Afia Satar is studious, modest, and devout. The daughter of a landholding family in northern Pakistan, Afia has enrolled in an American college with the dream of returning to her country as a doctor. But when a photo surfaces online of Afia holding hands with an American boy, she is suddenly no longer safe—even from the family that cherishes her.
Rising sports star Shahid Satar has been entrusted by his family to watch over Afia in this strange New England landscape. He has sworn to protect his beloved sister from the dangerous customs of America, from its loose morals and easy virtue. Shahid was the one who convinced their parents to allow her to come to the United States. He never imagined he’d be ordered to cleanse the stain of her shame...
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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In the valley below Farishta’s house, the mulberry trees clung fast to their leaves. When the sun rose over the eastern hills they looked plated in gold; but as the wind lifted the dry leaves, they whispered like yellow-haired girls sharing secrets. Seated in a circle in the warm sun, the village women pulled stripped branches from the stacks piled up during the monsoon pruning. From these they made baskets they would use in the spring, when the trees had returned to flower and to fruit and the dead leaves had scattered in the tall grass.
Farishta was looking out from the hujra, the main room of the house. Her stepson Khalid lay sleeping on a charpoy, his injured arm dangling. His breath seemed to catch in his adenoids with a sound that gave her a prick of irritation, at which she felt ashamed. Soon her girls would be home from school; her husband, Tofan, would take time from overseeing the harvest to fetch them and check quickly on Khalid, and then he would be off again. At that point Khalid might wake. He would take from her a lunch of chicken wings and rice. He would ask where his father was.
Slowly she turned from the window, knelt by the charpoy, and touched her palm to his forehead. It had gone clammy; the fever had broken. Tonight, perhaps, he would haul himself from the bed and make his way into the village, to the Internet café, where he drank tea and shouted at whatever political news he could find on the flat screens they lined up along the wall. Farishta didn’t like to admit how much easier she breathed when he was out of the house.
She stood, adjusting her dupatta. She was a compact woman, of middling height, but her firstborn son, Shahid, stood head and shoulders above her, and she was now eye to eye with her thirteen-year-old, Sobia. Even Afia, once the smallest and frailest of her children, could throw an arm around Farishta’s shoulders. She smiled, thinking of Afia. Though Shahid still lit her heart brightest, Afia gave her the warmest hope. They were both half a world away, but not forever. In two months, there would be a wedding for Maryam, one of Tofan’s cousins, and the women would all ask about Farishta’s absent children. Afia, they would assure Farishta, would one day make a brilliant marriage—to a doctor in Islamabad, or a rising star in the army—and be one of the new women of Pakistan, bringing medical care to other wives and mothers while being one herself. If any female could manage such a thing with honor, it was Afia. As to Shahid . . . Farishta’s eyes burned. He might not, she admitted to herself when she had moments alone, come back. In his letters, she could read the truth: He was becoming part of the West, comfortable among its gleaming towers and atomized citizens. Her husband, Tofan, still spoke of Shahid’s returning with his business skills to help Khalid take over the farm. But that was a fantasy. Khalid would have the farm to himself, and he would fill it with his jihadi friends, and Farishta’s old age, her daughters gone, would be spent among sneering men not of her blood.
She tried not to feel this way. She had been trying, now, for almost twenty years.
In the kitchen the cook, Tayyab, was rattling pots. She went in to him. In the corner, her mother-in-law sat embroidering a shawl. Two years ago, the old woman had suffered a loss that had robbed her of speech, but her sight still seemed keen enough. Once, her needlework had been among the finest in the village. “Asalaam aleikum, Moray,” Farishta said, and touched her on the shoulder. The older woman looked up quickly, her eyes watchful as a bird’s. “As soon as Sobia gets home,” Farishta said to the unspoken demand. “I will speak with her.”
Beneath his white beard, Tayyab harbored a knowing grin. How did servants come to know so much? He was hacking a chicken, the dull crunch of small bones beneath the cleaver. Tayyab’s age was a mystery. He looked as old now as he had the day Farishta was brought to the Satar compound here in Nasirabad, almost two decades ago. Since then he had had five more children and lost the two daughters he had managed to marry off. Diabetes was affecting his eyes. But his face was as lean, lined, and sober as ever below his white cap. One of his remaining daughters, in the corner, was grinding cardamom, and the sweet tang filled the air.
Farishta took a wooden spoon and tasted the spicy sauce. Her eyes watered. “Good,” she said. “Khalid likes it spicy.”
