Christmas by Khaleel Jooste

Nothing has changed.

Not a single thing.

A strange smell hung in the air. He wasn’t sure what it was. He closes the door behind him, walks down the long passage and takes a left.
Christmas by Khaleel Jooste
The dining table was exactly as they left it. Half his last meal; salmon, butterflied shrimp. He shakes his head. Maria would never believe it. It’s a crowd pleaser… there are never any left overs… Glass with the last of the Clairette Blanche; he was supposed to save it for a special occasion. That was as special as any. The source of the smell does not seem to be coming from here. He leaves the dining room and heads further down the passage. He enters the main bedroom. Still he can’t bring himself to switch on any of the lights. He sits on the end of the bed, picks up the pink slipper that lay by itself on the thick, Persian carpet. He has to force the slipper loose. The sticky stain had dried. Did you remember to take out the trash? That is the last thing he remembers she said. He stares at the dark stain on the carpet. Will, I… love… He throws the slipper hard against the wall. It bounces off the nightstand that stood by the swing mirror that was the centre piece of the huge bedroom. He gets off the bed and heads to the kitchen; heads straight for the bin. It was empty. The smell was not coming from the bin. Slowly he walks to the fridge and opens it. The soft light lights up the dark kitchen. She had the light specially put in. Said the pink gave the food a different color. She found it more appetizing. Since… Please, Will, don’t forget. Something about her changed. That was something he couldn’t deny. Maria never noticed, but he did. Will, I’m still… me. Was she? He shakes his head. Solitary tear rolls down his left cheek. Why? Those hate filled words. Why? If she… was still there… She would never. Will, I’d never do anything to hurt you. No. That was not her. She was already gone. He wipes his face, closes the fridge door and heads down the passage into Maria’s room. As he walks in, he remembers. December, 2012 “They are never alone,’ she hands him a picture, “remember that.” He takes it. “Look, by the vendor. Do you see?” She points with her finger. “Who’s the girl?” He frowns as he puts his hand to his mouth and runs his finger all along his moustache. “Don’t know. Must be someone important. Most pictures are of her.” She takes a sip of her drink and stands up. She runs her fingers through her hair. “What are we going to do?” She sounds anxious. “Don’t know.” He swallows hard and throws himself back onto the bed. “We can’t stay cooped up in here forever.” She walks to the window, opens the curtain slightly and peeks through the small opening. The rain had stopped. There were still many clouds in the sky. It was nearly sun set. The streets were all deserted. She turns and faces him. “William, I refuse to live like a prisoner in my own house.” She puts her hands on her hips. She was wearing pants and a grey-blue jersey. “I know, honey, but what do you propose we do?” He gets up, goes to stand in front of her and takes her face in both his hands. She puts her hands on his and returns his worried gaze. “I refuse to be taken again. Do you hear me!? I refuse! I’d… I’d rather die.” She embraces him. “No one’s going to be taken and no one is going to die. Don’t talk like that.” He kisses her forehead and leads her back to the bed. “What about Maria? Should we tell her?” “No, Michelle, we can’t. She’d only be in danger. Best she stays in the dark about this. We simply can’t risk it.” He implores her. “But, William. She has a right to know. This involves her too, you know.” She gets off the bed and starts her pacing; finger in her mouth. She tries to bite whatever nail is still left. Her fingers are bloody at the edges. “I know… we simply can’t risk it.” “I’m sure they’re already watching her.” “They probably are, but she doesn’t need to know that.” “But when, William? She’s in danger.” She returns to the bed. Sits down and puts her left hand on his knee. “Soon. I promise. But we need more information first.” He squeezes her hand. “I hope you know what you are doing. Can he be trusted?” “What other choice do we have?” He searches her face. Her left eye twitches more than it used to. He notices an involuntary tremor of her whole head as well. He is worried. “I guess you’re right.” She shakes her head and runs her fingers through her dark hair. “We’ll be okay, sweetheart. We should not lose faith.” He takes her hand in his and kisses it. “Faith is all we have, right?” She leans her head against his shoulder. “May God help us... I wish… I wish we had another place.” She looks into his eyes. “Merry Christmas, Will. I’m glad you’re here… with me.” “Me too, sweetheart. Merry Christmas.” He kisses her lightly on her forehead. A tear rolls down his cheek as he takes a seat on Maria’s bed and picks up one of the stuffed animals scattered on top. Butterfly fish. Adidas or Addis. William always got confused. It was her favourite. Is? William shakes his head. All he knew was that Maria was particularly fond of it. She found it sad that this beautiful fish was so popular with fish owners, that it was kept in prison, tanked up, and that it was not free to explore the vast waters. Why people would keep fish in tanks, she didn’t understand. She, for one, couldn’t stand being watched twenty-four-seven. Her mother always found it funny that her daughter wanted to be centre stage, but couldn’t handle being placed under a microscope. Her every move watched. More tears roll down William’s cheeks. If only she knew. Michelle, was, perhaps, correct. William puts the stuffed