My scene for Leila Aboulela's 'Minaret' novel.


I studied a module at uni in my third year (Semester 1: 2012) called 'Harem and Hijab'. It explores ideas of Muslim (female) identity in literature dating from the 1800s to present day, in relation to culture, orientalism, polygamy, sexualisation of harems, faith, education, romance, and politics. Thanks to Dr. Corrine Fowler who was a great tutor :)

This creative piece was written entirely by yours truly for this module, but is intended to be a 'scene' in Leila Aboulela's 'Minaret' (2006).  
('Tis a wonderful book, please read it!)


Context: Najwa is an educated lady from Sudan, but is working as a maid for Tamer, a student in London who shares his flat with his mum and sister.
Minaret scene. Enjoy!

The table is laid out with bakhlawa[1]  and biscuits. Some sprinkled with edible glitter. Some drizzled with chocolate. The different shapes and colours are perfect for a festive occasion. Crescent moons and small stars.

‘No, Mai.’ I whisper. She’s crawling toward the table, her chubby hands grabbing for the napkins. She has seen me moving back and forth between the kitchen and the table and she is curious.
Tamer is here. I can hear his footsteps in the corridor.

‘As-salaamu alaikum.’ I flush at the softness of his voice. He realises Lamya and Doctora Zeinab are not here. It is only me and him. I face toward the door to acknowledge his Salaam. His curly brown hair is ruffled by the wind, I notice that he’s started to grow a beard. It suits him. It’s not too bushy like some of the old men I see on Edgeware Road. His beard frames his face in an angular way. Handsome. I pat away the flour stuck to my scarf  from the pancakes I have been making and adjust my viscose scarf.

I can smell his Lacoste perfume. He is standing next to me as I chop herbs for dinner. I take care not to look at this reflection in the metal toaster. He stands next to me day after day: our precious moments of unspoken desires, undisturbed by his mum or sister.

‘Looks good’ he says, as he lifts a lid and peers inside the pan. The smell of tomatoes wafts through the air.
 ‘I’ve bought some halal chicken for you, from Harrow Road.’
‘Oh. Thanks.’ He is surprised, but doesn’t want to sound ungrateful. ‘But Lamya should buy that, not you.’ The whirring sound of the washing machine drones on and on.
‘It is Eid, and where is she? Out shopping with her friends and drinking wine, thinking she is so fashionable and modern,’ he says.

He is irritated because it is Eid-ul-Adha[2], but Lamya is absent. I notice the childlike way he is flaring his nose. As if I need reminding how young he is. How naive. I would have thought that she would have been at the flat today, at least for Mai’s sake. He holds my gaze for a moment too long, searching for something, and then turns to Mai. She is tugging at his jeans and laughing. She softens his mood and he tickles her. I watch them, amused.

The days in Sudan are a far-off memory, like looking through the lens of a dirty camera. I can’t clean away the grime and the dust. These are my fresh clean moments. His sparkling eyes are a flickering guide. A mountain of hope. We are climbing together; soon we will reach the top and watch the sunrise.

‘Najwa.’ Tamer wakes me from my thoughts. ‘Eid Mubarak’.
‘Eid Mubarak’ I reply with a shy smile.

We catch the underground tube; Tamer wants to buy Mai an Eid present. After Mai and I are in safely, he sits down. Tamer notices a lady eyeing his satchel. A wire is hanging out and I realise what she must be thinking. A young Muslim man. The beard. The cream thawb.[3] The image recurrent on the front pages of newspapers. How can one man mean different things to different people? The realisation dawns on him and he pulls at the wire.

‘I have an inspiring nasheed[4] on here,’ he says, as he takes out his mp3 player. He empties his satchel and Mai’s Fruit Shoot and The Very Hungry Catterpillar fall out, along with an old university leaflet for a ‘Charity Week’[5] event.  ‘Listen carefully to the words.’

The lady sniffs and returns to an article in The Guardian. He rolls his eyes at me and I suppress a giggle.
Regent Street is crammed with people walking this way and that. Running toward an office, strolling into Zara. Ladies with black tailored coats and shiny high-heels. The smoky smell of coffee beans lingers in the air.

We walk into Hamley’s and Tamer sets her free. She squeals with laughter as she runs toward a machine, trying to catch the bubbles in her fat fists. We follow behind her, and an embarrassing silence fills the space. Unspoken words. Forbidden thoughts. I fiddle with the strap on my handbag and our eyes meet. He’s been looking at me too.

‘What?’ he asks with a smile. He looks at his feet and then at me; he is embarrassed. My mind is crashing and rippling and intertwining with thoughts. This is what it must feel like. To take a child to a toyshop and be left alone with a husband; to talk and joke. God is Ar-Raheem, the Merciful. Maybe he will be Merciful to us as well.

Our footsteps tread the carpet, nervous laughter rising between us, warm and pleasant.
‘No, nothing.’ I shrug.

[1] A pastry made of layered filo-pastry and filled with chopped nuts. It is sweetened with honey and sugar syrup.

[2] The Greater Eid and the 10th day of the last month in the Islamic calendar.

[3] A thawb is an ankle-length garment worn by Muslim males. It is made from cotton or polyester and comes in sophisticated colours such as cream, white, black and navy blue.

[4] Islamic vocal music

[5] Charity Week is an annual fund-raising event held in October by Islamic Societies at Universities across the United Kingdom to raise money for orphans and needy children. Popular activities include bike-marathons, bungee-jumping and sponsored mountain-climbing.  

Leila Aboulela


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