Below are Excerpts. Much of the story line remains the same as what I had posted here before, the major difference is of course the ending. The book will be available this month (November 2013). I started posting more on tumblr and here is the link: http://fatimawarsame.tumblr.com/
I will post more in coming days and update. So since once I start talking, I will take up most of the post and it will be hard to make me to stop, ill just get to the excerpts. Thank you a million times and more coming soon. I hope all is well if this reaches you. Take care.
ps: Also as a way to say thank you so much, I’d like to give free copies to those of you who had posted and gave me feedback, I know there were silent readers and I am very thankful to all, and to the few who had posted regularly and gave me valuable feedback–V, B, Ita, Nell, and Mandy (you I know personally so that will be easy), I think we can figure something out with technology to allow you get a copy shipped to where-ever you are in the world, that is the least I can do and I hope I am granted that opportunity. Will get to that when it’s time, again forever grateful and talk soon. Peace and Love.
Ebyan Jama has always led a life of clarity. She stayed away from boys, prayed everyday and never let even her most passionate dream stand in the way of her faith. Her devotion to Islam and pride in her African roots provided her an unshakable foundation.
Unshakable, until her world was turned upside down and her heart was ignited the moment she locked eyes with Noreen Iqbal.
Noreen was everything Ebyan could ever want in a friend. Sweet, kind, loyal and selfless to a fault. Noreen made Ebyan feel things she had never felt before. She found it nearly impossible to break from Noreen.
What Ebyan thought was an innocent friendship turned into a life altering love affair. A relationship, which has Ebyan for the first time in her life, doubting herself and her faith. She turned into someone she didn’t recognize by a love too powerful to control. She searched for the answer to the one question that could ruin everything she has ever worked for her entire life.
Can she love Noreen and still be a faithful and devoted Muslim?
Good morning, Dr. Jama,” Stephanie greeted me energetically as I arrived at my office ready to get to work.
I returned her smile.
Stephanie, a tall and slender brunette, was impressive as a secretary. She was always a minute or two ahead of me coming to the office.
Sometimes it bothered me that she seemed more eager than I was, yet I satisfied my competitive edge by convincing myself that I had a small child to see off in the morning, while Stephanie was an unattached young woman who had something to prove.
I preferred that she call me just Ebyan. However, I sensed because of the nine year age difference between us, she felt more comfortable using my official title.
“Good morning, Stephanie,” I replied.
We chatted for a few minutes about our weekends. Mine was predictable, spending time with family and going out to dinner. Stephanie’s was much more exciting even though she remained conservative in describing her time at a rock concert. She didn’t look like someone who had partied hard the night before. Not a hint of exhaustion. Being twenty-one seemed like another universe to me.
As our talk turned to work, Hassan walked in as she was handing me the folders for the clients I was to see today.
“Good morning Ebyan, Stephanie,” he said cheerfully.
“Good morning Mr. Khan,” Stephanie replied shyly with a tender smile.
I eyed Hassan suspiciously. His smile grew bigger. He must have understood what I was thinking, I thought.
“Morning,” I said in a tone devoid of any warmth.
“Well, it is great to see you too Ebyan,” he said sarcastically as he approached us.
Stephanie couldn’t contain her smile and she timidly sat back down on her chair. I let out a sigh, only he would be able to understand. He chuckled and then asked Stephanie for his client folders.
I met Hassan in graduate school at Harvard. We were both studying Clinical Psychology and became very good friends in the program. After graduation I went to Chicago to complete my post-doctoral training. I didn’t always want to be in this field. I dreamed I would be a musician and earn my living making and performing my own musical creations.
I never pursued that dream with any passion, however. I knew my devout Muslim parents would never fully support that choice and I was unable to balance my Muslimness with my love of music.
I felt like I didn’t have the luxury, being the daughter of refugees to fight for a dream that could take many years to come true if ever.
The war took everything from my parents except their lives. My father was a rising star in the world of real estate and my mother had big plans to become an iconic fashion designer. They were a vibrant young couple, who had just bought a new house in the suburbs of Mogadishu, then one of the most beautiful cities in Africa. They felt free, strong, and powerful in their homeland. All of that disappeared within a matter of hours, as militias sacked the city and everyone who could flee, fled.
My folks came to America with nothing except the clothes on their back. All their hopes and dreams became invested in my sister, Ubah and me.
Pursuing a higher education degree was non- negotiable for my parents. I went largely out of duty to them. I did very well in high school and had received a scholarship to Berkeley; otherwise I know I couldn’t have found the heart to spend my parents’ hard earned money just to get a degree.
