She was quiet during the ride but tried her best to fix her demeanor before going home. Her mother was already done cleaning up for their family by that time, and when she asked her how it went she tried her best to be as honest as possible.
“Mama, the food was great!” She chirped, feeling like a fraud, as if her smile was too bright, too unreal. Perhaps, this was the first time Ifrah had learned to put on a mask. It made her feel almost as ashamed as being in her friend’s house.
“That’s good,” her mother answered, “but you best change out of that lehenga before it gets dirty.”
She couldn’t agree more.
As she went upstairs to the small room of hers which she’d only gotten because her mother had put her foot down and said the boys could share. Her mother came from a wealthy background and had brothers. She’d never had to share a room with them and wanted the same for her daughter. A part of her itched to tell her mother about what had happened, but even at that age, she was smart enough not to reopen old wounds.
She looked at the mirror and herself.
The clothes did not look bright anymore. Instead they looked cheap and shiny, made out of material most people at that party would laugh at and then discard. She wouldn’t tell her parents this. They’d spent a lot of money on it and she didn’t have the heart to tell them how much she hated it.
In time, she would understand that it wasn’t the lehenga she hated, it was what it represented and what the reaction to it had been that had put her off it. In the moment, however, she swore never to wear it again.
Instead, she sat down and for the first time ever pulled out a little black notebook her uncle had gifted her on her last birthday. Unsure what to do at first, she started writing.
I feel like I am a part of a completely different world. I don’t feel important anymore. Everyone in my class likes me and respects me because I am very smart. My teachers always tell me about how well I do. They like that I work hard. I like it too. But I don’t understand what happened today. I work harder than Leila and I get better marks than her. So why did they behave with me like that? I don’t want to go to their house again. I don’t want to see my friends again. I’m scared of meeting them.
We eat with our hands. Those people use knives and forks and spoons and other things I don’t know off. I can eat with a spoon, but using two of the utensils at the same time is so hard. I don’t know how they eat it. I tried my best, but they felt so heavy in my hands. The knives weren’t sharp enough to cut anything so I wished everyone would just use their hands to eat. I stayed as far away from everyone as I could. I only ate the things I knew about because everything else was scary. I didn’t want to give them more reason to hate me. Why do they hate me?”
It was only after many years had passed that Ifrah knew a person’s worth did not reside in their ability to eat with utensils and she understood it as a largely colonial mindset. She understood the influences of wealth but the best thing was, she was still rocking lehenga’s and not the least bit ashamed of it.