Maria Limehouse shares an excerpt from a YA novel she is currently drafting
“Sister, if you want to break into the market, you should do reclaimed stuff. I’m only buying this ’cause it’s for charity.” Her bracelets chink together as she rummages around in her pink sequinned bag. I check my display of handmade jewellery. Except for the necklace clasps, everything I’ve used is reclaimed – the metal, the jewels, the beads. But she didn’t ask me and I can’t advertise this fact because people will question my source.
She finds her purse: a tired pink leather that clashes with her hemp bag. “So, how much goes to charity, anyway?” she asks, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head down to me over her money.
“All of it.” I answer, trying not to look at the protruding bank notes.
“Half to this one, and half to another,” I answer. She slightly closes her purse.
“Not some terrorist organisation!” She laughs at her own awful joke. I put on a smile, lips twitching at the edges with the nervous demands I’ve embodied from train travellers wanting to know the contents of my bag.
“To a sister in need,” I reply, “in the community.” I look around the hall at the clusters of sisters standing above the other stallholders. Lots of black abayas topped with gaudy, glittery scarves that can incite a migraine like over-pungent cheese. Gosh, where’s my kindness? I am a part of this interwoven spiral of souls, clothed by a diversity of interpretations, modesty and tastes – a mere flavour of our personal spectrums of earnestness and privileges. That’s a bit better.
The pink sister pays me and moves to the next stall that sells children’s books. “My toddler group would love these,” I hear her remark. I hate my own thinking, stare at the floor and defocus the marble effect into heavy clouds that could maybe rain me kind. Astaghfirallah.
Tasneem knows I’ve already done ‘Isha’ so I can’t ask for a prayer break to go and make more repentance. I shunt some pairs of earrings along the black velvet display cloth to fill the gap. Should I get more earrings out of my rucksack? No. Don’t get stressed again about what to display. None of my jewels match the hijab colours in here.
I concentrate on the entrance where the head scarves are most congested and try to change my focus to blend the different colours into something earthy.
“Er-salaam alaykum,” someone blurts, a little high pitched, and I sweep my display as I turn to look. “Er,” she says again. Her scarf matches the purple beads in the unfinished necklace on my desk at home. Like me, she’s wearing a baggy patterned dress and long cardigan. Her dark brown eyes looked grounded.
“Wa alaykum salaam,” I say quickly. “Can I help you?” Then I distract myself with the earrings.
“Are you Asma Deen?” she asks. I look straight back up.
“What can I do for you?”
“Oh, umm. I’m in your college. I …” She stops talking but holds her gaze. Unusual. People mostly avert their eyes when they falter over their words of condolence. Embarrassed of my mechanical sales-assistant question, I resist saying it for her: Innaa lillahi wa innaa ilayhi raji’oon. I gratefully accept her soft, moist, dark brown recognition of sorrow and connection. I can’t help but smile into her glow. Be my neighbour in Jannah, I want to scream. She smiles back.
Tasneem pulls my sleeve. “My brother just texted me.” Standing up, with her phone in hand, she flashes me a playful grin. “See if you can sell one of my bags while I’m gone.”
“Yeah, right, they never sell,” I reply.
“Never say never!” she calls behind her, and chuckles. “Ma salaama.”
“Ma salaam.” Her black scarf is easy to watch in the crowd but I feel the girl waiting. Infused with a little playfulness, I turn. “So, what’s your name?”
“Oh, umm –” she starts. But a sister who I have seen around college stops her with a smack on her shoulders with her hands.
“Come on,” she cajoles. “Talk’s starting.” She flings herself over her friend’s purple scarf, laughs and turns her away.
The purple sister’s glow remains in my mind’s eye as she joins the tide of sisters exiting.
I’m alone at the stall table in a hall with only a handful of seated stallholders. A hanger crashes to the floor on the other side of a rail of black abayas. I flinch.
I replay the purple sister leaving and realise she flinched too – when her friend arrived suddenly. Is she scared like me? I imagine skipping across the hall after her to get her number while I sit motionless in my seat.
Ibn ‘Abbas reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) was the most generous of people in charity, but he was generous to the utmost in the month of Ramadan. Gabriel (peace be upon him) would meet him every year during the month of Ramadan until it ended, and Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) recited to him the Qur’an; and when Gabriel met him Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) was most generous in giving charity like the blowing wind.
(Sahih Muslim, Book 30, Hadith 5718)