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Happy Birthday, Son!
May 1, 2008

Aisha looked at the clock hanging nearby. “It is time,” she hurried, “I have to go.” She wondered what to wear that chilly windy day. As a Muslim she knew that there was a hidden hour within Friday when all prayers are accepted. She would not miss for the world this chance to pray for her only son she had lost two years ago. Of course, she could pray at home as well, but her pain would ease a little standing by his grave. Staring into the mirror, she put on her white scarf. Her son had liked that particular scarf. “Mom, you look like an angel,” he had once complimented her. She took a deep breath trying to untie the big knot squeezing her chest. Aisha turned around and put on her shoes and the light green coat. She turned the key of the freezing car, thanking God one more time for the warm home and nice clothes she had.

The road, although not very long, took her back in time by a fast train of memories. She remembered how her newborn son had caught his dad’s finger in an unbreakable grip as he was whispering the call to prayer to his little ear. She saw her son waddling his first steps and her husband clapping his hands for joy. Every curve of the road took her to another stage. His first day in kindergarten was unforgettable. Seeing him walk in line behind the teacher had made hide her tears behind her husband. Separation, though a short one, had been hard to bear. Then she saw herself sitting on the sofa by her son’s side, teaching him how to read the Holy Book. She remembered her son’s excitement when she told him the prophetic tradition that the parents of those people who read the Qur’an a lot in this world would have shiny faces on the Day of Judgment. “Mommy,” he said, taking her face between his hands, “You and daddy will have the shiniest faces of all people, I promise.” Aisha had laughed at his genuine promise and kissed his head many times. One of the memories she cherished most was going on a bug hunt with him, to return home with a jar full of creepy crawlies for his science project. Her son had been fascinated to see all the different shapes and colors of life around him. She had reminded him to be respectful to every creature. She once overheard him pray to God to grant him a flying dinosaur in paradise. Aisha caught herself smiling in the rear-view mirror. “Life is a journey,” she thought. “My son reached the destination and he is waiting for us. O God, please reunite us in your paradise and give us patience meanwhile,” she prayed.

She parked the car in the graveyard’s little parking lot. Aisha took her copy of the Qur’an and got out, not minding the cold at all. “It is always so quiet here,” she thought. “I can even hear my own heartbeat.” She stopped by her son’s grave, bent over to touch the ground, and felt the knot in her chest tie up again. “Now, now, hold strong,” she ordered her heart. “It’s just a temporary separation. Just like in kindergarten, only a lot longer. O God, I am thankful for my faith in You. How would I have endured all this pain had I not known You will raise the dead and then everyone will be with their beloved forever. Thank you, thank you very much,” she whispered, feeling the knot loosen. She opened her copy of the Qur’an and started reading the chapter “The Merciful.” The first time she read it in this graveyard, it sounded as if it was being read from heaven. One verse repeated thirty-one times in this chapter had kept her from rebelling in her grief: “Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?” She had never understood its message better before. Aisha finished reading and opened her hands in prayer. “Our Lord, grant us bounties in this world and in the hereafter and save us from the torment of hell. Do not let us go astray once you have guided us to the truth and grant us mercy from Your Presence. Surely You are the Most Generous One. Amen.”

She rubbed her hands over her wet face and was preparing to go when she suddenly heard someone sobbing not too far from her. She turned to her right and saw a woman crying over a grave. Her black hair touched the ground and hid her face completely. Next to the grave, a big balloon was waving in the wind. Something was printed on it. Aisha read it and was stunned. The white letters materialized the pain of a mother’s heart: Happy birthday, son! “The grave is new. Her wound must be still bleeding,” Aisha thought to herself. “It took two years for mine to cover with a thin layer.”

Aisha went close enough for the woman to sense her presence. The woman stopped crying, looked up, and then tried to stand up, but her knees would not hold her. Aisha reached out her arm and kept the woman from falling. They looked at each other. It felt like looking in the mirror. The same tears formed traces in their faces resembling riverbeds in summer. The same longing to go back in time for one more chance to live the past could be read in every line and wrinkle. A small shiny pendant cross hanging below the woman’s chin caught Aisha’s eye. For a moment, neither spoke. Aisha looked at the cross, becoming aware that the woman was staring at her white scarf. After that short moment of bewilderment, Aisha spoke first.

“I’m Aisha. I just want to let you know that I understand how you feel.”

“You do?” asked the woman.

“Yes, I lost my only son two years ago.” Then with empathy, she added, “It’s OK to cry, and if you need a shoulder you can cry on mine.”

“But how can you…?” The woman could not finish her words as her eyes met the warmth of Aisha’s face. Then something wonderful happened that only angels witnessed. She hugged Aisha and both of them cried. The two women hugged for a long time despite the white scarf, despite the pendant cross. Had they met in a store or at gas station they might not have exchanged anything more than a wry smile, they might have thought that they belonged to different worlds. Yet here they had become indivisible in their maternal pain.

“This place helped me understand better not only my Holy Book,” thought Aisha, “but also my humanity. Praise is to you, God,” she whispered with the delight of someone who has just found a lost friend. The two women, leaning on each other, walked toward the parking lot, realizing with great surprise that the wind was not chilly anymore.