I ran through the doors, leaving behind startled nurses and doctors.
“Where’s the emergency room? Where is he?” I shouted.
“Ma’am, you need to calm down-“
But I was already gone and sprinting off down the hallway. I panted as I skidded around a corner.
“Ma’am, no running in the hallway!”
Where is he? Where is he?
I flipped through different curtains and doors as tears appeared in my eyes.
He had to be here somewhere.
I watched as the sun set behind the wooden fence. Vines were illuminated by the fading sun, and lights began to turn on around the back porch.
“Ruqayya! Come inside soon, mosquitoes are starting to come out!”
“Okay!” I answered. My little 10 year-old legs dangled from the red lawn chair innocently. I scooped a bite of vanilla ice cream into my mouth. It had a hint of coconut.
“Othman! Did you put coconut on my ice cream?”
The 11 year-old walked into the lit backyard with his own bowl of ice cream, his bright honey eyes looking in my direction, his light brown hair jumping a little as he walked.
“What? No, I didn’t.” He said, sitting on a green lawn chair opposite of me. My eyes lit up when I glanced over to see that he had rainbow sorbet.
“Ooh, can I have some?” I asked, motioning to his sorbet with my spoon. I loved rainbow sorbet, but only after vanilla, of course.
Othman smiled widely at me, and said, “Only if you let me have some of your vanilla.”
We reached over with our spoons and took some of each other’s ice cream. I savored the taste of rainbow sorbet on my tongue.
“Yummm!” I laughed. Othman laughed, too.
We slurped, immersed in our sorbets. I looked up after a minute, and noticed Othman’s attention riveted by a cloud of mosquitoes hovering near the street light beside him. His gaze turned to a few mosquitoes lying motionless under the street light.
I put another bite of vanilla in my mouth.
“… Do you remember when Skittles died?”
I looked at him, curious, and then swatted away a mosquito flying by my face. “The fish? Yeah. Why?”
Othman looked up from his barely eaten ice cream. “I was just thinking… the fish died in a year. But we’re still alive. The fish knew what it was like to die, but we don’t. What will it be like?”
I scrunched up my face.
“Othman, that’s scary. Astaghfirullah, don’t talk about stuff like that.”
We ate in a moment of uneasy silence.
I looked at him. “I said, ‘You’re right’. We don’t know what it’s like to die. But my Baba says we shouldn’t talk about bad things, or else they’ll happen to us.” I said matter-of-factly.
Othman gave a little laugh, his eyes smiling.
“Yeah, you’re right, too.”
We happily ate in peace now. The half moon was shining brightly in the dark sky, and the mosquitoes were starting to come in a rage around us.
“Ruqayya! I told you to come inside a while ago!” My mom said from inside.
Othman and I both got up from our seats and began walking towards the sliding door. Othman’s mom opened the door for us.
“Othman, we’re leaving in a few minutes, so finish your ice cream, okay?”
“But Mama, it’s sorbet!”
“Okay, okay, sorbet.”
Othman and I looked at each other and laughed.
We were so innocent back then.
I rushed to another receptionist’s desk, utterly lost in the maze of hallways. I pleaded.
“Please, where’s the emergency room? Where’s Othman? I need to find Othman!”
“Ma’am, please, we’ll help you, just calm down for a moment.”
I didn’t want anyone to tell me to calm down.
Calming down would mean I wouldn’t be able to find Othman.
Calming down meant hesitation.
Calming down meant giving up.
But I remembered that it wasn’t the right thing to do. Othman would have told me that it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. He always knew what was right and wrong.
I let the woman in a nurse’s uniform sit me down while speaking soothing words to me, things like “Everything’s going to be okay” and “I’ll help you find him”, followed by me giving little nods. The nurse definitely knew what she was doing.
“Good, okay. So, you’re looking for an ‘Othman’?” She asked, walking me over to the receptionist’s desk.
I nodded, my bottom lip trembling. “I- I heard he was in an accident, car accident. But he never gets himself in these kinds of messes. Please, you have to tell me where he is. How he is.”
I tried looking calm on the outside. On the inside, my heart wouldn’t stop racing, stop feeling frantic. I was terrified of what had happened to Othman, and was feeling a bit impatient. I tried to suppress the impatient feeling.
A few moments later she said, “Alright, this way, Ms…?”
“Ruqayya. Thank you so much, you don’t know what this means to me.”
“Alright, Ms. Ruqayya. Follow me, please.”
Othman opened the door and sat in his Chevrolet Corvette. He took a deep breath and let out a sigh.
Cars exited out of the masjid parking lot around him, while he stayed where he was. His hand went in his pocket, where he pulled out a small, black velvet box. He had kept it with him through prayer and the lecture, too nervous to leave it in the car. Apprehensively, he opened it.
