5 July, 2024: The Message in the Rain

Featured & Cover 5 July 2024 The Message in the Rain

set in Salalah, Oman

The monsoon had started a month ago, but it was because Mother was out walking with her mother-in-law that she noticed how green everything had gotten. In the monsoon months, the city of Salalah changed dramatically. The gently hot coastal town was taken over by the vegetation that grew during Khareef, turning the entire city from a muddy brown to a vibrant jungle colour. Mother and Father’s house was in a suburb north of town, away from the beach, and the park that Mother had asked the chauffeur to drop them off in was surrounded by the hills. Everything under them was green, as if they were living in a coffee plantation. Though the clouds were damp, dark, and covered the sky as if it was soon to rain, all Mother could think about was how cool she felt.

Mother said to her mother in law « .The weather is too nice »

She wasn’t expecting a response. Her mother-in-law was Fatma, of the same family as the Al Balushi clan. The family came from the north of the Dhofar Governate, from a village near the border with Saudi Arabia. Her mother-in-law had come to live with them in January as a result of her declining health. At the time, the dementia and Parkinson’s were bad, but she would at least make an attempt to communicate. For example, previously, if Mother asked Fatma if she was in the mood for a walk, her eyes would light up, and she would she would cluck out random phrases or say words like وردة الصحر  or ابابايا . She gesticulated and tried to maintain eye contact, giving the sense that there was a story inside her mind that she wanted to convey, even if her mouth and body failed to express it.

Now there was nothing. Fatma’s head slunk against her shoulder with her eyes vacuously open. The boys in dishdasha and housewives in burqa walked by, many of them staring. In her previous attempts to come to the park, the staring had intimidated Mother. It had become one of the reasons why she avoided exercising outside with her mother-in-law.

But something about the weather, the overall environment, and her mental state was different today. She didn’t mind that they gaped at her as she pushed Fatma in her wheelchair, talking to a woman who wouldn’t talk back. She knew it didn’t matter whether or not her interactions with Fatma had any semblance of normalcy. These interactions and excursions were worth having because they were good for Fatma’s mental health and overall stamina.

Mother repeated « .The weather is too nice .We picked the right hour for our walk .We will go in an hour for Asr .At that point, it will start to rain  ؟Do you like rain »

Mother repeated when there was no response to the question « ؟Do you like rain »

She looked towards Fatma to see the same glassy expression. She said « …The rain …the rain ؟Do you like rain »

The more she spoke, the more Mother started thinking about the rain and her own relationship to it. As a child, she used to despise Khareef, when the rains kept her inside, stuck in a room, while the water leaked from the ceiling and dripped onto their floor, furniture, and clothes. But regardless of the weather, most of her early memories involved being indoors anyway, with her mother and her cousins, cooking and cleaning and preparing everything for her male relatives. Sometimes Eid happened during the time of Khareef, and she had memories of eating fresh luqaimat for iftar while rain poured outside the window, the melted goo of sugar-caked donuts all over her fingers.

Mother told her mother-in-law « .I like the rain now .I have a house with so much comfort .I can enjoy the rain from the inside of a beautiful home .This is because of your son Bahir .I am happy I married him every day of my life »

She thought, I am happy for all the service I do for him, including helping you.

Remembering how much better life was because of her marriage to Bahir, Mother felt a genuine sense of gratitude, one that made her want to give namaz to Allah right then and there on their walk. Yes, she was glad to have left the house, to have gotten some cardio, in weather that was not making her sweatily moist under her burqa. And she was with the woman who had birthed the man who had given her such a great quality of life, a beautiful son, and a wondrous home. That was something to appreciate.

There was a boy standing in the middle of the footpath. He had brown skin with sandy freckles, and tangled and unruly hair that looked like it had been days since a proper wash. He couldn’t have been a kid from the streets, but he did smell like hashish. He had the features of someone from Yemen. Mother tried to wheel her mother-in-law away from him, but he was much quicker. He stopped right in front of them and pointed at Fatma, sniggering.

