Fiction: “When It Happens”
Aiden Imran | On 08, Dec 2019
The first time it happens, Caleb has no idea what’s happening, but Tafida clearly seems to be in the hang of this, and she tries curling herself into his chest. He looks down and realizes her breathing is erratic, and her eyes are wide.
Her hijab’s off is the second thing Caleb realizes and he sees the hand of a man with her cream scarf in his hands. Caleb sees red. Nico quickly pulls a scarf out of her bag, Caleb knows they’re best friends, so maybe this has happened before. The way that Nico is softly talking to her and how she’s hastily pinning the hijab onto a slightly catatonic Tafida.
Caleb grabs the guy’s arm, never feeling this burst of anger before. He can already hear his mom in his head, shushing him quietly as a kid when he got in trouble for hurting a white boy because he called another girl a name. The girl wept silently next to him in the office while holding onto Caleb’s torso.
“Caleb, my love,” he remembers, “There are bad people in this world, and they will try to use your skin against you, your culture and your family. They will use your mother’s religion and your father’s accent against you. You must know you have to control your anger as much as you can, let it out when there is not a white man around, or a man wearing blue with a gun holstered around his hip. No matter what, you will be blamed. I know you are good, and you only want to do good. You would do anything to help, but sometimes the help will hurt you more than others. You must remember this, your Imayē only wants what’s best for you.”
“What?” The man hisses, and Caleb tries so hard to control his anger, but he just remembers Tafida’s eyes looking blank as she stared into the window. He knows this isn’t about him, but instead about the girl he hopelessly pines over as she makes sassy comments to him when he smiles at her too soft or gets her a gift that hits her too close to home.
(He still remembers the way her eyes glazed over when he pulled out that yellow scarf with the stars glittered across the end of it, when he made some stupid excuse about how his mother had gone shopping and she just had to give it to Tafida for Eid. She doesn’t need to know how much he whined endlessly to her about getting something for Tafida for Eid, and how he looked for hours on what she’d like. He settled on this. He settled on this and tasbihs that her eyes glowed over. Caleb watched as she thumbed over the beads and smiled up at him. It still makes his heart hurt.)
“What the hell was that? You just grabbed her scarf off her head? Give that to me,” he sneers, the voice in his head telling him to Calm down, relax, Calm down, relax, Calm down, relax, Calm down, relax, Calm down, relax, Calm down, relax—
“Get away from me. This dude’s threatening me!” He calls out, and Caleb draws his hands back. He sees the flash of a glock, and he feels fear almost paralyze him completely. He steps away, wishing he wasn’t so much of a coward to get Tafida’s scarf back.
Tafida goes home on shaky hands, for once meek under the stares as she fumbles with her hijab. Her lipstick is all over her face, and she can taste the vomit from earlier when he shoved her out of the bathroom. She had forced herself to snap out of it and stuck two fingers down her throat to get out whatever drug was in her system.
Her hands are tightly gripped around the pole on the bus, and she squeezes her eyes shut. She can’t cry, not here. Tafida quickly wipes her eyes with the bottom of her sleeves.
She hates herself for thinking about Caleb, at a time like this. Their relationship was bumpy, Tafida not knowing what to do with his feelings that she was sure weren’t real. She was pretty sure she liked him back, but that his feelings were out of a place of desperation. She sniffles, mortified that she can feel the tears coming despite her not wanting them.
She wants to bury her face into his chest, knowing he’d be taken back but then would wrap his arms around her. It’s a fantasy, she knows it, she might implode if anyone touches her but right now she needs that. She needs the thought of someone not thinking she was at fault for going to a bar even though she’s Muslim even though she went for a friend’s birthday. Caleb wouldn’t blame her. She distantly wonders if Caleb would kill him. She thinks Nico would.
She pulls her phone out, gnawing at her nails as she scrolled through her contacts.
Her favorite list is there, their friend group at the top of her contacts but Nico and Caleb are at the top. Caleb texts her a lot, usually getting a sentence out of Tafida or reaction images pertaining to her mood. She usually never says something first.
But Tafida just got ─ whatever. She has every reason to be able to do this for herself right now. Her hands are still shaky as her fingers fly across the screen.
me: Are you awake
Idiot (Caleb): !!!!!!
Idiot (Caleb): TAFI !!!!!!
Idiot (Caleb): who stole ur phone who is this! the tafi i know would never text me first nonetheless at 3 am
Idiot (Caleb): hey, no
Idiot (Caleb): what’s up laffy tafi?
She finds herself choking up a little, he’s so stupidly nice. It’ll kill him one day. Tafida wishes she wasn’t such a coward and would just ask him to come get her or tell her what happened. But the words get stuck in her throat and typing them out makes her want to cry more.
me: I just
me: Its nothing
me: Can you just distract me or something
Idiot (Caleb): of course tafida
Idiot (Caleb): did you see the guy with the elvis hair in class ??? i got assigned on a group project with him and
Her eyes get blurry when she sees the texts and can’t help a small laugh that’s half a sob. “Miss?” She looks up, an old woman staring at the bruises around her wrists and Wallah, her neck was visible wasn’t it? She had sobbed over the marks that were clear as day on her neck. No one would want her now. She was a battered, broken down ─
“Are you alright?”
Tafida nods, gives her a small thank you before pulling out her phone again. She wonders where the closest hospital is. She puts her bag down, and someone is in front of her in seconds.
“What’s in the bag?” A man asks, towering over her. Tafida is only 5’0”, she’s tiny and doesn’t have any muscle packed on her. But she’s fierce, and she doesn’t stand down when people like this approach her just because she has a hijab on.
“My stuff,” she responds blandly. She doesn’t want to deal with this. Tafida just got home from a bar that she thought was just going to be a nice get together where she was able to see her friend again. She didn’t think her friend’s cousin would roofie her coca-cola and drag her into a bathroom. Tafida still can’t feel her legs, all she can feel is nausea swirling in her stomach. She wishes she had Caleb, or Nico. A dark part of her wishes she had a gun.
“You got a bomb in there, towelhead?”
Tafida feels the bitterness rise in her chest. Did no one have any ounce of sympathy? She can feel the stares on her, but no one is saying anything. It’s practically dead silent after he says that. “None of your business,” She bites back, not being able to help snapping back at someone like this.
“None of my business?” He sneers, “I think it’s my business if you’re trying to blow us up.”
“Does it look like I’m trying to?”
“Every one of you looks the same. I’m calling the cops on you, wait till then.”
Tafida’s talking to an officer in a few minutes, who’s eyeing her warily.
They search her bag, don’t bother to check the fact she has her lipstick smeared or her mascara that’s now stuck to her face. She refuses to let him manhandle her and ends up getting a gun flashed in her face. She grits her teeth, wishing Caleb were here, but then knowing it’d be worse if he were here. Caleb would get angry, maybe he’d just get shot for just being there. She ends up going home, dignity all taken away.