And so they took Muhsin back. But after five months of trying to prove a point, or call it whatever you will, Muhsin had come to visit us one Saturday afternoon, much to our surprise, and told us he didn't want to stay with his parents anymore.
I had looked at Fatima and there had been a fathomless expression on her face, almost as if to say, "I told you so!"
Muhsin had told us in no uncertain terms that his mother and father were always fighting over money, always abusing or blaming each other for their woes, and if any of the children asked for anything there would be hell to pay. I hadn't interrupted him, but Fatima had hugged him when he had begged us to take him back into our house.
That same day I had gone to see my sister and her husband and had not minced words when I told them how unhappy Muhsin was with them, and asked whether he could come and stay with us again.
Kulsum had sworn at me and told me not to interfere in their lives, and asked whether I was aware how cheeky and stubborn Muhsin was. She also said that Muhsin was back-chatting the both of them and setting a really bad example to all the other children. She wasn't saying it in so many words, but she was actually blaming Fatima and me for the child's misbehavior. I hadn't pursued the argument, I had merely left and asked them to reconsider my request; after all we loved him very much.
We pulled up at Kulsum's house after a 20-minute drive. My mother and youngest sister Ayesha were there. Farouk and the others had just arrived.
Muhsin's body was wrapped in a blanket and I could see blood seeping through one side. I greeted Kulsum and hugged her tight as she sobbed uncontrollably. "He was only 18, Brother. Only 18!"
I went on to greet my mother and Ayesha whose eyes were red with weeping. Fatima was also crying bitterly.
"What time do you plan to make the funeral?" I asked Farouk as we all helped to lay the body on a bier. Muslims usually bury within the same day, or as soon as possible if the body has to be transported from another area.
"What time do you think we should make it?" he asked me, and for a moment I was confused. "Why do you ask me that?" I wanted to say, but thought better of it. Now was not the time to bandy arguments about. One had to respect the dead. "I think three o'clock would be a good time seeing that it is Sunday," I offered. An elderly man with a grey beard had entered the room and I recognized him as the one who performs the ablution and prepares the body for burial. He removed the blanket from the deceased.