animal back. Wipes his face and leaves the room. The source of the foul stench was not coming from Maria’s room. Only the family room remained. Hesitantly, he closes the door behind him and heads to where it all ended. Where it all began. More tears roll down his face. Sorry. الحب “Come. Don’t be scared.” He waits for her to climb into the hole. Takes her hand as she reaches the bottom. “Smells very soilly and stuffy, but we’ll be out soonly.” He lets go of her small hand and walks further into the darkness. “Wait for me!” The little girl shouts. “I don’t think this is a good idea. I’m scared of the dark.” He turns and waits. When he is able to see her face, he reassures her. “We’ll be in the light soon. Promise. Only this darkly passage and we’ll be out of here and this will only be a memory. Vaguely. Come.” He turns and walks. She short on his heels. “What’s that noise? “That is only the drip of the rivery space. We’ll be there. Soon. Nearly. Don’t worry.” He turns and faces her again. “You’ll love it. There’s this really cool ringy thingy with mostly only mossy stuff. Can’t say what it is for surely, but my handy thingy tells me it might be one of those others we found by the parky space. You remember?” She moves closer to him. Her face just-just visible. “Do you mean the…” “Yeah!” He interrupts her excitedly. “Come. You’ll see.” “Slow down.” She rushes after him. “Almost there.” He reassures her again. “This way.” خطر They He enters the room. Cautiously. The sliding door closes behind him. He hears it lock. Softly. He wipes the sweat from his forehead and walks towards the desk hovering in the middle of the room. The lights were dim, only the blue underneath the desk. He straightens his shirt; it was silky grey; his pants white. He waits. Every minute that passes seems like an eternity. He looks at his wrist. The pin moves from left to right, then stops in the centre. It opens. A small ball floats from it. He takes it and puts it in his mouth. His jaw seems to relax. He waits. More sweat runs from his forehead. He wipes it off with his sleeve. He looks at his wrist again. The pin moves from right to left and a piece of gel like liquid drifts into the air. He grabs it quick and rubs it into his face. If he should perspire, she would know that something was wrong. He looks at his reflection in the desk. Eyes clear, tan skin damp. He strokes his fingers across his blonde-dark hair. He tries to relax his face. The wrinkles across his forehead would be a dead giveaway. The thick lines below his eyes too. He tenses more. He waits. The floor makes a light buzzing noise. He looks to his left. The floor opens. Yellow bright light fills the room, and then it goes dark again; only the blue beneath the desk. He listens. She is here. He straightens up and puts his arms to his back. Broad chest pushed out. Jaw tight. He looks straight ahead. He hears the soft step of her stiletto heels. She was behind him. He tries his best to remain calm. She touches his broad shoulder; squeezes the muscle lightly. He doesn’t move. His face goes red; a thick vein forms between his eyebrows. He does his best to remain calm. Removing all emotion from his face as she leans in and whispers in his hear. “Particulier.” Peculiar. She runs her finger across his temple, slowly down his cheek and stops at the bottom of his square chin; takes it in her hand. His face reddens more. Dark veins all across his tan skin. Tears fill his eyes; jaw muscles twitch uncontrollable. “Très particulier.” Very peculiar. Her voice low. Seductive. She lets go of his chin and walks to the opposite side of the desk; swaying her hips with every deliberate step she takes. She’s dressed in white pants and silky white top, her red hair in a French twist. The few loose strands bounce lightly against her face as she paces back and forth. She glances his way, but it’s mostly as if he was not there. Her tan skin glittering in the blue hue coming from beneath the desk. She stops pacing and stares at him with dagger eyes. “Je suis sûr que j'ai senti un rat.” I’m sure I smelled a rat. Her voice soft; gentle. The words dragged out. Her eyes narrow more as she resumes pacing. “Je vous demande, avons-nous des rats?” I ask you, do we have rats? She stops pacing and faces him expectantly; green eyes penetrating his; it turns slightly yellow around the pupils. He cringes; tries hard not to slump his shoulders. He wants to put his hands to his head, but manages to keep them to his back. He utters slowly. “Non, non…ma… reine…” No, no… my queen… He bites his lower lip; veins dark and thick in his neck. A trickle of sweat along his twitching temple. She looks away. He sighs. Breathes deeply. His face relaxes. The veins disappear. She starts her pacing again. This time she moves faster. Her movements graceful, it appears as if she’s floating. “Non… ma reine.” No… my queen. She turns, glances at him quickly, then looks away and continues her fast pacing. “Non ma reine… Non ma reine…” No my queen… no my queen. She sways her hips and turns again. Her red hair more in her face; eyes appear darker than before; small lines below her lower lids. The blue light gives them a silvery-white, purplish appearance. She moves closer to the desk and stops. Shouts. “Menteur!!!” Liar!!! The word echoes through the room. Veins appear in his neck and face again. “Menteur...” Liar… Almost a whisper. His tan skin turns blue. She turns and resumes pacing. He gasps for air. His skin its light brown again. The veins disappear. He swallows hard. She stops her pacing and walks to his side of the desk slowly. Her hair short on her head; white-blonde and silver streaks form at her temples. Tan