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 was 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 un-American she was.
“So what?! This dress should be just as acceptable as jeans and a t-shirt. Who cares if someone thinks we look like criminals. We’re educated, civilized people. You need to accept that.
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 father 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 their basketball game below the fire escape. Laila felt her cheeks getting hot and red. Her hands trembled and she just wanted to hide.
first published in June 2017 in Genre: Urban Arts