If I Should Speak, page 4
Tamika had visited the apartments on several occasions before, since many of her friends lived there, so she was familiar with its set-up. But now, she paid close attention to its appearance, taking notice of every imperfection, such as paint chipping and writing on the walls, that she normally would have overlooked, given that none of it was noticeable to a person simply passing through. The building smelled peculiar, but she had come to learn that this was normal for any college dormitory, where people from various backgrounds and walks of life lived together in one place.
She climbed the stairs two at a time until she reached the plain white door with a large black “2” spray-painted on it, reminding her of an old factory building. She pulled the heavy door open and let it slam behind her as she made her way down the hall to apartment 212.
Some doors bore the names of its residents, while others were either decorated or plain, with no indication of who resided within. “Christina, Natasha, Samantha and Megan,” she read on door 210, reciting the names in her head. She would likely need to know them later, she reflected, since they were her new neighbors. It was too bad no last names were on any of the doors. She would have liked to know the full names of her neighbors, because full names gave her a better indication of who the students might be.
There it was—212. There was nothing on the door except a small dry erase board, which had become a popular door hanging for students living on campus. And just her luck, there were not even any messages scribbled on it to give her any clue as to whom she would be living with. So Tamika accepted that she would simply have to find out about her roommates the old fashioned way.
She unlocked and opened the door, the sweet smell of potpourri immediately filling her nostrils, pleasing her and reminding her of home. She closed the door, locked it, and glanced around the apartment approvingly. The apartment was attractively set up with mostly black furniture. A dark gray couch with a black floral design sat near the blinds that covered the patio. In front of it sat a shiny black coffee table with a glass top, a few books and magazines neatly stacked on it. In one corner was a tall black vase with gold trim at the mouth, adorning the large peacock feathers that it held. Black and gray pillows aligned the wall in a cozy design, and various poetry and quotations hung on the walls, each in a gold-trimmed frame, written in gold letters on a black background. Across from the couch were several three-unit black shelves filled with books. Tamika was impressed, the only eyesore being her boxes and bags that were stacked in a corner near the front door. She hoped that her roommates had not been bothered by the clutter.
Tamika heard a shower being turned on somewhere in the apartment. Someone was home. She had not heard anything when she had come in. Perhaps they had been in the bathroom. She walked around the apartment to pass time as she waited for the person to finish. She peered into the kitchen, which was tidier than her clean-up job would have been. And the bedroom was just as clean, with four beds, two of which were lofts and the other two beds under each one. Each was neatly made up in black comforters and gray pillows. She glanced about the room for any clue about her roommates. But there were no photographs hanging, although there was a small, framed picture atop the only desk in the room. But the picture was of several people, having been taken the year before at the formal, indicated not only by the elegant dresses and tuxedos that the students wore in the photograph but by the small inscription at the bottom. Tamika leaned forward to see if she recognized anyone and saw three people who she either had met or seen around campus.
“You must be Tamika.”
Startled, Tamika jerked around to find a tall, slender young woman standing at the doorway, dressed in a large black bathrobe with a matching towel wrapped around her head, accenting her attractive face. Her hands were tucked comfortably in the oversized pockets, reminding Tamika of a scene from a movie. The student smiled, revealing her dimples, and immediately Tamika recognized her.
“Are you Dee?” Tamika had seen her photograph several times in the school’s paper. The student had won several academic awards, not to mention almost every beauty contest she had entered. The combination of a lovely singing voice and a beautiful face almost guaranteed her taking home the first prize. Tamika had gone to one of the school’s talent shows and had never forgotten Dee, mesmerized by her powerful voice and breathtaking beauty. Tamika had introduced herself to Dee once, but she doubted that Dee remembered her. It was customary for Dee to be swarmed by strangers after a show, people who would eagerly introduce themselves while complimenting and congratulating her.
The young woman laughed, nodding, having become accustomed to everyone knowing who she was. “Yes.”
Tamika could not keep from smiling. She could not have been matched with a better person! Perhaps Dee, although still an amateur herself, could give her tips on her own singing career.
“What level are you?” Dee inquired, sliding the closet door open and removing some clothes and placing them on a bed.
“Sophomore. You?” Tamika asked more out of politeness than curiosity. She was already aware that Dee was a junior; every photograph caption stated that information.
“Where are you from?”
“Wow. That’s kind of far,” Dee commented. It was uncommon to find students from farther than Tennessee.
“I know,” Tamika replied, smiling self-consciously. “That’s what everybody says.”
“Hear it’s cold up there.”
“It is sometimes,” she admitted. “Where are you from?”
“Atlanta.” Dee laughed. “Practically down the street.”
Tamika was familiar with the city, which was forty minutes away, because it was where she and Makisha normally went whenever they wanted to go to a party on the weekend. “You grew up there?”
Dee nodded, removing the towel from her head. “Yeah, I was born here, but my family’s from Cuba.”
Tamika wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “You’re Latina?”
Dee laughed, nodding. “Yes, why?”
“I thought you were—”
“Yeah or mixed with it.”
