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God sits in between by Nuha Fariha

As Salma descended the dusty steps of Masjid, her feet refused to touch the ground.

Backlit by a golden halo, Salma’s hijab radiated a type of kinetic energy the rest of us could only hope to have. That she chose to sit next to me, the only empty seat in Aunty Nusrat’s Saturday recitals, was merely a twist of fate.

“What surah are we on?” she asked, leaning in, while I momentarily lost my sight in her

perfectly bright teeth.

“Wh-wh-what?” I mustered my ever so eloquent response.

Sighing, Druphta pointed her neon green fingernail to the right paragraph. “Here.”

“Thanks.”

While the rest of us merely read the dusty Quarans in the stifled basement, Salma

incanted - her voice slow honey dripping from a hummingbird’s beak. For the first time, I

thought, there must really be a God in the world.


***


At home, I listened to Bollywood playlists. Salm-Salaiman’s “Rab Ne Bana De Jodi”

blasted over the speakers for weeks until my mother wearily asked for the ninth time if I had lost my mind. Perhaps I had. Could there be a love that was so divine, so right that you felt it down to your very soul? That it didn’t need to be questioned like Mrs. Shilpa’s nose job or Imam Rather’s morals? I contemplated these questions while scrubbing between the toilet seats and dusting my father’s shoes.

Tu hi to jannat meri /Tu hi mera junon /Tu hi to manat meri /Tu hi rooh ka sukun

You are my heaven/ You are my passion/ You are my only wish/ You are the peace of my soul

Salma and I became closer the way a kingfisher flits around the open mouth of a

nectarine. That is, I nervously waited by her locker at school until she caught me one day and

asked if I wanted to come over. I blinked, nodded and proceeded to ask in my coolest Madhuri voice, “What’s your address and can my mom have your mom’s phone number she really gets nervous these days.”

Last week Dr. Khan closed his pediatrics clinic after he was detained at the airport for

seven hours. He decided to move back home. His wife, my mother’s friend, cried on the phone and then on our sofa and then in the taxi cab next to her stone faced husband.

Salma wrote her information down with a smile, a tiny smiley face at the end of her

cursive a. I rubbed the paper between my sweaty hands all day. It was holier than my birth

certificate.


***


At 6:00 pm on a brisk October Saturday, I arrived with my carefully selected deep purple

Abercrombie sweatshirt and gently worn American Eagle jeans with wide boot legs. After

multiple goodbyes with my mom, “And be sure to call us by 9 pm, you know your Abba works early on Sundays!” I strode up to the golden doorbell. Salma opened in her usual chic loose tunic and pants, a black hijab framing her gorgeous green eyes.

“Hey, come on in!” Her house, like mine, was a marriage of two lives - dark red Masjid

newsletters sitting next to an old calendar of Golden Girls, the smell of Kashmiri tea in the air

mixing with burnt Pop-Tarts, a watering can in the corner of the bathroom next to neat stacks of Charmin.

We spent the evening watching Bollywood music video reruns on her older brother’s

beaten up VCR on a threadbare couch, barely able to hear anything above her sister’s incessant flute recitals upstairs. As the camera zoomed in on the actress’s gyrating hips and swaying breasts, we tried not to stare too closely, feeling an unexpected surge of voyeuristic pleasure. We shared her grandma’s heavy tiger blanket, a plate of bhel puri, our limbs casually strewn together. She laughed when I wagged my tongue, unable to stand the bite of the chili pepper. It was the closest to heaven I had felt.

“Here, I’ve heard of some cures for the pain of a burning tongue,” she said inching

closer, her Herbal Essence jasmine shampoo louder than the noise of the TV.

“Wh-wh-what?” Suddenly a different type of fire erupted when her lips gently closed

over mine. My first kiss. My first kiss with this creature more like an angel than a human, the

closest thing to my jannat, a real life pheresta.

“Yo your mom is here or something,” Salma’s older brother sleepily yelled down the

stairs.

“Until later babe,” Salma hugged me close.

Tu hi ankhiyon ki thandak / Tu he dil ki hai dastak / Aur kuch na janu mein / Bas ithna hi januu

You are the soothing of my eyes/ You are sustenance for my heart/ And I know nothing else/ I only know this

As I walked up those twenty narrow, grimy steps, dodging displaced McDonald’s toys

and scarves, I knew three things. One, I, irreconcilably, was in love with Salma. Two, I could

never tell this to anyone. And three, I wanted nothing more than to spend time with her. Of

course, I didn’t even think about telling Abbu or Ammu or even my younger siblings.

“Everything okay?” Ammu asked when she picked me up.

“Yes! Salma is a great person!” I excitedly told her as I scrambled into the backseat of

our beaten up Toyota Camri. The kiss was just one more secret on top of a tangled web.


***


Salma and I had an easy romance, our love slowly collecting raindrops on the bottom of

the windowsill. I was her third girlfriend. She was my first. We treated each other the way we

thought we should - she wrapped around me like an intense gobstopper endlessly consumed in pleasure, while I treaded slowly, a careful fragile snowflakes melting on the tongue.

We were inseparable, spending days on each other’s bedroom floors, braiding hair,

trading ancestral traumas like boys traded Yu-Gi-Oh cards. I didn’t want to question why I was attracted to the curve of her lips, the way her eyelashes beat against my face every time we hugged. I spent hours whispering secrets into her elven ears and traversing her rolling hips. In turn, she would paint the stars on my back with her tongue, curling into the small of my back during scary parts of horror movies.

We were a snow globe withheld from time and space. We were magical. We were

dreaming at fever pitch ignoring everything else.

Tujhe mein rab dikhta hai / Yaara mein kya karu / Tujhe mein rab dikhta hai / Yaara mei kya

karu

I see God in you/ What should I do my beloved/ I see God in You/ What Should I do my Beloved?


***


A few months later, I arrived at her house with my dad’s borrowed Toyota Camry, ready

for our anniversary date. Instead of Salma’s ethereal form, I was greeted by her father’s Goliath like figure, his arms crossed, holding my love notes hastily scrawled between lunch breaks. Salma’s father slapped me, the force toppling me onto the floor.

“How dare you! May Allah keep this evil from outside our home!”

Like an unprepared David, I fled, not looking back to see if Salma was at the window.

Later on that night, my mother pushed me out of her door. “You are not my daughter!”

Later on that week, Imam Rather and Aunty Nusrat pushed me out from the mosque.

“And there goes that girl. So corrupt. Is she a girl or a devil?”

Seven times on the phone, I listened as Salma screamed “And may Allah keep me from

this evil!”


***


It was her honey voice that stung the most, the echoes of it trickling down years later. I lit jasmine candles in the winter, votives among the melting snow. I wrapped myself in three tiger blankets, sought her warmth in the bodies around the nightclub at three am, followed a woman in a hijab for three miles until she turned around and a stranger faced me. I looked back at her with blurry eyes until she became my Salma.

My God was vengeful, my God left me cold and alone for so many years. My God, I

spent hours on my knees, seeking forgiveness for crimes I did not commit, for guilt I inherited, for spaces I can never fit into. My God spits in my face, drags me by my feet through cobbled streets until my eyes see stars. And yet, I still love my God, I still return for her love, I still open my legs night after night. I hold a mirror in between.

I look at myself and sing “I see God in You, What should I do my Beloved? I see God in You.”


Nuha Fariha (she/hers) is a first generation Bangladeshi American and queer Muslim. Currently, she lives in Leni-Lenape land otherwise known as Philadelphia. She can be found on Instagram @nuhawrites .

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