Fiction by | October 9, 2016

My neighbors are throwing sharp words at each other, piercing the wall that separates us. Very Manila, I tell myself. Sleep is becoming elusive the past days. The least I need are loud people crudely airing their dirty laundry at 1:30 in the morning while I prepare to do my Tahajjud. At this time at home in the province, everyone is halfway finished with individual supplications–no commotions in the neighborhood at all. After the prayer they would go eat the food that is already served in abundance. I glance at the table my househelp made.

Ya Allah, please bestow upon my parents a longer, healthier life. Please grant us a harmonious relationship within our family and relatives. Ameen ya Rabbul alameen.

Rahma–the 10th day of Ramadan. I can hear the soft sobbing of my sister in my memory. At this hour, believers endeavor to perform extra rak’ats, prostrating on the floor. Some like my grandparents intently raise their arms in rhythm with their invocations while seated; gout imposes on them to do so. Young and old keep awake asking for Mercy. By now our house reverberates with hushed pleas from my brothers asking for their qadr in marriage or that our parents approve their choice for a wife. Then there is my Kaka, my older sister, who whimpers in pain, urging the Almighty to give her a child–the same appeal as in the past five years of her marriage. I solemnly ask for enlightenment for each day.

Antonaa i puasang ka, what do you have, atakolay?

I have squash, chicken, some leftover keema from iftar, a quarter of a cake slice, and an apple. But Mommy I do not have an appetite. I think I’ll just finish the keema and eat my apple. Are there too much spices on Baba’s food again? Or some chillies soaked in water and salt for your condiments?

My mother and I go over the same conversation about food and chillies. I look at the clock and stand up from the table, gulp on water, and say Alhamdulillah for the riski.

I am at work after three hours. The wall at my desk has a print of Allah in cursive Arabic–a reminder of my obligations. The past six years have not deterred me from my spiritual beliefs although friends and colleagues think otherwise. I just shrug off their laughter whenever they ask why I don’t wear my tarha. Why would I explain myself to anyone when it is Allah who can better judge me?

The clock strikes six in the evening. I sniff in reflex; the smell of old bond papers and folders filled my already growling stomach. My officemate Joyce offers me bottled water and I silently wish him blessings. Ramadan teaches that whoever feeds a person in fast will be blessed.

Hello, anak?

Yes, Mommy. I’m still in the office. Is it iftar there yet? Ah, yes I hear the Magrib bang. I’ll be out of here in a while. I will break my fast while inside the taxi, it will be at 6:30 PM here. Mataan ko matey, it’s taking so long.

There is solace in my apartment but it is always better in Montiya even if electricity is still irregular. I wake up to my alarm at 1 AM. I have forgotten to change my alarm tone; Pink sings until I finally rise from bed and shake the lyrics of “Try” in my head. I hope I do not offend the malaikahs around. I play Suratul Baqarah while I make my ablution.

It is Maghfira–the second stage of Ramadan that represents Forgiveness in the middle ten days of the holy month.

Ya Allah hayyul qayyum, I seek your forgiveness for the salahs I miss while I am in the office or wherever else that lures me away from my sajjada, my sambayanga. Please make me understand your commands as I search for personal knowledge and aspire to become a better woman and an enlightened person. Forgive me, Ya Allah, forgive my parents and siblings for all our shortcomings.

Neither my mother nor Baba calls. I finish my dhikr and eat my meal before 4:00 admonishes me for eating beyond the hour.

My sister likes to call on weekends just before breakfast and after the dawn prayer. On Ramadan, she calls at about 10:00 until Dhohor beckons us to put down the phone. Sometimes we talk until 2:00–that is when I hear her husband in the background reminding us to pray on time as mandated by Islam. On this Saturday though she keeps texting, asking how I am and that she will call again after Ashr. I worry. Living away from family makes one easily worried about anything.

It is already Etkummenannar–Refuge and salvation. It is the last stage of the Fast, the final ten days where Lailatul Qadr–the Night of Poweris sought. This is comparatively the most significant part of Ramadan that Muslims fervently hope to chance upon. Only the Almighty knows of this hour on the odd nights of Etkummenannar. When we were children we used to light candles everywhere at night looking for it as if it was a person or a treasure. This practice eventually stopped. Baba said it was bidaa, something that was not taught by our faith therefore improper. I never asked why we lit those candles in the first place. My parents are religious persons. I believe they have atoned for the past.

Sis, is your phone on silent? I am calling you about something that you are not supposed to know yet. But let me tell you straight. It will make you wear your salimot this time like well, a good, obedient wife. InshaAllah, By Allah’s Grace, you will soon come home and live here permanently.

Remember Khalid? He was your classmate in elementary, eldest grandson of the governor, eldest child of the congressman, and I heard he is running for assemblyman in their district. He might also inherit the royal title in either of his parents’ side anytime soon. But you will be happy to hear that he is a licensed accountant now, and in his senior year in law school. He’s a good man, Amirah, very good man. Everybody says so. I also heard he is religious. Don’t tell Baba or Mommy that you already know. Our future in-laws were here last night after Isha. We are happy for you.