skin more a lily white. White dress floats about her as if lifted by a gentle breeze. With every step she gives, he slowly sinks to the ground, till he is on his knees. She puts her hand in the air. Her pupils go slightly red. He twists on the ground till he faces her directly, his face upwards in an awkward position. “Du wagst es, mich zu belügen?” You dare to lie to me? Her voice cold. Invasive. Her green eyes brighter. The pupils normal, but the yellow around them returns. He tries to speak. “Speichern Sie Ihre Zunge bevor ich ihn an die Schweine.” Save your tongue before I feed it to the swine. She starts pacing again, her dress floating about her. Shakes her head as if she is having a conversation with herself. He looks to the ground. Seems to have trouble breathing. His breathes deep and long. She walks to the desk. The white dress becomes a black skirt and wraps tightly around her body and forms a slit at her hips. Her hair grows longer and drapes across her chest. Flowers start growing from the hem of the skirt; they seem to flower with every step she takes. A few intertwine with her thick, dark curls. Her eyes more brown; the green only here and there. The yellow around the pupils disappear and turns more black. Her skin like golden honey. She taps on the desk. A small round sphere starts floating above the surface; more towards the centre. He breathes heavier. She cups the sphere in her right hand and slowly walks towards him, stares at the sphere, then at him. The flowers all become dark, red lilies, they seem to kiss her face. Her eyes soft. The purplish lines beneath her lids disappear. A smile plays across her face. Teeth white. She starts. “Shuuu… shuuu…” she gently caresses his cheek with her left hand. A lily grows along her arm. It flowers in front of his face. Stigmata large. They seem to peer into his eyes. “Déjalo ir. Shuuu.” Let it go. Shuuu. “Mi… reina.” My… queen. The words come out slow. It is difficult to say them. “Shuuuuuu.” She puts her finger to her lips. She lets go of the sphere. It floats above his head. She stands back. The playful smile gone. Her face suddenly emotionless. The flowers close and all disappear; more like they wilted quick and turned to nothing. A tight, black corset forms around her bosom. Dagger eyes return. “La deslealtad no será tolerada. Tú, mi amor, debe saber mejor…” Disloyalty shall not be tolerated. You, my love, should know better… Her eyes suddenly soft. Her expression like she was concerned. Her hair more curls, loose honey streaks. “Usted tiene una cara tan guapo. Mi hermosa… Lástima…” You do have such a handsome face. My beautiful… Pity… Soft. The words brittle. Her voice cold. She walks to where she entered the room. Honey thighs and long legs disappear as the slit in her dress closes and her white pants returns. The black corset opens up like butterfly wings and wraps snow white fur around her torso. Her white hair, one thick braid, twists around her head like a crown; eyes a bright, red hazel; the yellow returns around the pupils. Her skin, milky white. The floor opens. The bright light fills the room. She steps into the light and turns. Speaks in his head. Bring me the Mexican. Next time, I might do worse. Do not fail me… again. Не ... провал ... мне Do not… fail… me… The light disappears and the floor closes. Agonizing screams fill the room and bounces off the walls. Then silence. The blue sphere floats to the centre of the table and disappears. أعوذ “你好 “ Hello “你好,你好。” Hello, hello. The petite, young Chinese woman comes playfully into the room. Her small red dress bounces up and down as she skips to the centre of the room. “我希望今天我们会玩儿得很开心.” I hope we are all going to have lots of fun today. She makes a small bowing gesture. Then looks up. “你们都喜欢玩儿游戏, 对吗?” You all like games, right? She smiles happily and starts skipping to the small desk standing by the wall to the front. Her long black hair was tied with white and red ribbons at the back. Small fringe moves as she skips along. “我喜欢玩儿游戏.” I love to play games. She stands in front of the desk and looks about the room. Her dark eyes stood out against the white make up on her face; red rosy cheeks. “今天我们就玩儿我最喜欢的一个游戏吧.” Today we are going to play my favourite game of all. She looks from one side of the room to the other; a broad smile on her face. Some of her red lipstick was smudged on her teeth. “有谁知道是什么游戏吗?” Does anyone know what game that is? Her smile even broader; eyes bright and curious. “拜托, 不要不好意思.” Please, don't be shy. She frowns. “谁知道?” Anyone? “没有人知道吗?” No one? “太遗憾了.” Very disappointing. “Tsk tsk tsk.” She rolls her eyes and makes a no-no-no gesture with her right index finger. “我必须说我感到非常非常惊讶.” I must say that... I... for one... was very, very surprised when I got the news. She puts both her arms on her hips and puffs her cheeks. “你们让我很尴尬.” You all put me in a very difficult... spot. She sways her body left to right while clutching her dress. “不管怎样.” But silly me. She jumps into the air and starts skipping about the room again. “让我们开始吧.” Let’s play. A smug smile comes to her face. “谁先来?” Who is going to be first? She walks to the men all dressed in silky white tops and grey pants. They were all standing at attention. She goes to the one at the end closest to her; looks at him with a smile. She puts her hand to her chin, as if deciding. She walks further down the row; stands in front of the one in the middle. “你呢,先生。我们可以开始了吗?