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Sara was very nervous. Her art exam was today! Art was very difficult for her. She liked it a lot but only when she had lots and lots of time to do it. For the exam, she was only given an hour to draw a picture and that was not enough at all. For this exam, she would have to draw a house with windows and doors. She had practiced so many times, trying to get the lines straight and the sizes right but it only worked when she had taken four whole hours to do it!

Sara’s mother said to her, ‘Don’t worry about it. Take the ruler and go. Say, ‘Bismillah’ and take a deep breath before you start. You’ll be just fine!’

‘Thanks, mummy!’ Sara replied.

The night before school, Sara made sure she had everything in her bag. The morning of her exam, before she came to school, Sara made sure again that she had everything she would need.

The teacher had told everyone to bring pencils, sharpeners, erasers and most importantly, a ruler. Sara knew that she would need a ruler to draw straight lines for the house and get the sizes right. If she did not have a ruler, her house would be crooked and ugly. Then she would get very frustrated and everything would go wrong.

Sara had her breakfast very slowly because she was very nervous. That morning, the cereal tasted like craft paper and the orange juice tasted like paint. The yolk on her eggs looked like a blot of yellow paint instead of what should have been the painted sun on a painted white sky and one of the prongs on her fork looked very crooked.

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As she sat in her bus on her way to school, Sara looked out the window. She noticed that the glass on the window had a very crooked crack on it. The seat in front of her looked a little crooked too. That morning, everything was crooked and Sara knew her house would be crooked too. She took a very deep breath.

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When she went to school, Sara saw Wafa. Wafa seemed very nervous. She was looking for something. Sara asked her what was wrong. Wafa told Sara that she had lost her ruler. Sara knew that Wafa had actually forgotten to bring her ruler as she was always forgetting to do things. ‘Poor girl’, thought Sara.  Sara told Wafa that she should ask the teacher for an extra ruler. Then, Sara went back to worrying about her crooked house.

Just then, the school bell rang and the teacher came in. Sara couldn’t help but notice that the teacher’s hijab seemed a little crooked. Sara swallowed at the thought of her crooked house. Sara reminded Wafa to ask the teacher for a ruler. Wafa was going to ask for another ruler but she did not want to.

‘Why won’t you go and ask her for a ruler?’ Sara asked Wafa.

‘Oh! I don’t know. She won’t have one. I’ll just manage!’ Wafa snapped.

Sara knew that Wafa wasn’t asking only because she did not want to tell the teacher that she had forgotten her ruler. Sara felt bad for her but she had other things on her mind, like her crooked house.

After a while, the teacher called the students one by one, to take a sheet of paper to draw on. Sara left her things on her table and went to take a sheet of paper. When Sara was gone, Wafa quickly grabbed Sara’s ruler. She kept it under her table, in her desk so it wouldn’t be seen. She ran quickly to get a sheet of paper.

Sara held her clean, white sheet of paper and headed to her table and chair. When Sara got to her table, she did not notice that her ruler was gone. She sharpened her pencil and was going to start drawing. She said, ‘Bismillah’ and took a very deep breath. She held her pencil firmly, imagined her straight lined, right sized, perfectly drawn house on her white sheet of paper …….

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and …… then she could not find her ruler.

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Sara got very nervous. She began to feel very hot. The floor began to look very crooked. She did not know what to do. Beads of sweat appeared on her forehead and her lips got a little dry. She did not want to ask the teacher for a ruler because no one was allowed to talk during the exam. She also saw that all the extra rulers had been given away to other students. What was she going to do?

Sara was very frustrated now. Her eyes were getting wet and she kept saying ‘Bismillah’ and taking deep breaths. She decided there was nothing to be done but draw the house without a ruler and hope for the best.

She drew the house as neatly as she could. The lines were crooked and she thought her house was ugly. All the windows were of different sizes. The door seemed abnormally small.  The chimney looked like it was falling off the roof and the roof looked like it was falling off the house. The top half of the house looked narrower than the bottom part of the house and soon Sara’s one hour was up.

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When the exam was over, she gave her paper to the teacher. The teacher saw that she was upset. She asked Sara what was wrong. Sara started to sob. She said that her ruler had gone missing.

