“I could do this all the time!” Lyrica threw her hands up and moved her body in rhythm to the music blaring from her iPod player on the schoolyard pavement.
Laughing, Kayla pushed herself off the grass and stood to join Lyrica. Kayla motioned to Inaya. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s dance.”
It was a Wednesday afternoon and the three friends had decided to spend the lunch period outside. Though it was late October, the weather was comfortably cool, and they wore thin jackets.
Inaya felt the urge to join her friends, but she remained sitting on the grass, her knees pulled up in front of her as she thought about Raymond, who was at a Student Council meeting right then. A smile creased a corner of Inaya’s mouth as she watched Lyrica sway back and forth, her attractive form difficult for Inaya to rip her eyes from.
“That’s okay,” Inaya said. “I’ll just watch.”
“Party pooper!” Lyrica called out.
Lyrica grasped Inaya’s hands and pulled Inaya forward before she could protest. Laughing uncomfortably, Inaya stumbled to her feet, but she held back from dancing. She stood to the side, her arms folded loosely over her chest as she watched her friends.
“It’s like I waited my whole life,” Kayla sang along with the singer Chris Brown as she danced next to Lyrica, “for this one night.”
Inaya nodded her head to the music, unable to calm the urge to join them.
“It’s gon’ be me, you, and the dance floor,” Lyrica and Kayla sang out the chorus to “Forever.”
Inaya moved her shoulders rhythmically and clapped her hands.
“Can I have this dance?”
Kayla and Lyrica looked toward Inaya and burst out laughing, and Inaya had the strange feeling that she was the butt of a joke.
She jerked in surprise when someone pulled her back by the shoulder. Her heart hammered in her chest when she turned to find Raymond smiling at her and taking her hand. Her face grew warm as he grasped both her hands.
She laughed uncomfortably as he moved their hands back and forth.
“Feels like we’re on another level,” Raymond sang.
Inaya was pleasantly surprised that he could carry a tune, and she moved in rhythm with him. But she kept a comfortable distance between her and him except for their joined hands.
Raymond winked at her as he continued singing. “…We can be two rebels, breaking the rules, me and you…”
At his last words, Inaya felt a surge of confidence swell in her chest and she danced more, unable to keep from laughing out loud, giddy in happiness. Next to them Lyrica and Kayla held hands and danced in step with each other.
Was Raymond just reciting the lyrics to a song, or did he really mean what he was saying?
A wave of hope swept through Inaya as flattery nestled in her chest. She found herself wishing Lyrica and Kayla were not next to them.
“Why is the president of Student Council playing hooky?” Lyrica asked as she and Raymond walked hand-in-hand in front of Kayla and Inaya as they made their way back to the building for classes.
“It was a meeting,” Raymond said, laughter in his voice, “not class.”
“Oh, so you’re shirking responsibility after you got our votes?” Kayla teased.
He glanced behind him, a smirk on his face. “You got it. I think it’s time this school had a real politician.”
They laughed and Inaya couldn’t keep from laughing too.
“Nasra suggested we cut it short so we could eat,” he said, his tone more serious. “I think I’m falling in love with the vice president.”
Lyrica hit him on the head playfully.
At the mention of Nasra, anxiety constricted Inaya’s chest.
It wasn’t until last week that Nasra realized that Lyrica’s and Raymond’s “new friend” was the same girl she had seen in hijab over a month before. She had come to the lunch table to sit with Raymond to discuss some ideas for school clubs, and when she mentioned starting a Muslim Student Club, Raymond had suggested that Inaya could help Nasra.
The look on Nasra’s face was a mixture of surprise and confusion, but she maintained a polite expression. “You’re Muslim?”
“Yes,” Inaya had said, her gaze absently falling to the tray of food that she was eating from.
“Oh…” That’s when the look of recognition passed over Nasra’s face, and Inaya wished Nasra would just leave the table. “Didn’t you used to…”
Thankfully, Nasra had had the good sense not to finish the sentence, at least not verbally. But Inaya sensed the girl’s harsh judgment concealed behind the kind expression.
