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Loss in the Afternoon 8 May 2008

Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Culture, Education, Misc.

By the third time he asks, my patience is gone. “Hossam, I have answered you the last two times,” I tell him. “I am going to help you to find the toy, but this is not the right time.” I thread the end of the dandelion through Marwa’s right braid. Ayat pulls off its stem, until only the blossom remains, caught up in a twist of black hair. Freeze tag resumes against a backdrop of soccer. The girls, the smaller boys and I orbit around each other. Hossam knots up the tip of his chin.

The mean time between injuries is ten minutes when all of us are outside. Within seven, Mouad has bruised his shin. “I cannot walk,” he wails. His face crumples, until he is all forehead and nose. He hops pathetically at me. I open my arms, and pull him up. Fifty pounds of Syrian fury rest along my hip. The first graders streak ahead of us to the door.

I send the children to wash and drink, and take Mouad to the teacher’s lounge. Brother Zine feeds the boy a tiny caramel scone while I inspect the bruise. Halfway between his ankle and knee, his legs are skin over bone. I prepare a baggie of ice for him. “Hold this on your leg, mama.” He nods, and follows me, jumping, back to our classroom.

I decide to forgo chairs. “Please sit on the rug in a circle,” I tell the class. “I have a question for you guys.” They form a ring of white shirts around the edges of the carpet. They are so quiet, watching me, that for a moment I am overcome with pride. Are these my children, who earlier this year could not manage such stillness? I wish then for a companion. I need someone to tell about this, someone who will love them, too. My pause grows too long, and Ayat clears her throat.

“Sister Anna, what are we doing?” she asks. Hossam sniffles from the carpet’s edge. “Hossam is sad because he lost something,” I answer her. “I wanted to tell you guys about a time that I lost something, and to ask if the same thing ever happened to you.”

“One time,” I try to speak lightly, “I had done some work for some people. They paid me $300.” The children are impressed. “I put the money in the pocket of my pants,” I told them. “Then, I sent the pants to the dry cleaners.”

Hamza groans. I smile at him. “That’s right, habeebi. I forgot to take the money out of my pants first!” I pause then, to wait for their criticism. None is forthcoming, so I press on. “Well, I called the dry cleaners when I figured it out, to see if they could give my money back to me.” “Did they find it?” Hamza asks, up on his knees.

“No,” I shake my head. “And I was really sad.” The children talk to their neighbors in shushed tones. Nadim raises his hand. “I lost something too,” he begins. “One time, ya, we went to beach. Well, to a park on the beach, near the sea. We had a small house then, and we had an old car.” I imagine him, the middle of 4, in the sand.

“My dad parked the car, but we forgot to lock it, ya.” All chatter drops away.”When we were driving home, on the highway, my dad noticed that the yellow piece was gone. He looked down and he didn’t find it. The horn was on its side, but the yellow piece was gone.”

Ahmad and Ahmad look at the floor, and Omar hugs the bear. While I try to figure out what the missing yellow piece might be, the children accept its disappearance. Hamza raises his hand. “So,” he asks, “Can you explain again, starting from the part when you left the sea?” Nadim nods. His eyes are deeply set, with purple-white circles beneath them. He turns his hand on its edge, and peers up at Hamza.

“Right, so we forgot to lock the doors.” His accent manifests in tone. Every sentence lilts up. “When we got back in the car, then we started driving.” I picture the promenade slipping away. “Then, when my dad tried to do the thing, he didn’t find it. The yellow piece was gone.” He blinks. “The horn, ya, the horn was on its side.” Sara flexes her feet. “My dad had to press the two pieces together with his hand, every time he needed to do it,” Nadim finishes. “Because the yellow piece was gone.” He looks at me. I wrack my brain. Perhaps he means a turn signal? All I can do is return to our theme.

“And so you think,” I smile and ask, “that a piece of the car got lost?” Nadim nods his head. He strains to speak, but catches himself. “What do you think happened to it, Nadim?” I ask. His neck flushes the color of grapes.

We are quiet, considering. “Now you guys can tell about times when you lost something, if you want,” I invite the rest of the children. “And then, I will tell you a hadith about one time when a person had lost some money, and he went to Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, for advice.” I stretch out the syllables of the phrase. There are a very limited number of Arabic phrases which I can help the children to master, but this is one of them. Beside me, Mouad shifts. “I know that one!” We look at each other to wink. “Well, let’s hear about what other people here have lost first,” I suggest. “Then we’ll have the hadith, insha’Allah.” In my heart, I wonder if he really does know the hadith that I am thinking of. I look forward to its telling.

We hear of lost goggles, lost bears, lost wallets and shoes. Of Mama losing her credit card at the amusement park, and Baba fishing his belongings from the hotel pool. Mouad takes a toy from his pocket and hands it to Hossam. It is identical to that which was lost: a tiny, plastic, sliding puzzle, given to students who finished Surah Al Buruj.

Hossam, beaming, lays it on his knee. I look at no one in particular. “Please remember that if I see toys during class time, they will become mine,” I say. When it is safely tucked into his pocket, I begin. “There was a man who accidentally lost his money, and he couldn’t find it anywhere.”

Another voice picks up. “Ya, and so he was looking for it,” Hamza rushes. “So he went to Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and he asked, ya, what should he do.”

“Jazak Allahu khayran, Hamza,” I say. “Do you want to tell this one?” He rocks up onto his heels. so that he is perched with his head above the rest of the class. “Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, told the man that he should pray two raka’at.”

Next to him, Yousef perks up. “I know this one!” He waves his hands. “So the man went home, ya, and then at night, he prayed two extra raka’at.” The business end of the carpet is suddenly awash with hands. From among them, I choose Abdur-Rahim. “When the man was praying, all of a sudden, he saw where the money was. So he got his money back.”

I thank him, and point at Sara. “Do you want to tell us what happened after that?” she shakes her head. Beside her, Ayat makes a fish face. Away, in the corner, Marwa traces shapes with her hand. I fear for my girls. They are young, it seems to me, for this kind of silence. Have they had a fight? Three degrades too easily into two and one.

Next to me, Mouad shifts. “Can I finish it, Sister Anna?” he asks. “So the man, he went to Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, again. He told the Prophet what had happened.” “What did the Prophet tell him?” I ask. Mouad nods. “He told the man that it was Ash-Shaytan who showed him where the money was, because ash-Shaytan doesn’t want us to pray. So he asked the man if he finished praying his two raka’at. Then the man said no, so the Prophet told him to go pray.”

The class absorbs the story, and whispers begin. Sister Dalia’s voice comes over the loudspeaker. “Dismissal will begin in five minutes.” The time has flown, and my heart sighs. I want to stay with the children, to discuss loss until we have reached, together, understanding.

They, however, want to leave. They hurry into the hallway, to collect their backpacks. I sit in the Big Lady Chair, and rock myself back and forth. It is hard enough to watch them leave in the afternoon. I cannot imagine the end of the school year, without fearing the loss of their company. While they are dismissed, I replay the hadith in my head. What is it that I should learn, from my First Graders, about loss?



1. ABD - 8 May 2008

my favorite lines:

“His face crumples, until he is all forehead and nose. He hops pathetically at me. I open my arms, and pull him up. Fifty pounds of Syrian fury rest along my hip.”

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