Nima would be starting her new job in less than thirty minutes and now she brought her hands in front of her and fidgeted with the image she saw in the mirror. She put on her hijab, and looking in the mirror, arranged the headpiece so that it sat more comfortably on her head. The time was twenty-three minutes past eleven. She examined her eyes and noticed that they were puffy, revealing the fact that she had not slept in a while.
Where is Fatmah? she asked herself, still fidgeting with her clothes.
Her friend was supposed to go with her to work, but she still hadn’t called.
Nima fidgeted with her clothes some more, and then she walked out of her room, carrying a knapsack with her.
Her grandmother was in the sitting room. She was senile and did not recognise her family. Nima greeted her, as she always did, even though she knew that her grandmother would not respond.
She went into the kitchen and poured out some milk. Her father came out of his room.
‘I thought you’re supposed to be in work today,’ he said, seeing that she was still in the house.
‘I am, Babba,’ Nima said, going to him and kissing him on the cheek.
‘I’ve already told you about going late to work,’ her father scolded. ‘You know how these people think of us, so you must do all you can to make your people proud.’
‘I’m working on the till of a Jewish supermarket, Babba,’ Nima said. ‘That is nothing to be proud of.’
‘But it’s honest work,’ her father protested. ‘You must never underestimate the value of hard work. Today, you may feel you are a second-class citizen, but you are building something for the next generation. This is why you must give a good impression always.’
Nima sighed and rolled her eyes.
‘You, come here,’ her father said, wagging his finger.
Nima sulkily came nearer. ‘What?’
Her father embraced her in his arms. ‘I love you so much,’ he said.
Nima closed her eyes, avoiding a tear escaping her eye, and scolding herself for being so emotional. ‘I know you do, father,’ she said to him softly, and she returned his embrace.
Her father had been at home for almost a year. He worked in a factory and had been injured in an accident. The factory refused to pay him any compensation, and they had paid only part of his hospital bills, attributing his accident to carelessness. It had been hard for Nima’s family after that, and she had taken the role of the breadwinner for the house as her father’s savings had progressively dwindled.
‘I’ll be back in the evening, Babba,’ she said, pulling away from her father.
‘Okay,’ he replied. ‘I’ll prepare your best meal and it’ll be waiting here for you after work.’
‘Thanks, Babba,’ she said, and headed for the front door.
But she turned back and ran to him, and embraced him again. He seemed taken aback, but he did not reject her affection.
Moments later, she was out of the house and heading for the bus stop. She called Fatmah on her phone.
‘Hello, where are you?’ she said into the phone.
‘I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to your house,’ Fatmah said. ‘I was tired when I woke up this morning. I was at Saadi’s house yesterday. He was very sad.’
‘You should have broken up with him years ago,’ Nima said. ‘I’m on my way to work now.’
‘I’ll meet you at the bus stop,’ Fatmah said.
‘Where are you?’ Nima asked. ‘I’m almost there and I’m not waiting for you.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Fatmah said. ‘It will only take me a minute to get there. I slept in my clothes after I got in. There’s no need to take a bath.’
‘I don’t think that’s allowed,’ Nima said. ‘You have to prepare and clean your body and pray.’
‘You worry too much,’ Fatmah said. ‘Who’s going to know? I’ll see you.’
The call ended, and Nima continued on to the bus stop.
As she stood she prayed silently, with only her red lips moving, but no audible sound escaping.
She found herself drifting off to sleep, those puffy eyes unable to stay open. She started, and scolded herself for her carelessness. Then she checked the schedule, which was plastered on a board at the side. The bus would be here in less than ten minutes.
Fatmah, where are you?
‘Nima,’ Fatmah shouted. Nima looked and saw her friend waving to her from a side street.
‘Hurry,’ Nima shouted. ‘The bus will soon be here.’
Fatmah ran, and Nima noted that she was in high spirits. Fatmah had always fascinated her. She was overweight, but she never allowed that to affect her disposition. And they had been friends forever. Fatmah never wanted to be separated from her friend, and even when Nima found a job at the supermarket, Fatmah had fought to also get a job there, even though she did not have Israeli citizenship like Nima. Nima had always taken care of Fatmah, and even though Fatmah was the elder, Nima had taken the role of big sister. And now Nima felt guilty as Fatmah approached. Had she led Fatmah to this point? Such a bright young soul. Was it worth the sacrifice?
‘Hi,’ Fatmah said to Nima when she got closer.
‘Hi, yourself,’ Nima returned.
The bus came down the street.
‘You look happy,’ Nima said.
‘I am happy,’ Fatmah said, with a big smile plastered across her face.
‘Oh,’ Nima said, not expecting that answer.
The bus came to a stop beside them and both girls got in. The bus, for the moment was near empty, and the girls walked to the middle of the bus and took seats beside each other.
‘So when will be a good time?’ Fatmah asked. She was still smiling, and at the moment, this irritated Nima.
How did this happen? When did she get so comfortable with all this? Nima thought. She had been the first one to get involved. It was after her father had lost his job. She had hated Jews then and gradually the voices of the fanatics grew louder. She had spent more time away from Fatmah after that, totally dedicated to her cause. And then she had revealed her plan to Fatmah, and at first her friend had been scared. Fatmah had eventually come around to the idea in the last couple of weeks, and she had asked to go along with Nima on this journey.
And now as Nima readied herself to make the final sacrifice for her beliefs, she felt the fear rising.
Deep in her mind, she spoke to her fear: Why do you show yourself now?
@ Uzor Chinukwue 2011