One of the reasons I create picture representations of my characters is so that they feel more real to me when I give them a voice. I’ll search for just the right stock photo so I can edit it to fit scenes in the book or as a promo.
The first time Aiden meets Aaliyah, I decided he’d hear her voice, and not see her. There’s a joyfulness about Aaliyah that intrigues him, and challenges his preconceived notions about her culture and her faith.
“I’m not some . . . some ‘thing’ that needs to be pitied. And I’m not someone who needs to be saved. Go look at your own life if you need to change someone.” – Aaliyah from RUSH
Excerpt from RUSH:
Fatuma is my closest friend. We attend high school together. She is very beautiful and she knows it. When we are in the presence of our elders she behaves like a good muslima. But once we are alone she tells me all the gossip. She knows many things and much of the American culture, especially the words they say in school that I don’t understand. Fatuma can speak several languages. When she talks, she goes from Maay-Maay to Somali, to Arabic and to English, and even Swahili. I’m learning a great many things from her.
“Stay away from Batool,” Fatuma warned as we walked to the bus stop. “She’s nothing but a dhilo. She only likes ajanabi boys, the foreigners like the blacks and the whites and the Spanish guys. She’s making zina with anything with a dick. I do not want her with my brother.”
I said nothing in response, because I did not want to feel Fatuma’s anger. Still, that did not spare me. “Oh don’t look at me with such a stupid cow face,” she said. “This is how Americans talk all the time. The guss weine ─ the big dick ─ is all they care about over here.”
“But as a muslima─”
“Sister, you need to understand that what you do not know will get you stuck with a man who will boss you around while he chews qaat all day. And you will be expected to stay in the house with all the kids while he tells his family how lazy you are. I don’t let nobody talk down to me. The girls at school will call you a whore in many languages. In America they say ‘slut’ and ‘ho’, and they throw around the word ‘bitch’ like it’s your name. So you call them a bitch right back. Don’t be like Hadil, always nodding and grinning no matter what they say to her.”
Fatuma told me about her first weeks in an American school where the kids said they were sorry her father had died.
“My father is alive,” she’d insisted.
“No,” they said. “We helped capture Saddam Hussein. We helped them kill your dad.”
Fatuma gave me a look of disgust. “Ha, ha. They thought it was very funny. So be on the watch out, someone will call you and your family terrorists.”
“What should I do?”
“If no other Somali is around, call them a we’el, a bastard. They won’t know what you’re saying.”
“I’ve heard my father say ‘Abaaha was.’
Fatuma liked that one. “Go fuck your daddy! I like it! I will use it.”
When we crossed the street we could feel the eyes upon us. Fatuma said Wahri would no longer be joining us for school. She said Wahri was getting married. “Her parents did not know what to do with her. For every little thing she would pick up the phone and call 911. If her mother told her to wash the dishes, she’d get mad and pick up the phone. Hooyo told me her parents were afraid she’d get them sent back to Somalia with her lies-”
“But she was so nice to me-”
“Wahri would be the first one to tell your parents what you do all day in school. If you say ‘excuse me’ to a cadaan, she’ll tell on you. Then your father would be dragging you out, calling you a dhilo just for saying ‘excuse me’ to a white boy, and all because of her big mouth. I hate her. Don’t worry, I always say my salaats and ask for forgiveness. But me and Wahri do not get along. She has a big forehead, so she lies and tells people she is not Bantu. She tells them she’s pure Somali. We laugh behind her back at her stupid lies.”
“She told me that. She said her mother was Somali, like my real mother.”
Fatuma wasn’t listening to me. She kept going on about Wahri, saying she got Wahri back for telling on her by making sure Wahri never had a chance with her brother. “I told him unless he eats the beaver Wahri’s not interested. He has asked me about you. He asked if you were a good Muslim girl.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him you were a nyeusi, a black slut.”
She pushed me on the arm. “Quit making the cow face! Your eyes are so big and rolling around. I told him you would make a good little Muslim wife.”
Deep down, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be any man’s wife. I wanted to finish school and perhaps go on to college. And I don’t think my father has need of a dowry, so I thought I would be safe from any suitors for a good while. But I was wrong.
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