The New School.
As the semester progressed and there were fewer run-ins with the bullies, Aisha began to bloom and her confidence started to shine.
She was happy here with her new friends. While not every teacher was her favourite, she liked them all.
Her mother and grandmother noticed it as did her father when she went to visit him at their old house.
The elderly neighbor was still regularly scolding the other children for various misdeeds but now, compared to Salha, she did not seem so frightening.
For Aisha, the only cloud in her school sky was the older girl.
Salha always seemed to know when Aisha was alone. Once, when Aisha was coming from the prayer room at dhuhr time, Salha blocked her way so that she could not pass. When Aisha moved to the left Salha moved to the left and when she moved to the right Salha did the same.
If it had not been for Mr. Ephraim coming from the staffroom and telling them to get to class Salha would have probably continued to play with Aisha the way a cat played with a mouse.
Why did people behave that way?
Aisha often dreamt about how she spoke up to people like Salha. How she put them in their place and was unafraid to let them know they were being mean.
There had been someone like Salha at her old school. But the girls there did not let her get away with bullying the younger or quieter kids. They complained about her to the teachers or they pushed her themselves. Here, at this school, no one wanted to say anything.
She asked her father about it.
“Sometimes people feel so bad about themselves that the only way they can feel good is by putting others down and hurting them.”
Aisha was shocked. “But how do they sleep at night if they have hurt others? Are they not afraid of displeasing Allah?”
Her father looked at her closely.
“Is everything alright at your school, Aisha?”
Aisha nodded and said, “Alhamdulillah.”
There was no need to upset her father. Or anyone else.
Aisha sat on her prayer mat next to Mama and Bibi after fajr. She recited her morning adhkaar and quietly made dua. Then they each opened the Qur’aan to read before Mama went to work and she went to school. Bibi stayed home.
As she recited Aisha remembered the topic they had learnt in madrasa that week. About a bully who Allah Subhanahu wa taala had taught a lesson.
She didn’t think Salha was as bad as that particular bully but next time she tried to make fun of Aisha she made up her mind that she would not take it.
She didn’t have a brother to help her but then she didn’t need a brother to help. She had Allah.
He would take care of her.
It was during the P.E lesson that it happened.
The semester was almost over and the assessments were close. Aisha and friends were spending time looking through their schoolwork.
They liked sitting under the trees during lunch break and laughing over how they were going to get much better grades than the boys in their class.
They also enjoyed the P.E. lessons and looked forward to them. Getting out of the class was always welcome.
Both Grade 5 classes’ girls were playing netball that day.
Aisha had asked to be excused because she had a headache from all the reading she was doing.
She was also secretly afraid the ball would hit her face and break her spectacles.
As soon as Miss Hulda turned around to go collect the P.E. kits there was Salha.
“So you are too good to play with us,” she began.
” Salha…!” Asma warned. ” Leave her alone!”
Aisha remembered the bully in the Quraan. But still her hands were shaking and she felt weak.
She took a deep breath. She was going to do it anyway.
She stood up from where she had been sitting; she and Husna were the only ones who had been excused from participating. Husna because of her asthma attacks.
Aisha walked up to Salha and looked up at her.
” Do you know what you are? You are Fir’aun. You bully and hurt people.”
Salha’s mouth fell open. Perhaps it was because she did not expect anyone to talk back to her. Or compare her to the biggest bully there had been in history.
” You are calling me Firaun!?”
” Yes, and I am not afraid of you anymore. I feel sorry for you. I don’t know why you like hurting and teasing people. One day if you don’t stop you are going to get hurt. Just like Firaun was drowned.”
With that Aisha went back and sat down just as Miss Hulda returned from the supplies’ store. She came carrying a whistle, balls and other things.
The teacher looked at the small group with her eyes narrowed.
“What is going on here?” she asked.
” I was just explaining something to Salha,” Aisha said looking directly at Salha.
After the netball match (which Aisha’s class won) the girls cheered and shouted and celebrated.
Everyone knew it was because someone had finally put Salha in her place.
Aisha was shaking when she got home.
She had done it.
She had spoken up.
She had stood up for herself. She had looked a bully in the eye and had given her a piece of her mind.
It felt like Eid for Aisha who was so used to hiding behind others and behind books.
She wondered what else she could do now.
She had always wanted to join the drama and debate club but she had been too shy.
She had believed her tongue would stick to the roof of her mouth and then the other children would laugh at her.
It did not matter if they laughed at her now.
Bibi looked at Aisha and smiled to herself.
By Allah’s Will, their Aisha was growing up.