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


Dissolved Barriers

I'm feeling a little impatient, sitting in my Uncle's house, as we discuss Mariyam's marriage.  An argument is inevitable when there are five adults with differing opinions.  But the bride-to-be is finally given a chance to explain herself.  After all, she is the one who has instigated this family feud.

"I don't understand what's so wrong with having a wedding with a partition--" she begins.

"No one in our family has ever had a separated wedding," her mother interrupts, her eyes glaring with anger.  "What will everyone say?  They're going to think we're marrying you off to some--"

"I don't care what anybody thinks," Mariyam retorts.  It's not often that I see this side to her.  She is always gentle and soothing, hardly ever angry.

"It's just a matter of couple hours.  Surely, you can do that for your parents," Ammi intervenes.  I'm not surprised that she favors the opposing side.  Sometimes, reputation and culture overruled.

"Okay, okay," Abu takes over, clearing his throat.  "What about a wedding were the men sit on one side and the women on the other.  But we're still all together?"  He is playing the negotiator and I'm glad he is making the effort, however futile it may be.

"What's the point?" Mariyam mutters under her breath before I can verbalize my agreement with Abu.

"Everyone likes to sit with their family and friends.  We can't impose their seating arrangements," her mother refuses immediately.

"I want to dress up for my wedding and besides, there's so much haraam that happens during some weddings.  I just want to avoid that, you know what I mean?" Mariyam explains, her brown eyes searching mine as if I can somehow understand. 

I nod, but my heart and mind disagrees.  Of course, Mariyam doesn't want to wear a hijab on her wedding day and she would have to if the male guests could see her.  But then again, our family wasn't that religious.  And I wonder...a partition separating the male and female guests would make me more solemn than content.  It's not good maybe, but that's how I feel.  If Tariq and I were at the same wedding, I would want to see him.

As the argument continues, my mind drifts to the restaurant where Tariq and I had dined with Anum and her friend after watching the movie last week.  I had hesitated, afraid of being seen with a boy by a relative or acquaintance.  But Anum and Tariq convinced me to join along.

On the corner table in the restaurant, Tariq and I sat together, his shoulder slightly grazing mine.  It was ironic that in public, barriers dissolved so that boys and girls could mix freely.  I would never dream of sitting this close to Tariq if we were at each other's home or even at a wedding.

I suddenly became nervous, aware of how closely we were sitting.  The kissing scene from the movie we had seen flooded my mind and I flushed with embarrassment.  I would never forgive myself for going through that with Tariq sitting awkwardly in the seat adjacent to mine. Fortunately, the darkness in the theater disguised the hundreds of emotions that ran through me.

My phone vibrated in the pocket of my jeans.
I ignored the call, afraid of having Ammi or Abu hear Tariq's voice over the phone.  They might even be able to recognize it, considering they had actually met him.  

Once the food arrived, I accidentally dropped my spoon in a hurry to clear some space on the table.  It fell on the maroon leather seat, just between where Tariq and I were sitting.  We both reached for it together, his hands over mine.  I looked up and he smiled, his eyes glimmering in the dim light.

"We all know Iman's starving and ready to pig out," he teased. He hurriedly grabbed two pizza slices and placed it on my plate.

"Thanks," I murmured, touched by his gesture.  My skin tingled on the spot where his hand had touched mine.

For the rest of the time, I hardly felt Anum and her friend's presence.  I was living in a bubble--daydreaming of Tariq and I together..some place together...some place alone.

"I'm stuffed.  Want to go for a run?" Tariq asked after we're done, interrupting my little fantasy.

"A run?" I repeated, confused.

"Why not?" There was a sense of excitement in his face and the tone of his voice.

But, it's so late...and I should be getting home and well, what if someone sees me.

The bill came and I was thankful for the change in subject because I hadn't made up mind yet.

"C'mon Iman.  Let the boys pay," Anum ordered, leading me to the bathroom.  She went directly to the mirror, fixing her hair and reapplying her make-up though it looked perfect to me.

"Anum, what was Tariq saying about me," I asked her, now that we were alone.

"He was asking if you were coming.  By the way, you guys look so cute together," she exclaimed.

"Anum, why didn't you tell me that he was coming?  Look at me...I'm not even dressed right."  She turned towards me, peering down at my loose jeans and pale blue top.  My beige colored hijab didn't match at all, but I had worn it in a hurry.

"That's for sure.  We need to go shopping one day." And she went back to putting on make-up, not bothering to answer my question.  It irritated me that she talked to Tariq without letting me know exactly what they discussed.  I was going to press her but my phone vibrated again.  This time, I answered.

"Iman, where are you?  Why didn't you answer your phone?"  Ammi sounded worried. 

"Uh, sorry, Ammi.  I was in the theater so I couldn't talk."  The lie came easier than I thought.

"You're dad's been wanting the car for so long.  What's taking you so long?" Ammi sounded frustrated but I tried to take control of the situation.

"Sorry mom.  The movie took longer than I thought. I'm on my way though," I assured her.

"You better be.  It's going to be ten soon."

Tariq and I ended up alone afterwards, walking towards my car.

"Sorry about the run. I'll take a rain check?" I asked, surprised by my own boldness.  I wanted to reassure myself that I would still be able to see him.

"Sure.  We'll make it a race."

There was an awkward silence as we stood near my car.  Couples normally embraced, even kissed, when departing.  But that was out the question in our circumstance.

Or was it?

With the light of the streetlamp, I could make out Tariq's eyes intently gazing mine.  I didn't want to break it and wished so badly that it would last.  My heart pounded, wanting to take a step closer, both terrified and excited by the prospect.

But Tariq simply said a goodbye, flashing his smile and leaving me alone in my car.

"Iman, are you listening to me?" It's Mariyam's face looking at me, interrupting my memory.  She appears frustrated. I feel guilty for not listening to her.

"Uh, yeah?" I ask.

"Nevermind," she says numbly.

"Oh, Mariyam I know you're having a hard time, but insha'Allah, God-willing, we'll figure this out."

"Sometimes I wish I could just have a small wedding and not worry about pleasing everybody else except myself."

