An excerpt



Toronto 2013

Mariam Ali found herself staring into the very eyes of hatred. They were a chilling and vibrant blue. A colour so crisp and cool, it reminded her of the fresh breeze that kissed her cheeks when she opened her window in the early hours of dawn. She marvelled at how a shade so cold, could burn like fire, almost as if it were searing her very skin. There she stood in the middle of an alleyway, held down against a metal fence by a man twice her size, wearing a ski mask. Yet here she was analyzing the colour of his eyes. It was absurd, almost comical really.

The grip he had on her throat tightened, and for a moment she thought perhaps he wanted to squeeze the life out of her, but all too quickly his hand relaxed and instead he lowered it to the lining of her headscarf. He toyed with it for a bit and then began tracing it till he reached the pin that was holding it all together.

She stiffened suddenly, and he smiled wolfishly at her reaction. It was a grin that lacked warmth, a baring of teeth to show that he was pleased in making her squirm. To her horror, she felt a burning sensation in her eyes and her vision grew blurry. “Don’t you dare cry,” she chided herself.

Leaning closer towards her ear, he whispered harshly. “Are you scared? ”

Mariam’s mind whirled, as she remembered the last time she was asked that question. It was from her Islamic teacher of seventeen years, Muftiyah Fatima Hassan. At the time, she could hardly answer her question through the blubbering of her tears, so her teacher took the liberty in answering for her.

“You cannot scare the one who fears Allah,” she said gently. “For when you shove a gun in their face, or hold a knife against their throat, they don’t see death. They see Paradise that will relieve them of their temporary Hell.”

At the time, her words held no meaning for Mariam, and the confusion she felt seemed to only make her cry harder. Even now, as she stood in the very situation that Muftiyah Hassan had described, Mariam realized she was scared. Her heart pounded thunderously against her chest as if it was knocking on the door of death itself. Her breathing grew shallow and rapid as her skin broke out into a sweat, that somehow made her feel hot and cold at the same time. The howling and screaming of her thoughts banged against the walls of her skull and yet she could produce no sound.

Scratch that. Mariam wasn’t scared. She was petrified. Terrified. Gripped by the icy realization that one brief instant could change her entire existence, granting her a one-way ticket to the land of the unknown. The land of the dead.

To where, she would meet her Maker.

“Allah,” she thought sadly. “Is it bad that I am scared? ”

For a moment she could only pity herself until suddenly it dawned on her.

“I am returning to my Maker,” she thought once more.

An abrupt wave of emotion washed over her, the strength of it making her gasp in shock. The tears that had clung to the surface of her eyes, no longer resisted and they streamed fiercely against her cold cheeks.

She was returning to her unseen friend, Allah. Her Al-Waddud—loving friend. Her Ar-Rahman—merciful friend. Her Al-Waliy—protecting friend. The only one who had stuck with her since the time of her birth. Mariam was surprised that this time, it wasn’t fear that she felt, but relief.

She could feel her lips stretch into an almost stupid like grin and suddenly she laughed.

“I must be crazy,” Mariam thought as she snickered. Who would laugh in a moment like this? The shock of impending death must induce insanity.

Although she couldn’t see his entire face, Mariam noticed the gaping of his mouth, in what only could be dumbfounded shock. It seemed to only make her laugh even more.

He still had a good grip on her and his hand returned to her throat as he slammed her into the fence. She winced as the jaggedly sharp fence, poked and prodded her back.

“Why are you laughing? HUH? ” her attacker shrieked. The blue fire in his eyes danced as they narrowed in anger, his lips pulling back into a snarl. “What the hell is so funny? ”

Mariam could hardly answer. She could still feel it, the magnitude of happiness. The sheer consciousness, and awareness of Allah’s presence. He was there and He would take care of her. Just like He always had. A feeling of love seized her heart so strongly, terrifying her, so much so that she trembled.

“You cannot scare the one who fears, Allah.”

For the first time in a long time, the void in Mariam’s heart ebbed away. The space was too full; crowded with emotions that she couldn’t even describe as the thunderous pounding of her heart slowed. Her tears disappeared as swiftly as they had come. She felt light, drunk on a sensation of freedom.

Her once slack spine suddenly straightened as she cleared her throat. Looking right into the eyes that had mesmerized her only moments ago, Mariam responded to her attacker’s initial question.

“Scared? Of you? Not in the slightest.” Her voice ringing clear and loud into the night air.

She was astonished at the vitality that came after feeling so fragile. It was a confidence that she never had felt the likes of before. There was no room for fear in her heart for man, when she was filled with love for her Lord.

“You cannot scare the one who fears, Allah.”

She felt it. Felt Him. Felt His Might and Strength, as her entire soul reached for it, clinging onto it desperately.

For the first time, since he had grabbed her, her assailant grew angry.

“You liar!” he snarled as he gripped her throat, slamming her once again into the metal fence. Her answer wasn’t what he expected. He wanted her to cower. To go on her knees and beg for life.

Instead, Mariam fixed him with a cool gaze of defiance.

He blinked for a few seconds, before removing one of his hands to reach for something in the giant pocket of his coat. Even in the dimly lit alleyway, Mariam recognized the distinct shape of a handgun. It was the first time she had ever saw one up close.

Pressing the cold muzzle against her abdomen, her attacker asked, “What about now? ”