Fiction: Masquerade Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen

Quitting a degree with less than half a year to go sounded like a colossal waste of time and money to Saami’ah, but she supposed she wasn’t any better. She’d spent months buying overpriced coffee and various desserts in order to not get kicked out of the cafés she’d been hiding away in, after all.

Even though she’d kept silent, Adnaan seemed to feel the need to defend himself. “I’m not gonna pass these exams anyway, it’s more of a waste of money for me to keep going for another semester and then fail out!” His voice had been rising as he spoke, and he nearly shouted the last.

What’s this about failing out?” Haseena had come around the corner unnoticed just in time to catch the tail end of her son’s freak out. “Adnaan, I hope you’re not being unsupportive.” She frowned. “Saami’ah’s being very brave to start up her studies again.”

I didn’t mean Saami’ah,” Adnaan corrected her. “I meant me.”

Haseena’s face softened. “You’re not going to fail, In Shaa Allah. Just study hard and you’ll get there.”

Actually,” Adnaan said slowly. “I was thinking – there’s a way to make sure I don’t fail.”

Saami’ah felt a surge of panic. She’d never really been there while her stepmother and half brother had an argument and she didn’t want that to change now. Hurriedly, she stuck out a hand between the two. “Here’s your bank card, I’m done with it. Thank you!”

After a pause, Haseena took the card from her. “I didn’t need it back right this second, Saami’ah, but thank you.”

I didn’t want to lose it.” That wasn’t a lie. Even talking about the possibility of misplacing the card made Saami’ah feel vaguely nauseous. She rattled off the total for Haseena and then hastily made her excuses, explaining that she wanted to get a head start on catching up so that her hurried departure looked less strange – she didn’t know whether she’d end up caught in the crossfire if Haseena thought she and Adnaan had been egging one another on.

She took the stairs two at a time, and automatically reached for the lock when she was closing her bedroom door. It took her fingers hitting wood to remember that the doorknob had been replaced with one that didn’t have a lock on it – and that she wasn’t meant to be closing it at all anymore.

She left it a quarter open as a compromise so she wasn’t really breaking a rule. No one had specified that she had to keep it wide open, after all. Then, to drain out Adnaan and Haseen’s muffled voices she plugged earphones into her ears and phone. The last song she’d been playing auto-restarted and she fiddled with the volume until it was loud enough to cover the sounds from the floor below yet not loud enough to hurt her ears.

The, she began to sort through the many emails she’d received. Two were spam that had slipped past her filters but the remaining six were all from the same sender, a “mssweettallandfoamy”. It didn’t take much to figure out who that had to be.

Five of the emails from Laiqah were various attachments, and Saami’ah felt a surge of gratitude as she looked through them. The other girl had shared her personal notes and summaries, neatly organised by date and lesson and ridiculously detailed.

The last was an invitation to study together the next day, either at the coffee shop or the university’s library. Laiqah had left it up to Saami’ah.

She hit reply and began to type, letting her gratitude power through the discomfort she felt at being so effusive with a virtual stranger. Laiqah had been ridiculously sweet – and she had no reason to be. Saami’ah had nothing the other girl could possibly want.

Liberal use of the backspace key later, she was finally happy with what she’d written.

Hey Laiqah

Thank you so much for all of this – really. You’re saving me a ton of time and panic. I don’t know how I could pay you back for any of it.

Yes, I’d like to study with you tomorrow. Either the coffee shop or the library is fine with me. You choose?

Thank you again.

Saami’ah

Four hours later, Saami’ah’s eyes were dry and gritty from staring at a screen and she’d officially killed her phone’s battery, which was the reason she’d gotten up in the first place, to plug it in and impatiently wait the few minutes it would take to turn on again. Now that she’d gotten up though, her stomach was loudly reminding her of its existence. It was dark outside and she was momentarily surprised that no one had come up to fetch her for supper, before realising how spoilt she sounded. She wasn’t a baby who needed to be reminded to eat.

The house was quiet and the bottom floor was entirely dark. It was too early for everyone to be asleep – perhaps they’d gone out. Saami’ah didn’t bother turning the lights on, by now she knew her way to the kitchen.

She poked around the full shelves and assembled a little cache of snacks, mentally weighing up the pros and cons of taking a break to amuse herself with a book and a mug of cocoa. It would be a better use of her limited time to just power through but she’d taken in so much information that her head felt heavy with it all.

A few hours off to process everything wasn’t that irresponsible, was it? Especially since she was only just starting up again. She bargained with herself, finally deciding that she’d wake up an hour early to help make up for her break.

Saami’ah made the cocoa and hunted down a tray to carry her loot up the stairs, eagerness quickening her steps. In the months that she’d been in South Africa, she’d lost her interest in books, but spending hours going through academic notes seemed to have awoken the itch. She couldn’t remember what she’d been reading last, before… But it didn’t really matter. She knew exactly what she wanted to read. It was one of the few paperbacks she’d saved up the money to buy instead of just borrowing it from the library. She’d been impatient and hadn’t wanted to have to keep returning it.

A Little Princess.

The copy she had tucked away was ratty and dogeared from years of rereading but she’d never replaced it. It had travelled with her in her handbag when she’d flown into South Africa and she’d whiled away the time on the flight fidgeting with it, trying to smooth down pages and mend tears. She hadn’t trusted herself to open it and read without getting emotional then, but things had changed now.

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