The hotel room swung open and our group leader dashed in bashfully, looking at us after giving salaam to everyone. “Brothers, prepare your things. We are going later today. You need to be ready by Zuhr. Be ready by Zuhr.”
Then in the next instant, he was gone, the door swinging back and forth in the wind of the air conditioning and the smell of the two day old greasy dahl wafting in and out of the room and making me queasy. “We better get ready,” Uncle Muhammad looked at us and gave a confirming gaze to brother Matloob.
Matloob, after surrendering to the dark side and having chicken and chips, was still ill from his indulgence not to mention the groin injury he aggravated on the walk to `Arafah from Mina. Madinah would be a welcome rest for him.
Tanweer looked around and added thoughtfully, “We should get one last round of salad and fruit. Get ourselves readied up.” It was my turn to buy so I handed over the riyals that had King Fahd emblazoned on them.
Tanweer, Uncle Muhammad and I were off and headed to the market for the last time. We purchased our fruit and vegetables, water, juice and a few bags in preparation for the long haul to Madinah.
Some of the shopkeepers gave us a discount as we would be leaving soon. I stopped at the shop playing recitation of the Qur’an next to our hotel.
I purchased a few sets from the late Shaikhs `Abdullah al-Khulaifi, Mahmud Khalil al-Husri and the current great shaikh, Majdi Salim and a few other great reciters from Qatar and the like.
I visited the Maktabah Anas ibn Malik and thanked the shopkeeper for his assistance in finding Hidayat ur-Raghib and a pocket size Ar-Rawd ul-Murbi`. Effusive as ever and pumping my hand with enthusiasm, he mentioned that if Allah wills we would meet again.
I went back to the hotel room and waited for the rest of the day after packing my things and doing a quick inventory of my property, money and other valuables. I removed the hajj bracelets that I had been required to wear by the Ministry of Hajj endowments and looked over my phone again.
It was still on Jawal network and the Saudi ministry piped out messages of thanksgiving for `Eid and even thanking the people who came out for the Hajj.
Zuhr came but without the buses being present. They had been delayed by the heavy traffic according to what our group leader mentioned; but we should still be ready as any minute the buses could come and we will cut out just as quickly as they arrive. Tanweer approached me.
“Here’s what we will do. We’ve got all the things downstairs, right?” I nodded in assent. “You get aboard and save some seats for us and we’ll make sure that everything will be hauled up and put on the roof and fastened down. This way by the time we get on we’ll have seats.”
“No problem,” I answered back. Some of the those in our group for whatever reason had forgotten to make the Final Tawaf and this irked our group leader, who was already under pressure to make deadlines and meet requirements.
“If the buses come while you are gone and we board…we will have to leave you if you do not come back in time,” he gave them an even look. In moments they were gone up the pathway to Al-Masjid ul-Haram from the Funduq al-Mass’a.
Just as Allah would have it, the buses came lumbering around the corner ten minutes later. There would be another delay as one of the buses was still navigating through traffic and some of Makkah’s move inhospitable alleyways. Making pleasant conversation, we were then presented with our only obstacle as roommates since staying there…where is the key?
I had turned in one copy and there was a spare that was also present but with whom no one knew. The desk staff would need it for inventory and to report back to their seniors. We searched the beds, under the beds, the refrigerators, under the countertops, the carpets, the bathrooms.
Where could it have gone? Moments later, Uncle Muhammad produced the key. He had a penchant for having the key as he used to frequently go on walks at night in Makkah and come back late.
He had forgotten that he had it on his person and quickly turned it in at the front desk. The staff were now relieved and I gave salaam to the Sudanese and Makki staff and our Bengali chief of laundry.
The hard feelings between Tanweer and the youngster had worn off. I believe that it had started when I gave him 11 pieces of clothes and he charged me 20 riyals for the service. Brother Tanweer gave 5 pieces and paid double. When he found this to be the case, he was slightly vexed.
“Well, it can’t be racial. I’m Egyptian and both of you are Asians. So it must be something else. Do you think it’s because you are Jat?” He and I laughed at the situation but he did not know why he had received the higher rate.
In addition to this, the stout little Bengali was not giving any answers either other than the fact that this is the rate that was given to him by superiors.
At the end of the Hajj, it was gone that Tanweer could shake his hand and move on from that unfortunate set of circumstances. I thought that this was proof of his sincerity in the Hajj and the matters that surrounded the matter with all of the worship that he had done and how faithful he had been through the whole thing.
I found my way aboard the first bus and took the seats and chose those for Tanweer and Matloob. My eyes felt heavy watching the Makki people move by and the Hujjaj climb onto their transport.
Over the past 4,000 years, since the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him and Dhul Qarnain, who as one of the four kings over the earth at the time, came with him, millions more people have found their way to Makkah and to Al-Masjid ul-Haram, where 70 prophets are buried, not to mention Our Mother Hajirah and Prophet Isma`il.
I could now count myself as one of them. The bus was now readied up and all was right with the world. Tanweer and Matloob gave me encouraging smiles and we were now on the way out of Makkah; but then something happened. Our Hajj leader arrived and moved us to bus no. 2, sat in the very back with Al-Hajj `Ismah who had fallen ill in Mina.
We were also slated to be his roommates as well for obvious reasons. If he did another somersault in his health, I would have to translate and Matloob and Tanweer as doctors would give medical attention. He had come back from the hospital in Mina 6 hours earlier than he was supposed to and there was discussion on airlifting him back to the UK.
Al-Hajj `Ismah would have none of it and had his own ideas. He upheld his health just long enough to get to Madinah and…then. “Well, I will die there, if Allah wills,” he raised his hands while a smile and clear hope in his eyes. He wanted to be buried in Jannat ul-Baqi`.
Now on bus no. 2 and with a man praying for death, Matloob, Tanweer and I knew that it was going to be some bus ride. We had boarded at 5:10pm but delays had caused us to stay behind and pray `Asr.
My intent was to combine Maghrib and `Isha on the way. Once the bus pulled out into the snail’s pace traffic, I knew I had 12 hours to consider what Madinah might be like. Pulling out Hidayat ur-Raghib, I snuggled in with the great marja`, Imam Ibn Qa’id an-Najdi and looked ahead at the coming sunset.