Four babies and an oak

Light is pouring through the windows of the A3-30. Bleary-eyed, breakfasted, we half-listen to the welcome.

’24 degrees in Muscat, the time is 7.30am.’

The plane touches down while our bodies swear it is still night.

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And in the week that follows, a darkness continues. We are waiting to hear of my father-in-law’s health. Days drag, the messages on my husband’s mobile flashing almost continuously like landing lights.

Four days on, Mohammed Alameer leaves the Earth at dawn. His feet were always rooted to the ground, arms pulling in a hundred running grandchildren. Today, the felling of an oak.

‘Wain inti? ”Where have you been?” he would ask each Saturday as we arrived for lunch at the house in Ruwi.

Wain inti?’ as though the sun could not rise on the days we were not there.

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One evening, last winter, we turned up at the house. He was shaking his head at the television, political events unfolding in Pakistan giving rise to vexed commentary, saying something to his son.

I wished, then, for the words to ask him what he knew. To hear of a life spent toiling – like my grandmother – since before his teens, what lay behind the stiff resolve of chin and brow.

But his fading happened fast.

‘How old is your father?’ I asked my husband one afternoon.

He shrugged, ‘Late eighties?’

No one ever really knew. Not the type to measure life in time. A goldsmith, he must have sensed life’s quality in its shine.

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On New Years Day, birds still tentative in their song watched the slow procession of mourners dressed in ink.

Friday. The entrance to the house, crowded with shoes like witnesses. I’m sorry, how is your family, praise be to God. 

And if Day one carried the smell of rosewater, day two was agar wood on fire. And on the third, the perfume of villagers visiting the makeshift tent in the yard wafted into the street, somehow consoled.

Well-wishers outnumbered even the birds perched on Ruwi’s sagging power lines, a thousand sympathetic eyes in scarves, the men in embroidered caps.

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**

A month before he died, four babies arrived to my four sisters-in-law, almost simultaneously, each giving birth to boys.

‘Mohammed we’ll call him,’ said the first, nodding not only to history but to the bedside where the oak-like grandfather lay.

When the second baby arrived, the parents would have been mistaken to alter their decision.  ‘We’ve named him Mohammed, ‘ and everybody smiled.

Baby three suited his appellation perfectly. Mohammed again. Why not when his tiny face beamed his name from the moment he appeared.

And by the time the last of the four had reached this Earth, there was no need to ask. Each mother had decided independently, that if they were brought a boy, a Mohammed he would be.

A month on from the funeral, the darkness of those days is lifting. The sun and the moon continue on their courses.* Muscat’s mountains shield the city’s climate in their rocky embrace.

A balancing out. Two seas, the salt water and the sweet meeting together.*  Tears of grief at a loved man’s passing, and those of joy at four babies bearing his name.

سورة الرحمن‎, القرآن الكريم *

 

 

 

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