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The Premonition Choice
This is a story about determination, commitment, sacrifice and love. My name is Zahra, or Zee for short and this is my story. I grew up in a family with 5 children, myself being the middle child, number 3. They say that middle children are the most independent and self-reliant, which is why I believe my life spanned out the way it has. Having many siblings running around the house mum and dads’ attention was always dispersed and I had to stand out and in many cases rebel in order to get the attention I wanted. Sounds selfish, I know, what can I say, I was a kid. For a start I was a tomboy, playing rough games, sports and climbing up trees and collecting insects. My only companion growing up was my best friend Bilal or Bill. Bilal and I were inseparable we did everything together from going to school to holding our breath under water to see who can hold it for the longest. I always won because Bilal had asthma and he would conk out after 30 seconds.
At home things were chaotic, we had kids everywhere, and this included my cousins who were living in the same house as us. My parents together with my dad’s brother uncle Youssef bought a double story house with 6 bedrooms which were eventually converted into two houses for the two families. Like I said life at home was chaotic, but my life was full of happiness, my parents loved each of their 5 kids the same and tried to give us our individual attention. But as kids we felt we wanted more, more attention and more materialistic things. What can I say we were kids. In order to gain my share of attention I rebelled. Whilst my two sisters were the “good girls” in the family from getting perfect grades to behaviour, they were perfect; I on the other hand was the polar opposite. My two brothers were over protective and watched out for their sisters, can’t say I appreciated the attention they gave me since I was the rebel. The one thing I was good at that made me different from my siblings was the fact that I could feel when something was about to happen, whether it was good or bad. Like, when I was 3, I knew my mum was pregnant even before she knew and told me that I was going to be a big sister. She told me years later that I liked looking into her eyes all the time as if I could read them, that day I looked into my mother’s eyes and asked her “mummy are you going to have another baby?” She was stunned as she didn’t expect a 3 year to predict an impending pregnancy. Of course at that time my mother had no idea she was expecting again and she said in her broken English and with a fearful laugh; “why you espeak dat Zee, Zee”, she brushed of my suggestion, but two weeks later she came and told me that I was right and that she was going to have a baby.
So where do I begin regarding my rebelling behaviour. I guess my earliest memory is at the age 4 when Bilal and I were playing hide and seek and I hid in a bushed area behind our house where a creek was. I had hid and Bilal could not find me and it had been over 5 minutes and I was getting bored so I noticed a couple of lizards and I picked them up and played with them for a while, until I got bored again, and then I got a long stick and started to stab the lizards, till I had severed them in half and blood oozed out everywhere and I mean everywhere on my clothes and hands, at this point I realized I had done something terrible and the consequence would be horrible. That’s when my mum sneaked up behind me with Bill as he could not find me and asked my mum for assistance. Boy was I in trouble, my mum was furious; she gave me the biggest lesson about protecting God’s creatures and being gentle. My mum loved all creatures great and small and she took care of orphaned animals all the time, so when she saw that I severed two lizards she was beyond furious. She said in her broken English “Zee, whya you do tis to lipzard, God is not appy wit you, you bery bad girl”. Needless to say I didn’t learn my lesson. From that day on I was a rebel full swing, from smoking in the toilets at school to skipping class and partying, you name it, I did it all. My parents thought I could never change, but I always did academically well in school, it was just my behaviour and attitude that was the problem. I felt at the time, that nobody loved me and felt I didn’t belong in school. I never really had any friends and being an outcast is all I knew. I knew my behaviour was bad, but I kept on doing it because it gave me the attention I needed as I wouldn’t get any otherwise.
