Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating(4)

“You know I can’t.” I sigh, turning away from the two of them. I don’t know how many times I’ve had this same conversation with Aisling and Dee. They still keep insisting.

“I just don’t understand,” Aisling says. “Your mom knows me. She’s met me. You’re always going to be safe and comfortable in my house. Why can’t you just sleep over?”

“There’s no logical reason for it, Aisling.” I’m tired of having to explain this over and over again. Especially because one day I’m afraid Aisling and Dee are going to be tired too, and their tiredness won’t lead them to accepting me as I am, but to finding someone else who can do all of the “normal” things they want to do. Like sleep over. “It’s just part of being Bengali and Muslim. It’s just … the way things are.”

“So you’re just going to go home?” Aisling doesn’t look happy from the way her lips are pressed into a thin line. I hate it when Aisling looks at me like that. She seems to do it more often than not these days; it feels like I can’t do anything to make her happy. I remember when we were in primary school—before we even knew Dee—and we used to do everything together. Back then Aisling didn’t mind so much that I couldn’t stay out late, or do sleepovers, or go drinking (which of course she didn’t do back then). Now Aisling seems to notice all of the little things that make us different. And she hates them all.

“I have to. It’s … going to get dark soon, and … yeah.” The truth is that Amma won’t mind if I stop by and watch a few episodes of Riverdale with Aisling and Dee and am home a few hours later. She probably wouldn’t even mind if I slept over at Aisling’s. But if I go to Aisling’s, I’ll definitely miss Maghrib, and watching Riverdale with the two of them is not worth missing that. Going over to Aisling’s means I can’t pray at all, because the one or two times I’ve mentioned prayer to Aisling and Dee they’ve gotten so uncomfortable that it made me uncomfortable. So it’s better that I just keep that part of my life wrapped up and hidden away in my own home.

“You’re coming tomorrow, right?” Dee asks, and I look away from the window and toward her. She’s wearing a bright smile.” After school … bring something to change into!”

“I don’t know …” Aisling and Dee invited me to the cinema, and I already know that their boyfriends, Barry and Colm, are going to be there. I’m not sure if I want to spend a whole afternoon listening to them shift in the movie theater, being the fifth wheel. Before I can make an excuse, Aisling leans forward and shoots me a glare.

“Don’t you dare back out!” she says. “Come on, Maira. We came to your dad’s thing. And you promised!”

It’s the last thing I want to do after a whole day of school, but I nod. “Sure, yeah. I’ll be there.”

Aisling still seems a little annoyed at me the next day at school. I try to appease her with bright smiles all day.

But at lunchtime, while I’m slipping books out of my locker, Aisling shoots me a strange look.

“Everything okay?” I ask.

She leans her back against the locker next to mine and says, “Are you really friends with Ishita Dey?”

Dee stops secretly scrolling through her Instagram by her own locker next to mine to give me a once over at Aisling’s question.

“Why would you ask that?” Ishita and I are definitely not what I would call friends. I wouldn’t even call us friendly. Honestly, I’m not sure what I would call us. Complicated, I guess.

“This Instagram picture you put up last weekend has her in it?” Her statement comes off more like a question, even as she’s holding up her phone to show me the picture. Aisling must have really been analyzing the picture well, because you can only see Ishita in the very corner and she’s not even very clear.

“She’s like … a family friend, kind of. Or like … a Bengali friend. I don’t know. I was at a Bengali thing.” I shake my head. I don’t know how to explain myself. The whole Bengali thing is so different from anything my white Irish friends have ever dealt with—there’s no way to explain it without getting into the nitty gritty of it. And even then, they don’t get it. Or don’t want to get it, I suppose. There’s just no Irish equivalent of dawats.

“It looks like fun,” Dee says, tucking her phone into her breast pocket and away from the prying eyes of the teachers. “How come you never invite us to your ‘Bengali’ things?”

“Urn.” I hesitate, unsure of exactly how to answer that. Because you’re not Bengali seems a little too direct. But it’s also the truth. I’m not sure why they would even want to come. They would fit in about as well as an elephant in the middle of a poultry farm. “I guess … it’s just a thing that … my family does. It’s not really for … friends.”

“Ishita isn’t your family,” Aisling points out.

I have to stifle a sigh. I also have to stop myself from rubbing my nose in frustration. And I have to keep my tone in check, ensuring none of my annoyance seeps in. “Yeah, Ishita is like … a family friend. So it’s a little different. It’s complicated.” Aisling and Dee look like they still have a million questions. Questions I don’t have answers to. Questions I don’t want to answer. So I zip up my bag and swing it onto my back and say, “I’m starving. Can we have lunch please?”

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