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.
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.