Reflection on Juz’ 15 by Ambata Kazi-Nance

By Ambata Kazi-Nance

I hear my grandfather’s footsteps shuffling down the hallway, the creaking of the worn floorboards,and the thick, calloused skin of his heels rustling against the wood. How many miles and different terrains have those old feet touched, I wonder?

My grandfather sleepwalks, and every night he finds his way to my room. I make my body completely still and close my eyes, a mask of restful sleep. Not that it matters. Once, I opened them  just a slit to peek, and I saw that his eyes were open but unseeing, glazed over and lost in a waking, walking dreamland, deep in the folds of his own mind. 

My grandfather sleepwalks, and I cannot sleep. Together, we own the night, each of us trapped inside our awakened minds.

Usually he comes into my cluttered room  — making his way through the maze created by my backpack with its textbooks and papers spilling out, my sweaty gym clothes in a puddle on the floor that causes my mother to flare her nostrils and speak through her teeth, the basketball near my bed that my father always trips over — and somehow avoiding it all, he walks over to where I lie. Even in the dark with my eyes closed, I can feel his shadow covering my torso. 

He lays his warm palm on my forehead and mutters strange sounds, “smillah, smillah.” Then, slow and satisfied like a sigh, “aaaaameeeen.”  Then, he turns and exits my room, shutting the door behind him, his presence erased from my room like a candle blown out. Only then do I sink into sleep.

This night though, I hear my grandfather but do not feel his shadow. I open my eyes and see him standing just inside my room, the moonlight from my window framing him in blue.

“Come!” he says.

The commanding tone of his voice makes me throw back the covers and rise, the cold night air prickling the skin of my bare arms and legs. He has already gone out the door and headed down the hall. 

I find him in the kitchen, standing at the sink. He turns on the faucet and cups his hands to catch the water. Roughly, he rubs the water over his hands then up his forearms to his elbows. Faintly I hear him counting, “One, two, three.” I stick my finger under the stream and quickly pull it back. The water is ice cold and it sends a chill through me. He closes the faucet and rests his palms on his forehead, then swipes them down to his chin.

My grandfather sleepwalks, and I cannot sleep. Together, we own the night, each of us trapped inside our awakened minds.

Without drying himself, he heads to the door that leads to the backyard. His hand on the knob and his back to me, he says again, urgently, “Come.”

Wet grass sticks in between my toes as I follow in his footsteps across the yard to the shed. Inside, it is dark and the dust stings my nose, threatening a sneeze. 

He moves to a corner and reaches up to the top shelf, rattling tools and clinking jars. He pulls down a book, thin but large like a children’s picture book, and thrusts it into my hands. I tilt it toward the faint light coming through the one window high above my head but can’t make out any words on the cover. I want to ask, “What is this?” But my heart cautions my tongue not to speak.

And then I find myself awake, back in my bed with the sun bathing my face and cold sweat drenching my body. I sit up, clutching the bed and gasping for air as if I’ve been tossed back onto the land from the sea.

The door creaks behind me. My mother stands in the doorway, her eyebrows pinched into a V-shape.

“Eddie? You okay?” she asks.

I shake my head and she comes to me and lays her palm on my forehead.

“You’re warm but not hot.”

My breath comes back to me. I blink and look around.

“Something happened. Grandpa was in my room last night. He gave me something.”

I get up and rifle through the mess on my desk and bookshelves, then fumble through the sheets on my bed, but I don’t find what I am looking for. I am about to give up when I lift up my pillow. It is here. I take the book into my hands and sit back down. The cover is dark red with faint remnants of gold lettering. Old masking tape holds together its binding. I hand it to my mother, who takes it slowly, her fingertips grazing the cover. She presses her lips together and opens it. The spine crackles. Her eyes widen.

“What is it?” I ask.

The mind is a cave of wonders. Open ALL the doors! Don’t be afraid!

She points to the page and, holding the book gingerly like a newborn baby, leans over to show me. It reads, Holy Qur’an, Juz’ 15: The Night Journey and The Cave. She looks at me and I shrug. She turns the page then jumps back, nearly dropping the book. I reach out to steady it. On the page, handwritten in black ink in neat letters is a name, James Edward Roy, III.

“Your great-grandfather,” she says, her voice trembling. “Your namesake.”

I nod. Below his name in the same handwriting I read, “17:1 Holy is He who took His servant by night from the sacred place of worship to the remote house of worship which We have blessed, so that We might show him some of Our signs. He hears all and sees all.” The word “He” is underlined three times. A few spaces below and to the side are more words written: 

The mind is a cave of wonders. Open ALL the doors! Don’t be afraid!!!

“Well,” my mother says. “I —I don’t know what to make of this. Your great-grandpa, he was a strange man. He died when I was but six or seven years old, and I remember him being strange. He had this thing he did…”

She stops and rocks a little, looking off into the distance.

“What, Mom? What did he do?”

“He was a peanut farmer out in Mississippi, where I grew up, out in Bay Springs. He used to work all day outside, and he’d come back at sunset all dusty. He had a little sink outside so he could wash up before he came inside. Sometimes I would be there waiting for him, hoping for some fresh peanuts.  When he washed, it was always the same thing. He’d wash his hands three times — I remember because I used to count. Then, he would wash his arms three times up to his elbows. Then, he’d take his hands and lay them on his forehead, and then bring his hands down to his chin, real slow. There was always something about how he did it, something methodical about it. Finally one day I asked him. I said, ‘Grandpa, why you do that like that? Wash yourself three times like that?’ And he stopped and he thought for a moment and said, ‘Well, I don’t know baby girl, I just do. It just feels right to do it like that.’”

As she talks, bumps begin to rise all over my skin. My whole body goes cold like it did during the night when I touched the stream of cold water.

“Where’s Grandpa?” I ask.

“Still sleeping,” my mother says. “He sleeps a lot these days. Can’t hardly get him up before noon.”

She looks troubled. I close the book and hold it in my palms. 

“I’d like to keep this, if that’s okay.”

My mother smiles.

“Yes, you do that. Hold on to this.”


This reflection is part of Sapelo’s Ramadan 2021 series. To read other reflections in the series click here.

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Photo of Ambata-Kazi-Nance

Ambata Kazi-Nance is a writer, teacher and mother born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. She currently resides in the California Bay Area with her family. She is the Arts and Culture Editor for Sapelo Square. A link to her writing can be found here.

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