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Selma Cook

Fatima leaned on the windowsill and looked longingly at the waves crashing against the shore. The cool ocean breeze stroked her face and her eyes had a faraway expression that made her mother look at her.

“What’s up, Fatima?”

“Nothing much. Just can’t believe we’re finally here.”

“Yes, it was a long journey. Did you like the train or would you rather go by bus next time?”

“No! I like the train better. There is more space to stretch out and the seats are far more comfortable.”

“Yes, I agree,” said Mum.

“Anyway, al-hamdu lillah, we’re here. I haven’t swum in the sea for years,” said Fatima. “Can’t we go swimming now?”

“It’s too late, dear. It's better to sleep now. We’re all tired from the three-hour trip. We’ll get up early in the morning, in sha’ Allah, and make for the beach,” said Fatima’s mother enthusiastically.

That night Fatima lay in bed thinking. If she turned her head to the left, she could see the sea from her wide-open balcony doors. The wall of the balcony was made of wrought iron, so anyone lying on the bed could see the ocean easily. She closed her eyes and listened to the crashing of the waves. She imagined she was a bird soaring and flying over their white tips, just out of reach as they spilled against the sandy shore.

Fatima woke up very early and prayed the dawn prayer as the light of the sun was climbing in the sky. When she finished, she gazed out the window and saw shiny specks of light flicking over the surface of the water. “How peaceful it looks,” she thought.

“Are you ready yet?” asked her sister. Sara stood there with her swimming costume on, her towel over her shoulder and sandals on her feet. “We have to eat first, Sara,” said Fatima. “It’s still early.”

“This is the best time to go! There’s nobody there,” said Sara, smiling widely.

Fatima looked down at the beach from her window. Sara was right, it was empty. There were just a few people taking an early morning stroll along the promenade.

“Mum!” called Sara. “Can Fatima and I go to the beach now for a quick swim?”

“Yes, Mum,” added Fatima, “you can see us from the window and we’ll come back quickly to eat breakfast.”

“I guess it’s all right,” said mother, who was not quite sure what to do. “But one thing. Be sure to stay close to shore. There are dangerous tides.”

“What’s that?” asked Sara.

“That’s where the water can just push you out to sea,” said Fatima knowingly. She gave Sara a kind of know-it-all look and told her mother again, “We’ll be careful, Mum, and I’ll look after Sara.”

Mother nodded her head in agreement. “OK, girls, but be back in about half an hour. Dad will be back by then and we can all have breakfast together. I’ll come over and wave to you from time to time from the window.”

“Great, Mum, I’ll keep looking for you at the window,” said Sara as she hurried toward the door.

Fatima quickly got changed into a pair of long, loose pants, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a cotton scarf. She took a towel and slipped on her sandals. “Make the du`aa’ when you leave the house,” reminded their mother. Fatima didn’t hear her.

The water tripped over the girls’ feet in tiny white bubbles. Seagulls stood at a careful distance, sometimes hopping on one foot with small black eyes that saw the shadow of a fish for an early morning treat. “Are you going to jump in, Fatima?” asked Sara, who could barely allow the cool waves to reach her knees.

“That’s the best way,” said Fatima. “If you jump right in, you get the coldness over and done with and you soon feel comfortable.”

“I like to do things more slowly,” commented Sara as she jumped a little every time a wave tipped over near her legs.

“Here goes!” said Fatima as she dived under the approaching wave. Sara turned and saw her mother standing at the window and waved happily towards the familiar figure.

Fatima swam underwater for a while then bobbed her head up. She had only swum a few meters and the coolness of the water made her body tingle. The sun’s warmth touched her head and she floated over waves looking at the fluffy white clouds. “Fatima!” called Sara. Fatima heard her sister’s voice and looked towards the beach. She lifted her hand to wave and tried to stand up. Her feet couldn’t find the seabed and at that very instant a large wave broke over her head. It caught her by surprise and a few seconds later she was on the surface of the sea again, gasping for breath. She looked towards the beach and her sister seemed quite far away.

“I must have swum out farther than I thought,” she said to herself. She looked behind and waited for the next wave to ride it in to shore. She waited until she was just at the top of the wave, then she started swimming. She closed her eyes and swam hard. After swimming for a few minutes, she stopped and looked up but to her amazement, she found herself farther away from the shore.

“Oh no!” said Fatima aloud. She kicked her legs hard and swam and swam but the more she swam, the farther away she seemed.

