In the name of Allah, the Most Affectionate, the Most Merciful

5/9/15

Broken

They say when you break your parent's trust one time, you can never regain it again.  I desperately hope that that isn't true...and I feel that it isn't fair, either.  A person should be given another chance.  We all make mistakes.  We all deserve a second chance.

But how can I?

The silence is killing me.  It fills up the living room and swarms around me and up to my neck, choking me.  I wish someone would say something, anything.

I cannot meet my father's gaze.  He sits across from me, his head bent forward a little and he is rubbing his hands together like he does not know what to do with them.  Ammi is pacing around the room, placing the palm of her hand on her forehead as if she is hitting herself.  Humza has slept over at a cousin's house so even he can't break the silence.

I can't take it anymore so I get up from my seat. "I'm...really sorry."  My voice comes out cracked.   "Abba.  Ammi.  I mean it.  It's not what you think--"

"What you think?  What we think?" Ammi repeats.  "For Allah's sake, Iman.  You didn't think once about the fact that you are involving yourself with a boy?"

"I wasn't!" I quickly answer.  "I swear. I wasn't even--"

"Then what were you two doing there?"  She raises both her hands and squeezes here forehead.   "Ya Allah, the image just won't go away from my head.  My daughter.  My daughter, with a boy.  And that close together."

My cheeks flare up with heat at the sound of her words.

"Our dignity,"  Abba finally speaks.  He doesn't yell but instead talks in a low subdued tone.  "What we worked so hard to achieve.  All gone in an instant."

"No, Abba,"  I beg him.  "Please don't say that." 


"I never thought that the same boy who helped me out that wintery day...the same boy who I allowed to stay overnight at my house would be the same boy to be so indecent to go after my daughter."

That day seemed so long ago, when I barely knew Tariq.  I suddenly feel so old, like my body has aged. 

"And what a terrible mistake that was," Ammi says.  "We should never have let him into our house."

Hearing my parents talk about Tariq like that makes me uneasy...I still have feelings for him and I have a strange sense of urgency to speak up and defend him.  But thank God, I have a little ounce of good judgment left in me so I don't make that mistake.

Abba shakes his head.  "It's not entirely his fault either.  You cannot clap with one hand.  Two hands have to come together to make that happen."


My mind flashes back to the incident, only several hours earlier.  The moment when Abba and Ammi caught me red-handed with Tariq.  The chance of them walking together like that and passing by us in one of the most secluded areas of the banquet hall was so minimal.  And yet, it happened.

We all seemed to freeze at that moment.  My heart threatened to leap out, my head spinning because I couldn't comprehend what was happening and that is was actually real, and not a terrifying nightmare.  Tariq, so confident and collected, suddenly stepping as far away as he could from me, awkwardly meeting my parent's gaze until Ammi grabbed my wrist and pulled me away.

I wasn't sure what Abba said to Tariq. I could only focus on Ammi's words as we walked away--"Don't say a single word and walk beside me like nothing happened."  She spoke through her teeth, smiling only seconds later at a woman who greeted us in passing.

I knew her biggest fear.  About what people would say.  "They're always looking for a chance, Iman.  Something juicy to talk about.  Don't give them a chance," she would tell me.  And then I would roll my eyes at her and say, "Seriously Ammi, how many times do you have to tell me that?"

We had walked back into the banquet room and those two remaining hours of the wedding felt like an eternity.  Pretending to laugh, to be happy, to be so innocent among all the guests when my mind and heart were shaking with fear, shame, and anxiety.

And Ameera Auntie, who must have know because she had immediately come up to me.  "Iman, are you alright?  You look like you're looking for someone?"

She was such a good observer.  No matter how much I tried to stop myself, my eyes searched for Tariq.  What had Abba told him?  Had he interrogated him, reprimanded him?

"No, I'm just looking around to see that all the guests are fine." I had replied to her, hearing my voice tremble slightly and praying that she couldn't tell.

"What a splendid necklace, Ameera."  Ammi had smoothly changed the subject of the conversation, touching the gold pendant lying on Ameera Auntie's neck.  "I keep forgetting to ask where you bought it."

"Oh I didn't buy it. It was a Mother's day gift..."  And the conversation had continued with Ammi rescuing me once again. 

But there is no guarantee.  There were guests, many guests in that banquet hall.  Anyone could have seen Tariq and I together, or the way Ammi had pulled me away.  And if one person knew, it was only a matter of days before the tale spread like wildfire.


Tears spring from my eyes as I pull myself back to the present moment.  I don't realize how wet my cheeks are until I wipe them.  My parents' painful words are like repetitive stabs piercing my heart.  "I'm-sorry--I-didn't-meant-to-I-swear," I say, my voice stuttering in between crying. 

"Why didn't you come to me?" Ammi asks.  "I asked you directly Iman about being with a boy after what your Khala had told me and you still lied to me."

Because you wouldn't have understood, I silently answer her.  She wouldn't have understood my feelings, how hard it was for me.

I shake my head.  "You don't understand, Ammi.  I was telling him just that...that I wasn't that kind of girl that talked to boys and..."  I skip the part about how much had already happened between me and Tariq, praying desperately that it wouldn't come up.

"And you were telling him like that?  That close to him, like you were--?"

"Bas. Bohat ho gayiah."  Abba interrupts her in Urdu, raising his hand.  "Stop. It's enough."

I squeeze my eyes shut wishing I could reverse time so that this situation would never have occurred, this conversation would never have taken place. 

"We'll discuss this tomorrow. It's too late and I have a headache," Abba says.

"I'll get you some Tylenol."  There has to be a way to make this right...anything, even something as small as giving medicine.  But as I start to walk over to the medicine cabinet, Ammi stops me.

Her eyes look so tired and sad.  "Your father's headache isn't the kind to heal with medicine, Iman."

My heart drops.  Hadn't I thought the same just days before when she had told me to get some rest because she thought I wasn't feeling well?  The illness that had come to possess me, which no medicine or amount of rest could cure.  And then the image of my parents blurs once again as my eyes fill with tears and I rush to my bedroom.




I cannot remember the last time I prayed...like actually prayed.  I don't always pray all the five daily required prayers..sometimes I forget, sometimes it's too hard to wake up for Fajr or to find energy to pray Isha after staying up so late.   When finals comes around, it's much easier to pray because I'm so desperate for good grades.  But even with exams a couple weeks ago, I didn't feel the same motivation.  Every time I tried to pray, I felt too ashamed...like I was cheating with Allah..asking Him to help me when I was directly disobeying Him.  I didn't like feeling that way...so I stopped praying.

Until today, of course.  With Farah's encouragement to forget Tariq, I had finally mustered enough courage to stand before Allah, placing my green-colored prayer mat and picking out my favorite hijab at Fajr time.  Before the chaos of the wedding would hit later that day, I had poured out my heart to Allah in the quiet of the early morning before dawn.  I had desperately asked him to help me forget Tariq...only for His sake.  And I was so close...so close to making it all end before anyone found out.