It was the most beautiful ring he had found: A center-piece of a red ruby and decorated around with little triangular shaped diamonds set on a silver band. She would love it.
With another sigh, he carefully placed the little box in the passenger seat next to him, took out the keys from his other pocket, and started the car.
He backed out of his parking space. The lot was nearly empty now.
Othman remembered the Imam’s lecture today.
Allah has appointed you a certain time on this Earth. The Imam had said. Do not waste it! Only a fool would waste his time without second thought. If you need something done, don’t wait! Do it! Do it before it’s too late.
This had made him think. About a fuzzy memory from when he was 11, eating ice cream on a clear summer night at Ruqayya’s house. About proposing to Ruqayya. It made him especially think about proposing to Ruqayya.
Othman exited onto the main road, driving nervously.
He had decided a while back about proposing. He and his mother had already talked and agreed with Ruqayya’s parents on the marriage requirements. All he had to do now was to ask Ruqayya. But it was easier said than done.
Othman turned right at the intersection.
He couldn’t even to begin to talk about how nervous he was. Did she not like him in that way? Was she just going to refuse straight away? Will something go wrong? His mind was plagued with worry after worry. What if?…
Othman thought of every possible thing that could go wrong, but remembered he had to calm down, keep his cool. He took a deep breath. It’s all going to be okay.
He turned left at the next intersection.
It all happened at once.
A crashing came from the side of the car, skidding him around. His neck lashed painfully around and hit the side window. The windshield cracked. Airbags went off. His head came to rest against the seat once it all stopped.
Sounds mixed up and blurred. Lights flashed. He could feel blood. He couldn’t feel one of his legs.
Othman reached out somewhere and groped around dazedly for the little black velvet box. Out of all the things he was having trouble thinking about, this was clear.
Clasping it tightly, he let out a sigh, groaning a little from the pain that was starting to surface.
Black dots appeared in his vision amongst all of the lights, before he slipped away.
“So, Ms. Ruqayya, are you his girlfriend?”
“Girlfriend? O-Oh, no, no. Just a childhood friend.” I smiled, feeling my face heat up a little. Me? His girlfriend? I thought. What if…? No, no, no. Stop that, Ruqayya. Not now.
“Ah, I see. Well, it’s good to see a young man with good friends.”
I followed the nurse in silence. Earlier, Othman’s mother had called our family, explaining what had happened. I had quickly rushed out to the hospital in my car with only the thought of seeing whether or not Othman was okay. Othman’s mother and my parents were yet to arrive, but they should be here any minute now.
“This is the room.”
She opened a door and walked in, with me following her. I nearly started crying again. He was covered in bandages and casts. Next to the bed was a heart monitor, beeping steadily.
“Oh… my God…” I sank into a seat next to the bed.
After a moment of silence, the nurse quietly said, “I’ll leave you alone for a while.” She left without another sound.
I was too stunned to say anything. In front of me was my best friend. Covered in bandages. Nearly dead.
I had expected to see him but… I definitely wasn’t prepared for what was in front of me.
I cleared my throat. “O-Othman. Hey… Um, well, this isn’t like you, to get in a mess like this. You always stay out of trouble. I- I mean… I just… don’t know what to say…” I choked on tears for a moment. “Just… please, please turn out okay. First your dad, now nearly you. Please don’t leave us. Don’t leave me.” I cried silent tears. “Please…”
It felt like my heart was going to explode and at the same time I couldn’t feel anything. My mind was in disarray as I looked at Othman lying in front of me. With a single shaky sigh, I rested my face in my hands and watched the heart rate monitor give off a steady beep… beep… beep…
I didn’t realize when I did, but I somehow ended up falling asleep. All the running around and franticness must have tired me out.
With sleepy eyes, I noticed a small black box next to the bed in a small tray. I cautiously picked it up. It looked like a… ring box? I opened it to look inside.
Suddenly, the heart rate monitor went flat with one solid beep.
“N- No, no, no, please, no…”
This can’t be happening!…
Nurses began to flood into the room in a blur.
“… have to restart…”
They tried to coax me out of the room, but I began to struggle against their grips and their soft yet firm words. I cried out Othman’s name again and again. They managed to get me out of the room.
My family and Othman’s mother were outside the room, having just arrived. They didn’t seem able to properly comprehend what was happening until I collapsed into a heap of tears in their arms. Inside the hospital room was being announced the time of death.
I held tightly to the little black velvet box.
Inside the box was written: Ruqayya, will you marry me?
“Every soul will taste death. Then to Us will you be returned.” (Quran, 29:57)