The longest year of my life…and other reflections

They say that time flies. And while that may be true for many – and even myself in years gone by – at this time, I strongly disagree with the idea.

The phrase came up recently, when I was asked how old my daughter is now. My reply, that she’s almost a year old, elicited the aforementioned sentiment: “time flies.”

But for me, time most certainly has not flown. It’s felt like the longest year of my life. That’s not to say time has dragged on and life has been boring. Far from it. It’s probably been the second most eventful year of my life (after 2007 – which I still hope to write about someday).

It feels like ages since that memorable night when our baby was born. And I still remember the intensity of feeling in those first days and nights when they came home: the constant worry about whether she was drinking properly; the difficulty in getting her to burp; the insane schedule of feed – burp – short sleep – feed – burp – short sleep etc, which was obviously much harder for my wife than it was for me. The freedom we felt the first time we left her with a grandparent and had time ‘off’ – even if it was only a short meal after a doctor’s appointment.

And there was Ramadan – which came soon after her birth; and I barely remember it now – other than, perhaps, the knowledge that last Ramadan was so different – in terms of spiritual exertion – than the one before.

And the time when my wife and baby moved back home (after spending some time with her mother after the birth – as is customary in our community) – how we first let the baby sleep in our room; but then realised this almost totally deprived us of having a room altogether. Then how we moved our bed into her room – which was a tight squeeze, given the fact that the rooms aren’t too big here.

And the absolutely magical moments of feeding her before bed – when she’d collapse and fall asleep sprawled out across me; so small that I could easily carry her with one arm.

And I remember the mornings when she would get into bed with us – after spending most of the night in her own cot. (A practice still persists). And the times she would wake me up with her noises and arm-flapping – almost as if she was trying to get me up.

And when she started crawling – moving more like a worm than a mini-human. And the few week phase she went through where she’d scrunch her face up at everyone – almost as if she knew she was amusing us, and played along for her audience. And the time she bit her own toe, then started bawling in pain because she didn’t know it was actually a part of her own body.

And…and…and…just so, so, so many memories. So much time. It’s felt more like ten years – yet it’s only been one.

The thought of that brings to mind another gripe I have with a time-related cliché: “Life’s too short.”

Years ago, when confronted with that idea, I’d think about what a long life I’d had up to that point: close to 25 years of ups and downs; personal insecurities and fears; pleasures and sadness; companionship and overwhelming stretches of utter alone-ness; the peace and goodness of solitude, along with its negative effects; and life-changing moments that will forever remain un-erasable milestones on my journey to become who I’m going to be.

It’s said that, compared to eternity – which awaits us in the Hereafter – this life is like the blink of an eye. And while that may well be true, I guess I just have absolutely no way to feel what eternity is. There’s nothing that I can measure it against – nothing in my experience; and because perceptions shape our reality, for me, my reality is that my life has been very long already – even though I’m approaching 30, which some would say is still young.

I sometimes wonder if I’m weird to feel that way. If I’m different because everyone talks about how short life is – while I totally disagree. I wonder if I’m an old soul trapped in a young(ish) body – because I feel that I can relate to those old people who are just tired of life, and waiting to move on.

That’s not to say that I want to die soon. I’m certainly nowhere near the condition that I want to be in by the time that Angel comes knocking. But the truth is that he (the angel) doesn’t wait for us to be ‘ready.’ When it’s your time, it’s your time. No one and nothing can delay it – even for a split second. And, many times, there is no warning. It comes just like that: one moment you’re here, and the next you’re gone.

Many, many years ago – in my childhood – I had a dream that I was being buried alive. I mean, I think I was ‘dead’ – but I was still ‘awake’. I could see the people at my burial. I was probably frantically trying to call to them; to ask them why they were leaving me when I was still alive.

From what I now know of death (the Islamic teachings on the subject), that is pretty much a reflection of the reality: your body dies, but your soul does not. And when you’re put in your grave, you’re aware of the people that are there – and you know when they’re leaving. (I forget the exact Hadith – but it’s something along those lines).

When I think of dying, I recall the very vague image of my grandfather’s death bed. How he was in bed, on the brink of death, and the family were there with him. I was 7 years old at the time – so I don’t remember much at all.

And I think of what I’ve learnt about those moments – the ‘pangs’ of death; the moments when a person is between this world and the next – in and out of consciousness. The time when a person will know the truth about life – about the existence of God. And I feel sorry for those who disbelieve – because when they reach that point – and they realise the truth, it’ll be too late for them to change their minds. Like the Pharaoh – just before he was drowned. He admitted the truth too late; and now he’ll face the eternal consequences of his refusal to believe.

So many people don’t know the truth about death. Among the world’s people, there are so many different beliefs about death and an afterlife (or lack of one). So much confusion, so much argument.

And for all the arguments and theories that people of different faiths (including atheists) may have – in the end, there’s one simple event that resolves everyone’s differences: when humans die, they come to know what the truth is. They come to find out – by experience – whether their beliefs about death and life after death were true or not. And at that time, if they find that they were wrong – it’s too late to change direction. To late to believe something else.