She shook her head. “No, but that’s what everyone says.” She shrugged. “I don’t know why.”
They were silent for sometime, and Tamika stared at her, trying to see her as Latina. “You speak Spanish?”
Dee nodded. “Yes, I do, at home mostly, but a lot of times, we just speak English.”
Tamika was still in shock. Dee did not even have the slightest trace of an accent.
“What’s your major?” Dee inquired a moment later.
Tamika chuckled uncomfortably and shrugged. “Still undecided, but I was thinking about religion.”
Dee raised her eyebrows in surprise, brushing her long, dark, wavy hair while looking at her reflection in the full-length mirror that was on the closet door. She nodded approvingly. “That’s good.” She laughed. “Then I guess you’ve come to the right place.”
Puzzled, Tamika inquired, “What do you mean?”
Dee glanced at her and grinned, then turned back to her reflection. “Wait till you meet Aminah.”
“Your other roommate.”
Oh. “It’s just you two?” Tamika hoped there were no more.
Dee nodded. “Now,” she added emphatically, shaking her head, smiling. “There were two other girls here at the beginning of the year, but I think they had enough of Aminah and called it quits.”
Oh no. Tamika’s heart sank. “What’s wrong with Aminah?”
Dee laughed. “Nothing.” She paused. “She’s just Muslim. A strict Muslim,” she added for effect.
“Muslim?” Tamika repeated, astounded. Perhaps her new living arrangement was going to be stressful after all.
Dee nodded, laughing. “But you’ll probably get along fine with her,” she assured Tamika, “being a religion major.”
“Why do you say that?” Dee chuckled.
“I don’t know,” Tamika shrugged, face still contorted. “How can you stand it?”
Dee laughed. “‘Cause Aminah and I are good friends.”
“You are?” Tamika was taken aback. “Why?” she asked, almost disgusted.
“We grew up together.”
“You did?” She was surprised.
Dee nodded, now adjusting the blow dryer comb, snapping it to the nozzle, her long, thin fingers cradling it. “Our families are real close.”
“And you get along?” Tamika asked in disbelief, wrinkling her nose.
Dee laughed. “Not all the time,” she admitted, “but we’re so used to each other, you know.”
“And it doesn’t bother you that she’s Muslim?”
Dee glanced sideways at Tamika again, raising a dark, arched eyebrow, a half smile developing on her face. “If Aminah was here, she’d lecture me if she heard you ask that.”
“Because I’m Muslim too.”
Tamika’s eyes grew wide, and her jaw dropped. She was floored. Dee? Muslim? Impossible. “You are?” she asked carefully, almost apologetically, realizing her prior comments may have been offensive.
Dee shrugged. “I’m supposed to be anyhow. I go back and forth.”
“You don’t like it?”
She sighed thoughtfully, considering the question as she removed the towel from her shoulder and set it on the bed. “I wouldn’t say that,” she stated honestly. “But I guess I consider myself lazy.”
“So you do like it?”
She shrugged her shoulders again. “I know it’s the right thing,” she offered as a satisfactory answer.
Tamika was at a loss for words. The sound of the blow dryer filled the room as Dee combed through her hair. Dee? Muslim? This bit of information would take some getting used to.
Tamika had not even realized it, but she was staring at Dee, studying the young woman who was only a few feet from her, the same student whom she admired, the same one she had read and heard about throughout her freshmen year. During that time, Dee had merely been a name and picture on a page, unreachable, much like famous people were, but now Dee was before her, in person. It was interesting, Tamika noted, how with some prominent personalities who were known for their beauty, their attractiveness lessened when seeing them up close, their appeal more a camera or make-up trick than reality. But with Dee, it was the opposite. As intriguing and complimentary Dee’s photographs were, none did her justice. She was flawless, Tamika could not help thinking, studying Dee’s smooth complexion, unpolished by make-up or photo adjustments. Most people’s appearance would have suffered without the adornment of lipstick or foundation, but not Dee’s.
But Muslim? Tamika could not see it. The words Dee and Muslim did not seem to belong in the same sentence.
After about ten minutes, the sound of the blow dryer ceased, and the room grew awkwardly silent, the only sound being Dee removing the comb from the dryer and placing it in a desk drawer.
“You have any brothers or sisters?” Dee inquired, breaking the silence.
“I have an older sister and brother.”
“How old are they?”
“Yeah.” Tamika paused then asked, “You?”
Dee nodded. “It’s seven of us.”
“Seven?” Tamika was surprised at the large number.
“Yeah, four girls, three boys.”
“You the oldest?”
Tamika nodded, taking in the information. “How old is the youngest?”
“Three.” A pause. “How old are you?”
“Nineteen, but Aminah’s eighteen too.”
Oh great, something in common. Who cared? “What level is she?” Tamika was not interested in this “Aminah,” but she should be polite, especially if she was to be living with her.
“And she’s eighteen?”
“Just turned it too.”
“She’s a brain,” Dee joked about her friend. “Like her brother.”
“Yeah, Sulayman Ali.”
“Sulayman Ali!” Tamika repeated in surprise. “The one who does the editorial column in the paper?”