“I’ll float for a while so I won’t get too tired,” she Fatima, but when she floated on her back, a wave broke over her and pushed her under the water. Fatima came to the surface again gasping. Her arms and legs were tired from the effort but worse still was the feeling of panic welling up inside her.

Fatima looked again towards her sister. Sara was waving to Fatima, gesturing for her to come in to shore. If only she knew how much Fatima wanted to be back on the beach!

Many thoughts darted around inside Fatima’s head. “What if I drown? I’ll never see Mum or Sara or anyone again!” Thoughts like these made she feel desperate and she kicked her legs and started swimming again. She closed her eyes and concentrated on swimming in an attempt to keep those troublesome thoughts at bay. It seemed like ages until Fatima looked up again and her desperate eyes searched for her sister. Sara was nowhere to be seen. “What could have happened to her?” said Fatima to herself in a new state of panic. She had never felt so alone. Then a frightening idea dawned on her, “What if she realized I was in danger and tried to help me! She can’t swim as well as me!”

Fatima’s whole body ached. She felt very tired and was not sure how long she could continue. She could hardly move her arms and legs to tread water. She was nearly at her limit. She felt herself sinking again into the sea when she got a severe cramp in her leg. “That’s it,” she cried, “I’m going to die.” She closed her eyes and felt herself being thrown up and over the waves. She didn’t remember anything else.

Fatima! Fatima!” cried a familiar voice.

“Mum, is that you?” asked Fatima as she slowly opened her eyes. Fatima was lying on the beach just out of reach of the water and her mother and sister were kneeling over her.

“What happened?” asked Fatima, trying to sit up. “Did someone come out and get me?”

“No, dear. A wave carried you in to shore. Al-hamdu lillah, you’re OK,” said her mother quietly.

“Where’s Sara?” asked Fatima, starting to remember things again.

“I’m right here,” said her sister as she patted her on the back trying to comfort her. “I’m so glad you’re safe. I saw you swimming but you didn’t get any closer to shore.”

“I saw you, too,” said her mother with tears in her eyes. “I was watching you both from the window and I saw you. Sometimes you were under the water and sometimes on top. I was so afraid.” Her mother hugged her close and gently pulled her up by the arm and led both girls to the house.

As they were all drinking hot tea, Fatima’s father and brothers came in. “As-salam `alaykum,” said her father smiling.

Wa `alaykum as-salam, Dad,” said Sara with wide frightened eyes. “Fatima nearly drowned.”

“What happened?” he asked, feeling quite startled as he bent down next to Fatima. Her face was pale and her hands were shaky. “I got caught in one of the tides,” said Fatima with a trembling voice.

Al-hamdu lillah you are safe,” said her father quietly. His face was filled with concern and his soft brown eyes peered into Fatima’s. Father and daughter looked at each other for a long time. Tears fell from her eyes and she tried to smile. “I was so afraid, Dad. I thought I would die.”

“Tell me,” he said, “what did you do?”

Fatima recounted the whole story and everyone sat in silence, listening intently. When she had finished, they all looked at her and then at each other. Finally, her father spoke. “Fatima, there is something you missed.”

“I told you everything, Dad,” she replied.

“But when did you ask Allah to help you?”

Fatima put her head down. “I didn’t. I was only thinking about getting out of the sea.”

“You didn’t ask Allah?” said her father gently. “Why?”

“I … well, just didn’t think of it at the time,” said Fatima.

“There is a lesson in this, Fatima. If it's your habit to ask Allah for whatever you need, when something like this happens you'll turn to Him automatically.” Fatima’s father looked at her questioningly and touched her gently on the head.

“Well, Dad, to be honest, I kind of gave up making du`aa’. I asked for some things before and I never got them.”

“Really? If you do that you will miss out on so many things, including inner peace and strength. You know Fatima," said Dad. His voice was even more gentle now. "Allah knows what happened today. He knew it would happen even before you were born.”

Fatima looked at her father. She hadn’t thought of that before. “But it was so scary Dad. Why did Allah let it happen?” she asked.

“Only Allah knows that, my dear. In this life we’re surrounded by all kinds of dangers. Some things are dangerous for our bodies, some for our feelings, and some for our faith. If we don’t turn to Allah for help, then we must face all these things alone and we are not strong. I think you realize that now, don't you?”

