a short story by Roomana Shaikh
Laila hated Saturdays. She hated going to Queens and
having to transfer three different trains. She hated
every aspect of the travel. She hated having to wear the
long black abaya that flowed and also brought a lot
of attention. She hated the cream white hijab she had to
wear with it and how it had to be pinned all the way,
and wrapped around her monstrous curls. More than
anything Laila hated coming back. She hated the anxiety
she had when coming back from Queens. She tried to
find any way to avoid the kids at her block, avoid any of
the kids around her school. All the Muslim kids had
heard she wore the abaya but no one really saw her.
Today seemed different though. As she walked down the
steps with her mom, she noticed how crowded the streets
were. The weather was getting warmer which meant more
people, which meant people she knew, which meant her
secret was about to be spilled. The sucky thing was
that either way she went back to her house, she was
going to be seen.
“Beta, remember to be confident. Look the sun is
shining but I’m not hot. I know people bother with these
questions, but you need to speak up.” Her mom said as they
walked down the sidewalk. This was going to be a weekly
lecture. Laila’s mom wore an all black abaya and hijab.
She had her mouth covered as well, so the only thing you
could see were her large brown eyes peeking through.
“Ammi I know. I get it. But wearing all black isn’t fun
either. We look like the people on tv. Look at us. Why do
you think that guy was yelling at us on the train? We do
look weird!” Laila argued back. She hated the abaya. It
made her feel so out of place. Most of all it reminded
her of how unAmerican she was.
“So what?! This dress should be just as
acceptable as jeans and a t shirt. Who cares if
some-one thinks we look like criminals. We’re
educated civilized people. You need to accept
The more you listen to the ignorance, the more you’re
going to lose your roots. Look at me?! My own people
mock me for covering up. But I don’t care. I believe in
my religion and I believe in my choices. Your own fa-
ther is against my niqab. Beta you need to be brave. I
was so brave then and I still am.” She replied in a much
harsher tone. When Laila’s mom spoke, it sounded like
thunder yelling from the sky. Even though the strangers
passing by didn’t understand what she was saying, they
knew it was something important.
“Well I can’t be brave. Everyone bullies me. Everyone
mocks me. No one wants to be my friend.” Laila
complained. Oh how she wished she was like her mom. Oh
how she wished her mom understood her.
“YOOO LAILA?! YO you look the taliban! Your mom-
ma’s a ninja bro. Salam ninja. Got any bombs under
there.” Yelled Daniel and Ryan. They stood on the bench-
es hollering at Laila and her mom as they walked by. She
noticed Tommy in the back just laughing.
“See, now speak up Laila. I know how you feel”
Laila’s mom said. She started walking towards the boys.
Laila wanted to hide and cry. Her secret was exposed.
It was over. It was all over. She wanted to burn her
clothes. She wanted to leave her mom.
“Yes yes I’m a ninja! But you are rude! This is
my culture. This is my religion. How dare you say I
have bombs with me? Have some shame!” Her mom yelled
at the three boys. They stood quietly and then started
to snicker. Laila’s mom turned and started walking
towards her building. In front of the building were
all the aunties just staring at her astonishingly.
Laila saw Mohammed and Ali stare as well, stopping
thier basket-ball game below the fire escape. Laila
felt her cheeks getting hot and red. Her hands
trembled and she just wanted to hide.
Happy #ThrowbackThursday from Genre: Urban Arts issue No1
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