More to the Story
This is the worst Eid ever!” Aleeza flops onto the sofa and grabs the TV remote.
“You’ll wrinkle your outfit,” Bisma warns.
“I don’t care,” Aleeza says, then quickly adjusts her kameez beneath her. “It doesn’t feel like Eid. Baba’s not here. We were supposed to leave for the party like an hour ago. And now we’re stuck at home, because people are coming over.”
“Your whining doesn’t make it any better,” I snap at her. She’s right that it’s been a pretty disappointing day so far. Baba had to fly out for an interview in Maryland early this morning, before the rest of us went to the mosque for prayers. It’s our first Eid without him, and everyone’s been on edge. But it’s only three o’clock in
the afternoon. Maybe things will turn around.
“Come on, guys—it’s Eid,” Bisma pleads. “Can’t you be nice to each other today?”
“She should be nice. Jam’s always mean to me!” Aleeza shakes her finger at me, and her eyes fill up.
So much for things turning around. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: My youngest sister is spoiled rotten. Aleeza’s only ten, but that doesn’t stop her from bossing around Bisma, who’s a year older than her. And it doesn’t matter to her that I’m thirteen and in middle school. Aleeza doesn’t respect me like she should.
“Jameela!” Mama calls to me from the kitchen. “Can you go down and get the nice napkins? From the garage?”
“Okay.” I’d rather face the lizards in the garage than listen to Aleeza whine for a second longer. Ever since Bisma saw a baby gecko scamper along the walls and freaked out like it had escaped from Jurassic Park, I’m the only one of us girls who dares to go in there alone.
The air inside the garage is suffocating, which isn’t surprising, since it feels like five hundred degrees outside. This year Eid fell in August, the hottest month of the summer. Today also happens to be the kind of record-breaking scorcher of a day that earns Atlanta the nickname Hotlanta.
The jumbo pack of napkins is on a crowded shelf, next
to a box marked “JAMEELA’S STUFF: PRIVATE!!!” where I’ve stored my old journals and collection of last year’s middle school newspapers. I was the only sixth grader who was an assistant editor and had an article in every issue of the paper, so I saved two copies of each. I resist the urge to carry the box inside so I can reread them, savoring each word like I want to.
Out of the corner of my eye I spot a lizard, frozen in place near the garage door opener. I decide it’s going to be the subject of a future article in the Mirza Memos, the family newspaper I’ve been writing since I was nine years old. Maybe I’ll research whether geckos have ever harmed humans, or how to get over the fear of creatures that resemble tiny alligators. If that includes hypnosis, I hope my sisters will let me try it out on them.
I make sure my box isn’t at risk of getting crushed by the endless stream of things that flow out of our town house into the garage. Then I grab a stack of napkins and head upstairs to the kitchen. Mama is arranging mini samosas on a platter, while Maryam cuts the raspberry bars she made into neat squares.
“Can you put those on the table with this fruit?” Mama’s brow furrows as she eyes the simple cotton shalwar kameez I threw on for Eid prayers earlier. “Aren’t you going to change into your new clothes?”
This morning I hit my snooze button over and over, which left no time to iron the bright green outfit with sparkly gold thread work I’d left crumpled on my floor after trying it on last week. All I needed was a big star on my head, and I would have looked exactly like a walking Christmas tree decorated with tinsel. But since Mama’s cousin in Pakistan had sent me the outfit, and because I knew it must have been expensive, I pretended to like it.
“Please say you will,” Maryam adds. My older sister is elegant in her silvery-gray outfit with black embroidery. Her makeup, perfected after hours of watching tutorials on YouTube, is flawless. She’s wearing a high bun, with wisps of loosened hairs that frame her cheekbones. As she bats her dark lashes at me, I squint at her, trying to tell if they’re fake. She looks older than fifteen, and is glamorous.
“It’s too hot for silk. Who’s coming over, anyway?” I tuck a curl that escaped my ponytail behind my ear and try not to think about how my rolled-out-of-bed look compares to Maryam’s. “Why do we need to impress them with fancy napkins?”
“Uncle Saeed. He’s bringing his nephew. I’m just trying to make it special for Eid,” Mama says.
I perk up when I hear “Uncle Saeed.” He’s Baba’s
best friend, and our dentist. He’s always armed with corny jokes and free toothbrushes.
When the doorbell rings, my mother gives me a gentle shove.
“Go change your clothes, and fix your hair, please,” she urges. “There’s a big stain on your kameez.”
“It’s fine,” I say as I bound down the stairs for the door. “Uncle Saeed won’t care. I’ll change before the party.”
I throw the door open.
“Eid Mubarak!” Uncle Saeed declares. He’s holding a light blue box in his outstretched arms, and beads of sweat have already formed on his forehead. “Something sugary for the sweetest of days.” Uncle often speaks as if he’s quoting a Hallmark card.
“Eid Mubarak.” I take the box and scan the label. Yes! It’s from Sugar Kisses Bakery. Mama thinks it’s overpriced and refuses to take us there. But when I tried their salted-caramel cupcake at Kayla’s birthday party, it was literally one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. “Thank you! Come on in.”
“Oof. It’s too hot today. Eid Mubarak.” Farah Auntie manages a weak smile, but her nose wrinkles slightly when she scans my hair and outfit.
“Are you feeling okay?” she whispers before hugging
me three times, enveloping me in the overpowering scent of her perfume. “Such simple clothes for Eid?”
“I’m great.” I brush off Auntie’s questions, since she’s always one to gently point out how I dress too plainly for parties. Or weddings. Or Eid. If I were wearing my tinsel-tree getup, I’m sure I’d hear “Oh mashallah, today you look nice,” no matter how uncomfortable or sweaty I felt. I’ve learned to let her and the other aunties comment about me, and then gush over Maryam. She puts enough effort into dressing up for both of us.
Uncle clears his throat.
“Jameela, this is my nephew, Ali, from London.”
A tall boy with curly hair steps out from behind his uncle. I don’t know anything about Pakistani fashion, but his crisp blue shalwar kameez with silver buttons isn’t like the plain beige- or tan-colored ones Baba and Uncle wear. That, along with the way he’s shielding his eyes from the bright light, makes it seem like he could be posing for the cover of my mom’s glossy South Asian lifestyle magazine, Libas. I almost want to laugh.
“Asalaamualaikum,” he says to me, extending his hand like a grown-up, although he can’t be much older than me. “Pleasure to meet you.” Ali’s accent is definitely British, and his voice is deeper than I expected it to be.
“Wa . . . waalaikum asalaam,” I stammer as his dark eyes pierce mine. Suddenly I have another vision of how disheveled I must appear, and my cheeks heat up from more than the hot sun. I offer a limp handshake, try to cover up the stain on my shirt by folding it over, and gesture toward the stairs.
“Come on in. It’s a lot cooler inside. Everyone’s upstairs,” I mumble. “I have to . . . um. I’ll be right back. I just have to change and um, get ready.”