I feel tremendously fortunate to be Muslim. To be part of a religious tradition that knows – with certainty – so much about death, the grave, and what comes after. We have all of this knowledge as a result of Divine Revelation (both in the Quran and the Hadith) – and, under the protection of Almighty God, all of this knowledge has been pristinely preserved like no other book, no other information, in the history of humankind.

And I don’t say that with any arrogance – because I hope I don’t ‘look down’ on people who don’t believe what I do. I hope I don’t judge those who have other faiths. There’s no guarantee I’ll live the rest of my life as a Muslim. I can only hope and pray that I do remain one, right to the very end.

Anyway, this post has meandered a bit – but these are just thoughts I’m having at the moment. If you have something to say about them, go ahead and comment. But I know the latter part is a sensitive subject – so some may have been offended by it. Please know that I meant no offence at all. These were just reflections in my mind, which are now on this page. You’re welcome to disagree and share your thoughts – but please keep it clean and respectful.


Accommodating adventures: Part 2

“The others”

(Part 1 of the story is here)

Our first year in the new place was awesome. It was a perfect home for us: great location, excellent and active mosques close by, peaceful and safe neighbourhood, and close enough to our families – but still far away for us to have our own privacy and independence.

There were hiccups at the beginning, though. When we moved in, we found that the place had a lot of work to be done. From the bathroom cabinet to door handles, and most especially windows – many of which were not functional. In fact, the bathroom window – which was permanently open because it couldn’t close – caused the most trouble.

My wife is terrified of bees. And, early in our stay, it seemed to be bee season. Many early mornings, we’d hear them outside the bathroom window. And, sometimes, we’d see them gathering outside there – probably drawn to the light (which we needed on to see anything). On a few occasions, some got in and I had to spray them with our best friend: Doom (which you may remember from The Night Visitor. Anyway, one time, it got so bad that we had to go further. We had to take our towels and jam them in the window – so that the bees couldn’t come in.

All of this happened because our very busy agent just couldn’t get someone to come and do the repairs (there always seemed to be some reason or delay). In the end, we had to get our own handyman to do most of the work – and the landlord obviously paid. (To the agent’s credit, the on-site handyman did do some of the work – but he wasn’t deemed skilled enough to do the major stuff).

Anyway, about a year after we moved in, with my wife now pregnant, we thought it best to look for a new home. The only problem, really, was that we were on the 3rd floor – which meant a lot of stairs (there’s no lift); something we thought could be dangerous during the pregnancy and once the baby arrived.

Coupled with that, we had new neighbours downstairs. They were a family of youngsters – brothers and sister – living without their parents. They had this freedom and independence to live as they pleased, and do what they wanted. From what I remember, three were at university / college, and the other was still in high school.

Now, as we found out, the walls are not very soundproof here. We hadn’t really noticed in our first year, because the downstairs neighbours weren’t really noisy.

But these new neighbours were quite the opposite. They spoke very loudly, blasted their music and TV, and slammed their front door constantly (since people were in and out a lot). And they never seemed to sleep – or at least, someone always seemed to be awake in there. At almost all hours of the night.

On many occasions, I’d find myself calling the security guard to tell them to keep the noise down. And, numerous times, I’d have to go down myself: sometimes after 10pm, a few times after midnight, and once at 5 in the morning – to ask them to keep their noise down.

Early in their stay, they got a visit from the police one night – so bad was their behaviour. They were drunk, and one of them – who, I think, was being particularly rude – had to be locked up somewhere on the premises by the complex’s supervisor (due to underage drinking). Another time, not long after, they got another visit from the police –presumably for the same reason.

Anyway, no matter what we tried, they would just never calm down and be decent neighbours. Their behaviour completely lacked consideration for other human beings. They seemed to think this was their own little city, and they could do whatever they want, make as much noise as they want, and disregard or ignore every warning or complaint about them.

My highly irritable wife (with the irritation induced by their noise) often had to fall asleep listening to her mp3 player – just so she wouldn’t hear them.

It wasn’t that they were necessarily ‘bad’ people. I think it’s just that they were young, away from their parents, and given freedom which – obviously – they were not mature enough to handle yet. With every freedom comes responsibility. And when living in a community, you have the responsibility to be considerate of your neighbours. Clearly, they either didn’t know about this – or they just weren’t mature enough to accept it.

Anyway, needless to say, their behaviour made us more eager to move somewhere else.

But we were having no success. We saw one place, a separate entrance, which seemed promising at first. We walked in to the main house – where we had an appointment with the landlady – and we were impressed. It was an eloquent, fancy house, which made us think that the separate entrance would also be nice.

It wasn’t. It was a decent size, but rather dingy – and not a place we saw ourselves staying in.

At this time, our agent (the quirky old man from part 1) was looking for a new place for us – but he didn’t have anything. We realised we couldn’t rely on him – despite the optimism he seemed to portray when he spoke of finding us alternate accommodation.

