“Salam alaikum, sister Maryam. Can I have a word?” Amina shouted, gathering together her jilbab and struggling through the crowd to reach a sister who was leaving the mosque in a hurry.
Maryam rolled her eyes in frustration and turned to face the Amirah, ruing her failed escape. “Salam alaikum, Amirah.”
“Wa alaikum salam. Ah, my jilbab is out again,” Amirah Amina said in a slightly mocking tone, fingering Maryam’s blue flowing veil.
Maryam, never willing to be dragged into the raging war between hijabis and non-hijabis, chuckled in reply. “Jazakallahu khairan, Amirah, that’s why you gave it to me.”
“I want to boost my Iman just like you.”
“Masha’Allah, may Allah make it permanent for you.”
“I hope we are going to finish the Qur’an this Ramadan?”
“Insha’Allah, Amirah.” She knew she had no chance of finishing the holy book in thirty days. She hadn’t even repaid last Ramadan’s missed fasts.
“You are joining the recitation group, right? Your name’s not here but I told Amir it is a mistake.”
Maryam faintly remembered the lecture on Surat Al-Kahf and people passing a list round before she dozed off as she always did at these meetings. “Yes, I’ll join.”
“Masha’Allah, sister, au revoir then.” The greeting was Amirah’s way of chastising her for studying French in the university when the ummah needed doctors, lawyers, engineers and Arabic speakers. The day she informed her of the admission, Amirah only said, “If you can study French, then why not Arabic? Masha’Allah, it is the language of the grave and the hereafter, sister.”
The Muslim community in Maryam’s town was 5% of the total population and she was the only female in her street who, sometimes, wore a religious veil. She often wondered how it would feel to showcase her long curly hair every day like other girls.
Ramadan was her favorite time of the year. Her family had tea and toast for Sahur while Iftar was always a party: assorted meals in such great quantities, the entire family couldn’t finish them. There were free date-palms in the mosque for everybody. The northerners selling beef reduced their prices for Muslims.
The mosque environment looked like an Islamic literature bazaar in Ramadan; Qur’an recitation blasting morning till night from the speakers. Tarawiyy and Tahajjud prayers were not compulsory, so Maryam slept to the comforting sound of the Imam reciting surat after surat. As she shuffled for an ablution spot and any available space for salat, she always felt an inner glow. Rich, poor, white and colored all cramped together bowing equally to a common creator. She reveled in this feeling of comradeship; the knowledge that she was part of a global movement.
The mosque would be filled up during the first few days. As Ramadan progressed, the number of devotees would slowly decline until only those who steadfastly observed their five daily prayers like her remained.
After saying Ma’salam to Amirah, she got into her car, and as her delicate hands hovered above the stereo, she thought about Ramadan. In a flash, she picked up her iPhone and deleted all the secular music, making a mental note to wipe off her nail polish too. She promised herself to read one juz of the Qur’an per day; maybe she would make it through and if not, by Allah, “Actions are judged by intentions.”
She picked up her iPhone again and dialed Muaz — her secret boyfriend. It was he who’d introduced her to the wonders of fornication in the barely three weeks since they’d met. He had looked harmless, hiding behind brown eyes and a shy smile. Three weeks ago she was a virgin, but now she was very skilled. She even knew some X-rated sites to visit if she needed to help herself when Muaz was unavailable.
They hugged, kissed and sexed routinely but she still held back from shaking hands with other men. Whenever she put on her veil, she thought about the four characteristics of a hypocrite as stated by the Prophet. She searched the faces of other sisters trying to guess at who else lived her kind of double life.
Muaz was waiting for her in his briefs. He didn’t believe in salat so he spent Jumat period sleeping. They hugged and true to style, he carried her into the bedroom and they fell on the bed. She looked into his eyes happy and carefree except for a nagging feeling that this was a sin.
Muaz looked into her eyes, kissing her slowly at first and then hungrily, while their bodies danced to match the raw emotion. Theirs was a union doomed to exist in the shadows forever. She kissed him back matching force with force, and when he tried to tear off her bra, she slowly shoved him away.
“Babe, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” she replied yet again, overcoming an urge to cry.
“Why did you stop?” he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder while using the other to cover his bulging erection.
She flinched, got up and sat on the chair facing him, clasping and unclasping her palms.
“I just feel we shouldn’t be doing this. Let’s talk of Ramadan instead.”
“Ya Allah, not again,” grumbled Muaz. He fell back on the bed, covering his face with a pillow.
“I have to go,” she said with a jump, but Muaz leapt up, locking their bodies to the wall and silencing her yet unsaid words with passionate kisses.
From somewhere far away, the nagging feeling was back. Maryam wriggled free and fled to her car.
She turned on the ignition and tried to steady her thoughts.
“Alhamdulillah,” she proclaimed.
She knew they would eventually have sex again, but she was glad knowing she didn’t have to spend the night seeking forgiveness from Allah.
A glow illuminated her soul and she was so lost in it that she didn’t see the bend fast enough, driving straight through the weak bridge abutment into the nothingness below.
Fatima Saeed is a Pharmacist and Short story writer from Nigeria. She loves global politics and her works include “One Man, Two Bodies” (ACT 2016 long list) and “Lost” (published in Friday Flash Fiction Magazine) amongst others. She writes weekly for Microcosms fic.