The line is short today. Too short. I've spent enough time in airports to know that swathes of impatient commuters are preferable. On days like these, the odds of "random" selection are ever in my favor. A weary employee takes my boarding pass and I hold my breath. On three occasions in as many years, my passes have scanned red, instead of a standard green. A red scan means an extra hour of every lining in my bag swabbed, every lipstick subject to suspicion. It means a missed flight and an hour on the phone with an operator who "can't confirm" if I've been put on a list or how I might proceed to get off of it. Today, my luck is green. I exhale. Now I can fall into routine. Take out my laptop. Unlace my shoes. Shut off my emotions.
"Step on the yellow and put your hands up. Alright now wait to the side Miss, someone will be with you in a moment."
I faintly remember a time when I used to love airports. Back in the days when you could go all the way to a gate to say your goodbyes and hellos. I'd stick my nose against the glass and keep waving until the plane was a shrunken spec.
"Put your arms out please."
She's a young black woman, friendly and apologetic. I focus on that, rather than the fact that I haven't been given the option for a private room.
"Can I check your headgear?"
Honestly, no. No m'aam, you may not. Why do they always phrase it as if I have a choice?
I stare at my socks as she pats. She tugs curiously at my wrapped hair as we both search for answers.
I'm leaning against my luggage, confirming on my phone that a grey Acura is 4 minutes away.
"Heyyy mama, you are wearing that dress."
It's a jumpsuit. Also, shut up.
"You can't say thank you? You need me to teach you English?"
Thank you for ruining this sidewalk, outfit, and beautiful day.
I can wait 4 minutes inside.
Jerry is a white man in his late 60's. He's recently come out of retirement to make some extra cash and keep busy. He's the type of Uber driver who doesn't ascribe to companionable silence.
"I'm gonna guess you're from India."
"Pakistan, but close."
"Oh yeah, I've heard of that. Do you always wear the cultural dress?"
Is there a culture of people who exclusively wear jumpsuits?
"This is from TJMaxx actually."
"No no, I mean your burka."
I take a deep breath, bracing myself to exhale a lecture. I've trained for this. The hijab is a walking invitation for teaching moments such as these. Moments that, admittedly, enthrall and exhaust me in equal parts. I serve Jerry an Islam 101 cocktail of "It's called a hijab," and "Muslim women wear it for different reasons, if they wear it at all." I enjoy a moment of quiet before he proceeds with his line of inquiry.
"Are you married?"
Are you joking? Or possibly a relative of mine?
"That's good, men are stupid. Although I don't know much about your men."
I slump over and pull a book out of my purse. Exhaustion has suddenly won out.
"Yeh kya pehna va hai?" My mother releases me from her embrace and demands to know what I am wearing.
"IT'S A JUMPSUIT."
"Puri gardun nangi hori hai," she says, gesturing to my "naked" chest.
"Mama, I'm fine. God knows my intentions. And She knows I'm a feminist who doesn't believe in policing women's bodies."
"Chup. Hamzah ke ghar aane se pehle kaprey badlo"
"WHY do I need to change for him?? Your son is 22 and spends half his life shirtless."
"Acha nahin lagoa"
"No, what "doesn't look nice" is double standards. If he's bothered he can 'lower his gaze.'"
"Teekh, do whatever you want. My opinion means nothing. Put me in a nursing home while you're at it."
"Acha! I'll go change!"
The imam's voice is muffled and cracked through the speaker. I bend to rest my head against the carpet, bumping elbows with my neighbor on the way down. The women's section in this mosque is in a room I can only assume was once a hallway.
There are seven points of contact between me and the ground. This is the position in which some Muslims believe they are closest to God. Even in the midst of hundreds of worshippers it can feel like a private audience. I try to clear my head, to open myself up to that level of vulnerability. A child in the back starts wailing in earnest.
More than one connection seems to be muffled today.
"What if he wins?"
"Then America will be "Great" once again."
"Like 'Great Depression' great?"
"That doesn't even make sense. Seriously, what are we going to do?"
"Can you pass the daal?
"We can reverse immigrate?"
"You mean deport ourselves?"
"To where? What'll be worse, America or American foreign policy?"
"When was the last time you read "1984?" How does that end again?"
"Canada builds a Wall."
"Yeah, they will."
"Can someone be serious for one second?"
" Beta, we're going to do what we've been doing. Survive."
"Allahu la illaha illahu..."
Ayat al-Kursi is a prayer for protection. I memorized it years ago, while I was waiting in line to ride my first roller coaster, and screamed it the entire way down. Now I whisper it to myself as a ritual guard against nightmares. I don't know Arabic well enough to know what it all means, but it soothes me to think of all the people have been comforted by these very words. I imagine the circumstances in which they were invoked and feel a sense of community with the centuries of people who relied on words as their shields.
"...wahoowal aliyul azim." I finish the utterance and wait for the silence to sing me to sleep.