Abdullah & Zaheera – A Story within a Story

This is another excerpt from the novel I am working on. It is a completely different point in time from the others and it is a story within the story. Hope you enjoy!

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Ryan whispered something into Yasmin’s ear and she nodded.

“Ommi, can we have a story?” She asked, as Ryan blushed.

Fatima smiled, “of course! Come.” She indicated for the children to sit in front of her as she told them a story. Her heart burst at the shyness and tender nature of this boy in front of her and she felt a familiar tinge of sadness which swept through her whenever she looked at him.

“Can we have a new one?” Yasmin said excitedly.

“You can indeed, now let me think… ah ha, I’ve got one. Now this is an old story, one my mum used to tell me in Algeria!”

Both children were intrigued and Fatima commenced her story.

‘In an ordinary village in the depths of the Sahara, lived two extraordinary children. Abdullah and Zaheera were born days apart. Their mothers were neighbours and best friends. Abdullah and Zaheera spent hours playing together when their mothers were busy cleaning the house, washing the clothes or cooking food. They challenged and motivated each other. When Abdullah said his first words, Zaheera said a sentence. When Zaheera started crawling, Abdullah went racing past. They helped each other learn at an alarming speed. Their mothers were baffled and were often left confused by their inquisitive children, asking questions they didn’t understand let alone know how to answer. 

One morning, after seven Ramadans had passed, Zaheera’s life changed forever. 

“We’re seven!” Yasmin nudged Ryan and their interest was piqued even more.

Abdullah knocked for Zaheera in the morning as usual, to pick her up on the way to collect water with his older brother. Her mother went to fetch her from her room and was surprised to find her still asleep. When Zaheera was softly awoken by her mother she opened her eyes and blinked over and over again. She sat up sharply, rubbed her eyes and blinked several times more. She frantically looked around her and became distressed and hysterical.

“What is it, Zaheera, ya binti?” Her mother asked desperately.

“I can’t see ommi! I can’t see anything!” Zaheera cried.

Abdullah heard the commotion and Zaheera’s cries and couldn’t restrain himself from running inside to see what was wrong.

“Zaheera, what’s wrong?” Abdullah stood in the doorway.

“Abdullah? Where are you? Are you there, Abdullah?” Zaheera asked frantically.

Abdullah rushed to her side.

“I’m here, Zaheera! I’m with you, I’m with you.” He reassured her.

Zaheera was blind. Everyone thought it was temporary. Perhaps it was an illness and her sight would come back with time after the illness went. They tried herbal remedies and they asked a doctor to come and see her. Nothing worked. As time went on, their hope drifted with it. 

After that fateful day, Abdullah became Zaheera’s eyes. He never left her side and he helped her learn her way around the village with the use of her other senses. Whenever she lost her way or faltered she would say, “Abdullah?”

“I’m with you, I’m with you.” Came his reassuring voice, always.

Abdullah and Zaheera were far advanced in knowledge and intelligence compared to other children their age. With Abdullah’s help and devoted attention to her, Zaheera was able to learn to tell the time of day by the position of the sun that she could feel on her face as she never could before; by the feel of the air; by the smells of food at different times of the day. Zaheera could tell who was approaching her by the sound of their footsteps. There were no one’s footsteps she knew quite as well as Abdullah’s, yet she would always ask, “Abdullah?” just to hear his response that she loved so much: “I’m with you.”

Abdullah told Zaheera everything he saw and he described it in such beautiful detail that Zaheera felt as though she could really see again. One thing Abdullah saw, which he did not tell her, was the way people looked at Zaheera. The fear and repulsion in their eyes. The way they would subtly move away from her if she came near, lest what happened to her might happen to them too. Lest she might hurt them. The fear of the unknown. Abdullah grew tired of their looks so he started to throw stones at their feet, small ones, to make them stop looking.

Years went by and their companionship blossomed; soon they reached the age of marrying. Abdullah was well known in his village, and all of the villages for miles around, for his dashing good looks and his beautiful recitation of the Qur’an.

Abdullah’s mother knew that he could pick any girl of his choice but she also worried that he wouldn’t even consider other options. Options other than Zaheera that is. Zaheera, by contrast, was plain in her looks. And she was blind. A burden. Abdullah’s mother was concerned, as any mother might be, that she did not want her son to be tied to such a weight for the rest of his life. She worried that if Abdullah married her then her grandchildren might be blind as well. She underestimated Zaheera.

Abdullah’s father had been gone for many years, as long as he could remember –

“Like mine!” Ryan exclaimed.

“Yes, Abdullah is like you, Ryan.”

Ryan was thrilled at this, for Abdullah was clearly the hero of the story.

Abdullah did not know where his father was. Whenever he asked his mother about it, she would change the subject. He didn’t understand but he respected and valued his mother’s opinions. When she presented Abdullah with a potential wife, he agreed to meet her for his mother’s sake.

Yasmin’s jaw dropped in horror.

Zaheera could tell something was amiss. She heard Abdullah’s footsteps in his garden and other footsteps she did not recognise, as well as Abdullah’s mothers’. Zaheera sat in the bush next to their garden and listened to the conversation. It wasn’t long before she realised what was taking place and her heart tore itself apart! She couldn’t bring herself to move though, and she remained throughout the whole meeting between Abdullah and his potential wife. When the girl and her father left, Abdullah and his mother remained. Still, Zaheera could not tear herself away.

“What do you think Abdullah, she is lovely!” Said his mother happily.

“She’s a nice person masha’Allah.” Abdullah agreed

Yasmin’s eyes widened and she shook her head.

“I think she will be perfect for you, insha’Allah.”

Abdullah remained silent. Zaheera’s heart stopped in her chest and she wiped the tears that were flowing from her sightless eyes.

“You have to think sensibly, Abdullah.” His mother persisted, as though she had heard his internal argument. “Zaheera is a lovely girl, of course. But you don’t want to be tied to a burden for the rest of your life. She’s… not normal. We don’t know why she went blind; it could be anything! She could have a jinn in her, Abdullah!”

“Zaheera is not normal, Yemma, you are right.” It was Abdullah’s voice but Zaheera couldn’t believe the words.

Zaheera couldn’t bear to hear anymore, she rolled out of the bush she was hidden in and started walking purposefully. Where to, though, she didn’t know.

She was already gone so she did not hear the rest of what Abdullah said to his mother.

“She is not normal because she is extraordinary, she is amazing. After what happened to her, it only increased all of her good qualities. Zaheera may be blind but she sees more in me than anyone else does. She does not like me for my looks but for what is inside!” He patted his chest passionately.

His mother was taken aback as she pondered what her son had said. She knew he was right.

Zaheera walked all the way to the edge of the village. She did not know what laid in front of her. She had never ventured far from this side of the village because what waited out there was the vast Sahara. She hesitated on the edge of the village and replayed what she had heard in her mind. She was a burden. She stepped over the threshold timidly at first and then she picked up her purposeful stride, once again.

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