You cannot refuse again! This will be the 4th guy who expressed to marry you. Please don’t break Mommy and Baba’s hearts and even ours–myself and our brothers. Astagfirullah, arikolay aken. Look at me I am married. All women should get married and be married. That is how life works. Remember the only qualities that Islam requires of a woman when she looks for a husband otherwise all your prayers are in vain.

My sister rapidly explains, deliberately missing on my age as one of the obvious reasons to say yes. Instead, she focuses on Islam to convince me.

I vehemently reason that a single woman cannot be forced to marry against her will. I take a deep breath, stare at the Qur’an on my bedside, and tell my sister to call me after I get my thoughts back.

I ask and ask for enlightenment on the days of Lailatul Qadr, hoping that this man will be true to his word.

Omarhasan did not show up at our supposed wedding. He was the first man who was ever paired to me for marriage; our grandfathers were business partners in the barter trade during the 1980s. He lived in the city after ours with his loud lifestyle and different girlfriends. I learned on the eve of our wedding that he fancied this lady who grew up in Riyadh and became his classmate at a university in Marawi. Even then I resigned myself to who I thought was my qadr. The following morning, Omarhasan was nowhere to be found by his family while I was practicing what face to wear when he arrives to collect me for the reception. Blaming my parents for forcing me to consent to that union was useless; the gossipmongers continue to reach me as far as Manila.

Mikael is a first cousin who spent most of his adult life in Egypt learning the Qur’an. I refused his proposal because I was still nursing myself from shame. Besides, it did not feel right to marry him out of maratabat, out of spite, even if he was willing to marry me.

Jabbar, a surgeon in Davao and the only son of the former mayor of Montiya with his wife Josephine, almost made me say yes. He was well-mannered and earning much in his profession. He also formally courted me and would visit my parents whenever he is in Montiya. But my judgment was clouded by the fact that he is not of pure Meranao blood. I was too picky to see that his mother has long been a devout Muslim, wearing the niqab with her face covered, and has two or more Madrasahs, Arabic schools, around town.

Mommy and Baba are fair, they say they will abide by my decision, no hysterics like the previous ones when I would stay inside my room for days on end. Khalid comes three years after the last. I know him from my childhood. I can try to live the life of a politician’s spouse, raise our children, and perhaps bargain to keep a job or a business enterprise. He is a good man, he comes from a noble family and I was told he is pious, they are pious. These are the qualities that Kaka is reminding me of. At the back of my mind, I worry that I might no longer receive a proposal as suited as this one. He can take care of me.

Yes, give me at least two months. I will tender my resignation at work and while here, I might as well help the preparations for the wedding. Gomiyoraok ako den, I cried over Tahajjud. Allah enlightened me in my prayers. I am letting Mom and Baba, decide on the mahr, the bridal money–modest enough, but not exorbitant. Miyakarila ako, I am consenting to it.

The new moon is sighted on the 29th; Eid’l Fitr is definite tomorrow. I wear my abaya that was sent by a cousin in Jeddah followed by my black trouser socks before I carefully adjusted my tarha that matches this beautiful hareer dress.

I know when I pray at the kutba, at the congregational sermon in Luneta that I will soon cover my head regularly like a good, obedient wife.

Tahajjud: night prayers which are not obligatory but serve to strengthen one’s faith. Oftentimes, Tahajjud is prayed when one needs to arrive at a decision or when one is pursuing an important undertaking
Ameen ya Rabbul alameen: Accept my prayer, oh Allah
Rahma: mercy
Qadr: destiny
Atakolay: my child
Iftar: breaking of fast at sundown
Alhamdulillah: All praises to Allah
Riski: blessings
Tarha: arabic term for veil; Salimot: Meranao term for Tarha
Magrib: prayer at twilight
Bang: call for prayer
Malaikahs: angels
Suratul Baqarah: second chapter of the Qur’an
Sajjada: arabic term for prayer mat; Sambayanga: Meranao term for Musalla
Dhikr: remembrance of Allah, i.e. devotional acts of worship
Dhohor: prayer at noon
Ashr: prayer at midafternoon
Isha: prayer after Magrib
Astagfirullah, arikolay aken: Astagfirullah (as in ‘I seek forgiveness from Allah” is used here to emphasize the sister’s reaction), my dear sister
Eid’l Fitr: feast celebrating the end of Ramadan
Hareer: silk fabric

Montiya is a fictional town.

Arifah Macacua Jamil took up Bachelor of English major in Creative Writing at University of the Philippines Mindanao and completed her Bachelor of Laws at Ateneo de Cagayan Xavier University. Her stories have been published by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, Anvil Publication, Dagmay, and Bidadali Press.

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