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Beneath the Veil
Beneath the Veil
There I was, same as any other day, sitting at the empty table in the back corner of the lunch room with no other classmate sitting anywhere close. I sat, eating slowing with my head down, and all I could hear was the laughter of all the other kids in my class.
I have always wondered why am I different? I play football and like looking at girls like all the other guys do! The only thing that sets all my other classmates apart from me is my smooth, dark completion. Last year, my 8th grade year in school, I moved to this small, quiet, all-white town called Elf, Wisconsin. My momma wanted to give me a good education she would always say! I would rather go back to the name-calling on the streets of my hometown in Mississippi than being the “odd one out” at this school. At least I had friends back at home. I do have two fellas who talk to me occasionally: Marcus and Brody.
Marcus, who surprisingly has talked to me a lot lately, is considered the nerd at the school. He is very smart and friendly, but he is also soft-spoken like me. I never used to be like that. Back in Mississippi I was just like Brody, outgoing and very funny. The only reason Brody started talking to me is because he needed another player for football one day, and I scored the winning touchdown. From that day on, he told the other kids who had always picked on me to stop because I was one of his “bros”. I didn’t know whether to take being called a “bro” as a compliment or an insult. I decided that being called a “bro” by the popular Brody is better than not being talked to at all. That was how it was last year, so I guess I’m making progress.
I’ve only had four “good days” at school: end of first quarter, end of first semester, end of third quarter, and last day of school (which was my favorite). On my first “good day” of the year, my teacher, Miss White, whose name fits the school perfectly, announced that Monday we would be having a new student. “Now, boys and girls, Isera is just moving here from Afghanistan. She wears a veil that covers her face. Don’t ask me why, but she does. I want you all to try to be nice and to welcome her to our classroom.”
Huh, I wonder if she told the students something like that before I came. If she did, they obviously didn’t listen to her. My all-white classmates were far, far from welcoming. I’ve had to deal with racist comments, food thrown at me, money stolen, and guys hitting me. The biggest bully of the school was Butch. He was 16, two years older than the rest of us because he flunked twice in the third grade.
In a sick way, I actually felt better about the new girl coming. I thought, “Maybe when this Isera girl comes, I won’t be the different one anymore! Maybe for the first time since I have moved here, I will be like all the other kids . . . popular.”
When Monday rolled around, I felt different . . . I felt excited! I walked into the classroom, and there she was, sitting in my normal spot in the back of the room. The rest of the kids were all towards the front, turned around staring and laughing until Miss White entered the room. I took a seat next to her, and as she looked up at me with a soft, sweet smile, I saw a pair of big, beautiful, brown eyes and the black, silky veil covering the rest of her face! I must have seen something that no one else could see. I saw innocence, pain from her past, and most of all fear. Being a new kid is hard enough, but being culturally different in a school or town like this is like you’re a walking disease; everyone stays away from you. As I tried to make my lips smile back, she tilted her head back down and didn’t move until the bell to end the class finally rang.
As she started to gather her things, Brody walked by and knocked the books from her small, golden-skinned hands. Brody was now acting how the other kids act towards me. The other kids roared with laughter as they walked by, kicking papers over the floor. I stood there for what seemed like minutes and stared. I was shaking from anger. I wanted so badly to go hit Brody. He was my friend . . . well, I had thought he was! I don’t care if Marcus will be the only friend I have from now on; I will not be friends with someone so cruel.
Isera just standing there brought back memories of the first year I had had here. I quickly regained myself and bent down to start collecting stuff. Isera was still frozen in place. I walked over to her and put my fingers under her soft chin covered by the black material and gently lifted it up. Her eyes meet mine. They were filled with tears. I took my sweatshirt sleeve and gently wiped them away. Her lips quivered as they started to form a smile.
“Thank you,” she said in almost a whisper. “I’m Isera.”
“I know,” I said as I smiled, reaching for her hand. “It’s nothing. Just forget those guys. They are the same way to me, but after awhile you start to ignore it.” She took my hand in both of hers and gently squeezed. “Let’s pick this stuff up.” I added.
I walked her home that day because her mother was at work late. It was a long walk, full of plenty of cars filled with classmates, driving by honking and throwing trash.
“I hate it here! It was better in Mississippi,” I snapped as I wiped the melted ice cream cone, thrown by the previous car, off my sleeve.
“I actually love it here. Yeah, the name calling and staring gets old, but it’s better than being a female in my country,” she said. Her remark made me wonder how much worse she had had it in her old country.
Then, she told me about the veil that covered her soft face as if she were reading my mind. She said that she had to wear it her whole childhood while she lived in Afghanistan. It wasn’t something that every female had to wear. “It’s because, umm . . .” she stuttered, “Ever since I was old enough to remember, my father called my mother and me horrible things. He would tell us how ugly we were and that we should never blind people with our hideous faces. I stopped walking, jaw dropped to the floor. She turned to look at me and told me all about her parents and the memories she had of her childhood in Afghanistan. It’s not like I have to wear it anymore since my mother and I are safe here, but I am uncomfortable with the way I look. I guess that, after hearing it for so long, I just learned to believe him! That is why my mother and I left him and moved here. We are so fortunate that we have relatives here.”
