I haven't done this for a while, but I'm going to share an excerpt from this story I'm writing, A Rose Much Desired. This is an excerpt from the "Agent" narration, in the first half of the story (around page 87 of what is now a 198-page manuscript).
The "Agent" narration tells the story of Mo, a 23-year-old college grad and medical school hopeful who is going through a bit of a crisis as he has not yet been accepted to medical school in March and he experiences pressure from family to become the man they want him to be. Despondent and alone, he still lives on the college campus and is left behind by many of his friends who are now on spring break. One day after work, he wanders over to a separate campus to visit an old college friend of his who is currently a senior. He hasn't spoken to this friend really since she became a more practicing Muslimah and too conservative for his taste. This friend is Nisreen, a 21-year-old premed student who has already been accepted to medical school. Though at first he regrets that he's visited this sister, he eventually confides in her and ends up spending a lot of time at her place, seeking her counsel and getting to know her, again...
This chapter is called, "The First."
Nisreen sits across from Mo and he tries not to furrow his eyebrows but he feels like he is anyway. He wipes his eyes and instantly he’s disgusted with himself. He’s disgusted with himself but he feels as if his world is crashing down on him, as if he’s downward spiraling it, out of control. He stares around her living room. It’s one of those deceptively sunny days outside, deceptive because it must still be cold outside. It must, because Nisreen’s basement apartment always runs cold and today her heat’s struggling to keep the room above 65 degrees. But it’s deceptively sunny and he can see dust on top of her television, and the picture on the screen is washed out. It’s muted, and all the same, he feels like shit. Like shit because he was dealt another rejection from a school, this one online. Who knows if he had others waiting for him in his mailbox at his place. Who knows, no one knows, because no one was there, because he wasn’t there, he’s here. Shit.
He’s felt this way before, and he knows what happened, but Nisreen is a sweet girl, and he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her. But she’s here, and she’s listening, and she’s patient and her voice has this light cadence and he’s feeling so badly right now. He’ll see what happens, but he won’t push it.
She’s started hugging him these days, but it still feels awkward to Mo. He can tell that she’s not used to hugging men, as may be expected from a non-married hijabi. But right now she’s sitting across from him, at her office chair, he’s on her sofa, sobbing quietly and she’s probably waiting for what he’ll say next.
Mo shakes his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be bothering you about this. I mean, you’re here, trying to write your paper, and here I am every day complaining and whining and crying to you. I should just do campus counseling or something.”
Nisreen waves her hand at him. “Don’t worry about me. I’m glad to help in any way I can, really.” Okay, here she comes, Mo thinks. She walks forward, swings her legs around the coffee table and joins him on the sofa, clasping his hand in hers. That’s another thing she’s started doing, but without as much hesitance as the hugs. She’ll hold his hand, only briefly, though. She places his hand back on his thigh. “Besides, I’ve been to those counselors before, and they approach everything through a secular perspective. I mean, I talked to them about praying and not going to parties and having faith in God and all of this stuff and they treat it as a psychopathology or something.” Mo grins, because he knows this tone of voice by now. Nisreen is about to go into one of her rants, and he watches her as she purses her lips and her eyes open bright and wild. He’s ready.
“I mean, if my dependence on God in my life and my submitting to a Being that’s outside of human perception makes me crazy, then so be it, right? As long as I’m not a danger to myself or anyone else, I can’t be committed.” She holds up her right hand, her eyes toward the ceiling. “Let my state be the pathology, let my belief in God be my therapy.” She’s bobbing her head now, “Let them try to diagnose people like us with all sorts of disorders, and if it weren’t for our belief in God we’d be totally buried in it, knee deep in it. They’re just waiting, huh? Waiting for that one day that undoubtedly, to them at least, our beliefs will falter and we’ll hit rock bottom and then they’ll be ready with all of these meds and then it’ll be like, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
Mo’s laughing now, and she stops, eyes still blazing, and glares at him. He watches a slow smile creep up on her face, before she shakes her head and looks towards the television, still muted, before returning to face him. “Oh man, I went off again, didn’t I?”
“That’s cool. I like it when you go off like that.” Mo says this on purpose, trying to get a rise out of her. He watches Nisreen’s face to see if she would react. Nothing.
“But you know what I’m saying, Mahmud? Don’t worry about counselors. People like you and me, Muslims like you and me, we’re in a funny place. We can’t get advice from regular counselors because they’re too worldly, and we can’t get advice from imams or shaykhs or anything like that because we’re afraid they’ll tell us that our entire world is haram or something.” They’d discussed this once before, but Mo lives being surprised at how liberal Nisreen is sometimes. It almost seemed contradictory. She wears her hijab religiously but is noncommittal about whether or not she feels it’s obligatory. She prays all five times a day without fail but shies away from the masjid. A few days ago, had she tried to say that she and Mo were alike in any way, he would have emphatically disagreed. To him back then, they were only alike maybe in terms of their love of hip hop, and even then, she was more R&B. But in these hours, days, whatever, talking with her, Mo can see that they do line up in certain ways, kind of fit together. And he feels it, too, even without having to speak about it. He feels it now.
Mo isn’t saying anything because he’s thinking. Muslims like you and me. Nisreen must be taking his silence for sadness or something, because she’s leaning forward to hug him now. This one feels more natural, and Mo accepts the embrace. He feels her fingers on his back, the fabric of her scarf is smooth against his cheek. Then he slips. He kisses her on the forehead. He let himself go he wanted it and he kissed her on the forehead. He expects a reaction. His shoulders tense, waiting to see what she does next because they’ve just crossed a new line. First the hand touching then the holding and now he just kissed her, smack, on her forehead. He feels it. He knows when she’s uncomfortable, he knows when females are uncomfortable and he knows when to stop, he knows his limits, but he doesn’t feel it now. He keeps holding her as if he expects to sense her discomfort eventually but he doesn’t. He relaxes, his shoulders slump. He just kissed Nisreen on the forehead. He’s waiting, wondering, not knowing at all what this girl’s going to say.
She releases herself from the embrace and rubs him on the shoulder, smiling. “It’s going to be okay. It’s just one school. Insha’Allah, everything’s going to work out fine, I just know it. And you’ll be back, and you can get back, and…insha’Allah.” And that was it. And that was enough.
[Italics signify when another narration intrudes...this one is "Desirée"] She likes that. He sings that he’s going to make a smile down inside her, and she wonders how. She’s in love with that one note in the progression, like a turning point with the bass that happens three times, and she doesn’t know what it’s called, and Mo wonders while he listens to her, who taught you, Desirée? Who taught you to be alluring, who taught you to love, who taught you to be? It’s so natural but unnatural at the same time. He wonders how she even exists. He feels like he’s only approximating her. How can I approach you? Can I call you Love, can I call you Beauty, can I call you something, because I feel like you’re so much more than your name can encompass.
Dun dun DUN!
Soon, I'll actually finish this thing so I can have people read it and tell me how predictable it is or not. I can't wait to see!
Nothing new going on otherwise. I need to get my tetanus booster so I can register for classes with the school of public health, but that's about it.
Let me know what you think!