"Well, at least you have Umair to look forward to right?  He sounds so amazing, masha'Allah. I want to meet him already!"

That does the magic.  Her mouth immediately breaks into a smile and I love it.  For a moment, I'm tempted to tell her about Tariq.  But, would she understand?  Or would her trust and respect for me decline?  The guilt seeps within me and I do not like the feeling one bit.  It reminds me of Farah, whom I had left alone in the theater and who held a grudge against me for only two days before making up.  She tried to respect my decision to be with Tariq while I attempted to keep her suggestions in mind. 

"Iman, I need you to clean the bathroom and help Humza with the laundry," Ammi commands when we arrive home.  I'm exhausted by my mental battle, but the chores distract me for a while.

It's not until the next day that the guilt really kicks in, mixed with fear.  I'm working on my homework at my desk when Ammi storms into my room, her face pale.

"What's wrong?" I ask worriedly, jumping from my chair.

"Who is it?" she asks. "What's his name?"

"What?" My heart hammers, fear creeping up my back. There's no way she's thinking what I'm thinking.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about, Iman."  Her stern gaze seems to freeze me in place and I swallow hard as if to remove the bubbling emotions within me.



I tap my foot impatiently and yell at Humza.  "Get off the computer!"

He does not register my words, his eyes focused on the blasting car animation before him.  In a swift motion, I reach over and press the small circular button to shut down the computer.

"What?" Humza looks confused as the screen becomes black and then his eyes narrow in anger.  "What the hell did you do that for?"

"Excuse me?" I ask, a hand on my hip.  "What did you just say?  What makes you think you can swear like that?"

He rolls his eyes, bending down to turn on the computer again.  I push him out of the chair and he slaps me hard on the shoulder. 

"Just stop!" I screech, infuriated now as I dig my nails into his arm.  He screams in response and kicks me in the shin.

Abu comes rushing in the room while we fight and he yells at us to stop.  "You both are acting like a pair of janwar."  He's right of course.  The image of two bulls nailing their horns into each other comes to my mind.

"Abu, I asked him five times to get off the computer. I have homework to do and he's busy playing games."

Abu gives a scolding look at Humza but my sneaky brother has a comeback that startles me.  "Yeah right, if you call doing homework by always being on Facebook and chatting."

My cheeks feel a little hot and I venture to look at Abu's face, which is depicting a confused expression.  Oh God, he doesn't even know what Facebook is, thank the Lord.  Boy, he really is behind in technology.

"Iman, do your homework because I'll need the computer soon too," is all Abu says and I slouch in discontent.  One computer to use among the four of us makes things really difficult.  And, well, to not have the privacy to use the computer in my room makes certain tasks almost impossible...that certain task being chatting with Tariq, obviously.

Still, I manage to do it and quickly minimize the window whenever I hear someone popping their head in the room or passing by.  But right now, Tariq is offline and my heart plummets.  It is probably a good thing because I have an exam in two days to study for, but that really isn't exciting.

Fifteen minutes before I have to give the computer to Abu, he comes online.  I immediately message him but it takes him two whole minutes to reply.  Our conversation is choppy, to my disappointment.  He doesn't seem interested or focused.  I quickly exit from the chat box before heading back to my room and sulking.

"Wanna go to the park?" Farah asks when she calls me later.  The sun is still up and we are blessed with a beautiful day high in the sixties.  I realize I shouldn't have to sulk inside the house

On the swings, I feel nostalgic at the beauty of being a child.  No worries, no annoying feelings.  Life seems full of fun and free of worries.

Farah is talking about something but my eyes linger on a couple near the monkey bars.  The boy has his hands wrapped around her waist, the girl's on his neck.  Their heads lean in together and I look away, wondering why they chose a public area meant for kids to play out their romance.

"Farah, I--I'm so confused," I can't help but say.

"About what?" she asks.  She has a white colored hijab on, which is unusual for her, but it looks great.

" know...Tariq," I say.  I like saying his name, but around Farah, it's a topic I'm somewhat reluctant to discuss.  She's not my mother, but she may as well be.

She shrugs.  "What about him?"

"I'm not sure how he feels about me."

"Well, I'm sure he likes you."

"You think so?" I ask, enjoying the sound of it.

"He's a nice guy," she says, surprising me.

"He is," I agree, closing my eyes and starting to daydream again.  "It sounds cheesy, but I can't stop thinking about him."

I've been having dreams about Tariq now.  I can't remember much about them, but they give me a pleasant feeling.

"Do you like him enough to marry him?"

My eyes fly open abruptly, and I try to swallow the discomfort rising in my throat.

"Marriage?" I ask stupidly like it's a foreign word. I should have predicted this was coming.  I am talking to Farah after all.

"Look Iman," she says, looking at me directly in the face.  "There's nothing wrong about liking him.  But you have to be serious about it and let your parents know..."

I get up from the swing, setting my legs into motion while thoughts swirl around in my head.

"Farah, we're only teenagers. I can't even think about marriage yet.  And I would only want to be with him as a friend, not as..."  I can't muster the courage to say husband.

"A friend, really?  It doesn't seem like it from the way you talk about him." 

My lips purse in anger, but I know very well that what Farah is saying is only the truth, and a truth that I really don't like.

"It's just so dumb. So annoying that we can't be friends.  I mean what's wrong with--"

"Wow, Iman.  You're calling Islam dumb?" she asks in a shrill voice.

I shake my head, raising my hands in the air in frustration.  "Farah, what's wrong with you?  You know that's not what I mean."

Like any other Muslim girl, I know the rules.  But, it's hard when you feel an overwhelming desire to do something and you're conflicted with your desires and what is actually right.  I just wanted to be friends with Tariq, but why did I have to feel so guilty about it? 

We both stay silent for a couple seconds, staring ahead at the ice cream man and small kids jumping excitedly to get a taste.

"Wanna get ice cream?" she asks.  That's one thing I love about Farah.  It's very hard to make her angry enough to stop talking to me.

We buy our ice cream and head home.  She gives me a hug and does not discuss the topic anymore.