It's 1:00am and only one question keeps repeating itself in my head. Why Allah?  I ask, sitting on the floor of my bedroom against the wall.  Why did this have to happen to me?  You know I was trying to make things right, and yet You still let this happen?

Anger courses through my blood.  Life is so cruel.  I think of people who do everything they want, have everything they desire, and no problem seems to come their way. And here I was, seeking nothing when Tariq came into my life...making everything even more beautiful than I could ever have imagined, only to have my world turned upside down. What had I done to deserve this?

My head is throbbing and my eyes feel hot and heavy.  I wonder if I should call Farah and tell her.  She's the only one that can bring me some comfort.  And then with another bout of pain, I realize I can't make any phone calls.  My cell phone is gone.  Again, I should consider it a blessing that I happened to delete every memory of Tariq from my cell phone just earlier that day.  If it wasn't already bad as it was what my parents saw today, it would have only escalated if they had read the messages we had shared.

And then fear grips me...what if Tariq continues to send messages on the phone?  I hope he has enough sense not to do that.

My body is aching for sleep but there is no way I'll be able to sleep well tonight.  I drag myself to the bathroom and splash cold water onto my face.  My eyes are bloodshot and I look nothing like the beautiful girl I thought I once was.  I feel horrendous, disgusted with myself.  Only Allah knows who is behind that seemingly religious girl in the mirror, her heart darkened with selfish sins of lust and desire.

I grab a dull gray colored hijab from my drawer and lay out my green-colored prayer mat.  I don't have to push myself to pray that night...it comes naturally despite the fatigue.

I don't know how long I remain in sujood.  I lie there in prostration--crying, whispering, praying to the only One who knows what I am going through and the only One that can make things right again. Only Allah can help me to make my parents not upset with me anymore, to regain their trust and love for me.  Only He can help me forget him, once and forever.

And then I finally fall asleep on the floor, exhausted, with tears falling down my cheeks and onto the prayer mat.





12/23/14

Trapped

Humza squeezes the bottle of honey until the entire pancake is slathered in it.  And then he licks his fingers, enjoying the disgusting look I throw at him.  Boys can be so gross.

"What am I supposed to do?" he says.  "Ammi won't let me use the real syrup."

"You mean the fake high fructose corn syrup.  You should be thanking me we're using organic honey," Ammi says as she slips a pancake from the frying pan and into my plate.

"Oh no," I say, moving back and pushing the plate away.  "I don't want to eat it."

"I'll have it."  Humza takes it before Ammi can respond.

"You barely ate Iman.  Are you feeling okay?"  Ammi looks at me concerned and I avoid looking at her.  I cannot bring myself to meet her eyes after what I heard her saying yesterday.

"I'm...just a little nauseous."  More like really nauseous.  I couldn't sleep the whole night, wrapped up in dreams of Tariq and I together with Ammi and Ameera Auntie barging in on us.  I was already awake when it was time for the Fajr prayer before dawn, only to find myself too exhausted to walk to the bathroom and do wuduh.

Actually, I can't remember the last time I prayed.  Was it right before midterm exams?  I found it much easier to pray around then...desperately asking Allah that I would get good grades, straight A's. But that hardly seems to matter anymore.

I get up from the dining table and pick up the dishes to wash in the kitchen.

"You're volunteering to do the dishes?"  Ammi asks.

"Don't look so shocked," I reply.  "It's not like this is the first time."

"Tue."  From the corner of my eye, I can see Ammi cross her arms over her chest, leaning against the kitchen counter.  "But, it's usually because you're trying to make up for something you did to upset me."

My cheeks burn. I look up from the cup I'm washing and gaze outside the window.  "Not always," I protest.  "Maybe I'm just trying to get some good deeds."  It sounds so hypocritical coming from my mouth, but I don't know what else to say.

I feel a hand on my right shoulder.  "Is everything okay Iman?"  I turn my head and look into my mother's eyes.  If only she knew how wrong everything was, how far away I was from being okay.

I hesitate in answering her.  A part of me wants me to pour everything out.  Tell her I'm so desperately in love with Tariq and that I can't stop myself.  But I know she wouldn't understand.  Instead, she would only have anger, a burning anger for betraying the trust she gave me so lovingly and freely.

I shrug away the feeling and turn towards the dishes again.  "I just had a rough day yesterday, Ammi.  And I don't feel too great."

"Do you have a fever?"  She places the back of her hand over my forehead.  "No, you're not warm. But go get some rest."  She reaches over to turn off the faucet and gives me a kitchen towel to dry my hands.  "And try to get some homework done too.  It's gonna be a busy weekend with Mariyam's wedding.  Your Abba has been gone since morning to help with the last minute planning."

My heart drops.  The guilt is only exacerbated when Ammi says this to me.  If only she knew that rest wouldn't cure me of the illness that has come to possess me.  If only it was that easy.




I see two text messages from Tariq later that day, but I can't muster the courage to respond.  Everytime I think of him, I remember Ammi's words and I feel ashamed.  When I see a third message arrive on my phone, I assume it's Tariq again.  But instead it shows one from Farah.

Hey Iman. Just wanted to see how you were doing. Miss you. :/

My shoulders droop and I bury my face into my pillow.  How does she have the heart to reach out to me after all the nasty things I had said to her?

Hey you.  I miss you too.  Can we talk?

My fingers hesitate before I press the send button.  It should not surprise me.  Knowing Farah, it is what she does best.  And if anyone can help me out of this mess, it would be her.




There is too much green everywhere and it's bothering me.  Mariyam's mehndi ceremony is already underway, and unfortunately for her, she couldn't have the event separated as she had wished.  She looks slightly uncomfortable, sitting on the stage with her dupatta pulled forward as much as possible to conceal her hair.  It was a good attempt at hijab, but it wasn't covering everything as usual.

She meets my eyes from far away and motions me to sit by her.  As I walk over, I take a deep breath.  We haven't touched the boy subject since that day at her house. It's what I appreciate most about Mariyam--that she doesn't force it out of me.  And although I had contemplated about discussing it, I didn't want to bother with her wedding so soon.  At least I would have Farah to talk to the next day.

I sit next to Mariyam.  "You look beautiful!" I squeeze her hand as she smiles.  "How are you feeling?"

"To be honest, kind of nervous.  I've been planning and waiting so long."  She sighs and I can see the emotions in her eyes.  "And it's almost here.  The nikah will be tomorrow already."

"I bet Umair bhai is losing his patience too," I tease.

"Oh what does he have to stress about?  He just has to get dressed as a groom and arrive.  Not like us brides."

"That's true.  But poor guy had to wait a long time and get through our family to finally have permission to marry you.  I probably would have given up."

Mariyam laughs and the twinkle in her eyes makes my heart ache for Tariq.  Mariyam, who was so pure, always so modest and free of any indecency.  I realize both my admiration and envy for her in that moment.  She was someone I could never be.



The outfit I'm wearing at Maryiam's nikah seems a little too fancy, now that Farah is at my side.  I peer into the mirror, scrutinizing her face as she looks on.  Farah has this way of making me feel bad about myself without her even trying to.

"It's too fancy, isn't it?" I read her mind.

