Fear bound her tighter than the rope encircling her wrists and ankles; like a python’s coils it constricted her chest, and made each breath difficult. Her body was a constant reminder she was not trapped in some horrible dream, her cheeks pinched by the tape across her mouth, the inside of her throat dry and sore. Beads of sweat rolled down her forehead and left a maddening itch behind as they dripped off the tip of her nose onto the front of her kameez, darkening the fabric like blood from a wound. And if that was not enough, there was the gunman right in front of her, all too real. Every time his eyes swept over her, she felt naked under his scrutiny. If only she could tunnel into her mind and hide in a snug burrow of her creation. But her discomfort fixed her in reality.
On the 26th day of March, 1971, the night of Nadira’s birth, Allah set off celestial fireworks in her honor; at least that’s what her father always told her. By his account, the Lahore night was particularly beautiful; the air washed clean by a late afternoon rain storm carried the scent of jasmine. A breeze blew away the leftover clouds and lifted strands of her mother’s hair off her forehead as she stepped outside. Walking toward the car, her father stopped for a moment so her mother could wait out the pain of a contraction. She leaned on him and raising her head up to the heavens, whispered a prayer to Allah for herself and her unborn child. As she gazed at the sky, a thin, brilliant waterfall of light poured from the dark bowl of the stratosphere.
“Look, a shooting star,” her mother said. “It must be a sign our child will be blessed.”
“Of course, signs are superstitious nonsense,” her always rational, physicist father had instructed her. “But just this once, I prayed she was right.”
It wasn’t until Hameeda was pregnant with her first child that she began to think about her own infancy and childhood. Before she felt the baby kick, she hadn’t any inclination to ponder her birth or earliest memories. But now she looked back to find lessons for herself as a mother.
Who had she been in the instant she emerged from the womb before being placed in her mother’s arms? Had Allah assigned her certain traits, or was she created to be malleable? What if her start in life had been different? Would her fate have changed if she hadn’t arrived two weeks earlier than expected while her father was away on business, her dada, Majid, stepping into his shoes? For as her mother told her, it was not her father, but her grandfather, who first entered the hospital room and received her from her mother’s arms. Holding her against his chest, he leaned his head down, and with his mouth close to her right ear and then her left, whispered the Azaan – “God is great,” and the Kalimah – “There is no god but God, Muhammad is God’s messenger,” introducing her to Islam, and finding a special place for her in his heart.