The next day, Maryam was awake before everyone else. She waited for her father to wake up and call her downstairs. She was lost in her thoughts when she heard a soft knock on her door. She opened the door to find her father standing. Maryam was confused, she had expected her father to be furious but here he was, smiling.
“Maryam, my daughter, I wish to speak with you. Get dressed and come downstairs.”
Maryam did not reply, but she hurriedly got dressed and went downstairs. Both her parents were seated in the living room. She stood at the door and waited for them to start shouting at her. She was surprised when her father called her towards him, “My dear, come here. Sit with me.” And her mother said, “My beautiful daughter, you look scared. Don’t be.”
Maryam was bewildered, she did as she was told and sat in between her parents. Silence prevailed for some time until she could control no more and blurted out, “What are you going to do to me? Are you going to disown me?”
Her father smiled and said, “No, my dear. God forbid I ever do that. You are my daughter and my responsibility. I just want to talk to you.”
Maryam was confused and a little scared, she had expected fireworks from her parents but instead her father was very calm.
“Maryam, you are an adult and I understand that you can make your decisions, but sometimes we all make mistakes. That is what makes us humans. Even the prophets made mistakes, they were noble human beings, handpicked by Allah SWT to spread His word. We are, puny human beings. How can we then, believe that we won’t make any mistakes in our decision making?”
She did not reply, her father continued, “Now, tell me. What do you want to do?”
Maryam was unable to meet her father’s eyes when she said, “you know what I want, or rather what I don’t want.”
“Very well. If you’ve decided, then you may do whatever it is that you wish to do. I will not stop you.”
Maryam could not believe her parents’. She thought this was an elaborate heist that would eventually lead to the thrashing she expected. Nevertheless, she decided to play along with them.
She hugged her father tightly for the first time in her life and with tears pouring down her cheeks she said, “Thank you so much for this. I know this is extremely difficult for both of you and I know that the society will shun you because of me. I really am thankful.”
Her father hugged her and told her to be safe. Maryam went up to her room and started getting ready for work, she was humming to herself when Noor asked, “What’s the matter? You seem so happy.”
Maryam turned to look at her and replied, “What’s it to you? Can’t you just let me be? Why do you always want to know everything?”
Noor timidly said that she was sorry and left the room. Maryam looked at her reflection in the mirror and gave a content sigh, she liked what she saw. She fluffed her hair and applied lipstick and then ran out the door.
As soon as she left, her mother asked her father, “What have you done? What will we do now? Everyone will see her like this. Why can’t she me more like Noor?”
Her husband held her hand and smiled reassuringly and said, “I understand the consequences but I want her to understand the reason that Hijab is made compulsory in Islam. She is a very strong-headed girl, she will never agree to anything we say. I blame ourselves for her behavior.”
“But…I’m scared. What if, god forbid, something were to happen. What will we do then?”
He pulled her close and said, “Have faith in Allah. Nothing bad will happen to our Maryam. Insha Allah.”
Meanwhile, Maryam confidently walked out of her house. She could sense people ogling her. As she walked into the bus and she felt people turn to look at her. The driver, who was a family friend, gaped at her and then averted his eyes when he realized his action. Maryam felt uneasy with everyone staring at her. She felt that people were judging her and she did not like one bit of it. Soon, as more people started piling into the bus, there was hardly any place to stand. Usually, someone would give her a place to sit or give her more space to stand. Today, no one was giving her place to stand, she could feel people touching her as there was no place. She felt dirty. She wished she had worn less makeup and a looser shirt.
She heaved a sigh of relief as she neared her destination. She just wanted to get down from the bus and away from all the people. Finally, she was able to get down, the driver did not even look at her when she gave him the fare.
She walked into the office and her manager dropped the files that he was holding and came towards her and said, “Mary, what is the occasion today? You look breathtaking. I might have to get you that car today.”
Maryam did not reply, she walked on to her cubicle and got busy with her work. Soon, Jude came over and they had a little coffee break. She filled Maryam in with all the new gossip. Maryam was appalled to learn that she was the source of gossip today. Everyone was talking about her, from the janitor to the manager.
“Everyone is talking about how different and beautiful you look today. I overheard them talking myself.” Jude said.
“What were they saying?”
‘I don’t think you would want to know that. I know that you aren’t going to listen to be because you never have, but nevertheless, if I was ever in your shoes, I would try to put an end to all those rumors.”
“What rumors?” questioned Maryam.
“You don’t know? Really?”
“I don’t, I swear. Why would I ask you otherwise?
“Well, apparently the manager is going around telling everyone that both of you are…involved…romantically.”
“WHAT?” screamed Maryam.
“Yeah, so no you know. Do something about it.”
Maryam promised that she would take care of it but she was unable to think straight. She wondered how he had the audacity to go around saying something like that.
She was all set to walk into his office and give him a piece of her mind, but she got caught up with the work that she had to do. As she was about to leave, her manager, Steve was waiting for her outside. She looked at him and was about to walk past him when he said, “Hey, Mary come with me. I’ll give you a ride home.”
“No, thank you sir. I would much rather go with someone who is not a liar.”
“What? What to do you mean? When have I ever lied to you?”
“You’ve never lied to me but you’re going around telling everyone that we are involved. Is that the truth?”
“Oh Mary, I said that in jest. I’ll explain everything to you, but not here. Let’s go out for dinner and then I’ll drop you home.”
“No. Thank you very much but I would much rather go by the bus. I wouldn’t want to trouble you.” said Maryam.
“Oh please, it’s no trouble at all. I insist. And I need to clear this out. I consider you as a good friend and I want to keep it that way.” insisted Steve.
“Okay then, I guess there could be no harm in this.”
“Now, that’s like a good girl.” smiled and said Steve.
He took her to a fancy restaurant and most of Maryam’s colleagues were present there. As soon as they walked in, they stopped to look at her and then started whispering. She felt awkward and wanted to leave but Steve did not let her. He kept talking to her and telling her how pretty she is. How different she is from all the other girls. Maryam nodded politely but she hated being there with him. She wished she could run back to her house.
Finally after two hours, he asked for the bill and they got ready to leave. She sat in the car and started telling him the way to her house. But she realized that he wasn’t listening to her. She asked, “Where are you taking me? I want to go home.”
“What’s the hurry? Let’s go out for a couple of drinks and then I’ll leave you home. Okay?”
“No, please. I don’t drink and I just want to go home now please.”
“One drink won’t hurt you my dear. I promise I’ll take you home after that.”
“It’s against my religion to drink alcohol.” replied Maryam.
“Oh, I didn’t think that you were someone who practiced religion. You’re a Muslim right?”
“Yes, I am.” replied Maryam, but she felt a strange heaviness in her heart. She wondered if what she said was actually true. But first, she had to escape Steve before she ran into more trouble.
To be continued…