Half of this story is truth and half of this has not yet happened. Let me tell you the true part first.
When the doorbell rang a few weeks ago I sent my 3-year-old daughter and autistic 5-year-old son running after their father to open it. We were expecting their aunt, and what we saw instead was our next-door neighbor Bonnie, covered in blood and crying hysterically. Within seconds my daughter was screaming, my son panicking, and my husband staring, aghast, at a woman my own age whom we had seen just an hour before, looking a little shaken but definitely not pouring blood.
“Call 911!” my husband yelled into the house. I yelled for my son’s caregiver, Joy, and our housekeeper, Cindy, to take the children into house. They both jumped in surprise, because this is a house where people don’t yell.
“Get the kids inside the house now! NOW! NOW!”
“Now?!” Joy and Cindy both echoed back, alarmed.
“NOW!” I yelled, as I ran to the kitchen and grabbed plastic wrap and kitchen shears. I snatched up the phone, dialed 999 and was grateful to Allah that I had the presence of mind to dial the UAE emergency number rather than the US one. “My neighbor is at the door bleeding,” I told the man on the phone, “I don’t know what has happened but she’s at the door and she’s bleeding.”
I passed my daughter in the hallway, tucked under the housekeeper’s arm and still screaming in terror as she was rushed in the opposite direction. My son was whisked past me a second later by his caretaker, and I could hear the kids crying muffled as they were closed and locked behind the playroom door.
My husband was still standing at the open gate, trying to ask Bonnie what happened. People from the street had gathered around staring at the two of them. I was unsuccessfully trying to give the operator our address. The street and house numbers just wouldn’t come out right, no matter how many times I tried to say them. “Bring her inside! Bring her here!” I said to my husband, holding the phone out to him. My husband ushered Bonnie inside the gate, took the phone and gave the police the right address. I sat Bonnie down next to me on the front steps and pulled off a length of plastic wrap. Then I wrapped it around Bonnie’s right wrist and tied it tightly. I did the same to her left wrist. I didn’t know if I was tying her hands in the right place because I couldn’t tell where she had been cut, but one thing was very clear – she had been cut before. Just a few inches below the plastic wrap tourniquets, where my left and right hands were pressing her left and right wrists to try to make the bleeding stop, were the marks of several other cuts still relatively fresh and glued with strips of hospital-grade tape.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so so so sorry,” she sobbed, pressing her face against my arm.
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for, it’s alright. That’s a nice tattoo,” my husband said conversationally, trying to engage Bonnie. A man’s name was written across her left arm, the last two letters smeared with blood and hidden under my left hand.
“My brother, he died. My brother died…” she broke off and began sobbing with renewed misery.
I looked up at my husband and saw the gate still standing open. Bonnie was crying and rubbing her blood-covered face onto my now blood-covered arms. A man from up the street was standing just a few feet away, and I was without my ḥijāb or abayah. “Can you close the gate please?” I asked. My husband turned around angrily and pushed the people back. “Stop staring at my wife!” He closed the gate.
The first ambulance arrived within minutes, and my husband rushed to bring me a shawl. He threw it over me just as the paramedics entered, covering me as well as I could be covered considering that I was still holding tightly to Bonnie’s wrists and she was still crying and pressing her face onto my arm. The paramedics took her left hand from me and began to bandage it. Then they took her right hand from me and Bonnie panicked- “Don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me! Don’t go!”
“I’m just going to put on some clothes,” I tried to reassure her. ” I’ll be back in a minute, I promise.”
Cindy, our housekeeper, met me inside the living room and trailed me to the bathroom as I walked elbows up, trying not to trail blood on the floor. It was warm and sticky, and I remember thinking how unusual it was that it didn’t flow as much as it thickly dripped. She took the bloody shawl from me, turned on the tap, and poured copious amounts of anti-bacterial soap onto my hands. “The kids ok?” I asked as I scrubbed my arms.
“They’re calm now. There’s blood on your nose.” I nodded and she poured more soap onto my hands so I could wash my face. I took off the apron I had been wearing – I was cooking dinner when the bell rang – and asked her to wash that and the shawl immediately. I went to my room, threw on an abayah and a scarf and went outside again.
Bonnie’s father had arrived. My husband seems to have amazing presence of mind in emergencies, though I have no idea when he managed to make that call. Bonnie’s father was strangely quiet, distant even, and then I realized he was in shock, not physically but emotionally. The paramedic told him to hold Bonnie’s arm up to help stop the bleeding. He absentmindedly took it and a few seconds later he simply dropped it.
“Bonnie’s arm, “my husband said to him, “You need to hold up her arm.”
“Oh.” He picked it up again, though he didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Bonnie’s head began to slump. I took it in my hands and tilted her face upwards. “She’s not breathing,” her father said quietly, politely even. “You guys, I think she’s not breathing?”
One of the paramedics whipped out an oxygen mask and put it over her mouth and nose. I pulled the elastic over the back of her head. Bonnie began gasping, then retching, and the paramedic took the mask off immediately while Bonnie dry-heaved into her lap.
The gate opened again and my sister- the aunt we had been expecting earlier- walked in looking alarmed. “What’s going on?” Three new paramedics followed behind her.
“Our neighbor cut herself.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“The kids are in the playroom, they may be a little traumatized. Can you see how they’re doing?” She nodded and went into the house.
