Another Little Laila

little girl singing2Dear Mom,

I haven’t gone to the gym yet, which is what I’m really trying to get myself to get into the habit of doing more consistently. But what I have been doing consistently is practising singing. I love it.

Last week, I went to a karaoke night all ready to sing “for you” as usual. But I got the feeling you showed up for me there as well. At least I hope that’s what it was.

There was this little girl outside the restaurant, on the patio, sitting with her parents, I presume. She was so animated with her gestures. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, because they were on the other side of the glass windows and I was inside. But I smiled to myself, thinking of how she probably would have reminded you of your granddaughters. You were so entertained by your granddaughters’ antics- especially the rolling eyes, and big enthusiastic hand and arm gestures. And of course, the pointing fingers at her parents. You loved that kind of emphatic, excited way about kids, especially in your own grand kids.

I so wished you were there to see this. I was imagining the look on your face. I so wish you were there, that you are here, to see so many things unfold in the life you created in me, and your son, and your grand kids. And also in your larger family.

The happiness I felt for those moments, thinking about you as I watched this girl outside, kind of seemed to turn into sadness, of missing you.

I was watching the others sing, and being a little social where I was at. But I couldn’t veer my gaze too far from that little girl. I seemed to always be aware of where she was going, as if I was connected to her or knew her somehow.

She came in for bit, to take a peek at one of the singers inside. As she placed her palms of her hands under her chin, she rested her elbows on the corner of a table. She seemed pretty mesmerized by the singer on stage, or maybe by the whole concept of singing.

Dreamy. She seemed to be dreaming- maybe about that being her?

Her parents eventually came inside to join her. I think it was getting colder outside. And the karaoke host had tried to motion to the woman and her daughter that it was their turn to go up next to sing. It turns out that the little girl had put in a song earlier, but now it seemed that she was too shy to go up and sing it.

When I asked the girl which song it was that she would have liked to sing, she said something about girl on fire. I didn’t put the title together with songs I knew, because I figured that since she is five (her mother told me her age), that she was talking about a more young girl’s song.

It turns out it wasn’t so young girl. It was the Beyonce song This Girl is On Fire. I told her it was a good choice. And then I could have sworn I hear the girl’s mom say your name. Laila. As usual, I thought I must have heard her wrong. You know, that wishful thinking of always wanting to hear your name, feel it as a sign that you are nearby, and then sometimes realizing that it wasn’t what was said.

“What is your daughter’s name?” I asked her mom.

“Laila,” she said. I had to fight back the tears. I know my eyes looked upwards and back behind me, or at least to the side of me. I had to look away. I tend to do this more lately when I get emotional and don’t want to overwhelm the people or person in front of me with it.

But I looked back at girl’s mom and said, “My mom’s name was Laila. (Sorry, I should have said it IS Laila). She passed away four years ago.”

The woman looked sorry to hear that. But I said, “No, no. I see this as a sign. That your daughter’s name is Laila. It makes me feel like my mom is here somehow with me, at this very moment.”

“Maybe that’s why you had a connection with my daughter. Why you noticed her.”

Yes, exactly. Maybe.

I offered to sing the This Girl is On Fire song with that little girl. Her mom even tried to convince her to sing it with me. But she was really shy and said no.

I left it alone at that point.

The part that got stranger was that not long after, this young Ismaili guy, funny enough, sitting at the back booth got up to sing a song with this other girl- she was probably in her 20’s. He looked over at me when he got on the stage with her and said, “Could you be her backup? I don’t know this song really.”

I was confused, and didn’t even know what song he was talking about or whether I would even know it.  But he handed me the mic and then I looked up and the song had started.

“She’s just a girl and she’s on fire…”

It was This Girl Is on Fire. I was so shocked. I knew the song, and wanted to sing it, but it was Little Laila’s song. I wanted her to come up and sing it. I tried to motion to the DJ to let him know this was the song the little girl wanted to sing. He tried handing her a third mic. She wasn’t taking it. I walked as far down off the stage with my chorded mic to get the little girl to sing with me. But she wouldn’t.

I sang the rest of the song with the girl who was already on stage and had chosen the song. But all the while, I was thinking what are the chances? Of THAT song being the choice? And that I just happened to ask the little girl which song she would have chosen? And that her name was Laila? This can’t all be coincidence.

I felt badly because I didn’t want the little girl to think that I “stole” her song. That I chose it after she told me she wanted to sing it. I would never have done that. I would have put the song in to see if she would want to sing it. I hope she understood that I didn’t even know that that song was going to be chosen by someone else. I had nothing to do with it.

