“I don’t understand what you just said. In what kind of twisted bizarre world does a Hijabi get paid to wear provocative clothes?” Fatima’s jaws dropped to the stuck elevator’s floor.
“You’re doing it again” Grace sighed. “Let her talk and stop judging. You know what, no tacos for you!”
Grace snatched the taco shell from Fatima’s hand, who surprisingly fought back for it playfully, giggling like a little girl. If you had been watching from far, you’d think those girls were life long best friends. Being locked together inside the broken elevator had somehow freed their inhibitions. They were comfortably sharing their secrets and insecurities, and this time it was Sarah’s turn to uncover the truth about her story….
Three years ago…
“Can you also get me a strawberry milkshake?” Sarah fluttered her eyes. They were at the hospital and she had just come through a minor surgery of a simple mole removal. Except Sarah was acting as if she had survived an open heart surgery involving losing half her blood, an urgent kidney transplant and three revival attempts.
“Fine. I’ll get you the milkshake, too.” Sarah’s mom sighed on her way out. “A non-fat one though”
“No, a FAT one!”
The ‘not-so-subtle’ hints were getting on her nerves. Yes, she was a bit overweight but come on; did her mom really need to breathe down her neck about it all day long? This constant pressure to shed the extra pounds was really stressful. And you know what she does when she’s stressed? She eats! Besides, having a cheeseburger and a plate of fries after outliving this huge operation wasn’t really an option, it was an essential part of recovery.
Of course a couple of minutes later, she heard her mom’s unmistakable screeching voice in the hallway. She had probably cornered one of the floor nurses to complain about her daughter’s love for fattening food.
Sarah covered her face with her long headscarf and closed her eye, silently willing herself to become invisible.
Yes, their relationship was on shaky, constantly-hit-by-an-earthquake ground. Sarah loved her mom, even though they obviously spoke two different languages. She tried so hard to listen and learn from her destructive (uhmm sorry constructive) criticism of everything she chose to do or be, but to no avail. The only one who truly understood her in this whole wide world was her best friend Maryam.
“Oh poor baby!” Maryam made the puppy dogface when she walked in to visit Sarah at the hospital, as if she had read her thoughts. “I got you some milkshake. Your favorite! Just gulp it down quick before your mom gets here!”
See? Now that’s a real friend!
“Psssstttt, did you tell Ali yet?” Sarah asked discreetly.
“Ummm I didn’t get a chance to see him. I think he’s outta town. Oh shoot I need to pee again” Maryam said, working overtime not to make eye contact.
A suspicious brow rose high up on Sarah’s forehead. Her best friend was hiding something; she could feel it in her bones. Maryam had been acting weird lately. It was as if she knew something about Ali, whom Sarah was head over heals for, and didn’t want to reveal it.
Maryam threw her backpack on the couch and ran to the bathroom like Dash from ‘The Incredibles’. And even though she knew she was about to break all their pinky promises of never betraying one another, Sarah tiptoed out of bed and fetched Maryam’s cell phone from the front pocket of her Polka Dot backpack.
Okay, let’s see. Sarah’s heart pounded while typing in Maryam’s password. Her pupils dilated double their size as she streamed through the messages, looking for Ali’s name. Feeling her jaw tighten painfully, she read the chat that happened between them only 45 minutes ago .
Maryam: You comin’?
Ali: Where?? Maryam: Hospital. To visit Sarah. Remember? Ali: Nope
Maryam: Come on. It’ll be fun. She’ll be happy to see you.
Ali: No Maryam: You’re such a pig!
Ali: Why? Coz I ain’t crushing on your fat friend?
Maryam: DON’T CALL HER THAT YOU LITTLE PIECE OF….
There was no reason to continue; she had read enough. Sarah put Maryam’s cell back where it belonged, closed her eyes and tried to tune in to her feelings. She wasn’t hurt or angry or even sad. Something else had erupted inside her soul like a volcano, a feeling she had never felt before, and it was what had dramatically changed her life from there on end….
“What was it?” Grace asked, her eyes twinkling with tears.
“Determination” Sarah replied. She stared blankly at the elevator wall for a silent moment, then looked at the other two girls. “I became obsessed with being pretty. I lost 40 pounds, changed my whole wardrobe, took makeup and fashion courses… I literally became a new person.”
“How did Ali react to that?” Fatimah gasped.
“He still treated me like a ‘nobody’. Nothing I did caught his attention, and now my love for him was turning to contempt. Like really ugly, disgusting contempt!” “Oh God, flashbacks of my first boyfriend! I feel you girl” Grace sighed.
“So what did you do?” Fatima asked. “I wanted to prove my worth, even if only to myself. I posted pictures of me, captioned with like motivational quotes about loving yourself and stuff. And people started sharing them for some reason. Anyways, Maryam suggested I should like take advantage of my moment of fame. She helped me develop a fashion blog and before I knew it the collaboration proposals were reeling in and my new career took off. I’m kind of a big star on Instagram if you’d like to know. Almost one million followers now.”
“That is SO cool” Grace slapped her thighs.
“Excuse me ummm no. Not ‘cool’! The whole point of wearing the Hijab is to help men lower their gaze, not stare at your pictures for hours!” Fatima protested. “But she’s covered from head to toe, so what’s the problem? Her success should be celebrated. She’s living her dream and doing what makes her happy” Grace said.
Fatima swallowed a mouthful of so many things she wanted to say. Instead, with pursed lips, she crossed her arms, and waited for answers from Sarah, who obviously seemed torn.
“Aren’t you happy, Sarah?” Grace asked. “I am…it’s just…” Sarah hesitated. “I’m getting tired of all the hard work involved. Auditioning, marketing, networking, dealing with ruthless sponsors, endless picture editing… It’s not as glamorous and fun as it looks; it’s like all about your numbers! How many likes, clicks, comments, brands.… let alone the criticism from followers, calling you names and involving themselves in the most intimate personal details of your life. You gotta have very thick skin for this stuff.”
“Every job has its problems, Sarah” Grace said.
“It’s not just that…. I gotta be glammed up like ALL the time. It’s exhausting. I don’t recognize myself anymore. I can’t believe I’m about to admit this, but the social-media fashion industry is so fake. So staged. And sometimes, you gotta go against your principles if you wanna represent one of the top international brands. Like wear cropped pants, or tight dresses and stuff. It’s not like totally haram but still, sometimes deep down I feel bad.” Sarah’s tears streamed down her face sadly. “Please don’t look at me like that, Fatima. I know you’ll never understand my struggle, but maybe Allah does… I’m constantly fighting something inside me… and I swear it’s not easy.”
“Is this the same argument you plan to use on Judgment Day when Allah asks you why you chose fame over practicing your religion?”
“For God’s sake, give the girl a break! Enough with the guilt-trips. You’re so judgmental. Jeez!” “Not sure what they teach you in church, tattooed strawberry shortcake, but in Islam, life is a test. It’s supposed to be difficult and full of struggles! There’s a high price to pay if you want to reach eternal Paradise. I’m looking out for her!” Fatima replied.
“Of course she didn’t mean to insult your religion in the process” Sarah explained before kicking Fatima in the leg.
“Why did you guys automatically assume I’m Christian? I’m not!” Grace declared.
“What are you then? Jewish?” They both asked with unmistakable electrifying horror.
“Neither.” Grace shrugged. “I’m actually…..”
To be continued….