恩,我想我们可以开始了.” What about you, Sir. Shall we play? Yes. I think we shall. She takes him by the hem of his shirt and leads him towards the desk. آمن “Careful.” He takes her hand and gently helps her to get up. She emerges. Slowly. “Don’t worry. You are safe.” She straightens her small body. Looks around. “You’re right. It looks exactly like the thing we saw the other day.” He smiles excitedly. “Come. Let’s sit here.” She rests her small hand on his shoulder. He helps her to balance. They both sit down. The girl traces the vine from the top, to her left, all the way down to the centre between them. “It’s pretty.” “Everything is always pretty to you, even if it is ugly.” He smirks. “Not.” She bumps him softly with her right elbow. “Whatever you say. This is more creepy than pretty.” He traces the vine from the top, his right, all the way down to the centre between them.” “You’re always scared of everything.” She mocks. “Am not.” He tries to hide his smile. She gives him an accusing wink. “You see. You can’t even lie with a straight face. You’re the worst liar I have ever met.” “Am not. I can lie betterly than you.” “I would like to see you try.” She looks through the holes in the bottom. “How high up are we, you think?” “I can’t say. Very highly up.” He looks down too. Then at her. She gets up slowly and moves along the vines that leads from the centre to the outside a few feet in front of them. “Careful. It’s not strongly enough. Not to carry your weight.” She turns and laughs softly. “I’m as light as a feather. You’re the one that should be worried.” She gives him a mocking glance. Smiles. Moves further along the vine. He gets up slowly. Holds onto the vine to his right and moves cautiously along the edge. “Please, be careful. I don’t think this is such a great idea. I shouldn’t have brought you here.” “You should have thought of that before you made me walk through that dark tunnel. You know I don’t like dark places.” He moves back. “I’ll wait for you here. You can tell me what you see.” Sweat slowly runs down his forehead. His breathing changes. “Oh no you don’t, mister! You brought me here, so you’re coming with me.” He swallows hard. “I didn’t think this through properly. I… I don’t like highly places.” His words barely audible. He sweats more. “How many times have I told you to speak up? Stop swallowing your words. You don’t have to be nervous around me.” She turns and faces him. Balancing on the thin vine she was standing on. “What did you say?” She waits. Slowly he starts. “I’m afraid of highly places.” She looks down. The hole in the centre was big enough to swallow them both. Whole. She makes her way back to where he was, confidently clutching the side of the vines that closed in from the sides. She stretches her hand towards him. “Take my hand. Don’t be scared. I’ll keep you safe. Promise.” أمل Maryam “Hello, Maryam!” The little girl shouts from where she lay in bed to the right of the big room. Maryam slows down, waves at the girl as she peeks inside. She notices that the bed to the left was empty. Surprised, she goes into the room and right up to the girl. “Hello, Madison. Feeling better today?” Maryam scans the bandages on her arms and gently caresses the girl’s forehead and right cheek. “No more pain at all. None left.” The girl smiles cheerfully. She sits up more. Maryam helps her up as she asks. “What happened to Reese? Has she left?” Madison stares at the empty bed, then at Maryam. “Yes.” She looks down. Slumps slightly. “What, what are you not telling me, sweet thing?” Maryam runs her hand along the girls, long blonde hair. “I’m not sure, M.” The girl tries to make eye contact, but looks down quick. “Don’t be scared. You can tell me?” Maryam reassured her. The girl pulls the covers to her chin and slowly, she utters. “A woman came to take her. I’m not sure who she was. All I know is that she was not happy that Reesie was here.” Madison’s big, blue eyes not blinking. She pulls the covers tighter. “She said that it was not safe here.” She looks down. “Why would she say that?” Maryam stares at the empty bed to the left. Hesitantly, the girl continues. “I’m not sure, M, but I think she was referring to you.” Maryam understood. She tucks at her scarf and nods. “And you? What do you say?” Maryam smiles. “There is no safer place then here with you.” The girl smiles too. She pulls the covers back and relaxes more. “That’s exactly right,” exclaims Maryam. She kisses the girl’s forehead. “I’ll check in on you a bit later, okay?” She caresses her right cheek and heads to the door. “Please don’t forget, M. I’ll be waiting for you.” Maryam blows her a kiss as she exits the room and heads further down the long hallway. She stops at the next door. “Hello, M,” says the dark haired boy. “Hello, Maryam,” the bald girl joins him. Maryam smiles at the two playing in their cots. “Salaam, you two. Everything okay, Summer?” She quickly kisses each of them on their cheeks. She gently examines the girls head. “All better, Maryam. Can you tell?” The girl smiles excitedly. She was dressed in pink pyjamas. “Thanks be to God. It does look much better. And you, Brandon?” She turns and assesses the boy’s arm. “No more, pain. Just an itch, M. God is good.” Maryam smiles. “Never lose faith in Him.” She turns and exits the room. “See you later, M,” they both shout out loud. She continues further down the hall to the next room. “Maryam, hello, please remember to come by before you go.” The boy stares at her imploringly from his bed. “I will, Billy, don’t worry.” Maryam continues down the hallway. More and more hellos as she continues. She takes the time to say hello to all of the children as they excitedly shout her name. All were happy to see her. A small, blond boy jumps out of his bed and runs after Maryam. He grabs her by her dress and tugs at it hard. “M, M. I have something for you.” Maryam turns and goes onto her