Written on the day of a full solar eclipse coast to coast: 8/21/17. Inspired by a conversation with a mermaid.
I have never been to Makkah, but I will, for Hajj, inshallah–at some point in the future. The city’s turrets beckon me. It lies in the hands of a corrupt empire, a kingdom wrought with deceit and misfortune, at the mercy of tyrants. I pity the city, yet its majesty has not fallen.
The Prophet received his revelations here, in Cave Hira. The angel’s command, ‘iqra, still rings throughout the mountains, echoing gently, remnants of a life I have never known–yet one that remains oddly familiar to me. Waves of mellifluous honey-scented verses: Read in the name of your Guardian-Lord, who created you: Created you from a clot of blood…
Who was the Prophet, I wonder? I never really knew him. Stories paint him alternately as a cruel overlord, a fierce warrior, an honest ruler, As-Sadiq, the truthful, Al-Amin, the one upon whom God has bestowed His Mercy, Ahmad, the Praised One. I wade through the tangled threads of time, sifting the sands. A few grains have fallen out of the hourglass. Tiny bits and pieces of legend. Who was this man?
The Qur’an says he was a mercy to the worlds. Not just this world, but all of them. ‘Alameen. Ordinarily I have difficulty comprehending this, after the stories I have heard, the narrations of evil. But then I catch a glimpse of the city and it falls away. We will vindicate him from Shaitan. Our Lord will not let our Prophet’s legacy dissipate.
My recitation is delicate somehow, misty and ephemeral as it hangs over the city. Read in the name of your Lord, who created. Created you from a single soul, and created, of like nature, its mate, and spread from them twain, countless men and women…Reverence Allah, and reverence the wombs that bore you.
The Prophet’s presence is heavy here. It settles amongst the mountaintops, watching the city, simultaneously distressed and elated. His shadow watches the pilgrims move. My heart hurts. My longing to know this man takes me over, and I fall at the edge of the desert. Burning sand bites my palms.
“Why did you leave me?”
He seems uncomfortable, suddenly. His eyes, already black, darken further to an unsettled obsidian. I catch the outline of his face. His skin is the same color as mine. Long eyelashes. Full lips. He looks…like me. Like a relative of mine.
“Why did you leave…us?” I ask, hoping, this time, for some sort of response. “We needed you.”
Still no answer. I am crying now, tears streaking my cheeks, desperation. Furious at his desertion. I claw at my hair, at my neck, until my hand hits something heavy. A locket.
I lift it up to the light. Crack it open. Verses twist over each other inside. The Arabic calligraphy writhes and moans and forms shapes. I can read the verses now.
And your Lord has not abandoned you, nor is He displeased.
The verse makes me irrationally angry. Rage surges up my chest. I curse at the locket, suddenly, barely aware that I am swearing at God’s Words. How dare the Prophet abandon me, abandon us, and then hand me…a necklace? Has he no shame?
I rip it off my neck, preparing to fling it as far as I can.
“Stop,” a voice says gently. It’s a young woman. I lower the locket, glance upwards at the sky. The outline of her figure emerges, a hand on the Prophet’s shoulder. Her eyes are a light, intelligent blue-gray. Her hair is a sun-streaked brown. She is fair-skinned, extraordinarily pale for an Arab woman. Her cheeks are flushed red with a perpetual blush. A word settles at the edge of my lips. “Humaira?”
She smiles. “Yes.”
My sobs heighten. “Ask him! You ask! His…beloved…” I’m spitting the words out now. “Goddamn wife of the Prophet, blessed one, mother of the believers, scholar of Islam. Ask him.” My words tear at the desert heat, ripples of bitterness. “Silly girl.” I recognize somewhere deep within my consciousness that I am insulting her, insulting the Prophet’s wife, but it hardly registers. I recall the traditions. She’s just a girl, isn’t she? Just some silly nine-year-old girl.
“A girl,” I breathe vainly, as if it makes a difference. The woman standing before me is not a girl, but I don’t care. “Jealous girl. Headstrong girl. The girl who argued with warriors, argued with everyone…” I repeat the legends. “Tell me why your husband left us.”
Aisha sighs. It is surprisingly deep, drawn-out, yet faltering against the desert air. She glances at a sand dune. When she speaks, her voice is weighted with the color of tears.
“Oh. Darling. He never meant to leave you. You must wait…”
Suddenly the Prophet starts to cry. I stare unashamedly. My fury turns to concern. His head is on her shoulder now. She strokes his hair, but her pale eyes are turned to me.
It strikes me then, how beautiful she is. She is clad in robes of diaphanous silver, gold jewelry adorning slender wrists. Her neckline plunges to her waist. She would be thrown out of most mosques, I ponder, as I notice that her lovely figure is easily discernible beneath the dress. Veiled, indeed.
Then the sky darkens and thunder roars.
“Aisha!” I start to panic.
She presses a finger to her lips. Her nails are lustrous, like pearls. “Shh,” she whispers. “You will know him, one day. You will be able to ask him. And he will answer.”
“Not in this world, my love. It was never meant for you in this life. Some answers are better left withheld.”
Raindrops soak me, but she is strangely unharmed.
“When?” I scream.
A single tear from the Prophet trickles down her dress. She pulls a vial from the folds of her robes. Puts the tear inside. Hands it to me. A token.
So remember Me, and I will remember you.
Peace fills me.
“The next world,” Aisha whispers. “Al Akhira. You will be given the answers.”
She leans over. Her movements are graceful as she kisses my cheek. Soft lips. She runs a hand through my hair. I want to stay with her.
Lightning flashes. The vision–was it even a vision?–disappears. I find myself back in Makkah, watching the Ka’bah from afar. I fall to my knees. The locket is gone, but the vial is with me. One pearly tear stares back. I sense beings around me, angels perhaps–or jinn. Makkah is packed with them. But I don’t fear these creatures. They comfort me.
I never knew the Prophet, but I will one day.
So remember Me, and I will remember you.
The verse brings me closure. I close my eyes and sleep.