Mizna peeks into the classroom. Her long hair swishes with the movement of her head. “Mrs. Foster’s not here! Come on, we can skip.”
“No, we’ll get called at home, won’t we?” I’ve never skipped class.
Salwa shakes her head. “No, don’t worry. Today’s the school play- if we’re not in class, they’ll just assume we went there. They’re not going to call today.”
But I can’t take the risk. I walk past them and into class. The substitute hasn’t come yet.
The girls’ excited voices carry into the room, where only a few students choose to show up. They plan on going to Timmy’s and then coming back early to take the bus home.
I put my throbbing head down onto the cool desk and close my eyes. I try to ignore them. By the last period of class, the room now stinks of gym clothes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cleaning supplies. I just want to go home.
And if Mr. Tang substitutes, he will tell us to read and then will yell at us with his broken English when we take extended bathroom breaks.
The windowless classroom is in the dungeon of the school. The girls talk about taking their Ice Caps outside on benches to drink and enjoy.
“Ikhlas!” whispers Mizna into the room.
I turn around.
“Last chance. Just come on, live once!” Salwa adds, giggling. “Didn’t you say you wanted to be more spontaneous?”
“I meant spontaneously going to the mall, not skipping class!” I turn my back to them. The sun shines after a week of rain and a light breeze ruffles the new leaves on the trees outside. Should I stay or go?
“Ikhlas,” says Mizna. She takes a step away from the doorframe. “Seriously, we’re leaving now. Bye.”
Their voices fade down the hallway. “All right, all right!” I pack my books, grab my bag and run after them.
“I knew you would come,” says Mizna when I finally reach them. She smirks.
“Ju-just one period, right?” my voice shakes as I imagine Mama finding out that I had skipped. I wouldn’t be allowed to go to the library for a week.
They all laugh. “It’s last period, Ikhlas,” says Alaif, patting me on the back. “Don’t worry, they won’t call.”
“And if they do, just pick up and pretend it’s a telemarketer,” chimes in Lisa. “They always call at 7:40 every night. And it’s just an answering machine, so you can pretend it’s one of those You’ve won a free cruise! automatic messages.”
They all laugh while I try to smile.
Walking through the empty hallways, we leave the school without a glitch. The buttery sunshine warms my skin and the wind caresses the chiffon of my scarf. Maybe this will be fun after all.
Mizna walks beside me and grins. “How are you feeling? It’s not so bad, is it?”
I shake my head. “My mom’s going to kill me though.”
She laughs. “I’m sure she won’t.”
At Timmy’s I stand at the back of the line and rummage through my wallet.
Salwa turns around to face me. “What are you getting?”
I hide the empty wallet in my bag. “Oh, um, nothing. I decided not to get anything. Not hungry.”
Mizna overhears me and says, “Come on, you have to get something. Here, I’ll get you a doughnut.”
Ten minutes later, I sit outside on the grass with my free doughnut during the period that I’m supposed to be in Civics and wonder whether Mama will find out and I know I’m going to fail the subject and will get kicked out of high school and live in a cardboard box for the rest of my life.
Everyone slurps and chatters happily. I wonder whether to eat the doughnut and pretend to smile or just jump up and run back to school.
“What’s wrong, Ikhlas?” says Alaif, who sits beside me. “You have a weird look on your face.”
I shake my head and laugh. “The grass is just wet.” I open the paper bag and take a bite of the chocolate glazed doughnut. I look down and stare at the doughnut. Is this the same one I eat all the time? Why does it taste so good?
That night at dinner, Ahmad asks me, “So what did you do in school today?”
The water I just gulped travels down the wrong pipe. I sputter and cough, until Daddy pats me on the back.
In my coughing fit, I quickly glance at the oven clock. 7:35. Five more minutes.
“Are you all right, beta?” Mama asks me.
I nod. “It was –hiccup- fine.”
Ahmad’s eyes narrow. “I asked what you did, not how it was.”
I laugh. “It was the same, always the same.” I pick up my plate and load it in the dishwasher, washing my hands. 7:37.
“Why are you acting all suspicious?” Ahmad joins me at the sink to rinse his biryani-filled plate. “Did you do something wrong?”
“No!” I scoot away from him. “Stop bugging me.”
“Stop bugging your sister, Ahmad,” Mama says, bringing more dishes to the sink. “Clear the table.”
7:39. I wander over to the family room and hover near the phone.
“What are you doing?” Subhaan comes up behind me suddenly and I jump.
“Nothing. I mean, looking for something.” I scratch my head and pretend to look around.
“Ikhlas, what are you doing? Come and help clean up,” Mama calls from the kitchen.
I turn my back to the phone and walk towards the kitchen slowly.
I help load all the dishes into the dishwater, waiting to pounce like a tiger. 7:41. 7:42. 7:43.
The phone does not ring.