Layla wiped the glass tabletop with a napkin before setting her teapot on it. She pulled more napkins from the Bevnap and wiped the seat. Unhappy with this, she took a section of newspaper and folded it on the seat. Then she sat down because the big, red-faced guy at the next table had noticed her.
He noticed her cleanliness, her manicure, her darker skin, her high, round bottom, her tight black curls, and her eyes, which radiated distress—her otherness. It made her uncomfortable that she had caused him to notice her.
An old voice, teacher-in-her-head, “Muslim women do not draw attention to themselves.” It seemed perverse to Layla that merely being a Muslim in Palms, California drew unwanted attention from a white guy little removed from his own immigrant roots. His cheap shoes aren’t shined. His shirt is wrinkled and that pot gut.
“Layla, sweetie,” said an ebullient brunette who approached and kissed Layla’s cheek. Both women were dressed in snappy casual with designer shoes. The energy changed with words between friends and the blank spaces between words.
They talked over tea as the red-faced man glared at them, then turned away. He gave his newspaper a snap. The women’s words, a succubus, drifted into Red’s tufted ears.
“I want Fatima to come with me on Hajj, but she can only think of boys,” said Layla.
“Teenagers are meant to torment us,” said the brunette.
“I don’t want to go. Saudi Arabia’s full of Sunnis, but Hajj is required, right?”
“Take Zakariyya, you won’t have to worry about driving.”
“He’s afraid they’ll cut off his head or throw him off the roof of the hotel.”
The brunette touched Layla’s hand. “I didn’t mean that. Our children are a blessing, not a torture.”
Layla faced a choice between tradition and the new world. What to keep for my children, what to leave behind?
The man had grown florid as his neck pushed heat into his hairline. He stood to leave with fire in his eyes, threw his paper onto the table, and kicked his wrought iron chair.
“Ignorant superstitious camel jockeys, if you don’t like America then get out! Go back to where you came from.”
“Fresno?” said Layla.
He spat and lunged toward the door. His unbalanced rage, like his gut hanging over his belt, proved too much for his thin legs to support. His shins contacted the iron chair, and for a moment, he looked like a penitent kneeling on a prie-dieu then flailed into thin air.
Inertia loves the top heavy, that moment when gravity face-plants hubris into the cold reality of a terrazzo floor.
The two women sidled toward the door.
“Mercy,” said the brunette.
“Good heavens.” said Layla.
As they reached the sidewalk, their pace quickened to a dead run even though Muslim women do not like to draw attention to themselves.
Mr. Chism lives on the west coast of Florida and writes short stories. He imagines a world where women are equal partners in creating a just society.