It was towards the end of my junior year that I had a chance encounter with a young Muslim girl, which shaped the rest of my life and inspired my passion for therapy. I took our encounter as the catalyst for what I was destined to become. There was no turning back for me after that experience. I went to graduate school with a clear purpose and direction to pursue.
I wanted to own my own practice in order to provide cultural and religious sensitive therapy, but in the years following graduate school, resources remained tight and I had to struggle working under people who didn’t have the same vision I had.
Things finally began to fall into place a year ago. Hassan moved to New York and shortly afterwards joined me in the endeavor to open our now unique and successful practice in Manhattan.
I had little money and it was Hassan, who mysteriously came up with the vast majority of the money to lease the expensive property. Exactly where he got the resources still remains a mystery. Hassan informed me the funds were donated to us by someone who believed in our project, but wanted to remain anonymous. I didn’t know him to be involved in any dirty business practices, so with great excitement I plunged into the project with everything I had in me.
So far we have been successful. Hassan and I both have similar passions and vision for what we want to accomplish. In just a year, our practice has grown to a staff of twelve, averaging thirty clients a day.
There is just one problem. Hassan is a very good looking man and he knows it. A tall handsome man with dark eyebrows, charming brown eyes and a strong but open face, Hassan never had a problem attracting women. In fact, he attracts too many for his own good. I was very concerned about hiring Stephanie, a young and beautiful woman.
He may be engaged, but that never stopped him before from being flirtatious with other women, including me. He made two advances at me, once in graduate school and the other during our business partnership. I was married both of those times and he knew this. I rebuked him strongly and he got the message quickly, never again repeating his foolishness. He also knew my strong position on dating employees.
“Here is your folder, Mr. Khan and your 11 o’clock appointment canceled on Friday,” Stephanie informed him.
There was that sweet smile again. Stephanie may already be under his spell, I thought as I headed towards my office eager to begin work.
I looked over the client list. Seven in total and there was one new client, a young teen. She was to be my first appointment and from the short information on her file I had a feeling she was keeping a secret from her family.
At 8 am, Stephanie ushered into my office a pretty, petite, and shy looking young girl. I was immediately aroused with sympathy and rose from my seat to meet her at the door and offer her my greeting.
I closed the door behind us and motioned for her to sit in the comfortable sofa area. From her hesitation and hard grip on her purse I could tell the young girl was in great distress. She came to see me with difficulty as every client does, but never was one as young as this child.
“Salmah, please make yourself comfortable on the sofa. I am happy you came to see me and I will do my very best to assist you in any way I can. But first may I get you anything to eat or drink?” I asked.
Her hard grip slightly relaxed from her purse and still holding a dazed expression, Salmah reluctantly took a seat.
I awaited her reply.
She gave none and shook her head gently.
“Okay. I will get us water just in case we get thirsty,” I added and grabbed two bottles of water.
I sat in front of Salmah and put the two bottles on the coffee table between us.
“You are safe with me, Salmah,” I said. “Have no fear,” I added softly.
I wanted to run over to her side and wrap my arms around her, but instead I remained professional.
Therapy is a sensitive issue for Muslims. Many see some human emotions as weaknesses inspired by the devil and cured by prayer. It helps our clients to have a safe and professional place where their religious and cultural sensitivities are clearly understood. I knew firsthand how soul rescuing it felt to have someone to understand me when I felt confused, to have someone by my side when I felt all alone, and to have someone to talk to me when I felt unable to speak.
Having gone through my own struggle with a forbidden desire, I could better relate on a personal level to the challenges faced by my clients. It was not easy work, but I couldn’t ask for a better career.
“Let us start with getting to know each other a little better,” I started the conversation.
Salmah would hardly look me in the eye and she looked traumatized. Poor girl, I thought. Whatever she was holding inside had to be very difficult. I subdued my motherly instincts.
To gain her trust and more importantly let her know she had mine I gave her a background of myself and the practice. Slowly I saw her begin to relax. After my short introduction, I asked her for background information to get to know her better.
Salmah was fourteen, a straight A-student, a lover of books, from a traditional Pakistani family and a devout Muslim girl. In my practice I have found that the religiously conscious clients are easier to counsel and I was partly relieved when I sensed that from Salmah.
A half hour into our session she was almost fully comfortable. Encouraged by this, I started with the goals of the session and why she had come to seek my help. Her demeanor instantly turned grave and she broke down crying. I handed her the entire tissue box and comforted her as best as I could.
