The Sense of It

Fiction

Maryam tossed one loose end of her pashmina scarf over her shoulder and craned her head up as she walked across the parking lot. The sky was a vivid oceanic blue, no clouds blocking the horizon, no planes leaving frothy streaks of white in their wakes, nothing mundane she could take and process into something meaningful. She pulled out her phone and saw a message from her father – a link to a news article with the headline, “Just relax, Toronto – It’s February, it’s Canada, it’s going to snow.” Maryam chuckled despite herself, then cleared the notification without responding and dropped the phone back into her purse. She studied her image in the darkened windows of the Starbucks entrance, pushed her hijab slightly back up her forehead and yanked open the heavy glass doors.  

 

 “Good Will Hunting. Hands down,” Adnan said. “But there’s one thing I never understood – ‘How’d you like them apples.’” Adnan pushed out his chest and stretched his lower back. “Maybe it’s a cultural reference that I’m not aware of.”

Posts a.k.a. Articles (300 x 150)
Advertisement

Maryam took a sip of the lemon-infused iced tea Adnan had bought for her. It was watery, with only a hint of the lemon flavour she was craving. They were sitting across from each other at a small circular table in the back. Adnan was waiting to catch a GO bus to Hamilton to spend the weekend with his cousins and he had told Maryam he wouldn’t have much time, but preferred to meet up anyway so they could at least begin to sort things out. Still, they spent fifteen minutes talking about their favourite movies. 

“It’s like when the tables are turned and you weren’t expecting it and other person is gloating about it,” Maryam said. Instead of lifting the cup, she bent down to sip from the straw and raised her eyes. “Maybe kind of like now. Except that I have no reason to gloat, of course.”  

She paused, letting the statement she was about to type next slosh around in her belly, getting used to the not-quite-solid feel of it: I really like him.

“Right, right.” Adnan turned his head to look at the menu boards on the wall. “Maybe I should get something to eat,” he muttered. 

“My dad says you probably think you’re a social justice warrior but you didn’t have the personal sense of justice to make it to an important appointment on time.”

Adnan’s laugh sounded like a tickle escaping from his throat. “Personal sense of justice?” He placed his elbows on the table and interlaced his fingers. “Did he actually say that?”

Maryam fixed her gaze on Adnan’s folded hands. His nails were long and broad, shaped like perfect ‘U’s. “Yes. And I do agree with him. I would imagine meeting my parents was more important to you than attending a protest, especially if you knew it would make you late.”

“This wasn’t just a protest, Maryam.” Adnan pressed his hands to his chest. “This is me, this is who I am. If it means I run late to a meeting, I run late.” 

“You were meeting them for the first time. I thought you were serious about this.”

“I was. I am.”

“So you’ll apologize?”

“To your father?”

“Who else?”

“Is he even open to that?”

Maryam curled her hands around the clear plastic cup. The ice in the drink made her fingers feel cold and tingly and she scolded herself for forgetting to wash her travel mug at work before leaving. After watching An Inconvenient Truth last year, she had made a commitment to herself to be more green and had bought a travel mug for her daily morning coffee but never got around to purchasing non-disposable straws. “I don’t know either,” she said, closing her eyes. “I don’t know.”

Maryam tossed the rest of her drink and started walking with Adnan to the bus terminal. Invisible patches of ice still lingered on the sidewalks and Maryam kept peering on the ground, trying to sidestep the icy patches and avoid a slip. She waited in line with Adnan until it was his turn to board and had just started walking back when her phone buzzed. It was a message from him: Que Sera Sera. Cheer up . Maryam turned around, scanning the darkened windows of the bus for his face. When she found him, in the second last row, Adnan grinned and waved at her, his elbow dangling in the air. Maryam bit back a smile and gave him a thumbs up before leaving again. There was a stale coffee smell in the air, but mixed up in it, she could pick out the curdled scent of yeast from the bakery across the street, the promise of fresh bread hovering like a cloud in the air.

By the time Maryam walked the two blocks back to her car, her toes felt pinched from wearing boots that were too tight. Her feet were half-way between size 8 and 8½, and getting a good fitting pair was always a matter of trial and error. She tossed her purse on the passenger’s seat and pulled out her phone. She opened the Notes app and typed Pros at the top. Her sister Aisha made pro/con lists for all kinds of decisions and swore by them. Maryam considered them dry and unfeeling, but with Adnan, her usually reliable gut was failing her and she couldn’t quite get it to settle, even after praying istikhara twice. It was like the reverberating needle on the defunct Qibla app on her phone; instead of pointing towards Makkah, whichever direction she turned in, the needle shivered and moved along with her. She sighed and continued typing:

Smart

Well-read

Prays – religious enough

Cares about social issues

Always pays – generous

Mom likes him

She paused, letting the statement she was about to type next slosh around in her belly, getting used to the not-quite-solid feel of it: I really like him.

In the ‘Con’ list, she typed one item, with a qualifier: Dad does not like him, as expected.

Before driving home, Maryam shared the list with Aisha, though she was certain her responsible, yet spontaneous older sister’s hot take would be: Grow a spine, get married already.

 

Maryam had just removed her hijab cap and pulled out the hair tie from her bun when her phone buzzed. She grabbed it and sat on the edge of her bed, reading the messages coming in from Aisha.

ARE YOU INSANE?!?!!

You must be getting desperate or smthg

B/c even Prince William love of your life has cons

Such as:

Bald-headed

At the helm of an archaic colonial institution

You forgot ‘Already married’

Yes, exactly! EVERYONE has at least five cons

If not more

Your head is not on straight

What’s going on??

Maryam’s eyes filled with water. She breathed fast and blinked back tears.