She shakes her head.  "It's your cousin's wedding, Iman.  Of course it should be fancy."

I turn around to face her.  "But the wedding isn't separated."

She tilts her head and gives me a are-you-kidding-me kind of look.  "Iman, I think we have a more serious problem to deal with right now than that."

The Shalwar Kameez suddenly feels like it is weighing me down.  I had asked Farah to come over to help me get dressed for the wedding, but that was only an excuse for me to talk to her.  She hadn't asked about what because she already knew.

Behind closed doors and with Ammi getting ready at Mariyam's house, I was safe in my bedroom to talk to Farah.

"You already know the answer Iman," she states emphatically before I can even speak.  "You're trying to convince yourself of another way out of this...a way to please yourself and do what you want without feeling guilty about it."

"Well, there you have it."  I sigh.  Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to do my makeup before having this discussion.

Farah places both her hands on my shoulders and presses gently.  "I know you Iman.  I know what you were like before this whole boy craze.  You just got a little distracted, that's all. But you can put it behind you."

I pull away from her.  "It's not that simple.  You don't know how I feel about him."

"I know."

I grab her hand.  "What about you Farah? Haven't you ever had a crush on someone?  Dream about being with a guy?"

Farah smiles and then looks down towards her lap  "Of course I have."

"See, I knew it! Then you know how it feels." I look at her eagerly to tell me more.

"Like you, I never felt content...always guilty.  It's all Shaytan, Iman. This isn't what love is supposed to be like.  You're not supposed to be obsessed and lovesick."

I shake my head stubbornly.  "Allah put those feelings in me.  It's not like I went out of my way to like him.  It just happened."

"You're right.  It's not your fault you have those feelings.  But you did have a choice Iman.  And by choosing Tariq instead of Allah, the mess you're now in is your fault.  I'm sorry to say, but it's the bitter truth."

I bite my lip to prevent the tears from falling.  "I don't want to lose him."

"It's all a test, Iman.  You can't see past Tariq but you have to.  You have to think about your parents, about Allah.  They've been there for you your entire life.  Tariq just came into your life recently."

"What if...?"  My eyes wander to Mariyam's wedding invitation lying on my dresser.  Farah follows my gaze.

"You...you want to marry him?"  She asks the question that I don't have the courage to say aloud.  "Iman, that's a really big decision."

"Isn't that the only way I don't have to choose?"  I ask, suddenly feeling like there is light breaking through the clouds.

Farah isn't buying it.  "Iman, you're judgement is being clouded by your emotions.  You can't make a decision like that. You have no idea what he's really like, his family--"

"But, we can figure all that out.  It's not like--"

"And what if he says no?" she interrupts.  "Or his family?  Or your family?"

I think about Mariyam's battle.  She had won, hadn't she?

"Iman, you have your whole life ahead of you.  Please, trust me on this one," Farah implores.  "You will get married one day, but now is the not the time."

"And what if he ends up marrying someone else?" The idea is like a sharp stab in my heart.

"Which is exactly why you need to end this relationship.  You're after someone's future husband Iman.  And he is with someone's future wife."

I can't stop the tears from falling now.  Life seems too cruel and too unfair.

"Here," she says, taking my phone from the dresser.  "The first step is to delete his number."

"No!" I shout, grabbing my cell from her. She looks startled.  "Farah, I can't."

"Then the first step is to believe in yourself.  To make yourself realize you're a lot stronger than you think you are," she says softly.  "Until then, I'm here for you when you need me."




The moment when a woman says yes in the nikah, she is considered to have given consent to her wali or gaurdian to marry.  Mariyam's father comes in the bridal suite, asking her permission to marry Umair.  She looks down and nods her head confidently.  I hear her voice ringing softly but beautifully, a touch of sadness in her tone because she knows that after this day, she will leave her family.

It's supposed to be a very emotional moment and sure enough, even I find myself crying.  Some tears are full of joy, others are out of confusion, frustration, and sorrow.  We  all embrace the bride and one another and I find myself in the arms of my mother.  She has tears in her eyes.  "There will be a day when you'll be married and gone too," she says sadly.

I try to swallow the barrage of emotions running through me and force a smile on my face.  "Don't worry mom.  I'm not going to be that easy to get rid of."  My voice trembles as the image of Tariq flashes in my head.

Abbu pokes his head in the bridal room.  "Now, if you're all done with the crying, we have a wedding to celebrate and a dinner to eat."

"Always wanting to pig out." Ammi gives a scolding look at Abbu.

He opens his mouth to protest, but before he can, we hear a commotion outside.

"$100 and it's done!"

"Seriously?  You're that cheap?  We're not taking anything less than $500"

It sounds like a twisted auction sale but it's actually the price the groom's family has to pay in order to get his wedding shoes back--the ones that the bride's family stole.  I find myself laughing with the others, until I see someone looking at me intently.  From the expression on her face, she's not enjoying the occasion like the rest of us.  The only thing that brings happiness to Ameera Auntie is seeing someone's conflict, a juicy topic of gossip to indulge in.

And somehow, I have a strange scary feeling she can see right through me with her steely eyes, straight to my heart.




After dinner is served, I make an excuse to use the bathroom.  Behind the green door of the bathroom stall, I pull out my cell phone from my purse.  With my thumb in mid-air, just an inch away from the "delete contact" button, I think back to the moment when I first noticed Tariq at the grocery store.  I had never thought of him that way then.  Just a Muslim guy in my class, someone I didn't even know or care about.

Pressing the button would erase all the messages, all those conversations I hold so dearly.  But I wonder how long it will take me to erase them from my memory.  I'm not sure how long I cry in that bathroom stall, amidst women and girls drifting in and out of the bathroom, expressing concern about how they look, taking pictures, gossiping about old friends and foes.

You're a lot stronger than you think you are.

With Farah's voice in my head, I muster the courage to step out of the stall.  Without looking in the mirror, I wet a napkin to gently wipe my eye make-up for the second time that day.  As hard as it was to delete his number and messages, it would take even more strength to confront him about it.

As I walk out of the bathroom and into the hallway leading to the banquet room, I somehow feel exposed.  Carrying a secret is too heavy and a part of me is relieved that this secret will be buried away really soon.  I try not to look at some of the couples hanging out in the hallway, heads close together, perhaps whispering words of love.  I don't recognize them.  There must be another party in one of the other banquet halls--my family isn't that liberal.

Suddenly, I feel a hand on my shoulder.  It's not unusual for me to run into someone I know at a big wedding like this.  I often welcome it. But today, I'm just not in the mood.

I turn around, expecting to see an old friend.  But to both my astonishment and dread, I find myself face to face with a familiar pair of warm twinkling eyes.

"Tariq," I stammer, almost tripping as I take a step back.  "What are you doing here?"

This can't be happening.  I had just taken the difficult step to delete him from my life only for him to reappear in a matter of minutes.

"I can ask you the same question," he says, giving me that all-too-familiar smile I had come to be so fond of.  He crosses his arms over his chest and I take in his tall muscular frame.  He has a crisp navy dress shirt on, his dark hair neatly combed and gelled unlike his usual messy pile of hair.  "But, I already know why.  It's your cousin's wedding, which is not an excuse to ignore my messages."

