When I was about four years old, Mamajee and I would sit by the window, watching out on the rolling hills. We would watch the deep-green Pennines changing colour with the rising sun over the hilltops. The way those moody clouds covered the sky like a grey veil, shrouding the hills in darkness. Then a glimmer of orange and peach tones would break through, reflecting from the houses onto Mamajee’s face as she talked endlessly about her childhood. We would watch the planes fly over, beyond the hills, Mamajee’s watery eyes glazed over with a vacant, fixed stare as each one passed over and out of sight. “There goes another one,” she would sigh, returning to the fireplace where we ate our breakfast of crisp buttered toast and strong-brewed tea. I would watch her as she dipped the toast into the tea, soaking it in the cup, the juices from the bread dripping onto her chin occasionally as her mouth drew long breaths full of unspoken sentences. I watched that empty stare every morning, looking out of the window. “Mamajee, where is Bangladesh?” I asked her one morning. She sighed deeply between the morsels of bread and sips of tea. “It’s somewhere far, far away.” She whispered the vowels with long breaths as if to send each word there. “Farther than my school?” “Much farther – you couldn’t walk there. Oh, but it’s a beautiful place. Always green, there are rice fields, and the sun shines until it sets in the sky, and the children laugh and play all day.” A smile broke out on her lips, causing dimples in her cheeks and her eyes to sparkle as if by some miracle she was transported there. I smiled at the thought of being there. “Can we go there?” She rose up from the fireplace, slowly, almost dreamily walking to the window. “That would be all I’d wish for,” she said, shaking her head. “But it is not possible.” “Why, Mamajee? Why can’t we go back?” She breathed in as she looked up at the pale sky, the rolling towns across the Pennines, the stillness of it with the bare trees and shrubs that winter had now rendered lifeless across the landscape. A plane flew over, and her eyes followed it until it disappeared into a cloud. Her smile faded out, like sunbeams cast over by a rain cloud, as it passed out of sight. “Oh, can we go there tomorrow?” I asked eagerly. “No, not tomorrow.” Her expression saddened. “Why, Mamajee? Why can’t we go?” “Because…” She paused, distracted, shaking her head a little. She remained with her thoughts, unresponsive as she leaned her head against the window, her breath fogging up a circle against the glass. As she looked on through the window, she seemed suddenly distracted; her eyes were drawn to a light beam on the hill. A car had pulled up on the driveway of the white house that stood alone on the hill, surrounded by fields. From a distance, a man dressed in a suit could be seen entering that house. I saw Mamajee’s face turn as grey as the clouds above us as she stared on closely. Then I saw tears that fell like raindrops from her face, gliding down from the crevices of her nose and dropping from the angles of her chin. “Why are you crying, Mamajee?” I asked. I tried to swallow the buttered toast. I climbed up onto the windowsill to get a bet-ter view of what had saddened her. She took deep breaths that fogged the window, and I saw her hands tremble. “Because this is how it is written; everything is written this way. It was part of the grand plan. You, me, everything that has happened, everything that will happen, our entire existence, it is already written. We are only here to submit to Allah’s will. It is Allah’s wish, and we can’t change what Allah has written for us.” She seemed to tremble uncontrollably now, as if the words shook her to the core.
I have been looking back on that day for the last forty years of my life, reconciling how those very words have carved my existence page by page, chapter after chapter. How I had been lost in someone else’s story, someone else’s book, someone else’s dream and someone else’s life. I relive that day, yearning for the innocence of it, before life meddled with my view from that window and before it meddled with hers. Before, when it was simple, and all I knew was Mamajee, the house and the rolling hills. I look back on that day, rediscovering now what I already knew then, things you don’t need words for, or a pen to spell it out with. A child, which I was then, of four years only chooses to be loved; love in essence was happiness, and what made me happiest was to feel her love, feel it radiate like sunbeams farther than the hills. But something happened that day that changed all that. I have come to realise that while my dreams were to be loved and to please her, her dreams were far from where we stood; we may have shared the same view from that window, but that day was the first day I realised we certainly didn’t share the same perspective. I may have been four years old, but for the first time, some-thing that Mamajee said disagreed with me. You see, I wasn’t born for it all to be written for me. I was born to write it.