This is the first instalment of a series of posts chronicling the story of a young girl transcending space and time to find her home.
Aliyah felt the words being ripped from her chest, at first wrangling and squirming in her belly like toxic snakes. The words were hopeless, gentle, and heartbroken.
“You left me.” she said in a raspy voice, breathing heavily, fat teardrops pouring over her cheeks. “Money and enjoyment were more important to you than.. Than..” she could hardly say it. She felt feeble and ashamed, almost ‘needy’ in saying ‘me.’ “I’m your daughter.” her voice was barely a whisper.
There was a silence.
“Don’t be so dramatic, Aliyah!” her father yelled all of a sudden, grabbing her shoulder roughly. He lowered his voice. “I did it to take care of you.”
“Okay!” she screamed. “Then where were you? When I nearly got stuck in the Soulspace, when I couldn’t take care of myself, when I won awards and graduated from the academy? You never took care of me, never aided me in my time of need, never celebrated my happiness!”
Ever the level-headed man who could yank his own display of emotion up and down to suit the desirable reaction from his subject of focus, he was not unlike the Time Pharaoh.
“And where were you in my happiness? As for your needs, it was your choice to stay behind. The Pharaoh wanted to save our family from ruin, and you and your mother pushed me to start over alone!”
Aliyah had no answer for the former reference to his elopement all those years ago, to his so-called “happiness.”
“He’s a thief, Baba!” She paused, fuming. “He would have stolen the best parts of me!” So wound up in rage at his commitment to apathy, she could hardly articulate herself. She huffed and pulled clenched fists down in front of herself. “He’s a thief, and you listen to him and follow him, and, and… how could you abandon me for… riches? Because it was Mummy who paid for my stay at the lighthouse until I could earn my keep. And you… left me.”
“You wouldn’t understand these things. The Time Lord–”
“How can you call him that! He’s a tyrant, not God!” cried Aliyah.
“I said, the Time Lord gave me everything I could possibly need to explore the Soulspaces.” He leaned in, lowering his voice like he used to while telling her secrets when she was a little girl, noiseless butterflies fluttering from his lips to her ears, and she would giggle like she was tickled in delight. “I traveled the world, Aliyah, and it was beautiful.”
“More beautiful than raising me?” she asked in a small voice. She was that little girl again.
“I never said that,” he said gruffly, setting his mug down on the coffee table audibly.
They had been engaged in conversation for hours, losing track of the sun’s position in the sky outside the window. Houses nearby stood suspended in space with only their lights visible like Aliyah’s bedroom’s glow-in-the-dark stars to indicate they existed at all. Years had gone by, during that evening, flashbacks of her life. The common room they sat in would thereafter cease to be a healing place now that he had set foot in it.
Each moment that passed by was another year she was still abandoned, and the longer she stayed in his presence, the more power he had, the more she was letting him manipulate her emotions. He could do it with just with a flourish of the hand, a slight crease on his forehead or crossing of one leg over the other. And she was aware of this.
The whole room pulled toward her as she stood on shaky footing, and she steadied herself with a palm rested on the pool table.
His speech became unintelligible, and the hardwood flooring began to swirl and morph into shapes akin to a river flowing to her feet and up her body until it reached her throat.
The moments to come were a time of returning to herself.
The Soulspace was a place where one went to meet their soul in person. Some souls manifested as a place, others manifest as Polaroids floating in a sky full of stars, switching memories and playing back movies of thought patterns – the progress of mindset mapping over time. Aliyah’s was always at the seaside, quiet and serene, and sometimes it was the only place she could breathe; sometimes, she couldn’t reach it. She stood leaning against a tree in her burkini, a sign saying “women only” nailed to a pole nearby. A young girl peeked out from behind the shower station.
“Oh come on out, Amina, I can see you already.” whined Aliyah.
“Okay, Aliyah, you don’t have to be so happy to see me.”
“It’s not my fault you’re always forcing me to think so hard.”