She began to narrate to me her story of falling in love with a fellow classmate, which eventually resulted in her current pregnancy.
Salmah was deeply distraught. She was ashamed at what she had done and she didn’t know what to do about the pregnancy. I felt the heaviness of my heart increase. I knew a Muslim girl could not commit a greater crime than become pregnant out of wedlock. It is the greatest fear of parents for a daughter. The ultimate disgrace if a daughter were to get pregnant before she was married.
I sighed and stared at Salmah.
Her tears flowed uncontrollably. Her display of raw despair and guilt reminded me a lot of my own past.
Witnessing her breakdown at that moment, I began to see my young self in her. But unlike me, this young girl had nowhere to turn and no one in the world to support her. This was the first time she had ever revealed her secret openly.
“Will God ever forgive me for what I have done? Am I still a good Muslim?” she asked, choking on her tears and tucking strands of hair that had escaped back under her hijab.
These same questions of desperation had haunted me years ago. I knew exactly how she felt. Pure bitterness. Her tears were tears of seeking forgiveness. She could care less at this moment about losing her boyfriend.
It was my turn to exhale.
“What do you think? What does God say about forgiveness in the Quran?” I asked.
We began to discuss repentance, forgiveness and sins in Islam. This was the part of my job that I didn’t enjoy, because I wanted to mother this young child and tell her: Of course darling, God will forgive you. God is most forgiving especially to innocent children like yourself.
Yet, I couldn’t force my views on her. I had to lead her to come to her own conclusions. Thankfully, Salmah was an extremely bright girl. It was only that her heavy burden of guilt had clouded her judgment and made her lose hope. Slowly she regained hope and eventually quoted a verse from the Quran.
“O my servants who have wronged themselves: do not despair of God’s mercy, surly God forgives all sins, surely, He is the Most Merciful and Compassionate.”
“I think God is most forgiving and most merciful,” she said keenly. “That is repeated throughout the Quran, which I have been reading a lot lately to give me peace. And the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said every son and daughter of Adam is a sinner and the best of sinners are those who return to God in sincere repentance.”
She paused, her eyes marked by fear and a bit of hope. I was impressed she had reached the conclusion I had wanted her to reach and she did so very efficiently. But I knew that God was never the problem. People on the other hand were.
“So let us go back to your questions. Do you think God will forgive you and do you think you are a good Muslim?” I asked.
Her large dark eyes began to fill with fresh tears, but these tears had a hint of reassurance.
“I hope so and in my heart I believe so,” she said poignantly.
She looked at me with a childlike melancholy that caused my insides to tremble.
“I made a mistake that I wish I could take back, but I can’t. I have repented sincerely every minute of every day and never will I make the same mistake again. I love Islam and have always followed it faithfully except this one time.”
I cleared my throat.
The young girl had no idea just how well she articulated my once upon a time heartbreak. She continued to tell me the whole story and how she slipped into having sex. I listened attentively. Finally we came upon the heart of the matter, the family.
“But what about my family? What am I to say to them about this baby I am carrying?” she asked frightened.
We exchanged a heartfelt glance.
“Are you close with your mother or anyone in your family, whom you can confide in?” I asked.
Her large dark eyes illuminated with more sad tears. She was physically trembling. She shook her head.
“This will destroy my family. They will never understand and will hate me forever,” she replied.
I didn’t know her family so I couldn’t tell how they would react. I also didn’t want to put her in a potentially dangerous situation, but I couldn’t give her the approval she was after to abort the fetus.
We both knew Islam was against abortion. It was seen as a greater religious offense than fornication. However, in the light of shame being the worst possible sin in certain corners, her family being a prime example, abortion often became necessary for young girls like Salmah.
I was nearly her age, when Tiffany became pregnant. Although Tiffany came from a liberal Christian family, her single mother was conservative when it came to getting pregnant before completing college. Tanya was tough on all her children, especially her daughters and her hard work paid off in producing four successful adults. But back then Tiffany too had become pregnant at an early age and she was terrified to death of her mother just like Salmah was now.
Tiffany decided to have an abortion. There were no other options available in her view and she sought my help in the process. My background put me in a terrible position. I was caught between being there for my dearest friend and assisting in what my religion would deem as a great sin.
In the end I chose my friend. I held her hand that day and kept her secret all these years from her mother, a close family friend. I felt guilty and still do for deceiving Tanya, but as Tiffany said back then, “It is best this way.”
I was lost on what would be best for Salmah now. Abortion seemed like the safest option to take, considering all the pain, shame, and harsh consequences that could come from the alternative option of having this baby. I couldn’t reveal these thoughts to Salmah of course.
