Perfect Strangers

When I got off the plane, I knew it would be the beginning of a very exciting story. Within the year, I had hoped to travel, learn the local language and make amazing friends. Two days later however, after completing a medical check, I was told there was something wrong.  Apparently, I was 'sick'. I didn't feel sick, nor did I look it, but the x-ray had suggested otherwise. The stringent laws of that land meant I was duty bound to be ‘quarantined’, until I guess, I wasn't considered sick anymore. But this isn't a story about my hospitalisation, rather one of perfect strangers.  

Perfect stranger Number One is the friend I was fortunate enough to know in the new city. Though life and the commitments that came with it had made us distant, it was comforting to know that I could reach out to her. Day 1 and 2 in the hospital were difficult. Luckily by the evening of the second day, I had my first visitor. I appreciated her presence, and seeing as I hadn't told any family about my admission, I was glad to have someone that reminded me of home.

As both a Somali and Muslim, I understood how she might feel compelled to visit. And as any reasonable person would think, I thought her journeying 84km to visit me would be the pinnacle of her kindness. Just over 28 days later, however, I realised that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Despite the weather or the circumstances, the inconvenience or the traffic, she did not fail to visit me once.  She would always come around the same time, with a reassuring word and some food to take my mind outside of the hospital gates.

Though, by definition she probably didn't qualify as a 'perfect stranger', the person I encountered during this period was not like the person I knew. Or rather, the person I thought I knew. I've heard time and time again, that it is during times of hardship that you learn the true nature of a person. This was certainly what I experienced when I met this version of my old friend. There is a consensus amongst everyone I have told of her actions, which is that to her I am 'forever indebted'. No one knows that more than me.

Perfect stranger Number Two was the cousin of Number One. I remember meeting her on my first day in the ward, and noting to myself - 'you're probably not going to be kicking it with this girl very much'. So you can appreciate my surprise when I saw her warmly entering my room, with words of sympathy and sincere offering. She continued to visit, just a handful of days less than Number One. The hours she spent with me brought us closer. In our short time together, we discussed our passions, frustrations and ambitions. I could confidently call her my friend now. I distinctly recall one of the patients asking if the three of us were sisters. Though the question may have seemed odd to us at the time, I understood what brought about this assumption. Surely, only a family member would do what they were doing for me. Visiting every day, arguing with the nurses about their care and even exceeding their visiting hours. These weren’t the actions of friends they were those of sisters.

As I opened my tired eyes, I saw the two of them sitting beside me quietly. How long had they been there? Why didn't they wake me from my slumber when they arrived? Number One answered by extending her hand to give me a glass of coke. I smiled in return. I thought about how crazy it was that over the course of a few weeks, strangers could display familial qualities so convincingly. 

Perfect stranger Number Three, was the uncle of Number One and Two. My friend suggested he visit with them, so that he could speak to the doctors and maybe get them to fast track my release. I didn't want to bother him. He didn’t technically have any obligation towards me, but he was not having any of it. “I am your uncle,” he told me, adamantly.

After some time, I began to accept this. His presence brought a new dynamic to our trio, which I was very grateful for. He was a traditional and very proud Somali man, and predictably, our conversations quickly turned to tribes. Without hesitation, I told him my tribe’s name. Although we belonged to different clans, he knew more about 'my people' than I did. He began to tell me stories of our men, landscape and traditions.

Number Four came as a surprise. Relaxing on my bed in my makeshift bedroom, I could hear one of the nurses calling my name and directing someone to my area. It was clear from my attire and the state, of well, everything, that I wasn't expecting any visitors. I mean, how could I be? I didn't know anyone here and it was far too early for the girls to be visiting.

An unfamiliar woman drew my curtains open, followed by a younger equivalent, and someone who appeared to be the equivalent’s father a few steps behind. Once I had registered what was going on, it occurred to me that this was Number Three’s doing.

"I was told you were in the hospital," said the man, "You and I are from the same tribe, and I could not sleep when I realised one of my daughters was alone in here. From now on, I am your father, this is your mother and she is your sister. If you need anything, please tell us." Awestruck, I could feel a tingle in my eye. My faith in humanity restored on the drop of a bag filled with drinks.

Towards the end of their visit, I exchanged numbers with the daughter. Promising to update the family on my progress, in exchange for them showing me around the city when I was discharged. A pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

Perfect stranger Number Five was, undoubtedly, the strangest of them all. I can't pinpoint when I first met her, but I have no doubts as to who sent her. When my family learnt where I was and what had happened, they made a dua for her arrival.  She appeared shortly after we made our supplications, and she's stuck around since. You can hear her in my upbeat voice, see her in my smile and feel her in my company. Who is she? She is the manifestation of the Ayah stating that 'Allah does not burden a soul with any more than it can bear'. She is I, I am thankful for her and for every perfect stranger that Allah has placed in my path during this strange time.

Dedicated to my perfect strangers <3

By Girl in the Black Hijab


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