On Wednesday, Hassan arrived at school to find his locker surrounded by the clique that he’d dubbed the Asian Squad. Moaning, he pushed his shoulders back and stood up straight.
“Excuse me,” he said pointedly, gesturing at his locker.
Tasnim raised an eyebrow. “Oh, look. It’s Mr. Ugly Joote.”
He fought the urge to pluck out each and every one of her curls. “Oh, look. It’s Miss Annoying Face.”
Japanese/Korean Girl (Jenny) snorted in laughter. “Miss Annoying Face? What is this, kindergarten?”
Hassan was done with them. What did they want from him, anyway? Was this “fun” to them? Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? “Go back to North Korea,” he snarled.
There was a pause and for a moment Hassan thought he’d won. It served her right, anyway; maybe Kim Jong-un would deal with her insubordination. He chuckled at the thought. But then suddenly, all of the girls looked at something behind him and smirked in unison.
Hassan turned around hesitantly to see the scowling face of the principal standing behind him.
Hassan managed to block out most of his “talk” with Mr. Warner. Honestly, he just put on a remorseful face and pretended he was sorry the whole way through. By the time the affair was over, he had apologized to Jenny (who, it turned out, was Chinese), gotten a slip that he needed signed by a parent (psh, did they seriously think his parents would be finding out about this?), and after-school detention on Friday (only until six, so he could still go to the movies with Arushi), because apparently Seven Hills took “racially insensitive comments” pretty seriously. He sighed. Somehow, the thought that he almost had to miss his date with Arushi didn’t bother him as much as he thought it would.
He left the office late for his first class, and he awkwardly slid into place beside Owen, handing the teacher his late slip.
“Dude, what happened?” whispered Owen.
Hassan groaned. “Oh, uh…” Fortunately for him, the teacher directed a glare at them, and he had an excuse to stop talking.
But by lunchtime, everyone had found out about what he said (stupid gossip columnists). His friends high-fived him, laughing, while everyone else (read: the unpopular kids) glared at him. Somewhat relieved that his friends thought the scenario was funny, Hassan settled back into his routine. He walked Arushi to her locker after lunch the way he always did, making small talk. But she was laughing more than usual today, and all she wanted to talk about was the football game that was on last night (Hassan didn’t watch football; cricket was the superior sport, thank you very much). He bit his lip to keep from yawning as she droned on and on about some “touchdown.”
“So, I gotta run, ’kay?” he said quickly as soon as he had an opening, gesturing to his locker. She grinned and nodded, and he jogged away, trying not to look to eager to escape.
When Fatima came to pick him up that afternoon, Hassan had a plan. He slid into the car, hitting the pause button on Fatima’s phone to silence “Kala Chashma.”
“Teri naam diya dhuman pe gaiyan—”Fatima stopped singing as soon as the music stopped, glaring at her brother.
Hassan sighed. “Can’t you listen to normal music?” he retorted, before remembering that he needed her to do him a favor. “I mean, I’m sorry. You can listen to whatever you want. And your singing sounds great, by the way!” He groaned inwardly. He’d never quite mastered the art of flattery the way Fatima had.
“What do you want, Hassan?” she asked, getting right to the point.
Hassan slid the slip out from his backpack. “Well, since you asked… I. Um. Need this signed.”
Fatima raised an eyebrow, taking the slip from him. “’Making rude and insensitive comments to another student,’” she read, smirking.
Hassan took a deep breath. “Yeah. Whatever. That’s not the point.”
“Then what is? I can’t sign this. It’s a parent signature.”
Hassan bit his lip. “You were always so good at forging signatures… Remember in fourth grade when you forged Ammi’s signature on your form for that brownie lunch?”
Fatima rolled her eyes. “So?”
Hassan smirked. He was ready for this part. “Or I’ll tell Abu and Ammi about that guy at the gym.”
Fatima stared at him. “What guy at the gym?”
“Oh, you know. The guy you’ve been seeing at the gym.”
“I haven’t been seeing a guy at the gym, you liar!” Fatima shrieked.
