The Journey – Part 1 (fiction exploring Muslim identity)

Posted on March 8, 2011 by


The Journey – Part 1

By Michelle Yeung

A Friday in September, 2010. 7:30pm, London, England.
A young woman boards a train on her commute from the office.

Why does this this train always have to be so busy. Is that a seat? Oh is he going to take it. Ah, yes, gone. What is that woman in the short dress wearing on her head? Since when did head-scarves become a fashion statement. Is that what Rachel was talking about over lunch? I’m sure she spends all day surfing the Internet on fashion websites.
Oh there’s a seat opposite, typical, it has a strange looking stain on it, hmm, what shall I do, can’t be fussy I’m too tired. Feels great to sit down, those new chairs in the office aren’t comfortable, Rita probably wouldn’t have noticed she’s hardly at her desk these days. Why are they cutting back anyway, are things not going so well with business? Oh! I left that report out on my desk, was meant to file it back away, confidential, I’ll be in trouble on Monday.
Forget about work, it’s Friday, weekend, what am I doing tomorrow, seeing Camilla, will have to iron my clothes tonight before I go to sleep, can’t do it in the morning I’ll be in a rush, she wants to meet early at the first property, I’m jealous she’s moving into her own place, I really ought to have my own place by now.

What is the that woman staring at? Ah, whatever, who cares. I know I look different but why do people insist on staring, have they never seen a brown woman in a head scarf before? Oh just look away, get back to your boring newspaper. My nails need trimming, badly. Will have to do that tonight as soon as I get home or I’ll forget. Home. Strange to call a place home where people still look at you funny. Even when you were born here, educated here, work here, pay taxes. Come on, when are we going to get moving, we’ve barely left St. Pancras Station, come on driver, today would be nice.
Does the woman opposite me feel at home? Looks as though she would, seems like she has money, nice glasses, they look expensive, the thing on her head still looks strange though. Looks like she would have been beautiful in her day. Did that man outside city hall today really mean it when he said I was beautiful, or was he being sarcastic? Fatima said people can still find a hijabi woman beautiful. I can’t wait to see her again, funny how we formed such a friendship in just one visit. I wonder if anyone’s meeting her at the airport, was it Heathrow she was flying into? I need to find her a gift. What to get someone who’s arriving in the UK for the first time from Lahore? Winter gloves maybe.

Hmm, does that newspaper she’s reading say “Muslim?” Is that why she keeps looking at me, to check if I’m one of them? Who cares, stop caring, I don’t care. Don’t think about it. “Immigration…” oh great, here we go. She’s wondering what I’m doing here, why I came here. When am I going back. Bet she doesn’t even consider that I was born here. Bet she doesn’t think I work in the City, if I told her she’d imagine I was the cleaner. Oh stop it now, I don’t know what she’s thinking, if I judge her, then I’m just as bad. Should I take some work out of my case, so she can see what I do, who I am? Do I need to prove myself to her, why do I feel this way? Why do I feel like she’s worth the effort? Does that say something about me? I hate that I’m self conscious, going to make a pact with myself to stop thinking this way, silly of me.

Funny though, that I can still be made to feel like an outsider, a foreigner, fresh off the boat. Is that their fault though, or is it my fault for feeling it? Who knows, I don’t know, maybe it’s me. My kids, if I ever get married and have some, will it be the same for them, does this feeling lessen each generation? If I marry someone brown, it could be the same, what about someone white, there are white converts, mixed race kids, how is it for them? More confusing? Did I know any mixed race kids at school, wonder how they felt, do they think about these things, where do they belong, on their Mum’s side or Dad’s? I belong here, I’ve never lived in Pakistan, holidays don’t count, only know England, I’m a real Londoner. I love London. Fatima’s so excited to move here. All her family are there, oh but her older brother moved away, where is he again? The USA? No, Canada I think.

Been two years since I first met Fatima, wonder how she’ll adjust. That trip was strange, Mum and Dad become like different people, like they were never in England, they get all weird on me. Must write to grandma, wonder what she’s doing right now, sat in her kitchen, in her blue floral dress, talking no doubt. Grandad. The border. A new life. He carried her over, in his arms. Must have been love. Would like to find that someday. They started a new home in Pakistan. They had one another. Made it easy.
Half way home, not too long to go. The trees are shedding their leaves. Hundreds of leaves blowing in the sky, falling to the ground. The leaves are going home. The leaves are returning from where they came. I’m tired. Looks like she’s fallen asleep, her glasses are falling from her face a little, if they fall I’ll pick them up. Almost home. Giving in, closing eyes, falling asleep. Can’t wait to get home.

Posted in: Poetry & Fiction