My mother practically screams when I enter the house.  I've cleaned my room so I wonder what it could be this time. It better not have to do anything with Humza.

"Mariyam got engaged!"

I raise my hands and let out a scream too.  Finally!  "Wait! How come she didn't tell me?!"

I grab my phone to call her, but Ammi stops me.  "We're the first to know.  Don't yell at her.  She's really busy right now.  When things cool down a bit, then go talk to her."

I slump on the couch.  I'm dying to know how it all happened, what the guy is like--the person that will be marrying my lovely cousin.  But, as with so many things in life, it's a matter of waiting.

Speaking of waiting, let me intervene here for just a moment.  I'd like to apologize for not writing posts as regularly as I had said I would.  I have a lot going on right now, including studying for a graduate admission exam, so thanks for being patient and I'll try my best to continue updating.  

Dreamer :)

Okay, moving on....

At school the next day, I feel a tug of guilt as Tariq and I sit next to each other in the library, conjugating verbs.  It's like an internal battle.

Don't look at him.                            
Oh God, but he's so cute. 

Stop smiling all the time.                 
But I can't help it when I'm around him.

You're sitting too close to him.         
Am not! We're barely touching.

Ammi and Abu...                              
Ugh, don't remind me.  They'd never understand.

She's insane.  Tariq would freak if I brought up marriage.

You should leave now...                    
In just a bit.  It's okay if I'm a little late to class.

"Don't you have to go to class?" Tariq asks me.  We look directly into each others eyes and I wonder if he feels anything at all.  The way his brown eyes twinkle against his long lashes does weird things to me.

"Uh, yea.  But I don't feel like it."  Why couldn't I have had the same study period as Tariq?  Anum is so lucky.

He leans a little forward.  "Iman the naughty girl isn't gonna skip class now is she?"

"I'm not naughty," I say defensively, a smile tugging at my lips.  I can't help but glance at the way the fabric of his shirt wraps nicely around his arms.

"It's hard to picture you like that anyway."

"Like what?" I ask, raising an eyebrow.

"Skipping class, failing tests..."

"Well, I did get a C on my trig test," I confide.  Awkwardly, I feel proud saying it around Tariq.

"Ouch. That's a shame, with your dad being an accountant."

I roll my eyes, fluttering my eyelashes.  The bell rings but I make no move to stand up.  "My next test is in a week."

Tariq leans back on his chair, swiftly twirling a pen in his hand.  He's already in A.P. Calculus.  I'm hoping he gets the hint.

"I'll help you study, but go to class," he orders me.  I try to stop from smiling too widely.

Several days later, Anum calls me to accompany her to watch a movie.

"Why not?" I answer over the phone.  After studying for that math test, even if it was with Tariq, I do deserve a break.  I call up Farah so she can join us too.

"You're both inseparable," Farah tells me after I pick her up from her house.  I drive carefully before Abu has another chance to rebuke me later on. 

Tariq is everywhere--in conversation, in my sleep, in thoughts.  I'm a little surprised at Farah's tone--it is not condescending, but somewhere between teasing and reprimanding.

"He asked me out," I blurt.  "Indirectly of course."

"Tell me all about it," Farah can't hide her eagerness.  I sense a part of Laila in her.  I miss Laila a lot actually.  She's been way too busy with guests over from Jordan to give us any time.

"He was helping me with trig yesterday.  After we finished, he said he'd treat me to lunch."  Friday was a half day, but he had stayed to help me.

"And?" she asks, tilting her head a little.

"I said no,"  I reply.  It was a tough decision, actually.  The more time I spent with Tariq, the less I wanted to be away from him.  The prospect of going out with him was so appealing, but Abu made the decision for me in the end.  He had called me in the midst of it all, asking me if I had seen his topi, the one he always wears to Jummah prayers.  After that, I felt compelled to say no to him.

"I'm proud of you."  Farah gives me a friendly squeeze as we enter the theater.

My feet seem to be glued to the tiled floor once we meet Anum.  She's standing elegantly in a knee-length dress and tights, but it's the person next to her that I can't take my eyes off of.

Tariq is wearing a splendid dark gray polo, the sleeves short for my eyes to pass over his muscular tone.  Before I can take in the rest of him, I see Tariq tilting his head over to Anum, whispering something.    

I feel a slight pang of jealously, seeing Anum laughing like that with Tariq.  Why the hell is she flirting with him when she knows I like him?  And how is he here in the first place?  Did they both come together?  How come she didn't tell me?

Suddenly, I become consumed by the idea that Tariq likes Anum.  She is beautiful, with her straight black hair, large eyes, fair skin and arched eyebrows.  In comparison to Anum, I am nothing.  Why would any guy be attracted to me--a simple girl in hijab--when they had a beautiful non-hijabi to look at?

And then Anum meets my eyes and she motions me over.  I have forgotten about Farah who is at my side.

I walk over lazily, avoiding my eyes to where Tariq is standing.

"Hey," he greets me, taking a step closer towards me.

"Iman, we were just talking about you!" Anum gives me a quick embrace and then feels confused that I've brought Farah along with me.

Out of nowhere, another guy appears.  He's Caucasian, and he has two tubs of popcorn, one of which he hands over to Tariq. Anum does the introductions, but I can hardly pay attention.  I'm so confused and startled by what's going on.

"So, what movie are we watching?" Farah pipes in, looking at me and Anum.

"Oh, I was thinking Road 11," Anum replies.  "It got really good reviews."

"And it's rated R," Farah says out loud.  I was actually thinking the same thing, but why did she have to say it out loud?  This is so embarrasing. 

Anum shrugs.  Tariq suggests watching another movie.  The white guy is busy on his phone.  Apparently, we're all going to be watching the same movie together.  My stomach churns at the idea.

Anum is pretty stubborn and she's already heading to the ticket counter.  I turn toward Farah who looks at me uncomfortably.

"C'mon, it will be fine," I urge her.

She shakes her head.  "I think we should leave.  I thought it was just going to be you, me and Anum."

My shoulders slump. She can't be asking me to back out now.  "Farah, we're already here."

"If you want to stay, go ahead," she says quietly, looking around.

