Saami’ah had been on tenterhooks for days, expecting some sort of confrontation to occur. But either Haseena had not spoken to her father or he simply hadn’t seen her behaviour to be something that needed addressing.
Or so she thought.
Walking down the stairs to the lounge and coming face to face with every other member of the house sitting and waiting for her, staring at her as she came down quickly told her otherwise.
She stood uncertainly on the last step, wondering what would happen if she bolted back up to her room or pretended to faint. Would she buy herself some sorely needed time or would she just make things worse?
Unable to decide, she remained in her place until her father cleared his throat and made a beckoning motion with his right hand. “Saami’ah… come sit. Please,” he added as an afterthought.
Saami’ah kept her eyes on him while she picked the sofa farthest from the cluster Adnaan, Haseena and her father had picked for themselves – Haseena and her father seated together while Adnaan had taken a place to their left. He must have moved the piece of furniture, Saami’ah realized. It was much closer than it had been before.
It wasn’t until she’d sat down and made herself comfortable that Saami’ah realized the downside of choosing the seat she had – she was directly opposite the little family. Seeing them gathered together like that made her stomach twist and her chest ache.
She stared deliberately at the stitching of the sofa to quell the inexplicable tears that had come to her eyes at the sight.
“What’s this about?” she asked carefully when it became obvious that no one else was about to speak.
Adnaan looked at his mother who looked at her husband. Saami’ah’s father seemed to flounder for a second before he nodded sharply to himself and straightened his spine. “Saami’ah,” he began, pinning her with an intense look. “This is going to be a difficult discussion for us all – but we cannot keep avoiding it. There are certain things you need to know about my past with your mother and the circumstances around your birth.” His eyes flickered to his son and they narrowed. “Adnaan has already told you a bit about it – far more than he should have, in fact.”
Adnaan’s shoulders slumped and he seemed to curl into himself slightly. “’M sorry,” he mumbled.
Haseena gave her husband a severe look. “Never mind that now,” she said sharply. She turned back to Saami’ah. “You already know most of everything that happened – but we wanted to clarify a few things. Firstly, I hold no resentment towards you for what happened, Saami’ah. You’re blameless in all of this. And I don’t blame you for feeling loyal towards your mother’s memory. Whatever she did, she was the woman who gave birth to you and cared for you until she died.”
Saami’ah’s head snapped up. “What did you just say?” she demanded. “How do you know that?”
Haseena’s eyes widened in shock. “Honey, what do you think happened to your mother?” she asked in a gentle voice.
The endearment didn’t grate the way it usually did. “I don’t know,” Saami’ah admitted. “I’ve never… I’ve barely ever been able to remember her. She left me with my grandmother. But she didn’t die – she just left. She’s still out there somewhere.”
The pitying look on Haseena’s face told Saami’ah that this wasn’t the case. She nudged her husband. “You should be the one to do this.” She got to her feet and beckoned to Adnaan. “Come on.”
“When did she die?” It was all Saami’ah wanted to know.
“When you were five. She came to me for help – she needed money, needed help. I gave her everything I could.”
Saami’ah kept her eyes on the coffee table in front of her. The pain in her father’s voice was palpable. He must have loved her, Saami’ah realized. To still care so many years later…
“How did she… how did she die?”
There was a pained silence.
“Never mind,” she said quickly. “It’s not important. Don’t worry about it.”
Her father looked relieved. “It was quick,” he told her, clearly trying to be comforting.
“Oh.” Saami’ah didn’t know what to say. “That’s good.”
“What did your grandmother tell you had happened to her?”
Saami’ah played with the ends of her hijab. “She… never mentioned her.”
And Saami’ah had stopped bothering to ask when she was tiny, aware that it was futile and would only anger the old lady.