The following submission appeared in “We Are Newton: A Neighbourhood Anthology.” See here for more information about the project.
By: S. Hayat, Amazing Tutors Children’s Foundation
There are so many things I can tell you about my life, but the last decade has no doubt left impressions and experiences which have helped shape the woman that I have become today. Perhaps if I had not met Alina, I would have lived a different life, and if God had not interceded in my decision to be married to my husband, I would not be here in Newton.
I remember clearly how I felt when I first walked into the bright, sunny office on that summer day. I was an impressionable young woman looking for an entry-level job as an administrative assistant. There she was, dressed in a dark, emerald green hijab with a matching gown that draped downwards. Her face was solemn, offset with a prominent nose and very keen, dark brown eyes. Her stature and demeanour revealed strength and dignity.
I flashed a friendly smile at her and wondered who she was. Her son interviewed me. When I was hired, I came to know Alina as the president of the company.
With Alina, everything felt so right and our days were filled with fun activities on top of my regular duties. There would be days when I felt overwhelmed with paperwork and phone calls from customers about their orders. However, she was always there to encourage me and help me resolve problems. Some days she would scatter her silk flower arrangements all over the desks to sell her handiwork to raise money for the mosque and help feed poor people. She taught me to be strong and assertive when working with men because all the other workers were shippers and drivers. On the weekend, we would go to the mini bazaar to sell her extra things to raise money for the mosque.
I can still hear her forceful words. “What you need is a good Muslim man who will treat you right!” Why? Where in the world and how? I thought she was out of her mind to make a bold suggestion like that. I did not know any Muslims in Newton until I met her and her loving family.
On a cool day, Zaid walked into the office to see Alina. He was a family friend. Never in a million years did I ever think that I would marry a man from across the world, least of all not an Arabian one. In a strange twist of fate, destiny has a way of bringing two hearts together. I know now that matches are made in heaven and marriages are experienced on earth right here and now. Things do not happen without God’s blessings and sanctions.
It was Alina who hosted my secret marriage to Zaid with her family around us, followed by a wonderful dinner in her home. I can still feel her strong arms around me and the warm kisses her two grandchildren gave me.
Fast forward two years and I saw Harry, Alina’s husband, bringing an old, dilapidated loveseat into the office. When I asked him what it was for, he replied, “Alina has headaches which make her tired and she needs to lie down.”
She felt more exhausted each day. She would take longer cat naps while the phones kept ringing. I continued to deal with all the sales and managerial work. I put a blanket around her to keep her warm.
A month later, I was on my second day of vacation. The sun was shining and smiling down on my flowers and the soft wind ruffled the tree branches. I heard a knock on my door. I thought to myself, who can it be at this time of the day? I opened my rustic green door and it was Harry with tears streaming down his distraught face. I held his rigid, cold hands as I searched his eyes for answers. He had just come back from a doctor’s appointment and was told that Alina was diagnosed with lung cancer. She would only have a year to live and there was no cure. I was shocked and confused by his news.
How could this have happened? Alina was not prepared to lose her family, nor was Harry prepared to lose his life partner. Certainly, I was not prepared to let her go. As we drove closer to the office, I thought about what to say to her. I walked through the door and my steps quickened until I found her. I held on to her like there was no tomorrow. Her eyes welled with tears, swollen with red lines of pain. I felt her heavy heart beating in a rhythm of sorrow as she sighed and exhaled slowly.
Everything would change. She would not be by my side anymore. She had to settle all her important matters. I would only see her from time to time when she came to visit me.
One of the hardest things I ever had to do was to say goodbye to Alina. In her final days, she lay in her bedroom surrounded by her supportive, caring family. Her body was filled with morphine to help alleviate her suffering, and her chest heaved as she gasped for breath from her breathing tube. This was not the Alina that I had come to know. She was trapped in her failing body. Her little granddaughter sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the notes still ring in my ears.
I looked at Alina and knelt on my knees to be closer to her. I placed a crimson and orange dahlia in her limp right hand and placed my hands gently around hers. With tears in my eyes, I whispered, “I love you so much. You have changed my life profoundly by shaping the person that I have become today. I will never forget you because I will always guard you in my heart.”
After a few moments, I said, “Hold this flower in your hand, Alina, as you walk through the gates of paradise. I know it is time for you to go and the angels are waiting. Do not fight any longer for this life is a mirage and it is short, and I will see you again, when my time comes.” With that, I gave her a final kiss and I gripped her hand to say good night.
That was the last night I spent with her. Very early the next morning I received a phone call. She had passed away peacefully in her sleep. I had known her by her actions and the thoughtful things she did for other people, but I never realized the full impact of her kindness and who she really was until the morning of her funeral. All the people she had touched, one way or another, came as one entity to pay their honour and tribute to her. I am not talking about hundreds, more than 1,000 people came to pay their respects. She died as a Muslim leader in our community, in the month of Ramadan, when the Gates of Heaven are wide open with angels waiting at the footstep.
To me, Alina was more than my employer. She was my treasured friend, my mentor and role model. She loved me as I loved her, and in those three years, she helped me become the young woman that I am today in a very unforgettable way. With her soft, steady hand, she showed me how important it was to help others in need. With her patience and kindness, she showed me what life was really all about. Her cheerfulness and optimism, even in times of stricken sickness, were the most amazing things that I have ever witnessed.