Eventually Bonnie was put onto a stretcher and into the back of the ambulance. Her mother arrived by taxi, crying, smoking, and shaking so hard she couldn’t sort through her purse to locate a form of ID to give to the police. My husband paid the expectant-looking taxi driver, who had been standing, forgotten, up the street behind the emergency vehicles that were blocking the road.
Then the ambulance took Bonnie and her father away. Bonnie’s mother needed to follow in the father’s car, but she couldn’t find any keys. She asked me to follow her into the house to look for a pair, so we walked next door, following the trail of blood from my gate to hers. She reached her own front steps, gasped, covered her eyes and turned away. There was a trail of blood- much more than the one leading into my house and neatly pooled at my front steps- it made its way out of the open front door, splashed across the steps and stained the floor tiles all the way out to the gate.
My husband, who had followed behind us, picked up the garden hose to wash the front steps, but before he could turn it on, the mother lost her composure. She threw herself onto his shoulder and cried, and I know she was saying something but I don’t think either my husband or I could make it out. He passed her gently to me, just as the police were entering. “Don’t wash it,” they said. “Don’t touch anything, please.”
“My friend is coming,” the mother gasped when she could speak again, “Maria is coming and she’ll help me find the keys. She’ll find the keys for me. I need a drink, I need a coke, you know I don’t drink any alcohol but my throat it’s just so- please, I need a drink.” I took the mother into our house instead, which was much less bloodied, and sat her down on the same front steps. I brought her a drink and a box of tissues. She lit another cigarette, took a few sips of her drink and then walked out of the gate again. She couldn’t sit still or stop talking. Everything about her was shaky and flustered with non-stop talking.
I followed her outside where she stood next to the police officers. My husband was there as well, trying to explain how a blood-covered woman ended up in our front yard and how we could have no idea what had happened. “You see,” the mother explained nervously, ”She’s been like this since my son…her big brother, he died…” and she lost it again, tears rolling down her face and her cigarette dangling from her fingers in front of her face as she shook and cried.
“When did that happen?” my husband asked gently.
“Two years,” she choked, “It’s been two years and she pretends she’s ok, but we all know it hurt her so badly.” The mother reached up and fiddled with the cross around her neck. The police officers looked at one another and nodded. We all knew what had just happened to Bonnie, or rather, what Bonnie had just tried to do to herself, but no one was saying it.
I went back inside the house and washed up and changed my clothes again. We fed the children dinner and put them to bed. My husband, sister and I each prayed Maghrib ṣalāh, and eventually Bonnie‘s mother returned and took us up on our offer to drive her to the hospital in case she couldn’t find the car keys. It turns out the father had taken them with him to the hospital. My husband had a few standing bites of dinner and then left to drive the mother to the hospital. My sister stayed for dinner, and outside of the house the water evaporated off of the sun-baked cement tiles where our housekeeper had tried to wash away the blood.
And this is the part of the story that has not yet happened – Bonnie has not yet called me back, following the surgery she had on her hands the next day to repair the tendons that had been severed. Her father did make a brief phone call to my husband to thank us, but we have not talked about it or brought up what was, in essence, Bonnie’s failed suicide attempt.
The blood outside hasn’t faded yet either. I’ve been hoping that the Dubai sun will bleach the stains from in front of the gate, but they persist despite the 100+ degree heat every day. Apparently, Bonnie first went to another neighbor’s house, and they would not let her in. When she came to our house next and leaned on the doorbell, other neighbors told my husband not to let her in when he came to answer the door. Why? Because the police would ask us questions.
We see the neighbor’s lights on in the evening, and we know they’re home, but they haven’t invited us back in. We wave to each other every few days – I often see Bonnie’s father driving home just as I am leaving, or her mother taking out the trash when I bring my son back home from school. I ask how Bonnie is doing and they smile and say “Fine!” and we wave and go our separate ways. And that’s the really sad part- separate ways. Without īmān, the sudden death of a beloved brother was enough to ruin Bonnie’s life two years after the incident. She doesn’t work, she stays home and paints and smokes, and in the evenings we can smell the smoke wafting over the garden wall that divides her house from ours. I wish I could go back and reassure her somehow, but without belief in the ākhirah, in Allah’s Mercy, or in the good in all things – even death – what do I have to work with?
We take Islam for granted, this I am sure of, because my husband and I, on learning why Bonnie had tried to kill herself both privately thought, “What, just because her brother died?” To Muslims, death is a transition, not a tragedy. The greatest loss is not of life but of īmān. The shahīd can die with faith and we are jealous of them, but a person could live without it for a hundred years in luxury and we would pity them.
I don’t mean to belittle the kind of pain that Bonnie must be in, or to make light of a grief so strong that two years later it overshadows her life. I understand that without a complete picture of human existence – one that includes resurrection, accountability, and life after death – the end of human life is a tragedy of such magnitude and frequency that perhaps one would want to just get it over with and kill ourselves now, or just get over it because everyone dies and there’s no point. Without faith, our options are depression, desensitization, or delusion. Bonnie chose the first one.
So half of this story hasn’t happened, and I really wish it would. That would be the part where Bonnie calls, or just walks over (following the rust-colored stains) to our gate and rings the bell to have a chat. It would involve me trying to share the salām, the peace that Islam brings us when we submit to Allah and trust in His Will, even when it hurts. It has only been a few weeks since she first walked over, bleeding and crying; maybe she’s just working up the courage. Maybe she’s just waiting for her hands to heal. In any case, please make du‘ā’ for Bonnie and her family, that their sorrow be the catalyst for seeking solace, and that solace be Islam. Ameen.