Everyone knows the best way to confirm anything that happens in real life is to go online–Facebook, specifically. I went back to my room and logged on to the social network for the first time in a few weeks to begin my investigation. I didn’t understand the obsession with Facebook as I had only 68 friends and could barely keep up a decent conversation with half of them. But Narmin insisted it was the only way I would be able to connect with old classmates and stay relevant as we entered high school, so I had to get one. I would have rather creeped on the lives of Narmin’s 250 friends on her profile, but she said a Facebook profile was like eye makeup–you weren’t supposed to share it.
I clicked on her name and saw her profile picture was no longer the one of her smiling with her long, black hair spilling out from under a sun hat while she held a glass of lemonade. Now the picture was a stock photo of blooming flowers, something that only paranoid old people did when they first signed up to Facebook. It was a strange move, but it didn’t necessarily prove anything because flower photos were also good FOB-avoiders. If Narmin really had started wearing the hijab, it meant she would have to delete all her pictures from her profile and she had dozens of albums. The girl loved taking photos of herself as much as I loved avoiding them. I clicked on Narmin’s profile photo but it was locked. All her photos in her profile album were hidden. Even more strange.
I sighed and went over to Munchkin’s cage to hold her. Whenever I felt stressed or confused, I like having something warm to cuddle with. I didn’t talk to my rabbit all the time the way some crazy people did with their pets, at least not out loud. I just transferred my thoughts and feelings through the motion of stroking her fur. That didn’t make me more weird, did it? I kept Munchkin’s cage in my bedroom since my parents weren’t too fond of her being out and around the house. Because of that, my room smelled pretty bad. I had to constantly buy air fresheners and incense so I wouldn’t start to smell like rabbit poop either and become a social outcast. Narmin hated Munchkin, as she did all creatures with fur, since she had major allergies. It was the main reason why she didn’t come over to my house very often. I didn’t mind so much. I felt more free and relaxed at her house, but I knew that frustrated my mother because she said it seemed like I was always going to Narmin’s house and never inviting her to stay with us. I wonder if she was keeping a tally or something.
Munchkin twitched as I pulled her into my arms and then carried her over to my bed. The sheets of my bed were still the same powder blue color with yellow embroidery from the beginning of middle school. My whole room was exactly the same from the beginning of middle school actually, even though I had dreamed of ambitious remodeling plans to match the teen interior design catalogs I saw at the grocery store. My mother said she would only pay for that if I memorized another section of the Quran first. I didn’t think it was fair for her to make such demand when she knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. The one new purchase I was able to make was an old red push-button phone last year for my bedside table. I always wanted to sit on my bed and talk to a friend for hours on the phone the way I imagined they did in the old days. My family didn’t understand but they were okay with the cheap price and consented. Narmin thought it was a dumb thing to buy and just to make fun of me, every time I would call her from the new phone, she’d pretend that she didn’t know who was calling and threatened to call the police. If only I lived in a more sentimental place where people appreciated cool, old things and didn’t think you were some kind of nerd.
Instead of waiting around until more gossip spread, I decided if I wanted to know if what Aunt Nora said about Narmin was true, then I should call Narmin and find out. I didn’t want to be surprised or shocked. I deserved the right to know and maybe I’d be able to challenge Narmin enough to make sure she knew what she was getting herself into. I punched in the numbers and waited as the dial tone rang.
“Salam alaikum,” I said.
“Hey Marwa, I was just thinking of you,” Narmin said.
“Yeah, same. So how was your trip? Did you have fun? Anything new, interesting, different you want to show me or tell me?” I asked.
“Well sure, why don’t you come over now? It’s not so fun to talk about if over the phone, silly,” she said. “Unless you’re busy?”
I shook my head then remembered she couldn’t see me.
“No, I should be able to. I’ll just double check with my mom and let you know,” I said.
“Awesome, can’t wait to see you! Bye!”
The warmth in her tone made me feel slightly guilty that I was so suspicious, but for some reason I wasn’t in the mood to cut Narmin some slack.
I put Munchkin back in her cage, filled up her water and then changed into a pair of skinny jeans. Narmin said they were the most flattering on me, so I should only go out wearing them. I didn’t want to waste my old flare jeans, so I wore them around the house because they still fit me and I felt most comfortable.
“Mom, can I go over to Narmin’s house for a little bit?” I asked. She and Aunt Nora were putting the plates and tea away in the kitchen. My mother looked me up and down per her usual “is my daughter decent enough” routine, so I tugged on my shirt to make sure the hem was long enough and then pulled up the scoop neck to try and cover my collarbone.
“First say salam to Aunt Nora. You didn’t say salam to her before did you,” my mother said.
Aunt Nora smiled and opened her arms.
“Where have you been hiding, beautiful? Come here!”
I made an awkward smile and walked into an unnecessarily aggressive hug.
“Salam Aunty. Sorry, I was doing some stuff, but I meant to come out, honest.”
I let her hold me for a few seconds and then broke away to face my mother.
“So can I go? Can I?”
“Isn’t she tired from her trip? Do you need to see her this instant?” she said, opening the dishwasher.
“I just talked to her and she said it’s fine to come over. And Narmin is never tired, mom,” I said.
My mother sighed.
“Just once I’d like you to offer to clean up with the same eagerness you have to go waste time chatting for hours. Don’t stay long and call me when you’re there.”
I was only walking a street away, but she made it seem like I was going on a cross country road trip. But that was her policy. Call and check in or prepare for lots of fun drama the rest of the night. I’d imagine things would be easier if I had a cell phone, but I had to wait until my next birthday. The countdown was already in place. I called Narmin back from my room, grabbed my sunglasses and headed out the door.
By the time I got to Narmin’s house, I was dripping with sweat and wanted to turn back and take a shower. The summer heat was obnoxious and I hated how I had to endure it with more clothes on than the average teenage girl. I rang the doorbell with my pinky and then noticed there were new plants and a new chair outside the door. Was I at the wrong house?
I was about to walk away when the door opened and Narmin’s face popped out.
“Hey!” she said. “Sorry, I was doing my nails and didn’t want to smudge them. I thought my mom was going to get it.”
Narmin waved her left hand, revealing glossy pastel colored fingers. She looked tanner and her dark hair was braided in a side ponytail. Her outfit was a simple long blue v-neck and dark blue jeans, typical preppy material. No hijab in sight-not even a shawl around the neck in case some dude walked by or had his window open in his car. My mother always thought of these scenarios.
“Well come on, Em,” she said, pulling me in with her other hand. “ Don’t just stand there. You look like a red tomato.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. And you look exactly the same. I would have said thank God, but I think that would have been pushing my luck a little too far.