“Yeah, that’s him,” Dee stated, grinning and shaking her head, her thick hair bouncing, as she thought of the powerful words he used in his “controversial” articles, which were no more than him expressing the strong moral views that he had as a Muslim.
Tamika was smiling and nodding admirably, but inside she was groaning. If Sulayman was Aminah’s brother, Tamika knew she was in for a rocky road. Sulayman was unapologetic in his articles in which he lashed out at students for their “loose behavior” of drinking and fornicating. He was so judgmental, Tamika had observed her freshman year—before she had stopped reading his offensive articles because they made her so upset.
“Guess he tells it like it is, huh?”
“Yeah, he does,” she agreed, still smiling. How could Dee be friends with his sister? It made no sense.
“As-salaamu-alaikum!” someone called from the living room, and Tamika heard the front door shut, although she had not heard anyone come in.
Dee smiled, leaving the room.
“Wa-‘alaikum-as-salaam,” she replied cheerfully. The Arabic sounded strange to Tamika’s ears, especially coming from the mouth of Dee.
“She get here yet?” the voice asked.
“She’s right here,” Dee pointed to Tamika, who emerged from the room a second later.
“Oh, hi,” the young woman greeted, walking toward Tamika, her hand outstretched. Tamika accepted it, shaking her hand lightly and smiling with forced cordialness. “You must be, uh,” the young woman tried to remember her name.
“Tamika,” Dee reminded.
“Tamika,” the young woman repeated.
Tamika nodded. “And you’re, uh, Aminah?” she inquired, observing the woman’s Arab dress. A large blue cloth sat on her head and around her shoulders and was pinned under her chin, falling at an angle near her waist. Her thin pale face looked awkwardly small behind it. And her large, loose black dress appeared much too big for her and only exaggerated her tiny stature.
Aminah laughed, her green eyes sparkling. “I guess Durrah must’ve told you all about me, my claws and all.”
“Durrah?” Tamika repeated, glancing at Dee, confused, too distracted to notice Aminah’s friendly joke.
Dee laughed. “That’s my Muslim name.”
Oh. She had a Muslim name too? This was becoming too much—too strange. Tamika wondered how many other people knew Dee was Muslim. She imagined Makisha would get a kick out of the news.
“Shame on you, Durrah,” Aminah teased her friend, pointing at her, scolding her playfully.
Dee laughed. “You know me.”
“Yeah,” Aminah agreed, smiling and shaking her head at how predictable her friend was. “Unfortunately, too well.”
“Where are you from?” Tamika inquired politely.
Oh, she had forgotten. Atlanta. Dee and Aminah had grown up together. “And your family?”
Tamika was confused, and it showed on her face.
Dee laughed, which she did often, Tamika began to notice, her bubbly personality nothing like the “conceited snob” Makisha had described once. “Now, she’s Black.”
Aminah nodded, smiling. “Yes, I am.”
Tamika had thought she was Arab, and if not Arab, she could see White, but not
“My dad’s half-Black, and my mom’s White.”
“Oh, I see,” Tamika replied, now understanding, but still in shock. She had never imagined that an American would dress in that manner—by choice.
Aminah removed the pin from under her chin, and tossed one part of the cloth over her shoulder.
“She won’t uncover her hair till she trusts you,” Dee whispered to Tamika, smirking.
“I heard you,” Aminah told her friend as she made her way to the bathroom.
Dee laughed. “You hear everything!”
“Not everything, just mostly everything,” she corrected, kidding. Aminah usually dealt with Durrah casually, not wanting to come down on her too hard, especially since they were peers, Durrah actually being a little older. But sometimes Durrah’s behavior irritated her until she lost her patience, after which she would rebuke her best friend about her lifestyle. Although Aminah brushed it off most times, she hated the way Durrah told others about Islam, as if it were a joke. This was most likely due to the fact that Durrah did not take Islam seriously herself, at least not anymore, which in turn caused her to take serious matters of the religion lightly. Aminah often had to remind Durrah that mocking any part of Islam was disbelief and took a person outside the fold of Islam. But sometimes she questioned whether Durrah was Muslim in the first place.
Aminah had come to dislike living with Durrah and would have opted to live in a single if their mothers had not insisted that they live together. But fortunately, this year had been a bit easier for Aminah since they had an apartment—at least it was easier after their old roommates moved out. But their first two years had been rocky. Aminah was often tempted to call Durrah’s mother to ask her to do something about her daughter. But she would decide against it, fearing it would cause Durrah more harm than help to have her mother involved. Durrah’s mother knew her daughter did not cover in Islamic attire and that she participated in fashion shows and the like, this being hard to conceal since Durrah’s face was on the front page of practically every local and school newspaper whenever she won a contest. But her mother did not know about the parties and the bad company Durrah kept, not to mention her lax attitude about praying. Durrah was even “friends” with several young men, and she knew better than that. Her mother thought that her daughter’s only weaknesses were uncovering, singing in talent shows, and an occasional desire to listen to music, which was, in reality, more an obsession than an inclination.
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