Authentic stories about the lives of quintessential Maldivians across the Maldives, exclusively brought to readers by The Edition.
The light has just started to fade, heralding the tranquility of gathering dusk, when we stumble upon them on a nondescript road in Gan, Laamu Atoll; two lovely ladies, exchanging smiles and helping hands as they slowly walk together, each with the help of a walking cane.
“We’re both named Mariyam,” says the friendly ‘dhaththa’ donned in a hijab, introducing herself and her shy companion, who wears her silver tresses in a traditional updo.
“And we’re the best of friends.”
Smiles light up their kindly faces at the delighted reactions this statement evokes. The first lady, who we shall refer to as Mariyam, chuckles at our exclamations of “That’s the sweetest thing!”, while her best friend - let us refer to her as Mari for the sake of convenience - ducks her head, grinning bashfully.
They indulge our eager questions about their day, inviting us back to Mari’s modest coral stone house, just around the corner from where we met.
Seated side-by-side in the white-sand ‘goathi’ (curtilage) of Mari’s house, Mariyam tells us that we caught them just as they were walking back home after enjoying the sunset together at the harbour - an activity they treat themselves to everyday.
“We’ve been friends for around 50 years now,” she reveals, smiling at Mari who nods. “We’re not directly related but we do share some familial connections.”
She launches into a sweet narration of a friendship that has held strong for a half-century, describing the comfortable routines the two women enjoy.
“I wake up around 4:00 a.m., and after the dawn prayers, I go for a walk with her,” says Mariyam, painting a heartwarming picture of the two of them catching as many sunrises as they do sunsets, and the familiarity of two people who have never ceased supporting each other, spending time and making memories together.
Reflecting on the long, happy decades that they have known each other, Mariyam comments, “We do have some memories of playing together when we were children, right?”
Mari, as bashful as ever, nods with a smile, as Mariyam continues with a warm laugh, “I remember putting sand inside coconut husks and playing at cooking! We would play together and with other children, too.”
She does not narrate the specifics of their lives, the experiences and wisdom that befell them as grains of sand in the hourglass; but touches upon the manner in which they continue to value companionship and nurture their bond even after entering the twilight years of their lives.
As she speaks about long, meandering walks on peaceful mornings and evenings spent at the ‘holhuashi’, (cosy resting places by the harbour or beach that are typically a lively hub of gossip and conversation in the isles of Maldives), we recall a group of ladies we had run into earlier that same evening at a holhuashi. The women, hailing the new faces they spotted on their home island with an enthusiasm now extinct in the capital city, had invited us to join them for tea.
Mariyam grins at our recollection and comments that she and Mari often meet their other friends - whether it is the same people we ran into or not, we can never know - for a spot of tea, enlightening chatter and just some good vibes overall.
As they laugh together, it is not difficult at all to picture Mariyam and Mari at the holhuashi, surrounded by similarly warm, grinning faces as they sip steaming cups of tea, and compete in a few friendly rounds of cards in the golden gaze of a tropical sunset.
Dusk falls and presently, Mariyam and Mari excuse themselves to return to their respective homes and attend to their prayers before dinner. We bid them farewell and walk away beaming, still enchanted by their wholesome friendship. Theirs was a serendipitous run-in that gifted us with a brief yet wonderful insight into not only the serenity of island-life, but the joys of sisterhood and robust community bonds that still endure, in the shade of waving palm trees away from the bustling city.