I hold a sheet of ‘Getting to know you’ bingo in my hands. It’s one of those first day of school icebreakers where you have find someone who ‘wears glasses’ or ‘went abroad this summer’ or ‘has siblings’. I don’t mind the icebreaker on its own, but it’s about the third one I’ve done all week and it stopped being fun after the first time.
Holding in my sigh, I mill around the room, adding my voice to the din of others, shouting, “Anyone who made their bed this morning? Anyone who knows how to swim?”
A girl I haven’t spoken to yet nods beside me. “I know how to swim,” she says with a smile. “How about you, do you play a competitive sport?”
I shake my head. “No, but I do love to read,” I say, glancing at her mostly filled sheet.
We exchange sheets and names, and I add her to the long list of classmates I’ll be working with this semester.
“Know anyone who went camping this summer?” I ask her, looking down at my mostly empty sheet. “Or likes to skateboard?”
She peruses her sheet. “Hmm, I think Billy went camping. He’s in the green shirt over there.” She points him out to me.
Thanking her, I squeeze through the traffic in the room, tossing a few sorrys over my shoulder as I get through.
“Hi,” I say to the guy she pointed out. “I hear you went camping this summer?”
He flashes me a grin. “I sure did,” he says, holding his hand out for my sheet and handing me his.
I scribble my name in a box on his sheet under ‘is the youngest/oldest child in their family’ and hand him his sheet back. “Thanks.”
“No worries,” he says. “I’m Billy, by the way. What’s your name?” He holds out a hand expectantly to me.
I freeze, staring at the proffered limb, not knowing what to do.
Islamically, men and women who aren’t related or married aren’t supposed to be in physical contact. But how exactly do you explain this to someone who’s just expressing a Western cultural norm? It’s not his fault that he’s being perfectly friendly and polite.
Last time this happened, I promised myself that I wouldn’t fall victim to my weakness of wanting to fit in. That I would calmly and politely explain that I cannot shake a man’s hand in my faith. It’s a pretty simple sentence, but I can feel my resolve shaking as my tongue suddenly feels like fur, and my mouth seems to be sealed shut. This happens every single time.
My face flames as I realise the smallness of the room and the fact that the people are hovering around us, as they ask each other questions and move across the space.
It’s only been a few seconds since he’s asked me, but I can feel the awkwardness that stretches as the time passes. My hands shake as I stare at the hand, like a woman possessed, and I feel myself caught in the endless battle with myself.
To shake or not to shake…what do I do?