It was the fifth day of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Mum and I had just prayed the midday prayer and she was sitting beside me on the prayer mat, reciting from the Holy Qur’an. Her smooth and sweet voice made me feel safe and sleepy. I’d been looking forward to Ramadan since last Eid, about ten months ago, dreaming of all the delicious food, the trips to the mosque and up north to visit my family, and the gorgeous Eid presents. Ramadan was officially my favourite time of the year, bar school holidays.
Last Ramadan, Dad came home from work early and helped Mum make yummy food while I waited impatiently for the sound of the adhan, the call to prayer that meant that it was sunset, Maghrib time: time to EAT!
But this year Dad had told me that there wouldn’t be lots of fancy food because money was tight. Dad had been so busy at work that he had gone to the mosque near his office to break his fast instead of coming home. Times were hard, and he had to work extra hours to make sure that he didn’t lose his job, like Fatima’s dad.
To make things worse, we wouldn’t be able to go up north this year because the baby was due and Mum could go into labour at any time. My Ramadan was ruined - all because of ‘Ramadan Baby’. All of a sudden, even though I hadn’t eaten since before sunrise, I didn’t feel hungry anymore.
I felt depressed. Mum must have seen my face change because she took my hand and said, ‘What’s on your mind, sweetheart?’
‘It just doesn’t feel like Ramadan, Mum. Dad’s never here, you’re not even cooking properly, we’ve not been out anywhere and Eid is going to be rubbish with no presents.’
Mum looked at me sternly. ‘Halima, if you think that Ramadan is about lots of fancy food, iftars at people’s houses and loads of goodies then you’re right, your Ramadan is ruined. But if Ramadan is about thinking about Allah and worshipping him, if it is about giving to others, being helpful and supportive, then you have a golden opportunity right now, during this blessed month to stop thinking of yourself and start putting others first. Good deeds done in the month of Ramadan get more reward, remember?’ Mum said, poking me with her elbow.
‘Oh, alright!’ I said, scooting off the bed. ‘I’ll try.’ But I didn’t think trying would solve anything, not really. I went into the kitchen to prepare the iftar fruit tray. I sliced the bananas, cut the juicy oranges into quarters and opened a new packet of dates. I filled a jug with water and poured milk into three cups. That’s when I realised. At least we were going to eat food once we broke our fast; some people didn’t have that to look forward to. So maybe, just maybe, Ramadan wasn’t just about fancy food. Maybe my Ramadan wasn’t ruined after all. Maybe I could do Ramadan differently this year...
I started the next day after I got home from school. I made Mum lie down after the mid-afternoon prayer and I did stuff around the house, little things, but things I knew would make her life easier, now and when Ramadan Baby came. I tidied up my room, took my own clothes to the washing machine, loaded the dishwasher. And I just started doing that every day.
I even collected some clothes that I had outgrown and put them in the clothes bank outside the mosque. That was when I decided to fast for the rest of Ramadan, nonstop, from sunrise to sunset for the next fifteen days.
What with school and fasting, my new chores at home and visits to the mosque to pray, the days flew by. I got tired and I felt hungry, of course but, somehow, I was ok with it. I knew why I was doing it and it had nothing to do with having samoosas for iftar.
The last ten days of Ramadan were there before I knew it. I had been so busy, I had hardly noticed the moon getting thinner and thinner. Every day, we expected Mum to go into labour, for Ramadan Baby to finally make an appearance. But Ramadan Baby didn’t come and soon, a new moon rose in the night sky - IT WAS EID! I was amazed. Where had the time gone? And what had happened to our Ramadan Baby?
That night, I fell asleep thinking of all the excitement of Eid, of seeing my cousins again, of going for our annual treasure hunt.
Mum had been too tired to bake all the stuff she normally made for Eid and I was sure Dad hadn’t bought loads of presents but I didn’t mind. I was just glad that I had managed to fast for fifteen whole days and that I had been able to help Mum so much. And I was glad that, finally, I was really ready for the baby, whenever he decided to show up.
But when Dad woke me up on Eid morning, he was breathless, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Halima,’ he practically shouted, ‘come and see who decided to arrive on Eid!’
‘What...who?’ I scrambled out of bed and saw a lady in a blue nurse’s uniform going into Mum and Dad’s room - the midwife! I squealed with joy and ran to the door. When I peeped around the door there was Mum, sitting up in bed, holding a little bundle in her arms, smiling. I tiptoed towards the bed. Mum lifted a corner of the blanket and I gasped: there was my new baby brother, staring up at me, his dark eyes just like mine.
I put my little finger to his tiny palm and he grabbed it, holding on as if he would never let go. ‘Oh, he’s gorgeous, Mum,’ I whispered, giving Mum a kiss. Then, carefully, I took my baby brother in my arms.
‘I got the best Eid present ever,’ I looked into my little baby brother’s deep brown eyes and said, ‘Asalaamu alaikum, sweetie. Eid Mubarak.’
The lessons I had learned in Ramadan were still with me and tomorrow there would be a party to celebrate my little brother’s birth, to celebrate his name. The name chosen by me, his big sister. The name ‘Na’eem’. ‘Blessed’.