“What?!” Saami’ah only just managed to keep her plate from crashing to the floor. “What did you just say to me?”
“Take it off,” Adnaan said with a shrug. “I don’t know why you’ve been wearing it in the house so long anyway. It’s not like you have to.”
Saami’ah scrunched up her eyebrows. “Actually, I do,” was all she said. “It’s not allowed. You don’t get to see my face.”
“Of course it is.” Now Adnaan looked confused. “You’re my sister.”
“Yeah, but we’re not real siblings.” Saami’ah didn’t even know why she was arguing so hard. It wasn’t like she dressed the way she did out of respect or a wish to obey Allah. She knew, even if she refused to admit it to anyone else, that the niqaab was nothing but a convenient piece of cloth for her.
Far from being a symbol of her faith, as it should have been, it was instead a symbol of her cowardice.
Adnaan had gotten offended. “Not real siblings,” he repeated. “Seriously, you believe that nonsense?” He gave her a look of disgust.
“It’s the truth,” Saami’ah said uncertainly. It was. They weren’t real siblings. In fact, if Adnaan wanted to, he could marry her right then and there.
“Not sharing a mother doesn’t mean that we’re not real siblings. Half-siblings are still siblings,” Adnaan said hotly.
Saami’ah blinked. What did that have to do with anything? “But we’re step-siblings,” she reminded Adnaan with emphasis.
He stared at her, thoroughly confused. “We’re half-siblings. We share a father. Don’t we? Dad said that you were his daughter. That’s why he brought you halfway across the world to come live with us.”
Saami’ah opened her mouth to respond and then snapped it back shut. She didn’t know what to say. Adnaan was obviously confused. Had Haseena lied to him? She felt a stab of pity.
“You are Dad’s daughter, right?” Adnaan asked slowly.
Saami’ah nodded. As far as she knew, she was.
“Then… why do you think we’re step-siblings?”
Saami’ah fidgeted with her foot. She did not want to be the one to explain this. “My mother was the first wife,” she said delicately. “And you’re older than me.” A thought struck her. “You are older than me, aren’t you?” Had she gotten that wrong somehow?
“Yeah, I am.” Adnaan said slowly. “But… your mother-.” He stopped short and shook his head. “Never mind. Dad can tell you about it in the morning.”
But Saami’ah’s thirst for knowledge had been awoken. “What do you know about my mother?” she asked curiously.
“The whole story. But it’s clearly not what you know.” Adnaan grimaced. “Look, never mind. Just forget about it. Go eat in your room.”
Dismissive comments like that never failed to make Saami’ah dig in her heels. “No. Tell me what you know.”
Adnaan eyed her uncertainly. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Saami’ah rolled her eyes. “Just tell me. Come on already.” She dropped into the seat next to Adnaan after placing her neglected plate of food next to his on the island.
“Okay,” he relented. “But… I might be remembering some of this wrong.”
“Yeah, I get it, you’re wrong,” Saami’ah said, waving her hands dismissively. “Just talk.”
“When I was a baby,” Adnaan began, “I was pretty sick. Mom had a really rough time of it with me. So did Dad, actually. But where Mom stayed home and looked after me like she had to, Dad went out. He ended up meeting a woman and falling in love with her. And… they had a baby.”
Adnaan stopped there to look at her. He could see nothing through her niqaab, of course. “That baby was you. As soon as Dad found out about the pregnancy, he told Mom. She was… she was broken. But she told him to do the right thing. She told him to marry the woman he’d had an affair with.”
Saami’ah made an involuntary noise.
Adnaan winced. “They got married but just after she’d given birth, the second wife disappeared – with the baby. With you. Dad told me that he spent over a year trying to track you down just to make sure you were okay.”
“Oh,” was all Saami’ah could say. “I- I- I didn’t know.”
But it made sense.
More sense than what she’d been told – that her mother had been first dazzled and then eventually strong-armed into the marriage and had run when she’d found out that her husband was planning to take other wives.
She told him to marry the woman he’d had an affair with.
Haseena had done that? Why?
Saami’ah voiced the question and Adnaan pursed his lips. “She didn’t want you to suffer because of a mistake other people had made.”
Saami’ah felt ill.