Today we debut a tribute story written by Zahra Hassan about a real leader that she once had in her life and in others around her and an event that occurred three years ago that had struck them down hard.
I remember that day so clearly like it happened yesterday. It was a wet, murky, depressing Monday morning during February; a cold, dark season, and the darkest day of all was the ninth. I remember sitting in the car with my brother, sister, and mother as she was driving us to school. Rain splattered on the windows of the car and I sighed, feeling down. I hated Mondays; they meant that the week was still at the beginning. My mother stopped the car and my sister and I walked on the damp ground until we reached inside. My navy blue skirt was already dripping with water and my shoes squeaked on the floor which looked filthy. Grimy water mixed with mud covered the floor, making it look black. I went up the stairs, feeling cold. The school was dull and dim. I reached my classroom and I opened the door. I saw everyone moving around, talking, laughing, some were eating, others were drinking, some were sleeping and some were staring out the window. I placed my backpack on my seat and I went over to my friends. They were chatting about something I can’t recall. I joined in trying to forget about studying. About five minutes later, our Geometry teacher came into class; everyone sighed, went back to their places, and pulled out their books. Whoever was eating swallowed the last bite, and whoever was drinking threw the bottle away. Conversations stopped and everyone stared straight ahead. The teacher explained the lesson and after fifty minutes of torture, we were done. Second period, we had biology but the other class had a free period since they had Arabic. The classes are divided into two parts. There were the ones who took Regular Arabic like me. We were fluent in Arabic and we took lessons in grammar and literature. The second group took Special Arabic. Those were the ones who don’t speak Arabic and take lessons according to their levels. A very, very old lady taught them, but we were taught by a handsome, young man. He was twenty-nine years old and he was Palestinian. His name was Mr. Nasser. He was married to his cousin and they had one daughter, who was one year and a half at that time. He was the kindest teacher anyone could have. His smile was the most exceptional smile I ever saw. He was very thin. He had a good sense of humor and although everyone hated his period, but everybody loved him as a teacher. There was one thing we knew about him that made us wonder. He lived an hour and a half away from the school, but he would still drive everyday and get there at seven sharp. That meant he would wake up at five in the morning and leave at five-thirty to get there before half of the school is there. He was absent that day. We all complained and whined about how he was absent on the day that we don’t have an Arabic period. Classes continued until fourth period when we had Chemistry. That moment, as everyone was settling down, the Co-Director’s Assistant came in looking unusual. She asked for the names of the absent students, but there were none. Fifteen minutes later, a girl came in announcing that our Co-Director wanted us in the Upper Hall for an assembly. Our Co-Director was for grades Nine through Twelve. I was in Tenth Grade at that time. We all lined up and walked out of the class all the way to the Hall. As I entered, I saw all the other classes standing. Some were sitting. The Co-Director was standing on the stage looking strange. As the hall became quiet, we all waited for what was she about to say. I expected it. I knew she would talk about rules and regulations. If not that, then she would give us a long, boring lecture. I yawned feeling bored already but happy since we were skipping Chemistry class.
“Good morning everyone.”
She stood there looking weirder than before.
“I would like to announce something. This morning, we received a call. Mr. Nasser, your Arabic teacher, was in a car accident this morning.”
She stopped. Everyone gasped. Some looked sleepy. I let out a sigh of relief.
Good, nothing too serious. I thought. So, he probably is in the hospital. So, who’s going to be our substitute until he comes back from the hospital? His poor wife and daughter get to stay alone for a couple of days, maybe weeks even; but good, he’s fine. Only a car accident.
All these thoughts ran through my head in a few seconds. I bet all the other students in the hall had the same exact thoughts running through their heads too.
“He passed away.”
A senior stood up, screamed, and fell to the floor crying. We all stared.
What the heck? The only thought that came to my mind at that point.
I looked around me. Nobody seemed to absorb the announcement. He passed away. He died. He’s gone. Forever. All my close friends were standing around me in a circle. I looked to my left. My cousin was standing. Her eyes were tearing up, but she wasn’t crying. I looked to my right. My other friend was standing. She took his classes with me. She had her hands over her mouth. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. I saw a pair of hands clutching her shoulder. I turned back and saw her younger cousin. She turned her around and hugged her. A lot of people came in between and I couldn’t see her anymore. My two other friends, who were both seniors were looking at me. Both weren’t crying but looks of disbelief were on their faces. Suddenly, everyone around me, everyone in the hall was crying. Some ran to the bathroom. Some just stood there crying silently. Finally, I got it.
