The crescent moon appeared that night just as predicted. Before the sky turned completely dark, Norissa’s family already bathed, getting ready for the start of Ramadan.
Her husband was the one who took charge of bathing the family. He bathed himself first. Then, he bathed the kids — all eight of them – before he proceeded with his three wives.
Omar was an Imam so he had to move fast after bathing Norissa and his two other wives since he still had to preside the dusk prayer or Maghrib. When Omar left to prepare for his Azan, Norissa took charge of everyone, telling the wives to dress their kids up and to proceed to the Masjeed.
This had been their routine every Ramadan. Omar didn’t need to tell Norissa to take charge anymore since she already knew her duty: serving her husband. Every special religious event, Omar led his family of 12 to prayer and to other activities.
He had a total of five sons—two from Norissa, one from Salima, the second wife, and two from Zaara, the third wife. He taught his five sons about Islam, the male Muslim, and their responsibilities in leading the family, and how to read the Qur’an. Norissa was left to educate the other two wives and the three daughters. They learned about the importance of wearing their hijab, their service to their husband and to their kids, and their Sunnah’s.
The Masjeed was just within the compound of the Jama’a. Some of the community just prayed inside their houses, especially women. The males usually dominated the place of prayer. Norissa and other female family members usually prayed inside the house, but since it was the start of Ramadan, they had to show their support and pray inside the Masjeed. Inside the Masjeed, the males and females were separated, yet both genders could still hear the Imam.
The wives and daughters laid their sajjadas or prayer rugs, performed two sujoods, and waited for the Maghrib to start while listening to Omar’s sermon. Norissa glanced at her right and saw Zaara and Salima with their daughters. Silently, she wished she had a daughter. Would she ever have a daughter if Omar only had her and Salima as his wives? Or if she were the only wife?
Aliyah, Zaara’s daughter, sat between her and her mother. She met Norissa’s eyes and smiled. She caressed her head and whispered, “You should start looking for and taking care of your family no matter how young you are.”
Aliyah was puzzled to what Norissa told her. But instead of asking what she meant, she hugged Norissa and replied, “But Babo takes care of me and everyone.”
After Maghrib, Norissa had to go home immediately to prepare food for everyone. Salima and Zaara always helped her in the kitchen, so the task was divided. Omar and his sons stayed behind the Masjeed and discussed the Ramadan activities, the new Masjeed in the next barangay sponsored by some politician, and other personal issues backed up with the teachings of Qur’an.
“Kuya,” Atif, the youngest, said to Nashreen while holding his hand, “I wanna go home. When are we going home? I’m getting hungry.”
“I’ll tell Ama,” Nashreen smiled, stroking Atif’s hair.
Nashreen waited until Omar finished talking before interrupting. He wouldn’t dare talk while Ama talked because he knew he would be beaten if it happened. Once, he did that while Zaara and Ama were in their own house. He saw through the window Zaara sitting on Omar’s lap while Ama was blowing through her ears and brushing her hair. He decided to call Ama because his Ina had a high fever and he didn’t know what to do. Omar dragged Nashreen home. Ama struck him repeatedly with a long, thin stick when they got to Norissa’s house. He could not walk for three days after that beating.
“Ama,” Nashreen whispered. “Can we go ahead? We’ll help Ina in preparing our meals.”
“Didn’t I tell you to stay until the discussion is over?” Omar replied while still engaging a bit in the other conversation.
“But Atif wanted to poo. At his age, he could not help it.”
Omar glanced to his youngest son who was already smiling. He smiled in return and turned to Nashreen.
“Make sure the food is cooked once I get home,” he said. “I still need to lead the Taraweeh.”
Nashreen held his younger brothers’ hands and they walked home.
“Do you think Ama will take long, Kuya?” Fahad asked. “Ina doesn’t like it when Ama comes home late for supper.”
“Not sure, Fahad,” Nashreen answered. “What I’m sure of is this: our food is delicious back home so we have to hurry!”
“Is it bistek?” Noman asked.
“I think it’s chopsuey!” Abdul exclaimed.
“Chimken! I smell chimken!” Atif clapped his hands with glee.
“I just hope it’s not fish,” Saleem said.
The boys laughed on their way home. When they arrived, they saw their Inas at the kitchen. The girls were at the other room, playing dolls.
Atif ran and hugged Zaara. “Ina! I missed you,” he shouted.
“I missed you too, baby!” Zaara hugged her baby tightly.
“Ina, what’s for supper?”
“What do you think?”
“Correct! Adobong manok!”
“I knew it! Right, Kuya Nash? Kuya Fahad? I said chimken!”
Everyone laughed at how excited Atif was over the food.
“If it isn’t for your son, Zaara,” Salima said, “this house would not be this joyful!”
“I wish he would not grow up so fast,” Salima said.
“I am always your baby, Inah,” Atif said, hugging her mother.
Norissa was smiling while silently looking at the scene. She remembered when it was only she who was preparing the meals. Nashreen would be preparing the table while Abdul would be sweeping the floor. Then both sons would wait at the door for Ama’s arrival.
“I think the adobo is ready,” Norissa stood up and got her ladle. Smoke got out of frying pan as she opened the lid. Everyone could smell the savory aroma of the adobo — its sourness from the vinegar, saltiness from the soy sauce, sweetness from the sugar, and the spiciness from the bay leaves and pepper corns. She got the frying pan out from the heat and told Nashreen to set up the table for everyone.
The table was set. The food was warm. Everyone was inside Norissa’s house except for Omar. And it was an unwritten rule for the family that nobody ate unless Omar arrived.
“Ina, I’m hungry,” Aliyah said, holding her tummy. “I bet Babo Norissa’s adobo tastes good.”
“But Ama is not home yet, Aliyah,” Zaara said. “A little while, okay?”
Norissa heard this so she decided to tell a story to put the children at ease.
“Who wants to hear a story?” she asked.
“Babo,” Atif said, “it’s too early for bedtime story.”
“I wanna hear it, Ina,” Nashreen said. He knew this was what his Ina did to make the kids forget that they were hungry while waiting for their ama. He sat in front of Norissa and winked at her mother.
“Am I only going to share this story with Nashreen?” Norissa asked.
All the girls and boys, including Zaara, sat together with Nashreen.
Khamille hails in Mati City, Davao Oriental, Philippines. She has been teaching for 4 years now. When inspiration hits her, she expresses it through writing. She has been through various writers workshops, locally and nationally. Last 2019, her novel, entitled Budi, won as the Best Young Adult Novel for the Lagaslas Writers Workshop and is set to be published soon. She usually writes about the practices of Islam in her community, especially of how a Muslim woman is treated in a family.