She’d been wrong. It had been worse than she could ever have imagined. Her father had choked at the sight of her and had needed to be pounded on the back by his step-son for several minutes before he recovered.
‘If having me around makes him so uncomfortable, why on Earth did he make me come?’ Saam’iah thought frustratedly, tapping her fingers on the sticky table.
She’d been at the café for three hours now and the morning’s fiasco was still bothering her. Even her favourite brownies hadn’t been enough to banish her foul mood. Every time Saami’ah thought that she’d gotten over the issue, the revolted expression her father had worn popped back in her mind, making her cheeks burn with embarrassment.
She hadn’t bothered to stay, instead turning right back around and walking out. Her grandmother’s voice had shrieked in Saami’ah’s mind over her rudeness but the thought of remaining when she so clearly wasn’t wanted had been too much to bear.
Saami’ah knew she had to find a way out. But it was easier said than done. Jobs required experience or a qualification, and often both. Unlike her little home town, here there were too many people and too few jobs. Finding a position that would let her support herself was beginning to feel like an impossible daydream.
‘Why did I come back here?’ Saami’ah grumbled silently, laying her head on top of her laptop. ‘Oh right, because I would have been homeless if I’d stayed.’ And no matter how terrible a reception she’d received, Saami’ah couldn’t pretend even to herself that being stranded would have been better.
‘You’re an ungrateful little brat, Saami’ah,’ she berated herself.
The rattle of a cup made her jump and hastily lift her head. A fresh hazelnut latte had been placed next to her and a barista stood next to her table, grinning down at her.
Saami’ah shook her head apologetically. “I didn’t order this.”
“I know,” the barista said, green eyes twinkling as she smiled impossibly wider. “You looked like you needed a pick me up. It’s on the house.”
Immediately, Saami’ah shook her head, “Thanks but that’s okay.” She reached for her wallet and a hand moved to cover hers.
Saami’ah drew breath to refuse, more firmly this time, but was cut off before she could speak.
“It’s a gift. And turning those down is rude, haven’t you heard?”
Now truly irritated, Saami’ah glared at the pretty girl. “Ruder than trying to force something unwanted on a stranger?” she asked frostily.
The pretty green eyes widened and Saami’ah experienced a moment of regret. She wouldn’t usually have been so cold.
The barista’s shoulders began to shake. Saami’ah’s eyes widened and she braced herself for the explosion, already lamenting the loss of her sanctuary. There was no way they would let her stay after moving an employee to tears.
But far from bursting into sobs, the barista instead let out a bubbly giggle. “You don’t pull back your punches, do you?” she asked once she’d caught her breath.
“Sorry,” Saami’ah muttered, mortified and uneasy from the eyes that had strayed towards the commotion. She snaked a hand around the coffee cup, hoping the barista would be satisfied enough to leave.
No such luck.
The girl balanced her tray on her hip and began rooting around in her apron for God knew what. A few moments later, she finally found what she was looking for, producing it with a crow of triumph.
The piece of plastic was handed over to Saami’ah who looked quizzically at it.
“It’s supposed to be easier with the niqaab. Drinking with a straw, I mean.”
“Oh.” Saami’ah was thrown. “Thanks,” she added. ‘Why are you being so nice?’ she wondered silently. ‘What do you want?’
There was a yell from the kitchen and the girl spun around with a yelp. “Coming!”
She disappeared without another word. Saami’ah watched her go, taking a sip of her free coffee. What was her angle? Maybe she’d just been bored… But free gifts always had strings attached, as Saami’ah was intimately aware. She’d been tangled in those same strings often enough to be wary.
Her watch beeped and she jumped. ‘Time to go already?’
It was. In the commotion, she’d forgotten about her awful morning but now it all came rushing back. Saami’ah packed reluctantly, detouring to order a few pastries to go. With a little luck, she’d be able to feign sleep when Haseena invaded to summon her down for supper and then eat the pastries once the rest of the house had gone to sleep.