It was narrated from Ibn Abbas that the Messenger of Allah said: “There is nothing like marriage, for two who love one another.”
Fatima found an empty seat on a bench facing the open field. It was at this exact location where college boys, fueled on testosterone and budget worthy junk food, ran amuck catching frisbees. They were like dogs, she thought. Energetic, sweaty, dogs. If she tilted her head just right, she could see past the grass stains splotching their knee-high socks and decipher the code of sexual attraction created by their aesthetic features.
As her head ran through calculations, a boy broke her concentration by flashing a smile at her. The poor soul had the nerve to smile at Fatima Said.
He suffered the inevitable repercussions of his folly when a frisbee spun his way, crashed into his crown of pretty locks, and spawned a nasty welt on his forehead.
Fatima grinned as the boy’s hand flew to his welt and rubbed the sore spot which only increased its rapid growth. He appeared to be in pain, telling from his puffed cheeks and the swollen muscles bulging from his shoulder blades as he tried his best to hide his agitation. His teammates crowded around him, pestering him with questions of concern, when he laughed off his pain as a design of well-being.
“God, Fatima. You really are a magnet for disaster.”
The voice was followed by the sound of rolling wheels grinding against gravel. A girl rolled herself in a comfortable spot next to the bench and pulled a lever to park her wheelchair. That girl was no other than Grace O’Broder, the only girl brave enough to have Fatima Said as her best friend.
Grace can easily fool anyone with her angelic appearance. She had golden blonde hair that shone in the sun and framed her face in just the right areas to soften any harsh angles. Her cherubim lips were credited with producing melodious laughter. And her lightly freckled nose always scrunched up in such an endearing manner when she found something amusing. She seemed so innocent, so childlike, so pure that when it was discovered that Grace could drink her own worth in body weight and fuck like jackrabbit, it never ceased to break people’s minds.
It was Grace’s sunny disposition that was strong enough to balance out Fatima’s darkness. And the fact that she was no stranger to vice or harsh candor made it possible for the two to foster a strange yet complimentary friendship.
“Grace,” Fatima said with a note of pleasant surprise. “How did you find me?”
“It’s simple. I spotted two girls sobbing their eyes out and figured you had to be near. You habitually leave behind a trail of tears.”
Grace reached around her wheelchair to grab her bag. Rummaging inside, she fished out a pack of oreo cookies and handed it to Fatima.
“Oreo thins. Your favorite.”
Fatima snatched the bag and peeled back the film. She dove her nose straight into the packet and sniffed deeply, inhaling the sickening sweet scent of chocolate and other artificial flavors that were sure to make her feel sick. She sighed in ecstasy.
“Grace? I love you.”
“I know you do.”
Grace reached over to take the oreos away, but Fatima guarded the cookies like a dragon guarding its treasure. When Fatima huffed, Grace could have sworn she saw smoke come from her nose.
“Fatima, babe. Don’t sniff the cookies like that. People are going to think you’re snorting crack.”
Faima inhaled the cookies again, huffing so hard that her eyes rolled back in her head. Grace couldn’t help but laugh at her unusual friend. Her laughter, although warm and ethereal, was also short and prompt. When all humor died, she stared at her friend with a loving gaze and felt her heart swell with affection.
“You’re here to nag me, aren’t you?” Fatima’s words were sweetened with the sugary aroma of oreo cookies. She knew Grace too well. Grace only ever brought food as a buffer, a consolation for confrontation. Still, she loved Grace nonetheless.
Grace nodded. “Fatima, Morgana’s my cousin. I’m not really close with her, but my family is. If they find out what happened, I’m scared that they’ll forbid me from seeing you.”
“Are they still angry about what happened last time?” Fatima asked.
Grace gave her a look worth a hundred words which confirmed Fatima’s suspicions.
“If it wasn’t for me, your mother wouldn’t have found out about your father’s affair. They should have thanked me. I think I saved their marriage.”
“Fatima, I’m serious.” Grace pleaded. “You gotta stop looking into people’s souls like that. It’s creepy and a serious invasion of privacy.”
Fatima rolled her eyes before turning a cookie over in her hands. She inspected it and admired its uniform perfection before smelling it.
“First of all, I don’t look into people’s souls, okay? I’m just good at reading people. It’s not my fault that people are simple pathetic creatures who wear their guilt on their sleeves.” Her tone lacked any air of concern. She cared about Grace, but she could not give a damn about her family even if she tried. She bit into a cookie and savored its chocolatey flavor.
“Besides, what’s the worst they can do? Kick you out? You’re already dorming here.”
