“That Thing You Will Do Again,” short fiction by Fahima Haque, appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of MQR.
When you finally realize what it is you’ve been doing this whole time, you learn it’s called choking the chicken. Or that is what MTV has taught you. But you realize during the third commercial that a chicken is a dick, and you know you don’t have a dick, but you don’t know what else to call what you do. There was a special on TV one night, a Friday, if you remember it right. You had to sneak watching it, with the volume so low you had to strain to hear, while regularly flipping the channel to Food Network so as not to get caught. Everyone was home and there was no room for carelessness. Because you know it is not right. If Allah doesn’t allow you to wear shorts anymore because you’re too old, then how could this be halal? Or at least that’s what amma says: the Quran says that you can’t wear shorts. You are reading the Quran now, but in Arabic, a language you only comprehend by its beautiful markings, so with every page you read you exhale a sigh of relief for getting it over with, not because of its divine clarity.
If it’s something you have to hide, it cannot be good. Although, in this house, you have to keep many things hidden. You have been doing it now for almost a year. You don’t remember how you stumbled on this way of feeling good. It never takes you all that long to finish. Which you don’t know if that makes you less bad or more bad. You never want to look in the mirror after you are done, but you always do. In fact, you go to the bathroom and you stare at yourself in the filmy glass in private and you realize in those moments just how grotesque you are. You are ugly in all ways. Otherwise you avoid the mirror. Unlike the other girls in school, who spend languid moments inspecting their faces, sweeping on tacky lip gloss, ignoring the late bell warning them to get to class. For you, the longer you look, the more flaws materialize. Yet after you’re done doing it, you stare into the mirror, reliving what you have just done, descending into a panic over how eternal hell supposedly is.
You do remember confiding in your cousin before she moved a few months ago. She is two years older, the only family member that is close in age to you. After listening, she gave a soft sound of understanding like she knew exactly what you were talking about. Like she did it too. Like she spent many nights literally sweating about it too. But she never admitted to it. You held that shame solely on your shoulders as she looked away, maintaining her dignity. You two don’t speak all that often anymore.
It takes you two, maybe three times as long to pray now. It isn’t that you forgot the words or the movements. You have perfected how to enunciate every Arabic word that you don’t know the meaning of. It’s the bad things that distract you. It’s the disgusting images that don’t stop flashing through your head that you like so much, that render every holy word perverse. You blame Undressed, which keeps playing on MTV. You blame the AOL chat rooms you loiter in. You’ve built a Rolodex of what you like, ready to be fantasized about at the most inappropriate of times. It also troubles you how much more often you think of boobs than anything else. You reason that it’s because your own boobs are not beautiful. They are uneven and small, so small your stomach juts out much further than they do. You cannot even begin to contemplate that the reason the thought of boobs ignites the heat between your legs might be because you are gay. You are most definitely not gay. So this starting and stopping of prayers mangles your sentiment and fucks with your purity and leaves you on the prayer rug for a peculiar length of time. The irony is that you don’t like praying, nor do you feel any sort of joy from praying. It’s your fear of disobeying Allah, and even more frighteningly, amma thwack-thwacking you with a metal hanger—which leaves a thatch of bruises—that keeps you on the janamaz.
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Image: O’Keeffe, Georgia. “Grey lines with black, blue, and yellow.” 1923. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.