knees. “Hello, you. Why are you out of bed?” She gives him a side look, but smiles. “You know you’re not supposed to be up. You need to rest. Till…” “But I’m much better. Can’t you see?” He lifts his pants to just below his knee. “See, it is all better.” “I see. She gently touches the dark bruises on his legs. Pulls down his pants and puts her hands on his scrawny shoulders. She gives it a slight squeeze. Smiles. “What have you got for me?” Maryam waits excitedly. “I hope you like it, M. I made it especially for you.” The boy seems suddenly shy. He takes the drawing from his back and hands it to her. Maryam takes it from him and looks at it. She admires it for a while and then sighs. “It’s beautiful, Mark. Is that…” “You, holding me when I first came here. I put in a sun, because that was how I felt; warm and safe.” He looks at her. “I feel safe here with you.” سويا Connection “Hi-uh. Sorry to-uh just-uh show up here. My name-uh is Jeanne.” The tall, dark-haired girl smiles and extends her arm to Maryam. She was dressed in a blue dress, small cardigan, she wore flat shoes. “Hi, I’m Maryam. How may I help you?” Maryam tucks at her pink scarf, wipes some food off her top, puts the child she was holding down and gets up. She takes in Jeanne’s dark eyes. “May we-uh speak privately?” Jeanne seems anxious. She fidgets with the hem of her dress, runs her hand nervously through her hair. She clears her throat. “It’s-uh really important-uh.” She scans the room. The many children stare at her in wonder. One hands her an apple. Unsure, Jeanne takes it from him. “Thank-uh you-uh. Merci.” Jeanne pats him softly on his head. Maryam gestures for her to follow her. “I’ll be right back, children.” With many ‘okay Ms’, Maryam and Jeanne leave the room. They take a left and enter one of the small offices at the end of the long hallway. “How may I be of service to you?” Maryam asks as she gestures for Jeanne to take a seat at the small round table. Maryam pours them both and glass of water and takes a seat opposite Jeanne. Jeanne takes a sip of water. Starts. “Merci. Thank you-uh. I-hu am-hu so-hu thirsty-uh… Must-uh be the-hu nerves-uh.” She takes another sip. Maryam smiles. Waits. “Well-uh, I guess-uh I must-uh introduce-uh myself, ahem.” She drinks the last of the water in the glass and pours herself more. “Sorry-uh, thank you-uh, for the water-uh. Nothing-uh comes close-uh to water-uh, don’t you agree-uh?” “I do,” Maryam says with a smile, “God knew exactly what He was doing when He made it. All praise and thanks is due to Him for making wadder sweet and not bidder because of our sins.” Maryam pours herself some more water too. Jeanne looks at her admiringly. “That-uh is lovely-uh, ahem, I-hu mean-uh what-uh you say about the-uh water-uh.” “It is,” says Maryam amused, “but that is nothing I came up with. It’s a common prayer all Muslims say, before drinking wadder.” She takes three short sips and puts her glass back down. ‘Very interesting-uh. Beautiful-uh.” Jeanne relaxes more. She sits back and continues. “My name-uh is Jeanne Dieudonné. I am from Versailles, Paris.” She coughs. “I have heard of Versailles. World War and Peace Treaty springs to mind, I might be absolutely wrongk.” Maryam smiles. “Spot on-uh, if you are-uh referring to the-uh treaty signed-uh after World War I.” Jeanne drinks more water. She continues. “Lovely place. Grew-uh up there and lived-uh there most-uh of my life-uh.” She sighs. She removes some fluff from her small cardigan and continues. “My work-uh is what brought-uh me-uh to-uh America-uh.” She straightens up. Takes a deep breath. “I have a background-uh in clinical-uh psychology, specialising in child-uh care-uh. Before I moved-uh here-uh, I was a-uh practising child-uh psychologist in Versailles-uh.” “We have that in common then, clinical psychology. I am currently defending a thesis relating to the direct impact the environment has on the psyche of the child, specifically the mind and how it impacts the soul. How there is something other than what is obvious to the naked eye. Other influences.” Maryam says ‘other’ sort of funny and stares at the glass of water in front of her. She laughs to herself and takes in Jeanne’s curious, dark-brown eyes. She starts. “I’ll probably fail my defence,” she says laughingly. “Why-uh?” Asks Jeanne surprised; almost as if she was disappointed. “The whole point of view is a bit sketchy to most people; especially those that view it purely scientifically. They consider no religious information. God is not part of the equation.” She coughs. “God has been removed. No. It is more as if God is non-existent.” Jeanne nods her head. “I-uh see-uh what-uh you-uh mean-uh.” She breathes deeply. Shakes her head. Continues. “It-uh is-uh this-uh exact-uh thing-uh that-uh has-uh brought-uh me-uh to-uh America-uh and-uh to-uh you-uh.” She tries to smile, but only manages a frown. “I-uh read-uh your-uh paper-uh published-uh earlier-uh this-uh year-uh. It-uh was-uh how-uh I-uh found-uh you-uh.” “Ahwesome,” Maryam says encouragingly. She unfolds her arms and relaxes them on the table. Immediately Jeanne relaxes more. Maryam removes her scarf and plays with the frills. Jeanne stares at Maryam’s dark hair. Smiles. “I found what you said about the, dark-uh, influences, particularly interesting.” Maryam nods her head as she continues to twirl the frills around her fingers. “I was asked to assist with several, strange-uh, cases. All abuse. But strange-uh.” Maryam simply nodded her head and gave Jeanne a warm, encouraging look. “I, I-uh, am convinced that there-uh, is more to it…” She trails off. Coughs. “Supernatural almost.” She sits up straight again. Maryam drapes her