What do you think happens to someone when they die?
Well… some people believe that they go to Jannah. Others believe they will be born again. Some even say that maybe we are all just in a simulation and we simply wake up when one supposedly dies.
I want to be born again as a cat because then I can die nine times and nothing will happen to me.
Elias laughs weakly. That’s just a story Lila, I’ll explain it to you another time. But why else do you like cats anyway?
Because they can run so fast, how much ever I try I can never catch them. I also want to be able to run fast so I can escape from everything.
Elias’s face contorts into a forced smile and he adjusts the bag of clothes under Lila’s head. Go to sleep Lila, I will pray that in your dreams you can be a cat.
Why did Aisha ask if Mama saw the tunnel with a light?
Lila go to sleep.
Please Eli I’m not at all sleepy, tell me what light Aisha was talking about. Is that the door to Jannah?
I’ll tell if you if you don’t tell anybody else – not your friends Yara or Salma and definitely not Baba or Aisha.
If you tell them I told you this they will become very angry with me and they won’t let me ever tell you stories again.
Okay I promise I won’t tell anyone.
I had a friend who learnt in his school that as your eyesight starts to fade, you lose what you see on the sides first. So when you can’t see from the sides of your eyes, what can you see?
Only the front!
That’s why it will look like a long tunnel with a light at the end of it.
What a boring story I don’t like it. I want it to be the door to Jannah.
Okay then, it is the door to Jannah. Elias sighs and tucks the soft brown hair falling onto Lila’s forehead behind her ears and places his hand on the top of her head gently.
But Eli… Lila trails off in thought.
Elias knew conversing with Lila was much better than going off to do whatever errands Baba would make him do if he went outside the tent right now. Besides he really loved trying to answer all of Lila’s questions. He wished she would live long enough to have a good life in a few years and have her own version of answers ready for her children’s outrageously profound questions.
What are you thinking about Lila?
If Mama was going to Jannah why was everybody crying? Shouldn’t we all be happy for her? I have heard her at night, begging for Allah to come take her. He came, so shouldn’t we be celebrating that Mama’s wish came true?
Oh Lila how does this small brain of yours manage to think of such big things! Elias says laughing softly.
Lila smiles at him with the sweetest of innocence and starts playing with the frayed end of her top.
You’re absolutely right. As always.
We should be happy for Mama. She was in pain and it was difficult for her. But now she is free of it, and we should celebrate that.
Lila looks at him with her piercing almond eyes expecting more.
Do you want to know what I think?
Lila nods violently and continues to stare at him, barely blinking.
I think Death is not the opposite of Life. One has a life and then they die and then whatever happens to them is unknown to the living. We are only left with what reminds us of them. Their body, their words, their voice. We mourn Mama not for her, but for ourselves. For it is not she who has experienced the death. But us who are experiencing and will continue to experience the loss of her.
So you mean that Mama is the one that died but we feel her death? Lila asks mid yawn.
Yes, and that is why it is okay for us to feel sad, it is okay that Aisha cries thinking of Mama and that Baba listens to Mama’s favourite song again and again. Today I went to the pond Mama always took us to and told her I miss her. I told her that Baba made the worst soup this morning, that you and I collected pebbles in the shape of dinosaurs in the afternoon, and that Aisha tripped over a stick and got angry and stormed off when all of us laughed at her. Death is not the opposite of Life. Death is a part of Life.
Elias felt Lila’s soft breath on his arm and he slowly removes his hand from her head and covers her with the cloth he was sitting on. Goodnight Lila, he whispers and tip toes out of the tent murmuring prayers, preparing for what the rest of the night may have in store for him.