TITLE: Nisma, part 2
By Stephanie Greene
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I learned from a lady who I worked with at the factory that she knew someone who directed a girls’ club on Fridays.
“It’s for girls who can’t go to school because they have to work,” she had said. “They teach you how to read and they sing songs and do art projects and teach you how to play musical instruments and discuss Arabic literature.”
My heart started to beat faster with excitement the moment I heard about Girls’ Club. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. I told my mother about it that night, and asked her if I could go.
“What do you know about this ‘girls’ club’?”
“It’s at the Children’s Center,” I told her. “I really want to go,” I said.
My mother agreed to let me go on Friday, but she told me I had to walk because she didn’t want me to waste money on the bus fare.
I walked for almost half an hour to get to the center. My feet were bare, and they ached by the time I got there. It was mid-morning, and the thought crossed my mind that there might be food at Girls’ Club. The center was a new, modern building. It reminded me of Galila’s apartment. When I walked inside the glass doors, it smelled new. The tile floor was cool under my feet and clean. There were bright-colored pictures on the walls, of lions and zebras and little girls and flowers and sunshine. I wondered if the club members had painted them. I longed to touch real paints and clean paper, to make something beautiful with my own hands.
I saw a woman with her hair up and I asked her if this was the Girls’ Club.
“Yes, it is. Would you like to join us today?”
I nodded eagerly.
“My name is Rosana. I’m the director.”
“I’m Nisma,” I said.
She turned around and I could see several girls sitting on the sofas inside the big
spacious room. They looked relaxed and happy.
“Nisma, these are the other girls. Rasha, Nura, Wila, Ginan, Farrah, and Maryam. Girls, meet Nisma. She’s new.”
I looked at them. “It’s nice to meet you,” I muttered quietly. I stared shyly down at my feet.
“Nisma, would you like some tea and fruit?”
I nodded, my mouth watering. I sat down with the other girls and Wila introduced
herself to me. She was a black girl, and she wore the hijab.
“Do you work somewhere?” she asked me.
“Yes, at the factory. Do you?”
“No, I watch my younger siblings while my mother works.”
Rosana served me sliced mangos and plums on a china plate and gave me a cup of mint tea. I said “thank you” and went back to talk to Wila. I told her about my job and my little sister.
After we finished chatting and eating our mid-morning snack, Rosana told us we would have our reading lesson. The other girls were ahead of me, so she had me practice drawing and memorizing the letters. The other girls were reading a little blue book made out of paper, and they took turns reading out loud a story about a dog. The time seemed to pass very quickly. After we were done with reading lessons, Wila told me she would show me the garden. She led me outside and we sat on the wooden bench next to the white roses.
“Have you ever been to school?” she asked me.
I shook my head.
“Me, either. But at least coming here I can learn how to read.”
“Yes, I’m excited about it,” I said, or something silly like that. I played with the dirt with my toes. I wished that I had new sandals to wear. “Rosana is kind.”
“Yes, we like her.”
When we went back inside, Rosana sat down at the piano and played a song for us. It was a beautiful song, and I memorized the words very quickly because it was short:
Praise the Lord all you nations
Extol him, all you peoples
For great is his love for us
And his mercy endures forever.
I asked Wila where the song had come from and she said she thought Rosana had written it. Rosana wrote lots of songs, she said. I learned later that Rosana believed in Isa Al-Masih like I did. I asked her once what people did at church, and she said that they sang songs to Isa like the ones she taught us. Somehow, after having my dreams, it did not strike me as odd that they would sing songs to him as they would to God. It did not seem inappropriate in the least. I would have thought so, but after meeting him—or at least I felt like I had met him and that I knew him very well—it seemed like the only appropriate thing to do. I told Rosana about my dreams, and she nodded and said,
“Many people like you have dreams about Isa Al-Masih.”
I was surprised. I had thought my dreams were very odd, but Rosana didn’t seem to think so at all.
“Sometimes it is the only way Isa can reveal himself to people,” she went on.“When they don’t know him.”
I nodded. “So you think I really saw him in my dreams?”
“You did,” she seemed very sure. “In the hadith it says that Satan cannot take the
form of a prophet in a dream; it cannot be a deception from Satan according to Islam.”
“I’m afraid to tell anyone,” I admitted. “They will think I’m crazy. My mother and my stepfather don’t care much about religion, but I still don’t think they would like it if I said I wanted to become a Christian and start going to church.”
Rosana reminded me that I couldn’t officially change my religion even if my parents let me, since it was against the law. The government didn’t care if I went to church and followed Isa in my heart, but they wouldn’t let me put on my paperwork that I had changed my religion. I wanted to tell Galila about Isa Al-Masih, and how he loved us, but I was afraid. Perhaps I was a just a coward. I told Rosana about Galila, and how her brother was such a devout Muslim he would no doubt strangle her if she dared to question Islam. Rosana told me that she would pray for me, that I would be wise in what I said and that God would protect me.
