Fiction: Masquerade Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty One

The sudden clamour of four hundred people packing away notes and pencils, zipping up laptop bags and calling greetings to one another shocked Saami’ah back to the present. Her intended moment of relaxation had lasted the entire rest of the lesson and she was holding up the rest of the people in her row with her belongings still scattered around her. She crammed everything into her bag and stood, almost forgetting her cellphone on the desk in front of her and having to stretch for it when she remembered.

Walking out into the sunshine made her blink against the sudden glare. She shielded her eyes with a wince and stepped to the side until she’d gotten out of the flow of traffic. She was meant to be meeting Laiqah at the library in a few minutes, as they’d arranged the day before and she hated being late, but the crush of people was overwhelming. Just a few minutes caught up in it had gotten her heartbeat racing unpleasantly.

This many people together in one place wasn’t something she’d grown up with and though she’d been exposed to it quite a bit here, she still couldn’t get used to it. How no one got trampled, she wasn’t sure. The crowds, as they always did, made her want to sit down in a hidden corner and wait them out, but things weren’t easing and she’d be late if she didn’t get going fast.

With a deep breath to fortify herself, Saami’ah stepped back into the mass of people and ducked into the gaps that opened up to reach her destination. She got to the library without incident and even managed to not fumble heading through the turnstile. But after that, she fumbled. Laiqah had said to meet her on the third floor, but which section of the third floor?

Saami’ah tried to read the signs and let them lead her way, but once she’d made a full circle around the place twice, she had to admit defeat and text Laiqah for the other girl’s help.

I’m on my way, was all Laiqah’s reply said. Saami’ah waited, tapping her foot a little for want of anything better to do. She’d worn soft-soled pumps today so the movement didn’t create a disturbance, it was just an outlet for her energy. Still childish, but not a nuisance. Especially important in a library where noise echoed and was discouraged even more than in most places.

Saami’ah sympathised – she hated loud noises herself. She hated most noise if it was repetitive enough, even talking. Her own noises bothered her just as much as other people’s at times and her teeth suffered whenever she couldn’t escape the noise by either leaving or sticking something in her ears.

When her grandmother had been alive and had used to scold her about listening to so much heathen music, Saami’ah had often ended up just shoving cotton wool in her ears and lying that they were sore. Now, she had a set of wireless earphones that lived hidden under her scarf for whenever she went out. A lot of the time she didn’t even play anything through the devices, just having them there acting as a muffler was amazing.

Knowing that she’d be talking a decent amount today, she’d kept her earphones in their little case and she was regretting it. The library was quieter than most places but all that meant was that what sound was being created was even more jarring because it destroyed the silence every time. Someone gathering together their books, a shut down jingle being played through the speakers of a computer, the hum of a photocopying machine spitting out paper. All made her skin crawl.

She was about to text Laiqah again when the girl came into view, waving with both hands at shoulder length in front of her. Hi, she mouthed. Follow me. She mimed as she mouthed the words, beckoning exaggeratedly.

Saami’ah followed. As soon as the door to the room Laiqah seemed to have taken over shut behind them, the other girl’s shoulders relaxed. It was like she’d been unmuted. “I’m always scared I’m gonna make a noise and bother everyone on this floor. It’s the quietest of the four and that’s why I like it but I’m loud without realising it sometimes. I don’t wanna ruin the quiet for everyone else so I can benefit from it. That’s why I make sure to book a soundproof pod.”

Saami’ah hadn’t realised that the rooms were soundproof, but it made sense. “How long does the booking last?”

Two hours usually. I figured that was enough time for a study session before our brains would be begging for a break. Anyway, we should probably get started. What do you wanna tackle first? Terminology or commonly found essay questions?”

Saami’ah picked terminology and Laiqah produced a set of flash cards.

One hour and fifty eight minutes later, she was tucking a very full notebook into her bag and agreeing to meet Laiqah again after lectures the next day. The gap between their understanding was obvious but Laiqah hadn’t gotten frustrated at all, and when Saami’ah had tried to apologise, Laiqah had just said that teaching was a great way to revise.

I’ve gotta rush,” Laiqah apologized. “Do you mind signing us out with the librarian on this floor and putting back the books we used?”

No, it’s fine. You go.”

Thank you! I’ll do it all tomorrow to make up for today. Bye!” She hurried off.

Saami’ah took her time returning books to shelves and cleaning up. She’d texted Adnaan as soon as Laiqah had left but hadn’t received a reply and she had a feeling she’d be waiting for a while before he looked at his phone. Fifteen minutes of waiting later, she left the library and tried to call just to make sure he knew she was waiting for him. Fifteen minutes after that, she was getting a little impatient. It was still mid-afternoon but the days were so short here that she was beginning to get a little nervous about being left on campus without a way back for much longer.

Three more calls to Adnaan’s phone and she was feeling a little panicky. She left a final message and then went to her list of contacts to find her father’s number. She didn’t call it, but seeing the entry there made her feel a little calmer. If need be, she’d just call him. She would have just taken public transport but she’d been warned strongly against it more than once by everyone in SA and she was a little afraid of attempting it now.

If, by four no one had answered her, she’d consider it. Not that she knew how to get to the nearest station even. But she’d ask the internet and figure it out.

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