“I can’t believe how cold it is here,” Zak commented with a slight shiver, looking around the park. “Why are there so many kids running around?”
“It’s the hottest month of the year right now,” I told him. “I’m actually feeling kind of sweaty.”
He gave me a disbelieving look. “What? You can’t be serious.”
“It’s true,” I insisted. “July’s the hottest month of the year.”
“How do you people live?” he wondered, zipping up his jacket and tucking his hands into his pockets.
“It’ll be better once we’re inside again.” I craned my neck to look for the reason we were still outside. Rayyan had left us a few minutes ago, saying he needed to get something from the car and would be back soon but there was still no sign of him.
I pulled out my phone and began to type a message, glancing at the time. “Hey, it’s already 1PM. Time for l-”
“Salaah,” Rayyan cut me off, as he walked toward us. “You’re right, Az, it is. And the biggest mosque in Stockholm is right over there too,” he indicated it with a nod of his head.
“I’m actually pretty hungry,” I said pointedly. Rayyan knew I hadn’t been talking about praying. He’d nagged at me over my haphazard observation of the compulsory salaahs often enough.
“We’ll eat as soon as we’re done then.” Rayyan didn’t budge.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. He was even more dogged than Zaakir. “I don’t have anything with me, Ray,” I said calmly. “I can’t pray like this.”
“I know,” he agreed. “That’s why I went to fetch this.” He dumped a bundle of black cloth in my arms. “There, you’re sorted.”
“How… thoughtful of you.” I bared my teeth at him. “Fine,” I relented. “Let’s go pray.”
I turned to Mirzaq who’d been watching us silently. “It’s a really pretty mosque. Maybe we can look around a bit later?”
“Sure,” he said easily. “Sounds like fun.”
Entering the ladies section of the mosque, I had to fight the urge to walk right back out. Mosques always inspired a mixture of shame and regret within me.
I knew that I was wrong to shirk prayers. But every time I gave in and did pray, it left me with such a sickening feeling of guilt in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t bear to keep doing it.
There was a way to remove that guilt. But I wasn’t strong enough for that. I didn’t have it in me to be a good person in anything but short bursts. It was so much work and I never felt the happiness and peace that was meant to come with it.
So why even bother? I knew I’d fail in the end.
Taqdeer playing its role yet again.
You can change taqdeer, a tiny voice whispered hopefully in my mind.
Pray hard enough and things will change.
I gulped down a sob. What was I supposed to do when I couldn’t bear to pray?
I walked out of the mosque on numb legs. Just listening to the recitation had made my heart pound in my chest.
“Everything okay?” A smooth voice asked me. I lifted my head from where I’d been scanning the ground for my shoes.
“All fine,” I answered Zak’s question. “Just looking for my shoes.”
“Here.” He crouched and scooped up my black sandals.
I extended a hand and waited for him to hold them out.
Zak shook his head. “What am I gonna get? I never actually got that secret I was promised the first time around.”
My spirits began to lift. “What do you want?”
Zak’s eyes glowed with pleasure.
“Remember that we’re standing outside a mosque.”
He pulled a face. “I guess I have to behave then.” Zak thought for a second. “Got it. Your number!”
“Give me the shoes first.”
He bent and deposited them at my feet then looked up at me expectantly. “Number now?”
Zak groaned. “Minx. Will you at least give me that secret I was promised?”
“Wait and see.”
“Wait and see what?” Rayyan demanded. He turned to Mirzaq. “You left pretty fast.”
“Was I?” Zak asked innocently.
Rayyan pursed his lips but said nothing. He turned to me. “I need to get home and do some work soon. You still hungry?”
I shook my head. I felt queasy. “No.”
“Let’s just go home then,” my brother decided. “You don’t look too good kiddo, is everything okay?” His hazel eyes full of concern as they looked me up and down. “You’re kind of pale.”
“Headache,” I grunted.
“Definitely time to go home,” Rayyan decided. “Come on. I’ll drop you off and then get Mirzaq back to his hotel.”
“I’ll take a cab,” Zak spoke up. “You should be with your sister.”
Rayyan nodded once. “Come on.” He put an arm around my shoulder and began to lead me toward the car.
I felt suddenly reluctant. Mirzaq was leaving in the morning, he’d told me earlier. I wouldn’t ever see him again after this.
“Don’t be silly,” Zak said immediately. “You can’t help being sick.”
“Goodbye,” I said miserably.
“You really like this guy, don’t you?” Rayyan asked as he turned the key in the ignition.
I looked away. “It doesn’t matter.”
Rayyan switched the car back off and turned to me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
I opened my mouth to try and explain and a wave of exhaustion hit me. “Never mind. Let’s just go home.”
“No,” Rayyan said instantly. “What’s wrong?”
“Rayyan, please. Let’s just go.”
“Azraa,” Rayyan started. Then he sighed. “Fine. Your choice.”
I shut my eyes and leaned back in my seat.
The car rolling to a stop was my cue to get up again. But I couldn’t make myself open my eyes.
I waited for Rayyan to shake me or call my name but there was nothing. My brother seemed content to sit and wait for me to ‘wake’ naturally.
Finally, I heard his seatbelt click and there was a rush of cool air as he opened first his door then got out and opened mine.
I heard him sigh and then reach across me to unclip my belt before lifting me up. “You’re such a brat,” he complained to me.
“Thanks,” I said softly as he carried me into the house.
Rayyan’s arm tightened around my shoulder. “Love you, little sis.”