Trudging through the sodden dirt-path, the permanent frown on Amaan’s face deepened as she lost herself in thought. The mud streaked her tattered sneakers and seeped through the splitting seams.
Squelch. She could feel the wetness inside her shoes. Now her socks were soaked too.
She pulled the thick sweaters around her shoulders tighter, hugging her arms close. Amaan had always assumed the horrible stories about kids losing their families were simply melodramatic tales, used to frighten more well-off children into being thankful. Amaan had also thought that these things could possibly never happen to her. And yet they did.
Now, as she wandered aimlessly down the street, she regretted every single one of these skeptical assumptions, wishing no more than to have never allowed them to root themselves in her mind. Every morsel of her soul felt branded with the pain of loss and suffering, as “young and fresh” as she felt to be. Continuing down the unpaved sidewalk, another realization dawned upon her: Where am I even going?
With her home burned down to ashes on the muddy ground, and her family having recently reunited with the Lord, she had no place to call home. Her only known family lived in Palestine. She, of course, did not want to become a burden, and add to their already stressful lives.
She impatiently brushed the beginnings of tears from her eyes, swallowed the uprising hurt in her throat and looked around. The air carried a chill of what Amaan could only label as grief. Everywhere she looked, every slightest touch or sound, brought back her haunting past. She had become an overnight orphan. Her sense of purpose had fizzled out, that fire in her belly extinguished by the flames in her home.
The sharp creak of rusty hinges down the street behind her caught Amaan’s attention. She turned on her heel, facial expression as drained and tired as that of a porcelain doll.
An old woman with crinkles around her eyes from years of smiles stood on the weathered threshold before her and waved. “Good morning!” The woman’s frail voice split the chilly dawn air.
“…Morning,” Amaan grumbled after a few long, terse moments. The elderly woman’s smile grew larger still, her arms outstretched.
“Why, you look upset! Come in, come in. There’s always something to be happy about!”
Some hidden trait in the way these words flowed off of the woman’s tongue whisked Amaan back into the memory of her father’s rumbling chuckle. She bit her tongue. He was so close, yet so far.
Amaan tentatively stepped inside the house, allowing the woman to lead the way deeper in. The house was warm and inviting, the air thick with the scents of cinnamon and apple pie. She shrugged off the thick bundle of sweaters wrapped around her and reluctantly sat, teetering on the edge of a plump, cushioned chair.
The woman waddled forward on unsteady feet, clutching a small tray of cups and sugar. She set it down on the nutmeg-colored coffee table between them. “Tea, my dear?” the woman pointed to the cups and smiled, as warmly as the rich reds and browns that filled the room.
Amaan clamped down on her tongue to keep her composure in front of the hostess. Baba would have taken jasmine. Mama would’ve wanted something herbal…
The sixteen year old chanced a weak smile. “No thanks. It isn’t really… my cup of tea.” The old woman grinned at the pun and poured herself a steaming cup of earl grey. “It’s alright, my dear. I’m Mrs. Adams, by the way. But you can call me Dorothy if you’d like.” She nodded and took a few sips from her cup. Taking one more look at the frail Caucasian neighbor seated across from her, Amaan’s rough exterior melted away. I’ve got nowhere to be, no one to see. I might as well humor a lonely old woman.
They rattled out some small talk, the kettle of conversation beginning to heat They discussed the weather, the furniture, the difference between coffee and tea… time melted away into the clock above the mantelpiece. Tick. Tick.
A second kettle of tea came to a boil, as did their conversation and friendly chatter. Presenting Amaan with a cup of soothing tea (or as she jokingly called it, hot leaf juice), she innocently posed a question: “So… how’s your family doing?” It was typical, and it was expected. Everyone always had family in mind.
Amaan chewed her lip anxiously. I thought she knew. “Uh…” Amaan paused, feeling grief rise up again. She blinked back tears again. “They… they’re…” She lowered her eyes to the white porcelain teapot. “They are all in a better place now.”
Thick silence fogged the very air that had been cheerful and cozy mere moments ago. Amaan refused to meet her new companion’s gaze.
Dorothy , as she was named, quietly set her teacup and saucer down and slipped around the table. She slid a comforting arm around Amaan’s shoulder, words not able to form in her suddenly dry mouth. The two sat in silence, in remembrance of those they had lost. Dorothy rose shakily. “Just a moment,” she whispered.
Expecting some elderly-woman-type remedy, Amaan’s gut instinct forced her to her feet. Get out. Get out before you start crying. Minutes passed, or had they been seconds? Just moments. The girl’s mind could tell no difference. She grabbed her sweaters and began to tiptoe out the door.
“Amaan?” Dorothy returned her eyes wide and questioning. “I want to show you something.”
Amaan did not budge an inch, and Dorothy continued hesitantly. “Well, my cousin was Muslim. Like you. She wore a headscarf and everything.” Dorothy made circular motions around her face, smiling wryly, “She wanted me to become Muslim, too. But- she was- killed in a plane crash two years ago. I swore, if I met another Muslim, I would treat them with the very love I treated her with.”
Taking a step back, tears threatening to leak out, Amaan turned on her heel to hide her face. “Sorry. I have to leave,” she lied flatly, knowing she had nowhere to be, and nowhere to go. She slipped out, feeling the sharp raindrops rhythmically hitting her face. Something pulled her back in her subconscious, nagging her gut. She slowly extracted a napkin and 50 cent pen from her pocket and hastily scribbled a note.
“Thank…you…for…the….tea.” she recited to herself. In minuscule print at the bottom, she added- “You give me hope, Mrs. Adams.”
Amaan backed away. The deed was done. She couldn’t stay here. The shadows of her past would always come back to haunt her, casting darkness on the path before her. To avoid any tragedy, Amaan decided in a split second to not allow herself to get attached to anything, or anyone. She would not allow herself to be susceptible to the power of death, always bending her emotions to its will.
She could never return.
To be continued in ‘Not Her Cup of Tea: Part II’.