The door slammed as two ladies entered the cafe, sending the welcome bells in a wild frenzy, bringing in a smog of tension that penetrated the farthest corner of the room. They flew past my seat to the booth in front of where I sat, setting themselves down, the silence between them deafening. The waitress lurked a little ways away from their booth, afraid to approach. She shuffled forward and asked if she could take their order.
“Tea, please,” said the woman who’s back was to me. She was a tall woman with olive skin that glistened gold as the sun caressed it tenderly throw the crystal window, dappling every so often as pedestrians passed the coffee shop. Her face was framed neatly with a headscarf, hijab as the Muslims called it, that veiled her hair from the eyes of the world. As kind as it was, her voice betrayed frustration that lurked behind it. “Do you want anything, Sara?”
“No. I won’t be having anything, Mariam,” the heavily accented voice of Sara replied, tucking a wisp of hair that had slipped away from the rest of its brethren. She cast a disappointed look over at her companion.
Mariam looked over at the waitress, her face washed over with shame at the discomfort she and her friend were causing the girl .
“That will be all for us. Thank you.”
The waitress scurried away as quick as possible. Mariam turned back to face Sara, her shoulders squared, bracing for whatever was thrown her way.
“I don’t understand why you still wear that here in the West. You are free, Mariam. You can dress the way you want. You’re beautiful, you don’t have to hide.”
“You don’t get it, Sara. I don’t want to talk to you about this anymore. You didn’t come all the way from the east for this. Let’s try to enjoy the time you have here with us.” Sara looked away, unasked questions riddling her face. She leaned her elbow on the table, resting her face on her balled up hand. Mariam turned her face towards the sun, absorbing the power it had to offer.
“Is it Ali? Is he forcing you to cover? If that’s the case, then let me talk to him. I am your elder sister after all.”
The headscarf clad head snapped back towards Sara, “No! How many times do I have to tell you that Ali has nothing to do with this!” Anger radiated from from Mariam, which was becoming harder for her to control. Mariam had lowered her voice considerably. I leaned forward slightly, arriving in time to hear her.
“I dress the way I dress because I WANT to. It’s a choice I have made, whether anyone likes it or not. This is between me and God. Ali did not force me to dress the way I do. In fact, he would prefer that I don’t wear hijab in these times. But that’s not his choice, or your choice, or this country’s choice on how much or how little I expose my body. He supports this decision because he knows I am strong in my belief and practice of Islam. Why can’t you?” She leaned back, her shoulders rising and falling in slow rhythmic waves as she stopped to take calming breaths.
“Oh so you dress that way against the wishes of your husband? That is not right.”
Mariam shook her head in exasperation. “Do you hear yourself, Sara? You don’t care why I do this, do you? You just don’t like the fact that I wear my beliefs with pride in a country that is not our motherland. You can’t get past the fact that a person could actually want to cover.” She leaned forward, resting her hand gently on her sister’s, looking her straight in her welled-up eyes. At that moment, the waitress returned with Mariam’s tea, but went away unnoticed by the pair of them.
“I know you are trying to look out for me and I am grateful for that, but I’m not a baby anymore, Sara. I am my own woman. Moreover, I am a product of this society, this society that ensures my right to believe what I want, to be what I want and to dress how I want. No man nor woman can dictate how I choose to live my life here, not you nor Ali. If you are going to keep insinuating that I am being pressured to wear my hijab, then I would rather you don’t bring it up anymore. When you are ready to accept my decisions with an open heart, then I will always be right here sister.”
The latest pop song filled in the pregnant pause, feeling so out of place in the moment. I took a sip of my mocha latte, awkwardly trying to seem engrossed in the droplets that had spilled onto the surface, lest they find out that I was partaking in their conversation a lot more than they would want. Mariam finished her tea in silence as her sister sat there, a plethora of emotions passing through her eyes, but she respected her sister’s wish and kept them to herself. So much was left unsaid yet so much felt in the stillness of the cup of tea. And in the wave of the silence, they left.