The teacher asked the whole class if they had seen Sara’s ruler. Wafa still had Sara’s ruler. She hid it under her table, in her desk. Sara saw that Wafa was hiding something. She got suspicious. She remembered that Wafa had forgotten her ruler. She told the teacher so.

The teacher looked through Wafa’s things. She found a ruler and asked Sara if it was hers. Sara knew it was her ruler and said that it was.

The teacher scolded Wafa. She told her that stealing was a very bad habit. She told Wafa and the whole class that Allah (SWT) will be unhappy with people who steal. Wafa was embarrassed. She had gotten caught in front of the whole class. Now she felt very hot. Beads of sweat began to appear on her forehead and her lips got rather dry. She was very embarrassed.

Wafa said she was sorry to Sara. She hoped Allah (SWT) would forgive her. Sara accepted Wafa’s apology. Sara was still upset because her house was still crooked and would never be straight but she knew how to forgive and so she did.

After the school day was over, Sara sat in her bus as it took her home. She saw the crooked crack on the window and still thought the seat in front of her was crooked but now Sara didn’t mind. The crooked things she saw reminded her of the crooked house she drew and she was glad she was able to put up her best effort in drawing it.

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That was how Sara started appreciating what was crooked.


Butterscotch ice cream

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Deen and Bader were walking home from school one day. As the school building got farther and farther away from them, they talked about the different things that had happened earlier that day. They talked about the black beetle they saw in the play ground and how the girls ran away from it. They talked about how the Math teacher was very pleased with Deen for having understood his math sums so quickly.

Soon, the school building had disappeared into the heat and dust and become a part of the concrete jungle that made up the city, which was a short walk from their neighbourhood. The boys saw Deen’s mum who had just parked her car in the driveway of Deen’s house, taking out some groceries. She had lots and lots of bags and was obviously struggling to keep her balance and look straight ahead as she carefully walked into the house.

‘Deen, could you please help me?’ she called out.

Deen, feeling too lazy and tired to lend a hand and thinking of his favourite TV show which had started at least ten minutes ago, pretended not to hear her and ran into the house without a word to Bader. Bader didn’t mind that Deen had forgotten about him but he was terribly upset and hurt for Deen’s mum. He went up to Deen’s mum, ‘I can help you.’ He said shyly. Very carefully, and giggling over the possibility that everything might soon end up on the ground in a clutter, Bader took as many bags as he could and helped her carry her groceries inside.

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Deen’s mum was very thankful. She offered Bader a glass of cold lemonade and some homemade butterscotch ice cream. Bader was very thankful. He was thirsty from the heat and walking home from school had tired him out, so he accepted and gratefully drank the lemonade. Deen’s mum has called out to him to join them but he had turned on the television and pretended not to notice that Bader had done his job!

When Bader got up to leave and said thank you, Deen’s mum had noticed that the ice cream was untouched. She asked, ‘Don’t you like ice cream?’

‘Oh I do. So very much but I have to go home or mama will wonder where I am.’

Deen’s mum smiled, ‘Oh you’re such a fine boy, Bader. Promise me you’ll have some of my ice cream next time. Run along now.’

Bader was pleased with himself. Deen’s mum was lovely.

It was getting very late. The time for the afternoon prayer was nearing an end and Bader could see the sun setting and the birds beginning to gather in the trees. All the adults were coming home from work and there were lots of cars turning into driveways. He saw Uncle Majd and Uncle Rafia. They called out to him in greeting.

As Bader hurried home, he thought about what had happened at Deen’s house. He had never thought it would be possible to ignore one’s own mother. He thought, ‘Maybe if it wasn’t for the TV show, he’d have helped.’ He wondered which show it was. He promised himself he would never be so rude to his parents. He knew it would displease his parents and God. He was taught never to displease God.

The smells of different foods from various kitchens were wafting around him and he realized how hungry he was. He wondered what his mum had made for dinner.

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‘Where were you?’ Bader’s dad called from the door of their house. Bader ran indoors and saw his mum stirring something in a pot. ‘I was just telling your mother that you must have stopped to help someone or you wouldn’t have got so late.’ Bader’s dad laughed.