Amina rolled her eyes. “It’s weird. I’m younger than you and I have more courage to deal with what’s in front of me.”
“If you’re going to say you’re my other half I’m going to have to put my hand on your mouth before someone hears you!” Aliyah yelled.
“You’re just scared.” Amina stated this as fact. She put her little hands on chubby hips. “And no one’s here. The Soulspace is empty. Either because you are, or because you have stuff to figure out on your own.”
“You don’t know anything about me.” Aliyah clipped shortly, then added, “I don’t know what you’re doing here anyway.”
“You could ask.”
“What if I don’t want to know?”
“What if you’re in denial?”
“Oh please!” cried Aliyah, throwing her hands up. She looked back at Amina shyly. “Why are you here?”
“To help!” Amina replied cautiously, rushing the words so she could let them survive being cut off. “I am your other half, you know. ”
To her surprise, Aliyah rested her back against the tree, sliding to the ground and made herself small. She looked at Amina with wide eyes, who sat in front of her with her head held high, and with a reassuring smile on her face, she took Aliyah’s hands in her childish ones and squeezed. “Close your eyes. Shut them tight. Now remember whatever touches us first.”
A wind blew by, and something bit her gently. Amina felt it as well and squeezed again. Aliyah rubbed the scar on her wrist and Amina’s hands, Amina herself, disappeared.
“Aliyah, come back here!” a desperate father called after a toddler waddling down the street wearing nothing but a diaper in the summer breeze. He gave a wincing smile to a neighbor who put her groceries down to watch.
“Immigrants,” she muttered, but not so quiet he didn’t hear. “Always neglecting their children.”
“Aliyah!” his voice was warning now, but what he could be warning a three-year-old about remained unclear to Aliyah as she watched the script playback. The last time she saw this Polaroid come to life, she laughed because her mother was telling her the funniest story alluding to how she was always running away from home. Now she was running from her father, from what it would take to reach her inner home. From change, from happiness and grief – from success, even.
Aliyah’s consciousness came back to her Soulspace where Amina was waiting for her, through the flowing river outside the Polaroid Zone of the Soulspace.
“Aliyah?” breathed Amina, tapping her half’s cheeks with the back of her hand. Aliyah squeezed Amina’s hands, and opened her eyes, looking overwhelmed.
“Do you see? It is no longer about running from home. You’re looking for home, Aliyah, and you’ve found it, here, in the Soulspace. Now it’s about how you must stop running to him, since clearly he does not seek to be your parent, but only to use you to turn back time.”
“But you know that’s not possible, the Rewind cannot change Qadar!”
“You know that. I do as well, but he does not. We need to keep it that way.”
Aliyah wrung her hands in her lap. “I don’t understand.”
“My dear friend, don’t worry yourself about what does not concern you for now. If Baba pursues a relationship with you after all this time, he has only returned for a piece of you, but deep down you and I are both, at least vaguely, aware of the truth. None of this is about who you are and why you love him so dearly you would do almost anything for him in a heartbeat, so long as it was right.”
“I need to rest.”
“And that you must do.” Amina took her hand and led Aliyah to a bed that had materialized without their noticing, with curtains drawn around it and floral arrangements beckoning her with their sweet scents, the mattress lined with soft velvet duvet and fluffy pillows. Aliyah climbed in, and Amina held her hand with a big smile that reminded her of her childhood Polaroids. She saw a glimpse of her nine-year-old self skipping with a rope among fall leaves in her Mary-Janes with a toothy smile. Her worries broke away and shattered, merging with the sunlight and disappearing with the words, “hasbun allah wa ni’mal wakeel.”
Aliyah imagined Allah’s rope to be like a golden strand so tightly stretched and taut across the air above her that it did not feel like a thread, but like a cool rod of unearthly gold. This divine substance was immeasurably strong and immensely reliable only to those who believed in it as completely as they could with all the trust their hearts could muster.
