After dinner Zehra had wandered off while Nora had gone to the washroom. She wondered where Zehra was, and remembered that Zehra had wanted to check out Nora’s grand piano. Nora was not musically inclined but her adoptive parents loved music and had a music room where they kept all their instruments and speakers.
Nora walked into the music room and found Zehra at the piano. She knew that Zehra liked to play the piano but she wasn’t aware the Zehra was this good at it. Nora stood at the doorway as Zehra sang softly.
“And you can’t see my covered hair, so you sit there and you stare, and you judge me with your eyes, you’re sure I’m in despair! But are you not aware... under the scarf that I wear, I have feelings, and I do care...”
Nora smiled, and sat beside Zehra. She nodded at Nora and continued to sing. The words flowed out of her and Nora was reminded of what a beautiful voice Zehra had.
“So don’t you see! That I’m truly free, this piece of scarf on me, I wear so proudly. To preserve my dignity, my modesty, my integrity, so don’t judge me... she says with a smile, I’m the one who’s free...”
She ended the song rested her head on Nora’s shoulder.
“Who’s song is that?” asked Nora.
“Sami Yusuf,” Zehra replied.
“Am I supposed to know who that is?”
“Not really. But he’s a really talented and popular singer among us.”
Nora was silent for a while. “Living here… must be hard for you huh?”
Zehra sighed. “Sometimes... yeah. It’s just– I guess it would’ve been so much easier if I was in an Arab country. I mean, it would be totally awesome to live in like, Qatar or somewhere like that. Not only is it really developed, but their culture is totally compatible to mine. Here, it’s just that... I walk outside and people look at me like I’m gonna bomb the street any moment. Like, come on! Why does a piece of clothing I wear on my head suddenly make me less of a human? This country claims to be a "developed, first world" country but the way they treat immigrants is atrocious. The insults I hear and racism I face– okay I’m ranting now,”
“It’s fine. Homo sapiens need to vent sometimes.”
Zehra chuckled. “Ain’t that the truth. It also helps that you’re a really good listener,”
“I know what it’s like to have so much to say and no one to talk to. I don’t want that happening to you. Anytime you wanna talk, I’m right here.”
Zehra smiled and hugged Nora. “You’re the best,”
Ivanka stood in front of the mirror and checked her reflection nervously. She was wearing a dark green dress that reached below her knees and green heels. The dress was a bit loose and it hung off her skinny frame but Ivanka had given up trying to make it tighter. Her frizzy hair had been tamed to a more presentable look and her glasses had been replaced with contact lenses. She was also wearing mascara and lip gloss; she’d given up on eyeliner after three attempts and a whole lot of wipes.
Ivanka was finally going to a party. Sure, she’d gotten invitations before; girls who wanted to score with her brother sometimes invited her to their parties. But she’d never really gone to one because parties just weren’t her scene and every time she mentioned a party to Zehra or Nora they just rolled their eyes at her. They were content with sitting at home with their books and the internet, but at times Ivanka did wish she could just live a normal high school life. She was going to this party because it was cheerleader Shay Chris’ party and Ivanka hoped it would boost her social status.
When she arrived with Hugo, loud music attacked her ears and she was met with a house full of drunk people. Hugo disappeared, being accustomed to such parties, and Ivanka cringed as she entered. The place was a mess and reeked of alcohol. She contemplated backing away and just going home but Hugo’s friend Lucas David caught sight of her and pulled her in.
“Welcome to the complete and utter madness of a cheerleader’s party!” he screamed over the music.
“Where’s Hugo?” Ivanka shouted back.
“Now, now, don’t be such a wuss. Enjoy!”
And he disappeared. Ivanka stood lost for a moment, deeply regretting her decision to come to the party. What was she thinking? Parties were definitely not her scene. What in the world made her think that her introverted self would ever find a place in a popular girl’s party?
Ivanka slowly made her way towards the pool for some fresh air. She was standing with her arms wrapped around herself in the patio when Alexia staggered up to her.
“Oooh, look who it is! It’s the dorky loser! LANA! Look who’s here!” she yelled.
Svetlana Johnson appeared next to Alexia and looked surprised to see Ivanka.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Svetlana snapped.
“The same that you are,” Ivanka bit back defensively.
Svetlana laughed loudly. “I highly doubt that, loser.”
Alexia giggled and hit Svetlana’s arm as she laughed. The drink in Svetlana’s hand want flying and spilled all over Ivanka’s dress.
“Oops,” Alexia giggled again and Ivanka gasped in horror.
“You... you total moron!” Ivanka shouted and both Svetlana and Alexia laughed harder. Just then, Shay Chris appeared and frowned at them.
“What the hell, guys? C’mon, Ivanka, I’ll help you clean up.”
She winked at the other two and led Ivanka away. Ivanka felt relieved. The dress clung to her body and felt really uncomfortable. Maybe she’d get a change of clothes from the illustrious wardrobe of Shay Chris...
By the time she realized they were heading towards the pool, it was too late.
“Have a good time!”
Shay smirked as Ivanka fell into the pool with a loud splash.