Bader hugged his mum and she looked down at him and smiled, ‘Is that true, Bader?’

‘Well… I’m sorry, mum. But I did hurry home as soon as I was done. It’s just Deen’s mum needed some help and he wasn’t helping, so I did and then she gave me some lemonade and I was very thirsty and I had some and then I hurried straight home, mum!’


The next day after school, Bader and Deen walked home from school again. Today their walk was quieter because not much had happened in school. Bader was curious about that TV show and thought about whether to ask Deen or not. He thought Deen might remember what had happened the previous day and get angry. He thought he could ask but not so directly.

‘So, what do you do every day after school?’ Bader asked.

‘Oh. It’s nothing. Not that interesting. It’s just a comedy show. I can’t watch it any other time except right after school because my dad isn’t home then and he doesn’t want me to watch it.’ Deen said proudly, glad that he had got away with it.

Bader wasn’t very impressed. He wanted to change the subject and wished he hadn’t asked to begin with.

‘It’s not so hot today,’ Bader said.

‘No, it’s not. You’re right! The weather’s great for the barbeque tonight. It’s going to be so much fun!’ replied Deen.

Bader was very excited about the barbeque too. He couldn’t wait.

When the boys had arrived at Deen’s house, his dad was setting things up for that night’s barbeque. Deen’s dad worked slowly carrying things around and keeping them in its place. Bader knew that Deen’s dad has a very bad back. He felt bad for him. He said, ‘Hey, let’s go help your dad out!’

Deen looked at Bader. ‘He’s not even supposed to be home now. He’s early. I’m going to go watch my TV show before he finishes his work and comes inside.’

‘But don’t you want to spend time with your dad,’ Bader said, hoping his statement would make Deen realize that he shouldn’t be watching something his dad didn’t want him to watch. Deen ignored Bader and ran away into the house. ‘I’ll see you tonight, Bader’.

Bader sighed and felt very terrible for his friend. He went up to Deen’s dad and said, ‘Would you like some help?’

‘Oh that’s okay, son. You run along home now before your mum and dad wonder where you are,’ Deen’s dad replied. ‘Your father will come soon to help me out.’

Later that night, after the night prayers were over, the whole neighborhood had gathered at Deen’s house for the barbeque.  Women sat in one room, talking about their lives and their children. All the children were running around, playing hide and seek, tag or anything they could think of. All the men were sitting or standing and talking outside near the barbeque. Trays of food were going in and coming out of the house.

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Bader helped himself to some baked potatoes and peppers, while Deen sat by him in the kitchen, having some meat and fries.

Bader heard the women laugh at something. He heard the men laugh at a joke that he didn’t understand. He heard a baby cry and saw its mother calming it with words and hugs. He saw a little boy peeping through the kitchen curtains. There were people everywhere and the smells of the communal gathering were wonderful.

Bader stood up to serve himself some more potatoes. He loved baked potatoes. When Bader went to where the food was laid and looked at all the delicious food.

‘Bader, here, here, have some of my ice cream.’ It was Deen’s mother looking down at him with a small bowl in her hand. ‘I brought some here for everyone and you have no excuses now! You must have some.’

‘Thanks!’ Bader replied, and extended his hand to take the small bowl. Just then two little children came running towards them and before Bader could blink, the ice cream was on the red carpet. A few inches away the bowl lay on its side and the spoon was thrown a foot away from it.

Bader immediately went to pick up the bowl and spoon. He got some paper towels and started to dab away at the ice cream.

‘Oh, Bader. That’s okay! I can do it,’ Deen’s mum said.

‘Oh, no, I’ll do it.’

Deen had come running to see what had happened and heard as his mum said to Bader, ‘You’re such a good boy, Bader. Thank you.’

Deen watched as his mum praised Bader. He felt he should lend a hand too and went to help them clean up.

They all had a good laugh about how these things happen, as they had finished cleaning up and sat down so Bader could finally have some of that homemade butterscotch ice cream. It tasted really good but having known that he had been helpful felt much better.