She lifted a piece of warm bread from the rounds stacked by the stove and stepped out onto the veranda. The mulberry trees seemed to float on the million wings of their gold leaves. The breeze this time of year was luscious, free of the monsoon but not yet locked into the stony chill of winter. Far off, Tofan’s cotton fields stood brown and stubbled, the harvest just finishing. She could hear the hum of the threshing machines. Every day for months now, her husband had risen before dawn and returned home only to fetch and deliver the girls. When Khalid, Shahid, and Afia had been young, she had done that duty herself; but things had changed. Her husband spoke of getting a driver for Sobia and little Muska. But today he would bring them home, and Farishta would draw Sobia into her bedroom alone and bring out the pair of bloodstained panties she had found stuffed under Sobia’s mattress. The girl had become a woman. Patiently Farishta would explain to her—as she had explained to Afia seven years ago, as her own mother had explained to her when this awful-seeming thing suddenly happened—that a new and wonderful burden was laid upon her. From now on, Sobia would need to learn how to keep her chest covered with her dupatta. She would fast this year during Ramadan. She would no longer play in her old rough ways with her cousin Azlan. She would walk with a new, firm carriage, protecting the treasure of her womanhood.
Tayyab eased open the door from the kitchen. “Tea, memsahib?”
She smiled as he set down the tray—teapot, cup and saucer, biscuit, sugar bowl. Tayyab was fond of the niceties. He followed Farishta’s gaze down the valley, to where the family’s Suzuki van would be making its way from the school. “Only the little one left, now,” he said.
“Muska, yes. She’ll be my last.” By which Farishta meant, and Tayyab understood, that she was done having babies. After three daughters, she was not confident of bringing forth another son. But Tofan had Khalid, and even though Shahid had been his brother’s child, he treated him like a full son. Farishta had tried to do the same with Khalid, but her efforts had hurled themselves, always, against the mortar of his jealousy. Three years ago, when he’d gone to the mountains to join a new madrassa there, she had sighed with relief. But each time he came home, his beard was longer, his skin darker from the sun, his eyes more shifting and suspicious.
“You will be rich in grandchildren, memsahib,” said Tayyab. Farishta watched as he bowed, backed away, and returned to the kitchen. When she turned back to the valley, she saw the Suzuki chuffing up the hill.
Muska dashed out from the backseat, waving the drawings she had done at school. Farishta kissed her and sent her back to take a snack from Tayyab and to feed the goat kid she had been nursing. Sobia exited the car more slowly and walked as if she held a coin between her knees. Her downcast eyes looked bruised. Inwardly Farishta smiled. She remembered the time she had felt this way, unaccountably filthy and out of sorts, wads of tissue paper between her legs, hoping no one would detect that she was slowly bleeding to death. “Come talk to me, Soby,” Farishta said, holding out her hand.
“Something’s wrong with her,” Tofan said. A big man, he had stepped out of the car and stood quaffing a Pepsi. He scarcely paused when he dropped the girls off, especially during harvest. “She has been sullen all the way home, and when I asked—” He stopped when he looked up and caught Farishta’s glance. “Ah,” he said. Whether he understood what was happening with Sobia, what Farishta needed to do, was impossible to say. But he ducked his head back into the car, waved once, and drove off.
Farishta pulled the sack of sanitary napkins she had been saving from the bottom of the bathroom cupboard and went into the girls’ room. Sobia was curled up on the bed, crying quietly. Farishta sat down and put a gentle hand on her daughter’s hip. “Do you want to tell me?” she asked.
Sobia sniffled. Then she said, “I wish Afia was here.”
“Because you could talk to her.” The girl nodded. “About what you are experiencing.” Another nod. “Well, I miss her, too. But I will speak to you as I spoke to her, when she was just your age.” She reached over and tipped up her daughter’s chin. The girl’s eyes glowed with tears. Farishta felt a surge of pride. “You are bleeding,” she said.
“But you are not ill. There is nothing wrong with you.”
“But, Moray, it is awful, it comes—”
“You are bleeding because you are a woman now. It is a sadness and a happiness too. At Ramadan, this year, you will join the fast. Now I will show you how to use these,” she said, pulling out the pads, “and how to begin thinking of yourself. Because you will never be the same again.”
• • •
That evening, as she changed Khalid’s dressing, her husband slit open the mail. “A fortunate day,” Tofan exclaimed. Farishta felt Khalid’s arm stiffen beneath her fingers. The hujra was spacious, filled with the warm light of the setting sun. Along the east face, they had shut the doors that turned the space, in summer, to an open-air living room. At the far end her husband’s two living brothers were watching the news—another drone attack in the mountains, a gang murder in Sindh. When Farishta first came to Nasirabad, she had done the menu planning with her sister-in-law Mahzala, who was kind and protected her from Tofan’s mother. Then Mahzala had died. That brother, Roshan, had never remarried; the other, Saqib, had never married at all. And with the change of customs, Farishta shared her meals more and more with her mother-in-law and her children, so that her husband and his brothers seemed to drift away even as they lounged on charpoys in the very next room.