“I’d love to have your help,” Nasra said finally.
But Inaya grunted. “No thank you.”
“Congratulations by the way,” Kayla said as she fell in step next to Lyrica and Raymond after they entered the building, the iPod player bulky at Lyrica’s side. “But I must admit,” Kayla said, humor in her tone as she looked at Raymond, “I voted for Nasra.”
Lyrica laughed. “Me, too.”
“What?” Raymond looked genuinely shocked.
But Lyrica punched him playfully and winked. “Just kidding.”
“You don’t have to be such a jerk, you know.”
Inaya turned to find Nasra, arms folded, smiling at her. School had ended twenty minutes before, and Inaya stood near the exit doors waiting for Kayla. She hadn’t heard anyone come up behind her.
Students brushed past and hurried out the doors, and cool air rippled through Inaya’s jilbaab each time the door opened. Inaya had slipped on the outer-garment as she stood in the hall. But she held her khimaar in her hand.
Inaya rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the glass windows on the doors. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You act like I bite.”
Inaya clinched her teeth, but she did not meet Nasra’s gaze. “Don’t you have to go home or something?”
“Yes…” Nasra’s tone held a hint of humor. “But my car isn’t going anywhere without me.”
Inaya huffed, but she didn’t say anything.
“I’d really like you to help with MSC.” Nasra’s tone was softer, more serious.
“I don’t want to help.”
“We could really use you.”
Inaya rolled her eyes. “Why? So you can secretly plan how to put me back on the right path?” Inaya turned to meet Nasra’s gaze. “Is that why you’re talking to me? You want to show me how nice you are? That you’re open-minded so I can feel better when you start judging me?”
Nasra’s expression remained pleasant, but Inaya detected a sense of sadness.
“No one’s judging you,” Nasra said.
“I saw the way you looked at me when you realized who I was.” Inaya shook her head. “I’m not stupid.”
Nasra sighed, and her eyes became reflective as she looked beyond Inaya out the rectangular window. “I know how you feel,” she said. “Before I wore hijab, I used to think everyone was judging me too.”
Inaya’s eyes widened slightly. Nasra hadn’t always worn hijab?
“I used to avoid hijabis and say they thought they were better than everybody else.”
Inaya looked away.
“It took me a long time to accept that it wasn’t the hijabis who were annoying me.” Nasra put a hand on Inaya’s shoulder. “I was just annoyed with myself.”
There was a thoughtful pause as Inaya felt herself becoming irritated, but she didn’t understand this feeling. She was glad when Nasra pulled her hand away.
“We could use you in the Muslim Student Club because it’s obvious you’re really smart and talented,” Nasra said as she stepped forward to push the door open.
Nasra reached into her purse and pulled out a card. “This is my email, phone number, and Facebook I.D.,” she said as she handed the card to Inaya. “Contact me if you change your mind.”
Inaya looked in the visor mirror as she wrapped the pink cloth around her head after Kayla had driven a safe distance from the school. Inaya secured a corner of the cloth under her chin then leaned back in her seat. Soft music wafted from the car speakers, and her thoughts grew distant as she looked out the passenger-side window.
“Raymond asked if he could have your phone number,” Kayla said.
Inaya looked at her cousin, forehead creased. “What?”
“Raymond,” Kayla repeated, glancing to her right to meet Inaya’s gaze briefly. “I gave him your phone number. I hope that was okay.”
Inaya’s spirits lifted suddenly. She didn’t know what to say. But the feeling of flattery passed as she realized that her mother or stepfather could answer the phone if Raymond called.
“You should’ve asked me first,” Inaya said, betraying her true feelings. “I could get in trouble.”
Kayla nodded, her thoughts elsewhere. “Sorry,” she said, frowning. “I realized that after I gave it to him.”
Inaya was silent as she listened to the melodious sound of music playing in the car. “Why didn’t he ask me?”
“It was after lunch,” Kayla said, “and he didn’t know where to find you.”
Inaya nodded absently, her gaze on the colored leaves of the passing trees.
“Did he say why?” Inaya said.