Hassan smiled innocently. “Oh, but you did drop out of Harvard. Who knows what other secrets you’ve been keeping.”
Fatima glared at him for a solid minute before uncapping a pen from her bag and signing the slip.
That night, Hassan locked himself in his room to watch cricket, not in the mood to deal with his parents’ questioning glances at him and angry glares at Fatima. He glanced at the Algebra packet due next Monday that he’d been procrastinating, and groaned before throwing a fuzzy throw blanket at it, effectively covering it up. At that moment, his iCell chimed with a text from Arushi.
Hassan winced at the sight of the heart before he could tell himself he should be happy. Fighting back a wave of disgust, he replied to her text.
Taking a deep breath, he followed it up with a heart emoji. What was wrong with him? Arushi was popular, so was he. They were a perfect pair. So why did this feel so wrong? And how come everything she did annoyed him?
Excited for tmrw :)
He rolled his eyes at her text. He’d almost forgotten that he’d asked her out to the movies. He bit his lip, imagining the torture of listening to her laugh next to him for two hours. Would she want him to hold her hand during a scary part? Hassan shuddered. Before he could change his mind, he quickly typed out a message.
Hey uh something came up last minute
Idk if tmrw is a good day to go see a movie
There. He’d done it. The messages were sent. Hassan fell back onto his bed, feeling somewhat liberated, and a little guilty. He kind of wanted to apologize, but just the realization that he didn’t have to go on a date with Arushi made him laugh out loud.
He found Arushi at her locker the next morning. She had replied to his text with a sad emoji face, and though he was sure he didn’t like her, he felt bad.
“Hey,” he said, giving her his customary smile.
She smiled too, cautiously. “You know, you don’t have to be so embarrassed about the detention thing.”
She continued. “Everyone gets in trouble sometimes. I don’t care.”
Hassan stared at her. Did she think that he’d canceled their plans because he was embarrassed about being in detention? “Oh, um. Thanks.”
She gave him one last long look before turning back to her pile of binders. Hassan backed away to his own locker, feeling a little confused. Did Arushi seriously like him?
Hassan rushed out the door of the classroom just as the bell rang. He had a decent feeling about the quiz he’d just taken (for once) and that in itself warranted a cookie as a celebration. Owen met him on the way to the lunch line, pushing his way through the crowd.
“Hey, did you see Jeremy’s pants? So hideous,” he said, snorting.
“I know right? Ugh, where do people even find these trashy clothes?” replied Hassan. Just at that moment, he saw Jeremy sneak past them, face bright red. He felt a sudden pinch of guilt, which he quickly dismissed. Guilt? Pfft. He was just hungry for that cookie.
He and Owen sat down at their usual table with the other popular kids. Shayan sat down by Jason, pointedly not looking at Hassan. Hassan shrugged, acting like he didn’t cared. He hadn’t spoken to Shayan in a few days now, but that didn’t really matter, did it?
He pretended not to notice as Shayan chatted with Jason, but in truth he listened with one ear. Jason was asking about how the English quiz had been, and Shayan replied eagerly, spilling all the details about what would be on the quiz. Hassan sighed. Couldn’t his cousin tell that Jason was just using him for answers? He tuned them out and continued his conversation with Owen about the new line of Vineyard Vines shirts.
“Dude, what’s your problem?” Shayan cornered Hassan at his locker before their last class.
Hassan avoided eye contact and tried to pretend that he hadn’t heard him. He gathered his books from his locker and shouldered past Shayan.
Shayan grabbed Hassan’s arm. “What are you doing?” Behind the strong façade, Hassan heard Shayan’s voice shake.
“Leave me alone, okay?” Hassan pulled his arm away roughly but Shayan didn’t give up.
“Why were you bullying Anaiya and her friends? And Jeremy, and Tommy, and everyone else who doesn’t meet your standards?” Shayan watched Hassan with big, pleading eyes that reminded him of the seals at the New Delhi Zoo.