He takes a step towards me.  "Lucky for me, I happen to be at the party next door."

I can't comprehend what he's saying.  The fact that he's in front of me, looking so good, his cologne filling my nose, only steps away--it's too much for me to handle.  I look around, my heart pounding as I suddenly realize we aren't within the safe brick walls of the school building or in his car.  We're at a Muslim wedding with my entire family, including Ameera Auntie and my parents...anyone could see us.

"I--I can't talk here." I say quickly and am about to turn away when I feel him grab my wrist.  I pull away from him, both out of anger and fear.  "What the hell are you doing?" I hiss.

The smile on his face is gone and I can see the hurt in his face.  "I'm sorry," he says and takes a step back. "I just wanted to talk."

My heart yearns for him.  "Oh, Tariq."  I bite my lip, trying not to cry again.  "Come here."  I motion him to a more secluded area where we will be temporarily safe from anyone's view.

"Look, Tariq."  This is the last place I expected to reveal my intention to Tariq about separating from him.  But it would have to be done.  "I--I can't do this anymore."

"Do what?" His eyebrows furrow together in confusion.

I can't look at him when I say it.  "You're such a great person Tariq.  I don't want anything more than to be with you."

"Okay, you're being too poetic for me again.  What's gotten into you, Iman?"

I shake my head.  He doesn't understand the hint.  "I can't live this lie.  I don't want to be constantly feeling guilty about being with you."

"Seriously?  This is what it's about?" He takes a step closer.

"Stop," I command him, placing my hand to push him away.  "You need to understand."

"I can't understand.  I don't know why you're always so scared."

"What's so difficult to understand Tariq?" I demand.  "You're Muslim, for God's sake, not some random guy who doesn't understand our religion or culture."  How can he be so oblivious?

"I know your family is a lot more conservative than mine."  He glances away and then continues.  "...but, I'm not going to...you know, hurt you. I have a lot of respect for you."

It takes me several seconds to realize what he is saying.  His words melt me and make it even harder for me to push him away.

"Oh, Tariq." I shake my head. "That's not what I meant."

He takes my hand again and this time I don't let go.  The warmth of his skin spreads all across me.  "Then stop worrying so much."

I open my mouth to protest but it's so much easier to close my eyes and do as he says.  When I open them again, he's much closer...dangerously close.  I can't breath because I feel suffocated.  I can see his eyelashes, the coarse hair on his chin.  Our hands become entwined.  My heart races and I forget everything.  I forget where I am, only that I'm with him.

Maybe I should consider it a blessing that I hear the voices before I see them.  Because hearing them gives me those three precious seconds to break away from his embrace.  But it's not enough time to run away.

Tariq's hands are still touching mine just as I turn around to face them.  I already know who it is, but I still have this strange sense of hope, a leap of faith that perhaps I'm mistaken.

I have enough shame to not look into my father's eyes.  But my eyes lock onto my mother's like a magnet.

I shake my head before the words come out.  "Ammi," I say in desperation.  "Ammi, it's not what you think."

But already I can see the color being drained away from her face, the beautiful softness in her face morphing into a look of shock for a brief moment and then, into a harsh coldness.

It is too late.


3/3/13

Deception

Do you ever try really hard to avoid someone at a certain time only for them to end up right up in your face?

Well, that's how I feel right now, just when I'm about to leave for school.  I heard the loud roar of Ammi's '99 Toyota that Abu refuses to sell and I even saw it leave the driveway this morning.  So why is that when I am just steps away from the door, I hear Ammi calling my name in that stern voice, her eyes boring through the fabric of my somewhat see-through hijab and right into the back of my skull?

I become completely still.  Three seconds. In three seconds, I would have been out the door and she wouldn't have seen me.  But why did I take the risk, knowing Ammi?  I mentally berate myself and silently pray that she lets me go.  I don't want to turn around because then she will notice the rest of me, and her anger will only elevate.

"Turn around."  It is a command, not a request.

I close my eyes and rub my cheek quickly, hoping she doesn't notice the blush.  And I then face her, looking directly at her so she doesn't think I am keeping any secrets.  The look on her face says it all though.

"What kind of clothes are you wearing?" Ammi steps towards me, eying the gray colored leggings snugging my legs, the glittering aqua blue top ending mid-thigh.  "Where did you get all this?"

I try not to roll my eyes.  "It's the fashion, Ammi."  I wish she would just leave me alone and not treat me like a five year-old.

"And this hijab?  It's like you don't even have it on."

Now, that's a lie.  I do have a scarf on...sure, I don't have it secured tight around my head like I usually do, but I look so much better with my bangs showing!

"Ammi, I was in a hurry that's why!" I whine.  "I was going to fix it while I was walking out."

"And this make-up?  Since when did you start wearing all of this?"

"Can we discuss this when I come home from school?" I ask impatiently.

But Ammi is too stubborn.  "I will not let you leave the house like this. Change. Right now."

My face falls and my shoulders droop.  "Ammi, I'm running late for a meeting we have before school!"  It wasn't a complete lie.  I did promise to meet someone before Homeroom.

"What meeting?" she asks, a hand on her hip. 

My mind races to think of an answer.  "It's for my English project.  It's a group meeting."  Please let me go, I think desperately.

Hesitation flickers in her eyes for an instant but it quickly disappears.  "I'm sure your group won't be upset if you're a minute late.  Wait here."


I sigh. One minute seems like an hour, but I'm even more disappointed when Ammi returns with my navy colored track pants in one hand and a gray sweatshirt in the other. 

"Change into these, for Allah's sake.  Those leggings look hideous, like you've painted on your legs."

I can't believe this is happening.  It took a lot of time and money to put this outfit together, and there is no way I am going to go out with Tariq in a sweatshirt and track pants.

But arguing with Ammi isn't going to solve the problem either.  "Okay," I manage to say as I take off my backpack and wear the pants over my leggings and pull the hoodie over my head. 

Ammi seems pleased, but she is a mind-reader after all.  "Don't you dare take those off when you get to school."

"Allah-Hafiz," I say a little too loudly and rush out of the house.  Thank the Lord I am brown and the warmth that is spreading on my cheeks out of both embarrassment and anger is not noticeable.

-----

Anum is talking to a guy again, which comes as no surprise.  This one, however, seems unfamiliar.  Instead of stopping to greet her, I walk past her and look for Tariq.  Fortunately, he is in the vicinity, right where Anum can see us together.

"Hey," I say, trying to calm my nerves.  Being upset with him for only a day makes it seem we haven't talked in months.  I feel like throwing my arms around him.

His eyes take in my outfit (the track pants and sweatshirt are buried deep in my backpack, thank God) and then meet my gaze.  "You're looking great," he whispers, leaning his head towards mine.  God, I love it when he says things like that.

I cross my arms across my chest and feign an angry expression.

"Seriously?  What now?" Tariq says in disbelief.

"I haven't forgiven you yet," I try to say without smiling.

