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.
"He...uh...it'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