The Garden, by Nacima Khan

I sat upon the green softness

My tired legs welcomed the relief of rest

You were nestled inside

Sleeping and still

Here we took a moment

Here in the garden

We connected

And here, I hope

we will meet again.

 

Three weeks earlier.

November 2018, London

Three years after becoming a mother to my daughter, I was once again elated when I looked at the faint blue line on the pregnancy stick, while sitting in my tiny cramped toilet. At the first scan, when I saw my wriggling, active baby moving around on the small screen, I watched my daughter’s eyes widen with the surprise of welcoming a sibling into her life and my husband – the ever so preoccupied being – had put down his phone as emotion and the reality of another baby filled his eyes with tears.

“Fourteen weeks today, and baby is predicted to be due on twenty-second of June.”

The sonographer, a young girl, spoke in such a matter of fact way as she proceeded to wipe off the cold jelly from my stomach.

The date of June 22nd echoed over and over in my head as I held the sonogram picture of the baby in my hands. The next couple of weeks, before we were due to fly out on our month-long holiday, passed by in a whirlwind of appointments, work deadlines, shopping and googling every kind of risk associated with pregnancy which thought I would conjure up, usually in the dead of the night after waking up in a sweat.

On December 29th, as I lay my head against the seat on the plane, I rubbed my hand over my growing bump and prayed that I hadn’t made a mistake in undertaking this journey. Zika virus, risk of infection, all went running through my head as I thought back to the previous weeks of running back and forth from GP appointments, the immunisation injections, consulting with doctors in Bangladesh, and I breathed out a sigh, confident of having taking all precautions.

Two weeks later, I was to find myself lying on a hospital bed, in a foreign city, with blood running down my legs and staff speaking in a language I struggled to understand. It was then I realised that there was one thing I had not googled.

 

Wednesday 2nd January 2019 – Early Hours, Masjidul Nabi, Madinah City, Saudi Arabia

We were to spend a week in Saudi Arabia, performing the pilgrimage – a rare life opportunity. Those five golden days passed like a dream. There were four of us – my husband, daughter, myself and the baby boy curled up inside me. Each day passed in a daydream of prayers, beautiful sights, and collapsing into deep sleep under soft duvets each night. But looking back now I see the beginning of this story taking shape as I walked so unknowingly on the streets of Madinah and Makkah. I can see the climax gathering speed as love, hope, loss and fear entangle itself into a ball, hurtling towards a dramatic ending. I felt the end before the start. One day in Madinah, I was looking for the correct entrance to find the Prophet’s grave inside the Mosque after completing the dawn prayer. Little did I know that I was about to undergo an experience I would never forget.

I had found the entrance and walked further into the Mosque, followed the women rushing before me and eventually found myself in the midst of a huge crowd. I could feel the crowd pushing and shoving fronted by probably the most hostile and freakishly strong group of elderly women I had ever seen. It was still early morning, and the sun was starting to shine down between the domes on the Mosque roof. My feet ached against the softness of the red carpet and I lay my hands to rest on top of my rucksack, which I had worn at the front to help guard my bump against the shoves. This was the event of Ziyarah. An opportunity to visit the grave of the Prophet Muhammed and to pray on a section just beside it called the Rawdah, translated as “The Garden”.

“Between my house and my pulpit lies a garden from the gardens of Paradise,” is the saying of the Prophet Muhammed.

The Rawdah was marked by a layer of thick, light coloured green carpet which lay on top of it. Praying upon the place of Rawdah has significant meaning and reward in the religion of Islam. It is seen as a piece of garden from heaven on earth. Having been able to pray here in my previous visit when I was younger, single and accompanied with my sister and mum, I realised as I tried to balance myself being swayed from side to side by the jostling and aggressive women around me, all fighting to pray, that it would be impossible for me to pray with the four month bump snuggled against my dress. A woman nearly fainted in front of me, another pushed me sharply from the back and I glared at her pointing to my bump. English was lost here; sign language and the most awkward facial expressions had to be used. She ignored me.

After a while, I had finally pushed myself steadily through the crowd and found that I was standing on top of the green carpet. My toes sunk into the softness of the carpet, but I could feel the crowd behind me starting to push me away. I told myself that it was now or never, and looking up to the heavens in desperation, I threw a prayer to God to help me with the task I was about to do and threw myself down on the carpet, taking off my rucksack and raised my hands to prayer. I braced myself, prepared myself for fight or flight and waited for the shoving to begin. Suddenly, from around me, I could see from the corner of my eye, the many feet which were so close to me, pushing back until a circle of space grew around me. A hush fell and my heart started pounding. I could feel eyes watching me as I bowed down to touch the green softness with my forehead and rose up again.

“God is the Greatest.”

I whispered and I bowed again, each time feeling the pounding of my heart through my chest.

“Peace be upon you.”

I continued to whisper as I looked to the right and peace again as I looked to the left.

I struggled up to my feet and dared to look around. To my astonishment, a group of young girls had formed a chain around me by holding hands and protecting me from the hostile crowd who seemed to have stood still around them. The girls continued to look over their shoulders protectively as I hurried to put on my rucksack, but a sudden shyness took over me and I found that I couldn’t look at their faces straightaway. As I went to say thank you, no words would come out and I just touched their faces in turn and smiled and marvelled at how bright and pure their faces were. I hurried out of the space as fast as I could. When I looked back, I had lost sight of those faces in the crowd.