How could her father tell her that? Did he never look in those sparkling, brown eyes? I didn’t know what the rest of her face looked like underneath the material, but I was sure whatever it looked like, was just as pretty as her eyes.
As time went on, Isera and I hung out more and more. We started “dating” on my second favorite day of the year, the end of the first semester. We had many things in common and also many things different, but that is what made it fun! She taught me how to love others, even if they were mean like our classmates. She continued to ignore all the harsh, hurtful words and smile like everything was okay.
Unfortunately, Isera’s compassion towards others was not shared by our classmates. It seemed like ever since Isera and I had started being together, the insults became worse and worse. Sadly, all the insults were all based on our culture.
“What was wrong with these people? You see guys and girls dating all over the school, but just because we look different, we can’t fall in love?”
I tried to teach her how to love herself, something that was hard for Isera to do because of her childhood. We would hang out every day after school and do things that she was good at and focus on all the positives about her. She seemed happier, and even though I could never see her real smile, I could tell when she did because of her eyes.
I became addicted to looking into Isera’s eyes. I could tell just by looking at them if she was happy or sad, angry or surprised. She was so much fun to be with. Isera had the best personality. I wished the kids at school would look past outside
appearances and care about what’s on the inside. Haven’t you noticed that all the popular kids are good-looking but don’t have much of a personality?
On my third favorite day, the last day of the third quarter, Brody invited me to come play football with him and his friends, which were mostly all the guys who had made the hurtful comments towards Isera and me. Isera begged me to let her come and watch me play. I couldn’t say no. She and I were pretty much inseparable. When we got to the field, Brody took me aside because he said he was going to explain a new play. It was a set up. While Brody had me on the other side of the building, Butch and the other guys grabbed Isera, hands over her mouth so that she couldn’t scream and dragged her to the parking lot.
Isera must have bitten Butch’s hand because while I was listening to Brody’s play, I heard her scream my name. I started to run, but Brody grabbed my arm. I swung and got him right in the nose. Blood started pouring.
What have I done? I’ve never hit anyone before. Never mind that. I have to find Isera.
I ran as fast as I could to the parking lot just as Butch and his friends reached for Isera’s veil.
“You must be hiding something dreadful under there. We want to see,” Butch taunted.
I launched myself at him from behind, knocking him over.
“Run, Isera! Take my keys and go home.”
Just then, the other boys took off after her. Brody, shockingly, told them to stop. The boys looked at him, just as stunned as I was.
Butch was about to knock the crap out of me, but Brody stood between us.
“Enough, Butch. This was a stupid idea. Let’s just all go home,” Brody said.
The guys just stood there as I took off running to Isera’s house to make sure she had gotten home. Her mother, who doesn’t wear her veil anymore, told me that Isera was upstairs in her room. I knocked on her door, sliding my way in. Isera was lying down with her face in her pillow. I sat on the bed next to her and placed my hands around her waist.
“I’m sorry, Isera. I should have never left you there with Butch and his friends.”
“It’s not your fault, Dante,” she replied.
She slowly sat up and gave me a hug.
“They’re right. There is something hideous under . . .”
“No, Isera! Stop. Don’t listen to those guys. They must not see the beautiful person that I’m lucky to look at every day!”
Just then, she held my face in her hands and kissed me. I could feel her lips through her veil. Then she shook her head and said, “This is stupid! I don’t care if people think I am ugly. I don’t want to hide under this stupid thing anymore. Don’t laugh, okay?”
She let her hands fall from my cheeks and brought them to her face. Her eyes looked scared, and her hands trembled. She started to lift her veil, but then she turned around to finish taking it off. I sat still for a few minutes before she slowly turned around to face me.
At that moment, I saw the most gorgeous face I had ever seen in my whole life! No joke! Her skin was a smooth, golden brown, her eyebrows perfectly shaped, her lips so kissable.
“You are beautiful,” I was finally able to stumble out.
“No, you’re just saying that.”
“Isera, have you ever looked in the mirror? You are more beautiful than any girl at our school both inside and out!”
As she started to smile, her lips unfolded, and her sparkling white teeth showed through, creating the most adorable smile I have ever seen with dimples on each side. This time I leaned forward, putting her face between my hands and kissed her.
I pulled back, still inches from her face and said, “Your father is a blind idiot!”
She leaned in, with force this time, and gave me a kiss filled with love, emotions, and relief.
Later that night after I left Isera’s house, I called Brody and told him to meet me at the park a few miles from both of our houses. When he showed up, he looked sad and ashamed. I was expecting that Brody and I were going to get into a fight.