“A fortunate day,” Tofan repeated, “when we have letters from both our wayfarers.”
Behind the door to the kitchen, Sobia had turned on the smaller television and was laughing at whatever comedy was being broadcast from Lahore. Despite their talk of womanliness this afternoon, despite her walking around the house as if she held a pot on her head, she sounded still like a little girl, giggling at sight gags. She was not a scholar, like Afia, who used to bend over her books by candlelight when there were rolling blackouts. Muska, at ten, was more studious than Sobia, but she was very shy. Only Afia had challenged her teachers. When Farishta had explained to Afia about menstruation, she had asked one question after another about female biology, until Farishta found herself stumped for answers.
She dampened a washcloth in the bowl she’d brought over and bathed Khalid’s lacerated arm. “Indeed a fortunate day,” Khalid was saying to his father, “when Allah sees our house pure and upright.”
“And why shouldn’t he?” Tofan said, opening the first letter. Farishta recognized the handwriting, Shahid’s. She wanted to read it herself, to savor each word. But she kept washing the arm. “Here is your brother,” her husband went on, his eyes scanning the page, “with A’s on two of his midterm exams, and he has won the individual prelims, in Boston. He says there is a coach there, at Harvard. Might help him get into the business school.” Tofan snorted. Folding up the letter, he flexed his eyebrows toward his older son. “You’ll be needing someone who can keep a close eye on the accounting,” he said, “when the time comes for the farm—”
“Baba, please.” Khalid held up a pale hand. “Don’t start on me about the farm. I know my responsibilities. There are things more important right now. There is a war, coming our way—”
“There is no war!” Tofan slapped the stack of letters onto the floor.
“Husband,” Farishta said under her breath.
Tofan took a deep breath. His mustache rose and fell as he tightened his upper lip. In the corner, the TV gabbled. “You want to be a soldier, join the military. That’s a respectable career. Shahid is a great athlete now, but he also has a head for business. No law says the blood son must take over. If you’re not up to the task—”
“Shahid will do it better,” Khalid said. Farishta finished the bandage just as he swung his legs over the edge of the charpoy and sat up, facing away from her. “Shahid does everything better except respect our ways.”
“And what slander,” said Tofan, “are you hinting at?”
Farishta sent him a warning glance: Calm yourself. This is your son whom you love. She felt a quiver of pleasure, knowing her husband cared for Shahid, but she wanted no quarrel between him and his firstborn. Khalid would only blame her.
“No need to hint,” said Khalid. “Not when he takes our sister to Amreeka to show her off, with no concern for the consequences.”
Farishta flushed with irritation. So typical of Khalid, to claim Afia as his sister and denigrate Shahid as if he were an interloper. But as if to prevent her from speaking out of turn, a bell tinkled from the kitchen. “That’s Tayyab,” she said, rising. “Shall I bring dinner out, or will you eat with us?”
“The men will eat alone,” said Khalid.
“We will eat where I say we will eat,” snapped his father. Bending to retrieve the mail, he slit open another envelope. Farishta hovered. “Afia writes,” he said, replacing his reading glasses on his nose, “that she is taking four science classes this fall, and she studies so hard her head hurts. What she wouldn’t give right now, she writes, for a good tikka dinner and her own bed. This does not sound like a girl who is being shown off.”
Khalid grunted. “That’s because you have not seen the photograph.”
“On a certain website. You would find it interesting, Baba.”
“Is it”—Farishta heard the hesitation in her husband’s voice—“objectionable?”
“Judge for yourself. Come with me to Ali Bhai’s.”
Farishta could not constrain herself. “Afia is a modest girl,” she said. “Shahid sees to her safety.”
“I’m sure he does.” This was Saqib, leaving the television to scoop some nuts out of the bowl. “Only they are gone so long, it is easy to be fearful. Why not bring them home, Tofan? For Maryam’s wedding.”
Tofan frowned. “Bring them home? But the expense—”
“Nonsense. The price of your cotton soared this fall.”
“Yes, Baba,” Khalid put in. “Why not celebrate? I would love to see my brilliant stepbrother.”