"Where are you gonna go?" I ask.

"Don't worry about it," she replies.  We just stand there for what seems to be a long time before she begins to walk away slowly.  A part of me wants to catch up with her; I feel sullen for leaving her behind.

"Tariq got your ticket," Anum pokes me in the ribs. 

"Farah left," I inform her glumly.  I also want to ask her why Tariq and the other guy are here when it was only supposed to be use three.  But before I can, my gaze wavers at Tariq and it's hard to think about anything else.  I don't look back at Farah's receding figure.

I walk toward Tariq, wondering what it would be like if I just kept walking until we are embracing.  I force the image out of my head, the guilt out of my heart, and step into the dark theater room.



The melody is so beautiful and I can relate to it so well.  The lights are dim so we can see the movie and I catch myself before I start daydreaming again.  It's as if the words are written just to describe my own feelings.

Late at night when all the world is sleeping.
I stay up and think of you.
And I wish on a star, that somewhere you are, thinking of me too.
Cause I'm dreaming of you tonight...

Wonder if you even see me 
And I wonder if you know I'm there.
If you looked in my eyes
Would you see what's inside?
Would you even care?

My gaze wavers towards Tariq, slouched in his chair and watching the movie like it's the most boring thing in the world.  He is wearing a long sleeve navy colored fleece, the collars sitting comfortably on his shoulders.  He doesn't seem to notice me, except for the occasional moments when our eyes meet during class or in the hallway.  Even then, it's only a polite nod of the head.

I had expressed the slight pang of disappointment to Farah and Anum when Laila was not around.  I am annoyed, much more exhausted actually, by her teasing and taunting.

"Well, that's the whole point of hijab.  He's not gonna start chatting with you or go out with you suddenly.  He respects you," Farah had explained the obvious.  Even though I know this is the truth, I don't like to hear it.  Anum's words had appealed to me more.

"He's not a mind reader and until you don't make it seem like you want his attention, he's not going to."

The words float in my mind again while Salena continues to sing in the movie.  Spanish class is suddenly now my favorite, the one which I look forward to the most.  This is despite the fact that Senora Gonzales is a hard-core Columbian who tries to spew as much information as she can from her mouth in the fifty minutes of class.  For once, she allows us to take a break from conjugating verbs and watch a movie, though she makes sure it is entirely in Spanish.

Except for the song, of course.

The class ends and I linger in my seat, waiting to get up until Tariq does.  It's no use though; I'm too nervous to initiate a conversation on my own.  If he did, I wouldn't mind continuing it.

At home, I feel melancholy.  Humza is having fun at a basketball game while I mull over trig problems.  I suddenly freeze at the computer several hours later when I check my email.

Tariq Malik wants to be friends with you on Facebook.

My heart hammers though he's not even anywhere near me.  But the thought--the realization that he initiated this.  He wants to be friends with me, even in cyberspace, means that he had noticed me.

My fingers tap the mouse nervously as I wait for the page to load.  In a matter of seconds, I'm browsing through his profile pictures. In some, he doesn't look so nice but in a few, he looks attractive.  He's not exactly a hunk that I am swooning over.  But he has that genuine sweet look to his face, and I already know from my previous encounter that his personality matches that look.  I hesitate for only a moment before I accept his request.

There's nothing wrong with this, I think to myself.  Why amI defending this simple act anyway?  I don't write on his wall because I don't want to sound so desperate.  Maybe he'll drop a line soon.

When he doesn't, I get impatient.  But fortunately, Ammi calls me to the kitchen for dinner and my mind steers away from him.

The next day, I'm eager to see him.  But in my bedroom mirror, I can't stand the sight of that pimple on my left cheek.  I dig my fingernails into it to squeeze out the pus and carefully apply foundation to cover it.  It stings a little but it's well concealed, and that's all that matters.  The birds seem to be chirping loudly during my usual trek to school.

But,he doesn't wave, much less talk to me.  By lunchtime, I'm so irritated by myself that I want to disappear into a corner and hate myself for thinking he likes me too.

Laila makes a joke over something, but I don't laugh.  I just stare at my turkey sandwich like it's the most interesting thing in the lunchroom.

"Hey, what's wrong with you?" Laila pokes me in the ribs.  I jerk a little backwards at the sudden contact, tilting my head away.  In my peripheral view, I see him standing by the entrance of the cafeteria.  I let out a deep breath and mumble something in response to Laila, looking down at my sandwich again.

My friends are chattering about something but I'm not paying attention.  Why did he have to choose that very spot to stand with his friend?  No, it couldn't be because he actually--

"Are you listening?" I hear Laila again.  Maybe I really do need to disappear into a library corner so I can be left alone.

"Go talk to him.  T-A-L-K."  I look up at Anum and she gives me an encouraging nod.  My eyes look towards the seat that Farah usually occupies, but she's not here today to give me any input.  Darn that root canal for taking her away from me.

I stand up without a word, shoving my uneaten sandwich back into my backpack.  I try to make it as natural as possible--to exit the cafeteria and brush right past him enough for him to acknowledge me.

"Hey Iman."

I can't help but smile.  It's like magic.  I love the way my name sounds when he says it.

Crap. This is really bad.  Why am I thinking like this suddenly?

"Hey Tariq," I reply casually, not giving away the rapid thump of my heart beat.

"Chase any buses lately?" he asks me and I stare at him in confusion.

"What?" I stammer.

"Oh, sorry.  Now I'm gonna sound like a stalker.  But I saw you running after the bus that one day after school."

I swallow, remembering the day Abu told me to meet him at his office instead of going home.  He needed some help and he didn't have the time to come pick me up.

"Uh, yeah," I say sheepishly.  "I don't usually do that."  But he had noticed?  Well, duh, you can pretty much tell a hijabi running after a bus in broad daylight.  But still.  Gaaah.  I need to stop having this crazy internal conversation in my head and instead pay attention to him.

We end up walking together towards the stairwell.  Suddenly, I'm caught in the fear that he has discovered I am the creator of that ridiculous valentine card.  My cheeks feel hot but he's talking so casually that I stop thinking about it.

