Siblings By Chance, Friends By Choice
by Arsheen Surani
In December of 2019, my family spontaneously decided to go to Texas as we wanted to spend the holidays with our relatives. Most, if not all, people would do just about anything for their family, so driving 940 miles to spend some quality time with relatives seemed like a no-brainer to us. Little did we know that that trip to Texas would be one that ended in heartbreak and agony.
My family consists of my mother, Sonia, my father, Naushad, and my little sister, Sana. We had started our drive to Texas, on a freezing December day. The ominous weather that day was definitely a tell-tale sign about how our vacation was about to unfold, but we ignored it and proceeded onwards. Texas was the one state out of all 50 in which most of the Surani bloodline, including my father's sister, aunties, uncles, grand-Pop Pop, and cousins, live.
Having a strong-knit family is an integral part of Islamic culture. As I was growing up, I never experienced much of this culture as my parents had immigrated to America from India, leaving all their family about 8,000 miles away. Even with the absence of relatives, my parents taught me the importance of having a sturdy family bond. For the first 10 years of my life, my world revolved around my mother and father, and I was completely content. But as I grew older, I started to feel the pinch of being an only child. Most of my friends had younger siblings that they treated like spawns of Satan, but I saw them as the angels of God— the angels that I thought I would never have. I remember having a conversation with God, begging him to bless me with my sibling. I went as far as bargaining with God and tell him that I didn’t care if my sibling was a girl or boy— I just wanted a life-long friend.
While on the road, we called all our relatives that lived in Texas, letting them know that we planned on visiting. Everyone was ecstatic to hear the news—Everyone except for my dad's sister. She was unaware of our arrival as she did not even answer my father's multiple calls and text messages. This wasn't shocking to me as my father and aunt had a bumpy relationship.
I remember that day when my mother was rushed to the hospital because she was in pain. No one told me anything except that mom wasn't feeling good and I needed to stay at a neighbor's house. The next day when my mother returned from the hospital, she looked drained and on the verge of tears. As she sat down on the sofa, I decided to get my mother some water to make her feel better.
"Mom," I asked quietly while handing her the water bottle. "Why are you so sad? Are you still sick?"
"No sweetie. Look, I'm all better now," my mother said with a smile on her face.
I was so naive at the time; Now, as an adult, I realize she was not just in physical pain but also in emotional distress. That day in the hospital, my mother had lost her second child due to an ectopic pregnancy. I did not know this as my parents cumulatively decided to keep this a secret from me as I would be devastated at finding out that I could have had a sibling, but inevitably did not.
As we settled into our hotel room, my father decided to call his sister one more time. As my father waited through about 7 ringtones, I could see the glow on his face fading slowly— he was starting to accept the fact that his sister wasn't going to answer his calls. Suddenly, the atmosphere in the room became cool and eerie as I realized that my aunt had finally responded to her phone. Retelling their conversation would reopen the would my family felt that day. In summary, my aunt told us that she was busy and to come back next time. To say I was shocked by her response would be putting it lightly. First of all, my father had called and texted his sister countless times, and the one time she does answer the phone, she starts the conversation with 'What do you want?' Secondly, my father had driven almost a thousand miles to come and meet his sister, and she had the audacity to say we could meet next time. We took our chances and decided to go to the mosque that evening as there was a chance that she would be there.
I've never been an anxious person, but I felt like a drug addict high on drugs and caffeine that day in the hospital's waiting room. When I saw the wide doors of the surgical room open, I felt like I witnessed the gates of Heaven opening. My father stepped out and signaled me to come into the observation room.
It was finally time to go to the mosque to meet my aunt. As we entered the mosque, I remember having this sinking feeling in my gut; Deep down, I just knew this day was not going to end well. I knew finding my aunt in this environment was like finding a needle in a haystack. After prayers, my mother and I waited in a quieter area and looked around to see if we could spot my aunt. Suddenly, a random lady came up to us to talk to my mother and me. She said that a lady way over there was trying to get our attention. The other lady, who ended up being my aunt, was almost on the other side of the mosque. In that moment, I knew that my aunt was trying to make a run for it and not meet her brother. My mother and I ran to catch up to my aunt.
"Hi Sonia. How are you, Naushad, and the kids?" I heard my aunt ask with a fake smile plastered on her face.
"They are good. How are you, your husband, and your kids?" My mother asked respectfully.
"Oh, they are fine. They are a little sleepy at the moment." My aunt said while looking over towards her wide-awake kids. "So, I'm going to be heading home soon. It was nice meeting you. Tell Naushad I said hi."
My mother was shell-shocked by my aunt's response. "So, you're telling me you still haven't met Naushad?" My mother asked in an astonished tone.
"I mean it's ok," my aunt replied. "I can meet Naushad next time he comes."
My mom stared and blinked as if my aunt had spoken in a different language.
"No," mom said in an angry, mother-like tone. "We have driven all the way from Tennessee to meet you. You ARE going to meet him today."
"Ok. Well, I will wait by my car. Why don't you bring Naushad over there?" my aunt distastefully said as if meeting her brother was a sin.
As I entered the observation room, the first thing I remember noticing was the angel in my mother's arms, and I can attest that it was love at first sight. My sister was a delicate little bundle of joy who would be my best friend for the rest of my life.
While we walked towards my aunt's car, I glanced over at my father, who was giddy from the anticipation of meeting his sister after so long. The delight he expressed was something I remember feeling the day Sana was born, but in my heart, I knew my father would not have the same experience I had when I met my sister. As we reached my aunt's car, I noticed my aunt rolling her eyes as she stepped out of her vehicle, acting as if she was being forced to meet her brother.
"Hello Naushad. How are you doing." my aunt asked in a displeased manner.
"I am good. I am good. How are you Jasmine? We haven't talked in so long. I mean you look really good right now. And I bet kids must be so grown up now." My father rambled.
"Oh, thanks. Yeah, they are good, but tired so I left them in the car. I've already met your wife and kids. So, if you're good, then I guess I'll go home. It was nice meeting you." My aunt said in a matter-of-fact tone. To say my father was devastated as he heard his sister dismiss him like a beggar was heart-breaking, to say the least. After that conversation, my father said his final goodbye to his sister as he saw the retreating car leave the parking lot of the mosque.
That day, at the mosque, I realized what a blessing it is to have a loving sister, while my father felt the agony of losing his sister. I think what shocked me the most was the fact that my aunt felt that meeting her own brother was a burden. If I was to meet my sister, I can confidently say that both of us would be over the moon to spend time with each other. Looking back, I realized how naive I was— I thought a small meet and greet between my father and his sister would rekindle the love and friendship they once had. Instead, all that meeting did was cause more pain to my father as he realized that he lost a sibling. It was wishful thinking on my behalf as I hoped my father and his sister could have the sibling relationship that I once yearned for. I have felt the pain and suffering of not having a sibling and did not want my father and his sister to feel that pain. Sadly, that trip to Texas ended in the heartbreak of a brother and the metaphorical death of a sister.