Written by: Enagwolo U

The minute she got into the apartment she put on the heater and plopped on her well worn sofa. She was still in shock. It was a particularly harsh winter, but that was the least of her worries. She pulled out the ATM receipt and looked at it for the 17th time that evening. She shook her head in disbelief. How could this be? Was she dreaming? She pinched herself. The pain told her she wasn't.

"$5.15?" she read out loud. "I have $5.15? How in the world could this happen? I only have $5.15?" she continued to herself. Worst of all, her bills were piling up, bill collectors had her on speed dial and she didn't know where her next penny was coming from. She put her hands on her head in despair. This isn't happening to me, she thought. Judging from just two years earlier, she would never have predicted her life as this.

On June 17, 2001, Aicha Mohammed walked on stage to receive her Masters of Business Administration diploma in finance. As she looked to the audience, she saw her parents beaming with pride. Next to them were Kamal Johnston and his parents. Watching them share her joy so completely made Aicha feel confident enough to fly. Her life was complete. She had supportive parents (granted, they still wanted her to go for her PhD), Kamal, a man she'd loved for 5 years of her life, supportive future in-laws, a great education from a renowned university and a job offer from a fortune-500 company based in New York.

Aicha wasn't starting the job till January so, she and Kamal took her $8,000 signing bonus and backpacked across Europe for three weeks, visiting important landmarks all day and making love all night. When they returned in August she was one shade darker, five pounds heavier and ten degrees happier. She excitedly packed up all her stuff, sold her car, after all, no one drove in New York, and started shipping stuff to her new apartment. It was quite swank at $1,800/ month on the outskirts of Brooklyn -she could afford it with her $70,000/year salary. She was looking forward to a great life in a great city.

Then, her nicely bound life began to unravel. On August 29th, 2001 (she would never forget that date), she received a letter from her future employers stating "We regret that as a result of the current economic situation, we have to rescind our previous offer. Please keep the signing bonus for your inconvenience." A regular person would have gone to plan B and stayed home with the parents, but not Aicha. She prayed about it and knew that everything would work out for the best -it always did. Besides, Kamal had been working in New York for a year and she couldn't wait to shorten their long-distance relationship.

So, September 3rd, Aicha boarded the plane and embarked on her new life. She moved into her swank apartment and knew that the combination of the graduation check her parents had presented to her and her savings would enable her to live quite well till the end of year. Besides, Kamal was there if she needed any help. She was sure he could spare some of the extra cash he earned as a Wall Street hot shot.

Then, the two towers were toppled on September 11th. Her mother called, begging her to move back home. She refused. She had her whole life ahead of her and wasn't Allah protecting her? As needed, she sent her résumé to the top companies. There were literally hundreds in New York so she sent copies to all of them. One by one, the rejection letters arrived. The companies that hadn't sent letters also rejected her - they just couldn't be bothered to inform her. Then, she sent letters to the less successful companies, they, she figured, would definitely want her, after all she had a top degree from a top university. Unfortunately, just as before, she received rejection letters. What was going on? She was a hot commodity, she should have her pick of the litter. Why was she being rejected? They weren't even calling her for interviews -she was getting rejected off the bat. She was told at the employment agency that her name was off-putting. After September 11th, Arabs were experiencing a nationally accepted version of discrimination and as a result, so was she. The problem was, she wasn't even an Arab. Her father had converted to Islam and changed his name from Lawson to Mohammed while he was involved with the civil rights movement in the sixties. She relayed as much to the agent and although he sympathized with her, he acknowledged that once the recruiter read her name, (s)he probably didn't read much more.
However, she was relentless and with the love of God on her side, kept on sending those resumes and kept on receiving rejection letters.