« .She is such an ugly-looking lady .I have never seen a woman who looks like this, ugly like a mule. And she drools like one, too. »

Mother raised her hand. She would have struck him right then and there had there not been a wheelchair in between them. « You go » Mother bellowed. The boy rushed away, but not because he was scared. He approached a group of teens of a similar age who were sitting on one of the nearby benches. They greeted him, exchanging foreign-looking handshakes. Then they all stopped and pointed at Mother and her mother-in-law. It was hard to make out what was being said from a distance, but Mother imagined they were saying something rude. Mother wheeled them off in another direction before they could attract any other unwarranted attention.

She could not believe how rudely they had behaved. During the time when Son had been of that age, it was almost impossible to see anyone speak to their elders like that. Because of the conflict right across from them, a lot more people were coming from Yemen. Not to mention all those videos that the youngsters were watching, on social media, in which random people tried to hurt or prank strangers. There were so many things influencing what people said or did, and the younger generation was acting in unpredictable ways.

Mother said to her mother-in-law « .I am sorry for what you heard .He does not know anything .He is on drugs .He is crazy  »

But Fatma’s eyes did not register anything. They were in the same position they had been earlier, staring deeply yet vacuously at the footpath. And Fatma was drooling a lot. Mother found a handkerchief in her purse and leaned over to wipe Fatma’s mouth.

The clouds were looking darker. The small pieces of gravel nestled in the cracks in the footpath were starting to tumble away from the wind. It would rain soon. Fatma would undoubtedly start crying if she were rained on, and she wouldn’t be likely to stop even if she was dried off later.

It didn’t make sense to stay any longer. Mother called the chauffeur and told them they were returning, then led the wheelchair back towards the parking lot.

No kids disrupted them on the walk back.

The other people in the park must have noticed the change in the weather and were making their own plans to leave. Even the teens who had looked so comfortable on the bench were suddenly nowhere to be found.

It was just Mother and her mother-in-law on the footpath. The two of them, completely out of earshot of anyone else. In this new environment, in the outdoors, with rain encroaching, Mother suddenly felt free to share her thoughts in a way she wouldn’t have at home. She still felt bad about what this random boy had said. Even though it had not made a difference to Fatma given her state of mind, Mother wanted to say something in defense of her mother-in-law’s honour.

Mother turned to her mother-in-law, « .I am happy to know you .Genuinely, I am happy to know you .Last year, I was so lost . I wanted to dedicate myself to all of the problems of the world .I wanted to help out at orphanages .I wanted to give to the homeless .I wanted to do everything, but I felt nothing while doing so .But I feel something good when I am with you . I don’t like to admit it .That is my problem »

Mother smiled, and she liked to believe that, in some way, her mother-in-law, despite not moving her face, was smiling, too.

Mother had finally said the truth. It was hard work taking care of an elder as incapacitated as Fatma, but Mother had wanted Allah to give her life meaning, and she had gotten exactly what she asked for. It wasn’t anything as grandiose as building homes for the homeless, or bringing kilos of food to the starving, but she was still doing a service to a very particular human being, and she had to take the time to appreciate her work. Allah appreciated it, and her family appreciated it. It was a work of value, even if it was small.

They reached the car. The chauffeur got out and helped Fatma into the car. As they drove down the hill, the rain started smacking against the window. Mother smiled, and not just because she enjoyed the view of the raindrops against the misty green hills underneath them. Their walk had been short but effective, and in the next half-hour, it would be time for the Maghrib salat.

Mother said out loud to her mother-in-law « .I enjoyed what we did today .Thank you for this day .It is rare for me to enjoy our time together .But I will take the time to learn to enjoy it .I have to be honest about this .Allah has put us together in your time of need for a reason .Allah has shown this to me during our walk together .I will listen to Allah .I will enjoy the work Allah has given to me .That is my duty to Allah and to you, both .I will behave with happiness and kindness to you .I will not let anyone abuse you .I will not let myself become a person who abuses you as well »

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