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



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.