I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my headscarf–it just won’t behave and damn the person who created such a horrible fabric that has subjected me to this ordeal. I should be applying for work, finishing that article I’ve been raving to everyone about – yet here I am, trying to tie my headscarf into submission. I notice my raccoon eyes, painted by the previous night’s rendezvous with makeup. Or rather, just remnants of a dollar store eyeliner. I must not sleep with it on. I must not sleep with it on. Reciting this useless mantra several more times, I quickly pin what remains loose or unkempt of the scarf but it refuses to deny its own divine mutiny. I roll my eyes in exasperation and stare at the pale, black-browed girl with hazel-eyes too big for humanity, staring back at me. My only option is to put another scarf on and hope that I look semi-presentable.
I quickly grab a tissue paper and dab it in a disturbingly sticky jar of Vaseline. I trace it around my eyes, slowly erasing the shadows of the cheap tools of beauty I’ve filled my bathroom drawers with. I look again in the mirror- there seem to be the early signs of wrinkles. At least laugh wrinkles. I’m only 25. I push this thought aside as I slather on tinted moisturizer and cream blush to hide my insecurities.
I then finish up the rounds of my late morning rituals before heading down to my dad’s store to begin my 8 hour shift.
I’m 5 minutes late. The lunch rush from the near-by high school was supposed to hit 3 minutes ago; my dad will not be pleased. I take as long strides as my short, shapely (see: chubby) legs will let me. Despite it being the end of September, the heat rushes onto you hard on this prairie. I’m wearing work clothes and a long cardigan to cover my womanly assets. I ignore whatever discomfort finds its way through the layers. I pass the gym, the post office, a local diner and risk the on-coming traffic of a single car as I cross the street towards the store. The parking lot has two cars: my father’s and a cleaning company’s. No sign of the kids yet, I notice with a sigh of relief quickly escaping under my breath. As I approach the door, my dad swings open the door with a knowing glance. I roll my eyes, laugh and enter.
“He’s coming today at 7:30.”
My ears immediately perk up at his mention. ‘He’ is a handsome Black Arab who lives in our town and works at a mechanic shop. Dark skin and yellow-green eyes – I know nothing about him but his choice in cigarettes.
Expensive, for the record.
We’ve never spoken beyond the simple religious salutations of peace upon each other and whether he wanted one or two packs of his preferred brand of cancer inducing sticks – but I couldn’t help but feel an elation. After having been an admirer from afar for so long, as twist of faith by God’s non-anthropomorphic hands would have it, he was going to be so very close. So very, very close.
The previous day he had stopped by, looking for extra work. He knew my dad to be a good man and my dad acted accordingly and hired him on the spot – without even looking at his resumé. In the shyness that creeps my eyes around men of the ridiculously goodlooking persuasion, I avoided eye and space contact that day. But today? There would be contact, Houston.
My shift, however, was supposed to end at 7 pm. Or even earlier today, since my mom had said she’d make an early appearance for her shift. This was not good. How were we supposed to meet? Look at each other? Molecularly exchange experiences of one-way deep rooted physical tension? There had to be a way that I could extend my shift hours. I look around nervously as a customer approaches to the cash and I have to resume hormonal sanity. My dad had seen that look in my eyes and his patriarchal senses had begun to tingle.
My eyes opened.
“Sana, are you in there?”
I am in the middle of the early evening prayer, inside our tiny little office space in the back of the store. I know what was going on but keep pushing through my prayer. Just keep reciting. Just keep reciting.
“I think she’s praying,” I hear my dad say.
Good. Now ‘he’ knew it wasn’t for show.
I finish my prayer and sit in the dimly lit office for a few seconds. I can hear them walking outside. My heart begins to race. ‘He’ was outside. ‘He’ was speaking. I take a deep breath and open the door – my mother’s sly face awaits me.
My eyes begin to bulge out of their oversized sockets but I maintain composure.
“I don’t care. I’m tired, I’m going home.”
And that was, in fact, the plan because you just can’t give it all up at once. Baby steps. Or rather, in this case, over-18 steps. Plus, there was a good chance we would be working Saturdays together which would be enough time to take this one-way torrid affair of eye-pleasing images to a one-way torrid affair of eye-pleasing images, the beta version.
I walk over the cash and a customer stood waiting. I couldn’t ignore him so I take him. And then the next. And then the next. I glance over, across the store, and see my dad talking to ‘him’. His shoulders. Oh his shoulders. He seems to steal quick glances at me as I yawn without covering my mouth. We make eye contact, but it is brief. We then carry on, avoiding it at all costs.
I shake myself out of it and grab a bottle of water and begin to make my way out when a friend of my mother’s walks into the store. I gasp, internally. She wasn’t here on a regular store visit but was here to gossip up a storm with my non-complying but ever kind mother. She quickly ran to the back of the store and seated my mother to discuss the latest happenings in her own business. I look over at my mom and widen my eyes in the sort of way the eyes of a murderer would be stereotyped. She understands and says, in our native language, “Just a few minutes – then you can leave!”
I roll my eyes but don’t say oof, making it okay in the non-anthropomorphic eyes of God.
I return to the till and continue serving customers with the mundane requests of ice cream, coffee, hot wings and Export A Gold Regulars.
They’ll die slow, horrible deaths I think to myself as I smile and say “Have a great night!”
Not that that even matters to me.
A young girl comes over and asks for soft serve. I smile, reach for a cup and walk over to the machine. As I am walking to the machine I run into ‘him’. He looks at me sharply in that soft, manly way, smiles and says “Esssalaamualaykum” in an almost flirtatious way. He walks away quickly, following my dad who is leading his training – but I knew ‘he’ wanted to stay. I knew ‘he’ wanted ice cream.
My revisionism some times gets the best of me.
I continue working, occasionally threatening my laughing mother with first degree murder through my eyes. My feet hurt and ‘he’ is busy being trained. There is nothing left for me here. My stomach grumbles and I brush my hand up my face and feel my widow’s peak. It is visible. My heart stops. Did ‘he’ see it? Did the ridiculously goodlooking Black Arab man see my widow’s peak? The situation rapidly has become a burning cauldron of overzealous and presumptuously manipulated endorphin-filled tension.
Or it can also just be my bloated stomach.
He continues to work alongside my dad and I continue to look at him. My stares becomes longer with each glance, the final one necessitating a restraining order in any other situation. I have to leave, I tell myself, but I can’t help but notice what amazing posture he has. It’s the little things that matter.
I grab some pieces of paper and a marker and make two signs asking customers to not open a damaged cooler. I rush over and tape the signs on the doors. I turn around and see that ‘he’ is being trained to mop. My, what strong arms he has.
My dad, whose patriarchal senses are about to burst, gives me a quick look. To the average observer it seems as though it was just a quick glance, but to his experienced daughter ..I knew it was the look of recalling Islamic legal ethics that guide how men and women must conduct themselves, in modest terms, in the presence of one another.
I take heed and begin to say my departing salutations to all those in the store. As I pass ‘him’ and say goodbye, he looks at me ..smiles and says ‘walaaykumessalaam’ and walks on.
I leave the store and stand outside, against the concrete brick wall. His eyes remain in my mind, forever enmeshed in the image of beauty that until now had always been an amorphous vision of nothing in particular. I smile to myself and even laugh. God acts in the most mysterious of ways. I laugh again and head home.
It is time to make astaghfar.*
Part two might be coming soon. Click the subscribe button at the very top to get it straight to your inbox. Who knows. I might get pregnant in this one through a meeting of the eyes alone.