“What about the boy, how is your relationship with him now?” I asked.
“I don’t want anything to do with him and I wish I never got involved with him. He is not even a Muslim, which makes everything that much worse,” she confessed somberly.
I exhaled, frustrated at the deadlocked situation, but trying my best to stay hopeful. It would have been easier if the two youngsters had the same background and had loved each other, I thought. They could get married and hide the pregnancy, but that was just not to be in this case.
Stephanie knocked on the door to inform me the next clients were here for their appointment. I hated to leave Salmah this way, but I could only reassure her at the moment.
“Salmah, it’s obvious you are a strong and faithful young girl. You will get through this and I want you to continue to be smart and make smart decisions. Try to find allies within your family without revealing your secret if you feel it’s dangerous for you. I want you to keep coming to see me. I will be available by phone to you anytime you need me. Ok?” I assured her as I handed her both my home and cell numbers.
Taking me by complete surprise she wrapped her arms around my waist, her grip so tight that I gasped for air. I suddenly wished she was my daughter so she wouldn’t have to suffer alone and seek a paid counsel, but know that her mama would always be there for her no matter the problem.
I hugged her back tightly and bullied back a tear as I watched her leave my office, still looking uncertain as when she first walked in, but less grief stricken. I silently prayed to Allah to watch over her. She was a special young woman.
Salmah came to see me again on Wednesday, two days following our first meeting. I was tremendously relieved when she came through the door displaying a distraught expression, but a warm smile for me.
“Salaamu alaikum,” I said and she replied with the same greeting.
After we sat down she went on to describe what she had encountered the past two days at home in a straight-forward manner, which indicated she was very comfortable with me. She informed me that she had done what I had told her to do about finding allies within her family.
Cleverly she related to her family that a Muslim girl at school had become pregnant, but the family not knowing that the girl in the story was actually their daughter, reacted harshly to the news. After witnessing their severe reaction, she was discouraged and came to the conclusion that an abortion was the only viable solution.
I had a strong inclination this was going to eventually become her decision and blamed heavily the cultural system that pushed young devout girls like Salmah after falling into a one-time mistake to commit greater religious offenses.
“Do you think your family would disown you if you told them the truth?” I asked.
Her reply came without hesitance.
“I have no doubt. I know my family. It is the worst possible sin in their book. It can’t ruin them. I must have an abortion, otherwise my life is over,” she replied, defiantly.
We talked in length about abortion and her family. She was unwavering in her decision, but her request of me was very unsettling. “But I don’t know where to go and I don’t have any money,” she said in a tone that pained my heart so much that I felt fifteen all over again.
I finally let out the breath that had been trapped after hearing her statement. It was very unethical of me to get involved. I couldn’t take her to a clinic and pay for her abortion. But I also couldn’t let her fall into a dangerous trap and suffer severe consequences. I felt protective of Salmah. If her family disowned her, I would adopt her myself. I almost uttered those thoughts to her openly, catching myself at the last moment.
I eventually decided to call Tiffany, a physician, and hand Salmah’s case to her. For the first time since she had walked in my office, I saw a large and beautiful smile appear on Salmah’s sweet face after I informed her about Tiffany. She hugged me tightly and asked if she could still come see me afterwards.
“Of course you can Salmah. I’d like that very much.” The young girl left my office full of blissful hope. I went back to my desk gently smiling and then began to look over the client chart.
After handing over Salmah’s case to a trusted friend and a professional, I felt more at ease. Since she had walked into my office two days earlier, I had been feeling very tense and unsure on how I could help the young girl. I reasoned that the abortion was a necessarily evil step that had to be taken in order to save herself and her family from the trials and tribulations that could have arisen. I knew that a young girl’s reputation and that of her family could be completely decimated by this type of scandal. Having a baby out of wedlock could ruin her entire future.
The only thing more devastating I could think of was if she were gay. And seeing how much she cared about her family’s standing in society, I was happy for her sake that she wasn’t. A pregnancy could be erased with an abortion, but how could one erase the wishes of one’s heart? I’ve been there. You can’t. If you decide to live then you must engage in a lifelong battle to forget.
It was unfortunate, but that was the type of world we lived in and we were not superhero’s that could change century old entrenched traditions. Still deep down I felt very uneasy about it all. I decided to not dwell on it any further.
At a little past one, I took a lunch break with Hassan, Stephanie and two other staff members. We decided to have Chinese food for lunch and after a block of walking in the freezing November Manhattan winter, we reached the fancy two floor restaurant. I had never gone to this particular restaurant before and stopped to gaze at the beautiful cultural art around the walls and ceiling. I silently hoped décor.