He's talking about some football game.  I should know this.  I like sports.  But I can't come up with anything clever to say so I just nod and agree.

And before I realize it, we're separated and we head off separately towards our class.  Is this how it is?  Talking only when the time and situation allows for it?  School is an inconvenient place, interrupting conversations with discrete appointments to head to one class or another.  But school is, after all, the only place where I can see Tariq five days out of seven.  So I couldn't put much blame on it.

Walking home, I see a bus drive past me and I find myself smiling.  So he had humor also.  Only made things better.

Facebook alerts me that Tariq's birthday is in three days.  Oh great.  Now what?

The idea of getting him a gift is nonsensical.  It would definitely show my desperation, which I really need to work on by the way.  But it feels wrong to only wish him a birthday verbally and not accompany it with anything else.  Even if we aren't exactly friends, I feel like it's heading that way.

Two days later, I head to the kitchen, remembering the day Tariq came over.  My friends say that my crusty white chocolate chip cookies are the best.  And so, with the spare ingredients in the cupboard, I set to baking a batch.

I'm already imagining the scene where I hand it to him, but I stop myself from daydreaming again.  Ammi is already upset with me for not listening to her while she narrates some story she heard from work.  Besides, I don't want her to get suspicious.  I don't know how true it is, but some mothers can readily tell when their son or daughter "is in love."

Which I'm not, of course.  Right?  Love is an arbitrary word.

Anyway, the idea of giving him a card seems a little feminine.  So I make do with the cookies, which I've wrapped in plastic.  Of course I take some out for my friends before they start punching me for forgetting about them.

But I don't know how to do it.  I can't just go up to him and hand it over to him like that, especially when he's surrounded by six other guys.

There are ten  minutes left of my lunch period and the bag is still sitting in my backpack.  Anum is busily texting someone on her iPhone and I wish she would stop.  Farah looks miserable with the pain in her mouth.  Laila is busy studying for some test in the library.

Suddenly, I hear his casual laugh and it's very close by.  I don't turn around though, despite my natural urge to do so.  Anum looks up from her phone and waves at Tariq.  I envy her for it, but I don't have time to contemplate.

Suddenly, Tariq is swinging his long legs over the bench and sitting next to me.  Sitting right next to me.  I feel frozen in space and all I can do is shift my eyes nervously from Farah and Anum.  Farah looks super confused.  We don't usually have company from the guys.  But Anum is a natural at this and starts chatting away with Tariq.

I take my time to get a sideway glance at him.  He's wearing navy again.  God, that must be his favorite color.  At least he looks really good in it.

"What kind of cookie is that?" I hear him ask, but the question isn't targeted to me.  It's toward Farah, who's biting away at my last cookie.  She looks a little annoyed but Anum responds for her.

"It's Iman's specialty. Crusty cookies with white chocolate chips and raisins."

I glare at her for drawing the attention to me but I quickly remove the expression as Tariq turns his head towards me.  God, he's so close--less than an arm's length away.  If I shifted slightly, our shoulders would be grazing.

"So you bake too?" he asks.  What is this?  Is he making a mental note of all my capabilities?

"Yeah," I reply.  And then something triggers me to pull the plastic bag from my backpack and slide it on the table in front of him.  "Knock your socks off."  Okay, maybe that is a dumb way to say it, but he's laughing and already opening up the plastic.

"Damn.  These are good," he replies, already on his second cookie.  I don't think my smile can get any wider and I just want to hug Anum desperately for giving me this chance.  But she's already standing up to leave and nudging Farah to do so also.  And then I realize what she's up to.

She wants Tariq and me to have some time alone.  But the idea makes my heart churn.  We're not alone obviously, we're in the middle of a cafeteria.  But still, at the lunch table, we are our own pair.

There's an awkward silence before he starts talking again.  I'm paying attention to the sound of it.  His voice has a pleasant ring, a cheerful tone.

"How's your little brother doing?" he asks.

"Humza?" I ask idiotically.  Where did he fit in the picture?  "Oh, he's the same.  Being the spoiled brat that he is."

He's smiling and I remember that he can relate to.  "Is yours still nagging for chocolate all the time?" I ask.

He shakes his head.  "No, surprisingly not.  He's all about the newest video game now and those things aren't a dollar like chocolate is."

I agree, telling him what it's like to have a father who is frugal beyond belief, but it's what has helped us to finally pay our mortgage.  He tells me that my father is pretty funny, recalling the time they spend together during the blizzard.

We continue the conversation until the bell rings.  It always had to ring at the wrong time. He walks me to class and I feel like I'm floating in the air.

That night, I fall asleep with the conversation playing over and over again in my head.  I sigh at the beauty of it all and only wish for tomorrow again because it holds another opportunity--another chance to see him and talk to him. 

In the darkness, I find my voice softly humming the melody again, rocking me gently to sleep.



I swallow, staring at the tiny bottle of silver glitter and the pink sheet of paper.  I wish I was six years old again and it was perfectly fine to write out Valentines for all my classmates.  The princess ones for the girls and the superhero ones for the boys.

"Oh, just do it already," Anum says in a bored way.  She taps her foot impatiently while I swirl a marker in my hand.

"Don't," Farah disagrees.  "He'll find out."

My eyes widen in worry. There is no way I want him to find out.  It would be so embarrassing!

"Silly, he's not going to find out," Laila chimes in.  It was her idea in the first place, so of course she would say that.      

"You can just write a friendly message instead of a romantic one," the girl sitting at the table encourages me.  The sale is a fundraiser for some cancer group.  It seems like a good cause and I finally make my decision.  I write with my left hand to disguise my writing, but it appears to be so illegible that I switch back to my right hand.

Dear Tariq,

I won't start by saying that roses are red, or that violets are blue, because you already know that (besides, I think violets are actually violet, not blue).  What you don't know is that I really care a lot about you.  I like the way you smile and your ever so sweet personality.  I'm not sure when this started happening, but I secretly like you, and hope that one day you'll notice me too.