scarf across the top of her head and ties it at the back. She smiles. “Maybe not supernatural, but rather absolutely natural, simply not known, or we do not have enough information. It is as you say, strange.” Jeanne nods. “Yes-uh?” “I’ll explain. We do not see air, though we accept that it is there. The same it is with this. God clearly tells us that angels and other beings exist. They are a natural part of the creation. They are apparently all around us, though we do not see them, believers accept that they are there. It is normal and not supernatural at all.” “I see-uh what you-uh mean.” She takes in what Maryam was saying. “So you believe that the devil-uh exists and that he-uh influences us?” “Absolutely.” Maryam says confidently. Jeanne smiles. “What I am about to say-uh, might sound crazy, but I think-uh, these abuse cases, involved something… satanic-uh; like it was some ritual-uh. Too many common denominators-uh and from children that had no contact-uh with each other, though in the same neighbourhoods.” She seems embarrassed. “Sounds crazy, I know-uh.” “Not at all. I will have to read your initial assessments and perhaps interview the children, but I doubt you would come all this way, if you were not convinced otherwise.” Maryam says encouragingly. “I believe we have a few of those cases here as well.” She sighs. Frowns. “I haven’t mentioned it to anyone else, being the only Muslim here. Most of the rest are Christian, most non-practising; the rest Atheist. Our doors are open to everyone.” Maryam gets up and heads to the cupboard in the corner. She removes a file and hands it to Jeanne. “These are all the children we have here currently. I would advise that you look at the ones I highlighted purple.” Jeanne looks at her surprised. “I will clear the room next door. It can be your office while you are here.” “My office-uh?” Jeanne more confused. “It’s why you are here, isn’t it. To learn? To help? To be able to go back home with absolutely surety. It’s why you came, isn’t it?” “I wasn’t planning on going back… but, you are right. Yes.” Jeanne smiles and starts paging through the file. “You’re welcoming to scrutinize those, they are simply observations, nothing personal, but you know I will have to contact references to find out whether you are legit. I can’t let just anyone near my children.” “Oui, of course-uh,” Jeanne nods. Maryam smiles at her. “I think we’re going to be one heck of a team.” She gets up and extends her hand to Jeanne. They shake hands. “Welcome to Good Hope.” الاعمال الخيرية November 2013 For the children The lanky girl walks into the lobby. A youthful energy about her. Her dress bounces gracefully as she skips all the way to the receptionist. “Special delivery!” She says with a smile. She stares at her reflection in the mirror-like glass on top of the counter. The caption at the bottom of the glass read: You are responsible for your own safety and the safety of others. She smiles, tucks at her ruffled bangs that reached past her eyes and rubs at the bold red lipstick that bled at the edges of her mouth. Satisfied, she blows herself a kiss and focusses on the receptionist. “Are you from the committee?” The plump woman cheerily directs her attention to the blonde in front of her. “You betcha, names Maria, we met before,” she puts her hands to her sides, as she pops her hip and strikes a pose. “Oh,” she fiddles in her huge bag and hands her phone to the lady, “do you mind? I’d like to post this on my wall.” She resumes her pose and blows a big kiss, “Mwha!” Amused, the receptionist snaps a picture and hands Maria back her phone. “You’re fabulous. Thanks hoots.” Maria quickly presses a few buttons on her phone and adds a tag. Dropping off invitations to the show. She presses send and focusses on the still smiling receptionist. “I have the wonderful goodies right here,” she says as she removes a stack of envelopes from her bag. “I was told that fifty should be enough, is that correct?” She places the invitations on the counter and immediately, reads a comment to her latest post. “That should be more than enough. There are currently only 37 children here. The rest have been taken. Social services, foster care, adoption, you know.” The receptionist takes the envelopes. “Ahhhhh, that’s so ahwesome-ish.” She puts her phone down and leans into the counter; the charm on the chain around her neck, dangling hypnotically in sight of the lady. Her eyes follow it for a few seconds before she shakes her head and says. “It is, yes. It is not always easy. We rely heavily on the good will of others. Poor Mary has mostly been the source of all the food, blankets; the basics; mostly from her own pockets and generous contributions from her family.” She adjusts her granny spectacles and opens an invitation. “That’s really neighbourly of her. I think you’re all fabulously wonderful for caring for these precious little ones.” She fiddles in her bag and takes out three additional envelopes. “We have reserved special seats for Maryam and her family, one for you and you dearest hubby and one for the lady who’s always in the kitchen, the one with the cute, spikey do. She rocks.” Maria gives a thumbs-up with a big show of her perfect teeth. “I think you are referring to Kim,” the receptionist smiles broadly, ‘she is terrific. You are too kind.” “Don’t mention it, you fabulous one. I like what you have done to your hair.” The receptionist smiles shyly as she reaches for her hair. “Thank you. It’s a perm.” “Really suits you. I’m sure your better half can’t take his eyes off of you.” She winks. The receptionist smiles more. “I regret to inform you, however, that come show time, all eyes