Re-post alert! The original site I’d been contributing this story to was shut down a few months ago and so I’m sharing it here. For those who’ve read it before, new content begins at Chapter Thirteen.
Saami’ah Vally stood in front of her mirror, examining her reflection with a critical eye. She adjusted the eye slit of her niqaab once, then again.
Saami’ah’s niqaabs were specially tailored to show as little of her eyes as possible – the barest minimum so that she could move around and no more.
She took one last look in the mirror then grabbed the messenger bag that lay waiting at the foot of the door. She took a deep breath then opened her bedroom door.
As Saami’ah hurried through the house, she prayed silently that she wouldn’t bump into anyone. She was in no mood for an interrogation today. With a courtesy salaam yelled behind her, almost unheard over the slam of the front door, she was gone.
She felt a prick of guilt at her hasty exit but it was quickly suppressed and her thoughts turned to other things – like where she would be spending the day.
Saami’ah was nineteen years old. She was meant to be in her first year of university – as far as anyone knew, she was. But Saami’ah had not attended lectures in months. Instead, she spent her days in coffee shops and cafes, using the anonymity the cloth over her face gave her to hide out in plain sight.
The niqaab, for Saami’ah, was no sign of religious devotion. It was a mask, one that she had donned and refused to remove over a year ago, before she’d been forced into moving across continents.
Saami’ah had originally been born in South Africa but she’d been moved to England with a fleeing mother not a month after she’d been born. She’d returned for the first time a year ago, right after sitting the final exams of her high school career, following the death of her grandmother. Saami’ah’s mother had abandoned her with her own mother when she was a toddler, chafing under the responsibility of being a mother.
And so Saami’ah had been raised by a begrudging grandmother, out of nothing more than duty – something that Saami’ah had often been reminded of on occasions when she, like all children, acted out or misbehaved.
Still, Saami’ah had loved her grandmother. And she had adored the little town she lived in. She’d been devastated to realize that she wouldn’t be able to stay and mortified to find out that her father had been the one paying all the living expenses for both Saami’ah and her grandmother for over fifteen years.
She’d been petrified. At times, she still was.
Saami’ah had always been taught to keep her emotions to herself. She’d mastered the art of keeping a vague, slight smile on her face whenever she was in turmoil. But in her last weeks in England, her mask failed and, desperate, she’d resorted to the only vaguely acceptable physical mask that she knew – niqaab.
Saami’ah had glimpsed veiled women fairly regularly – the little town she lived in had a strong Muslim presence – but the covered women had always confused her. She would never have imagined becoming one of them.
But she had.
And what had originally been a frantic attempt at keeping up a semblance of propriety had soon become an extra shield to protect her. People couldn’t see her under the niqaab. They couldn’t see the changes in expression that she was no longer strong enough to hide. Now, in a completely new country, she could count the number of people capable of recognizing her on one hand, with fingers to spare.
It was comforting.
She was even able to keep her niqaab on in her father’s house as there was a step-brother she’d never known she had. Her father had seen her face a single time, the first day she’d arrived.
He’d called her into his study and requested to see her. A few moments later, he’d suddenly remembered a ‘meeting’ and rushed out. There had been no further requests since then. Saami’ah’s step mother had seen her twice – both times as a result of coming into Saami’ah’s room without knocking. She’d taken to locking the door as a result.
Saami’ah settled herself at her favourite coffee shop, a popular place that was always too busy. She loved it here. Despite the fact that she’d been coming back regularly for months, not one of the staff members had shown any indication that they remembered her.
She looked at her watch.