When Emma called to inform her that Daaem needed her to attend an event with him again, Aabirah seriously considered saying no. She’d been taken aback and a little hurt by the way Daaem had acted the last time they’d been together and a spiteful little place inside her wanted to demand an apology before she agreed to go.
Reason took over and she stopped herself. After a month straight on the estate, she craved human company and holding out for an apology that would surely never come wasn’t the way to get it.
Emma sounded relieved when she agreed without a fuss and Aabirah wondered what Daaem had told his secretary. Brushing it off, she listened to the details, frowning when Emma passed on a request from Daaem to dress conservatively.
She would need to go shopping and she told Emma this. “When is this event?”
“Tomorrow, Mrs. Shaik.” Emma informed her. “I’m terribly sorry for the late notice but I believe Mr. Shaik just received the invitation.”
“It’s too late for me to go out now,” Aabirah said, biting her lip. By the time she got to any kind of mall, it would be closed.
“I could pick up something for you, if you’d prefer?” Emma offered.
“Yes, that’s fine,” Aabirah agreed. She gave Emma her sizes and thanked the woman for her help before ending the call.
Where would they be going that Daaem wanted her to dress conservatively? For that matter, why did he want her with him after last time’s fiasco?
Shrugging, Aabirah gave up wondering. She had little insight into Daaem’s mind and his motives were strange to her.
The next evening found Aabirah dressing at Daaem’s apartment for the first time. It was strange to be there without him – she was completely alone as Anna had already left for the evening and having a key made her feel decidedly odd.
Meeting Daaem at his office was even odder. She had no idea what to say to him – was she even meant to talk or were they meant to ignore one another. She settled for waiting for him to make the first move.
“You look nice,” he said after they’d driven in silence for a while.
Aabirah jumped at the unexpected noise. “Thanks,” she said, smiling and smoothing down her dress. It was a simple, green thing that fell to her ankles, with sleeves that came all the way down to her wrists.
“Emma picked it out,” she explained. “I didn’t have anything like this with me.”
Daaem nodded. “Right. The people we’re meeting are a bit… different. It’s very important that tonight go well and they’re quite religious so I wanted to make sure we didn’t offend them.”
Aabirah blinked. “Is there anything specific I should know?”
“This guy’s name is Adam. I don’t know what his wife’s name is. He’s very picky about who he associates with and he’s been known to do incredibly thorough background investigations on prospective business partners. I’ve been trying to get on his good side for a few years but this is the first time he’s ever paid any attention.”
Aabirah nodded. “I understand,” she said simply. “Where are we meeting them?”
“At their home. His wife is cooking.”
“Oh!” Aabirah blinked in surprise.
“Yeah. If you can make conversation with her tonight, that would help things.”
“I’m sure we’ll find something to talk about,” Aabirah assured Daaem.
Aabirah fought to keep herself from staring. The friendly woman she’d just met was covered head to toe save her eyes! It was surreal. Aabirah had never before met someone who observed the religious dress and she couldn’t help but feel odd.
She didn’t lack expressiveness, for all that Aabirah could only see her eyes, which made absolutely no logical sense.
“Come on, Aabirah,” she offered. “You can watch me cook while these two,” she indicated to Daaem and Adam “hash out business.”
Aabirah followed, desperately trying to remember the woman’s name.
Once they’d entered the kitchen, she lifted her niqaab and removed her gloves. “I’m Iman,” she said. “I’m sorry if we shocked you a bit.”
Aabirah blushed hotly. “Was it that obvious,” she asked, wincing.
“Just a little,” Iman giggled. “I thought your eyes were going to fall out of your head.”
“I didn’t mean to be rude,” Aabirah said apologetically. “I’ve just never seen someone, you know, covered.”
“It’s alright. I know, I’m a bit of a rarity in our part of the world. You weren’t that bad. I’ve had some people try to reach out and lift it up! People aren’t very tolerant of what they don’t understand.”
Aabirah’s eyes widened. “If it’s so much trouble, why do you bother?”
Iman cocked her head, thinking. “Well, I do it to please Allah,” she said with a radiant smile. “And that alone is enough to make the difficulty worth it. But also, I refuse to give intolerant people the satisfaction of making me change my behaviour because of their bullying.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Aabirah said. “You’re a strong person.”
“Thank you. I do try.”
A thought occurred to Aabirah. “How will you manage to eat tonight?” she asked curiously.
“The same way I manage whenever Adam and I go out. I lift the niqaab a little and bring my cutlery underneath it.” Iman sounded amused.
“I’m sorry, you must think I’m some kind of an idiot,” Aabirah blushed again.
“No, it’s alright. You’re curious and that’s actually a little nice. You haven’t been trying to convince me that I’m backwards like the majority of people, at least.”
Iman clapped her hands together. “Alright, if you’ve got no more questions, I’m going to get back to cooking. If I leave it any longer, we’ll be eating very late and that’ll make me a terrible hostess.”
Aabirah bit her lip. “I’d offer to help you with something but I have no idea what to do in a kitchen.”
Iman laughed. “That’s alright. You can watch me and we can chat a bit, if you’d like.”