I found myself a spot in the Mosque and sat down as my feet welcomed the relief of rest. But as I opened the Quran to start reading, I couldn’t control the tears now running down my face. My breathing quickened as the hum of other voices buzzed through the warm air of the Mosque hall, with the shrill voices of the female stewards, head to toe in black, breaking the ambience every now and then as they tried relentlessly to manage the growing and desperate crowds. My tears dripped onto the pages as I struggled to keep the melodic tone in my voice whilst reciting the verses from the pages of the Quran.

“What had just happened to me? Who were those young girls?”

I asked the same questions to my husband, back in the hotel over breakfast, whilst I struggled to eat. I cried, and my husband held my hand after I told him what had happened. He squeezed my hand as I rubbed my bump and said:

“There is something special about this baby.”

In that moment my thoughts did not anticipate what was to happen only a week later, but looking back I think maybe my heart knew.

“Between my house and my pulpit lies a garden from the gardens of Paradise.”

Between my hands, my dear, lay the flesh which held your heart

Between the beat of my heart and the blessed water, lay a little beating heart.

A heart beat along to mine. Fingers and toes curled within

We sat together in the Garden.

Feet to feet, shoulder to shoulder

I had taken you to the Garden.

I had taken you to the place to which you were to return.

My little Garden upon the Garden

Rawdah upon Rawdah

 

Friday 25th January. The Graveyard (Guristan), Dhakaah, Bangladesh

There was a tree.

It was huge and overhanging his grave. Like a protective canopy. The whole grave site felt hollow and cold. There was hardly any greenery around and yet where my son lay, there was a tree standing over and shading him. It was the only bit of green on the entire site. A couple of boys climbed into the grave area and were playing in the dirt, their laughter and chatter providing a welcome change against the repetitive and melancholy cries of the beggars sat in throngs outside of the black metal gates to the Guristan. I watched the boys and wondered about my son, whose image they could have been. I had come to say goodbye – the flight back to London was beckoning, taking me back to the start. Taking me on the journey back home, but without him inside me.

Empty

I feel empty and hollow inside.

Tiny little finger and toes no longer nestled inside me but buried beneath soil in a cold and dark place with the only piece of life – a tree – hanging over it.

I have left you behind my love but the promise of seeing you in another garden fills me with peace when my heart hurts. It is the balm to my pain.

 

April 2019, London.

“I am okay.”

I hear myself giving this assurance to the sympathetic visitors, sighing and nodding with a sorrowful look.

“I am okay.”

I see myself typing it in my messages to those who could not face me but used the safe distance of text messaging to ask, saying they will visit me soon. They never do, and I find that I am glad. Silence tormented me when I walked into my flat for the first time when I reached London. I longed to be on the plane again. It made sense when I was travelling, moving, flying from one empty space to another. But the stillness as I stood hearing my thoughts echoing against the walls of that flat, where the ghost of my pregnant self had hurriedly left traces of maternity notes and scan dates stuck to the fridge door and noted in my diary just a month before, eventually wore me down.

“I am not okay. I am not okay.”

This is not okay. I longed to cry and scream. I wanted someone to reach out to me and give me permission to cry. I wanted to talk about my body, my baby, my Rawdah. He was life. I wanted to speak his life. The space was too quiet here. But the noise in Bangladesh was many a time too loud.

 

9th January 2019, Islamic Bank Hospital, Dhaakah City

On January 9th 2019, I lost my baby at 16 weeks and 5 days.

Five months before he was due.  

The Consultant looked at me and shook her head.

“It was the journey.”

Earlier that morning, when my mother-in-law had walked me out of the front door and into the waiting ambulance, she rubbed my back as I sobbed and she muttered:

“It was the journey.”

I saw the same blame and arrows of guilt shot at me with visitors welcome and unwelcome all informing me that it was indeed ‘the journey’ that had killed my baby.

It was the audacity of my decision to travel that had killed my baby.

It was I who had killed my baby.

I called my crying husband to my hospital bed, as the prying eyes of other patients and their many visitors looked on and listened. I held his hand firmly and said:

“We did nothing wrong. This is the will of God and we have to be strong and patient.”

I heard myself say the words and my heart clung onto them. I had to make my voice shout above the other voices and cut through the loudness.

My Garden

My Rawdah

The beat of my heart misses the rhythm of yours

My body mourned for you

Red tears it shed

pain crippled through my empty womb as a lamenting song

Tears of water, a welcome relief

But hollow I feel within.

 

April 2019, London.

My daughter lay on the bed as we improvised through yet another story involving bears, unicorns and trolls.  Raising her head, she interrupted me in her usual way, assuredly placed a hand on my cheek and suddenly said:

“The baby is being made better and then God will give it back to us.”

I was startled and looked at her with wonder. Fighting back the tears I smiled and responded:

“If God wills.”

She lay back down on the pillow, tucking her toy rabbit into her arms, and her eyes sparkled and became lost with imagination as she asked:

“And then what happened?”

This was my cue to continue with the story.

Wiping my eyes, I steadied my beating heart with my hand and lost myself in a world of fairies and bears once again.

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