will be on me.” Maria says that nonchalantly and reads another comment. Pleased, she puts the phone back in her bag. “But don’t be jealous, you can’t have all his attention, now can you. Jokes. Mwha!” “Of course,” the lady agrees, amused. “Well, remember, the children’s show will be in the afternoon. You know, the Christmas story, some fun and games and of course lots of prezzies and foodies. Kimberly will attend to all that.” She smacks her lips. “My performance will however only be in the evening. The night light suits me best.” She gives herself a last look in the glass. Straightens her spaghetti top and gets ready to leave. “Really ahwesome chatting to you, again. I hope to see you at the show.” “Certainly and thank you for dropping off the invitations.” “Don’t mention it.” She takes a few steps backwards. “Mwha!” She turns and bouncily heads for the exit. حقيقة And mention when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near to God. Surah Al-Imran (Family of Imran) 3:45 December 2015 “Will you be attending the show-uh this year?” Jeanne asks curiously. She and Maryam were having lunch in the garden in front of the children’s home. “Of course. I must. My children don’t go anywhere without me. God has appointed me as their guardian. I am responsible for them until they leave here permanently. Even when they find homes, I can’t help but try and stay in touch. Every time one leaves, a piece of me leaves with them.” She sighs, but smiles. “It’s not just a job for you-uh, is it?” Jeanne takes a bite of her rocket salad. “No, not at all.” Maryam takes a bite of her apple. Jeanne takes a deep breath before asking. “Do Muslims celebrate Christmas?” She seems to tense up. She pokes at her salad softly with her fork. Maryam gives her question a thought and responds. “Not really.” She thinks. “Not with the same intention as the Christians do. I mean,” she clears her throat and sits up straight, “not to celebrate the birth of the ‘Saviour’ or the ‘Son of God’. In Islam there is no inherited original sin that can only be cleansed by the blood of Christ. So, there is no need for a Saviour in that context. All babies since Adam and Eve are born free of sin. God forgave Adam and Eve.” Jeanne nods with a frown. “And of course, we do not believe that Jesus is the son of God either. He is simply a prophet; a man. And more than that, one of the few prophets who was sent with a book, the original Injeel or the Gospel. He was sent for the Jews, who rejected him. His message was indeed to guide them back to the straight path, a light for the people of his time and a sign for the rest of the world. God is thus the saviour that always guides us back to the straight path. He saves us from hell, if we adhere to His loving admonitions.” Jeanne nods in agreement. “So if we do celebrate it, it is to give thanks to God for sending the messengers and prophets. And to share gifts, show love, give charity, grant pardons and ask for forgiveness is characteristic of Islam. Pity that society, today, needs days like Christmas, to do something God instructs us to do every day.” Jeanne puts down her fork. “I know what you mean. Back home-uh, many people only see Christmas as a day-uh of gifts and indulging in huge feasts. The true meaning of Christmas has long since been forgotten.” “Yes, they have removed Christ and replaced it with X-mas.” Jeanne frowns. “Oui.” “This year’s Christmas is extra special, I think.” Jeanne shifts in her garden chair and looks at Maryam more interested than before. “Why do you-uh say that-uh?” Maryam throws her apple core in the trash bin, located next to the outdoor table. She smiles as she tightens her scarf on her head. “It will be the first time in 400 years that Jesus’ and Mohammed’s, peace be upon them, birthdays will be celebrated at the same time.” “Interesting.” “Yes, it is. That makes this Christmas something very special, in my opinion. I think there is a sign in it for us. Perhaps the time of his return is near at hand. But God knows best.” Jeanne was confused. “Jesus’ return? Do you believe that he will return? Muslims, I mean.” “Of course we do. He will come to clear all false claims about him and more importantly he will destroy the Anti-Christ, as God wills.” This news seems to surprise Jeanne a lot. “That day will be a glorious victory for all the believers.” She smiles, gets up and excuses herself. Jeanne stares at her in wonder as she disappears into the building. وقت Jeanne “Oh la vach!?” Jeanne twists the cable around her finger as if to vent some of her frustration. She shakes her head in disbelief. With a quick exchange of the handset from her left to right ear, she turns and continues. “Je suis désolé, mais je... je vais devoir...” I’m sorry, but I… I will have to… She exhales deeply. Her eyes roll as if she is more annoyed than before. “S'il vous plaît arrêter de me interrompre.” Please stop interrupting me. Her voice calm, but her pitch hinted at anger at whoever was on the other end of the line. “Je ne peux pas croire…” I can’t believe… “Ah non!” Oh no! She puts the back of the earpiece of the handset to her forehead and slowly massages her forehead with it. She breathes deeply. Straightens her blue jacket and puts the handset back to her ear. “S'il vous plaît , je comprends ce que vous dites, mais , moi, je ne peux tout simplement pas croire que tout cela.” Please, I hear what you are saying, but, I, I simply cannot believe any of it. She twists the cable around her fingers more. She listens. Rolls her eyes, her face turns red. “Assez, assez . Pas plus.” Enough, enough. No more. Jeanne turns, takes a tissue from the box on the mahogany desk, wipes the