He places his hands in the pockets of his denim jeans and then shakes his head.  "Then I guess we'll have to cancel our date."

Date.  The word makes me all jittery.

I try to think of something smart to say, but I can't.  "Well...what was the plan anyway?"

"Oh so you are interested?" he says, raising his eyebrows.

I shove him in the elbow but I try to be careful not to make it too discrete.  Already people are beginning to notice that Tariq and I are together and it comes as a surprise to many of my classmates, considering I'm not one to hang out with boys too much.

The bell interrupts our conversation, signaling that there are three minutes until Homeroom.  I want to keep talking to Tariq instead of going to class, but the world does not function on my wishes alone.  

Out of the corner  of my eye, I notice Anum walking towards us.  She has a wide smile on her face as her eyes move from mine to Tariq.  She doesn't stand next to me, though.  Instead, she stands close to Tariq, leaving a small distance between them.

"Hey guys," she says cheerfully.  "Iman, you look very dressed up."
 
Envy fills me up, shaking me with anger.  And then determination overpowers me.  I am not going to accept failure at any cost. I move closer to Tariq so that our shoulders are touching.  I need Anum to know that Tariq isn't going to be hers, that she can't claim every decent guy that walks the face of this earth.


Tariq must sense my feelings because the next thing he does is put one of his arms around my shoulder, bringing me a little closer to him.  I am frozen for a second, terrified actually that someone will see.  But then I remind myself that I am standing in the hallway of my preppy high school...no one will tattle tale me to Ammi or Abu.  So I take a deep breath and smile at Anum.

"Yes, it's a...special day," I reply, looking at Tariq instead.  I can smell his after shave and it's making me kind of dizzy.

Anum doesn't say anything and then an awkward silence follows.

"Well, I hope you guys enjoy your...date," she says, giving me a wink. There's an omniscient feeling now that Anum has wished us, almost as if she has cast a dark spell on us.

"Meet me by my locker at noon,"  Tariq says before we head our separate ways.

"Can't wait."  And I mean every word of it.
-----

I can't focus in class.  I keep daydreaming.  After first period, I see Laila in the hallway and she is dying to hear about our plan.  "So, where is he taking you?" she asks excitedly.

"It's a surprise," I say, gloating inside.  "But most likely taking me out for lunch and then somewhere else after that."

"You're cutting class?"

"Yeah, can you believe it?"

"Oh my God, look at you.  Miss beautiful, going on a first date."

First date.  At first, the sound of it excites me, but then I almost feel embarrassed.  Who has their first date when they are 17?  That sounds awful.

"You did the right thing to Anum though.  She needs to know she can't have every boy."

"Mmhmm," I answer.

Farah joins us and we drop the topic.  She give me a small smile but doesn't say anything.  I know what she's thinking--that I am a terrible Muslim girl, betraying my parents' trust, boy-crazy, blah blah blah.

But I could be doing a lot worse.  There are a lot of Muslims out there who are only Muslim by name...you couldn't even tell.  At least I wasn't like that.

-----


Around noon, I'm about to walk towards Tariq's locker but then I stop short.  There are three Muslim guys gathered around him.  I have become comfortable being around Tariq, but I'm still not used to being in the company of other guys, especially Muslim.

I don't want to be seen by them so I turn around and walk to another hallway.

When I look at my phone, my face falls.

Hey the guys wanna go out to eat.  Lets meet during English instead?

Tears build up in my eyes and I hate myself for being so emotional.  All night and day I was dreaming of this so-called date.  And now, Tariq had ruined it.   

I try to think of what I can do in the meantime.  I am not going to go to the cafeteria where Anum and the rest of them can see me.  I don't have a car where I can hide either.

Eventually, I find myself in the girls' bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror and wondering why on earth I dressed up so much.  It is a normal looking outfit that many other girls would wear to school, but not for me.  I don't dress this way and that is saying a lot.  What was I thinking?  Or rather, what was I trying to accomplish?  Impress Tariq, pretend he was Prince Charming or some idealistic character from a movie or storybook?  How stupid could I be?

My phone rings again and a small shred of hope tells me Tariq has changed his mind.

You're not upset are you?

I bite my lip so hard it starts to bleed.  Are guys really that oblivious or is it just Tariq?  I never imagined anyone could lack so much common sense. 

Stubbornness isn't something that comes naturally to me, but today I refuse to reply to Tariq.  Only when things were starting to get better between us did he have to go ahead and make it more complicated.  If he is serious about me, he would have to prove it.  I turn my phone to silent mode and head to the vending machine to grab a chocolate bar.

Twenty minutes before English class is about to start, I walk out of the school building.  If I waited too long, the security guards would suspect I'm cutting class and then I wouldn't be able to leave.  I head to the ice cream store where Tariq had treated me to my favorite sundae a week ago.  I'm hoping Anum isn't in the crowd when I step inside.

My phone shows three more text messages when I sit down with a mint chocolate chip scoop.

Iman, please reply.
I'm coming in ten minutes to get you.  Where are you?
You there? 

Maybe I am being too childish.  So what if he wanted to have lunch with his friends?  But then again, he promised me lunch and here I am, eating ice cream alone, attempting to appease both my hunger and anger.  There's no way I would forgive him that easily.

The ice cream shop starts to thin out and I notice Amy sitting with a boy at a seat near the window.  She waves and I smile at her.  I try not to think of the way the boy is holding her hand under the table.  And because I can't bear to be around any more couples who are staring into each others eyes or flirtatiously giggling and kissing each other, I walk out with my ice cream unfinished and drop my head to my chin, staring at the cracks in the sidewalk that blur with the tears swimming in my eyes.

I should not have fallen victim to this; I know better.  I am better than this.  But why...why is it so difficult to let go?

My thoughts are interrupted when a car swerves suddenly to the side of the road where I am walking and honks.  I quickly wipe away my tears just as Tariq rolls down his window.

"Iman, I've been calling you.  Why aren't you picking up?"

I look away and continue walking, but he doesn't give up.  He gets out of the car and stands in my way. I avoid his gaze.

"Look, I'm sorry.  I know I shouldn't have--"

"Then, why did you?" I ask angrily.

He sighs.  "They kept insisting.  I couldn't say no."

"Well, it's good to know where your priorities lie."

"It's not what you think."

"I don't know what to think, Tariq.  I'm just tired."  When I make a move to walk away from him, he grabs both my shoulders gently and leans forward.

"Look at me." 

I roll my eyes and hate that there are tears building up again.

"I'm serious, Iman.  I really like you and I don't want to lose you."

Am I really hearing those words or is my brain making them up?  How long had I dreamed of the day when a boy would say that to me?  It's as if those words wrap around me like a warm blanket and soothe me.

I look into his eyes and realize how intimate it can be to just to have somebody hold your gaze so intently.   

"Do you believe me?" he whispers. 

All I can do is nod, because even if Tariq is making it up, I want to believe it really bad. 
 