“I know that. I felt so tired out there today. Not just my body but my spirit felt tired. I felt like giving up.”

“What kept you going, dear?” asked her mother.

“You know, Mum, I thought that I’d never see you all again and it made me struggle harder.”

“But Fatima dear, why don’t you make du`aa’?”

“Like I said, I asked for some things and I didn’t get them,” Fatima replied.

“Do I give you everything you want?” asked Mum.

“No,” said Fatima smiling. “Quite often you don’t.”

“Does it mean I don’t love you?”

“Of course not. Maybe I asked for something that’s not good for me.”

“So you understand, dear, that Allah doesn’t give us everything we want,” said her father.

“Yes,” said Fatima, “so why keep asking?”

“It’s like this, dear,” said her father as he leaned back in his chair. “Our knowledge of what’s going on around us is limited. But Allah knows what people are planning and doing. Imagine there is a man and there are some people who don’t like him. These people sit together and plan how they will get him and hurt him. They know he leaves for work at a certain time every day and that he leaves his car in a certain place. They decide to sit and wait for him and when he gets out of his car they will pounce on him.”

Fatima was listening carefully. He continued, “The man had no idea that all this was happening, but Allah knows everything. One morning as usual, he got ready to go to work. That morning he had prayed Fajr and made the adhkar. He left his home and made the du`aa’ for leaving the house. By doing that he put himself under the protection of Allah and didn’t only rely on himself. He got into his car and turned the key in the ignition. It wouldn’t start!”

“So what did he do then?” asked Fatima.

“He said, ‘Al-hamdu lillah and khair, in sha’ Allah.’ It means that he acknowledged the fact that there is good in every single thing that happens. I want to ask you something, Fatima.”

“Yes, Dad?”

“What are the two ways that man could have reacted?”

“Well, he could have got angry and banged the car door and felt frustrated or he could have done like you said and … ”

“… and trusted in Allah,” continued her father.

“Did those bad men get him, Dad?”

“No, dear, they didn’t.”

“Is this a real story, Dad?”

“Yes, dear. It happened to me. And those men never got the chance to do what they were planning, thanks to Allah. Because the car didn't start!”

“Wow!” said Fatima. “But what good was there in me nearly drowning today?”

“Can’t you think of the answer, dear?” asked her mother. “You got to appreciate your life a whole lot more.”

“A lot of good came of this, Fatima,” said her father, smiling. “Perhaps Allah wanted you to learn to continue making du`aa’.”

“And never giving up,” added Sara.

“It makes us appreciate the fact we have you,” added her mother.

Fatima looked at her family. She was thinking hard.

“Allah saved me and I never made du`aa’.” She felt confused.

“But I did,” said her mother.

“So did I,” smiled Sara. “I prayed and prayed when I saw you like that and I ran and called Mum.”

“But I was already there,” said Fatima’s mother. “I saw you from the window. I prayed from my heart that you would be safe.”

“Jazakum Allahu khairan,” said Fatima humbly. “I’ve been really wrong,” she said.

Fatima and her family stayed at the beach for a few more days. The next day they were all sitting on the sand.

Fatima, aren’t you going swimming?” asked her dad.

“Don’t feel like it,” said Fatima, looking out at the sea. She remembered how peaceful she thought it had looked. “Life is so tricky,” she said. “Some things look so pretty and shiny and kind of invite you to come in—just like the sea. But then it turns out to be your enemy.”

“You can swim, dear,” said her mother. “Just keep close to shore and trust in Allah.”

“Confront your fear, dear. I’ll come with you if you like,” said her father gently.

Fatima got up and took her father’s hand. They walked to the water and slowly she jumped over the waves until the water reached her waist. She felt a twinge of fear. “I’ll race you,” said her father. Fatima looked at her father and smiled and they swam fast and hard against the waves, moving up and down and then rolled back to the shore. After a while she forget her fear.

With many pretty shells, colorful rocks, a jar full of crisp, white sand, and a new sense of wisdom, Fatima got into the taxi with her family and headed towards the train station. They drove along the beach road and Fatima’s eyes never left the beautiful, crashing waves and shiny white, sandy beaches. “I love this place,” she said to herself. “Oh, Allah! Please bring me back here again one day,” she prayed. She leaned back with her head resting against the window. She closed her eyes with a smile, and dreamed about white tipped seas, soaring birds, and crashing waves.

This story can not be reproduced without prior permission of the author. selmacook@hotmail.com


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