The Future of Secularism: Chapter 22


The next day I attended Azadeh Mosque for Friday prayers and then I went shopping. I wanted new jeans. I had some money to blow. So I figured I could go to some Western-style boutique and pick up something nice. As I was walking into another store, a familiar face caught my eye. It was Sophia! She stopped and I turned, both of us facing each other though on opposite ends of the sidewalk.

"Hayy," she said, "I was at the gas station with my mother on Azadeh Street this afternoon."

Did I tell her I was proud of her? I waited. She grew impatient and addressed me curtly: "Were you at the mosque?"

"Did you see me walking out?"

"Yeah," she said, "I saw you get into your car and drive out."

"Okay then," I replied, "That means I was at the mosque."

She got mad at my sarcasm and turned around to walk away. I walked after her and called, "Sophia... wait." She slowed down but nothing else came out of my mouth, so she sped up again, at which point I blurted it out: "I like you."

That made her turn around.

It also made me want to turn around and run away, but I had nowhere to flee to. I looked down and she asked me: "You like me?"

"Yeah," I said, "I like you a lot but I don’t know what that means."

Well, Hayy, it means you like her a lot.

Generally these conversations are imagined, in our heads, as moments of ecstatic poetry born of love. When they get blurted out in reality, they’re awkward and stupid. When you are at that moment, ready to speak your mind to a girl, you become kind of deaf. The rest of the world goes silent.

"Well then," she started up once more, obviously now a bit uncomfortable or confused, "What do you want?"

Other than you, I want "a relationship."

"A relationship? Hayy you go to the masjid. You are wearing a necklace that has those symbols on it. My parents probably think you’re some kind of crazy one of those people."

Gems of verbal precision were being unearthed at every corner. Her very indirect statement was a precise way of saying ‘national-Islamist’. Like a Nazi but different.

"Well, your parents don’t have to know."

I sounded desperate because she was beautiful. I wanted for her to like me. I didn’t think I liked her enough to marry her, but that was what I was asking for. I just was tired of being alone, tired of not having a girl to touch or hold, and she could fill that gap. I knew in the long run it would be a mistake. She probably hesitated because of what she sensed coming from me.

"I’m not ready for that, Hayy," she told me, and a weight lifted off of my chest -- the weight of responsibility. But that didn’t make everything better. It couldn’t. She didn’t like me. I cursed inside because she had to like me. I wanted everyone to see me with this beautiful girl, whose body would be all mine, but did I really want this particular beautiful girl? I didn’t think so. I had known this conversation would come some time, but not this soon, and as it came; it relieved me more than anything.

She asked, "Can we be friends?"

Basically, ‘let’s end this on a good note and never speak to each other again.’ How girls imagine a guy can love them and want them sexually and then degrade himself to being friends with said girls, is beyond me.

I mumbled, "Yeah."

I sensed some pain in her eyes. Hurt for what she felt, or for what she thought I felt. I added, to make her feel better: "Don’t worry. I understand."

I smiled weakly and said salam; she lagged behind but let me go, as if her waiting and saying more things would help anything. The more you reject girls, and the more they reject you, the easier it becomes. The emotions die or, at the least, become weaker.

I went home after a while and proudly showed my mother my new jeans. She smiled.

"You’re so talkative; I’m so happy... I haven’t heard you like this in ages."

I laughed and said, "Yeah, I’ve had a lot on my mind."

My parents were satisfied. Their son had sold out again. I told them I was going up to my room, and as I was walking upstairs, I realized I left Erfan’s Qur’an sitting on the passenger seat of my car. I ran to the garage, grabbed it and stuffed it under my shirt, sneaking it upstairs into my room, where I hid it behind some other books.