We took a seat at an open window booth overlooking the busy street outside. Immediately the casual conversation about the cold weather and good food turned to Hassan’s upcoming wedding. Hassan was finally going to settle down at the age of thirty-five.
We got along very well in the years we had known each other and had a close working relationship. A relationship I silently feared would arouse suspicions in my husband. I would be jealous if my husband had a close working relationship with a female colleague. It was only natural to feel that way, but my husband never questioned me or gave any thought to the issue. He had complete and unquestioning faith in me. I felt lucky to have married a good man like him.
Even if I was not married, I would never get involved with a man like Hassan. He made a great friend, but he was far from being husband material.
Through the years he dated many women from across the globe. Women were a game to him. He was never serious about any girl he dated. He loved the chase.
Such men were natural born heartbreakers and I was concerned about a fling he had with Tiffany back in Harvard. That concern lasted only momentarily, because like him, Tiffany was a heartbreaker too.
After all the womanizing he had done in the past, he was finally ready to commit to a pretty blonde from Russia. I always thought he would forever remain a bachelor, but was very happy he found someone special even if I highly doubted he could remain faithful to her.
We continued to talk about Hassan’s upcoming wedding festivities and my upcoming birthday, while we enjoyed our lunch. Hassan excused himself and rose from his seat. My view of him was replaced by a clear view of a young Asian woman, enjoying her meal alone and reading a magazine at the next table over. The familiarity of the face on the magazine cover she was reading both caught and held my attention captive. After taking a closer look, my heart rate escalated and I was overtaken by a choking heat. Unaware of how long I had been staring, the girl finally looked up and gave me a curious but concerned glance.
Stephanie gave me a nudge to get my attention, but I was too overwhelmed by the moment to address my colleagues. The girl set the magazine down and I was released from the grip of the face on the cover. Shaken, I forced a smile and followed everyone out of the restaurant.
Once outside and on the sidewalk, I just couldn’t continue walking. I was disabled by the unsettling thoughts ravaging my mind. Despite the cold temperature I felt warm from the burning emotions that were boiling inside of me. The group stopped and looked back at me incredulously.
“Are you okay Ebyan? You don’t look so well,” Hassan said, with concern in his voice.
Hassan was a playboy, but a caring and loyal friend. I managed to smile and exhaled.
“I am fine. I’ll meet you all in the office. Please go on without me. I need to take care of something first,” I replied.
I left them standing there, pondering over my strange behavior. I went back inside the restaurant. With my heart in my throat, I climbed the steps to the second floor and located the booth by the window. The girl was still sitting there bent over her plate. I breathed in and out several times before I slowly made my way to the booth and took a seat in front of her. Her reaction was one of extreme surprise. I smiled, hoping to reassure her before her alarm intensified.
“I am sorry to bother you, but may I please see the magazine you were reading?” I asked.
Seeming relieved, she slowly pulled out the magazine from her bag and set it in front of me. At first I hesitated to look down at the cover. I took a deep breath. When I finally looked down my heart shook even more violently. I searched desperately for air, finding it hard to breathe. If the picture was not clear evidence to the identity of the person, the letters on the cover confirmed it:
Film Maker and Writer, Noreen Iqbal will be screening her critically acclaimed film, “Loving you was enough for me”, on November 30th.
I knew all along who it was. How could I ever forget those eyes? I closed my eyes.
I opened them to look back at the magazine. I tried to compose myself. The young woman was concerned for me and asked if everything was all right, but I could barely hear her let alone give her a proper reply.
I studied her picture.
She was at a studio. Movie equipment was all around the background of the picture. She wore a simple, but elegant brown dress pants with a yellow blouse and colorful jewelry. Her once magnificent long curly hair was now all chopped off and she sported a short, but feminine hair style.
Although she looked older, her large, dark, kind and innocent eyes remained unchanged. And her smile.
God her smile.
She looked incredibly happy, radiant, and beautiful. I was instantly aroused with feelings I thought I had left behind long ago. I re-read the title of her film,
“Loving you was enough for me.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. Only one other person in the world besides her understood the encrypted message.
November 30th. My birthday.
I felt physically sick.
“Are you all right?” a soft voice in front of me called.
I had been very absorbed with Noreen’s picture that everything in the world had ceased to exist. I composed myself as best as I could, then I looked up at the unaware young woman, whose reading choice had revived a poignant past that I had buried deep. She had no idea the explosion she had just set off.