“Worse.” Grace clutched her backpack into her chest. “They’ll stop paying for my tuition. I love you Fatima, but my education matters too. U.C.B is my dream school. I worked really hard to get here and I’m only two years away from applying to med school.”
“So what do you want me to do? Apologize?” Fatima scoffed. The idea was so far-fetched, so convoluted, that she could not even begin to imagine it let alone perceive the idea of its possibility. “Apologize for doing what exactly? For asking her about her beliefs? It’s not my fault that she was born without a spine.”
“Fatima.” Grace’s tone turned ominously grave. It was a warning to be heeded, and Fatima acknowledged the danger. She realigned herself on the basis of respect she had for her friend.
“Opinions exist to be challenged. If people choose to put their opinions on display for everyone to see, they shouldn’t be suss when someone else wants to take a closer look. Or worse? Criticize. The world is cruel, Grace. All I did was hand her a mirror.”
Grace processed Fatima’s truth in silence. Fatima continued.
“Furthermore, you know me. I never read people wrong. Morgana’s always been the one to follow others blindly. She’s inconsistent. She switches sides––” Fatima snapped her fingers to prove her point. “––just like that. I only showed her that she doesn’t know herself well. She wasn’t afraid of me but rather her own weakness of character.”
Fatima removed herself from the bench and fell onto both knees. She kneeled in front of Grace and took her hands in hers, kissing her white knuckles, and pressed them close to her face. Fatima’s cheeks were warm to the touch, not at all like the frightening cold-blooded gorgon other people made her out to be.
“Lastly, I would never make you choose between me and your dreams. Always put yourself first. Don’t worry about me.”
“You mean too much to me.” Grace said, gripping Fatima’s hand. “I can’t lose you.”
“But I can’t force myself to change for you.”
Fatima pulsed Grace’s hand one last time before rising to her feet. Across the open field, she spotted a tiny silhouette running in their direction. As the figure came closer, his identity became apparent when Fatima recognized the peculiar arrangement of the flower bouquet in his hands.
Peonies for love and prosperity.
Stock for beauty and happiness.
A rose for passion.
Fatima rolled her eyes and turned her friend’s wheelchair around. The sight of her lover set her heart aflame, and she immediately began rolling her chair towards his way. Fatima feared that Grace would accidentally run him over with her wheelchair, which would result in a comedic albeit tragic accident. But her fears were quelled when Grace braked her chair to a halting stop before stretching her arms, ready for her lover to scoop her off her seat.
Joshua Gomez was a sophomore at UCB, Grace’s boyfriend of two years, and also happened to be the only boy Fatima could tolerate. He worked part-time with his father on construction and was majoring in civil engineering.
After taking Grace into her arms and swinging her around a couple of circles, he gently placed her back in her chair. Grace leaned in to kiss him, only to notice a swollen welt on his head.
“Babe! What happened?”
Grace searched the rest of his face for additional injuries and would have peeled back his sweat-soaked t-shirt had it not been for Joshua’s calming reassurance that he was okay.
“I’m fine Mi Amor. I just hurt myself while playing frisbee with my friends. Fatima could tell you that it was nothing. She saw it happen.”
Grace glanced back over her shoulder at Fatima sitting on the bench and scolded her. “You saw Joshua get hit and didn’t help him?”
“What? You heard him. He says he’s fine.” Fatima shrugged as she popped another cookie into her mouth before summoning all the self-discipline she could conjure. She needed to put the pack away before she finished the entire thing. Binge eating an entire pack of oreos brought back terrible memories of the person she used to be, the person she tried so hard to erase from history.
“Fatima!” Grace shrieked.
Joshua bent down on both knees to nuzzle his nose against her hair. He inhaled her scent and held his breath to keep as much of it inside him as possible. He loved her, the smell of her, and just about everything about her. Sometimes he despaired about the parts of her couldn’t hold (her heart and her soul). To Josh, Grace was his oreos. She was his everything.
“It’s fine, Grace. Just seeing you eases my pain.”
Fatima sprung from the bench and began leaving towards the school gym. The oreos weren’t sitting right in her stomach, and she figured that working out seemed much more entertaining than watching Grace and Joshua declare their undying love for each other.
“Fatima! Are you leaving already?”
“I’m leaving so you guys could make out in peace.” Fatima said without looking back.
Grace could only shake her head. “You know, one day you’re going to find someone who makes you feel more special than a pack of oreos.”
Grace’s optimistic thinking stopped Fatima in her tracks. With her back turned against her friend, she grimaced at the insulting thought.
I’d like to see Fate try.
Little did Fatima know that Fate had a knack for competition.
Fate said, ‘bring it on’.
Fatima was in for a surprise of a lifetime.