I looked at my mother’s face but did not hear her words. Her eyes were glaring, her hands waving. Her mouth opening and closing like a shark closing in on a school of unsuspecting swimming fishes. Her double chin jiggled.
I tried to think of a word to describe her. But I could not. Farah was always the wordsmith. What would Farah say?
“Sanctimonious!” I shouted.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Nothing. What was that, Mama? I wasn’t listening.”
“I’m saying, I told you not to ask that Farah to be your bridesmaid. That girl is nothing but trouble.”
“She’s gotten me out of trouble more times than I can remember, Mama,” I said quietly.
Admittedly we could have chosen a better place to have this conversation. We were right outside Farah’s hospital room - sitting in the corridor waiting for the sedatives to wear off. She had needed stitches and the surgeon had to remove two of her front teeth.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” I said out loud. Again I had cut my mother off mid-sentence.
She just pursed her lips. I know she felt that Farah was not a good person. But she would never tell me in so many words.
Perhaps I should listen to my mother and say goodbye to my friend forever.
“She looks even uglier than she did before.”
“Farah is not ugly!”
“She is. She’s short. Fat. Dark. Not to mention that thing she wears on her head...”
“You mean the hijab?”
“Yes, that. I can’t believe you want her to be one of your bridesmaids.”
“She’s one of my closest friends.”
“Just imagine what she’ll look like in the pictures! With a black eye! And no front teeth!”
“I guess she’ll have to smile with her mouth closed.”
“I don’t know why you’re even her friend. She’s not classy...”
“I was never classy, Mama,” I scoffed. “She helped me through some really tough times.”
I smiled to think about those dark times now; those dark times through which Farah had held my hand. And now perhaps she needed someone to hold hers.
“I can’t believe she’s your hero! What about your mother?” Mama was now hysterical. She was always so insecure, thinking that I would forget her or stop loving her if I even looked at another woman.
I often prayed to Allah to give my mother the guidance to accept my new friends as the good beautiful Muslim sisters that they are. But my mother’s face told me that I would have to be patient a little longer.
“I’m telling you, that girl should be asked to leave your bridal party.”
“I bet she totally kicked that mugger’s butt,” I mused out loud.
Farah and I had taken a women’s self-defence class together.
“Can you imagine? Whiz! Bam! Pow!” I punched the air, grinning as I imagined that mugger’s teeth and gold chain flying through the air.
“Well, if she kicked his butt, why aren’t we visiting him in the hospital instead of her?”
The truth shook me. She had gotten the teeth punched out of her face. She had been punched in the stomach till she was on the floor coughing blood.
“But she put up a fight.”
I could see her now, looking up at him, eyes glinting.
“She punched him in the...”
“She punched him...where it would hurt him the most. That’s what they taught us in women’s self-defence.”
“Why would someone attack a woman like that? Why wouldn’t he just take her valuables and leave?”
“I don’t know, Ma. I don’t know what the world is coming to.”
We sat quietly for a few minutes, contemplating the horror of it.
“I still think that you should ask Farah to leave your bridal party.”
“You know what? Fine. It’s your decision.” She got up. “I’ve tried to convince you. But ultimately it’s your wedding. I’ll be waiting in the car.” She clip-clopped away angrily.
“Waiting in the car”...that’s Mama’s codeword for “Do the right thing.”
I decided I would wait by Farah’s bedside, not outside like a visitor.
As I sat down besides Farah’s bed, she turned and whispered, “Mariam?”
She was already awake. “Yes, Farah,” I whispered.
“Assalam alaikum.” She grinned, her lips dry and wounded.
I took her hand. “Walaikum salam! How are you feeling?”
“Okay. Alhamdulillah.” She looked away and breathed hard.
I held her hand for the longest time. How could I leave her out of my life?
“Don’t worry about the bridal party, darling. I’ll excuse myself from it.”
Farah turned to look at me. “Your mom never liked me anyway. It’s best I stay away from you on your wedding day. Looking like this, I’d ruin your pictures.”
The breath caught in my throat. “No,” I found myself mouthing, but I could not speak.
“You have to obey your parents, right? Don’t worry, darling. We’ll always be friends. And I’ll be with you every moment on your big day.”
The tears began to fall from my eyes. I had never wanted this big wedding and here I was, giving up my closest friend, just to please my mother. Maybe I could speak to Dad. Maybe I could get my sister to try and convince her. Maybe I could...
“Don’t bother yourself. I’m not worth the fight.”
“You’ve always been worth it, Farah!”
She turned and smiled. “Try if you must. But pick your battles. Am I worth fighting for?”
“Yes. A thousand times, yes.”
She smiled. I sat holding her hand till she dozed off again into a peaceful slumber.
I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below!