‘Yet another awkward meal,’ Saami’ah thought grumpily as she entered her bedroom, dropping her handbag with a sigh of relief. She turned automatically and locked the door behind herself, happily ignoring the rule Haseena had put in place.
Lunch had been so awkward that she had barely gotten a chance to eat and her stomach was growling. Saami’ah glanced at her watch. It was too early to chance going down to the kitchen to find a snack and she’d decimated the stashes she’d accumulated in her bedroom over the course of the week.
She made a mental note to stock up and reached for her sketchpad. Maybe drawing would help her take her mind off of everything.
Saami’ah lost herself in the work, blocking out everything but the movement of her charcoal on the page. When she finally resurfaced, her body wasted no time in informing her of its complaints. Her stomach rumbled loud enough that it filled the room and the fingers on her left hand were cramped from being forced to remain in position around her charcoal for so long.
It was definitely time for a break.
Habit made her glance at the clock and pause at the top of the staircase to make sure she wouldn’t encounter anyone else on her trip to the kitchen. She strained her ears but heard nothing. It seemed her father and his family had decided to go to bed early for once.
At the bottom of the stairs the sound of hushed voices made Saami’ah pause. She leaned forward, craning her neck to try and make out whether they were coming from the lounge to the left or the kitchen right in front of her.
It was too soft to make out from her current position and Saami’ah was forced to creep forward, praying that the floorboards wouldn’t creak and give her away. Finally, she could hear clearly. She recognized her father and Haseena’s voices and taking another two steps allowed her to see them too.
The couple were sat on the sofa in the lounge, facing one another. Saami’ah could see the strain on her father’s face and curiosity made her strain to make out the actual words of their conversation. Why did he look so terrible?
“…she’s not trying at all!” Saami’ah made out. “It’s like she doesn’t even want to be here!”
They were talking about her! Blood rushed to Saami’ah’s cheeks.
Haseena spoke next. “…understandable. I feel sorry for her…”
Saami’ah drew back in shock. Haseena felt sorry for her? But why?
The conversation had stalled. Saami’ah was about to dart back up to her bedroom, all thoughts of snacking forgotten, when she heard a voice behind her.
“You know, eavesdropping’s pretty rude.”
Saami’ah held back her shriek through sheer force of will, helped along by the hand she clapped over her own mouth. She spun around, wild-eyed.
Haseena’s son stood at the bottom of the stairs, an amused look on his face. He looked even bigger than normal, looming in the shadows and Saami’ah had to work to fight down a surge of fear.
“What are you doing here?” she hissed in a low voice, channelling her fear into anger.
“I live here,” he pointed out in a serene voice. “Why were you eavesdropping?”
“I – they were talking about me,” Saami’ah explained feebly.
The strange boy nodded and said nothing, continuing to look at her.
Saami’ah squirmed. Why was he doing that? He’d been staring at her on and off during lunch as well. Was he trying to make her uncomfortable or was he just some kind of creep who couldn’t help himself.
She didn’t want to walk past him but she didn’t want to keep standing in the middle of the landing with him either.
The kitchen! Her stomach rumbled softly and reminded her of her original purpose and Saami’ah grabbed it gratefully.
“I’m going to the kitchen,” she announced unnecessarily, still keeping her voice at a whisper.
She made her way into the kitchen, careful to walk softly. After a few moments, she realized that she’d been followed here too. What did he want?
Beginning to panic now, she scanned the kitchen. There were knives here, at least. If he tried to do something, she’d be able to defend herself.
But to her surprise and relief, the only thing he did was open one of the cupboards and pull out a plate
The penny dropped and Saami’ah turned scarlet. He’d been looking for a snack too.
He offered one to her wordlessly and she took it, muttering a quick thanks. He noticed the obvious pause she’d made as she tried to recall his name and grinned wickedly.
Saami’ah scowled, her eyes narrowing. “Just thanks,” she said simply.
His grin widened. “You don’t know my name, do you?”
She looked away, thankful that her niqaab covered her embarrassing blush, and refused to answer.
After a few moments, he relented. “It’s Adnaan.”
“I knew that,” Saami’ah lied unconvincingly.
“No,” he laughed. “You didn’t. Why are you eating so late?”
Saami’ah frowned in confusion. “You’re eating too.”
Adnaan shrugged. “I’m a guy. I need more food. Plus, I’m twice your size.”
It was an exaggeration but not by much. Saami’ah wasn’t all that tiny but Adnaan towered over her by a foot.
“I have a big appetite.” Saami’ah lifted her plate.
Adnaan copied her but rather than walking out like she’d expected, he carried his plate over to the kitchen island and sat. He arched an eyebrow when she made to walk out the door.
“Am I not good enough to eat with?” His tone was joking but Saami’ah could see the challenging glint in his eyes.
“I can’t eat with my niqaab on,” she reminded him.
“So take it off. It’s not like you have a real reason to wear it anyway.”