By Aisha Zahid

Almaas pulled a string out of the hem of her shirt, a habit she’d latched onto for the therapeutic effect it brought upon her. Undoing materialistic things undid her soul. She wrapped and unwrapped the string around her finger several times before Sameeha snatched it out of her hands.

“Cut it out,” Sameeha grumbled, throwing the string to the side of the bed. “Grow up, Almaas.

Almaas shifted her gaze from the floral bedspread it was previously trained on, and up to her ‘supposed’ best friend’s wide, doe eyes, slowly trailing over her face.

Sameeha did not, in the least, fall into the average category in the looks department. The girl was blessed with an appearance as fierce as her personality — rapture and hard-headed. Almaas had trouble recalling how the two had gotten along, the start of a budding friendship that lasted over five years. Whereas Almaas’ existence was smothered in honey, Sameeha brought in the ferociousness and versatility that the former lacked. They complemented each other in the strangest of ways, one of the reasons their friendship had carried them from the school bench they’d first sat on together, to Almaas’ bedroom.

But in case of this companionship, what was time but the silent ticking of the clock, marking off the seconds, minutes, and hours as they passed? They say a friend is one of the greatest sources of fulfillment and self-confidence. Yet after all these years, why was Almaas’ chest hollower than ever?

Almaas’ raging thoughts carried her back to their college field trip, a day that Almaas had been looking forward to with excruciating impatience. 

Her mind whizzed with ideas of apple picking and taking long walks in the meadows of the farmhouse with Sameeha by her side, but Sameeha had crushed those aspirations under her foot. Where Almaas attempted to hold a conversation with someone who wasn’t Sameeha, the very girl would first publicly call her out for it and later apologize in private. As if she was the only one with some right over Almaas’ very existence.

The calm ocean within Almaas shuddered with turbulence. The waves had been contained for far too long, and Almaas’ self-respect had taken more than enough hits. No more. Almaas’ voice shook as she spoke. “Why are you always bossing me around? Why can’t you just let me be?”

Sameeha let out an exasperated puff of air, just barely concealing her agitation over answering the same queries time after time. She scooted closer to Almaas, the words she spoke seemingly rehearsed. “Because I care about you. I care about the image people perceive of you, okay? You’re my best friend. You have to be as resilient and outspoken as me.”

Almaas searched Sameeha’s face, a gaping hole in her chest. “Why am I not enough for you?”

“You’re almost there.”

“I’m not even halfway there.” Almaas shook her head. “You’ve always kept your hold on me tightened like I’m… like I’m your pet on a leash. You’ve never let me be my own person, you’ve never let me think my own thoughts, you’ve always pressured me into halting whatever feeling flows inside me because nothing about me is upto your mark.” Almaas whispered the last part so delicately, it was almost negligible to Sameeha’s reddening ears. “Not anymore.”

Sameeha clenched her jaw, her gaze on Almaas hot and searing. “You don’t even know what you’re saying. I’ve been there with you five years now, do you realize the magnanimity of that time period? I’ve stuck with you, helped you — “

“No Sameeha. You didn’t stick to me. You stuck me to you. You helped me just to help yourself. You might’ve been sincere with me, Allahu’Alam. But nothing’s the same anymore.”

“Is it those depressing novels you’ve been reading? Travelling Light? The Perks of Being a Wallflower? They’re feeding all this to you, aren’t they?”

Almaas gripped her head with both her hands, the volcano that had been dormant inside her for so long now pulsing out hot lava. All those years of stomping her feelings under her foot, crushing the hopes and dreams she’d strung together with so much thought deep into the nights, just so she could watch a satisfied smile creep up on Sameeha’s pretty face. That frustration was oozing out of Almaas now. Enough.

“I let you dictate me, Sameeha. I let you teach me how to live, how to act, how to speak, how to breathe. You kept tightening the leash and I let you, believing with my naive little heart you wanted to keep me close to you when really I was suffocating, I was running out of breath.”

“I do want to keep you close to me,” Sameeha exclaimed, placing a hand on Almaas’ who immediately jerked it away, as if the touch burned through her skin. Sameeha’s gaze had, by now, registered panic.