By December, as she'd spent all her resources, she put all her possessions in storage and moved in with Kamal. She had to forgo her security deposit ($1,800 she desperately needed) but luckily could break out of her lease because there was a long waiting-list. By January, she got desperate and starting calling in all her favors. After a month, a college friend was able to find her a position at her company. $2,500/month was hardly her worth but was $2,500 more than what she'd been previously earning. So she took the position with intentions of excelling at it and advancing in the company. Unfortunately, in late April, the company had to make cut backs and since it was "last in, first out," with two weeks severance pay, she was unemployed again and had been ever since.

Aicha felt thirsty and headed to her fridge for a drink of water. As she hit the switch, a rat ran across her kitchen. She sighed. She was sure she was cohabiting with a community of very fertile vermin -she has seen so many sizes and colors that she was convinced that new hybrids were being created in her very own apartment. She reached for a glass and filled it. As the water rolled off her tongue and down her throat she felt relief and satisfaction. Lately, it took very little to please her. She turned the light back off and went back to her couch. She looked around the studio which was masquerading as a one-bedroom apartment and laid her eyes on Kamal's picture. Unfunny how things work out, she thought to herself.

Yes, Kamal. She'd loved him for six years of her life. She remembers the day she saw him at the neighborhood Muslim Community meeting and after hearing him speak for 5 minutes, she knew he was her destiny. And apparently he was. Their parents had attended college together and approved of the match so much, that if she wasn't so in love with him, she would have dumped him just to spite them.

She'd never forget the day she told him she was pregnant - July 12th, 3 days after his birthday. Woman's intuition exists because on the night she conceived, as they were making love on his sofa, she knew that a baby was being created. However, just to confirm, a month later, she got tested and wasn't disappointed. In fact she was happy. She and Kamal were headed for the altar so she didn't foresee any problems -they just had to move up the date.

Granted, they had never actually set one but it wasn't too soon. They had been together for 6 years, he was 28 she was 26 and not getting younger. His salary could adequately support a family and she had great earning potential. She knew he was going to be ecstatic -he'd always loved kids. But by the way his face fell, she knew she'd been mistaken. Apparently, it was unexpected. Was she sure it was his? He wasn't ready to be a father. He didn't want a wife. He needed time to think. He spent that night at his friend's. When he returned he was certain that it would be better if she moved out so that he could have some space to digest all the information. Upset, Aicha reminded him that there wasn't much time. She had less than two months to decide if she was keeping it. Kamal was enraged at the thought of an abortion. "It's against our religion and everything we stand for," he screamed. Aicha reminded him that fornication and having children out of wedlock were also against their religion. Kamal plainly stated that abortion was not an option and called her parents.

Her parents, Aicha thought as she looked at their picture. They had always been the most beautiful couple -everyone said so. They were lean, classy and intelligent. Her parents had met while they were both pursuing their doctorates at Northwestern. Mom was 34 and Dad, 31. They'd met and fallen so madly in love that in less than a year, they were married and planning a family. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to them, it was to be a terribly bumpy ride. After 6 miscarriages in 5 years, at 2:32pm, May 23rd 1975, her mother gave birth to her and Usman. Usman died 3 hours and 24 minutes later and ever since, in addition to being the apple of their eyes, she became the proposed vessel for fulfilling all their dreams. Her father became a professor of Engineering and Mom a homemaker for the first 14 years of her life. The day she started high school her mother started her job as a loan officer. She'd led a happy, middle-class existence and every two years, took a vacation to Africa - her father wanted them to stay close to their roots. In addition to being afro-centric, although not devout, they'd lived according to Islamic law. They couldn't even eat at McDonalds because they weren't sure there wasn't any pork in the burgers. Hence, the phone call from Kamal was most unwelcome.

Her mother immediately flew to New York to convince her to change her mind. Her father announced that she would be disowned if she went through with it. All Aicha could think of was being a single mother and she couldn't bare it. Her mother lent her some cash for an apartment and after she was convinced that Aicha was keeping the child, flew back home. The next day, Aicha walked into Planned Parenthood and made arrangements to end her pregnancy.