Phase 1 Continued
By the time I finished high school I was in trouble so many times that my parents were at their wits end. In my final year at school I almost got expelled for trashing the principles car as a prank, I could have lost everything then, but somehow the principle fell ill and the replacement never bought up the incident again. Then on top of that, miraculously I did well at the HSC and got into The University of Sydney bachelor of education program and that’s when my life changed. As I have said I have the ability to feel when something was about to happen and I realised being let off for the principles car prank and getting a reasonable HSC result was a sign and I felt that if I continued down the rebellion road I would end up without an education, on the street, drugged up and living a complete wasted life, and decided then that things had to change. I decided that this would be a new beginning for me and I pledged I wouldn’t do anything stupid again and I would focus on making my life good firstly by getting a career, setting things right with my family and seeking forgiveness from God. This was not easy for me as I had a big ego to feed and apologies didn’t come easy for me. The first thing I did was apologise to my family for my behaviour up until then and told them how hard it’s been for me to fit into school I told them about all the teasing and name calling the kids did. I told them “I rebel cause it gave me attention from other kids and also from you two”. My parents shook their heads, and in their broken English they would say “how can you saya tat we no gibe you attencion, we put all a love por you” they say. Least to say they were sceptical of my intentions, but I think they believed me as they knew how hard it was for me to admit my mistakes. The second thing I did was get my educational path ready, I took up the offer from the University of Sydney and I was all set. I then also sought forgiveness from God and promised I would stay out of trouble and I did. I did this by asking my religious studies teacher about how I would repent for my sins. She told me that I was still young and that God forgave young sins as longs as I pledged to not do it again. So I went down in prayer, asking for forgiveness. I have to say it gave me great peace in praying and asking for forgiveness as I knew it was my chance to start over on the right path.
After my first 18 months at University my best friend, Bilal asked me to marry him. I could never forget this day and the way he proposed. It had been raining the past few days so when I woke up and saw the sun bright, I knew there was something special about the day. It was a cool winter’s day in June. The sun was shining but the wind kept the temperature at only 14 degrees Celsius. Sydney University is really a beautiful University, the historic setting reflected golden beneath the sun’s rays and the air was clean. I was sipping my freshly brewed coffee that I bought after class and was sitting in the cafeteria catching up on reading. It was my 18th birthday, and Bilal was walking towards me, he had a beautiful smile on his face. “Can we go somewhere more private?” Bilal said in almost a whisper. “I just wanted to show you something and talk to you” he added. So we caught the 519 bus into the City, and then strolled down to Circular Quay. On the way down Bilal remained extremely quite he seemed pre-occupied with his thoughts, and I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable not to mention I had a tone of Uni work to get through, but like Bill I decided to not say anything and keep going.
We finally made it to Circular Quay, the wind was sending ripples through the water and the sun shone on it creating a cascading effect. It truly was a beautiful day. There at the pier Bilal and I sat and silently admired the view for what seemed like a long time. After which we started talking. He always called me “Zee”, he said. “Zee, I’m really proud of you, you know, the way you’ve shaped your life since high school and stuff”. I turned and looked him in the eyes and said, “I guess I never really fitted in high school , I just never found common ground there, but at Uni, it’s like I’ve found myself and I finally belong somewhere, and God has helped so much too, I’m really lucky”. “I mean you’ve become a real lady now, not the tomboy who wanted to win in every sport she ever played”. He had turned to face me, his grey eyes were almost translucent in the suns glare, and I could see his pupils enlarge as he spoke. “You’ve become this vibrant, strong, smart and incredibly beautiful woman, whom I’ve come to love”. I was mesmerized and blown away, by his glowing eyes and by his very words, “whom I’ve come to love”. I couldn’t believe my ears, by best friend in the whole world has just declared his love for me, could it be, just as I was about to speak, he said. “It’s true Zahra, I think I loved you all along, the only person I ever wanted to be around was you. I’ve always loved your company. I remember when we were kids, I didn’t know it then, but I only wanted to play with you because I loved the way your brown hair smelled and sparkled in the sun. I’ve stood by you through all the rough times and the best of times and if we have stood through those times then I guess we can stand the rest of our lives together. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, well, I love you and I want to know if you would be my wife?” I stayed silent for what seemed like ages, Bilal just sat and waited like he always did, he didn’t even push for an answer, and he just sat and waited. For me, I was having a replay of my entire life up until then, the kind you see in the movies. Initially I was angry with Bilal for not telling me that he loved me before, but then as the minutes went on I realised that he was right, I wasn’t ready to hear the “love” word until now. I realised then that I had been such a brat and always wanting things my way, I never once anticipated the consequences of my action or more importantly the impact it had on my loved ones. Here was a boy who had been the bestest friend in the whole world and all I did to show my appreciation was to give him the finger. I realised then that Bilal may be the only person in the whole world that truly understood me and that I needed him in my life. My life would seem empty without him at every phase he has been there with his supporting arms, all because he loved and cared for me. I now saw it, I loved him too. Like always I felt my premonition then that if I let him go I wouldn’t find another like him and realised that my destiny was with him. So without any further hesitation, I turned around and simply said “yes, yes I will marry you”. There was a lot I wanted to say but didn’t, the expression in his face when I said “yes” summed it all, pure bliss.