And then before I realize it, we are touching.  I can't breath; I can't think.  I simply shut my eyes and keep my hands from shaking as Tariq wraps his arms around me and embraces me.  I've hugged perhaps a thousand people in my life--my family, friends, strangers at weddings and funerals and parties.  And Tariq and I had hugged once before in the school parking lot.  But this is different.  Before, things were uncertain...we were uncertain.  This time, we are much closer and the desire that engulfs me is overwhelming.  I never want to let go of him.

I don't know how long we stand there together, oblivious to the cars passing by, the wind whipping around us.  But time stops for no one and soon enough, we have to break apart.

He smiles at me, softly brushing away the bangs that are peeking from my hijab.  "Let's get you something to eat before you faint," he says, leading me to his car.

----

It's nearing 3:30 in the afternoon and I'm getting nervous.  Tariq had taken me to a nice Italian restaurant and it shocked me that he was still able to eat despite having had lunch with his friends.  Two hours had flown by so quickly...I didn't realize school had already been dismissed by the time we left the restaurant.

"Do they call home when you cut class?" I ask Tariq in his car.

"Why, you're worried?"

"I don't like lying to my parents." I find myself chewing my fingers and then stop myself.

"You don't have to," he says, pushing on the gas pedal to run the yellow light.

"You want me to tell my mom I was out with a guy?" Tariq can just be unbelievable sometimes.  "She's gonna freak out."

"Tell her you were out with a friend and lost track of time."

"That's still a lie."  I think of this morning and how Ammi reacted to my outfit.  "What about you?  Don't your parents mind?"

"Mind what?"

"Cutting class, coming home late, going out...with a girl?"

"My parents aren't really bossy.  As long as I get good grades and I'm not drunk or get into any kind of trouble, they're fine."

I lean back in the passenger seat.  "That's nice."  Abu is usually not too nosy, but I wish Ammi wouldn't be so bossy.  Then again, she isn't that bossy with Humza as she is with me.  Why is the Y chromosome so lucky?

When Tariq reaches the street before my house, I tell him to stop.

"It's not very gentleman-like of me to drop you off a block away from your house, you know."

"And mind you, it's not very lady-like of me to be seen with a guy in a car."

He chuckles as I open the door to leave.  "Hey," he says, grabbing my wrist before I walk out.  "I had a good time today."

I smile.  "Me too." 


The smile doesn't fade as I reach my house, where I see an unfamiliar pair of shoes sitting on the doormat next to the shoe stand.  It can only mean one thing--we have a guest over.

I sigh.  There is nothing more that I want right now than to go upstairs and lock myself in my bedroom.  I want to relive the moments I had with Tariq today, hang on to this memory and not let it fade.

But I have to pass by the living room in order to go to my room.  And then I suddenly remember that I haven't put on my track pants or sweatshirt.  If Ammi sees me like this, especially in front of a guest, she's going to marry me to a F.O.B for good.

I can't take the risk of someone seeing me from the window so I quietly walk to the side of the house and hide between two bushes.  Then, I rummage through my backpack and try to crease out the wrinkles.  I put on the pants and sweatshirt and then tightly wrap my hijab around my head so that my bangs don't show.  I don't have a mirror to check, but at least I'm in a better position now than before. 

When I get back into the house and step into the living room, I see that it is Ameera auntie. Thank God I changed or else I would have been in deep trouble. I have no idea what Ameera auntie is doing at our house, but one thing I do know is that Ammi and her don't get along very well.

Regardless, I walk towards her confidently and shake her hand.  "Assalaamu Alikaum, Khala."  She's not my aunt, thank God, but I still have to address her that way.

She takes a good look at me, as if evaluating every piece of me and then replies to my salaam.  I let go of her hand and her prying eyes and then quickly leave, letting Ammi know that I'll help set up for dinner as soon as I change and pray.

But as I am about to walk up the stairs, their conversation piques my interest.

"Don't you worry about your daughter?"  Ameera auntie asks my mom.

"Worry?" Ammi repeats.  "Which mother doesn't?"

"The conditions of this age can be very destructive."  I lean quietly against the wall, out of sight.

"Mmm.  But, I trust Iman," Ammi says confidently.

The words burn me.  I close my eyes and bite my lip from crying. 

"That's what Nasreen and Abid used to say about their daughter too.  And look what happened.  In one instant, she sacrificed the dignity of her family for a boy she knew only for a month."  

"A person doesn't have to fear her parents or society alone, Ameera.  If she fears Allah, that should be enough to stop her from committing such an act."

"So you're saying it's completely justifiable for a parent to let their child do whatever he or she wishes?"

"I'm saying that there is a very delicate balance between restricting and giving too much freedom to your child.  The best tool we can give our children is faith and hope that it will be strong enough to fight the strongest of temptations."

I don't bother to hear Ameera Khala's reply.  I rush to my bedroom and lean against the closed door. Only one phrase continues to ring in my head, over and over again.

I trust Iman.

If only Ammi knew that I am one of them, a girl who doesn't care for her family, who doesn't fear Allah.  How long will I be able to keep this secret?  I have been lucky far too many times.  Will I be the next victim of gossip? Will my parents have to hang their heads in shame because of my ruthless actions?

I shake my head as if to remove the demanding questions swirling in my head.  I crouch down onto the floor of my bedroom and bury my head into my knees. 

12/31/12

Decisions

The worst thing you can probably do to yourself when you're heartbroken is to watch a romantic movie.  It can only remind you of how things used to be and what you so badly wished things were like.

But that is exactly what I do when I return home that night.  Except I do have a cup of hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream to make things a little better.  And the mentality that movies are full of deception...no one actually lives happily ever after or ends up marrying their childhood or high school sweetheart 99% of the time.  Which again makes me wonder, why not?  Why does life have to be so cruel?  And then I end up curling even deeper into my bed as if to hide away from the cloud of misery floating above me. 

The phone ring interrupts my solemn thoughts and I pray that someone answers it before I have to get up from my cozy bed.  If it is Khala, she will probably be demanding help for last-minute tasks for Mariyam's wedding or tattle-taling about my boy adventures.  And if it is one of my many aunts and uncles from abroad, I know for a fact I will not be hanging up until after I have heard all their sad tales about the seemingly harsh life back home and how they are anxiously waiting for our gifts from Amreeka, which we have finely plucked from the tree of everlasting wealth.

If only there was a tree of everlasting love.  Maybe there is, somewhere in a fantasy or storybook.

Fortunately, the phone stops ringing and I slouch back on my pillow.  I spoke too soon, because only seconds later, I hear someone trying to open my locked door.  My family still does not understand the concept of privacy or knocking before entering.

"What is it?" I ask angrily from my bed.

"Maybe if you picked up your cell phone, you would know."

I hate when Humza speaks in puzzles.  My cell phone is lying next to me and it has taken all the effort to not look at it every ten seconds.  Or to scroll repeatedly through the four text messages a certain someone has left.

"I don't know what you're talking about."  I'm suddenly very tired, even though all the sugar from the hot chocolate should have me bouncing up and down the walls.

"Fine, I guess Tariq can chat with Ammi then," he says a little too loudly.