A week later, Kamal had called explaining that although he still wasn't ready to be married, he would like to help raise the child. Aicha calmly told him about the abortion. After using every curse word Aicha knew, plus some she didn't, he hung up. That was the last time he spoke to her. Sometimes their paths cross, maybe on the street or at a store, and when their eyes meet, Kamal always turns away and pretends she's a stranger.
As for her parents, her Dad was very disappointed and as far as he knows, "he doesn't have a daughter." Which also meant that she was to receive no financial support from him. Her mother had been forbidden to communicate with her but from time to time, she'd get a letter in her handwriting with a money order. Financially strapped, Aicha sold all her furniture and bought a worn-out couch, a 13 inch television and single mattress.

Aicha took her eyes off her parent's picture and picked up the remote control and turned on the television. She flicked through the six channels and turned it back off. Aicha couldn't even remember what having cable felt like. She felt a hunger pang and as she got off the couch intending to get something to eat, the ATM receipt fell to the floor. She was immediately reminded of her destitution. She didn't know how she was going to pay her utilities or more importantly, her rent. She couldn't believe what her life had become. And the most painful thing was, there was no imminent resolution. She'd been unemployed for so long that she did not believe that her status would ever change. She'd stopped sending out resumes - she couldn't afford the postage, damn, she couldn't even afford the paper. She bent down to pick the receipt. The moment she felt it, she knew what to do. Suddenly elated, she grabbed her coat and ran to the grocery store. Twenty minutes later, she returned with $5.15 worth of supplies and laid them on her couch. Next, she went to the fridge and brought out all she could find - it wasn't much but it was food nonetheless. She brought out the lone plate in her cupboard and sat on her couch. She twisted the cap off her 7-up, took a sip and had a gastronomical orgasm - soda had become a luxury. She took her time and savored every bite of her cookie and cream ice-cream as it too, hadn't been on her grocery list for a while. Half an hour later, she took her brush and scrubbed out her bath tub. Then, she filled it with hot water, sat in it and enjoyed the rest of her ice-cream.

When she felt the water cooling, she reached for the knife she'd brought with her and looked at the blade -it was her carving knife. She looked at her wrist and laughed -it was so tiny, she'd lost over thirty pounds in the last year. There's no diet like poverty, she said to herself. She took the knife and brought its blade to her right wrist and hesitated. I hope this doesn't hurt, she thought. In the movies it doesn't seem to hurt so I'm sure it wouldn't, she assured herself. God, please don't let this hurt, she prayed. Then she laughed. She kept on laughing for another five minutes. I can't believe I just prayed, she thought. She was sure God didn't exist, after all, she wouldn't be living this hell, would she? She'd always been a good person and followed his teachings as best she could. The Allah she was taught about wouldn't desert her like this, so obviously he couldn't possibly exist.

Then, she put the blade on her wrist again. Suicide for selfish reasons is against His teachings too. "I'd definitely go to hell for this," she said aloud. Then she laughed again. The abortion already cinched that, she chuckled sarcastically. She looked at her wrist once more. Why am I hesitating? She asked herself. She put the blade on her wrist one more time but this time, she pressed it hard and felt a sharp pain. "Ouch," she screamed. It hurt far more than she could ever have imagined. With new awareness, she thought about what she was about to do. Immediately, she felt ashamed, ashamed that an educated, able-bodied woman like herself was laying in her bathtub and felling sorry for herself. She knew she was better off than Simon the homeless guy who slept, rain or snow, in front of her building. She knew that although financially strapped, she was intelligent and enterprising enough to find a solution to her problems. Energized by her new ideas, she rose from the tub and stepped out of the water.

-----
I found Aicha three weeks later. A neighbor had reported a persistent foul odor emanating from her apartment and I was asked to investigate. As far as I could tell, Aicha Mohammed had slipped and hit her head on the bathroom tile while stepping out of her tub.

~*~

 

 

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