Your Secret Admirer 

After about five minutes of having the correct wording, I decorate the card, jot down Tariq's full name and hand it to the girl.  I slip in a five dollar bill along with it and hope that someone recovers from cancer.

My body feels all tingly and warm and I'm dying to see the expression on his face when he opens it.  But I will not be able to because he's not in my homeroom.

"Here's what we'll do.  Text me and we can ask both our homeroom teachers for a bathroom break.  I think Tariq's in Room 306 and we can sneak up there to see what he thinks.

"No way," I refuse immediately.  "Could we make it any more obvious?"

"Hey, you're the one who wants to see his reaction."

"Yeah, but I'm not gonna risk have him see me peeking at him like an idiot. No way."

I tune out Laila and reminisce the time last week when I had realized that Tariq was on the footsteps of my home, standing adjacent to my father.

"Let's go inside," Abu had said when Tariq and I were staring at each other in surprise.  His skin appeared to be all red from the cold.  I had quickly looked away out of embarrassment; I didn't want Abu to think I had no manners.

I walked into the house first, unsure of what else to do or say in front of Tariq and my father.  I went straight into the kitchen, just in time to catch Humza red-handed.

"Hey!" I yelled at him.  He wiped the crumbs on his mouth with the back of his hand and gave me a wide smile.

"It's delicious, Baji," he complimented me, but I wasn't satisfied.  I was actually very nervous.  I couldn't seem to make up mind about whether I should tell my family that Tariq and I knew each other from school, or continue pretending like we didn't.

Ammi forgot about the fight before Abu had left and took great care of Tariq.  I stayed out of the way.  Tariq refused to eat dinner with us and kept calling someone.  He seemed uncomfortable to be staying over at our house, and if things didn't work out, he would have to sleep over.

"Don't you worry, beta.  We have plenty of room.  The roads are completely blocked," Abu comforted Tariq.  Abu loved helping other people, even if it was his friend's relative's son.

"You're so nice, Uncle.  I'm so sorry about all of this," Tariq said.  I sneaked a look at him and I felt touched at how he was so mature in his behavior towards my parents.

"No apology," Ammi insisted, though I knew she was still a little annoyed. 

When Tariq accompanied Abu outside to help him shovel, my respect for him grew even more.  He was such a gentleman!

Ammi fixed dinner for us and I wondered if Tariq would sit down to eat with us.

"I'll have him eat in the room so he doesn't feel embarrassed in front of us," Ammi answered, reading my mind.  I wanted to disagree but I didn't want Ammi to feel suspicious. 

We had a spare guest room and that was where Ammi made Tariq's bed.  I couldn't describe how I was feeling.  Tariq sleeping over at my house?  How unimaginable!

We hadn't exchanged a single word since he arrived, nor had I removed my hijab.  I felt envious when Humza talked to him and I too wanted to join them in their Wii game.  But, I couldn't do that in front of my parents.

At eleven at night, when everyone seemed to be sleeping, I went to the kitchen and observed the scene outside our window.  It was pitch dark outside, but I could distinguish the hills of snow caved towards our fences and the narrow path that Abu had shoveled. 

I turned around when I heard a sound and found myself face to face with Tariq.  I opened my mouth to speak but couldn't.  He looked so fair in the dim light of the kitchen, his black hair contrasting his skin.  His eyes were warm and as I continued to observe him, I felt an uneasy feeling settle in my stomach.

"Sorry, Iman.  Could I get a glass of water?" he asked politely.  I stood awkwardly for a second before I registered his words and then I quickly grabbed a glass from the cabinet to give him water.  When he took it from me, our hands brushed ever so slightly.  I glanced nervously towards the hallway and hoped that both my parents were in deep sleep.

"What a small world huh?" I managed to say to Tariq.  He drank the water in a long sip and licked his lips.  He handed me the glass back and gave me a smile. 

"I was so stupid to go out.  I didn't believe everyone.  We've never had this much snow before." 

I nodded, looking at his dark blue jeans and wondered if he would be comfortable in sleeping in them.  "Do, need pajamas or something?  I could give you Humza's even though they would be small for you."

He laughed softly and shook his head.  "No, no I'll be fine really.  Your family is awesome, man."

Did he think I was awesome too?  I wanted to keep talking to him but I knew it wasn't right.  My parents were doing him a favor to keep him here for the night, not so that their daughter could secretly converse with him.

I said goodnight to him and slipped under my warm blanket.  It took me very long to fall asleep that night.  I replayed the conversation over and over again in my head.  He was so near, just two rooms away, and yet we were so far.

He left immediately in the morning, before I even woke up.  We didn't have school in the morning either, so I couldn't look forward to seeing him there either.

At school, Tariq was more open and thanked me for my family's hospitality.  I liked the way he looked in the dark gray sweatshirt.

When Laila saw the both of us talking to each other, her eyes grew in excitement.  She couldn't believe Tariq had slept over.

"Iman, do you like him?" Anum had asked me later that day. 

I took my time to reply to the question.  I already knew the answer and it would be a lie if I said otherwise.  So, very shyly, I smiled and nodded, only  to hear a shriek of giggles from Laila.  I rolled my eyes at her and I too felt excited.  This was a new feeling and it felt terrific.

And here I was today, a Valentine already on its way.  Would Tariq find out it was me?  I certainly didn't hope so. I liked liking him secretly because that's all that I could do.  This was just another crush. 

And I knew that before the beginning of anything, I would have to somehow get rid of it, before it ended up crushing me.


Caught in a Blizzard

I'm laughing and I'm not sure why.  Well, some people laugh out of nervousness or embarrassment so I guess that makes sense.  But, I'm also lying on the sidewalk on a burning sheet of ice in a whirlwind of a blizzard and with hills of snow emanating around me.  My feet had flung upwards and had come back down so quickly that it all seems pretty funny...until I sense the pain creeping up in my left hand.

Maybe I twisted it when I fell, but it doesn't matter because I need to get this snow shoveled out of the way before we are completely trapped within our own home.

"Humza!" I yell at my brother, a dark gray figure several feet away. He huffs forward, the layered clothing making it difficult for him to move swiftly.