(On a sidenote, there’s a lesson in that which I’d like to relay: don’t rely on agents. I learnt this about employment agents a few years ago, and it seems the same applies to property agents. It’s fine to use their services, and even to hope that they can get you what you need. But never rely on them…don’t depend on them. In reality, your search – whether it’s for a home or a job – is your own; it’s your responsibility; so don’t let yourself think that someone else is going to do it for you. After all, agents can only work with what’s available to them – whether that be properties or jobs).

We also did our drive-around thing again – but this time scouting for places to rent. We drove around the area we wanted to stay in, looking for suitable complexes, and found quite a few. We took down managing agent numbers, then called them – but alas, there was nothing for us.

Anyway, back to the people downstairs: their landlord was well aware of the problems with them. Other neighbours had also complained; but he didn’t have sufficient legal cause to evict them. Fortunately for us (and everyone else in the block), they were a bit behind on their rent – so he wanted to wait for them to fall far enough behind that he could evict them.

But he was beaten to it. One Monday night, they brought a truck, put their furniture in, and disappeared – never to be seen again. They hadn’t told their landlord, and had only mentioned to the security guard that they were going away for a while – and may be back the following month.

Thankfully, they never came back. And we hope, for their sake as well as their future neighbours, that they’ll grow up and learn how to co-exist peacefully with others – without being a menace to the people that live around them.

Meanwhile, our search came to an end: we decided to stay put, and make the best of what we had, even if the stairs were going to make life difficult.

Although it might have been disappointing to not find a new place, I was pleased. I was always reluctant to leave our home – such was my attachment to it, and the fact that I like my comfort zone.

So, we stayed on; made the second room into a nursery, and looked forward to the next stage of our lives.

But, months later, things were to change again….

(To be continued)

Accommodating adventures: Part 1

“A place called home”

When we first got married, my wife and I lived alone – in the same flat – my family’s – I’d been living in (alone) prior to marriage. However, that was only temporary, because events transpired weeks later and we were soon looking to move into another place.

Initially, we were looking to buy. And this is where the adventures begin.

One rainy Sunday afternoon – for Sunday is the day of property shows in this part of the world – we set off on our quest. Our strategy was to find areas we wanted to live in, then drive around looking for agency signs. It seemed a bit ludicrous to do this in the pouring rain, but we didn’t really mind. After all, what’s a bit of wet weather when you’re scouting for your future home?

We saw many “For Sale” signs, yet only visited one: a townhouse that was conveniently located (for us). We called the agent – well before showtime, we now know – but she kindly came early just to meet us there. We went in, saw it, and liked it – but the joke came when she told us the price: it was roughly triple the price we were looking for.

Disappointment for the agent; and funny for us. We still call that place “Our townhouse”…

After more events, we found that buying was not the way to go. We began to look for a place to rent. And this led to more memorable experiences.

We saw a separate entrance, which was reasonably priced, but felt a bit claustrophobic. We didn’t want to feel closed in like that – and it doesn’t seem a good idea to share someone’s home space, as separate entrances commonly do.

The worst of them all was a decent flat – on the inside – located on an extremely busy corner in a bustling community. With a butchery downstairs, fruit sellers, street vendors, and various other shops – not to mention major security risks (rumours of criminal elements living in the complex) – it was far from suitable. We declined.

Then came our saviour – the agent, a kind old man who was a bit quirky, who seemed to have many, many properties and an ever-burgeoning client base. He first showed us a bachelor flat that was being refurbished. Clearly meant for a young, single person, it had a massive space for an entertainment system, and no actual ‘rooms’ to speak of, other than the bathroom (it was all open plan). It seemed promising, but we waited to see what else he could offer.

Next, he took us to a nice-looking security complex; which contained townhouses (some double storey, some single). The first flat there was a duplex: run down, dirty, with awful red walls and gross-looking carpets. We were desperate, so we didn’t rule it out.

Then we saw a 3rd floor flat in the same complex. From probably the moment we walked in, my wife had an instinct, a feeling, that this was it. The place had awesome views, very neat built-in furniture, and a lovely, cosy feel to it. We liked it, and were almost certain we wanted it.

But I’d made another appointment, to see a granny flat also in the area, the next morning. I went, with my parents this time, and eventually got in (the landlord was busy so we had to wait a while to get in). We went in, saw one big bedroom – with the current tenants (and their dog) still there – a small kitchen, and a bathroom; again, all open plan. I think we must have been in there less than 2 minutes before we swiftly walked out. It was a joke. No way would we want to live there.

As we were driving away, the landlady called to ask where we were. We hadn’t even waited to meet her – since it was so out of the question. We told her it wasn’t for us.

And so, after sorting out some details, we chose our home – the one my wife fell in love with soon after going in.

More than a month later, we moved in. And this has been, up to now, our beloved home – which we began our life together in, and treasure up to this day.

However, as time progressed, circumstances arose that caused us to not stay so loyal to it…

To be continued… (Part 2 is here)