“Oh my gosh, is she seriously wearing that?”
“Oh, I know, it's like she hardly respects her body at all!”
“Can the dress get any tighter?” I lower my head in shame. As I walk past Mo’s female relatives, I pretend not to notice the way they stare at me and judge me. But I can't help thinking about it, and I can definitely always hear them.
“Mo,” I whispered, “Your relatives are judging me again.” I tried not to show how much it bothered me, but it did. Ever since Mo and I had gotten engaged, the big debate had been about what we were going to do about the fact that I’m Catholic, and he is a Muslim.
“I really think it’s best for you to convert to Islam before we get married,” he had suggested when I brought up the problem months ago.
“I love you, Mo, but I really can't give up the religion I was born and raised into. My parents sent me to Catholic schools, I went to church every Sunday, its part of who I am.” Religion has been a huge part of my life and my family. I can't give it up and convert to Islam all of a sudden. It would be like giving up a huge part of what makes me, me.
“I thought maybe just for today at our engagement party they wouldn't be bothering me like this,” I told him. We looked into our house full of people, his family and my family all together. It gave me heartache to see that for the most part, his family stuck to themselves and my family didn't try to associate with them.
“Awe, they like you Annie, they're just not used to the way you dress and the way you act. Why don't you go and try to talk to them?” I shook my head. They definitely do not like me. The first memory I have of meeting Mo’s mom and sisters and aunts had not been a very good one.
“Oh, look at her hair,” they giggled and tugged at it, “It's so yellow!”
“Don't worry Annie, we think your hair is very pretty,” his youngest sister, Abia said.
“It's just so different,” remarked one of his aunts. Yes, different. I knew right at that moment that no matter how much I changed, I’d always be an outcast in his family. They would never accept me. The men mostly stayed away, but the women sneered, and taunted.
“Why do you not wear a headdress?” his mom inquired. She was always serious, and glared at me through small glasses no matter what I did.
“I haven't converted to Islam,” I explained to her. She raised her eyebrow and made a “humph!” sound.
“Look at us,” she gestured towards her sisters and daughters, “we all cover up and wear headdresses. And you…” she looked me up and down while making a disgusted face, “you are showing more skin than you know what to do with, my dear.” It was true that they were all covered. You could see their faces, but not their hair, necks, or legs. My long black dress-although very elegant and respectable-seemed quite scandalous compared to their outfit choices.
“And how are you going to raise your children properly, if you don't convert to Islam? What religion shall they practice?” she questioned, “Certainly not Catholic. That will not do. You better come up with a solution, or I will not be very happy with you marrying my son.” I had been so angry that day, I had gone home and cried after a long night of pondering how I could make my relationship with Mo work. His mother hated me. But I didn't want to give up Christianity. That meant no more Church, no more Easter, Chirstmas, or The Bible. I would have to start a new life. I wasn't prepared to pray five times a day, or fast, or wear headdresses and cover up constantly. Since I had gotten together with Mo, I had subconsciously began wearing more and more. My friends judged me.
“You never show skin anymore!” they would say.
“Yeah, you dress so conservatively now! What happened?” I couldn't fit in with the Muslims, but now I couldn't fit in with white people either. I was stuck in between.
“Annie?” Mo’s voice broke me out of my reverie, “what are we going to do if this continues to be a problem? You clearly don't feel comfortable around my family, and they obviously disapprove of the fact that you wont convert. I know I can't convince you to, but you really wont consider it?” I shook my head.
“Mo, I can't…” I stared glumly at the ground.
“Hey,” he nudged me gently and wrapped his arms around me, “we’ll figure something out. Maybe we can raise our children to be Muslim, but you wouldn't have to convert? You could still go to Church, and we could all go spend Christmas Eve at your moms. That way it'll appease my mom's mind, but you can still practice catholicism.” I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
“That would work?” I asked, full of hope. I looked at his mother, and my spirit sunk yet again. “What about my clothes? Your family will never like them.”
“Your clothes?” he laughed, “that's a silly thing to worry about. They'll get used to it eventually. Even Abia has started putting her hair up in two braids, every morning, just like you. You don't notice through the headdress though.”
“Really?” I asked in disbelief. Mo was right, I couldn't notice because it was always covered. I glanced quickly at Abia, and she smiled at me warmly. Maybe he was right. I might not have to fit in completely with his family, but eventually they would warm up and accept me. I snuggled up closer to him.
“I love you,” I whispered.
“I love you too,” he replied, and kissed me softly on top of my head. I smiled and felt comforted by the fact that no matter what, I’d always have a place to fit in as long as I was loved.