I managed to nod and smile.
“Is it okay if I buy this magazine from you?” I asked.
The girl smiled exhibiting friendly warmth.
“Please keep it,” she replied.
I thanked her and walked out of the restaurant holding the magazine tightly in my hand, believing it contained a prophetic message that had come to inform me the unraveling of my life was about to begin.
I was surprised that I made it back to the office and managed to continue with work as usual. I appeared normal on the outside, feigning strength and professionalism to everyone, yet I felt numb and chaotic on the inside. When the last client walked out the door I slouched back on the sofa letting out a loud sigh. I must have sat there motionless for nearly twenty minutes when Stephanie came into my office to inform me she was heading home for the day. After she left I went back to my desk and pulled out the magazine.
Minutes later my unmoving concentration on the cover was interrupted by Hassan, who came in and sat down in front of me. My slow reaction led to him taking the magazine out of my hands. We were close enough friends that he could pull such an immature move without any worries. A suggestive smile appeared on his face as he looked over the cover.
“Now she is a beauty,” he said teasingly.
I chuckled and reminded him he was to be married soon.
“I haven’t committed a sin. I am only appreciating a woman’s beauty,” he winked studying the magazine more carefully.
“That’s enough Hassan. When will you stop drooling over other women? Remember your fiancé?” I protested. Hassan’s carefree nature suddenly turned serious. He looked up at me curiously then back at the magazine.
“Wait a minute. I have seen her somewhere,” he said. My heart shook upon hearing his statement. I swallowed hard.
“Where could you have seen her?” I asked.
His eyebrows narrowed. He drew the magazine closer to his face and then opened it to read the content inside. I wished he would not read the spread on Noreen. I had not read the spread myself, but from the details on the cover I knew it was an intimate interview about the movie, which only meant one thing. Nervously, I watched him closely.
“I can’t quite remember, but I am sure I have seen her before,” he continued, while meticulously studying the magazine.
“She is a famous film director. You probably saw her in a magazine or something,” I replied hoping he would get the message and lose interest.
But Hassan, the ever persistent one, continued to hold onto the magazine. His strange chuckles made my heart tremble. Only two people in my life knew what Noreen meant to me, but it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together, I thought.
After he finished reading, he looked at me with a questioning expression. Then he cleared his throat and handed the magazine back to me, without saying anything, which was unlike him. I took the magazine and tossed it to the side like it was nothing, its contents containing just cooking recipes not the words of my first love. I forced a smile and shuffled paperwork around to demonstrate to Hassan that I no longer wanted company. Getting the hint, he slowly rose from the chair and we exchanged anxious smiles.
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Have a good evening,” he said in an awkward tone.
For the first time in our friendship, he was at a loss for words. I just knew he was hiding something from me. Although I didn’t know what that could be.
“See ya,” I replied and watched him walk out the door.
Once he was out of sight, I exhaled, releasing the tension I felt. I collapsed my face in my hands. My heart pounding, I grabbed the magazine and opened the spread on Noreen. There were more pictures of her inside.
Her bright smile, searching eyes, and sweet expressions rekindled old affections. Oh Noreen. I fought to subdue the emotions that wanted a desperate release, but I failed.
I read carefully over the interview, which was mostly about her career. I learned she had done a few films before this one, but it was this film that was the most personal to her, as it was dedicated to her first and greatest love. The tears finally broke free when I read that part. I closed the magazine feeling overwhelmed. A few minutes passed with me walking around the office like a mad woman searching for composure, but I was unable to find it.
I returned to finish reading Noreen’s interview. Noreen picked a Fulani girl to play her love interest. The girl resembled me, but the differences in our ethnicities protected my identity. Hassan could have made the connection after seeing the magazine in my possession. I had a gut feeling he must have, but Hassan was not my worry. It was my parents and husband, who were my greatest concern.
What would they think of me if they knew I once had a love affair with another woman? The imagination of their reactions alone frightened me.
I stayed glued to Noreen’s interview for one more hour, until I was startled by the ringing of my phone.
It was Farhia, one of my closest friends.
I still remember the first day I saw her in class. She was dressed in a green worn out jilbab, only her brown innocent looking face and pasty hands were visible. She seemed so out of place sitting quietly in her chair even amongst fellow Somalis that I instantly pitted her. I said hi to her one morning with the biggest smile I could muster. She just looked at me blankly without an ounce of emotion and went back to reading her textbook. It stung. I was sure at that point we wouldn’t become friends.
I was wrong.
