“What time do you want me home?” I call down the hallway as I slip on some shoes.
“Not too late, beti. Home by 11,” comes my mother’s reply.
I walk down the hallway, my heels silenced by the carpet until they hit the tiles in the kitchen. I nod at my Mama before giving her a kiss on the cheek and trying to ignore her as she looks me up and down to see if my outfit is appropriate or not. My Dad sits at the kitchen table and points to his cheek and I give a small laugh before leaning down and dotting a kiss on it.
“Be good, beti,” he tells me, fondly.
“I will, Baba.”
Grabbing my bag, I walk out of the house, closing the door shut behind me. I might be 24 but I still live at home with my parents and follow their rules. I don’t mind that much. I love them dearly and as their only child, I’ve always done everything in my power to make them proud. Mama and Baba immigrated to the country from Bangladesh when they were a little younger than I am. I’ll forever be grateful that they decided to set themselves up here because it’s given me opportunities I wouldn’t have been afforded back at home.
For example, I was allowed an education with no one batting an eyelid whereas it would have been more difficult back at home. So, because I was allowed that privilege, I kept my head down and worked hard. When I got into college on a scholarship my Dad cried his eyes out and I worked hard there as well.
They don’t expect a whole lot from me. The main rule I have to follow is no boys before marriage. My family, my community, have pretty much gone through arranged marriages for generations. It’s not forced like people think but arranged. Like Tinder, I get to say yes or no and meet the guy before we decide if we should get married.
I’ve followed this rule... sort of. I’ve shared the odd kiss with a boy at a party and had one short lived relationship in my final year of high school. For the most part, I’ve kept away from temptation not really wanting to take the risk.
Parked up on my street in a deep green Mini Cooper that belongs to my best friend, Blair. As I get into the passenger seat, she turns down the music and flashes me a grin.
“What’s the curfew tonight, Cinders?” she asks.
I blush at the nickname. Blair and I met during college and she quickly grew accustomed to my life, but Blair is also responsible for me coming out of my shell a little more. She’s my opposite in every way: short, loud, vocally opinionated. My parents, mainly my mother, are not that fond of her but I adore her for having the courage to do the things that I can’t.
“Eleven,” I answer her question.
“That’s not so bad.”
She starts up the car and sets off for her big brother’s new house. Campbell recently moved back after spending two years away in Switzerland and the first thing on his agenda was to buy a house. Now that he’s accomplished that goal, Bell is ready to show it off.
As Blair pulls up outside a house my eyes widen. There are people all over the front yard and the music pulses through the air.
“I thought you said it was a few people,” I turn my head to look at Blair.
“I guess a few invited a few more,” she says with an easy shrug before getting out of the car.
I find myself getting a little nervous. I told my parents I would be at a small housewarming, but this is a full blow party that I’m about to walk into. Blair stands on the sidewalk waiting for me in her short skirt and crop top. I feel slightly out of place next to her in my black pants and silk shirt but it’s a feeling I’m used to.
Blair pushes open the door to the house and the music hits us harder now there is no barrier. It reminds me of the college parties that Blair managed to drag me to once or twice, wild and loud and I find myself sticking close to Blair as she navigates her way through the crowd. There are a lot of bodies here making the air hot and sticky and the sour smell of alcohol and sweat hangs in the air.
“Sis!” a deep voice manages to be heard over the music.
“Bell!” Blair shouts back.
Campbell sweeps his sister into a hug and I stand there smiling. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a sibling but the closest thing I have are cousins and we have a strained relationship.
My eyes dart around the room and catch the eyes of a guy who is looking in my direction. I feel myself flush and look away quickly.
I look up again when Campbell greets me, “And my favourite adopted sis!”
He lets go of Blair and pulls me into a tight hug. Bell quickly became part of my life when Blair did. He’s practically a brother to me but can be more trouble than Blair if you give him half the chance. I’ve missed him deeply whilst he’s been away.
“Are you going to introduce us, Bell?” Another voice joins us.
Bell lets go of me and the man I locked eyes with a few moments ago has made his way over to us. He’s heavily tattooed all down his arms, right down to his fingers and I can see ink creep out from under the neck of his shirt and up his throat. His hair is coiled into a bun on the crown of his head and he’s carrying a bottle of beer in one hand.
“Hux!” Bell greets him. “You know Blair, and this is our friend, Shaz.”
Hux leans in and kisses Blair on the cheek, “How are you doing, half pint?”
“Fuck you, ape man,” she replies.
He lets out a deep laugh before turning his attention to me, “Shaz, right?”
“Yeah,” I tell him. “Shazia but I prefer Shaz.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you,” he says. Hux leans in and kisses my cheek, beard scratching against my skin and I can feel the heat rising. I don’t usually let men I don’t know do this, but I also don’t want to be awkward.
“Um, I’m going to grab a drink. Blair, do you want anything?” I ask once Hux has straightened up.
“No, I’m good thanks,” she tells me. “Don’t be long.”
I give her a small smile and start to wind my way through people to get into the kitchen for a glass of water. From behind me, I can hear the trio continue their conversation.
I have never done well in big crowds. I prefer to blend in than stand out and so far, it’s served me well in life. The kitchen is a little emptier than the rest of the house and I bask in the coolness of the room as someone has left the back door open whilst they smoke.
Bell’s managed to unpack and put everything in its place, which has probably more to do with his mother than him. I laugh at the thought as I spy glasses in the cabinets above the counter. Even in my heels, it’s a stretch to reach them.
