By Stephanie Greene
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I told Galila the story of Ibrahim the beggar, about how he was miraculously cured of his illness.
“Nisma,” she was startled. “You prayed to someone other than God? Do you mean you actually did that?”
“Well, I don’t think so,” I tried to explain. “Galila, I think it’s true what they say; I think Isa is God…somehow.”
“What?” Galila’s mouth fell open, and I remembered feeling very afraid of how she was going to react. We were alone—fortunately. I would not have told her if anyone else had been home. Her mother had gone out to the market and her father was having coffee with his friends at the club. “But, Nisma, don’t you know what that is? It’s joining partners with God and it’s a very serious sin.”
I told her about my dreams. She stared at me in disbelief. She kept shaking her head and saying, “I can’t believe it.”
“Galila, how do you explain it?”
“I don’t know. An evil spirit, I suppose.”
“But it’s not. Doesn’t it say in the hadith that Satan cannot take the form of a prophet in a dream?”
Galila didn’t know. She said she had to ask her brother. How else, I kept asking her, was Ibrahim healed?
“He must not have really been sick,” she suggested. “All beggars make up those things so people will feel sorry for them and give them money.”
I was still at Galila’s house when Atallah got home. Her parents and her sister still hadn’t returned. The moment he walked through the door she asked him,
“Atallah, we need to ask you a question about the hadith.”
He walked slowly from the receiving room to the living room where Galila and I were sitting on the red velvet sofa and having tea. He poured himself a cup of tea and sat down next to us. His knees made an awful cracking sound when he sat.
“Sure,” he said.
“Is it true,” Galila asked. “That it says in the hadith that Satan cannot take the form of a prophet in a dream?”
“It says that he can’t take the form of Mohamed (peace be upon him), yes,” he nodded.
“What about other prophets?”
“Well, it doesn’t say anything about other prophets, but I would assume if he can’t take the form of Mohamed, he can’t take the form of Musa (peace be upon him), for example. But we have no way of knowing for sure. Why?”
I stared down at the ground and my heart started to race. Would Galila tell him about my dreams? I was afraid. I bit my lip hard and hoped with all my might that she wouldn’t.
“We were just wondering, that’s all,” she said. I was relieved.
“What brought this up?” he prodded.
“Well, Nisma brought it up. She…”
I held my breath.
“Did you have a dream about the prophet (peace be upon him), Nisma?”
He looked at me, but I was not looking at him. I could imagine his narrow black eyes staring into me and I shivered.
“No,” I answered.
“About any prophet?”
“Not…not really,” I said.
“Well, what do you mean, ‘not really’?”
“I can’t help what I dream,” I said defensively.
“What did you dream, Nisma?” Now he was angry.
“Nisma’s been having dreams about Isa Al-Masih (peace be upon him),” Galila cut in.
“What do you mean?” Atallah was looking at me again, but I was still looking at the ground.
“I said I can’t help what I dream,” I said again.
“What did you dream?” He sounded very impatient. “Tell me now.”
I didn’t know why it ought to be any of his business. It was then that the most awful thing happened. Galila told him everything. I forgive Galila, because I don’t think she was thinking. I don’t think she knew how he would react. She told him about my dreams, about how I had prayed to Isa for the beggar to be healed, and about how I said that I thought that Isa was God.
“Nisma, did you say that?” Atallah demanded.
By then I was crying. I nodded my head very quickly and wiped my tears away.
“Nisma! Do you have any idea what you’ve done? You’ve committed the sin of shirk—it is the only sin which God will never forgive!” he yelled at me.
Then he grabbed me by the wrists and shook me very hard. He pushed me off the sofa and slapped my face and then shook me some more. I was crying very hard. I looked over at Galila, and she looked scared. She was crying, and screaming at Atallah to stop, but he didn’t. He shoved me into the coffee table so hard that the glass vase that was on it came teetering down and cracked. He hit me some more, then held me by my shirt and told me to leave immediately and I was never again welcome in their house. I was crying hysterically, and so was Galila. I could hear her scream at him as I left,
“How dare you hit a girl like that! How dare you! How dare you!”
I ran down the street crying. My limbs ached badly. Atallah was very strong and he had hurt me. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore. It was starting to get dark and I was afraid to be alone. I don’t remember thinking much of anything at that time, I was so shocked by what had happened. I remember that I sat down at a bus stop and cried and prayed to Isa that he would forgive Atallah and that he and Galila and their whole family would know that he loved them, especially Galila.
I remember I was equally afraid to go home. My mother knew that I had gone to Galila’s house after Girls’ Club (it was Friday) but how could I explain the bruises on my cheeks? I didn’t want to lie, but I was afraid. I still hadn’t told her or Na’im about my dreams. Perhaps she wouldn’t notices my bruises.
When I got home, there was no one there. I was surprised, but a bit relieved since it would give me more time to think of an explanation for my bruises. The house was very dark. I looked in every room, but there was no sign of anyone. Where could they have gone? For a walk? To the market? But why would they all go? Usually someone always stayed home with Sara. She was too much trouble to take places.
I was worried, and afraid of being alone. I went to the kitchen and got myself a piece of bread—it wasn’t dinnertime yet but I still was hungry. I sat down on the bare floor of the dark room and ate the bread. I chewed slowly and quietly, trying to enjoy every bite the way I had always been taught. The time that passed seemed endless to me. I hated being alone in the darkness, and I was shivering so hard I could see myself shaking. It was not very cold, it was just that I was so on edge and full of fear.
Then, much to my relief, the door opened. My mother stepped inside.
“You’re back!” I said. “Where did you go?”
Her face was cold. She did not speak.
“Mama, where did you go?” I stood up and joined her in the receiving room.
“Nisma,” she said quietly. “Nisma, Sara is dead.”
“What?” My heart started to race. I felt like someone had hit me. “Mama, what are you talking about?”
“Na’im and I took her to the emergency room because she was blue and she wouldn’t eat,” she put down her purse on the table and breathed in heavily. “They said her heart wasn’t working right…they tried to bring up her heart rate…but, it…stopped.”
“Mama, no!” I clapped my hand over my mouth in horror. “No, that’s not possible!”
“Nisma, your sister was lucky to have lived at all, you know that.”
I was too overwhelmed to think. My head was spinning. I just could not fathom that it was true. I felt like someone had ripped out all my insides, because I felt empty there.
Na’im walked through the front door and closed it quietly.
“They’ve taken care of the final paperwork,” he said, and whatever that meant I hated it and I wanted to scream at him.
I ran to my room, crying uncontrollably and I slammed the door behind me and I bawled into my knees and I screamed. I held Sara’s little blanket up to my cheek and I cried into it, then I grabbed one of her little dresses and I clung tight to it until my knuckles were white and I cried into it. I threw my pillow on the naked part of the floor where the boards were ripped up and the dirt showed and I hit it on the ground over and over again. I cried and cried and cried until I needed to throw up, and then I cried some more. I screamed and cried to drown out the sounds of my mother and Na’im talking, even though they weren’t talking very loud and I pounded on the thin walls with my fists until Na’im yelled at me that I would break a hole in the wall, but I didn’t care. I could not stop.
When bedtime came I sat all by myself in my room and I cried myself to sleep. I don’t even know how I slept, but as I was drifting off and my eyes began to feel heavy and I could feel myself falling asleep, I saw a bright light and there was Isa, and he was smiling. He turned around and there was Sara sitting on the ground behind him.
He took hold of her tiny hand and brought her to her feet, and she stood up and she walked.
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