When your gaze shifts, I notice your distress. It’s a game for us now, my sisters and me. We’re the best at it, too. I mean, how couldn’t we be, with all this experience? Find the I-can’t-get-enough-looks stranger, the ignorant I’m-going-to-ask-all-these-questions-and-then-proceed-to-tell-you-how-sorry-I-feel-for-you classmate, the middle-aged lady horrified beyond reason, clutching her precious child to her breast, waiting for a ticking bomb to explode.
God knows how much time they have left together.
I wonder if it’s worth it, brushing the dust off an old atlas to show you where I came from. Instead of the world stretched between pages, your eyes would wander to my father’s hands, rivers of white tears lining his dark skin. Would you listen of the sleepless hours he spent chopping at mountains to learn? Sometimes, he transcends time zones, travels across oceans to visit the home of his childhood, and he comes back confused. When he looks at himself through the spyglass of his sisters, all he sees is a frustrating lack of money.
Forgive me, for I have only your piercing stare to go on, but I do not think you are someone who can understand this kind of longitude and latitude, with my father’s callouses as degrees.
Mama’s eyes are hollow sometimes. I have felt helpless when facing piles of endless homework that take days to finish, but none of it compares to the anxiety churning in my stomach when she speaks of home. Once, an evening came and she found her mother had breathed her last only moments ago, when the moon had set high in the sky a thousand miles away. Would you hear my mother’s sobs rising from a bleeding heart, or be blinded by her veil, her accent?
Your pity astonishes me. Did I not say that I chose this lifestyle for myself? But I realize my shortcoming, that, despite being a poet, my words are not enough to describe the peace encompassing my heart when I remember God’s promise.
My grandparents migrated as children, their parents breathing a sigh of relief as they stepped over the border to a newborn country. Here, they wouldn’t be slaughtered in masses. Here, they’d build a new land piece by piece, every family supporting another. But the foundations, though strong, were not maintained, and so the dust-covered earth of my ancestors trembles even today. And my parents, seeing this, made their own migration to the West, placing their fate in God’s hand and following the tales they’d heard about the American dream.
Tell me then, why I would destroy this beautiful home of ours when my parents spared no penny, no bead of sweat to secure a fate here for us? You need not clutch your child so tight. My siblings grew up calling me their second mother; I understand how every drop of a child’s blood is priceless, especially those of yours, for he holds the potential of an open mind, a remnant of the people of Taif.
Mayhap you’ll listen to your own kind. There are Americans in my family too, a cousin who paints her dreams into reality. Another whose steady voice recites the Quran, leading the people praying behind him. I have one who is mocked for being a short nerd but fights back with the spirit of his warrior namesake. They’re a trio inseparable, bonding in their childish love for troublemaking, setting off fireworks and slipping away uncaught.
There is an uncle back home who doesn’t know of his own autism, the reason he can’t find work, and another in America who shoulders the burden of breadwinning for whole families alone. Shall I tell you of their endless humor and pranks? With beards and growing children, they are still young boys at heart.
And if you insist, “This America, my America,” I will remember my papers and concede, “This America, your America.” But I cannot help my love, forbidden in your eyes, of the America that raised me, her rolling hills littered with dandelions, her stray turkeys waddling about with chicks in tow, her sharp curbs challenging my proud, red bike. I’ve only one place to call home, and it is here.
My fingertips tingle with anxiety as I make my way to the counter to place my order. I remind myself of the woman in Wal-Mart touching my mother’s hijab, saying in wonder, “I like this,” of Mrs. Compton telling me my senior year that she saw my frightened freshman self as “shy, yes, but resilient and brave,” of my dentist chatting away about her astonishment as a student when cars lined up in rows around the block outside her house, because the mosque was just down the street, and it was the first night of Ramadan.
“A caramel frappuccino,” I answer the barista, my voice wavering only slightly. “Please,” I clear my throat and smile at her. She turns to take it without a beat, and relieved, I’m left alone to my thoughts for a little while longer.
My sisters confront you by laughing at the craziness of it all, playfully tipping imaginary hats as salutes to you. You don’t think it’s amusing, but the man beside you does. An involuntary grin tugs at his lips, and he turns his face to hide it, though the sparkle in his eyes remain. They’re just girls, he probably thinks.
But I fall silent. My sisters and I have set our eyes above the sky’s horizon, above the rising sun that enchants everyone else. With every layer of black cloth comes a layer of even thicker skin, and instead of teaching humanity, we build ourselves from within, practicing silence, wary of offending our offender.
All this runs through my mind in milliseconds as your gaze of disgust lingers. But even if I used the sky as my map and connected constellations to show you the intertwining fates of my family and this country, you’d be skeptical. “You have no place here,” you’d say. And I’d get a little quieter.
So I turn away and pretend not to notice your constant glances.
All I wanted was some coffee.
Memoir by Anonymous Staff Writer (may Allah bless her and all Muslim women for all that they go through)