I feel someone behind me, and a hand reaches out to grab the glass that’s just out of my reach. I turn around to see Hux standing a little too close and he holds the glass out to me.
“There you go,” he says.
“Thank you.” I take the glass from his hand and tuck some hair behind my ear. Squeezing out of the small space Hux created between the counter and his body, I take a jug of water out of the fridge and pour a glass.
Hux leans forward on the counter watching me. “Passing up on the free bar?
I return the jug to the fridge and then turn to look at him before I answer, “I don’t drink.”
“Oh, right,” he says with a shrug. “Diet thing? Skincare thing?”
He straightens up and takes a swig from the bottle in his hand. People make assumptions about strangers all the time, but I’m surprised he hasn’t made, what I would consider, the most obvious leap. Most people only have to look at my skin tone before they decide what I am.
“Pregnant?” Hux gives another reason as to why I might not have alcohol as my beverage of choice.
I laugh at that one and shake my head. “Religious thing,” I tell him.
“What would that be then?” He looks interested in my answer.
“Um,” I hesitate. I don’t make a habit of discussing religion because it’s a sensitive topic and I’m never sure how people will react. “I’m a Muslim.” I look down into my glass, bracing myself for any negative comment that might come my way.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying but you’re not wearing the...”
When I look up, Hux is drawing a circle around his head with his index finger and I can’t help but roll my eyes.
“We don’t all wear a hijab,” I tell him. “I’m not super strict or anything.”
Picking the glass up off the counter, I turn away ready to find Blair again. I can make it through the night if I spend it with her.
“Hey,” Hux’s voice follows me out of the kitchen and before long he’s next to me. “I didn’t mean to offend you or anything. I just, I don’t know any Muslims.”
I let out a sigh. “It’s fine. Sorry. I just don’t like talking about it much since people have their own ideas about us.”
Those ideas are usually associated with horrific acts of terrorism and I have had countless conversations trying to explain why that isn’t reflective of Islam. I’ve stopped putting the effort in these days and avoid the conversations all together if I can.
Hux rubs the back of his neck with his free hand. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
The defensive barrier that I threw up quickly when he gestured about the hijab slowly disappears. “No. I know you didn’t. It’s fine.” He was just asking a question but I assumed the worst.
“Shaz!” Blair calls out my name when she sees me. “Thought you were digging a well with how long it took you to grab that water.
“Sorry,” I say, heat rising in my cheeks. “I got talking.”
“Nate just got here,” she tells me.
“Where is he?”
Blair points over to the corner of the room where our friend and my colleague is standing. A smile breaks out on my face at seeing someone familiar. “Great!” I turn my head towards Hux so as not to be rude. “It was nice meeting you.”
I give him a nod before I walk towards Nate who flashes me a grin.
The clock in the hallway reads 10:55 when I close the front door behind me.
“Beti, is that you?”
I jump out of the skin at the sound of my mother’s voice as she appears at the top of the stairs.
“I’m glad you’re home. I was getting worried.”
“No need to worry, Mama. I’m here.”
A small anxious knot forms in the pit of my stomach. I love my parents, but my mother has always had a wicked temper and more than once when I was younger I have felt the wrath of it. She has mellowed out a lot as she got older but every now and then I feel like a child again when I come home late or miss a phone call.
“I feel better now,” she tells me from the stairs. “I’m going back to bed. Make sure you’re not up late.”
I nod at her before she disappears from sight. I sigh quietly, slipping off my shoes and walking up the stairs to change into pyjamas. The makeup is washed from my face and my hair is piled into a bun when my phone screen lights up alerting me to a notification.
I squint and read that it’s from Instagram. After patting my face dry and applying moisturiser I pick up my phone and drop down on the bed. Blair has tagged me in some photos, and I smile to myself. Social media is a semi safe space for me. My parents aren’t on any of the platforms and my cousins and I don’t add each other. All of my security settings are tight so only the people I want can see into my life. A small slice of freedom.
I scroll through my feed of friends, work colleagues and models. The light of the screen illuminates a small patch of my otherwise dark room. The clock ticks through past midnight and I yawn, ready to call it a night when another notification appears as a banner across the top of my screen.
Hux_Att has sent a follow request.
Hux? As in Hux from the party?
I bite gently at my bottom lip before I click his name to view his profile. I scroll carefully through, looking at his pictures. Hux is definitely not the type of person that I would usually hang around with. Definitely not the type of person my parents would ever want me to be associated with.
His grid is littered with photographs of him and his tattoos, the man is covered in them and I wonder if there’s any part of him, apart from his face, that hasn’t been touched by ink. Pictures of him and his friends. The further back I scroll the less tattooed he is and there’s a woman that’s with him. Soon enough I stumble onto wedding photos.
I click on it so that I can inspect it closer. The woman looks beautiful in her white wedding dress, the sleeves of ink contrasting wildly against the material. Hux looks good in a suit and they are both laughing in the candid shot.
For a moment I find myself wondering what it would be like to have someone that makes you so happy. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll be that overjoyed on my own wedding day when I marry someone I barely know. I start to feel nervous at the thought and lock my phone before stuffing it under my pillow.
I can’t think about this right now because all it does is give me anxiety and I don’t want to lie awake all night. I take some deep breaths and try to think of something more calming before I eventually fall asleep.