyweds. This masjid – “their” masjid. Before the arrival of their children, they had both relished salaat performed here.
The old Masjid had undergone a facelift since her last arrival. The ladies section upstairs had been done over completely. Gone were the old chandeliers. In its place were gleaming glass and chrome fixtures. The threadbare carpet had been pensioned off and the floor was now clad in luxurious thick carpets.
She stood once more, as she had done countless times before in “her” corner, on the far right hand side, in the first row and began her salaat. After a lengthy salaat, she began making duaa as she had never done before.
“Oh Allah, until today I had always believed that my life would have been better, had my beloved Mahmood still been with me, but at last I understand why You needed him. You needed him, so that I would need You, so that I would discover the most valuable treasure in the entire universe – my Allah. For the last three years, I’ve felt so lonely, yet I was never alone. You were always there.
"Oh Allah, I’ve been performing salaah for as long as I can remember, yet I was unable to see You. Today, You have shown Yourself to me by means of an ‘insignificant’ little ant. Since it is no huge undertaking for you to sustain an ant on the 20th floor of a skyscraper, so too is it not beyond your power to sustain me. All my life, I’ve read la ilaha illallah – Today I believe it!
"I have no fear, now that you are with me.” And the tears that streamed down her face wet her scarf, eased her heart.
An hour later, Naeema placed the key in the lock of her front door. The telephone beckoned impatiently from within. The unfamiliar voice of a lady named Nusrat greeted her on the other end. The news that Nusrat gave her, turned her legs to jelly. She groped for a chair and gratefully sank into its reassuring depths.
As she replaced the phone on its cradle, she stared at the telephone, wonderstruck. Nusrat wanted to meet her at the bank within 15 minutes. Mahmood’s safety deposit box needed emptying. From a file in her bedroom cupboard she retrieved Mahmood’s death certificate, where she’d placed it 3 years ago alongside her marriage certificate. Grabbing her keys and handbag, she made for the front door.
Nusrat was a tall, impeccably attired woman and a Hijabi to boot. “A Hijaabi in the bank?” she mused. No time to figure that one out now, though. Naeema followed her to the vault. Safety deposit boxes lined the walls from one end to the other. She handed the key to Naeema who, with unsteady hands tried the lock. It gave. In the box was a small black briefcase. Trembling now, Naeema carefully removed it.
“If you want to check the contents here, there are rooms around the corner.” With a cryptic smile Nusrat added, “And I hope it solves your problems.” So saying she left Naeema to her racing thoughts.
Naeema sat down behind the table in the little cubicle. She opened the bag. Money! More than she had ever seen in her entire life. Stunned, she slammed the case shut, and on wobbly legs, made her way out of the vault. She looked for Nusrat, hoping to thank her. Nusrat was nowhere to be found.
The look on Safwaan’s face, when she hands him the money, is priceless. Like a dying fish, his mouth opens and shuts. Words, for the first time in his life, fail him.
As Naeema leaves his office, with the air of a triumphant soldier leaving the battlefield she muses over life’s unpredictability.
She wonders how she could possibly have been so wrong with Safwaan. He had always seemed to have her best interests at heart. In fact, after Mahmood’s death he had been so instrumental in getting her back on her feet.
Naeema had naively seen this as being the result of his love for his bosom buddy. Even his offer two years ago to set up a boutique for her hadn’t perturbed her. But when he had demanded repayment in kind – a kind that she was not prepared to give – she had been blown away.
The chameleon had finally shown its true colors. Naeema would never compromise her chastity. Her flat refusal had left him livid. The subsequent lawyer’s letters and summonses had been his revenge.
One thing puzzled her though. Where did Mahmood get all that money from? The bag contained R130 000-00. “Oh well,” she sighs, “I suppose I’ll never know.”
She heads for the bank, the remaining R50 000-00 in the black briefcase on the seat beside her.
At the counter, she asks to see Nusrat. “No Nusrat here,” the lady informs her.
“Are you sure,” Naeema persists, “she really stands out. She wears a headscarf,” says Naeema indicating to the floral one on her head.
“Sorry dear, but that is not possible. Wearing of headscarves is against bank policy,” the lady gently replies. Her manner irritates Naeema. It’s almost pitying.
Deeply perplexed now, Naeema desperately digs into her handbag. “But look, I have the key to the box she called me to empty two days ago. Look, here it is.” By now, she is feeling rather frantic.
As Naeema opens the compartment, her confusion heightens, for she finds, not a key, but rather a brilliantly white chrysanthemum and a tiny voice in her head reminds her that chrysanthemums were always Mahmood’s favourite flower….
* This story first appeared in The Muslim Woman magazine, a South African print magazine.
About Saaleha Bhamjee
Saaleha Bhamjee is a freelance writer based in South Africa. Her writings have appeared in various print and online publications both locally and abroad. She is an Islamic Writer's Alliance member and can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org