I am wicked. I pull the edge of my burqa further over my face, wincing at the movement. The pain is just. I deserved every blow I received. Only through punishment will I learn to be a good wife. My hands tremble as I stir the falafel. Tonight I will not burn the evening meal. Tonight I will not serve it late.
My husband Qaseem enters the kitchen suddenly. He hardly looks at me. “We have new foreign neighbors coming for dinner. It will be good to learn of America.” Qaseem values education, knowledge.
I nod. I will serve the food and stay quiet. Excitement tingles in my heart. I have never met an American. Worry mixes with the anticipation. I want to run after my husband like a child, to ask questions, receive assurances. Instead, I focus on frying the falafel. Qaseem will tell me all I need to know.
When our guests arrive I hesitate, not sure what to expect. I’m surprised to see the western woman dressed in the traditional modest hijab. We welcome them in, then I hurry to bring out the food, filling the low table with dishes.
The woman, Sarah, giggles as she tries to get comfortable on the floor cushions. I watch her from the slit in my head covering, gaining courage to whisper some simple tips in my broken English. The men discuss the husband James’ new job as an English teacher.
After the meal, I gather the dirty dishes. I am surprised to find Sarah following me into the kitchen. She ignores my protests and plunges her pale hands into the sudsy dish water.
We chat, growing comfortable with one another. But as I reach for a dish, my burqa catches on the cupboard and jerks crooked. I yank it back in place, holding my breath, wondering if Sarah saw the purple welt.
She had. Her eyes cloud with concern. “Are you all right, Mysha?”
I turn away. “Yes, I fine. I walk into door.” I give a laugh. “I clumsy.”
She isn’t deceived. Her hands reach for my shoulders. “Mysha.” That’s all she says, but my young heart breaks with loneliness.
“Sarah,” I whisper. “I do nothing right. I not good wife.”
“Oh, honey.” Her warmth fills me. “You try to follow all Allah’s rules, all your husband’s rules, but you can’t. Everyday you do wrong.”
For a moment I feel fear, wondering if my husband sent her to scold me. I manage a weak nod.
“You are human, Mysha. You can’t be perfect.”
I look at her. “What I do then?”
“Ah,” she smiles. “You see, God knows we are bad and loves us anyway. He sent His son, Jesus, to take our punishment for us. He offers forgiveness, and if we ask, He’ll come live in our hearts and help us to be good.”
I consider this, a part of me longing to let go of my constant struggle, longing to be free of degrading thoughts. “Qaseem enjoy learn. Tell him.” He will know what to think.
Sarah hesitates, obviously fearing the danger of talking of religions other than Islam. I reassure her; Qaseem will accept it simply as education of another culture.
We rejoin the men and Sarah speaks politely to my husband. “I have mentioned our religion to Mysha and she believed you would value hearing about it, enlarging your knowledge.”
Qaseem perks up, and he and James engage in a lively discussion. I lie back and soak in the words.
When our guests leave, I look at Qaseem. “Will you allow them to come teach us more?” I wait for his permission to think on these new ideas.
He shrugs. “Perhaps.”
Weeks pass. I dare not bring up the subject, but I wonder if this God brings as much freedom as the foreigners indicated. My beatings intensify, and doubt about the justness of them creeps in.
I struggle with guilt for my unsubmissive thoughts. Yet I long for love, acceptance. Sarah is right next door, filled with answers. I remember something she whispered to me, as they left that night. “God loves you, Mysha. He created you for Himself. Only you can decide whether to answer His call.”
When Qaseem leaves for work one day, I pick up the telephone. My knees shake beneath my long abaya as I ask for Sarah.
And I, Mysha, make a decision for myself. A decision for truth.
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