Kach opened here eyes to the overhead announcement. “We will be landing shortly. Please remain seated till the safety lights have been switched off.”
The air stewardess walked down the aisle, pausing only to ask a boy to put his seat upright, before making her way to the cabin at the back of the aircraft, presumably to buckle herself in as well.
Kach turned to look out the window at the welcoming nightlights of the city, and the tiny lurch as the plane’s rubber tires hit the runway was amplified in her own tummy, a surge of joy and something else at being home again, after four long years in a foreign land.
She thought of her friends from school, many of them working, some even married and on the family way. She wondered if Brownie would still remember her scent. She thought of her two nieces and nephew, wondering how much they would have grown since she had seen them last. Would they recognise their aunt? Her own brother and sister would have aged in so many ways she would never know. They would have had experiences that did not include their kid sister. Kach suppressed a sigh and retrieved her hand-carry luggage from the overhead compartment.
She could have gone through the immigration check blindfolded, she had done it so many times in the last eight years, since she had left home to get a degree overseas.
“The green lane is only for citizens, Miss,” the Customs’ officer on duty told her, eyeing her blonde streaks, green contact lenses and less than conventional attire.
Kach nodded and held up her red passport for him to see. “I know.” She smiled sweetly at the gawking official and breezed past him.
The luggage boys, luggage men really, had not changed much. They still stared too openly and when she returned their gaze, they would tell each other about her brazenness, thinking that she could not understand them.
She hoisted her 40 kilograms worth of luggage onto the trolley she had taken from the stand just a few minutes before and made her way to the information counter.
“Hi, may I leave my things here for just a moment, please?” she asked in her native tongue, and the receptionist tried to object but Kach cut her short. “Please, just five minutes. I’m travelling alone.” Not waiting for a reply, Kach made a bee’s line for the washroom and proceeded with her transformation.
The receptionist did a double take when Kach appeared. “Thank you,” Kach said to her, clad now in the traditional garb of the women of her country, eyes her usual brown. The receptionist looked a bit unsure when Kach reached for the bags. “Trust me, I am the same person," Kach told her soothingly and lifted her head-scarf slightly to show her the blonde streaks.
“Ah-haha, I’m sorry, but you look quite different from before.” The girl seemed actually embarrassed.
Kach winked at her and wheeled her bags away to the Arrival Hall where her brother waited with his wife and daughter. “Khadijah!” her brother yelled, beckoning her over.
Kach waved in their direction. As she embraced her sister-in-law in the traditional way with three pecks on the cheeks and exchanged the respectful greeting with her elder brother, she was all too aware of the wall between her and them.
She did not mean to live a dual life like she did. She had been taught well by her parents, but where she came from, people judged and labeled the people of her faith, and she had had to learn how to fit in and be accepted, for the sake of her husband and young one if nothing else. But now, back here, she would have to learn how to fit in with her own people all over again, and that got harder each time.
She could just tell her family here about how she was there. She had attempted it once, two yearsback but her sister’s scorn for people of her faith who had converted or hidden their identities after the wake of 9/11 had stopped her. She could tell them about her child and husband, but they would have never wanted to know, for her husband and child were of a different faith. But still she would try again this year. She had brought their photos again.
From afar she saw her parents. Kach smiled as she hurried towards them to kiss their hands and ask for their blessings. She had not forgotten her faith even though she never showed it abroad. Sometimes she wondered if she was hiding her faith from the two people she spent almost each day with, for her husband and child thought that she was a freethinker. None of them had seen her copy of the holy scriptures and the Quran, which she kept under the kitchen sink. Sometimes her own cowardice sickened herself.
As the Zohor prayer sounded from the nearby mosque, Kach bent her head in fervent prayer, asking for forgiveness for her deceit and a sign from above. When she opened her eyes, she found herself staring at her own reflection in the revolving exit doors.
“Umi, Abah, would you sit down for a minute?” she asked her elderly parents in her mother tongue. “I have something I need to tell you, something I should have told you five years ago.”
She could see her brother frowning, but his eyes were questioning and his manner open. She gave him a small smile and called him over with her right hand, her left hand already pulling out Nathaniel and Pierre’s photographs from her clutch purse.
* Hey all. No offence intended with the use of religions and all, but I am merely stating things as I see them. Just take it as a bit of reading, don’t focus on the little details too much. And no, I don’t know a Khadijah, Nathaniel and Pierre at all. They’re fictitious characters I made up to share a small part of my experience from living away from home.
Wow. A REAL disclaimer notice! Crap. Gotta start writing on lighter topics. Definitely :)
By the way, if you watch Hindi movies, you might want to watch ‘My Name is Khan’. It gets lots of mixed reviews but I liked it. It has a nice story: it’s about a Muslim boy who’s autistic and moves to America. The way it’s portrayed made me feel errm sebak dada… (heart-filling? That’s a bad translation :P)
Oh, and the church hymn had me humming to it for 3 days straight. Honestly :D