what is home? is it freedom?

Her hips swayed when she walked. She pulled out a cigarette and offered me one.

“When did you start smoking?” I asked.

“I don’t,” she replied, as she placed a cigarette between her lips. “I just like how this one tastes.”

I took one too and we sat there and smoked under the sun for a little bit.

She was quiet. She was watching something in the far off distance but her eyes looked somewhere else.

I was having trouble holding the cigarette. I wanted to pinch it between my fingers like a joint. She looked at me with a dead glare. Her eyes were honey brown in the sunlight. She had no idea how beautiful she was.

We put out our cigarettes and walked off. The tobacco had gotten in my head so every step felt a little lighter. The sky looked a little bluer. A little smirk was plastered to my face. I liked how my curly hair felt on my neck, bouncing up and down. I liked how my legs felt a little wobbly. I liked how she and I were walking at the same pace. How she had called herself a feminist right before pulling off her bra from under her tank top. How my shirt was longer than my shorts. How walking with our legs and her chest and my arms exposed felt like marching in a protest.

The crowd of people seemed to part in front of us. Heads were turning. As if they knew. The smirk didn’t leave my face. Until I caught a glance of her glaring at the phone in her hand. She sighed and rolled her eyes. I didn’t ask. Instead, I crushed ice from my water cup with my teeth loudly. She laughed and did the same.

She loves teasing. She says she doesn’t like to be touched but she gives people the most bone crushing hugs. She looks for every opportunity to help. She loves talking about her family. She likes to dance. So before we went home that day, we blasted a drum solo in the parking lot and she seduced me with her hips as she belly danced with her eyes closed, a cigarette between her lips, and laughter that reached the clouds. At the end of the car ride home, I pulled on long pants and she put on a jeans jacket and we both put on our scarves and we looked at each other in our disguises and she rolled her eyes and we both laughed but I could see the heartache in her honey eyes.

In that moment, I wished so desperately that I can free her. But I knew I could do nothing. I knew she would never trade her family for freedom. She’d have to learn how to live this double life. How I learned long ago. How it’s taken me years to be okay with leaving my parents in the dark. How it’s harder for her because she doesn’t want to break her mom’s heart. How it’s breaking my heart to see her hurting. How much she deserves to be in the sun.

We both left our alter egos at the park that day. Returning home to our parents as their good muslim daughters.

The next time I see her, we are surrounded by our families who don’t know the secrets we’ve shared. We smile at each other and talk with our eyes. Our tan lines are inside jokes. She still giggles like she did when she was a little girl. She pulls me to the kitchen because she baked a cake and wants me to try a piece. I laugh with my mouth full. Her home is loud and chaotic and this is exactly where she belongs.

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