Hassan looked away, his mouth going dry. Bullying? What was Shayan talking about? He suddenly thought back to Jeremy’s flushed red face, and the way the gamer kids had purposely walked the far route so they wouldn’t have to come near him. And then to Mr. Warner’s slip that he still hadn’t returned: Hassan was making rude and insensitive comments to another student. Our school has a very low tolerance for both racism and bullying.
Hassan hadn’t thought much of it at the time but now all he wanted to do was go hide in his room and play Clash Royale. What was wrong with him? He’d mocked and teased people for his whole life—Shayan included—so why was he now feeling sick to his stomach at the thought of what he’d said?
But instead of apologizing, he forced the feeling down. Jason and Owen wouldn’t apologize, he thought to himself. If he went and said he was sorry, there was no way they would still want to be friends with him. Maybe he would end up being friends with the gamer kids… wait, no, they also hated him now. And so he turned to Shayan with a stony face. “Shut up, okay? You’re not my mom.”
Shayan flinched visibly but he stood his ground. Hassan shot Shayan his best glare (learned from Fatima) and began to walk towards class.
Hassan’s shoulders were practically trembling, but he wasn’t sure why. Fear? No, it couldn’t be. Guilt? No, that was stupid. Anger? Yes, that had to be it. He was angry at Shayan for making unwarranted accusations at him. He straightened his back defensively. Before he could think too much, he interrupted, “Go die in a hole.”
There was silence, and Hassan kept walking, ignoring the bad feeling in his gut. “I’ll tell Sobi Khala and Taimoor Uncle about your detention tomorrow,” Shayan called after a moment, his voice shaking.
Hassan stopped in his tracks and turned around. “If you do, I’ll you’re your parents about Anaiya,” he snapped in response. Before waiting to hear a response, he stormed off to class.
That night, Abu and Ammi were at a party (it was a weekday, so Hassan and Fatima had to stay home). Hassan ate a bowl of desi ramen on the couch, wincing as he realized that he’d made it too salty. Fatima sat sprawled on the big armchair, watching the cheesy Bollywood movie that was playing on the TV. Hassan had begged his parents to get normal TV shows instead of streaming Indian TV, but of course they’d said no. He sighed, staring longingly at the iPad, already bored of the movie. He’d already seen it more times than he could count—even though Fatima insisted it was iconic, Hassan disagreed. He knew Anand and Tasnim would get back together (after all, every single desi movie ended the same way) so they really didn’t have to bother with pretending to fight.
Suddenly, Fatima’s phone chimed loudly. Hassan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He’d told his sister countless times just to turn Do Not Disturb on during movies, but of course she never did. Stupid.
He sighed and pulled out his own phone. Immediately he noticed the sixty-four text notifications, and, groaning, he clicked on iMessage. It was probably the group chat that Jason had added him to, Hassan thought. It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy, but receiving endless spam texts of gossip did get a little annoying. Okay, who was he kidding? It got really annoying.
But instead he opened iMessage to find sixty-four texts from Samia Khala and the rest of their family.
Beta do you know where Shayan is?
So that was where Shayan got his need to text with punctuation. He’d inherited it from Samia Khala. Hassan snorted. Why would he know where Shayan was? Probably having a sleepover at Tommy’s house, he thought to himself.
But wait… that was from over three hours ago. And the texts and calls were still flooding in.
“Hassan,” said Fatima sharply. “Did something happen today?”
He stared down at his hands, feeling like a wave of icy cold water had just hit him and woken him up from his stupor. He’d managed to forget about his fight with Shayan for a few hours, but it was still there in the back of his mind, nagging at him.
“I…” He wasn’t sure what to say.
Hassan do u know where Shayan is? Ammi and Abu had found out, too, and now they as well were texting him.
Beta do you know where Shayan might have gone?
Is Shayan with u right now?
Do u know where Shayan is????
He felt worry gnaw at him, no matter how hard he tried to suppress it. Anand and Tasnim were fighting now, in the movie. He watched as Anand pulled back his hand and slapped Tasnim in the face. The sound reverberated and Hassan resisted the urge to slam his hands over his ears. At last he couldn’t help it anymore and the words spilled out of him.