It turned out that Bilal had sought the permission of my father before he had asked me. So when I went to them that afternoon with the news of my engagement they weren’t surprised as I expected, but instead they were relieved, that I had said yes. We were formally engaged a month later in a family celebration. We were to continue studying and working, in our small part-time jobs, to save up for our wedding and life afterwards.
Two years later I completed my degree in primary school teaching and was hired as a kindergarten teacher at our local primary school. Bilal had now become the head chef at a local restaurant. In March that year, Bilal and I had our Nikkah, which is the Islamic ceremony for marriage. Two weeks later we had our legal ceremony and reception, which was one huge party as our families had so many relatives and friends.
Our marriage lasted 5 years; it only lasted 5 years because tragedy struck. Our marriage wasn’t perfect, it had its ups and down and we fought like every other couple but when it came down to it, we were in love and we were happy to be together. In our second year of marriage Bilal had taken out finance to open up his own restaurant. In our 3rd year of marriage I fell pregnant and had a beautiful baby girl, we named her Alia. It was also the first year anniversary of Bills restaurants opening and we were lucky because we made a tremendous profit since its opening. It was also the year we bought our first home, a four bedroom brick veneer home in the suburbs of Sydney. Alia had become the apple of our eyes, especially for her dad.
Phase 1- Continued
On the day the tragedy happened, it began like a normal day. We woke up for our morning prayers and as I was completing my prayers I began to feel in my gut that something terrible was going to happen, I didn’t know what but something horrible. After prayers we both did our various workout routines. As the morning wore on I became preoccupied with this impending thought that something terrible was to happen that day. I then prepared the lunches and breakfasts for the day, as we were eating breakfast Bilal said to me “what’s wrong you have a worried look on your face, something bothering you?” “I don’t know, I feel that something bad is about to happen, I don’t know what but in my gut I have a sick feeling, something I have never felt before.” Bilal shrugged my concerns off, he said things will be ok, but deep down things were not ok because when I felt these things they were for real and I didn’t want to press on arguing with Bill, besides we were running late. We got dressed and we kissed each other at the door and said we loved each other; Alia hung on to her dad for extra cuddles all the time. After I dropped Alia off at day care I went to work too. Like usual the day was busy, the kids kept me busy as I was keeping them busy. As my gut feeling was there pretty much all day I kept calling Bilal, checking up on Alia at day care and called my parents at every chance I got that day. They were all slightly annoyed with me for my constant checking. After the 3pm home time bell, I left work immediately so that I could pick Alia up and get some groceries, I rang Bilal to let him know, he told me to not call again as it was going to get very busy at the restaurant. By the time the two of us got home it was 4:30pm. I set Alia down to play while I quickly prepared dinner.