My heart wrenched, I could literally feel it twisting. My face felt warm. My lips trembled and all of a sudden, tears streamed down my cheeks. I was crying. My cousin kept staring at me. I wanted someone to hug me but there was nobody. Everybody was crying alone. A lot of students flooded back to their classes and I went with them. I went inside the class. Everyone was crying; some hysterically, some silently. I walked to my seat, put my head down and cried. Cried. Cried until my sides hurt. My desk was the only thing that hugged me. I put my head up, and I saw my friend crying on her desk. I went up to her and shook her. I took her hand and we both walked outside to where many seniors were standing. We walked to the bathroom, some girls were on the floor crying, others were screaming.
We washed our faces and then we walked back to class. Some girls were hugging others. I didn’t know what to do. I sat there and cried.
After recess was over, we went back to class. Nobody ate during recess. Nobody drank, not even water. Everyone was either in the building crying or outside crying. As we sat in class not knowing what to do, a girl in our class asked our teacher if we could go to the Hall downstairs and read some of the Holy Book of Qur’an. We asked the Co-Director and she agreed. We all went downstairs and sat in the yellow hall as she read some of the Holy Book. Then, the Islamic Education teacher prayed and some girls prayed with her. We were sitting on mats and crying. I was calming down a bit until a girl from the younger grades stood up and started talking about Mr. Nasser. Then, one by one, other girls stood up and talked about him. They talked openly and lovingly, and it hurt me so much. They talked with tears in their eyes. They talked as they cried. They talked about him. I couldn’t stop crying. I tried wiping my tears away with my sleeve but they kept coming and coming. They wouldn’t stop. My heart ached. My stomach ached. My head ached. My sides ached. My whole world hurt. I cried. Cried so much that day.
I haven’t known him for so long. He taught us that year only. It was our second Term. I remember not being in school the day before so I didn’t get to see him.
It’s been three years exactly since the day he died. I would never forget him. He taught me for five months only, but I cried that day like I would cry over someone I’ve known for five decades. I still remember his smile and his perfect necktie that nobody would figure out how he got to do it. I still remember his words.
“Never say never.” He would repeat that over and over again.
His wife and daughter are left alone now, but I know that she’s the strongest woman ever. She would raise her daughter up all alone and she still would be an amazing daughter. An amazing wife. An amazing mother. An amazing lady. Like her mother. A strong woman. A strong widow. A strong mother. Mr. Nasser had passed away because of an accident. He was driving too fast and on a wet road, he lost control of the steering wheel, and he crashed into a wall. His car was on fire and the police found him trying to escape. He couldn’t make it. His face was too burnt that they couldn’t recognize his features. They called the last number on his cell phone who was a teacher at the Boys Section of our school. This is how we knew.
May Mr. Nasser rest in peace. Ninth of February was one of the hardest days I ever passed through but it’s over now. It’s all sad memories. I learned that death is the closest thing to a human being. Today, you have all your friends, family, and loved ones around you. Tomorrow, they might be the ones who suffer in pain over your loss. Maybe, tomorrow, you might lose a loved one. You never know. Every day, people die and people are born. You never know when your people are leaving you. Make sure they know you love them even if you tell them every day. Keep in mind that one day you’ll have to go through the loss of a father, mother, sister, brother, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, husband, wife. Even if you don’t go through that loss then they will have to go through it. Make sure your life is worth it. You don’t want to die regretting the life you had. Life is shorter than you imagine. Too short. Too short it’s scary. Death is closer, closer than anything. You might be breathing now, and the next minute you’re gone. When a second passes, you can’t have it back. So, don’t waste your time on something worthless. Most important of all, never give up on life, no matter how hard it gets. Even if you felt the whole world on your shoulder, remember, when it’s the worst, it can’t get any worse. Remember, never say never.
Author: Zahra Hassan