This wasn’t the first outburst on Almaas’ end, it was another of many that Sameeha had waved off. But she couldn’t wave this off. Not anymore.

“That same manipulative behavior, Sameeha. You want to keep me close to you. You don’t have any regard for me as a person.”

“I do — “

“And how can I forget,” Almaas spoke, a bitter laugh escaping her lips, a laugh that was anything but humorous. “The constant invasion of privacy. The constant nagging to delve deeper into my life until every crevice was laid out in the open for you to scrutinize and pick out the parts you didn’t like and throw them away. Of course.”

Sameeha was seething with fury, her brows furrowed together. “Listen to me, Almaas. Stop speaking the garbage those books fed you. Stop lying. I care about you, that’s why I’ve always been on such a close look out for you — “

“You wanna talk about lies and truths? Well here’s another truth. The only friendship that’s lasted for you is mine. The only person who’s stuck around for you is me, and that is only because you wanted me to. You made me believe we had such a good thing going on for us, that I was supposed to stay in this for a long time. And that is why you haven’t been able to keep any friendships for long, because you’re not ready to accept the other person for who they are. You contort them into the person you want them to be. You don’t give them the space they need to let their real, true self shine through because you’re afraid their sparkle will dull whatever little light you yourself have left.”

Years of burdens slowly lifted off of Almaas’ chest, continuing in their pursuit as more angry words tumbled off her tongue. There was no stopping her now.

“And I’m sick of living under your shadow,” Almaas declared, blinking back her tears furiously. “I don’t want to live like this anymore, Sameeha. I’m running out of the space I need to breathe without feeling like my lungs are being squeezed out.”

In Almaas’ hazy state of mind, she was only able to grasp the flicker of defeat that passed through Sameeha’s eyes before she swiped her hands across her cheeks. She squared her shoulders, drawing the strength to continue from Sameeha’s slumped ones.

“Here, I release myself from your hold Sameeha. I untie that leash and throw it back at you, and I ask you to leave my life and never look back, because it is time I give myself the space to breathe outside of the room you’ve trapped me in. So leave.”

Sameeha’s lips twitched, and years of being in the girl’s company had accustomed Almaas to latch onto the habit indicative of an incoming dialogue. Almaas’ daring gaze stayed trained on Sameeha, instigating her to speak, but the words never came. They died on Sameeha’s lips.

“You win,” Sameeha muttered, uncrossing her legs and hopping onto the tiled floor. “You win, Almaas, and I hope you’re happy now.”

Almaas lost track of time as she sat on her bed, the bright pinks and yellows of her floral bedspread blinding to her eyes. Teardrop after teardrop dripped down into a splotch onto the bedspread, before Almaas gathered the courage to make ablution, spread out the prayer mat, and allow years of anguish to sleep out of her eyes, before the one Entity she didn’t need to hide away from — Allah.

She had foolishly let herself bask in the glory of Sameeha’s supposed love, chiding herself to believe Sameeha would want and hope for nothing but the best for her, and in the process had allowed Sameeha to pick off parts of herself that didn’t appeal to her. All until Almaas had lost the essence of herself, to the point her own self was unrecognizable and unfamiliar to her eyes.

It was in that moment of contemplation when words swam in the confines of Almaas’ mind and an unrelenting ache plagued her heart that she was struck with the realization — her Rabb loved her as she was.

Even when she rushed through her prayers and her Tafsir, even when she raised the pitch of her voice an octave, even when she fell careless about a part of her hair that showed through her headscarf. Even with countless flaws clinging to her very being, even when she wasn’t close to being whole, even when a mountainload of self-work tapped it’s foot in impatience, her Rabb loved her so very deeply. Upon her repentance, He’d grace her being with a gracious forgiveness, and returned her soul to her body as He Willed. He’d bestow her with chance after chance to prove herself, better herself, be the best version of herself. He’d give her the space she needed to be human, to live and to err and to learn, all the while loving the being she already was.

Where she’d fall short before humans who attempted to fit her into a mold, her Rabb let her flow freely.

About the Author

Aisha Zahid is a college freshman with a soft corner for handwritten letters, flowers, and art. She’s been reading since her early years and writing for five years now. She’s currently in the process of writing her own book, which she hopes to publish in the near future.

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