Saami’ah had thought nothing could be more awkward than those first few days after she’d arrived at her father’s house. She’d been wrong. When she’d come down the stairs, everyone had been eating breakfast in complete silence. Adnaan had his phone in one hand and was holding it up obnoxiously close to his face. Saami’ah’s father seemed to have discovered the secret to life inside his mug – he had it held up to his face and didn’t seem ready to stop drinking anytime soon.
She took the empty seat that had been left for her and reached for the stack of waffles to her right. Adnaan nudged a caddy of syrups and sauces toward her with his free elbow, still not looking up from his phone. “There’s strawberries in the fridge too, I didn’t eat them all.”
Saami’ah’s father set his mug down with a muted thud. “So, Saami’ah, I hear you’re trying to finish the semester?”
Adnaan rolled his eyes. “Really? You think that’s gonna do it?”
Their father barely spared him a glance. “You be quiet. Well, Saami’ah?” he prodded. “Is it true?”
Saami’ah nodded. “I’m going to try.”
“You’re going to try,” her father repeated, visibly pleased. “That’s all I ask.” He turned to Adnaan. “Your sister is trying, in a foreign country and with years left to go. She is taking the initiative. She’s committed and she even ordered herself books yesterday! You have a few months left to go. Why are you so willing to throw away all this time and money? Do you think it’s worthless?”
Adnaan’s chair scraped the floor. “I’ve got a few months left to go because you kept ignoring me when I said I wanted to stop. You kept insisting that I just give it a little more time and it would get better and it’s not better. I don’t want to keep going!”
Haseena reached for Adnaan’s hand. “Sit down and finish eating please.” She cast a displeased look at Saami’ah’s father. “We’re done discussing this for now.”
Adnaan turned to their father and Saami’ah saw him nod. “Fine. We’ll talk after breakfast. But,” he added, “you don’t move until I’ve had my say. And that includes storming off to your bedroom and slamming the door like a teenager.”
“Fine,” Adnaan muttered, bowing his head low over his plate. “Just… fine.”
Haseena turned to Saami’ah and asked about her plans for the day. “Will you attend lectures? Do you remember where those are?”
Saami’ah’s memories were hazy, she admitted to her stepmother. But there were signs, and it hadn’t been that long ago. She’d probably be able to find her way without getting hopelessly lost.
“I’ll go with her,” Adnaan cut in. “I can show Saami’ah where she needs to go. The campus is too big for her to wander around aimlessly – she’ll get late.”
“Yes,” Haseena agreed immediately. “You do that. Go get ready so that you can get there early and show Saami’ah around. Then once you come back, your father and I can have a discussion with you about what you’re going to do next.” She clapped her hands in satisfaction. “And in the meantime, your father and I will be able to talk.”
“Do you really not remember the way to your classes?” Adnaan asked once they were in the car. “Or were you going along with Mom?”
“I kind of remember. But it’s fine, you don’t have to go with me and show me around.”
“Again,” Saami’ah echoed guiltily. “I’m sorry.”
Adnaan took his eyes off the road to frown at her. “For what? I wasn’t doing anything important.”
“I still wasted your time. It’s rude.”
“Saami’ah, you’re giving me an excuse to stay away from Dad until Mom has a chance to calm him down. You’re helping me more than I’m helping you.”
Technically, it was his mother who’d helped him, Saami’ah pointed out.
“Yeah, but you could have chosen to not go along with it.”
“Why would I do that?”
Adnaan shrugged. “To make my life harder? To be annoying? Who knows. Younger siblings always do stupid stuff for no reason. I mean,” he corrected, “other people’s younger siblings. You don’t really do much at all except keep to yourself and listen to music.”
Music helped calm her down. Saami’ah knew it was odd, the extent to which she used music as a crutch, but she’d never been able to wean herself from it. When she had her earphones plugged in, the rest of the world was easier to block out. She could tone down her emotions, and her reactions to the things other people did.
It helped her keep her composure.
“I didn’t mean that in a bad way,” Adnaan told her. He seemed to think that he’d offended her, but Saami’ah had been defending her little habit against a lot worse.
“I’m not upset, just trying to think how to explain it.”
“You don’t have to explain – it’s none of my business. If you want to listen to music all day, that’s your thing. I just meant, you helped me out. I don’t mind showing you around again.”
“Okay.” Saami’ah wasn’t sure what else to say.
Adnan led her around the various buildings in her faculty, pointing out anything he deemed important which was just as likely to be a vending machine or statue that had some history attached to it as it was to be a classroom that she should have been familiar with. When he seemed to have exhausted his store of trivia, he led her to the room her first class would be held in.
“You didn’t get all that, did you?” he asked, laughing a little. “Here, give me your phone.”
“Directions,” Adnaan said simply. “Come on, give it here.”
“I might not get lost,” Saami’ah pointed out. She held out the device anyway.
“Just in case you do. Plus you’re gonna need to call when you’re done – unless you were planning on walking back home.” He fiddled with the phone, and then smirked at her. “I put it under Adnaan. A – D – N –”
“You didn’t know,” Adnaan reminded her. “I had to tell you what my name was.”
“Well, I know now!”