One of Them

I will not be defeated by the printers, I will not be defeated by the printers, I will not!!! Bloody thing won’t print out the A3 spreads of one of Kathryn’s new illustrated books. SENT TO PRINTER, MY ASS. “Ugh!” I let out a frustrated growl, manically pressing random buttons, hoping the document I need to print will appear.

“You all right there?” James, the other only guy in Editorial alongside Robert, asks.

“Stupid thing won’t print my document.”

“That printer’s been acting up all morning, you might want to give the print room a ring,” he says.

“I’ll go do that, thanks.” I traipse, defeated, back to my desk.

Rebecca laughs at me.

“Haven’t you got prelims to be doing?” I grumble.

“Oh no!” Someone gasps.

We all swivel around in our chairs. Meredith, one of the publishing executives, is gaping at her screen. “There’s been an explosion in Brussels! They’re saying it’s a terrorist attack.”

Our department falls completely silent.

Please don’t let anyone be hurt, I think. Please don’t let the attackers be Muslim.

“Is anyone hurt?” Robert calls from his desk.

“Yes but not sure how many. Some have died from injuries.”

Oh God. Oh no.

Everyone sits in shock for a few minutes. I slowly turn back to my screen, my stomach churning. The brown hijab on my head suddenly feels like lead. I try to shrink back into my seat in the hopes I might disappear.

I go on the news and try to find out more. Is it definitely Shite-SIS who did this? When violence is called a terrorist attack, the culprits are usually always brown/Muslim. I scan through the page. Some of the attackers have been named. Dread fills me. Those names are Muslim. Maybe I shouldn’t be looking at this at work. What if someone sees me looking at the articles and thinks… I’m one of them? What if my computer is being watched by security services? I close the web page and go back to my email. Printer. Right. Print room.

The notification light glows on my phone. I reach for it and find a barrel of messages coming in from friends and family, all saying the same things: there’s been an attack in Brussels/ they’re saying the perpetrators are muslim/ be careful on your way home/ call me if you have any problems/ keep your head down…

Bollocks, I have to go home soon. On the trains.

The dust hasn’t even settled from the last terrorist attack in Europe and here’s another one. Part of me wants to scream at the injustice and the other part of me wants to hide. Do my colleagues look at me and think this is because of my faith? I look around carefully but no one is glaring at me or watching me.

I feel sick and scared. Not an attack goes by where I don’t hear from a family member or a Muslim friend, always female, who’s had someone try to physically harm them because somehow, these lunatics from wherever they are in the world, represent us now. Ugh – why am I worried about my safety when innocent people have been hurt, have been killed? I feel disgusting.

‘Asr time has just come in but I don’t want to go down and pray. I have to let Mike and the gang know when I’m using the room and that means showing my face — my hijab-clad face. I’ll go under the stairs.

I don’t know what to ask for after I finish salah. Why is this happening, ya rabb? Where do these lunatics getting these ideas from? I don’t know. Who can kill innocent people, people with lives and family and friends and think they’re doing a good thing?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. How? Why?

I go back to my desk where the office carries on as normal. How do my colleagues feel when they hear this? Let me rephrase, how do my non-Muslim peers feel when they hear news like this? Do they think Islam is the reason for these attacks? Do they accept me because I seem like a ‘moderate’ Muslim to them or do they think I’m one of ‘them’?

Blugh. I just want to go home. Maybe I’ll take an uber. Can I afford a cab that’ll probably cost me like forty pounds though…

I try to hang around a little bit after working hours are over but eventually leave at 6. I head out of the building, sticking my earphones in. I consider playing the Qur’an to calm my nerves but what if people hear it from my earphones and get scared? I’ll play non-threatening music instead, everyone loves Justin Bieber right… What about the wire of my earphones though? Will people get suspicious if they see it coming out from under my hijab? I prefer having the earphones beneath my scarf, not sticking out like sideburns gone wrong. A wire coming out of my scarf might be unsettling though… Bun it. I take the earphones out and put them away. I don’t need another excuse to make people stare at me.

I hurry onto the train station, bristling with nerves when I sight police on patrol. I half-expect them to come and stop me but they don’t. I get down to the platform and pull my book out from my bag, doing my best to avoid eye contact with everyone around me.

I feel hot around my neck and there’s a gnawing in my stomach. Why can’t I just teleport home? Is everyone looking at me? I peek up but no one seems to be glaring in my direction.

My train arrives so I hop on, cramming myself into a corner like I can fold myself between the cracks and become invisible. No such luck. I survey my surroundings: a few people have the evening paper open. Brown men look out angrily from the front page. The word ‘TERRORIST’ stretches across the page. A white man catches me looking at his paper and gives me a dirty look. He looks back at his paper indignantly.

I shrink back and bury my face in my book. At least I’m wearing a brown hijab today and not something ostentatious like blue or pink or neon. God, I just want to be home. I’m on edge as I make a change for my second train, just waiting for someone to come at me or yell something like they have before. You’d think growing up with racial abuse would have toughened my skin to all this but it hasn’t. It hasn’t. I try to make myself as small as possible as I move through people and find a seat on the train.

I text dad and ask him if he can pick me up from the station.

I’m at work now sorry beta. Get a cab? 

Home is a twelve minute walk from the station if I go fast. I can get home safe in that time can’t I? Not always… My anxiety is starting to get the better of me. I try to level my breathing out as my heart starts to pick up speed. You’re fine, Suraya, you’re fine. 

I’ll walk. I can’t let this make me so scared. Nothing will happen. I’ll be fine. I’m just overreacting. Nobody’s even looking at me on this train, it’s fine.

When I get out of my home station, I start my speed walking down the road. I’m itching to listen to music but now I’m worried I won’t hear anyone coming from behind me so I keep walking. I’ll be home soon, I’ll be home soon… I keep repeating this as I walk. I’m just a couple of streets away now. Almost there, almost there…

A bottle comes flying out of nowhere and crashes at my feet. “OI YOU TERRORIST SCUM! FUCK OFF BACK TO PAKILAND!”

I look around and see a white face snarling at me with his finger in the air as he drives by.

I freeze, fear anchoring me to the spot.

“You fucking terrorist!” He continues yelling, his car slowing down. “Get out of my country!”

Move, Suraya, move.

I run, his angry words echoing behind me.

“Suraya, is that you?” Mum calls as I burst into the house.

“Yeah!” I yell back as I run up to my room. I lock my door and take my clothes and hijab off, changing into my pyjamas. I get into bed and burrow under the covers, hugging my knees to my chest. I can’t stop shaking. I’m eleven years old again and the white kids are pulling my hijab off at school. I’m seven years old and people are shouting ‘Paki, go home!’ at our family as we walk down the street. I can’t protect myself, not even now.

I remember my phone and pull it out, opening the Qur’an app and playing a random surah. Moutassem al-Hameedi’s soothing voice sings out and it helps steady heart until I’m still and that man’s words no longer reverberate in my head. How do the same verses that comfort me inspire others to kill?

*

I don’t want to go to work the next morning. I don’t want to leave the house. I just want to stay in my bed until forever.

You can’t let these situations stop you living. My friend Noora is trying to text me a pep talk at Fajr time. Easy for her to say, she didn’t have a bottle come flying at her yesterday.

Racists and extremists want to divide us. If you shut yourself away, they both win.

I want to tell her to just go back to sleep but that wouldn’t be very Muslamic of me. See, this is what stumps me: if backbiting/gossiping/hurting someone’s feeling is haraam, where do those attackers get the OK to kill people? I don’t understand.

I watch the sunrise, inky blues turning into soft purples and pinks. This beautiful, horrible world.

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