“Daddy! Wake up! It’s time to go!”
Hasana pounced on her father, who was slowly but surely waking up and familiarising himself with his surroundings.
“Wha-” He began to say but was cut off by his hyperactive daughter.
“Get your clothes on! And your running shoes. We have to go! We’ll be late!”
And before he could ask his daughter what on earth was going on, Hasana was running out of his room, disappearing from sight. Looking around, Waseem realised why he was disorientated and tired. There was no light streaming through his curtains and when he looked at his watch, he realised that Hasana had indeed woken him up before the break of dawn.
And there was only one day in the year that Hasana would readily be awake at four AM. There was only one day in the year she looked forward to an early morning. Realising what day it was, Waseem smiled and let out a sigh. It would be a long day and if he didn’t get his tired body out of bed, his daughter would be back.
Doing exactly as Hasana had instructed him to, Waseem put on his clothes, slipped into his running shoes and rushed downstairs to have a quick bite before they left. Stuffing down his toast as fast as he could, Waseem felt pressured as he watched his daughter tap her foot against the floorboard impatiently.
“Come on, come on!”
“I’m eating as fast as I can Hasana.”
“Well eat faster!”
Waseem shot his daughter a blank look, but she was unfazed. Instead, she gave him her best smile as she hopped from one foot to the other, eager to get going. Ten minutes later, the pair were on the road heading towards the one place they both shared a great love for.
“Do we have everything?” Waseem asked.
Hasana pointed to the picnic basket she sat next to in the backseat. “It’s all here.”
Smiling at his daughter, he couldn’t help but feel proud of how organised she was, a trait she definitely inherited from her mother.
“How did you even wake up?” Waseem asked, his tone filled with curiosity and amazement.
“My alarm clock.” Was Hasana’s simple reply.
“You have an alarm clock? Since when?”
“I asked Dadee to give me one because I knew you wouldn’t wake me up.”
Waseem chuckled. His daughter knew him well.
Driving along the deserted highway in the early morning air, the pair were both amazed at how mystifying and magical their surroundings felt. Hasana’s eyes were peeled to the thin blanket of fog she could see in the distance. Waseem was more amused by the darkness and how it was already starting to fade to light. He knew that Hasana wanted to see the sunrise and so he put his foot down and sped to their destination, trying to make it there in time.
Parking in the first available spot he could find, he leapt out of the car with Hasana following closely behind.
“What about the picnic basket?” She asked.
“We’ll come back for it later. Come on.”
He held out his hand and within seconds Hasana slipped hers into his. Their feet fell into sync as they began their hike through the Valley. It was a ritual they did every year, for the past three years. It was a ritual that was reserved for one day in the year: Hasana’s birthday.
It all started when the Ahmeds went on their first family road trip. Hasana was only four years of age but she, just like her mother, fell in love with the Valley the first time she laid eyes on it. Waseem had been amazed at how strong his wife’s genes were, that even though she wasn’t around, her love for the Valley still lived on through their daughter.
And so, on that same trip, Waseem told Hasana about how much Aasia had loved the Valley, how they would pack picnic baskets and make day trips out of it. Wanting to be as close to her mother as possible, Hasana asked if she could come back to the Valley, and so on her fifth birthday, they returned. And then on her sixth, and seventh and eighth.
And now on her ninth birthday, it was no different. Waseem and Hasana hiked through the Valley as they had done so before. They walked in silence, hearing only the gravel crunch underneath their feet and listening only to the sound of birds chirping. Hasana looked around, as she always did but her focus was not on the view. It was on her mother.
The Valley was the place she felt closest to her mother, a mother she had never met, a mother who she had heard so much about, a mother she wished she had. She imagined Aasia walking the same paths that she and Waseem walked, seeing the same views that they saw. Being in the Valley was bittersweet for Hasana, but she wouldn’t trade those hikes for anything in the world.
And neither would Waseem, for he too felt closest to his wife in the place that she had loved the most. Walking hand in hand with his daughter, it pained him that she didn’t have a mother, her mother, by her side. That she would never be able to meet Aasia and feel the love of a woman who loved so intensely and so immensely nearly brought Waseem to tears, but he knew he had to be strong. It was just hard to do so in a place that embodied his wife.
“Are you thinking about Mummy?”
The question cut through Waseem’s thoughts and his focus zoned in on Hasana. He paused for a moment before shaking his head, signalling a yes.
“Me too. I wonder what she used to do here when she came.”
Waseem smiled, knowing the answer to that question. “Your mother used to do a lot of crazy things here.”
“Really? Like what?”
Waseem looked around and pointed to a flat piece of land in the distance. “When she used to be in a bad mood, she would hike all the way up there and scream, loudly! It used to be the most embarrassing thing ever.”
Hasana giggled as her father shook his head in disbelief.
“But most of the time, your mother used to do what you’re doing right now. She would just walk and admire the view.”
Hasana nodded her head and looked out at the Valley. The sun was rising and the sky was a breathtaking canvas of orange and pink hues.
“Do you miss her?” Hasana asked, timidly.
Waseem gave her a sad smile. “Every single day sweetheart. But your mother is not far away from me. All I have to do is look at you and I’m reminded of her.”
“But you said I don’t look like her?”
“You don’t. But you are very much like your mother Hasana. One day, I’ll explain.”
Wrapping his arms around his daughter, Waseem bent down and kissed the top of her head. “Happy birthday Hasana.”
Smiling up at her father, she planted a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you Daddy.”
“For what? He asked.
“For being my Daddy.” And she tightened her grip around him as she watched the sunrise.
Waseem blinked back the tears that threatened to spill as he gazed at his daughter. How did he get so lucky to have Hasana?
And how was she already nine years old?
Every single year he reflected on how much Hasana had grown and matured and this year was no different. As they stood in the midst of the Valley, wrapped up in each other’s love and warmth, he reminisced about the past year. The ups and downs, the laughs and cries, he thought about it all.
But Waseem couldn’t solely focus on Hasana. Sure, it was her day. She was another year older, but Hasana’s birthday was much more than the day she came into this world.
It was also the day Aasia left this world.
Will you guys judge me if I told you I teared up whilst writing this chapter?
It was just so sad!
And I guess you all now know what happened to Aasia… so the guessing games can stop.
Hope you enjoyed the read!