By 7pm I had prepared dinner, fed Alia, washed her and had a shower myself, and was putting Alia to down for the night. I must have fallen asleep whilst reading her bedtime story. I was woken by the phone, as I woke up I saw that it was midnight, and realised that my husband hadn’t come home. I stammered out of my daughters bed, careful not to stir her up, I walk half groggy to the phone, expecting Bilal on the phone, telling me that he got caught up at the restaurant, since opening his own restaurant he often came home between 10pm and midnight. But it wasn’t Bilal, it instead was the Police. The male officer on the line was firm; “is this Mr’s Farooq,?” still surprised I replay “yes, what’s this in regards to”? “Look my name is Constable Cunningham and uh look there has been an incident at your husband’s restaurant”, pause, “I was wondering whether or not you could come down to the restaurant for me”. “What, now?”. “Yes it’s actually quite urgent”. “W W Why, what happened, is my husband ok?” “I can’t tell you over the phone, but I need you to come down to the restaurant now, my badge number is CXW000564355, you can check this with the Liverpool Police Command, but can you come down now”. “Ok, I’ll be there in 20 minutes”. Afraid I hang up the phone, first thing I did is check my mobile phone, there were seven missed calls from my husband, I dial his number, the phone rings but it goes to the message bank. I try calling the restaurant but no one answers there either. So I then rang my parents to come and stay with Alia to so that I can find out what’s happening. For some reason I ended up asking my dad to accompany me to the station, I’m glad I did.
When we got down to the restaurant the place was almost un-recognisable, windows had been shattered spraying glass everywhere. There was food everywhere indicating to a fast escape by those who were there. Smoke was still smouldering from the small kitchen fire that had flared up when the cooks left in a hurry. Just walking into the place I knew the news was going to be bad, my stomach knotted up, I felt sick like I was going to vomit. Constable Cunningham walked over to us, “you Mr’s Farooq?”, “yes, I am and this is my dad, what happened?” “Well there was an attempted robbery on the place, the thieves came in wearing balaclava’s and with automatic rifles in hand. The place was packed with a waiting line outside. When the thieves barged in they made everybody lay on the ground including kitchen staff, as the cooks couldn’t turn off the stove, a fire caught alight, sending panic within the restaurant. Somebody called 000 from their phone, the scene went chaotic, and the thieves began to panic and started shooting randomly. They shot about 5 people, your husband was trying to escape but even through the haziness of the smoke he saw the thieves attacking a little girl, they were about to shoot at her when your husband jumped in. H, h, he, was shot in the abdomen, in a panic the thieves fired again this time shooting him in the chest”. At this point constable Cunningham pauses and bows his down, I start to back away, waving my head, saying no, no, no, this can’t be happening. “Mrs. Farooq, your husband was killed instantly with this shot to the chest, the bullet struck his heart”. I fall to my knees and begin weeping my dad kneels down to comfort me.
In total 6 people were shot dead that day by the thieves. There was a big investigation into what happened on that unfaithful evening. Hundreds of witnesses came forward to give their version of what happened. Some said the thieves were demanding cash that was kept in a safety box, some were saying the thieves were going to demand ransom for the releases of hostages. The Police summed up that it was a robbery gone wrong, the thieves went in demanding for all the money kept on the premises or they’ll start shooting the hostages, they brought everybody to main restaurant room including the kitchen staff who were not able to turn the stoves off as they were pushed into the front room, according to the table list there were close to 200 people within the restaurant, including staff and patrons. When the fire broke out in the kitchen, everyone panicked at the sight of all the smoke including the thieves, people started running fearing they will be burned alive the thieves panicked and began shooting randomly. In total 15 people were injured, 6 died, 3 were severely injured but somehow survived, there were gunshot wounds, lacerations, smoke inhalations and burns. My husband died trying to protect a screaming little girl as she frantically called for her parents, she was the same age as our daughter and she was about to be shot. My husband died a hero, the little girl’s family have thanked me perfidiously, and we have become close friends.
My heart aches for my loving husband, he truly was my best friend. He was the only one in the world that understood me and loved me through it all. I feel sometimes that this was a consequence of my rebellious behaviour, that all good things must come to an end in this world, and I had a good run so far, now it’s gone… I guess this was just one phase of my life as I was expected to move on. I didn’t expect to find true love again but I did.
Join me next time for the next instalment of The Premonition Choice.