But did you, Mom?

Did you plant a little Laila in that karaoke place, for me to connect to?

I ask these questions often, trying to be hopeful. And then another part of me sinks down thinking that this is just another way for the universe to remind that you’re gone. And that I didn’t do all I could to help you have the best life you could have. That I was not the best daughter I could have been. That is not the attitude I want to take. So I am going to revert to the hope that this was you, bringing another little innocent Laila into my path, to tell me you are always there with me.

I love you, Mom. And I love your name. You and it are forever beautiful. Always in my heart, the name at the tip of my tongue, and its sound resonating all around me.

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Laila, oh Leila, Layla

Laila1Dear Mom,

Besides latching onto hearing your name called out in a cemetery as a sign that you’re okay, I also have been following your name around in terms of other types of signs.

The first one I remember is when I was apartment hunting. After you passed away, just after actually, I needed to look for a new place to live because my previous roommate was selling the place I was living in.

I didn’t know whether I was going to stay in North Vancouver or move to some other area. All I knew is that I was feeling lost. You had just passed away. I was devastated (and some would say I still am after four years). But I was in shock of a different kind back then, and I had to move, and I didn’t know how I was going to afford paying for just a room in a shared place (which I was getting an amazing deal for) compared to living in my own place somewhere else.

I was pretty certain I could not live with roommates anymore, mostly because I needed to do my own grieving, healing and just be allowed to be sad without worrying that someone around me would be brought down by it. I needed to be on my own and figure out… well,  my life. I didn’t know how to live it without you and frankly, I still don’t. But I just take each day as it comes.

Anyway, I was looking in the paper or on craigslist- I can’t even remember- for apartments.

And then I was also just driving around to see what was available.

I ended up being really drawn to this apartment for rent in the Joyce Station area. It’s not even a spot that I would have thought of before. But firstly, the rent was way more reasonable than any of the other places I was looking at, the place seemed pretty decent from what I heard and saw in the pictures and from the person renting it out. But mostly, what made me think that this is the place I needed to move into was that the girl who was currently in it- who was advertising it- her name was Laila. I can’t remember if she spelled it the same way your name was spelled or if it was with an e. I think it was Laila. Same as yours.

Laila ShirtAnd so of course, a big part of me was hoping that this was somehow ordained by you. So not only was I being led to the apartment that I needed to find, but I also was maybe getting a sign that you are always with me, and that you are so okay and well and happy, that you were already helping me find the right place for me to move into.

Well, that apartment didn’t work out for me. I actually really liked it. It was really cute, and I ended up meeting that Laila. She was a sweet, beautiful young girl. Her and her boyfriend were moving out together into a bigger place. I told her the story of how and why I was drawn to her apartment, and her name. She seemed to empathize with me and hoped that I would get the apartment.

The choice wasn’t up to her. I guess it was the manager’s decision and it turned out that there were a few other people on the list of potential tenants before me. Someone else got chosen for that place.

Though it would have been less costly to stay there, I ended up choosing the place I am in now instead. It is in an area that I love, and is probably safer and allows me more interaction with people and freedom to sing in my apartment (which has somehow become a huge part of my life these days).

The place near Joyce Station would have been way more affordable, but maybe not in the long run since it is further out from the center of town. Mostly, I liked the association with your name at that time and I somehow thought I was losing not only the opportunity to stay there, but also the hope that you had something to do with it. I wanted to believe that your name and you led me there.

But my current place is owned by Ismailis, and is so close to the first elementary school I went to, and to the area where we grew up in the first few years of my life. In that sense, it brings me back to you, and connects me to childhood memories or surroundings that I think I may have otherwise had forgotten.

Though there isn’t a particular Laila in this building that I know of, I would still like to think that you somehow led me here. This place brings me peace. I have helpful and kind neighbors.  I feel a lot of freedom and security here. The tree lined streets, quaint coffee shops, convenient grocery and drugstores, and a reminder of where i came from surrounds me. A reminder of the “simple” life, living with you growing up here, and having had a mom who raised me without having much herself.

I don’t know how you did it, Mom.

But I am grateful for it and you every day. And Laila is still the name that rings in my heart always. I pick up on it in all its forms and spellings, but especially the “ai” version. Sometimes, I see it in books- as a name of an author or character. Other times, it’s on advertisements for performances- especially middle eastern dance or music. And sometimes, I just keep my ears open for the name in case the wind whispers it in my ear to tell me you are near. Laila. It is such a beautiful name.

LailaShirt3

I miss you, Mom. I miss you so much.