In a matter of seconds, I'm at my door and Humza blinks his eyes in surprise at me, our cordless house phone in his hand.  I make a move to grab it from him but he is too quick for me.  He is enjoying every minute of this.

"Humza, give it," I hiss.

"Actually, I think I might just tell Ammi what you're up to."  He pokes his head inside my bedroom but I block his view.  Even for a boy, Humza isn't that dumb to not figure out my current emotional status.

"Don't you dare,"  I say sternly.

"You owe me.  Big time."

I grab the phone from him and say into the mouthpiece, "Hang up.  I'm calling from my cell."  Humza raises his eyebrows at me when I shove the phone back into his hands.   

"I never knew you had the guts to talk to a--"

"Humza, my dear bhai," I say, gently pushing him away. "We'll talk later, okay?"

And then I shut the door, raise the volume of the TV, and settle into my bed with my cell phone.  I hesitate for a minute, thinking of Mariyam's words, of Ammi whose trust I was betraying.

Maybe this is the opportunity to break all ties with Tariq, to forget about my fantasies and to prevent myself from committing more sin.  After all, how long could I be with Tariq anyway?  What was our future together?  The day would have to come when we wouldn't be together and as difficult as it would be for that day to be today, it would be even harder if it was tomorrow.  

Maybe Tariq would laugh at me, think I was some extremist who couldn't even have a guy as a friend.  But, he is Muslim...he should understand.  He isn't that liberal..or maybe he is, especially if he was dancing with Anum like that.

I push away the raging battle in my head and call him.  There is no point in rehearsing words; I will let the conversation flow as it should.


"Not mad enough to ignore me after all, huh?" Tariq says.

No, I let myself get too close to you that even if I tried, I couldn't be mad for too long.

"You didn't give me much of a choice,"  I say instead, not bothering to hide my anger.  But the fact that he had called home means a lot to me.  It means that he still cares, still needs me the way I need him. 

"You didn't either," he says softly.


I close my eyes at the sound of his voice.  "You shouldn't have called home, Tariq.  That was a huge risk."

"But it worked."

"That's cause Humza picked up.  What if it was--?"

"I could have chatted with your parents, you know.  They do know me."  There's a hint of amusement in his voice and I roll my eyes.  It seems ages ago when he had accidentally stumbled into our home.  A part of me wishes to go back to that time when I didn't actually have feelings for him, but a part of me wants to relish in these new experiences.

"Where did you get my house number anyway?" I ask.

"The school directory, duh."

I sigh.  How could I forget?  I had only gone through the whole directory with Laila, Anum, and Farah for the past two years, circling the numbers of all the cute guys and working the nerve to prank call them.

"Tell me why you're mad."

"Oh, let' not pretend now."  I don't want to bring up this subject, but I need to let Tariq know that if he wants to have anything with me--whether it's friendship or something more--there were some expectations I had that he needed to respect.

He laughs.  The nerve of him to laugh!  If we were talking in person, I would have already punched him in the face.

"Fine, I'm hanging up." 

"Hey, don't.  Seriously, I don't know."

"Tariq, you were dancing with Anum."

There is silence for a couple seconds and then, "That's it?"

My mouth drops open and I can't believe my ears.  Either I have no experience with guys and I'm just figuring them out, or Tariq is really messing with me.

"That's it?  What the hell do you mean by that?" I yell at him.

"Calm down," he says and I can tell he is trying to suppress his laughter.

"No I can't, Tariq.  I don't understand you at all.  You were touching--"

"There's nothing between us," he cuts me off in a serious tone.  My heart drops.  "Me and Anum."

A joyous feeling rises within me and spreads all the way down to my toes.  Tariq had not fallen for Anum, and I would make sure she wouldn't steal him from me again. 

"You there?" he asks.

"Yeah."  I walk towards the mirror hanging on my bedroom wall and twist a strand of my hair around my finger.  "I want to believe that Tariq.  I want to believe that..."  That we're meant to be together.

"You're sounding way too philosophical for me.  Can we leave that for English tomorrow?"

"We don't have English together," I remind him.

"Well, we can."

"Huh?"

"I have two rainchecks.  Let's see...one for ice cream and one for a long run together."

So Tariq wants me to cut class to go out with him. Nice.  "Um...did you check the expiration date on those?"

"Oh right.  I forgot to check."

I tap my foot in amusement, smiling widely into the mirror.

"It says here that it's good for ninety days and as far as I can recall, it hasn't even been thirty days."

"Hmm...I guess I'll think about it."

But there is no need to dwell upon such a decision.  Already, I'm dreaming of him, of us.  And I push the small bit of guilt that weaves in between.  I don't let it build up, because if I do, it will threaten me, choke me until all happiness is drained from within me.

*******************************************

Hello readers!

First and foremost, I would like to convey a HUGE apology for being MIA for so long.  Although I don't like to say that medical school is my life, it has taken up a significant portion of my time.  It makes it more difficult to continue the story if I have been away from the story for so long myself.  That being said, I was hoping to wrap up this blog pretty soon.  However, as I sat down to read all the comments that have piled up over the past several months, I decided otherwise.  I realized that I have also gotten quite fond of Iman and all her desi-Muslim-American-teenage drama.  Insha'Allah (God Willing), I am hoping to write an entry once every month (and in advance, I apologize if there is a delay).

I do want to thank everyone for their enthusiasm and support.  Stories aren't of much use if they aren't read and reflected upon, are they?  Please continue to read and comment :)

Always,
Dreamer

4/26/12

Emotions

I crumple the green tissue angrily.  I'm in no mood to be at Mariyam's house, helping her and her annoying mother--my Khala--to make favors for Mariyam's Nikah ceremony. 

"Less than two weeks left and my daughter will leave me," Khala laments.  I roll my eyes, but I'm thankful she hasn't brought up the boy subject yet.

"She's going to be happily married," I can't help but say.  It's comforting to know that Mariyam really likes her fiance but I would be terrified if I were in her situation. 

"Yes, and one day, it'll be your turn," Mariyam teases.

"Uh, that's not happening anytime soon," I reply quickly.  Tariq's face appears in my mind and something flutters in my stomach. 

"Well there's nothing wrong with getting married young.  It's a good thing in my opinion,"  Khala says, carefully counting dates and nuts to place in each favor bag.

"I didn't ask for your opinion," I mutter under my breath, avoiding Mariyam's glance.

"Look, beta, you're probably upset."  Her tone is sincere, which is surprising, but I have no forgiveness to offer.  "I saw what I saw and it is my duty to tell your mother and that is what I did.  She thinks it's a confusion, but--"

"Khala, you have no need to worry about me."  I don't want her to say anything more so I continue talking, dissolving her doubt with words.  "I don't have a boyfriend and I don't plan on having one." I clench my teeth.  I cannot stand the sight of her; she infuriates me.

"Ammi, we'll finish the rest now.  You should go rest," Mariyam suggests.  I breathe a sigh of relief when Khala leaves us both at the dining room table, her face pleased as though she has successfully taught an important lesson to a young child.

"Don't mind her or what your mother said, Iman.  They just care about you," Mariyam says when we are alone.