“I didn’t ask,” Kayla said, her tone subdued. “I didn’t think it was my place.”
Inaya’s heart fluttered in hope, but Kayla’s cautious tone made Inaya feel guilty. Was Inaya wrong to hope Raymond and Lyrica were having problems?
“Be careful,” Kayla said after a thoughtful silence.
Inaya met her cousin’s gaze, eyebrows drawn together. “Why?”
Kayla shrugged. “I’m worried about Lyrica, that’s all.”
Whatever, Inaya thought to herself.
“Let’s just hope this is about his fascination with religion,” Kayla said, “and not his fascination with you.”
Inaya’s eyebrows shot up at her cousin’s bluntness. “His fascination with me?”
“Oh come on, Inaya.” Kayla rolled her eyes and shook her head. “It’s clear you two really hit it off.”
Inaya turned her head toward the side window to suppress a grin. Really? Was it possible that she wasn’t living on false hopes?
“But I trust Raymond.” Kayla’s tone sounded conflicted. Kayla propped an elbow on the window next to her as she slowed the car at a four-way-stop. “I don’t think he would cheat on Lyrica,” she said before guiding the car forward again. “They’ve been together for three years, and he’s always been faithful.”
Inaya felt offended at her cousin’s words. But she couldn’t think of that right then. She just wondered what she would say if Raymond called…
If her mother or stepfather didn’t answer first.
“Inaya, the phone is for you.”
Veronica stood in the doorway to Inaya’s room Friday night holding the cordless phone.
Heart racing, Inaya nervously turned to her mother. But Inaya could not read her mother’s expression. Veronica’s hair was disheveled, apparently from sleeping on it, and Veronica looked exhausted. Inaya had heard Abdullah crying all afternoon and evening, and she remembered her mother saying that Abdullah was running a slight fever.
If Veronica had heard a male voice on the other end of the line, she probably was too sleep-deprived to notice or register what it meant.
Inaya raised herself from the chair and took the phone from her mother. Her heart raced as she counted the three seconds it took her mother to leave and close the door. Inaya leaned against the wall momentarily and cradled the phone to her chest as she drew in a deep breath and exhaled.
She glanced at the clock. It was 9:37. It was late but not too late. She slid back into her desk chair and put the phone to her ear.
“Hello?” She spoke as calmly as she could, but she detected a quiver in her voice.
At the sound of a girl’s voice, Inaya’s heart sank. She grew irritated. Who was calling her at this time of night?
“Yes…” Inaya said tentatively.
“Oh my God, I finally got through.”
Inaya drew her brows together at the sound of a British accent. “Who’s this?”
“This is Rafa,” the girl said.
The image of Inaya’s best friend from Saudi Arabia was so disconnected from Inaya’s life in America that Inaya had forgotten about her. Inaya’s heart fell in disappointment. She wasn’t in the mood to talk to Rafa, but Inaya felt guilty for feeling this way.
“As-salaamu’alaikum,” Rafa said, laughter in her voice, her excitement palpable through the receiver. “My parents finally agreed to let me have an internet phone.”
“Wa’alaiku-mus-salaam.” Inaya hoped she sounded more excited than she felt. But in that brief moment, Inaya felt a tinge of sadness for what she had left behind when she moved to America. “That’s so good, maashaAllah.”
“Yeah, I know.” Rafa giggled. “Now I can call you all the time.”
Inaya leaned her elbows on the desk and toyed with a pen. “That’s really good.”
Rafa sighed. “Oh, you have to tell me everything. How is it? Are you homesick yet?”
Inaya laughed beside herself, and Rafa laughed too. But Inaya knew Rafa couldn’t imagine why Inaya found the question amusing.
“It’s good. I’m…” Inaya’s voice trailed as she realized there was nothing she felt comfortable confiding to Rafa. “…in school now.”
“That’s so cool. Is it that Saudi school in Virginia?”
Inaya contorted her face, but she maintained her polite tone. “No, it’s…closer.”
“My cousin’s wife told me they have a lot of Muslim schools there,” Rafa said.