Farishta caught the note of sarcasm. At the same time she thought of Sobia, wanting her sister home to whisper with her about blooming into a young woman. “I don’t know,” she said hesitantly, “if they can spare the time from their studies.”
Thoughtfully Tofan folded his reading glasses and tucked Afia’s letter into his breast pocket. “They may have a break,” he said as if to himself, “in December.”
“You bring her home,” Khalid said, rising, “and I’ll ask her about that photo.”
Roshan had disengaged from the television and come to pour himself a glass of water from the pitcher by the door. “You bring your daughter home,” he echoed in his sonorous voice, “mothers of many sons in Nasirabad will think you are prepared to entertain proposals.”
“Hardly prepared,” said Farishta quickly. “She has three more years of school.”
“Nothing wrong with proposals,” said her husband. “Khalid, where are you going?”
“I told you. To Ali Bhai’s, the Internet café. I’ll be back for dinner.”
“Mind you are. This is not a hotel.”
“And shall I serve out here?” Farishta asked again as her stepson shut the door to the hujra behind him. “Or will you join—”
Tofan gazed after his firstborn. He sighed and pulled at his mustache. Then he turned back to her. “Bring the food out here,” he said, his voice suddenly wistful. “Tell my daughters I will come see them when they have finished their homework. How is Sobia . . . how is she feeling?”
“She will be fasting at Ramadan.”
“Ah.” He cast a look at the door to the kitchen, as if his daughter had left through it and would not return.
“And will Shahid and Afia—”
Tofan’s eyebrows still drew together. “We should embrace our children while we can,” he said. “And show the doubters how wrong they are.”
At the start of every season, Lissy Hayes gave both her varsity squash teams the honor talk. It was corny as hell, made worse by how much she believed it. But she couldn’t stop. Even though she was athletic director, wrapped in the power of her office, she never gave lectures other than this one. Bringing the women and men together in the big conference room next to her office, she used the whiteboard just like a professor.
“Honor,” she began, “is one of the oldest concepts we have. It comes before love. It comes before victory. It comes from the same Latin-French root as honesty, and honesty is one of its chief components.” She wrote honesty on the whiteboard. “In our sport, that means you don’t call a let when you couldn’t make it to the ball. You call yourself on obstruction when you obstruct. When you’re judging, you call the fouls on your teammate the same as on his opponent. And no, it doesn’t matter what the other guy is doing. Dishonesty needs its tubes tied, it shouldn’t breed.
“What else makes for honor?” she went on. Tall, her blond hair spiky, formidable in sea-blue Enright University warm-ups, she paced the conference room. Enright’s athletes were the Rockwells, from Norman Rockwell, who made his name in the Berkshires; their logo was a jutting promontory of rock from the hill overlooking the campus. “Does winning make for honor?” The new recruits started to shake their heads. They knew they weren’t supposed to admit how much they wanted to win. “Well, sure,” Lissy surprised them by saying. “If you win by playing your best game, you demonstrate your respect for your opponent, who wants nothing less—nothing less—than your best.” Respect, she wrote on the board. “Pandering to an opponent, throwing him or her a few points, that’s dishonorable. Giving up on a squash match when you’re down two games and nine points, that’s dishonorable. The point of a competitive game is to compete, and to compete with everything you’ve got is to act with honor, and don’t let anyone tell you different.
“Then there’s courage,” she said, adding it to the list. “Now, this ain’t war. You’re not getting shot at. But you are trying a back-wall boast when you’re down ten-three, or you’re pounding the rail until you grab your moment. You’re not playing wild, but you’re not playing safe. You’re playing with heart, which is the only honorable way to do anything in this life.”
To her left sat Shahid Satar, her first starter on the men’s team. Squash was the only sport Lissy coached, though she could have taken on tennis, soccer, field hockey in a pinch. Everyone in athletics called her Coach Hayes, which was more than fine by her. She knew all the players on both men’s and women’s squads—knew them intimately, their loves and hates, their daily habits, their family backgrounds, what foods they refused and what jealousies they harbored, what drew forth their greatest effort. In the three years since he came from a remote town in Pakistan to this small town in the Berkshires, Shahid had done more than his best for Enright. He had given Lissy back her sense of magic. With Shahid, she’d come to feel, any given moment held the possibility of perfection, of the opening to a new world. She hadn’t felt this way since she tore her Achilles in the midst of a streak at the Cleveland Classic, twelve years ago, and walked away from the lights of her own squash career. So she glanced at Shahid as she continued, and in return received his slow, enigmatic smile.