“I’m sorry, Dante. I should not have done that, but you don’t get it, bro! No one likes her! I can’t stand her. My dad is over in Afghanistan fighting in the war, and her people are killing American soldiers every day! It’s her country’s fault that we’re over there. She is still one of them, no matter what you say and . . .”
“Shut up right now! You have no idea what you’re talking about. I understand that it’s hard for you with your dad gone and all, but she is not one of them, nor is her family. The war started because of a few guys who participated in the terrorist attack. She had nothing to do with that, and neither did the majority of people in her country. You don’t even know her, Brody! She is the most amazing girl I have ever met. Isera is beautiful inside and out! I love her!”
“Okay, okay. Calm down,” Brody replied. “I’ll try to be nicer to her from now on, and I’ll tell the other guys to do the same, but this is only because what you said was right. It’s not her fault my dad is over there. I still don’t think it’s right you two are dating. You’re black, and she’s . . . umm . . . whatever she is!”
“So just because we look different from everyone else, we can’t be together? Are you racist?”
“No!” Brody snapped.
“Sure sounds like it. You know what, Brody? I don’t care if you disagree with our relationship. I don’t care if you ever talk to me again. I don’t consider racist people friends.”
“Dante, what about the saying â€˜bros before hos’?”
I replied, “You ain’t my bro no more, and Isera ain’t no ho! She is a great person. You would know that if you could ever look past a person’s outside appearance. I honestly feel bad for you that you feel this way. You could be missing out on meeting so many great people!”
Brody didn’t reply. He just stood there, his head falling to the ground. I turned around, head up, and walked home.
The next day was the last day of school. “Tomorrow is the best day of the year!” I shouted.
Isera laughed, and I held her even tighter as we gazed up at the sky filled with bright, shining stars! She squeezed my hand tight as she saw a shooting star flash across the sky.
“Make a wish!” I said.
“Okay. Well, I wish that people would not judge me because I wear this veil. I wish I could just go to school without it on and not have people laugh at the way I look.”
“You can! Isera, if you go to school without it on, they will do everything but laugh. They will be shocked and surprised at how beautiful you are!”
“You really think so?”
“I know so,” I said. “I’ll prove it to you. Tomorrow, don’t wear your veil. I’ll be right next to you the whole day! No one will hurt you!”
“I don’t know if I can, but if you’re there next to me, I guess I can try!”
The next morning, I was at Isera’s house ten minutes early. I knocked on the door, and there she was! Standing in front of me was the most stunning girl in the world. She jumped into my arms.
“I don’t know if I can do this, Dante!”
“Yes, you can!” I replied.
The ride to school was quiet. I could tell she was really nervous. After I pulled into the parking lot, it took her five minutes until she finally got out of the rusty, old truck.
As we walked hand in hand into the noisy classroom, Brody, Marcus, Butch and all the other classmates froze in place.
“Who is that?”
“Is she new?”
Questions flew out from everyone’s mouth.
“Wow, she’s gorgeous! What’s her name?”
I turned my head to look at Isera’s face. She blushed. I could feel her hands starting to shake. I put my arm around her waist and whispered in her ear, “I told you! They think you’re beautiful, too!”
For some reason, she looked angry! As the questions about “Who’s the new girl” kept coming, she kept getting more and more angry.
Finally she snapped. “I’m Isera. No, I am not new! I have been here this whole school year! I’m the girl that you guys made fun of! You called me names, threw stuff at me, and made me cry! You judged me because of what I looked like. This is what I look like underneath the veil. Now that you guys see me and think I’m pretty, you are going to accept me? This whole time I have been the same person on the inside, and Dante is the only person who loved me for that! Appearance shouldn’t matter, but obviously it does. Maybe next time you see people who look different, you will actually try to get to know them before you judge them!”
Her eyes started to tear. She grabbed my hand and walked out the door. The classroom behind us was still silent. As we stood outside the door, we started to hear people talk.
“I feel terrible,” Marcus said.
“Yeah, this sucks. She’s hot, and now I don’t think she will date me!” Butch replied.
Brody shouted back! “Butch, did you not learn anything! Who cares about looks anymore? All the hot girls are all stuck up anyways. The nicest and most dateable girls are probably the ones that we ignore everyday, like Isera. We all need to apologize!”
I turned to look at Isera. I smiled as I put her soft, warm face between my hands and kissed her! “I’m so proud of you! I love you!”
That summer was one of the best summers of my life. Isera and I spent every day together, and she even forgave all the guys who were so mean. I wouldn’t say that everything is all goody, goody and that everyone is best friends, but we do all hang out from time to time. We ended up getting a few new students the following year who were all of different cultures, and it made both me and Isera smile when they came and were treated like every other kid. No more racist comments! No more loneliness!
I thank God for Isera. She is like an angel to me and to all of our classmates who were lucky enough to get to know her. She taught us all a lot and saved many new kids from going through the pain she and I had gone through!
A person’s outside appearance does not always signify who a person truly is!