Rafa sighed again. “I wish we could visit the States.”
Inaya drew her head back in surprise. “Why?”
“I hear it’s really beautiful there, and the people are nice.”
Inaya nodded as she thought about her experience so far. “Well, that’s true.”
“So tell me everything,” Rafa said anxiously. “How is Muslim school in America?”
Before Inaya could respond, Rafa continued. “I’m trying to convince my mother to let me stay with my uncle after I finish my O levels, but she thinks I’ll get corrupted or something.” Rafa groaned. “She thinks I’ll take off my hijab and become Americanized.”
Inaya’s cheeks grew warm, and she fought the inclination to say something in her own defense. But that wouldn’t make any sense because Rafa had no idea she had offended Inaya.
“I go to public school,” Inaya said finally, “but they have a club for Muslim students.”
Rafa sucked in her breath in surprise. “Are you serious? Oh my God. I bet you get to do all sorts of da’wah.”
Inaya thought of Raymond’s and Lyrica’s interest in religion and the conversation she’d had with her father. “Yeah, I get to teach people about Islam.”
“Are you still studying Qur’an?”
“I’m a teacher at a Muslim weekend school.”
“You’re a Qur’an teacher?” Inaya could sense Rafa’s awe and amazement through the phone, and for a moment Inaya saw herself through Rafa’s eyes.
It was chilling how the truth could be so deceptive. Was this the same half-truth Inaya had created for herself when she’d said she couldn’t wait to move back to America? But at the time, it hadn’t occurred to Inaya herself that she would struggle as a Muslim in the States.
“Yes,” Inaya said finally, her tone devoid of emotion despite her effort to sound enthusiastic.
“Living in a Muslim country makes you a weak Muslim.” These were the words that came to Inaya right then. It was something her Saudi friend Batool had said once.
“That’s not true,” Inaya had shot back, offended.
“In America, the Muslims are stronger,” Batool insisted. “They cover and pray and fast, and they don’t care what people think.” When Inaya contended that Batool was mistaken, Batool had rolled her eyes and said, “Show me someone from a Muslim country who’s like that. They don’t want to even be seen in hijab.”
“See,” Rafa said with a sigh, reminding Inaya that her friend was still on the phone. “That’s what I keep telling my mom. I can get an American diploma in the States and still practice Islam. But sh—paranoid.”
A beeping sound disrupted Rafa’s sentence.
“Hold on a second,” Inaya told Rafa. “There’s a call on the other line.”
Inaya pulled the phone from her face and pressed the flash button.
“Hello?” she said after putting the phone back to her ear.
“Yes, good evening,” a deep voice greeted. “May I speak to Inaya please?”
Inaya’s heart raced as she recognized the sound of Raymond’s voice.
“One moment please,” she said. Her hands trembled as she clicked back over to Rafa.
“Yeah, I’m still here.”
“I have to go.” Inaya sighed her apology, feigning regret at having to cut the conversation so short. “It’s an important call…for my family.”
“No problem,” Rafa said. “Can I call after an hour?” She laughed. “I have so much to tell you.”
“Um…” Inaya’s heart grew heavy in dread. “…sure.”
A thought came to Inaya just then. “Maybe I should just call you back when I’m free.”
“Oh, that would be great,” Rafa said. “It’s early morning here and I’ll be home.”
“Is this your number on the caller I.D.?”
“Yes,” Rafa said. “It’s our American internet phone.”
“Okay, cool,” Inaya said. “Insha’Allah, I’ll call you when I’m done.” She shut her eyes and shook her head. “When I’m free, I mean.”
“I’ll wait for your call.”
Rafa sounded so enthusiastic that Inaya felt sick with guilt. She had no intention to call Rafa back, but she imagined that she had no other choice.
“No one else uses this phone,” Rafa said, giddy excitement in her voice. “It’s mine to talk to my cousins and friends in America.”
“That’s nice,” Inaya said, growing frustrated. She hated keeping Raymond waiting. What if he hung up?
“Oh yeah,” Rafa said, as if recalling something just then. “Did you hear Batool is engaged?”
