“Do you want coffee, jaan?” she asked. “I was going to surprise you with breakfast, but you woke up before I could finish the pancakes.”
Shakit turned around and looked at her.
“Ummm, no, I’m fine. I think I’m going to head out.”
“No, jaan, stay. We should spend the day together. We can go somewhere and study. I know you have an essay due on Monday.”
Shakit ignored her and came back with his shirt on. He slid his feet into his boat shoes.
“I think I just need the day for myself, Zeena. I’ll call you later.”
Zeena walked towards the front door and stopped him.
“Talk to me. Please.”
“Just let me go, Zeena.”
“Please, jaan. Just talk to me.”
“What do you want me to say, Zeena?” Shakit said. “I don’t know what to do except leave now. You don’t want me, Zeena. That was clear last night.”
Zeena walked up to Shakit and held his face in her hands. He wouldn’t meet her gaze and his cheeks were red. He didn’t look angry. He looked embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, Shakit,” she said. She stepped away from him and felt tears in her eyes again. “There’s so much pressure from everywhere, from everything. I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with you at all.”
“Who is pressuring you, Zeena?” he said, walking away from her and placing his arms over his head. She watched as the contours of his back shifted with each movement through his cotton t-shirt. “I didn’t pressure you at all. I just want us to be together, in whatever way you’re comfortable. I opened up to you yesterday and you closed yourself up. You have to figure out what it is you want, Zeena.”
“Shakit, I feel pressure from everywhere. It’s like I’m a puppet and I have different threads pulling at me, an American one, a Pakistani one, a Muslim one, a Feminist one, and at different times, each one is tugging at me and sometimes they’re all pulling at the same time, and I don’t know what to do. I’m paralyzed, suspended in the air. Then you talked to me about your family, your parents, and talked to me about our marriage, and I felt something there too. I don’t know, Shakit. It felt like there was a thread that you created yesterday, and it was tugging at me so hard last night until it wasn’t, until the other threads pulled at me as well.”
“Great. I get it now. It’s my fault. I’m just going to leave.”
“You’re not listening to me, Shakit. Please just listen. It’s not just you. It’s all the threads that just pull at me,” she said as she cried.
Shakit’s eyes softened.
“Fuck all of the strings, Zeena. What do you want?”
“All of these strings are a part of me. How do you not see that?” she said. She wanted to make him happy and make his pain go away, but her decision in the heat of the moment last night had been her own. The decision was hers.
“Can we just wait till we get married, Shakit? It feels safer that way.”
Shakit looked at her and sighed. Then, he laughed.
“Yes, we can wait,” he said. “You’re just killing me, Zeena Hussain. I can’t feel this rejected for the rest of my life. We better get married A-fucking-SAP.”
Zeena smiled through her tears. He didn’t hate her, and for now, that was enough.
With that, Shakit walked into the bathroom and left her alone in the living room. She walked towards the kitchen and thought of the previous day. Last night, it had felt so natural, easy and beautiful, until it didn’t, until the fear of everything around her consumed her. She wanted to do this the right way. It was different for a girl. Sex wouldn’t destroy Shakit, but it had the power to cripple her. He was a feminist, but he would never get that.
She stirred the contents of the pancake mix and used the ice cream scoop to pour the mix into a now burning pan of oil. She stood over the pancakes and knew that there was a cost for pleasure for a woman like her, living in a multitude of overlapping worlds. She couldn’t get past the fact that the joy of being with a man she loved bore its costs, that when he had pulled her panties off last night, it was as if he was opening her up to a pain that he would never understand. What if they never got married? What would happen then?
She looked into the bedroom and saw Shakit as he spread his hands over the comforter in her bedroom to smooth it out. He was making her bed. He looked up at her and ran his hands through his dark, dense hair.
Their eyes met from separate rooms, and she looked away.
In that moment, Zeena knew that the grey area wasn’t always easy to live in. Black and white felt safer, more wholesome, less exhausting, less risky. She had never been more certain of anything in her life.
Isbah Raja is a 26-year old writer and political consultant from Houston, TX. She has two cats that are named Olivia Pope and Hobbes. Her interests include: learning how to be vulnerable and joyous in the face of a complex world, attending live sporting events, figuring out how to workout without passing out, and backpacking through all the National Parks within the next 5 years.