“Oh I’ve seen that book before. Why would you be reading that?”
“Well… I kind of like reading books about Afghanistan.”
The three girls were casually browsing the shelves of the fiction section, while the rain pounded on the windows of the school library. It would have been difficult to guess their ages, but the school records said that they were in Year 8. One of them was wearing a white headscarf and paired the checkered school dress with some navy trousers. The second was wearing an oversize white school shirt and a pair of navy trousers that were similarly loose. (Her dark mane of long curly hair was pulled into a neat pony tail.) The third was dressed in the same attire as the second and her mid-length light brown hair was also pulled into a neat ponytail. It was she who enjoyed reading books about Afghanistan, and it was she, unlike the others, who could not call it her homeland.
“You do know that sometimes the books are not all true. Right?”, her friend commented cautiously.
“Oh yes, yes”, she mumbled awkwardly and added “of course” in a vain attempt to rectify the situation.
A wave of embarrassment immediately flooded her.
Why was she so awkward?
Why did she have to sound so stupid?
Why did she never ever really say what she thought?
In that moment, she wished nothing more than to disappear. She had made a fool of herself, and the worst kind possible. Now they would think that she was only their friend because she thought their culture was “interesting”, that her courtesy wasn’t genuine, but rather motivated by an unsaid obligation to be “politically correct”. That’s all she could guess. After all, she would never understand what they had talked about so enthusiastically for their mother tongue was not hers.
Several years later, as she unintentionally relived the embarrassment in her mind, she would wonder whether the comment had any relevance to her friends’ ethnicities. Perhaps it had been something to do with the fact that her friend’s thick, dark hair, and matching brown eyes made her look like a Pasthun, whereas the book in question was about a Hazara refugee. Or perhaps her friend had been a Tajik. She was almost certain that her other friend was Hazara because of her small eyes and fair skin. Or perhaps she had been an Uzbek.
She didn’t really think of those things back then. Instead, they shared their lunches generously and talked of school work. Sometimes they glanced through the fashion sections of various magazines aimed at teenage girls and discussed how they could adapt the various outfits presented on the pages to follow the Islamic rulings on modesty. She admired how pious her friends were, and strove to be as respectful, composed and modest as them.
It simply hadn’t ever occurred to her to ask her friends about their ethnicities. Now, she wondered whether it was a sign of ignorance on her part or whether it simply meant that she had seen them for what they were – fellow human beings.
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