The Near Death Experience by Sadia Akhtar
“You always do this – you add so much pressure on me. Do this,” Ahmed made exaggerated gestures with his hands as he spoke, “Do that. Get this, get that. Nothing I do is good enough, Saira.” His voice softened as he sat on the sofa and whispered, “What do you want?”
Saira cried as she rocked their daughter, Laila, in her arms. Her tears streamed, but she was unable to wipe them. She did not want her daughter to feel uncomfortable in any way.
“I want you home, Ahmed. I want to see you more. It’s so difficult to raise two children; I gave birth four months ago and I am struggling.”
“Saira, what do you want me to do? I am trying. Do you think I want to run around like a mad man? I want to be at home: sat with my wife at night, taking my son to football, hear my daughter’s first word, see my mother, and just have time.” Ahmed stared at the carpet, his eyes following the zigzag of the carpet. “The mortgage, bills, and our expenses won’t pay for themselves; I am tired. I can’t remember the last time I slept a full eight hours.”
Saira appreciated her husband. It was because of his work that they were able to afford their luxurious lifestyle. But, as every day passed by, she felt like a single mother. He was here, but he wasn’t. She understood that he was tired; she had dinner ready for him after work and made sure the children were quiet when he returned. She did everything to make sure he was comfortable at home – why couldn’t he make the effort when he was well-rested? Saira felt too exhausted to ask him the same question – she did not want to hear the same answer, again. “I need to go work now, do you need anything?”
Saira could not help it, she rolled her eyes.
“What is it, Saira?” Ahmed asked impatiently.
“Your family is coming today. YOU took a day off to celebrate your son’s sixth birthday, why are you going to work?”
“Because duty calls.”
Saira scoffed, “You have booked this day as a holiday – you will be getting paid regardless. For the last time – and for the love of Allah, tell me the truth – why are you going to work?”
“I have to, Saira. This is an important project. Being an investment banker is hard.”
“Don’t walk out that door. You are not going to work on your son’s birthday when you don’t need to.” Laila squirmed as he heard her mother’s voice increase. “You’re going because you’re selfish, because you want to be away from your family, because you don’t want to be home!”
Ahmed looked at Saira in shock with a hint of pain. “Don’t, Saira. Don’t speak like this in front of our children or raise your voice, please. We don’t do that. I am going so I can finish this project and have more time at home. This project is causing late evenings, overnight trips, and, clearly, hiccups at home.” Ahmed brushed his hair back with his fingers.
Saira thought: he’s aged a lot.
“I am not going into work on purpose. I love you, Saira. I love our family. Our home. I love life with you. I just want to complete this so I can appreciate and show you how much I love you all.”
Saira wanted to understand, he was being reasonable. Ahmed was always reasonable – it was her favourite trait of his. She understood the demands of his job – she knew this was the biggest deal his employer had ever had. Once he closes it, he can stay at home longer. But she needed him today. She was exhausted. She glanced in the mirror. Her hijab had patches of wetness, her abaya had vomit stains, she felt bloated, and she felt ugly. She needed her husband today. She could not look after her children and host his family – not feeling like this. With Ahmed here, she could conquer the world.
“You’re not leaving, Ahmed.” Saira placed Laila in her cot. She began to pick up the toys and called for Kareen, their seven-year-old son, to clean up.
“Saira,” Ahmed placed his hand on her shoulder. He brushed strands of her hair back under her hijab. He gave her a soft smile: the smile she fell in love with. “I’m sorry. I can tell you’re exhausted, I am so sorry. I’ll tell everyone not to come. I’ll finalise this project today and come home to our family to celebrate, I promise.”
“You’re selfish, Ahmed,” Saira shouted. “A bad father. A bad husband. Leave. Come back whenever you want, I am tired of waiting for you.” Ahmed frowned, he stroked Saira’s left cheek. Saira pushed his hand away.
Laila began to cry along with Saira. Saira picked up her daughter and rocked her.
“Leave, Ahmed,” Saira said. Eventually the sound of Saira’s and Laila’s cries matched.
Ahmed could not bear it anymore. He kissed his son’s head.
“I promise everything will be okay. InshAllah I’ll be home for good after this. I love you, Saira.” Ahmed said as he walked out the door. He stopped by his car as he heard Saira shout, ‘I hate you.’ He put his hand to his chest as he felt a sharp pain. He prayed to Allah for ease before he drove to work.
“Wow, Mum! Blue and red lights are flashing, I can see them through our curtains.” Kareen excitedly shouted as he ran to the window to watch.
Saira frowned and put her hijab on. Saira’s house was on private land and they were the only house. Saira watched the police car parked next to hers. She watched the man and woman walk towards her door. She looked behind them to see if her husband was in trouble, but only leaves were flying behind them.
“Kareen, please go sit by your sister. Don’t wake her, don’t move. Just sit and watch TV, okay?”
Kareen nodded and ran to sit on the sofa, picking the left side as it was closer to his sister’s cot.
Saira felt uneasy. She put her hand to her chest and prayed to Allah for ease. Something did not feel right. She did not ring Ahmed, he did not ring her. She felt a heavy weight on her chest, one only Ahmed couldlift now. A knock, that felt like her heartbeat, can be heard. That knock drowned out every noise: her son babbling, the TV, the music coming from the kitchen, the hum of the oven.
Saira opened the door and could not speak.
“Good evening, Mrs Rahman. I am Inspector Danielle, and this is my colleague Rory.” They showed their badges. “Is this the home of Ahmed Rahman?” Saira blinked.
“I am so sorry, Mrs Rahman. Your husband was in a car accident. He was unresponsive at the scene. The doctors tried their best but he had a–” Saira closed the door and fell to the floor. She felt as though she had died.
She heard the police knock, her son calling her, and her daughter’s soft cries but all that resonated with her was:
“InshAllah I’ll be home for good after this. I love you, Saira.”
God did not will for Ahmed to come home and Saira felt responsible. They say life flashes before your eyes when you die. Saira saw every moment between her and Ahmed flash: their first meeting, their wedding, the birth of their children, and every argument she had with Ahmed. She remembered each word she spat at him before he left.
Saira didn’t die but it felt as though she did.