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Her Name Was Fatima MAG
Laura looked out her window at the empty, dilapidated buildings that made up her city. The hordes of homeless folk wandering the streets depressed her. Animals to populate this concrete jungle, she thought bitterly. Turning from the window, she switched on the radio. Perhaps she could find some solace in music.
“Those damn illegal immigrants …” Hate poured from the radio and filled the room. Laura listened dispassionately for a few minutes, twiddling with the tuning dial. Every station was the same. Soon, it became too much, and she turned it off, heading to the kitchen for a cup of decaf.
Three hours (and several coffee cups) later, Laura curled up on her couch and pressed the power on the TV remote. The newscaster's face took up the whole screen, spewing out phrases: “patriotism,” “insulting the president.” Something about how insulting the president was unpatriotic?
“Whatever happened to free speech?” Laura muttered wearily. Perhaps it was time to go to bed.
Her sleep was anything but peaceful that night. She tossed and turned, images flashing through her mind like comets through a midnight sky.
A young girl in a hijab, the Muslim headdress. Fatima. A lady, lying in a pool of blood, her last words: Fatima. Crushed by an overwhelming defeat, a humbled man bows his head before his daughter, ashamed. Fatima. A young man is torn from her embrace …
She sits upright, sweating, knowing she cannot fall asleep again. Night after night, the memories trouble her, and she is powerless to stop them. Powerless. Her whole life, she has been powerless. A young Muslim girl, they have taken everything from her – mother, father, lover, even her name is no longer hers.
“Laura,” she murmurs, calming down. “My name is Laura.” She lies back down, trying to fall asleep again.
Her name is Fatima.
Always, her mother told her, “Walk with pride. You are Muslim. You have every right to be.” And where did it land her? Harassed, assaulted, killed. Couldn't she have ignored the torments and walked on? Why did she always have to stand up for herself?
She lost her mother that day – and her hijab.
Her father, the politician, statesman, he called himself, tried so hard to enact that legislation for those homeless, abandoned workers. “Communist,” “Socialist,” “Terrorist,” they called him. And that was the end. He returned to his idealistic daughter in disgrace, unable to find the words to say to her. He knew they were going to come for him – the government. They already had labeled him a leftist. She found him hanging in his bedroom, his skin a mottled blue.
She lost her father that day – and any hopes she had for the future. That was the night the nightmares began.
They were to be married. They'd met on campus, and it seemed a match made in heaven. His name was Muhammad. He was sweet, funny too. He was handsome, if you ignored the scar on his neck from a childhood accident. He was a devoted older brother, regularly sending money to his sister in Afghanistan so she could find opportunity in America. Most importantly, he was as strong in his faith as she. It had kept her going through the deaths of both her parents. She relied on God – Allah – and now she felt that she had finally found the well-deserved reward for all her suffering. The nightmares, he made them go away. Mu-hammad was everything to her, and she was his life as well.
Did she really think it could last?
The fact that he took such good care of his loved ones was reassuring to her. The government, though, found it cause for concern. Muhammad, they said, was funding terrorist organizations. When he denied it, they layered on the accusations: lying under oath, obstruction of justice, trying to hide from them. What else could he do? An innocent young man, funding his sister's ambitions, had become a secret terrorist overnight. She was terrified for him.
She was at his house when they came knocking, tearing him from her embrace, informing her that he was going to Guantanamo Bay. The news had sent her world spinning. She knew that Muhammad would be lucky to come out in one piece, if he came out at all.
She lost her one true love that day – and her religion. And her name. In fact, she lost everything she hadn't lost already, even who she was.
That night, the nightmares returned. It was as if they had just taken a short, sweet vacation, and now they were back, as bad as ever.
Five in the morning. Laura makes a cup of coffee. There is a knock at the door. It's a government official. He wants to know if this is where Fatima lives. She doesn't know what to tell him, silently nodding. It's as though scenes in her life are being replayed. He presents accusations, saying that by hiding her name she has hidden her true nature as a Muslim. If she thinks she has something to hide, he said, then perhaps they need to take her in for questioning.
She goes. What else can she do?
As the daughter of a violent Muslim jihadist mother and a socialist father, and the fiancée of a terrorist (they don't tell her whether he is alive), they conclude that she has terrorist and/or socialist tendencies.
Shocked, she is unable to form words. She changed everything about herself so that this would not happen. She pleads with them to let her go. Finally, they do.
Her anger boils as hot as the cup of coffee she holds in her trembling hand. How can they get away with this? She has given up everything so that they will leave her alone – her parents, her love, her religion, her name, her life. Why?
Questions. They pile one on top of another, melding together like the now-caffeinated coffee she pours into her stomach. Two, three, four cups.
It's Sunday. Tomorrow, she will go to work at the bank. There she will keep up the charade she has maintained for almost 10 years now. Her light Afghani-American skin makes it easy for her to pass as white. She has chosen her friends carefully, picking only the most bland, superficial ladies to associate with. Her Christian name draws no suspicion. She follows it up with regular visits to church. She is complete. Right?
Her life is a hollow shell. She could take her life right now – who would mourn her? Would anyone understand why she did it? She is tempted, but shakes her head, freeing herself of the impulsive idea.
She slams her coffee cup down on the table, frustrated with her lack of answers. Laura tucks her hair behind her ear, annoyed at its tendency to fall into her face. A thought strikes her. Perhaps she has found the solution to her problems. Under her bed, she digs out a battered trunk. Taking a deep breath, she unlocks it. The thing she's looking for is tucked away in a corner, crushed between two photo albums. She puts it on, adjusts it, checks herself in the mirror. What will her colleagues think of her hijab?
“Morning … Laura?” The receptionist tries not to let her confusion creep into her voice. Fatima, treating her to a dazzling smile, informs her that Laura is no more; Fatima has taken over.
It is the same everywhere. Outwardly, Fatima seems to draw confidence from her hijab. In reality, she shrinks a little every time she receives a strange glance or hears a whispered remark. Several times during the day she wants to break down and cry at her desk; repressing these emotions, she strengthens her resolve and faces the world head-on.
What she doesn't know is that the government has not stopped watching her. They tap phones now and check e-mails – all in the name of homeland security. They come in during her lunch hour, while she is out, capitalizing on the shock of the receptionist. She tells them all about the new Laura, who calls herself Fatima. She wears one of those ugly head-things and seems to delight in terrorizing and intimidating her colleagues.
This is more than enough for the officials. They find her at home. She is preparing a nice, strong cup of black coffee, and the sudden knock on the door makes her jump so violently that she slops half the cup down her side. Drenched in coffee, Fatima opens the door. Her face turns white. She has nothing to say while they read off the list of accusations (now including lying to the government and using her religion to terrorize her colleagues). Nothing to say as they drive her to the holding center. Finally, getting out of the car, she opens her pursed lips enough to ask them where she is going. They tell her: Guantanamo Bay. The tears won't stop now. Pouring down like the coffee that she used to pour down her throat.
Several days later, Fatima finds herself entering the cursed, hated building between two guards. She hears a man moaning. As they march her down the corridor, she catches a glimpse of him: battered and bruised, long shaggy black hair, a thin scar on his neck. He is yelling now, shouting for someone. The guards surrounding him beat him until he is silenced. His eyes catch hers for a nanosecond. He throws them upward, mouthing one word over and over again: Fatima.