The making of our friendship came during History period when the teacher, a bigot, selected Farhia’s dress to make a point about the oppression of women in the world most especially in the Muslim World. She even went as far as to call Farhia’s jilbab unhygienic. Some in the class giggled. I couldn’t contain myself so I told the teacher her breath stank and she was in no position to talk about hygiene, which to be fair was indeed true. The class exploded with laughter and her face turned completely red. It felt so good.
After that incident, we became great friends. At that time she lived with a cruel aunt, who abused her physically and emotionally. Yet Farhia was courageously determined, working at McDonalds and sending her every paycheck back home to her family, while attending high school. She inspired me in a way that no other person was able to do. When her aunt kicked her out, she happily moved in with us. We have been like sisters since we were sixteen. I couldn’t believe how fast time has gone by.
She must be calling about my 30th birthday on Sunday, I thought.
“Salaamu alaikum Farhia,” I said, after the fourth ring.
She returned the greeting and asked about my family and work. I am comforted by her voice and good words. No matter how low I am feeling, Farhia has the ability to be comforting without even trying.
She just celebrated her tenth wedding anniversary with her husband and two children. They are planning a trip to Kenya for the upcoming Christmas and New Year holiday break. She wants to visit me before they leave. I inform her how much I would love it if they do come to New York.
“Insha Allah that is the plan macaanto. Ali and Ayan have grown up so much since you have last seen them. And I can’t wait to see little Jawahiir and everyone,” she said, full of excitement.
“Oh Farhia, I can’t wait either,” I replied affectionately.
I was looking very forward to sharing the closing of the year with the people that I loved. “We all miss you very much. But please plan to stay at least two days,” I pleaded.
She agreed to that plan. Before she hung up, she wished me an early happy birthday and promised to call on Sunday.
Whatever comfort I was feeling with Farhia vanished once I looked at Noreen on the cover of the magazine. I wanted to shout and scream. No sound came out. I can sit at my desk and silently stare at Noreen for hours, but the next phone call from my husband insisted that I go home.
I tucked the magazine deep inside my purse and hurried home. He hadn’t settled in from work and was busy putting away his suitcase when I arrived. I was immediately comforted by his tender smile. The same smile I have loved since we were twelve. He still looks like the sweet boy next door only manlier. It’s difficult to believe that skinny boy grew into this strong, tall and handsome man.
I never took much notice of him until one day I was dragging the trash bag to the bin and Jason, as was his name before he converted, offered to help me. I refused his help and instead of continuing on his way like I thought he would, he snatched the bag from my hand and threw it in the bin with ease.
“Nothing wrong with accepting help,” he said to me with a funny Southern accent.
We’ve been friends ever since. He was my first crush, but our friendship didn’t turn into more until many years later in graduate school.
I never told my husband about the woman I loved before him. I was unsure if I even had the strength to mention her name out loud.
I hugged him tightly and kissed him urgently. I was heavy with emotions and almost on the verge of tears. He put his suitcase down and looked at me curiously.
“Is everything all right honey?” he asked immediately.
“Everything is fine. I love you Muhammad,” I replied, putting his handsome dark brown face in my hands and kissing him more eagerly.
His strong arms completely enveloped my petite body. He pressed our bodies together and kissed me back hungrily. After five years of marriage, it still felt like our honeymoon. The engulfing heat had not died. I felt his excitement grow against my thigh as our daughter’s voice from behind startled us.
“Has the nanny left?” he asked like an upset child whose privileges were taken away. I grinned at him and then whispered in his ear while playfully pulling his ear lobe with my lips. I walked towards our daughter leaving him agitated. His wounded expression caused me to laugh.
Our first year together was like discovering a whole new universe for me. I had never been intimate with a man before him. On our first night together, I was terribly awkward and nervous, but also very horny, a desire that I was thrilled to be feeling for him.
Following dinner he tried desperately to get our daughter to turn in early for bed. I found his schemes comical. She finally went to sleep after we read several stories to her. Barely outside her door he seized me from behind and took complete possession of my entire body. With great ease, he carried me to our bedroom.
“You’re beautiful,” he whispered, running his fingers through my hair.
I stared into his loving brown eyes then kissed his moist lips like I have never kissed them before. It felt desperate and urgent. When I stopped, he gasped for air. He was taken aback by my aggression. I ignored his surprised expression and erratic chuckles.
I started unbuttoning my blouse. He was amused at my odd behavior. Normally for us, he was usually the initiator. When I threw my bra off and stood before him nude from the waist up, his amusement turned to arousal.