Inaya gritted her teeth and glanced at the clock. “Rafa, I have to go.” Inaya felt bad for being rude, but she had already told Rafa that there was an important call waiting. She was losing patience. If Raymond got disconnected, she would never forgive her friend.
“Oh…okay.” The defeated sound in Rafa’s voice made Inaya ashamed of herself. But she wasn’t about to apologize.
“I’ll wait for your call,” Rafa said quietly.
“As-salaamu’alaikum,” Inaya said, pressing the flash button before Rafa had a chance to reply.
“Raymond?” Inaya said, struggling to catch her breath.
There was silence on the other end of the receiver, and for a second Inaya’s heart stopped. Had he hung up?
“Yes…” a cautious voice said finally.
It was then that Inaya realized that he had never said who he was—and she hadn’t either. For all he knew, it was Inaya’s mother who’d answered the phone. Her face grew hot in embarrassment.
“This is Inaya,” she said quickly. “I had to hang up another call.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I can call back later. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“No, it’s okay. I was finished anyway.”
There was an awkward pause as Inaya had no idea what to say next. She had no experience with things like this.
“I hope it’s not too late,” Raymond said.
“No, no.” Inaya mentally scolded herself for sounding eager to talk. “I’m wide awake.”
“I guess Kayla told you she gave me your number.”
“Yeah… She mentioned something like that.”
“I hope you don’t mind…”
“Not at all.” Inaya drew in a deep breath to steady her short breaths. “I’m fine with it. Anytime.”
There was a brief pause.
“I wanted to talk to you …” he said hesitantly, and Inaya’s heart raced as he spoke. “…because the school asked Student Council to form a committee of students to act as liaisons and public relations representatives for the school.”
Inaya slumped back into her chair, defeated, disinterested all of a sudden.
“They asked me to chair it,” Raymond said with a sigh. “But to be honest, with all my duties at school and my scholarship applications to fill out and college essays to write when I’m home, I don’t think I can take on anything else.”
“Mm, hm,” Inaya said, half-listening.
“So I thought of you.”
Inaya creased her forehead. “For what?”
“To chair the committee.”
It was then that Inaya began to process what he was asking.
“But…what about Lyrica?” The question came out more resentful than Inaya had intended.
“She’s taking courses at a community college after school,” he said, his tone cautious, “so she wants to focus on that.”
Oh, Inaya thought numbly. So he did ask his girlfriend first. Inaya was only an afterthought.
Inaya felt drained all of a sudden. She needed to pray ‘Ishaa. It was the oddest moment to desire spiritual connection, but she was so confused lately. She needed a moment to gather her thoughts.
Inaya wished she hadn’t rushed Rafa off the phone. Maybe Rafa could give her some advice…even if Inaya could never reveal to Rafa why she needed it.
“I don’t know, Raymond.” Inaya sighed. “I have a lot going on.”
“I know…” His voice sounded disappointed, and Inaya felt bad.
“I just don’t think I’m the right person for the job.”
Raymond chuckled. “Well, that’s where you’re wrong.”
Inaya’s spirits lifted slightly, enjoying the positive attention, even if only momentary. “I don’t think so,” she said with a smirk.
“Inaya,” he said, and Inaya’s face grew warm at the sound of his voice saying her name, “I gave this a lot of thought. And there’s really no one else I can think of who’s better than you.”
“Not even Lyrica?” Inaya teased. At the sound of his laughter through the receiver, Inaya smiled.
“Think about it, okay?” he said finally.
It didn’t escape Inaya that he didn’t answer her last question.
“But I’ll give your name to the Student Affairs Office on Monday.”
Before Inaya could protest, he continued.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s not a commitment. Just a suggestion.”
“Okay,” Inaya said, sighing. “If you say so.”
“You can turn it down if you like,” he said.
She chuckled. “Thanks.”
“No,” he said. “Thank you. You’re truly a lifesaver.”
END OF ONLINE SERIES
This series is derived from the UZ novel by the same name and does not feature the full book. To read the entire novel CLICK HERE
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