Yes, She Was Different
All she wanted was to be treated as a human. When Leila’s face was covered they turned away. The invisible woman.
When her head was covered, a passenger in a nondescript white van shouted out of his window, tyres hissing in the rain. He spat at her whilst driving by, leaving her, a mum pushing a pram with one toddler on each side, humiliated. She remembers grinding her teeth, frustrated.
They shouted at her through open windows on her street. ‘Go back home!’ A gummy old lady took her kindly by the arm when she was out walking through the park one day, she tugged at Leila’s hijab. ’Don’t let him tell you what you can and can’t do love. You’re in England now.’
In response Leila raged, determined to show she was already free to do as she pleased and took her hijab off. She flipped her long hair over her shoulder, stood tall in summer wedges and hugged her neighbours in greeting. It took her a few weeks but she had won them over. Lawn mowers hummed in the distance. The smell of freshly cut grass- a welcome sign of the long lazy days to come. She walked by everyday and stopped to talk to them. Once Leila took a risk and told a joke. The punchline lingered in the hazy air and then Angela Gordon, one of her neighbours, tilted her head back and laughed loudly, her large mouth ruby red in the sunlight. Leila grinned back. Yes Leila, who was once invisible, thrived on their grand opinions of her.
But then one day, a woman was stripped of her rights on a beach across the English channel. Leila read her Twitter feed, her buttered toast turning into cardboard on her tongue, squidgy and tasteless.
That day she wrapped her headscarf around her head and walked out. Chin up, shoulders back. Nobody said a word. They coughed and turned away.
Today things are different. She steps out onto the porch and tilts her head towards the burning sun. She covers her face with the edge of her scarf and wave at her neighbours who now cover their own. They smile back and wave but they know not to come closer for a hug. It has been days since they last saw each other. She was born into a family of immigrants, struggled with her identity and lived through months of anxiety. Torn between doing what she knew was right and wanting people to accept her.
Yes, she was different but it didn’t matter anymore. She looks back up at her house and a rush of tranquility descends into her core. A cocoon created with that warm fuzzy abstract concept that is love, a little piece of peace in this judgemental world. No, she no longer cares what they think of her when they see her on the street because when she’s done what she needs to do outside, she steps back in again.