I don’t know. Maybe I am insane

But he’s the best shot I have

He’s a decent guy and I like him

And I don’t want to become the spinster ‘career woman’
all the masjid aunties will warn their daughters about

Oh God! Don’t be so dramatic, Mar

Listen to me

Look at her, all alone, all by herself. She let all those good men go.

She has a job, a car, but no husband, no kids

And what kind of a life is that. That’s what they’ll say

About me. And it’ll all be true

I’m tired, Ash 

I don’t want to keep doing this anymore

Posts a.k.a. Articles (300 x 250)
Advertisement

If you want to go against Dad, you know I’ll support you.

Yes, Dad’s being unreasonable, as usual

But it has to be for the right person

Imran was right for me

I knew it in my heart, my bones, my spleen and pancreas even!

Who’s being the drama queen now?

He shouldn’t just make you swoon

He has to knock you down so hard you don’t know what hit you

And then be the one to pick you back up again

He has to make you blind with love!

What’re you on over there? Hook me up too

I could use some of that crazy myself

I’m just saying

I wouldn’t have gone against Dad for nothing

Definitely not for some “well-read” dude that I was just settling for

Maryam looked up from her phone and gazed at the ceiling. She had painted it sky-blue a few years ago, along with the rest of her room. She had also replaced the generic frosted plate light fixture with a small chandelier from IKEA, an old-fashioned kind with a string of tear-shaped glass diamonds hanging beneath bulbs that resembled candle flames. Maryam had undertaken the impromptu makeover after a man she had expected to be engaged to had emailed her to say that his family wasn’t fully on board and that he didn’t think it was a good idea to proceed any further. The week prior to that final email, he was forwarding her sample wedding invites.

Adnan is right for me

I don’t need all the drama of love

I just need the sense of it

 

From the number of thuds she heard, Maryam knew her father was coming down the stairs in a hurry, his feet landing only on every other step. She heard the fridge door open, the knock of glass against countertop – his usual, milk before dinner. 

Her father appeared in the doorway. “Your mother has a headache and wants me to get dinner. What do you want to eat?”

“Ask Mom,” Maryam responded without looking up. She was sitting on the sofa in the family room, marking mid-term papers for the College English course she taught at Seneca. She disliked marking essays but enjoyed the creative process of coming up with the question topics. She had a self-imposed policy of never using old questions. It kept her thinking fresh, helped her to search for hidden angles from which to view the course material.

Maryam looked away and began twirling her pen between her index and middle finger. It belonged to a set of twelve coloured pens that Adnan had randomly gifted her one day. 

“Mom said to ask you.” Her father pumped his arms through the sleeves of his oversized winter coat. He liked his clothes loose, liked the shoulders to fall at least an inch below where the fabric was meant to sit.

“Where are you going?”

“Up to you. If you say Malaysian, I’ll get Malaysian. Or Italian, Indian, whatever it is. Everything is reasonably close.”

“That eggplant pizza Mom likes. From Il Fornello.”

“But it’s $20 for such a small pizza. And there’s no meat on it. At least let me get a halal pizza.”

Maryam shrugged. “You asked.” She circled an entire paragraph in red ink. It was full of grammatical errors. On a good day, she might individually point out each one.

“You’re still not upset about that guy are you?”

Maryam finally looked up. Her father was down on one knee, lacing up his hiking boots. Whenever she or her mother tried to get him to buy winter boots, he insisted there was no need, pointing out that his hiking boots were water-proof and had good grip, which were the most essential components of a winter boot anyway. “His name is Adnan,” Maryam said. 

“Okay.”

“And yes, I am still upset. I think you’re being unreasonable.”

“I told you, he was late. That automatically disqualifies him.”

Maryam swiped her hair around her neck, bringing it to one side. “How is being late an automatic disqualifier? These things happen.”

“Maryam, we had this conversation already. What changed?”

“Nothing. I just still don’t see your point.”

“My guess is, you’re still talking to him.”

Maryam looked away and began twirling her pen between her index and middle finger. It belonged to a set of twelve coloured pens that Adnan had randomly gifted her one day. 

“Does he really like you?”

When Maryam had asked Adnan what the gift was for, his eyes crinkled behind his square glasses and he smiled without showing any teeth. He figured all teachers must like pens. “He likes me enough,” she said.

“Enough to take his responsibilities as a husband seriously?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Did he like you enough to come on time? To make a good first impression on your parents?”

Maryam stayed silent for a moment. She hated arguing with her father, the no-man’s land that stretched out between them reducing their interactions to a rubble of clipped responses and unanswered texts. “He just ran late, Dad,” she said quietly, staring at the pen levitating between her fingers. “It’s not that complicated.”

“He didn’t like you enough to skip that protest. He’s not even a part of that black lives group. You think it doesn’t matter but I see these things differently, without emotions clouding my vision.” Her father backed into the hallway. “Your mother must be hungry. I’ll get your pizza. We can continue when I come back.”

Maryam stared at the mustard-yellow armchair across from her. Adnan had sat in it the day he had visited, when he had been nearly an hour and a half late. She wondered if she sat in it now, if she would be able to discern any traces of his cologne that still lingered in the upholstery. She got up, stepping over the pile of papers around her, and went up to her room. She left the lights off and stood in front of the open window. A cold gust of wind swept past her, the ends of her hair lightly prickling her neck. A massive cloud front was moving in from the east, and in the center of it, a single flash of lightning seemed to cleave the sky in half. Maryam held her breath as a chorus of rumbles shuddered through the air and the sky sizzled and cracked with purple flashes of light. The lightning storm lasted no more than a minute and when it was finished, the sky was dark and silent once more, a smell like burnt plastic floating in the air. Maryam stepped away from the window. She knew there was nothing more to see, nothing more that would be visible to her, beyond the roofs of the houses ahead.


View Hajera Khaja’s author profile.
Picture of Hajera Khaja