But I left that conversation very sad. I loved Isa so much, and I talked to him as though he were my best friend, or the father who I imagined having. I was not afraid to tell him anything. He knew everything. I talked to him silently as I was working in the factory, and at night on my bed. Sometimes I would just cry and I knew he was watching me cry and I felt as though he were comforting me. I wanted to tell Galila about him, but how?
I liked going to Girls’ Club very much. It lasted until around the lunch hour, when we went home to eat. As I was walking back home (and it was a very long walk through an ugly part of the city) I heard someone crying, “Irhamni” from the alley. For a moment, I froze. I was afraid of street crimes, but the crying got louder and I simply couldn’t ignore it. I swallowed hard and turned around and looked down the alley. I saw someone lying on the ground, an old one-legged beggar.
“What happened?” I walked up to him and asked.
The old man turned his eyes towards me and said gratefully, “Oh, little girl, I’m so glad you came. Several young hooligans came and beat me and took my crutch and stole all the money I’ve collected over the last week. I have been here for over an hour, but no one has come to me. Now, please, call for help!”
I nodded. The old man looked very weak and his face was bruised and his eye was black and blood was seeping through his galabiya. He had no teeth and looked filthy and vile in his dirty torn clothes and ratty skull cap. I didn’t really know what to do, so I ran to the pastry shop next door and told them,
“Help! An old man was beaten in the alleyway and someone needs to call an ambulance!”
The store owner looked up from his clipboard and looked at me. “Yes, I know.”
“What do you mean you know? Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”
“Little girl,” (and when he called me “little girl” it was in a much different way
than the beggar had called me “little girl”.) “That scoundrel is a cheat by the name of Ibrahim. Not only is he a rascal who steals from my customers and my store every single day, he is very sick and won’t live another month anyway. Now why should we trouble anyone over him? I suggest you run far away or he’ll steal the food right out of your mouth and the clothes right off your back. Just let the old man die peacefully.”
I stepped out of the shop and thought about what to do. I had to get help for the old man, because I had promised him I would. Even if he was a thief, was that any reason to let him die a disgraceful death in the street?
I saw a rich man talking on a mobile phone and I asked him if he would call an ambulance for me, but he ignored me probably because he thought I was begging for money. I was afraid. I did not want Ibrahim to die because I had never seen anyone die before nor had I seen anyone dead before. I could run away, but I would never forgive myself if I did. So I ran back to the alley. He was breathing very heavily and I told him that I was having trouble getting help, but I would keep trying and not give up.
“Little girl,” he reached for my hand. “Perhaps you should just let me be. I will die before anyone comes.”
I shook my head. “No you won’t. We will pray for you.”
“Irhamni ya allah!” he called out violently.
“Listen,” I said. “I have met Isa Al-Masih in my dreams, and he is more than just
what you think. He is so special and different from what prophets are like; he is more than a prophet. I think he is God. He heals people. Perhaps if I ask him, he will heal you and keep you alive until help comes.”
“Do whatever you like,” Ibrahim permitted me. “But may God not condemn me for what you do.”
So I fell down on my knees with my forehead to the ground, the way people always prayed (though I didn’t usually; I prayed to Isa as though he were sitting right next to me) and I said,
“Isa, I beg you to have mercy on Mr. Ibrahim and spare his life! Please let help come soon!”
Ibrahim looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “Who taught you to pray to prophets?”
“No one,” I shook my head. “Like I said, I learned it from my dreams. Isa came and he revealed himself to me.”
Ibrahim seemed very impressed. His heavy breathing had stopped long enough for him to speak to me without trouble. I jumped to my feet and told him I would run and try again to find help.
I finally got a man at another shop to call an ambulance, then I ran back to Ibrahim and told him.
“Oh, subhan allah!” he exclaimed.
He seemed relaxed, and I asked him how he was feeling. He said he was feeling better. He was not breathing heavily anymore. He said that for the last five years he had been afflicted with a kidney disease that had gotten worse and worse until he was sure he would die. He had no way of getting medical help and he had no wife or children because his wife had left him when he lost his leg and could no longer work.
The ambulance came and they took Ibrahim to the hospital. I went with them and after they attended to the injuries to his face and his head and his cracked ribs, they said that he would be fine.
“What about his kidney disease?” I asked.
“What kidney disease?” the nurse looked at me, puzzled. “We checked all his vitals. There is no sign of any kidney problem at all.”
I went back home and my mother scolded me for being late. I tired to tell her about Ibrahim the old beggar, but she didn’t believe me and thought I was making things up.
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