Nada Syed was no coward; at 28 years old, she had simply learned that strategic retreat was the better part of valour.
Cell phone clutched in one hand, black ballet flats in the other, cream-coloured hijab loosely draped over her short dark hair, she tiptoed down the spiral oak staircase of the home she shared with her parents and two brothers. She darted into the main floor laundry room, where the side door was located. From there it was a few steps to the driveway, her car, and freedom.
Her phone pinged with another message from her best friend Haleema: I’ll be there soon! We’re going to have so much fun at the convention!
Nada shuddered. There were few things she could think of that would be worse than being forced to attend the Islamic convention over the July long weekend. Perhaps skinny dipping in the Arctic Ocean. Or being forced to eat her mother’s offal-and-tongue nihari curry.
Her phone pinged again. Haleema really didn’t give up; that persistence had fuelled her rise to the top of her graduate engineering programming, but right now Nada wished her friend had the profile of a party-forward humanities major, because she needed to concentrate: co-ordinating a weekend sneak-out was tricky. Her mother, Narjis Syed, guarded their front door more zealously than a nightclub bouncer, and asked more questions. Nada glanced at her phone, reading her friend’s message quickly.
Aren’t you excited? Girls’ weekend! Then: Babe? Where’s my sister from another mister? Nada? HELLOOOOOOO????
She wasn’t going to stop until Nada responded. Carefully dropping her shoes and nosing into them, she texted her friend the perfect decoy message. Just getting ready. Big plans for the weekend! xxx.
Nada knew two things: 1) She couldn’t attend the convention for reasons that also couldn’t be disclosed to anyone, especially not Haleema, and 2) By the time her habitually late bff showed up at her house, she would be long gone, snacking on a delicious latte and blueberry scone from her favourite cafe.
One might wonder why a twenty-eight-year old woman didn’t simply stroll out of her parents’ house as if she owned the place, flip her busybody neighbours a flirty goodbye and head to wherever the hell she wanted. That person was clearly not the daughter of traditional South Asian parents, nor did they live in the Golden Crescent neighbourhood in the east end of Toronto, a.k.a “the nosiest place on Earth.” And they were particularly not the daughter of Narjis Syed – mother of three, interferer of all.
The side door escape was the perfect plan, Nada thought, opening the door to the laundry room.
“Beta, what are you doing?” Narjis straightened in front of the washing machine, where she was sorting through a pile of clothing. Busted.