This is the first installation of a new story I am writing called Sameer Ali Dies Alone. To read more and keep updated don’t forget to subscribe, and follow me on Wattpad.
“Don’t worry. It’s not your fault.”
Aisha pulled a rattled and shook Sadaf down the hall. Sadaf didn’t say anything, just clutched her ripped blouse together in her pale hand and followed obediently. Her head was down, the gleaming white headscarf she had so meticulously worn was long forgotten. Her waist length hair flowed freely down her back, over her shoulders, obscuring her face.
Aisha fought back the tears. Sadaf wasn’t crying, but she knew she would. She would find someplace private and bawl her eyes out. That was Sadaf’s way. That had always been Sadaf’s way.
What she’d seen had terrified her. It had taken her several seconds to think about what to do. All she knew was that she had to save her friend. She had to help her. That’s what real friends did. They stood up for each other. Shame and anger and fear churned in her gut. There wasn’t any word for what she felt, but it was fear that kept her legs moving forward. It was fear that kept her eyes forward. It was fear that kept her talking, trying to comfort them both as she tried to figure out how to get to safety.
After all, if monsters like that could exist in the mosque, what chance did she have of finding safety outside of it?
“There’s no way he can get away with this. I have the whole thing on video,” Aisha growled.
For the first time since Aisha burst into the Administration Office, Sadaf showed signs fo being fully aware. She stopped, looking up from the ground for the first time. Unshed tears swam in her eyes.
“The whole thing?” Sadaf’s lip quivered and her already pale skin lost any trace of color.
“Well, I mean, not EVERYTHING. But enough. I got enough. People will believe you. They have to.”
Sadaf jerked her hand out of Aisha’s and let the first tears fall down her cheeks.
“What? No!” Aisha turned to face her friend, taking both of her hands in hers. “We have to tell somebody. We need to! If we don’t do something, then he’s just going to keep doing this.”
“It won’t happen again. He wouldn’t dare. Now that he knows you know he’ll probably run away before you have a chance to tell. It’s over.” Sadaf looked down at her feet again and nodded as if trying to convince herself that her words were true.
“Even if he runs away, he’ll just do it to somebody else. And how do you know he isn’t doing that to lots of other girls?”
“Because he said so. He said I was special,” she said in a small voice.
“How old are you Sadaf! That was a line. A way to get you to go with him and keep this a secret,” Aisha’s whole body shuddered as she realized what her friend’s words meant. “How many times had he done this to you?”
Sadaf looked away, feeling a mixture of shame and relief to finally be able to tell somebody, anybody, what she’d been enduring.
“I don’t know. Not a lot.”
“More than just today?”
Sadaf looked her friend in the eyes, the first sign of the girl Aisha knew and loved.
“Since last Eid.”
“Oh NO!” Aisha threw her arms around her friend and wept. Sadaf accepted the hug but didn’t return it. She stood completely still, her spine an iron rod, her fists balled up at her sides.
“Why didn’t you tell me!”
Sadaf pushed her away.
“You think you’re so smart. You think you know everything. You don’t know anything, Aisha. And you have a big fat mouth.”
Sadaf pushed past her friend, the broken buttons on her blouse forgotten; her hair caught up in a breeze as she marched away. Aisha, confused, gave chase, catching up to her at the corner.
“Sadaf, why are you mad at me? I promise you; I didn’t know. If I knew I would’ve made sure he paid for it.”
“Right. That’s how you handle everything. Whenever there’s a problem, you want to fight. You can’t fight your way out of every problem, Aisha.”
“Okay, okay, you’re right. But what do you want me to do? I can’t pretend like I don’t know. Come with me to the police station. It’s just two blocks away. I’ll give them the video, and then they’ll do what they do. I won’t tell anybody. I promise,” Aisha was talking fast, trying to keep her friend from walking away.
“Everybody will find out. EVERYBODY.” Sadaf’s eyes filled with tears again.
“So what? It’s not your fault.”
“Do you think they will care? It doesn’t matter whose fault it is; it will always be my fault!” Sadaf pushed Aisha away roughly, darting across the street just as the light changed. Aisha was left staring at her back, still ramrod straight, as she marched down the street.
Aisha stood on the corner for three more lights, trying to decide what to do. She couldn’t pretend that she didn’t see anything. She couldn’t let a man like that keep masquerading at the Mosque, pretending to be a man of God, fooling everybody. She had to do the right thing. She had to protect her friend, and her sister, and all of the girls who were unlucky enough to get caught up by this pervert.
The two blocks to the police station were the longest two blocks of Aisha’s life. Several times she thought to turn back. What would one more day count? Give Sadaf one day to come around to her senses. She was a smart girl. She would see that her silence wasn’t going to protect her. A Muslim tells the truth, even against themselves, right? And it wasn’t her fault. There was no reason to be ashamed. Sadaf would understand.
Aisha’s thoughts swam around and around until she found herself standing outside of the police station. It was now or never. She had to make a decision. Did she walk into the station and tell them what she saw, or did she pretend that she didn’t see anything?
Taking a deep breath, she marched into the tiny sub-station and over to a hefty looking man with a red nose and sharp eyes.
“I need to make a report.”
It was an hour later when her parents came to pick her up. The officer spoke to her parents alone before reuniting them. Her mother and father looked worried, which baffled Aisha. She wasn’t the one who was in trouble. She was the witness. Her mother rushed over to her and caught her up in a tight hug. Aisha could feel her mother’s heart pounding in her chest.
“Ummi, I can’t breathe,” Aisha complained.
Her mother didn’t let up but instead began rocking her from side to side.
