Literature The Embracing Our Past Issue

Fiction : Mother of birds in heaven

Rahma had lost her first child at 22 weeks. A boy. Stillborn. Mohammed.

By Shahd Thani

To a younger sister, through writing, we lend our voices to one another. This one is for you.

‘I am a mother to birds in heaven. What more can I ask for?’ Image: Shutterstock.

The windows were wide open. Rahma could feel the wind on her face as she sat with her prayer sheila (headscarf) wrapped around her head. It matched the floral pattern on her jalabiyah (traditional dress). Her husband’s family would start coming over for lunch after Friday prayers. The Quran was open on her lap, and she was in the middle of reading Surat Al Kahf (a verse from The Quran). Her growing belly kept getting in her way. She caressed her stomach carefully. She wouldn’t lose her child this time. She willed it with every breath in her body and whispered a prayer to seal her hope that her body wouldn’t fail her.

The wind blew harder, and she could almost smell rain. She turned her head towards the window, and sure enough, there were grey clouds pushing away the sunshine peering through the cracks. Rahma heard the front door slam shut. Her husband left the house just as the call to Friday sermons began. During her first pregnancy, he had held her and dreamt out loud with her about the child they would have. When she lost it, he smiled tightly and said it was written. He was cautious on her second pregnancy, but his eyes were full of sorrow. She couldn’t bear it. Did she imagine the look of accusation in his eyes this time around?   

It had been so easy when they had first gotten married. She vividly remembered being pleasantly surprised to see him when he had come to propose. He was her childhood playmate, and they had spent afternoons playing in the tight alleyways. She had always loved his eyes, wide and haunting, fringed with thick lashes. Rahma and Rashid. Their initials entwined on a wedding card. She wondered often if she was being punished for that absurd joy. Was it an evil eye on her marriage and the life she had created?

Rahma did her best not to dwell upon superstitions. She knew she had to be patient because there were blessings even in loss. There was always sunshine breaking through dark clouds. There was always rain after sandstorms. Hers was a country that had grown almost overnight in a harsh desert as a result of a determined vision. She, too, had her own hopes and goals. She would survive, and she would flourish.

Everyone told her that her first duty was to her husband. It had not seemed such a chore, because he understood her better than she understood herself. She didn’t know which one of them was fading away, but there had been far too many losses between them. They rose like a wall that not even childhood memories and their wild love could scale.

The skies broke open, and rain came down in sheets, pounding the pavement relentlessly. Her body was showing, and she was afraid of his family’s reaction. She didn’t know how she could withstand any more words. It felt like everyone had something to say about her pregnancies. She lifted herself up off the couch with the Holy Quran in her arms. Her arms ached to hold a baby. She had never held any of the babies she had lost.

Rahma had lost her first child at 22 weeks. A boy. Stillborn. Mohammed.

Her second child was lost at 19 weeks, with contractions raging through her while she cried out in pain to lose yet another child. Aisha.

The hospital had given her carefully cut-out cardboards with her children’s footprints on them. There were pictures she kept in a box with pregnancy scans. It was so easy to forget that she was a mother when the emptiness threatened to swallow her whole. After she had finished praying, she went out to the majlis, which was the widest room in the house. The mats were spread out on the floor. The Friday feast was already set out. She made sure everything was in order just moments before the house let in a deluge of family members.

‘Oh, Rahma, mash’allah (praise be to Allah) pregnant again’?

‘May Allah bring this baby to full term’.

‘Maybe you shouldn’t work so hard. Lie down, put your feet up’.

‘I don’t understand why you need to work when mash’allah your husband gives you so much. The least you could do is stay at home and give him a baby’.

Inshallah (by the will of Allah), this time you’ll finally be a mother’.

Her husband stepped into the majlis just in time to hear the last few comments. Their eyes met. The man she had married would have inserted a joke to dispel the tension, and everybody would have laughed. Rahma lifted her chin defiantly, letting him know with every line of her body that he had disappointed her too.

‘I am a mother’. She said deliberately. Her voice was quiet, but everyone stilled to hear her. ‘I am a mother to birds in heaven. What more can I ask for’?

Rahma took a deep breath. She wouldn’t cry in front of them: the mother in law who found her wanting, his sisters, and his gleeful cousins who were disappointed that he hadn’t chosen one of them for marriage instead. She had no doubt that the cousins were still vying among themselves for the role of a second wife, since she hadn’t been able to give Rashed children like he wanted.

‘I didn’t study for four years at university to put my degree up in the cupboard. I work to give back to the country that gave me so much. I can be a mother and work’.

There was a solid kick. Stronger than anything she had felt before. It reassured her so much that she could almost ignore the looks of pity and derision on their faces. She and the baby would be a team. Rahma put a hand on her stomach, and she must have gone so still that everyone shuffled concernedly around her. Her husband was suddenly next to her. His arm was gentle around her for the first time in months, and she leaned against his strength.

‘Are you well?’ He asked, ‘Do you need to go to the hospital?’

His hand brushed against her stomach hesitantly, and she covered it with hers and placed it on her stomach. Rahma watched the feelings of tenderness and love cross Rashed’s face as the kick came again.

‘You need to rest’. He ushered her away from his family and brushed off their wails and questions. He made her get into bed. They didn’t speak. Tears streamed down her face. His hand held hers firmly.

Hours later, after the guests had left, Rahma and Rashed went out to feel the last heavy drops of rain falling as the sun was setting. It was the last hour before the call to Maghreb (sunset)  prayers. Ghaith (bountiful rain, associated with blessings) would be his name, she decided, feeling the baby tapping within her, reminding her of his vitality. Ghaith to water her barren life.

Shahd Thani is an Emirati romance writer, poet and an Untitled Chapter member.

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