Empty

My stomach is empty and so is my head. A pale drop of lilac has dissolved itself into the canvas of the spanning sky, where an orange sun is softened from behind a bouquet of white puffy pillows dotting the atmosphere. My strolling feet adopt to the lumpy bumpy curves of the aged bricks that compose the sidewalk below.

It is almost sunset. The time to break it–it’s fast approaching.

There is a park on my left with children. Screaming. They flounder in the fountains and sway in the swings. They wave bright sticky popsicles, tangled with their hair, that drip onto the asphalt. The park is full of trees and moms and dads and nannies, tucked between the row of houses and condos that are crammed into the cracks and crannies of one another on the urban sidewalk.

On a shiny black bench sits a mother and her two-or-three-year-old daughter , and the mother is feeding her two-or-three-year-old daughter crackers, and her two-or-three-year-old daughter is refusing. The mother uses her left hand to refasten the blue hijab draped over her own head by tucking the excess material into a crevice below her chin. The mother uses her right hand to give a second go at nudging a cracker toward her daughter’s mouth, and when her daughter grabs it and shoves it back toward the mother’s mouth, the mother mutters, “No, no!” A quick glance at her cell phone later, I hear her: “twenty-one minutes.”

I turn toward the mother and daughter and wonder if they know I’m like them. I want to ask how her fast is going; how seventeen hours feels so long when the daily 4 PM hunger pangs kick in, kick her, kick me; yet how I know the hours add up to days add up to weeks add up to the month that always melts into the moment of a blink when I’m staring up at the new bulging bright moon at the end of it all: it’s over, already? I want to say “Salaam” and make a joke – about the heat or splashing through the spraying fountains despite my juvenile fear of accidentally getting some water in my mouth. I want to laugh and laugh together but still promise to ground my awkward humor in sincere gratitude because we will have food in twenty one. twenty. nineteen.

nineteen. minutes, food; years, me.

I guess I’ve stood there for a couple minutes now, a college student with ghostly, ghastly green eyes glaring into the visible waves of energy glowing from amongst toddlers screaming in the park–a college student with ghostly, ghastly, green eyes in her seventeenth hour of abstaining from anything touching my lips except my strawberry lip balm and even though I shouldn’t (it’s….. wax…..), I feel a little bad about that one.

The mother suddenly stares back at me–me in my frizzy-frazzled hair, salty and swept into a ponytail of curls; me in my baggy navy t shirt and black leggings cut right at the knee.

I wonder if she knows. I wonder if she feels the connection that so instantly crystallizes when I see her, in her scarf, refusing her daughter’s offer to a bite.

I wonder if she cares. I wonder if she’d shame me for displaying on exhibit half my leg, while fasting, or my whole head of hair, while whenever else–not because I assumed she would or because everyone did, but because that does happen,

     from the scarved 

          and not-scarved,

               from women 

                    and men,

                         from Muslims

                              and non-Muslims;

because I didn’t want to risk the most awkward of situations: the one where it takes someone those extra two seconds to register what I’m saying, that I’m Muslim, too.

because in those two seconds, I know not what I am. I dive into a state of doubt, absorb the anonymity, float in fear. 

I’ve been there. I’ve drowned there.

What does it matter what others view or vocalize? And maybe, even, she’d say nothing. Maybe maybe she wouldn’t hesitate.

But the risk, no matter how slim, the risk.

I don’t not trust this woman. I don’t even know her: how can I assume anything?

But I’m scared and scarred from last time and last time and last time,

     with the scarved

          and not-scarved,

               with women

                    and men,

                         with Muslims

                              and non-Muslims.

Suddenly she smiles.

She bellows a “Salaaaaam!” But her eyes are fixed closer to her focus, and a smidge toward my right. A woman in purple cotton with gray pants, plus a purple scarf with gray frills, takes a break on the bench. They shake hands, and the purple-with-gray woman lifts her neck and points Southeast down the block. “Just moved there. Know no one,” according to audible snippet of their conversations.

And those snippets were all I needed.

These women share a bond, and quite legitimately so. It’s beyond the fast, the sunset, the park today. 

And maybe they’ll never know–the stopping, staring student with legs at least half of which were tanned today and regularly from their visible shenanigans under the sun, shared something, too–

not it all, at all. but something. some things–

the stopping, staring student, who stupidly stops and stupidly stares, inserting herself into the loving laughs, the trying tears.

My head is no longer empty.

     Will they ever consider me sister?

          Will they ever know?

               Why am I so concerned?

The thoughts spill and splash into the rest of my body–now, even my stomach feels full.

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