Tonight I just felt like writing about my last summer in the UK, which was also my first summer as a wife and my first summer spent in Cambridge (as opposed to Canterbury, Kent). I was actually reminiscing (I hate this word because unlike my husband, I’m not at all a nostalgic person) the time when I discovered I was pregnant! My son is now 13 months old, and I suppose writing this down might be helpful in case I forget the story in a few years…
Before Summer 2014, I had, twice before, worked under the university’s housekeeping department as a casual cleaner. It’s such a simple, easy job, and gives us (my friends and I) a reason to stay in the UK rather than spend £500 on return flight tickets to Malaysia. This time however, I hunted and applied for cleaning jobs in Cambridge! My husband, a research student there at the time, did not have official, 3.5-month-long summer holidays like us undergraduates so it made sense for me to stay in Cambridge for the summer.
Alhamdulillah, I was interviewed for a job at Churchill College and got it. I must’ve been so proud of myself despite it being casual summer work and didn’t even pay very much — Kent Hospitality pays more per hour! . Luckily, there are more than a few cool things about working in a Cambridge college:
Everyone cycles in Cambridge. Some people don’t even have cars. The bus fares are also crazy expensive so we decided I had to learn how to cycle on the road (I knew how to cycle, technically, but not with all the road rules and cycle lanes and thisthat) so I can get to work by bicycle. I rented my bike for the whole three months and had a crash course — literally — a few days before work started. It was a 25-minute journey from where we lived to Churchill College. That sounds far, but many of my colleagues lived even further than that and are used to the journey. (I remember Chloe complained to me about her route not having anywhere for a toilet break!)
And the journey was very pleasant anyway, mashaAllah. My husband helped me figure out the safest/nicest route, one that went through a park by the river rather than having to cross the city centre. I have lovely memories of cycling in Cambridge. There were cows grazing, ducks and swans… The only bad part would be when it rains. Wearing spectacles in the rain is the worst!
The only hint of the beginning of my pregnancy was some digestion discomforts. I remember I had to call in sick one day from a stomachache that felt like wind but-not-quite. My doctor sister-in-law was the one who first brought up the possibility on WhatsApp. I was of course in denial. This was all despite the questions I kept getting from people at work. It would go something like:
*upon discovering that I was twenty-five years old unlike my much younger teammates*
What? I thought you were eighteen! And you’re MARRIED?
– Yes, I got married early this year.
So when are you going to have kids?
– Uh, some day. In the future.
Little did I, or they, know.
By the will of Allah, alhamdulillah, everything was fine with work and pregnancy, Ramadan, cycling, summer… I never told my employer or anyone at work with one exception. The only thing I was concerned about were the cleaning chemicals, but from my reading, the only thing you really need to avoid when pregnant is oven cleaner (and we weren’t allowed to use oven cleaners; the permanent staff handled those). In fact, I believe all the physical activity I did throughout my first trimester was good for me. One can only hope to be that active in our typical Malaysian lifestyle…
Anna was quite unlike the other permanent staff I came across. She is such a thinker. Always asking deep questions and genuinely sensitive towards the people she meets. Usually you do make small talk with your work partner for the day, it’s always fun asking about their life, but Anna is curious to another level.
One day, near the end of summer, I was getting antsy because I hadn’t prayed Zuhur yet. During the beginning and middle of summer, I could arrive home and still have time to pray Zuhur but not anymore since Asar time became earlier. Occasionally I prayed sitting down in one of the lounges at college. That afternoon, our rooms were done and we were just waiting for the hour to finish so I could clock out. I was considering clocking out earlier (hence “losing money” since I’m paid by the hour) so I told Anna I had to go home. She prodded for my reason and I let her know I had prayers to do.
“Can you do it here?”, she gestured around the clean room, which had a sink.
“Well yes, but…” I was undecided, although of course it was perfectly fine to take wudhu and pray there. There was even a clean towel I could use for a mat. I knew roughly the qibla from looking at the college map.
“I will wait outside,” she declared, and stepped out to wait on the staircase.
After performing wudhu and solat, I opened the door to let her in. I was very touched by her considerate actions even though I would’ve been fine with her staying inside too. We talked till I had to go home, and I showed her something on my phone.
“My baby,” I whispered and smiled.
And so Anna was the only work colleague who knew.
My writings always end so abruptly. I guess this post will be no different.