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familiar discomfort (by yasmeen wafai)

My hand started to cramp from picking up tong-fuls of salad and dropping them into Styrofoam pockets. We had a system: The lady from Fiji scooped the rice and curry, I added some salad, and Sana put in a fork and closed the box. Later a Somalian woman in a blush pink dress helped scoop the rice. She had one headphone in. I wondered what she was listening to, if anything.


When we ran out of rice and curry, I went to sit on the red and gold carpet. I sipped tea even though I wasn’t really supposed to since I had already completed wudu, (well, some version of it) but I told myself that since it’s okay to drink water after wudu and tea is just leaf water, it was fine. Considering I didn’t even do wudu properly, none of it really mattered anyway.


People started to fill the room. I delighted in the cute children. One was probably about four-years-old. He was wearing maroon sweats and half-playing with a little girl, maybe two, with beads in her hair and a pacifier in her mouth.  She later grabbed my thermos during prayer, but I wasn’t mad.


Coming to the mosque was always a bit of an ordeal for me. My dad would ask me to go, I would say yes in an attempt to make him happy, then I would freak out over finding something appropriate to wear, and after finding something “good enough” would get in the car and contemplate everything that could go wrong once I got there.


I wondered if people could tell I wasn’t a “practicing” Muslim. If my poorly wrapped hijab didn’t give it away, maybe it was how I prayed. Just going through the motions, not really knowing what to say. Perhaps they knew who came every week and recognized that I was not one of those people. No one was ever rude to me, but I certainly didn’t feel like I belonged. This house of worship was not a home to me.


As I sat and listened to the sermon, I played with the thick carpet, brushing my fingers against the different colored threads, making the designs look warped, then trying to smooth them back into place.


I wondered how my dad was feeling in the other room. Was the sermon resonating with him? I wish I resonated with him. In some alternate universe, maybe I marched right into the men’s section, took the microphone from the imam, looked my dad in the eyes, and spoke my truth to him.


“I love you dad. You’ll always be in my heart. Islam will always be in my heart. But this isn’t me. I know you may never get that, but it’s my truth.”


What a scene it would be. Instead, once prayers were over, I walked outside, put my shoes back on, and hopped into my dad’s car.


“So, how was it?” he asked me.


“Good,” I said quickly and quietly.


It wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad either. It was an in-between that I understood in my head and that broke my heart.

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