(Read part 1 here)
“Oh, yeay! You’re home… and early! How’s your day been, hon?” Mum looks up from the magazine she’s reading, beaming, as I come through the kitchen door.
It is midday. I spent my whole morning wandering around the beach aimlessly, trying to fill the time…and figure out ways on how to break the news to my family. When I finally ran out of things to do, and couldn’t come down to any solid conclusion as to how to tell them, I’ve decided “oh, what the hell” and just went home.
I don’t answer her straight away. How do you tell your mother that you just quit the only job that is supplying food to the house?
You see, mom, dad and I – we’re not rich. Among the social classes that exists I this world, we probably don’t even make it halfway to the middle class – if we are not already downright poor. Mom’s a clerk at a nearby publishing company. It will be fine if the company is a well-known publisher, or at least have regular projects in any given year, but they themselves are already struggling to stand on its two feet.
And dad, well, dad works at a long-friend’s workshop – an old workshop (probably as old as my dad or even older) and smelling of oil, tar and rusty cars.
Mom’s job helps to pay the rent, dad’s just enough to pay the mounting bills and me, I help to get us food supply just enough to not starve us for the month.
Mom takes one look at me and says, “Aww, c’mon, it’s not that bad.”
“Mum, remember Kathy?” I begin, sincerely not knowing where am I going with the conversation.
“Oh, Kathy, yes! She’s the one who always gets the trashes by your boss, right?” She tsk, tsked. See, even my mum knows Kathy, and the horrible treatment that she gets from my boss.
“Oh no, she didn’t get sacked by that monster boss of yours, did she?” My mom suddenly becomes alert.
No, I become a busy-body snooping in somebody else’s business and in return got myself sacked, I answer silently in my heart.
“Mum, Kath came late again today…and I don’t know what got into Nance, but she’s swearing at her like she’s not even a, a human! And, and Nance threatened to fire her. It was so stupid so I said give her a break, but she wouldn’t listen, and she threatened to fire me instead. Everything just seemed so stupid, and…and…” I am blabbering a mile a minute. And I can see my mom’s face starts to change.
“Mum, I… I quit.” I slump down the kitchen’s chair. Feeling lost, scared and confused again.
There is a silence with my mom’s face looking like it has been smacked right to the wall.
She looks like she wanted to say something, when she doesn’t I dash out of the kitchen and run to my room, thinking I must’ve made one of the worst mistake in my whole life.
* * *
I hear the door creaks and instantly know who it is. I’ve been staying in my room since late noon that day.
“Hey, you sleepin’ yet?” It is almost midnight. I hear my dad’s voice when he came home late from work just now. There were few conversation being exchanged in a hush voice – probably my mom spilling the news to my dad, and then there were silence.
And moments later, there’s my mom standing by the door at my room.
I mumble beneath my cover. I wish she hasn’t come in. I know another minute spend talking to her, and I’ll realize how stupid everything was and I’ll change my mind and I’ll go crawling back to the café, begging Nance to give me my old job back.
“Remember that story of Asiah? The one your Gramma always told you?” she says as she settles down next to me, the old bed squeaks under her weight. I scuttle to the side to give room for her to stretch out her legs and get comfy.
“Yeah…” I slowly rise from my cover, leaning against the bed-wall. At the mention of Grandma, I feel a lump in my throat and suddenly, I miss her so much.
“I miss Granmma…” I say, trying not to cry.
My mom wraps me in her arm, her chin rests just right above my head. “I know, I miss her too…” And she gives me a peck on the cheek.
If Grandma’s here, she’ll know exactly what to say right now. Oh, how I’d want to crawl to her lap and cry right now. She’s like this pillar of strength whom all of us always cling on to when everything else seemed to be falling apart.
I look at my mother, and I can read the silent message her face is saying: grandma’s gone now, best to manage on our own.
“Anyways!” she starts, trying to sound cheerful. “So, Asiah… She believed in the message that Moses brought, all the while hiding her true faith from her husband. And when he found out, he was enraged, and threatened to kill her if she didn’t …”
I nod. My late grandmother had told me that story a thousand times and it became almost like a lullaby to me, something I couldn’t sleep without – always singing me off to sleep with the imagery of a strong brave woman before a sneering evil king.
“You forget – while she stood up the Pharaoh all her life, when she was offered the chance to go back to the world of luxury or the freedom of standing for what she believes in – she had chosen freedom. It doesn’t matter that she’s not back to her world of glittering gold and comfort – in comparison to that, she’d rather live poor but a free bird than live rich but under the shackle of tyranny…” She smiles. “And I’m gladyou chose freedom.”
I am stunned. What happen to “Just be patient, Siah; we need the money more than we need the trashing by that boss of yours,” that she always says like a prayer every time I came home complaining about how horrible work was?
“So… you mean, it’s okay that I quit? And that, it’s okay I’m not gonna go back there again?”
“Siah, I’m glad that you hold on to the job as long as you did – even when it’s killing you softly, ever so slowly. Now, don’t say I don’t know it, ‘cause I very much do realize it, young lady. It’s a horrible, stinking job, but you held on steadfastly – ‘cause you wanna help this household too. And I’m so thankful for that. I do.”
She pauses and takes a deep breath.
“But when this happened… poor, ‘ol Kathy. It’s one thing to stand up for something to serve your own needs, and it’s an entirely different thing when you stood up for something that you feel is right, even when it is against your best interest. I’m glad you stood up for her, when no one else did.”
She suddenly stops, pulls the bedside’s drawer and produces an old, dusty Qur’an I rarely touched except for few special occasions (Ramadhan and stuff).
She flips through a couple of pages, stops and reads out loud:
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So, follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you avoid justice; and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.”
“Chapter four, verse 135,” she whispers as she closes the Book slowly. And I catch her wiping her eyes as she puts the Book back into the drawer.
“Your Gramma always read that verse to me whenever she caught me not doing my job honestly when I was a kid… “
And suddenly I feel bad for mentioning how much I missed Grandma – she must’ve missed her so much more than I did. I mean, I only know Grandma for half of Mom’s life, while she has known her for her entire 40-years-plus of her life.
“I’m glad you stood up for what’s right. That is Asiah – and you’re my Asiah.”
I sniff. Tears start to dwell in my eyes. But I shake them away, for fear of letting my mom catching me crying in front of her.
After she left, when it is well past midnight, way through the darkness of the night when the sounds of the zooming cars ceases to a silence, and the incessant sound of the crickets dozes me off to sleep, I swear, I’ve never felt so proud of my name like I did that night.
* * *
And the next day, when I open the door and see Kath, standing at the porch, her eyes glistening with a thousand unspoken words, I know instantly – it may have been a stupid move, but it is the right choice…the right path, maybe not for her; but it is for me. And of all things, I suddenly feel grateful to Kathy. If it wasn’t for the stupid fight, if it wasn’t through her, I wouldn’t have found myself – I wouldn’t have learnt of my own strength.
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(Note: Story can also be found here under the pseudonym hazydreamer. Many jazakkumullahu khairan to abookunwritten for giving me the chance to post this story on their blog first and for allowing me repost much later onto my own)