“I shouldn’t have gone to the stupid party!” Ivanka shouted, tears streaming down her face.She was finally home; she’d hunted Hugo down and got home as soon as possible. She felt uncomfortably cold, even after having taken a warm bath and wearing warm clothes. Hurt and anger stirred in her chest and she felt awful. Humiliation filled her as she remembered the raucous laughter of the jocks who'd been in the pool when she fell. The water and loose dress combined with the mascara on her face had made her look like a total idiot. Ivanka squeezed her eyes shut, willing the embarrassing images to go away. What was it it about her that was so disastrous? How did she always land in such situations and wind up embarrassing herself? Why had she gone to the stupid party in the first place?!“It was your decision. I didn’t force you to come,” Hugo bit back. "In fact, you persuaded me to take you along with you,"
Nora and Zehra picked up a sleepy Ivanka from her house and headed to school in Nora’s car. Ivanka immediately fell asleep in the backseat but jolted awake when they stopped abruptly at a red light.“Didn’t sleep well yesterday?” Zehra asked.Ivanka shook her head. “Party at Shay Chris'.”The light turned green but neither Nora nor Zehra moved as they gaped at Ivanka. The car behind them honked and Zehra finally found her voice. “You. Ivanka Anne Schneider. Went. To. A cheerleader party?!”Ivanka ran a hand through her hair. “Just start the damn car, we’re causing a block.”Nora started driving and Zehra turned to Ivanka.“Seriously, what’s wrong with you? Shay Chris' party? Were you high!”“There could’ve been consequences,&rdquo
Alpha Star and Star One sat in the dark basement in front of the laptop.“I sent the voice clippings to MRO.” said Star One.“Good. They’ll like that,” Alpha Star said.“Yes. And I’ve heard a new organization has cropped up. They call themselves SRO. Kinda like an anti-MRO programme.”“SRO? What does that stand for?”“No idea.”“Hmm...” Alpha star said absentmindedly.“Listen... don't you think this is all–”“No,”“What?”“No. I know what you’re about to ask and I’ve asked it to myself a hell lot of times, and the answer is no.”Star One sighed. “Fine, what’s our next move?”
Svetlana Johnson sat across from Hugo Schneider as he ate his hamburger and she picked at her salad.“Does Lucas know?”“Yes. He wasn't happy,”Svetlana pursed her lips. “I'm not surprised.”“Does your sister know about us?”He shook his head. “No. Hardly anyone knows,”“Ivanka would be livid if she found out,”Hugo was quiet for some time. “Why do you torture her like that?”Svetlana shifted uncomfortably. “It’s not under my control, Hugo. You have to get that. I... I must do it. I must do as Alicia says or I’m...”“You’re what?”Svetlana swallowed and took her time. “Alicia knows a lot of stuff about me.”“What stuff?”
Zehra did get selected for the songbird contest. She squealed and hugged Nora and Ivanka, jumping up and down. Despite all her pretence and modesty, Zehra really did love singing. Seema Singh came up to them.“Congrats, Zehra. I heard you sing, it was amazing.”“Thanks!”“Hey Seema, you okay now?” Ivanka asked. Seema looked confused.“What?”“You know, you were sick and everything...”Seema rolled her eyes and ran a hand down her face. “Listen, I’m S-I-K-H, okay? You’re Jewish, Zehra’s a Muslim and I’m Sikh. Get it?”“Oh.” Ivanka looked dumbstruck. “Sorry...”“It’s fine, I get it all the time. Anyways, gotta run see you around!” Seema said and ran off.Zehra’s p
Zehra entered home and locked the door behind her.“Assalamu Alaykum, Mama,” she called out.“Wa alaykum salam, Zea,” her mother replied, emerging from the kitchen.Zehra put her sneakers away and was about to head upstairs to her room, when she noticed that something was off. She turned at the foot of the stairs and saw her mom watching her with a distant expression.“What’s up. Mama?”Her mother shrugged. “Nothing. Go and take a shower.”Zehra put her backpack down and removed her scarf. “Alright, tell me.”Her mom glared at her. “Go take a shower and pray ‘Asr, Zea,”“Not till you tell me what’s going on,” Zehra said and sat on the bottom stair, knowing that this would take some persuasion. Brown parents
Lucas plopped onto the seat next to Zehra's. She was agitated."Sup. Zehra.""Hey, Luke," she said absentmindedly."What's wrong?""Huh? Nothing. Nothing's wrong.""What happened? Another email!?Zehra sighed and shook her head. And then she told him everything. Lucas felt his blood boil as his jaw tightened and his fist curled."That son of a..." He got up suddenly walked out of the classroom. She sat confused, till she heard a commotion and rushed outside.Lucas was punching the living daylights out of Hugo.Zehra's hand flew to her mouth as they pounded at each other. Lucas' eyes had darkened and he was furious."How dare you, you conniving traitor!"Punch."I can't believe you were my friend!Punch."I trusted you!!"Kick.It took three minutes for four of their teammates to pull them apart. Ivanka rushed to Hugo and
Zehra opened her eyes and saw Nora curled up into a ball next to her, sleeping contentedly. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the time. 4:50 am.The previous night, Nora and Ivanka had refused to let Zehra return home alone. So Ivanka had gone home while Nora had accompanied Zehra and slept over at hers.Zehra brushed her teeth, took ablution and prayed. Nora woke up at 5:00 am.“Morning, sleepyhead.”Nora looked at the clock. “Five?! It’s not morning, it’s night!”She yawned and pulled the covers over her head. Zehra chuckled and waited, counting in her head.Three.Nora turned to the right.Two.She curled into a ball and then stretched out.One.Nora groaned and sat up. “My sleep ditched me!”<