"Get me up," I command him, stretching out my arm.  He takes my mitten and pulls me up to my feet again.  I rub my hand, but the cold has made me numb again.

"I can't do this anymore," Humza sighs, kneeling on the shovel.  I remove speckles of snow that have gathered on my face with the sleeve of my coat.

"It hasn't even been ten minutes," I tell him.  "Abu has been shoveling for two hours straight."

"But he also told us not to step out," Humza pouts.  I roll my eyes at his immaturity.  Of course Abu wouldn't want us to go through that trouble, but he couldn't be the only one out in the blizzard.

"We'll make a giant snowman," I cheer him, encouraging him to keep going.  The snow had not yet subsided and I had no idea when Abu would wake up again.  He had fell asleep in an exhausted state, warning us to stay inside.

Ten minutes later, my entire face has gone numb and I feel the hairs within my nose freeze.  "Still wanna make that snowman?" I ask Humza.

"No freaking way," he replies, trudging towards our front door.  It takes the both of us to get it open fully.

"I've got green tea for both of you," Ammi greets us inside.  I'm not a huge fan of green tea, but I grab the warm cup as soon as I see it.  The liquid soothes me as it passes down my throat.

I take off my black and gray mittens and examine my wrist.  It is all red and as my body adjusts to the warmth, I feel less numb and more pain.

"You got hurt?" Ammi asks, eying me. 

"I fell.  Is there ice?" I ask.

My skin seems to flare up in fire once the ice makes contact with it, but it feels better after a couple minutes.

"Ahmed is stuck at work," Ammi informs me.

"Why in the world would he go to work when he knew there was going to be a blizzard?"  I ask, shaking my head.  Mariyam's brother could be very idiotic sometimes.

"Apparently he had to," Ammi replies, stirring something in a pot.  She has a stack of candles and matches ready in one cabinet in case the light goes out.

"Lake Shore Drive is completely blocked," Humza announces from the living room.  Ammi and I join him to watch the television news.  It seems like a nightmare, but I think it would be pretty cool to get stranded in the middle of the day in a blizzard.  It seemed better than getting stuck at work.

Abu wakes up, red-eyed, heading towards the door.  I hope he doesn't bump into anything; it appears like he's sleepwalking and focused on the single task of shoveling.

"They've already shoveled for now," Ammi stops him and he seems to awaken.  He messes up mine and Humza's hair in an expression of gratitude.

"Abu! You ruined my hair!" I tease, trying to pat it down again.  It's frizzy again, but that probably has to do with the extensive amount of heat warming us inside the house.

I really should use this free day to catch up on homework but I'm too lazy.  Besides, I don't think I've ever had a snow day.  We were always obligated to attend school, even if it was below zero.  It wasn't like Georgia or Florida, where only five inches snow resulted in immediate closing of schools.

"Come on Skype," I text Anum, but she does not respond.  Laila is busy shoveling snow around her driveway.

Humza starts up his new Wii, which he got for his birthday last week.  I made sure to hint to my parents that they better get me an equally expensive gift for my birthday or else I would accuse them of favoritism.  Not that I haven't on previous occasions, but still.

"Let's play tennis," I suggest.

"No I want to play basketball," he retorts.

"Fine," I stick my tongue out at him and leave to join Ammi in the kitchen.  I feel bored to death, isolated at home.  I grab a brownie mix from the cupboard and decide to make some and not share any with Humza.

"Where is he?" I hear Abu in the hallway, his voice calm as he talks with someone over the phone.  Apparently, someone was very stressed on the other line.

"Give me his cell number.  I'll talk to him.  There's a Walgreens just two minutes from my house."

"What happened?" Ammi ask Abu after he hangs up, but he is focused on dialing a number.

"This boy is an idiot.  He goes out into the blizzard to buy medicine for his father and gets stuck at the store."

I shrug my shoulders, placing the brownies in the oven and text Anum again.  As long as no one is dying, no one should be complaining, right?

At the hospital.  Talk 2 u later.  Anum scares me with this text.

Omg what happened? U ok?  

Sarah fell. Not a big deal  I examine my wrist and wonder if I should be in the Emergency Room also.  Probably not.  I can't stand hospitals.

Ammi calls to check up on my grandma across the street and our neighbors.  The brownies look done but I want them a little more crisp.

"You're going to walk out there?" I hear Ammi yell at Abu a while later.

"He's stuck in there and the father's dying of worry," Abu explains.

"He's not five.  And are other peoples' kids more important than your own family?  My mother's sidewalks are still full of snow!"  Ammi is exasperated and I'm not sure who to side with. 

"Iman and Humza can do that," Abu suggests and I suddenly sense the cramping in my arms. 

"No.  Next time, just don't even ask me anything.  Do whatever you do.  Just go.  Leave," Ammi sighs in defeat.

"How can you stop me from helping someone?" it's Abu's turn to yell.  I step into their room while Abu walks out and he shakes his head at me.  Ammi mutters something under her breath, folding the dried laundry.

Humza's too busy playing so I wrap myself up in a hijab, two hoodies, and a coat.  The worst of the storm seems to be over but it has left a monstrous amount of snow behind.  Cars on our street are buried in white, only small spots of color peeking out.  A lot of people are outside and some have even placed chairs to designate their cleared parking spots.

"You making your parents proud?" Mr. Willamson calls out to me.  He lives two houses down from us.

I smile at him though I doubt he can see that close up.  "It's a nice workout," I reply and ask him about his family.

About twenty minutes later, I feel satisfied internally, but my entire body is sore.  I cross the street to head towards my own house, careful to avoid large piles of snow.

I see two figures walking towards me.  One is clearly Abu, with the navy blue winter hat.  But the other figure, I can't seem to decipher, although it is obvious it is the boy Abu "rescued."

Closer up, Abu is panting and I grab the spare shovel he has in his hand to relieve him.  But I stop mid-step as I see who he is with.

His eyes widen in recognition at the same time mine does.

"Tariq?" I ask doubtfully.


Contemplating Theories

I am feeling irritated to wake up so early this week after two weeks of vacation, but I console myself by picking a nice outfit to wear.

