Shabnab wrapped the hijab tightly around her face, after the makeup had been perfected. The wrap was doing double duty, as always, covering her glory as well as the thickened scar underneath her chin. A hand absentmindedly lingered over the spot where her husband kissed her almost nightly. Eyeliner was neatly creased across her lids, and thickly curved at the temples. The powdered blush kissed her cheeks a rosy pink color, which further accentuated her high cheek bones. The same cheeks that had at one time been swollen and painful, due to the lashes subdued unto her by her own father.
He’d tried to take her life, slicing her throat after she refused a proposal for an arranged marriage- to a man twice her senior. He had strong lineage to the royal family, and the refusal had brought much insult upon the whole family. Her love was and would always be for her Farrid, though. After her brothers had pulled their father off of her, he had spat in her face and disowned her.
Ten years later, after she had risen to become a world renowned Tuberculosis scientist, and had been given the opportunity to represent Saudi Arabia in the States, her father had called her. It was the first step in the healing process, and her family had plans to visit this summer. Lips the color of clotted blood stared back at her through the mirror, as she finished the look with a signature mole in the lower corner of her mouth. Today she had no time for extra primping.
The field trip would start in a few hours and it promised to take up her whole day. Her three kids and a second chaperone, her new American friend, Layla, would accompany them to the zoo. There they would meet up with her son’s fifth grade class to spend the day sightseeing, as well as diving with sharks. Her face tensed slightly as she thought of the latter activity. In her mind sharks belonged in the water and people belonged on land, no intermingling needed. But Sultan was adamant about the trip, and his father had approved. So that was the end of the discussion. She trusted in her husband’s judgment and he even wisely suggested bringing along Layla, and her youngest son Mohammad to help calm her nerves. Waad, her daughter, was the oldest, and being in the eighth grade she despised the thought of her mother tagging along. So, for all intense purposes, Shabnab was a chaperone only in Sultan’s class. As she packed the diaper bag with Mohammad’s items, she heard a car park in the driveway, and shortly after a rough knock on the door.
“Come in,” she heard herself say through a muffled voice as she juggled Mohammad in her hands, while trying to finish packing and keep up with his blankie, by holding it tightly between her teeth.
Layla walked through the door and spread her hands wide “Hamoodi, my baby boy!”
Grasping for him she quickly relieved Shabnab of her squirming package. Shabnab took the moment to finish getting ready, and screamed “Heya heya” for the children to get into the van.
“How are you? Are you ready for today?” Layla asked as she placed a firm hand around Shabnab’s shoulder.
“I think so. How did you like the party last night?” Shabnab asked as they departed to the garage.
“F U N! I don’t think I’ve ever danced with so many women in my life…mmm nope. I think I almost got a few numbers there for a minute.” Layla smiled the lopsided way she always does. Shabnab had invited her to a family gathering at her home the night before, and taught Layla her culture’s tradition of men dancing with men and women with women. The party consisted of only of her husband and children but she had started to feel at ease with Layla and wanted to teach her about her values. If they had invited others and there was a man who was not related to her, she would not have been permitted to dance at all. The smaller the crowd the better.
After they all had piled into the minivan Shabnab turned the corner to exit her community and saw a neighbor, Mr. Windelhof, standing beside his car, trying to flag her down. She pressed on the gas and waved frantically as if she had misunderstood the gesture as a passing wave. Shabnab felt her blood rising as she remembered the last encounter she had with the old man and his wife. No matter how nice she had tried to be in the last eighteen months of living there, they constantly treated her family like outsiders, remarking on whatever chance they could, to keep welcoming them to America. Their granddaughter, Maxine, worked as a manager at the local pizza parlor down the street, and no matter how many times they ordered the same thing, on the same day, she could somehow never get it right. She would always ask Shabnab to bring her American friend with her if she wanted to get something.
“Does Farrid have to work today?” Layla’s voice chimed, and brought her back to the present.
“Yes he is working late tonight. A big project deadline is coming up.”
Farrid would have welcomed the opportunity to spend this time with his family but he had recently received a promotion at his job as an industrial engineer.
When they entered the gates of the zoo, the children joined their respective classes and the fun began. Two hours later, after eating pizza, changing diapers, and petting baby koalas, it was time to take the plunge. As the other children got into line, Sultan ran over stomping his feet and stood directly in front of Shabnab and Layla, then fell on the ground and lay spread eagle while flaying his legs around.
“Sultan, get up, right now! Sultan!” Shabnab yelled with a sharp voice, thick with accent.
“Mom, Mom! THOT said I can only go down for like five minutes, but the brochure says I can have fifteen!”
The commotion had caused others, including Waad to puddle around him.
“What is this, who is this THOT? Let me see what you are talking about?” Shabnab said as she wrestled the paper from his clenched fists.
There were giggles behind them as Waad stepped up smiling.
“What is so funny?” Shabnab asked while scanning the paper.
“Mooom, THOT is not a person, it means That hoe over there.”
Layla burst out laughing as she helped a sobbing Sultan to his feet, and tried to explain why the time limit had been cut in half because of the amount of kids participating.
After the ordeal, when hurt feelings were salvaged, and everyone was safely in the car, Shabnab scolded them. “What language you use, and in front of teachers. Wait until I tell your father.”
“Aww mom, its America” Sultan whined.
“Merica” two year old Mohammad chirped in.
Shabnab tried to keep a solemn face, but couldn’t help but smirk. After all she had learned the perfect word for her neighbors. She casually loosened her scarf just a little more.
Tamuriel L. Dillard