edge and lifts herself onto the part she just wiped. She tucks at her long, yellow sheath dress, slowly removes her left shoe and rubs the ball of her foot; seems immediately less annoyed. She breathes deeply. Starts. “S'il te plait écoute moi.” Please, listen to me. She clears her throat. “Rien de ce que vous venez de dire est vrai.” None of what you just said is true. She shakes her head, puts back her shoe and fastens the clasp with one swift movement of her left hand, as she gets of the desk and starts to pace. “Je ne veux pas non plus entendre parler...” I also do not wish to hear about… She trails off; breathes deeply and continues. “Tu vois ce que je veux dire.” You know what I mean. “Acceptez ma décision , s'il vous plaît . Respecter les choix que je l'ai pris.” Accept my decision, please. Respect the choices I have made. Softer. “Ne pas venir ici . Reste où tu es. Je me suis déplacé sur.” Don't come here. Stay where you are. I have moved on. She continues. “Je suis désolé, mais je ne pourrai jamais vous regarder la même chose. Je m'excuse. Et ce que vous dites, cela n'a aucun sens. I’m sorry, but I can never look at you the same again. Sorry. And what you are saying, it makes no sense. She sighs. “Je étais autrefois insensés. Ignorant. Pensé que nous étions éternelle, destiné à être pour toujours." I was foolish once. Ignorant. Thought we were eternal, meant to be forever. Slowly as she exhales deeply. “J'avais tort.” I was wrong. She stops her pacing and puts her right index finger on the hook switch. “Il est inutile de continuer à me téléphoner . Je ... désolé.” There is no point in continuing to call me. I… sorry. “Adieu.” Bye. She holds the hook switch down and slowly puts the handset back. She sighs. “Quel était le but de tout cela?” What was the purpose of that? She stares at her reflection in the silver on the desk. “Never-uh again-uh.” كذبة December 2015. “Le dernier?” The last? “Depuis quand vous écoutez tout ce qu'elle a à dire?” Since when do you listen to anything she has to say? “Daniel?” She smiles to herself. The frown returns. “Ma, s'il vous plait, qui est... l'oublier.” Ma, please, that is... forget about it. “Il est Noël, Maman, ne laissez pas ce qui est arrivé parce que tu vivre dans la peur.” It's Christmas, Mama, don't let what happened cause you to live in fear. She sighs. “Vous savez que je ne peux pas... pas cette année.” You know I can't... not this year. She sighs more. “Ma, s'il vous plaît, il y aura plus Noëls... vous verrez.” Ma, please, there will be more Christmases... You'll see. She breathes deeply. Starts. “Tout va bien se passer. Promesse.” Everything is going to be fine. Promise. “Oui?” Yes? She listens expectantly. “Bon, ma. Très bien.” Good, ma. Very good. She smiles. “Je voudrais être là aussi.” I wish I was there too. “Tu me manques.” I miss you too. She sighs. “Je vous aime.” I love you. She nods her head. Smiles. “Joyeux Noël.” Merry Christmas. Surah Maryam (Mary) 19:16 - 36 And mention in the Book the story of Mary, when she withdrew in seclusion from her family to a place facing east. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our Spirit [angel Gabriel), and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects. She said: "Verily! I seek refuge with the Most Beneficent (Allah) from you, if you do fear Allah." The angel said: "I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son." She said: "How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?" He said: "So it will be, your Lord said: 'That is easy for Me (Allah): And We wish to appoint him as a sign to mankind and a mercy from Us (Allah), and it is a matter already decreed, by Allah.' " So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place (i.e. Bethlehem valley about 4-6 miles from Jerusalem). And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date-palm. She said: "Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!" Then the babe Jesus or Gabriel cried unto her from below her, saying: "Grieve not! Your Lord has provided a water stream under you; "And shake the trunk of date-palm towards you, it will let fall fresh ripe-dates upon you." "So eat and drink and be glad, and if you see any human being, say: 'Verily! I have vowed a fast unto the Most Beneficent (Allah) so I shall not speak to any human being this day.'" Then she brought him (the baby) to her people, carrying him. They said: "O Mary! Indeed you have brought a thing Fariya (an unheard mighty thing). "O sister (i.e. the like) of Aaron [not the brother of Moses, but he was another pious man at the time of Mary! Your father was not a man who used to commit adultery, nor was your mother an unchaste woman." Then she pointed to him. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?" "He [Jesus] said: Verily! I am a slave of Allah, He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet;" "And He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and He has enjoined on me Salat (prayer), and Zakat, as long as I live." "And dutiful to my mother, and made me not arrogant, unblest. "And Peace be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!" Such is Jesus, son of Mary. It is a statement of truth, about which they doubt (or dispute). It befits not the Majesty of Allah that He should beget a son [this refers to the slander of Christians against Allah, by saying that Jesus is the son of Allah]. Glorified and Exalted be He above all that they associate with Him. When He decrees a thing, He only says to it, "Be!" and it is. Jesus said: "And verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him Alone. That is the Straight Path.


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