“Put the girl down, Dija, she’s not a baby anymore,” her father said, looking at her sternly. Her mother took a moment to loosen her grip and set the twelve-year-old on her feet. Aisha straightened her sweater and smiled up at her father. She always liked it when he reminded her that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.
“What in the hell possessed you to-“ her mother began but was cut off by her father, who laid a comforting hand on her shoulder and shook his head. Now was not the time to attack and scold.
“Why did you come to the police without talking to us first?”
“I don’t know; it just seemed like the right thing to do. I had to do something, Baba.”
He nodded slowly, folding his arms across his chest and biting his bottom lip. Aisha felt dread creep into her veins.
“That’s true. You witnessed a crime, and you need to report it to the police. But, where is Sadaf?”
“She flaked out,” she grumbled, still upset by her friend’s attack.
“So you went without her?”
“I had to. If I don’t do something he’ll either run away or do that to somebody else..”
Aisha’s mother whimpered softly but said nothing.
“So you did what was best for everybody?”
“Right, but what about what was right for Sadaf?”
“What you witnessed was a crime, and you have evidence. So now that police have to investigate, whether they want to or not. They have to pull Sadaf into that investigation. They have to pull her whole family into it, whether they are ready or not. They are going to pull our whole mosque into it, whether you realize it or not.”
His tone was soft and understanding, but the words stung. Maybe Sadaf was right. Maybe she was a stupid, big mouth. Aisha fought back her tears.
“But, I had to do something,” she croaked, her voice cracking.
“You should’ve come to us first,” her mother cooed, wiping the tears from her daughter’s cheeks. “We would have supported you. We would have helped you do the right thing.”
“But now the first her father will here of this will be from the police. They will call him in and show him the video you recorded.”
“But,” Aisha croaked “it’ not her fault.”
“It’s not her fault, and you didn’t do the wrong thing, but everything is not always as black and white as that, binti,” her father said calmly. “I wish they were, but they aren’t.”
Sadaf’s family filed into the station as Aisha was leaving. Mr. and Mrs. Khan didn’t even make eye contact as they walked in. Aisha wanted to say something that would make things better, but all of her words seemed to have dried up.
“I hate you,” Sadaf hissed as she passed. Her face twisted with fury. Aisha had never seen her friend like that before. Her sweet Sadaf, who worried about the nest of baby birds in the tree of the schoolyard, who never hit Ahmed, the Bully even when he pulled her hair, who kept every secret she was ever told that Sadaf was gone. This one wore her face but was full of malice and contempt. This one hated her. And Aisha knew she meant it because Sadaf was probably the best Muslim she ever met.
And a Muslim always tells the truth,
Even against themselves.
Six months later…
“Sign my book, Carlos,” Aisha yelled chasing after the sandy-haired boy. It was the end of the school year, and she was determined to collect as many signatures as possible in the back of her yearbook. Carlos’ signature was special because he was giving out stickers instead of personal messages. She wanted to get one before they all ran out and she would be forced to settle for his sloppy handwriting in thick black marker. He’d used a Sharpe to sign her book last year and his “have a great summer” had leached through the page and onto the next one.
“You’re lucky, this is my last sticker,” he said, turning around and slapping the shiny gold foil sticker in the middle of her signature page.
“I’m glad I caught you in time,” she panted.
“Aww, if you missed me today I would’ve gotten more and given you one at Sadaf’s party next week,” he said with a smile.
“Sadaf’s party?” Aisha hadn’t seen Sadaf in weeks.
Carlos covered his mouth, his eyes wide with shock.
“I shouldn’t have said that. She made us all promise not to tell you.”
“Yeah, the whole class. She invited all of us and made us promise not to tell you. I’m sorry Aisha. Can you just pretend like you don’t know?”
“But it’s not her birthday,” Aisha wondered out loud. They’d been best friends for years. She knew the birthdays of everybody in Sadaf’s family, including her Dadi-Ma back in India.
“It’s a going away party. They’re moving away,” Carlos explained, his face pinched with embarrassment. “Just promise you won’t tell anybody that I told you.”
Aisha’s heart sank. She’d thought that once things settled down, Sadaf would forgive her. She had hoped and prayed that after that man pleaded guilty after three other girls came forward to tell their story, after all of that, Sadaf would see that she had been right all along.
“Don’t worry, Carlos. I won’t tell anybody anything at all,” she said, walking away in a daze.
Aisha wasn’t sure what hurt worse; the fact that Sadaf was moving away, or the fact that she’d been able to convince so many classmates to keep it a secret from her. It was hard to think that Sadaf was no longer her friend, but even harder to realize that none of her classmates had ever really been her friend. A real friend wouldn’t have agreed to keep that secret. A real friend would have found a way to try and make things right. But nobody had done that. So Aisha could only conclude one thing.
She had no real friends.
Tears swam in her eyes as she made her way across the schoolyard. It was the last day of school, and most of the kids were eager to dump their unused books and papers in the trash cans by the front gates. Miscellaneous papers fluttered in the warm June wind like confetti. Aisha scrubbed the tears off of her face with the back of her hand as she walked through the gates, dumping the yearbook she’d save two weeks of allowance to buy into the trash. Yearbooks were for people to remember their friends and all the good times they shared.
There was nobody Aisha wanted to remember.
When she got home, she fished around in her closet until she found the leather-bound journal her uncle gave her as a gift when she finished elementary school. It came with a heavy, silver fountain pen with her name engraved on it. She sat at the desk she and Sadaf had painted by hand two summers ago and wrote five words in careful, deliberate, script.