Dylan and I sat in the well-worn cushions of the black pleather love seat in our counselor’s office, the three of us wondering how I’d respond to Dylan’s marriage proposal.
“Well?” Dylan asked, his gray-green eyes locked on my face.
“Yes! Oh my god, yes,” I said, but my up intonations gave away my uncertainty. “Of course! It’s what we’ve been talking about! Of course I want to get ma-mar—engaged!”
I winced at the shrill sound of my own voice. The pleather groaned as I shifted and sunk into my seat.
The rest of the session I was Woody Allen in “Annie Hall.”
When I pulled my car into the parking garage of our apartment building, I blinked twice. Standing in our parking spot, wearing a tux, was my boyfriend, Dylan, beaming and holding a rose. I blushed. I couldn’t believe that he’d actually remembered our anniversary in time to get a suit, pick up a rose, and surprise me at the parking garage.
I got out of the car, kissed and hugged him, and then thanked him for the rose.
“You are so lucky!” I said, “I almost didn’t come home tonight! I was about to go have dinner with a friend. I would have totally missed your surprise.”
In 1990, President De Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison, the East German police dismantled the Berlin Wall, and, in a 10’ x 10’ makeshift classroom at the Ibn Sina Islamic Farsi immersion school in Sacramento, Khanoom Bahari, the religion teacher, liberated my soul from the threat of eternal hellfire with a cheat code for savab, or heaven points.
Khanoom Bahari had a ballerina’s posture and wore a permanent welcome-smile. She glided into the classroom to our metal fold out table, opened up our religion textbook, and, with her gentle voice, read aloud from the text describing charred skin, the screams of guilty souls, and the eternal damnation of hellfire.
As she ran down the list of sins, I searched my memory:
Lying – I lied to Dad almost every day, telling him that I’d done my prayers when really I’d been lying on my bed daydreaming.
Cheating – Every Monopoly game, I cheated and stole money from the bank. When I ran out of money, I’d act sullen. Then, I’d act surprised to discover that I’d been sitting on one of those bright orange five hundred dollar bills the whole time.
Eating Pork – There had been three occasions; once it was ham and twice it was pepperoni.
Comedian and Love InshAllah columnist Zahra Noorbakhsh takes on NYC at the Muslim Funny Fest!
Eds. Note: In last month’s column, Zahra thought she was going home to Iran to an extended family she hadn’t seen in 20 years. At the last minute, she had to cancel her trip there and rerouted to Dubai instead.
At 80 degrees and 80 percent humidity, it’s a cool night in Dubai. I’ve stopped wondering about the male gaze that rules the city, because I can’t stop staring at everyone and everything around me. So far today my infidel husband and I have been skiing, kissed a penguin, and bobsledded down a snowy mountain at the downtown mall’s negative-five-degrees, indoor ski resort. Yesterday, outside the Burj Khalifa, my husband, mom, dad and I listened to the adhan fade away as the jet streams of the Dancing Fountain burst into the air, choreographed to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
I have no idea who to be or how to behave in Dubai. Every moment feels like a collection of contradictions. Am I an American tourist, a Feminist taking careful notes, a horrified human rights activist, or will I come to discover an entirely new persona to add to the plethora of identities I’m already trying to integrate?