The only way to describe her journey was to say it was metamorphosis. She could not breathe, move, eat or speak. Her heart was entrenched in concentrated impenetrable covers that was tough and gentle at once, her wish being granted when from the depths of her soul came the cry, “Zamilooni!” Everything around her was blurred, and even as she grew the stretching of her encapsulating material retained its strength, growing with her.
Aliyah continued to struggle until finally she had only enough energy to submit to the will of what Being held her high in such a tree of growth, and this was the greatest fuel she possessed. She put all of it into this belief, accepting she could do nothing and never had been able to do anything, without His Help and that she belonged to the Mercy of God’s Protection, which filled her with more joy and settled peace than anything. It was something she had never known, something she understood to be transient, but would continue to ebb away and return once again and again, if only she would continue to trust.
That golden rope would keep her safe, and the cocoon of metamorphosis was proof that she had greater lights to ignite, handing lanterns out to those who had need and carried simple, unshakable faith.
Slowly without much effort, she stretched and woke, opening her eyes slowly with a soft breath and cooling ocean wind touching her face and hands. She put her hands to her head and felt the clothes she was wearing, a soft, white billowing cotton dress embroidered only discreetly at the edges, layered with tulle the softness of which she had never touched before. She looked to the setting sun in her Soulspace.
It was time to go.
She put her hand to her mouth and discreetly bit her finger, and it worked like sincere prayer. The turquoise water had morphed into ugly, peeling green wallpaper and she tore her eyes away from the color of growth to his war-torn face. He had never fought a battle worthy of a good man’s sacrifice. Those empty eyes, those thin, ripped lips, those sunken cheeks, made up a face so void of genuine emotion for her, were all a punch in the gut each time. She sighed and looked to the staircase, longing for her narrow, hard bed. He was still speaking.
“I’ll give you anything you need.” he said, and something tugged at her, begging her to just try to believe it was more than just him making conversation and walking away, leaving nothing for her to hold in her hands. He went on, “I’m here now. Remember, Aliyah, if you stay in the past, no one will stay behind to hold your hand and bring you out of it. It’s what I learned as a young man with a family who abandons me over and over. No one saves you but yourself.”
He waited. She stood up straighter, despite the recoiling within, her survival mechanisms kicking into action. She could fall apart later. Now was not the time.
“Let’s agree to disagree on that,” Aliyah began, shooting arrows coolly. “Allah saves me, not you, nor I. I do my part, but I trust Him because He was always there with me and always will be. He is my Lord, and my Sustainer. I happened to learn that the hard way when you weren’t around to… ‘pull me out of the past,’ or my illness.” Aliyah tugged at the switch under the lamp shade, causing the room to go almost completely dark. She stopped at the door as she began walking away. “Have a good night. I probably won’t see you in the morning, because after all that has transpired, as per my past experience, I know you’ll be on the first plane to leave, so I’ll just say Allah Hafiz.”
Her father leapt from his armchair.
“Wait! Come back here!” He yelled.
She paused again, putting a hand up to her chin. “You know what makes this easier on me, Abba? It’s that I realize I don’t need you to love me, because that’s not everything that matters to me. I have felt,” She sighed, placing her hand on her heart with a smile then looked to him again, saying, “I have felt this faith, and I hope you have it too someday, and I have realized that quite simply it is more important to me than all the heartache of wishing you wanted the best for me and craving a genuine affection I may never have.”
“Are you going to abandon your father in his old age?” he growled. “Strip him of his daughter?”
“Are you going to reduce me to a commodity, someone who can access the Rewind, and not tell the truth? You have tried to sell me for a petty price, but I have paid my dues as a daughter. I have tried to defend you, to befriend you, but you will sell me to the highest bidder, even one who claims lordship, and that I cannot forgive. There are two sides to every story, Baba. If you’re not going to be honest with me, at least do so in front of the mirror in your Soulspace, if you really can still access them. May Allah forgive you and take care of you as you have cared for me.”