I’m sitting by myself at home. Or, rather, an apartment that I’ve called home for the past six years. But that will all change in two months, when I leave this place.
The apartment is empty. There are two large, brown university-issued couches, but no tables. No chairs. The beds in the three vacated bedrooms are just large, generic wooden frames with a standard mattress that’s only slightly more comfortable than the stained tiled floors. The TV is gone. The tens of framed pictures of my family that once adorned the walls, bookshelves and tables, gone. The ceiling-to-floor curtains, the Persian rugs, the lamps – gone, gone, gone.
I look up to the empty entertainment center in front of me. If I close my eyes, I can see the TV and DVD player lined up neatly on the parallel shelves; the stack of books – a Quran, a collection of Hadith and The Da Vinci Code – piled on the edge; and our collection of movies and TV series, mostly Star Trek, organized alphabetically in the lowest cabinet underneath the 72 inch Samsung LCD screen.
But now, it’s just wood. It could pass for a decent bar, I think. I can envision lined up bottles of rum, brandy and wine – my favorites – glistening in rows where the TV once stood. The short cups and wine glasses would be in the space above the bottles, safe from dust behind a glass door. Hidden in the compartment below would be snacks – bags of chips, peanuts – and cans of tonic, Perrier and maybe some boxes of juice for a cocktail. The two couches framed the would-be bar in an L-shape, making it the perfect setting for a kind of soiree, without the distraction of a television. Or other furniture.
Suddenly, a sense of panic floods my senses. I hear the grinding of a metal key scraping the inside of a lock and my father comes barreling through the front door. The heavy wood slams into the sidewall with a bang, making me jump to my feet. I step in front of the bar, ineffectively attempting to hide it from sight. He sees the alcohol and looks at me with a manic cast to his eyes. I can see the vein pulsing in his forehead. His hands tighten into a fist, and I instinctively shrink back. His chest heaves and he takes a step forward –
My eyes open to the empty apartment. My heart is beating fast, and my ears ring with the echoes of invisible screams. I shake my head to clear it, but it doesn’t work. I look at the entertainment deck, but it doesn’t look the same. The alcohol is gone. It’s just wood again. I look around at the white walls surrounding me.
Ashadu an la ilaha illAllah, I think. It doesn’t help. I bet a glass of whiskey would.
“You’re not taking that with you.”
I turned to see my mother standing at the entrance of my room. I held up the shorts that were in my hand, admiring the frayed edges from years of use. The suitcase at my feet was empty, with the exception of a few graphic tees I knew I’d never wear, but wanted anyway.
The sun crept into the room, touching the tips of my feet. I shuffled back a few steps; this year’s summer had been hotter than most. And for some reason, my parents hated AC, so my siblings and I had to sweat it out. Literally.
“Why not?” I said. “They’re still in good condition and I wear them all the time.” I didn’t bother waiting for a reply before folding the shorts in half and tossing them haphazardly towards the suitcase. I saw a hand shoot out from the corner of my eye, grabbing the shorts before they could touch the ground. A fist clamped around my arm, tight enough to make me try to pull away. My mother’s grip held fast, and she pulled me towards her.
I stared at the ground, deliberately avoiding her gaze. My mouth set in a thin line to prevent crying out from the increasing pain in my arm. I could feel my skin pierce underneath the sharpened points of her fingernails.
“Look at me,” she hissed. I set my jaw and turned my head to glare into her eyes.
I thought I was being brave, at the time. I didn’t understand what “stubborn” meant in situations like that. Looking back, I sometimes think I should have relented. Given in.
“These are haram! What will Allah, subhana wata’ala, say to me on Judgement Day? I’ll go to hell because of you!” She shook me hard, as if it could help instill the notion into my brain.
“But I’m fifteen – ”
“Ikhrasi!” The word silenced me. Her hand unclenched and I immediately cradled my arm, running my fingers over my bruised skin. She reached towards my dresser and I moved to stop her.
“No, please, I won’t wear them anymore, just don’t – ” She ignored me and plucked the scissors from the jar on the dresser, cutting jaggedly into the shorts before dropping the scissors and ripping through the denim with her hands.
She held the two pieces in front of my face. “Are you happy now?” She threw them at my face, as if she was tossing a used Kleenex in the garbage, and walked towards the door. The remnants of my favorite shorts slapped my face, making my eyes water.
“Oh, and habibti?” I looked up to see my mother near the entrance to my room. She gave me a cheerful smile. “Throw away all the rest of your shorts, too.” She was gone as quickly as she came.
I kneeled next to my suitcase, torn shorts in hand. I folded each piece neatly before placing them in the pocket underneath the flap. I turned and reached under my bed, feeling between dustballs and old toys. My hands found a leather box, which I set on top of my bare mattress. I opened the lid and pulled out a spool of dark blue thread, a thimble and a needle. I bound them together with some spare string and tied a bow using the same “loopdy-loop and pull” trick Mickey Mouse taught me to tie my shoes.
I stored the sewing bundle underneath my shorts, in my suitcase and away from my mother’s sight.
A knock on the door jolted me awake.
“Jenna? Jenna what’s taking so long?” Another knock, this time louder.
I let out a deep breath I didn’t know I was holding in. The knocks persisted. I picked up the wine bottle near my feet and took another swig. The bitter taste sat in my mouth and I grimaced. I held the wine away from my face and squinted at the label, trying to make out the words in the dim lighting of the bathroom. The bottle was the nicest, cheapest one I could find on the shelf. Something generic, but it had a picture of a vineyard on it, so legitimate enough. How should I know, anyway? I was only 20.
“Jenna!” Noise, so much noise. The shower was running at its highest setting – the water slammed against the plastic, drowning out the noise of the glass bottle clanking against the tile floor.
My sister slammed her fist against the door one last time, and my head ached from the impact. Footsteps marched away in apparent anger. I chuckled morbidly and held the bottle in the air – toasting to an invisible friend – before draining the last of the cheap wine. I could hear screaming from the living room. She had gone to complain to my parents.
I stood up, only slightly swaying. My iPod fell off my lap, still repeating my most frequently visited playlist. Sorrow, I had aptly named it. I cringed at my own dramatics. I picked up my phone, absently browsing through user-generated playlists on the 8tracks app, before settling on oldies. I stepped under the steaming water, letting the sweet melody of Marvin Gaye steep into my drunken stupor.