One thing that isn’t pretend? Surveillance. I may do stupid things, I may risk getting busted after curfew to see my boyfriend, but I’m not dumb enough to send a regular text. We use the Signal app so our texts are encrypted.

ME: I’m home. Are you okay?

DAVID: Yeah. It was Jim.

ME: From down the street? What the hell?

DAVID: He’s Patriot’s Alliance.

ME: WTF is that?

DAVID: I guess some new initiative to keep us “safe.”

ME: Right. “Safe” from people like me. Wait. They’re the ones using PatriotAPP to snitch on their neighbors, right? Assholes.

DAVID: He didn’t see that it was you. I told him it was Ashley. That we ran because the flashlight freaked us out, we thought he was a serial killer or something. I think he believed me. He gave me this bro pat on the back. It was gross.

ME: Will she back you up?

DAVID: She better. She’s my lab partner now, so I’ll sabotage every damn experiment if she doesn’t.

A fireball grows inside my chest. Of course he was going to get a new lab partner when I left school. Of course his life was going to continue. I’m so filled with jealousy that Ashley—mild-mannered, sweet-since-forever Ashley—gets to sit next to David for an entire hour at school without having to risk anything. I want to throw my phone to the ground, stomp on it, and crush it into tiny bits of glass and metal. But what’s the use in complaining about how unfair life is? It’s always been unfair to someone, somewhere. Now, I guess, it’s my turn.

DAVID: Layla?

ME: Here.

DAVID: I love you.

ME: I know.

DAVID: I’ll come by after school tomorrow if I can. Okay? Sweet dreams.


What I want to text:

When I look up from my phone, I see that my parents have slipped into the kitchen. I can hear them pulling dishes out of the cupboard and setting the table. I run upstairs to put my phone away. No phones at the dinner table in the Amin household.

I hurry back down and find my parents already seated in the dining room. I take my usual chair, the gray tweed perfectly molded to the shape of my body. No one says a word. My dad catches my eye for a moment, but my mom doesn’t look up. She has the shorter fuse, and the flames of her anger take longer to put out than my dad’s. They have their differences, but they almost always present a united front. I learned that when I was a kid and would try to play one off the other to get my way. Never worked.

“Spinach?” my mom asks me. I can still hear a little edge in her voice, but I can also tell she’s trying to soften it.

“No, thanks,” I say.

She offers some to my dad.

“As long as it’s not too garlicky,” he replies.

“After twenty years of marriage, I think I know how you like your spinach.” My mom smiles at him and hands him a steaming bowl of palak gosht.

I look at them, across the table from me. I grab the edges of my hoodie and twist the fabric in my hands. Minutes ago I raced in the front door, scared I was being chased by some government agent who turned out to be the middle-aged dentist who lives down the street from David, and my parents greeted me with looks of horror on their faces, and now they’re married-flirting about spinach.

“I don’t understand how you guys are acting all normal,” I say. “A little bit ago you were freaking out at me for being late for curfew, and now we’re talking about garlic? They’re burning books—Dad’s books.”

“What do you expect us to do, Layla?” my father asks in a soft voice. “How do you propose I stop a mob?” My dad has this calm-down-Layla voice that he turns on when he wants to reassure me, make me feel safe. But hearing it in my ears right now, it feels weak.

“I know you’ve both been too afraid to say anything, to do anything, but your silence isn’t shielding us from hatred.”

My mom walks over to me and puts her arm around my shoulders. Part of me feels like leaning into her embrace, but there’s a part of me that’s angry, too, so I stiffen at her touch. She pulls away and takes a deep breath. “Of course we want to say something, do something. But if we speak out, we’ll be jailed. Then who will take care of you?”

For a moment, I feel ashamed for guilt-tripping them. But I push that feeling away because the more I think, the more anger rushes through my veins.

“We can’t ignore what the government is doing—what they’re making everyone do. Dad got fired. We have curfews.” I shake my head. “You’re too busy talking about spinach and garlic to say something. Do something. Anything.”

“Beta,” my dad says, “we’re not ignoring the reality of our lives. We’re not hiding. We didn’t deny who we are when we had the chance, did we? If I recall, when I wavered, when I questioned if maybe we should lie, you and your mother held steadfast. And you were right. We answered the census truthfully. We are Muslims. We are Americans. And we will continue to live our lives knowing that those two identities aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“Well, maybe we should’ve lied on that stupid census. Maybe it’s dumb to hold on to principles when your beliefs can get you in trouble,” I tell them. “Other people lied. Sara and Aidan? They’re in London now, avoiding this whole mess because they checked ‘no religion’ instead of ‘Muslim.’ Easy.”

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