30 December 2015

Thumbs up!

That night, after their visit, I called my parents to learn what they’d thought of the place where I work. My thirty-eighth floor office? My boss? My co-workers? My floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over Buffalo Bayou and all points west?

I love my workplace and I hoped they would, too!

But Ammi was silent. She did not wish to say.

“What is wrong, Ammi?” I asked, gently prodding. All I got was more silence.

At long last she spoke and said, “Nasreen, I do not like that place.”

Well, this troubled me. What was it I was not seeing? What was so awful that she could not even bring herself to name it?

“I did not want to say it,” Ammi said, “but the keypads on your doors are bad.”

Wha-?! The keypads on our doors are biometric. I walk up, I press my thumb on a little red square, it reads my thumbprint, and the door opens.

“When we visited Faisal,” she continued, “he watched a program on the television where the people had keypads like those. Then bad men came and cut off the workers’ thumbs to break into the office!”

I did not laugh. I said, “Ammi, Faisal was watching ‘The Blacklist’! It is a crime drama. It is not real.”

She said, “Do not laugh at your mother, Nasreen!”

I did not laugh at her.

I did not laugh at her then. I did not at her laugh later.

But I did send her this groovy picture of me and my cousin to prove that our thumbs were intact: 

Taras Loboda

Look at these paintings by Taras Loboda.

Aren’t they lovely?

28 December 2015


Next year, I will be better.

I will be a better daughter, a better sister, and a better friend.

I will be a better writer, a better reader, and a better cook. I will be a better Muslim and a better American (whatever that means!).

And I will do better, too. I will do better for others, do better at my job, and do better at explaining my eyebrows to people when they ask me.

So help me, next year I’ll be better!


26 December 2015

Three weeks in America

America is a big place with lots of people where nobody cares what anybody else believes.

In saying this, I do not mean to say that we celebrate or encourage diversity. I mean that we simply do not care.

In America, I can walk up to a stranger on the street and say to him, “I believe that when you die, you and your loved ones will transform into giant cockroaches who will chew each other’s heads off for all eternity, over and over again. I believe that this will happen to you because you failed to hop on one foot for seven hours a day during your lifetime.”

This person on the street will say to me, “Why are you telling me this? I don’t care!” Then he will probably go off to worship at a Satanic Temple or at that one church that says the Garden of Eden was in Missouri.  

Nobody will care and though that might sound bad, it is actually good. After the last three weeks in America, I wish we would all go back to not caring again.

25 December 2015

A visit from my parents

My parents came by this week to see the place where I work.

I try to picture them: Climbing into the big green Chevy Lumina. Abbu reaching over, gently checking to make sure Ammi is secure before clicking his own seatbelt into place. The car rolls back out of the driveway, slowly, coming to a complete halt for one, two, three full seconds before the horns of angry drivers begin to sound.

Undeterred, Abbu checks every mirror twice. He looks all around him and waits for the nod from Ammi confirming he may now put the car into gear and their journey may begin.

And they’re off.

In my head, I see them, traveling at precisely ten miles per hour down Interstate 45. They navigate the one-way downtown streets, all the time staring at the heights of the buildings rather than at the streets themselves.

In this version of events that I imagine, it is a great wonder they make it to see me at all. Yet I know – I know! – that it could not possibly have happened in any other way.