I decide on a lavender top with a large black flower stitched on the side for Monday.  It would look fantastic with a pair of dark blue skinny jeans, but Ammi will not let me leave the house with those on.  She says it's like I've painted them on me, but I beg to differ.

Anyhow, I choose a pair of black casual pants.  I hope it doesn't look like I am dressed for an interview or that I am super excited for school.  At least I'm not like some girls who come dressed to school all dolled up, with their hair and make-up done. 

The wind whips against me, freshly grazing my cheeks as I trek toward school, literally my second home. Though it feels disappointing to even call a school a home, it is where I spent seven hours, at the least, daily.  Sometimes it feels like a reformatory, but today I'm eager to step inside the old brick building.  My body craves for warmth as a sudden gush of cold wind slices my face. 

“Ah,” I groan to myself, quickening my pace but being careful not to slip on the slippery surface. 

If only I was in Florida right now rather than having to suffer the rough Chicago winter.  Then again, Florida would be a little too hot for me considering my attire.  The blazing Chicago summers do get irritating when it hits the nineties.  Maybe I just need a place where it is fifty degrees all year round.

The students in my class appear to be as groggy and sleepy as I am, but the teachers don't and are ready as ever to pull us back in the swing of work.  
"Mr. Ali, you know very well that I do not allow students to wear hats in my class. Please take it off," is the first thing I hear Senorita Gonzales say as I enter my Spanish class.

My eyes move toward Tariq, just like everyone else in the class.  We are seated in assigned groups of four, and he sits diagonally across from me at another table.  He bites his lip and very slowly, removes the blue Chicago Cubs cap from his head.

My mouth slowly opens but then closes on its own accord.  I hear a few snickers in the class, and I sympathize Tariq.  His head is completely bare and I wonder if someone has forced him to shave the hair off. 

Ten minutes later, I come to a terrible conclusion.  What if Tariq has cancer and his hair loss is a result of none other than chemotherapy?  I shudder at the thought and pray silently that it is something else.  A while later, after attempting to conjugate some verbs, I reach another theory.  Maybe Tariq had gone for Umrah during winter break and had shaved his head as it is customary to do so during the pilgrimage.  I hope that the latter of the two theories are true.

I cannot find out, however, because it feels awkward to approach Tariq and interrogate him about it.  I feel bad that I will embarrass him by asking and we aren't best buddies either.

During lunch, I tell Laila all about it.  Her eyes widen in shock and she takes a look at Tariq waiting in the cafeteria line ahead of us, but the blue cap is on again.

"Maybe he's just going through a phase," she suggests, but I tell her my own theories.

"No way Iman! He can't have cancer! We would have all known by now.  Don't you remember that Grayson girl, what was her name?  Anyway, the whole school found out she had cancer and was going through chemo."

She has a good point.  News spread quite quickly and before long, we would know the story behind Tariq's bald head.

Anum and Farah talk about their trips to Pakistan and Texas and I lament at the fact that I couldn't travel beyond Aurora.  But they have both been thoughtful to bring along gifts for all of us.

Anum gives me a pair of Shalwar Kameez, tailored to my size.  It's a beige and blue pattern that is simple but pretty.  Farah gives me a Texas keychain and magnet.

In art class, the cap doesn't come off because Mr. Hesser is a highly artistic individual in addition to being liberal.  He promotes freedom of expression and likes change.  Laila is stumped because she still hasn't seen Tariq without the cap.

Our new unit in class is sketching, which I am undeniably terrible at.  Mr. Hesser asks each of us to sketch a picture of a cube that is displayed by the overhead projector.  It's tedious and boring, but Laila is there to entertain me as I attempt to replicate the image onto my sketchpad.

"Next class, I'll be taking a picture of each of you once I set up a small photo booth.  Then, your unit final will be to create a sketch of yourself, specifically your face," Mr. Hesser announces.

I look at Laila and raise my eyebrows in worry. If I can't sketch a simple cube, how could I ever sketch myself?  She shakes her head and my shoulders slump.  Then, I realize that I don't have to.  I never draw human faces, and why should this be an exception?

I would have to talk to Mr. Hesser about it, and I'm pretty sure he would understand.  But, I don't get a chance because Laila is bold enough to drag me towards Tariq at the end of class.

"Hi Tariq," I greet him, while internally, I feel like punching Laila in the face.  He looks a little surprised, and I think a little embarrassed, as he recognizes us standing there by him.  He gives me a small nod.

"Tariq, what happened to your hair?" Laila asks and my mouth opens in shock.  Why is she asking him that?

To my horror, Tariq looks at me and I hate myself for telling Laila anything about him in the first place.  I quickly look away and grab Laila's elbow.

"Well, you know my brother," he began, and he looks at me while he talks.  I do?  Oh right, I saw his brother at Jewel.

"'s embarrassing, but he was experimenting and he mixed my sister's hair-removing cream into my shampoo bottle."
I clap my hand over my mouth in utter surprise but Laila is laughing.  Tariq gives a small smile and I like the way he looks when he does so. 

"I'm so sorry, Tariq," I muster.  "Stop laughing!" I scold Laila.  Humza is nothing compared to Tariq's brother.  Wow, kids can be a nightmare.

"Well, did-he-get-punished?" Laila asks, in between giggles.

Tariq shrugs.  "I punched him here and there and he's grounded, but I guess it ends there.  He has ADD so we have to be a little lenient." 

I really can't tell whether Tariq is being serious or sarcastic.  But, it's time to leave because we now have the information we were looking for.

"Bye, Tariq," Laila says as I edge her away from him. 

"Laila, you shouldn't have laughed. It's so rude."

"We didn't tell him the best part though."

"What?" I asked, confused now.

"That you thought he had cancer."

"Laila, you better not even think about telling him," I hissed. 

At home, I seal my lips and do not tell anyone about the crazy story, even when Abu asks me how school was.  I certainly do not want to give Humza any ideas, in case we start fighting again.

TGIF.  Thank God It's Friday (well, tomorrow, that is).  I can finally catch up on some sleep again.

Beware of little monsters!
American Muslim Girl