The Reminder

With both hands in the pockets of her hoodie, Huma slouched deeper into the cushy leather chair. It was obvious she would rather be anywhere else than listening to me, the overly positive make­up consultant her sister had invited over. “Huma’s not herself lately. She’s dealing with some health issues, so I don’t think she meant to come across as rude,” Nori explained after the guests had all cleared. “She’ll be back to herself in no time.” “No offense taken. Everyone has bad days…no biggie,” I said while tallying the orders and packing up my kit. After hopping in my car, the hour long drive home was spent watching the Canada geese gather in the recently harvested fields, while I planned my upcoming week. I went on with my life, just as Huma and Nori did with theirs. Three months later, Nori asked me out for lunch. I happily accepted the invitation, and when I walked into the restaurant, the lady sitting next to her was not the same one whom I had met earlier. Huma was put together, confidant, and chit­chatty. Her happiness about everything, even the beef vindaloo, was contagious! She had decided that while on sick leave, she needed an excuse to get out of the house, so why not sell skin care? I wondered why a mining engineer would want to do home parties, but I believed her reasoning was as simple as she stated; I understood cabin fever. Even after going back to work full time, Huma continued the direct sales. It clearly had nothing to do with needing money, but she told me once, that it made her happy to help her family back home, out East. Nori shared with me her story of how Huma took her in while she was going through a difficult time. It was Huma's The Reminder by: Marie Aline acceptance and encouragement that fueled Nori to make each day better than the last. She was able to start her own business with Huma as her investor. Over the next few years, Huma and I became very close, talking almost every day. When on business in town, my oversized couch was her bed, and the mornings were filled with conversations as rich as the dark­roasted coffee. I could tell her anything from marriage to financial anxieties, with no fear of judgement. And while giving advice, honesty was never taken personally. We helped each other to see all variables in situations, believing that an open mind and optimism should lead the way. We attended conferences in Vegas and Vancouver, and agreed that the meetings were just an excuse to sightsee, shop and eat at trendy restaurants. Each trip, Huma made sure to pick up a little something for Nori, a custom she had been doing for many years. Whether she be in Africa or Manitoba, she always grabbed a memento. She loved giving gifts, and I remember receiving a wooden keepsake box with the words, ‘Believe in Yourself’, carved in the top. Being that I was the queen of second guessing, Huma knew it would be encouragement for me. Huma was a career woman. By the time she was 38, she had gone from a mining engineer to Saskatchewan’s first female Mines Inspector, a position which threw many challenges her way. But she was up for them, as it was her dream job. Her work was important to her, but it never came before her extended family. And although she never had children of her own, she was indisputably the mothering type.

Huma grew up in Halifax. Her mom was from Kenya and her dad from Pakistan, so she had the most beautiful, jersey milk skin and big, brown eyes. When asked where she was from, she’d proudly announce, “I’m Canadian”. She used to get annoyed when people tried to form common ground solely based on their skin colour. Nonetheless, Huma’s warm and genuine nature overshadowed her irritation. Huma was Muslim, and I was raised in a very lax Christian home. Strangely enough, we both celebrated Christmas. That’s right, Huma loved to decorate the tree and exchange presents. One day, I had to ask her why a Muslim would celebrate a Christian holiday. She told me she viewed Christmas as a North American tradition. Most people, including myself, celebrated Christmas because they got caught up in the commercialization, not the true meaning anyway. It was no different for her. Huma and I both loved to dance. I preferred waiting for a full dance floor because I liked to blend in, but that wasn’t allowed when out with Huma. She was like the dancing sunflower toy from the 80s. Music equalled body movements, and entertaining ones at that! “Come on! Whatcha waiting for?” she’d say with body swaying, as she grabbed my hand pulling me out of my seat. I marvel at how she could turn what looked like the start of a drab evening, into some of the most memorable nights of my life! Her positive energy was infectious, and because of her, I realized that life shouldn’t be about having an attitude of ‘I don’t care what others think’, but rather an attitude of ‘I do what brings me joy’. And then, one blustery March day, Huma died. It was the result of a simple oversight from her previous health problems. She was all alone, and from what Nori said, it happened during her sleep. That brought some comfort, I suppose, but it didn’t change the fact that she was gone. I was devastated, but barely cried until the funeral. I refused to ask why Huma’s life ended so soon; that question would leave only emptiness. Instead, I thought about what she contributed to my life and to the people around her. Her life deserved celebration; we had all been blessed. I mourned over the loss of my closest friend, but mostly I was sad for her loved ones, Nori in particular. Huma was her rock, and her only family here in Saskatchewan. Without her she would be lost, especially with her upcoming wedding. My drive home was spent in reflection, while watching the snow blow across the barren fields and highway. The time came for Nori’s wedding shower, and I was excited to see her before they headed off to their destination wedding. It was the morning of, and I had yet to figure out what I was going to buy. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend, so finding a unique present would be tough. I went to a few stores downtown, turning up empty handed. Feeling discouraged, I wandered into an eclectic gift shop. On a clearance shelf in the back, I spotted a soapstone globe with a carved wooden base. When I picked it up, a shiver darted down my spine. The tag read, “Made in Kenya”, and I figured that was the confirmation I needed.

The trees were budding and the air was fresh on the drive to Nori’s, and I contemplated whether I should have bought the gift that was so uncharacteristic of me. I hoped it wouldn’t be something that ended up as a garage sale item in a couple of years. When I walked in to the party, Nori greeted me with a long hug. We both got choked up, and by the heartfelt look we gave each other, I knew exactly what she was thinking. She wished Huma was there; as did I. The shower was perfect, with scads of cream cheesy dips, fruit trays and chocolate dainties. The mood was happy and light while Nori opened her typical shower gifts. “Thanks everyone! This is awesome…” she was saying as I interrupted. “Ummm… Nori? I don’t think you opened mine.” We looked over, and the little, purple box had somehow gotten pushed behind a plant. I grabbed it and handed it over, feeling slightly insecure about my small, trinkety present. With all eyes on Nori, she lifted off the top, pulled out the tissue and paused. She placed her right hand over her mouth. Her face went red as she said in a high pitched whisper, “Oh my god. How did you know?” “Know what?” I asked. “Huma brought me something soapstone from everywhere she travelled.”

The room went still. It was undeniable; Huma was there. I held myself together for the rest of the party. After saying goodbye, I hit the road, but didn’t get far before having to pull over. As I rested my furrowed brow on the steering wheel, my shoulders began to uncontrollably shake. The tears streamed down my cheeks, landing on the floor mat below. It’s been over four years since Huma passed away. I often think of her, our deep friendship, and how she enriched the lives of so many. I talked to Nori the other day, and she told me that the soapstone globe sits on a shelf in her kitchen. Like my wooden box, it’s a reminder; Huma will always be with her.

Marie Aline is the author of Billian the Borrower, and is currently writing her second novel in The Fireborn Chronicles, a Magical Realism series that touches on everything from reincarnation to meta travel. Her past careers include owning a coffee roastery, and being a wedding photographer. She has a mad­ passion for crafting, baking and and anything vintage! Marie lives in Saskatoon, SK with her unique family.