"God, not you too! I'm so sick of hearing this. I'm not a little girl."  I slam the scissors on the table and get up from my seat.  Something is happening to me and I can't describe what it is.  I feel ridiculed, dumb even because everyone feels the need to explain every little thing to me.  "I need to go home now," I say more quietly, my head turned away from Mariyam.

"Okay, I'll drop you off but calm down.  What's wrong?"  Mariyam gets up from where she is sitting and stands in front of me.  "Tell me.  You know I'm here for you," she says softly, placing her hand on my shoulder.

I roll my eyes, trying to hide my tears.  "You wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

I hesitate and then look into her eyes.  Mariyam has always been like an older sister to me; in this moment, I envy her for what I am not capable of being.  I can't bear to let her think of me as someone unworthy of her respect and love, so I simply say, "Mariyam, why is that there are some things in this life that we just can't do--the very things that can bring joy and happiness?  Why are there so many rules?"

There is curiosity in her eyes, but she does not ask me what this is about.  I appreciate that she is not prying like most other people are.  "Iman, there are some things that look really good to us at first, especially because Shaytan makes it appear so and everyone else seems to find joy in it also.  But Allah has created us, He knows us more than we know ourselves...That's why He has made some things permissible and other things not."

I shake my head.  I heard this many times before; all I want is to be with Tariq without feeling guilty.  All I want is not feel as though it is a sin, to live in a secret that is too exhausting to carry on.  "I don't buy it.  It doesn't make sense.  It almost feels like a prison."

"Is it a boy?" Mariyam asks quietly, studying my face.  My skin feels hot and I can't meet her eyes.  "You don't have to tell me if you're not comfortable," she adds when I don't say anything.

I want to pour my feelings out to her, but something is holding me back.  I know what she will tell me.  That I have to give him up, that I can't talk to him anymore, shouldn't even look at him.  And I'm not ready to make that sacrifice.

"You already know we don't date.  People think we're weird not to, but trust me.  You have just to be patient.  One day, you'll be engaged like I am and it will the most beautiful moment in your life.  What you're feeling now is nothing compared to what it will be like."

I shake my head stubbornly.  "I--I just don't see what's wrong with it.  I--" The words come out fumbled.  "I--I should go home...I want to be alone."

I walk out before she has anything more to say.  "Please talk to me if you need to Iman.  You know I love you," she still says.

Mariyam's words linger in my head throughout the day, but I force them away just like I have removed Farah's stinging words.  I am upset at this world for being incomprehensible.  Why has Allah put love in my heart for Tariq when He does not permit it?

I feel restless at home.  Even Ammi miraculously has no housework for me to do.  Homework is sitting for me but I cannot focus.  Fortunately, Anum calls me over to her house to help practice a dance for her cousin's upcoming mehndi.  Why do I feel like everyone is getting married, all the time?

When I arrive at Anum's doorstep, there is Hindi music mixed with English lyrics blaring in her stereo.  I wonder if the neighbors are disturbed as I ring her doorbell.

A guy opens the door and I'm taken aback.  There is no way I am mistaken where Anum lives, although I can't say the same for her inviting guys over.  That had to mean one thing--her parents were not home.

"You're Anum's friend?" the guy asks, giving a cheesy smile while leaning against the door.  He is looking at me carefully, passing his eyes over me and I wonder what he is thinking.  Despite the hijab wrapped loosely around my head, I feel somewhat exposed.  It was a good thing Ammi didn't see me when I stepped out of the house.  

"Um, is Anum there?" I ask gingerly, feeling awkward.

"Yo, Anum.  Your cute friend is here."  He flashes me a smile while my cheek burns.  Cute?  Did he just have the nerve to call me cute?  I can't tell whether I feel ashamed or slightly delighted by the comment.  Anyway, it doesn't seem like anyone has heard him over the music.  "This way," he says and I'm grateful that he walks ahead of me instead of besides me.

I walk to a spacious room towards the back of Anum's house, where Anum's parents have kept exercising equipment, a flat screen TV, and a stereo system.  There are about eight or nine other people and I feel kind of alone.  All along, I had assumed it would have been just Anum and me.  But I was wrong to think that someone as popular as Anum would rely on me alone.

I look for Anum over the noise; no one has still acknowledged my presence and each second seems to drag.  When I spot her, I see that she has her hair tied up high in a ponytail and out of the way. She's wearing a T-shirt, hugging attractively to her skin.  Her mouth is open in sync with the lyrics and her eyes laughing.  But it's the way the boy next to her has his hands on her arm, touching her bare skin that freezes me in place.  They are moving together effortlessly in tune with the music, their eyes not leaving each other.

I step back, the tears building up.  I don't want to cry, all I want is to rewind these several minutes so the knowledge of betrayal is not there.  It does not upset me that Anum has invited boys over, or that she is dancing with them.  What upsets me, tears me apart, is who she is dancing with.

I turn to leave, but of course, that is exactly when Anum calls me.  I swallow my hurt, wipe away the tears and turn around, forcing a small smile on my face.

She grabs my hand, unaware of my emotions.  "Finally, you took forever.  C'mon."

"No," I say, pulling my hand away and she looks confused.  "I...I'm actually not feeling that well."  It takes all the effort that I can muster to not look at him, especially when he is so close.

"Is something wrong?" Anum asks.  I look into her eyes, both anger and sympathy rising simultaneously within me for her.  How could she be so oblivious to my feelings, my pain?  How blind could one be to know what is and isn't wrong?

"Of course not," I lie, my voice trembling.

And then he is standing next to me.  My body is confused, torn between wanting to stay and run.

"Hey Iman," Tariq says. His voice, as usual, has a pleasant ring to it.  Why did I ever let myself become attune to it?  "We could use your help."

"Help?" I ask, looking at Anum instead of him.  I try not to think that he, too, is unaware.  I had always imagined that love transcends everything, that the person you love is able to notice immediately your pain, the ability to recognize that you are hurt and need mending.  That one is able to let go of everything else for you, to never turn around and share it with somebody else.

"Yeah, for the mehndi dance.  We're still in the process of choreographing it."  Anum waves her hands while she speaks.  In that instant, I realize how distant we are.  We aren't the girls anymore who used to braid each other's hair, read Qur'an together, chase after each other and lick the sweet taste of kulfi while the sunshine poured over us.

I clear my throat, a bit more confident now.  "Anum, I need to go."  The tone of my voice makes her still.  Despite the chatter around us, something passes between us and I know she understands.  She looks away uncomfortably as Tariq speaks.

"But you just got here."

I turn my eyes to the floor.  Does it matter to you that I'm even here? the question remains unspoken.

"You guys can do without me," I simply say, meaning every word of it.  She doesn't try to stop me and Tariq hesitantly walks behind me as I turn to leave, waiting perhaps for me to say something.

"You look pale.  Are you feeling okay?" he asks, his hand touching my arm.  I jerk away at the touch, remembering how he had touched Anum only minutes earlier.

"I'm fine," I manage to say, avoiding his gaze.  "I want to be alone," I say for the second time that day.  And then I leave, unleashing the tears once again.