He loved my breasts and it didn’t take him long before they were in his mouth. He took his time and enjoyed tasting every inch of my body. I loved the tender way we made love, but tonight I didn’t want him to caress me or plant soft and deep kisses all over my body.
I pulled down my skirt and unzipped his pants. I didn’t need to tell him what I wanted. He understood my need. He lifted me up and placed my back against the wall. I wrapped my legs around his waist and waited to be filled.
And fill me he did, thrusting slowly at first and then picking up speed as his desire and pleasure grew. The more pleasure I felt, the more my emotions began to take over me. I began to cry. Silently at first and then out loud.
I didn’t know why I was crying, but I couldn’t stop the tears. The deeper his thrusts became, the more intense were my cries.
Suddenly our orgasms took over us and we both were overwhelmed by the powerful sensation. Out of exhaustion, we fell down to the carpeted floor. Neither of us could speak.
When the intensity of the sensation subsided, I finally began to understand the truth behind my emotions. I was not stirred by passion, but deep grief. There, underneath my husband’s naked body, I thought of Noreen.
I had a very bitter taste in my mouth. I changed into my night gown, went downstairs to make coffee and then headed to my corner of peace, carrying the magazine. It was a large room my husband added onto the house for me, which doubled as a recording studio and a home office. The room housed recording equipment, paintings, Islamic calligraphy and shelves full of books collected over the years. The furniture was in the middle of the room and green plants were all around the vicinity. I went to the work desk, sat down on the leather chair and switched on the laptop.
On the internet, I typed in Noreen Iqbal. For nearly ten years I had resigned myself to forget her memory. I resisted any reconnection with her that could arise by completely blocking out anything which could lead me to her. For our honeymoon, my husband wanted to go to Hawaii, but I refused because Noreen and I had once planned a getaway trip to the island. I even avoided the entire world of independent films (which I love), because it is her field. And now she has returned into my life in the most unexpected way.
The information I gathered from the search stated she had made several critically acclaimed films most of them documentaries in her short career and like the magazine spread detailed this was the most personal film to her.
On her website she was quoted as saying:
“Loving you was enough for me is a love story that has never been told, but needs to be told. It is a special film for me, because it was inspired by real life events. With this film I wanted to share with the world the undying love between the two main characters, the undying love that lives in my heart.”
The undying love that lives in my heart. Those few words snatched away the security that took me years to build. I closed my eyes and collapsed my face in my hands. I felt lost and the only action I could take was to let the tears run down my face. Why after all these years Noreen? Why do this to me and dig up a past that should stayed buried, I whispered to myself.
Those words consumed my every thought. I couldn’t move or breathe normally. They recovered a lost passion.
Trembling, I looked at the two striking girls on the film poster. I suddenly felt nauseated, scared, and overpowered. Nothing from the magazine interview or the search indicated she was romantically involved and despite being happily married, I found that bit of information a great relief.
I opened the bottom cabinet to my left and pulled out a case of which I had not looked inside for many years. It contained all the precious memories I once shared with Noreen. Pictures, letters, DVDs, and the gifts she had given me. On top of the pile I took out the silver heart bracelet, which had been inscribed: Ebyan, I will love you forever.
Tears gushed out my eyes furiously as I stared at the bracelet she had given me for my twentieth birthday. I cried and cried. The years of hurt, pain, regret and anger I had buried deep inside of me made the tears continue to run uncontrollably like an endless stream. I thought I had moved on with my life and forgotten this history, but it was clear to me in the face of these raw emotions I had only reshuffled the past and never really faced it honestly.
I looked at our many pictures together. More tears ensued. Then I put one of the DVD’s into play. Materializing on screen was me at the age of twenty wearing white dress pants and a long fitted red blouse with a red scarf displaying a large smile, while singing Vanessa Carlton’s hit single A Thousand Miles.
I remembered that night perfectly. Noreen and I were on campus in the wee hours of the morning, but instead of studying for final exams we roamed the grounds, chased each other in the hallways, and then ended up in the music department. We sneaked into the studio room where I sang this song.
I watched the DVD with a mix of sadness and longing. When her sweet voice finally flowed from behind the camera it felt like a hot blade pierced my heart. When her beautiful face materialized on screen I broke down completely. It has been a decade since I last laid eyes on her and I now know I never did get over her. I only deeply buried her memory.
I could no longer ignore the one person I was never able to let go and whose reappearance on a simple magazine spread had the ability to turn my entire world upside down. I now understood that my future and finding closure depended on making sense of that time period in college I had covered up many years ago even from my own subconscious.