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?
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?"
"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.