“Integrity”—she added the word to the board—“refers to wholeness. If you compromise one part of your life to serve another, you have no integrity, and you are playing without honor. This means the athlete who cheats on her exams is a dishonorable athlete, even if nothing about the exams shows up on the squash court. It means the athlete who stays up all night with a friend at the hospital has to weigh the cost of coming onto the court. Got to be honest—remember that part, about honesty?—about his ability to do his best. Bowing out may be the most honorable thing. On the other hand, staying up all night with a friend who’s drinking herself into a stupor because her boyfriend broke up with her? Then calling at noon to say you’re not a hundred percent for the match? That’s a lack of integrity. So to play with honor you have to know yourself, every bit. You’ve got to keep that self whole.
“And the team.” She was tiring now, her voice going husky, keeping the speech rolling because it all had to be said, though voicing this many words at once seemed to knock the stuffing out of her. Writing Loyalty on the board, she went on. “Keeping the team whole. Loyalty and honor, you know, they’re like fraternal twins. They don’t share quite the same DNA. The player who showboats, the player who sneers at his teammate who just muffed the match, the player who entertains her sorority sisters with tales out of her squash squad—she is disloyal. She’s a blight on the team. How do we treat her? With honor. We do everything we can to get the glue working again, and if we have to let her go we do so with a lot of pain. The opposite is the player who does something magical and invisible for one of his teammates, who gets no credit for it but does it out of pure loyalty, and we all feel his honor, it’s like a warm breeze.”
She squared her shoulders. She glanced at Shahid, and at Margot, the lead on the women’s squad, a chunky fighter from Minnesota. These were her kids. “Loyalty can be dangerous, too. Confirming a let when there was no let, because your teammate needs it so bad? Dishonorable. Informing the coach that your teammate plagiarized, or hawked cocaine, or left the scene of an accident? Honorable. Yeah, I know,” she said, when Yanik and Gus, her up-and-coming starters, shook their heads. “There’s a code. You deal with your friends first, sure. Do everything to get them to come forward. Only if they don’t, then you’re being loyal to something that’s rotten, and it’ll rot your loyalty too. If you feel different about this,” she said, targeting one after the other with her eyes, “you should find a different squad.”
“But you’re the A.D.,” a first-year put in, feeling the speech wind down.
“Find another college then,” she said. “There are plenty of sports teams that don’t bother with honor. But this is Enright, and we do.”
• • •
Occasionally an athlete dropped off the squad after the honor speech. Two years ago, she lost her top male recruit, a tall Argentinean who went out for soccer and told those players that the A.D. was a Class A bitch. Six months later, brought up on sexual assault charges after a frat party, he was suspended. So the speech did serve to weed out some bad apples, but it also put a shine on the good ones. Without it, getting them to cohere—a band of brothers, a circle of sisters—felt like herding cats.
• • •
The first team match of the season, an exhibition against Dartmouth, fell a week after Halloween. Standing in the middle of Court Four, Lissy and the Dartmouth coach, Brad, a sharp-faced pro with a dense tire at his waist and a chip on his shoulder, introduced their teams. The players shook the hands of each player on the opposition and of the coaches, then launched routines of high-fiving, chest-punching, and back-slapping before they broke into paired matches.
“What’ve you got this season, two Americans?” Brad asked as the guys started warming up.
“Four, counting Tom. He sprained his ankle skateboarding.” Lissy nodded toward a player on the bleachers, among the couple dozen spectators who’d come out. If her kids did well over the season, the numbers would grow.
“You’re joking.” Brad moved his finger down the list of Lissy’s players on his clipboard.
“Yanik’s from Virginia,” Lissy said without looking. “Gus Schneider is from right here in Devon, Jamil Brown’s from Queens.”
“His parents are. It’s called the melting pot, Brad.”
“Well, yours make a spicy stew.”
“They’re student athletes. Like yours.”
Brad was assistant A.D. at Dartmouth, which had a much higher profile than Enright. But if Lissy’s teams beat a couple of Ivies, she’d be serious competition for the Brads of the world. She beamed at him and went to watch Court One.
Shahid looked fluid. Two weeks ago he’d placed first in the prelims, setting the individual rankings for the season and bolstering his confidence. Andros, the guy he was playing, was a thick-necked South African; Brad recruited abroad, like Lissy, but among the Anglo and Aryan sort. Two years ago, Andros had called Lissy’s Kurdish player, Afran, a raghead. Afran had almost lost his cool, but Shahid had stepped in, made a joke of it. He helped the others keep a lid on epithets. They got plenty, both from opposing players and from the crowd. Worse, when they first started at Enright, they got it from each other. Since forming her team, Lissy had learned more hate terms than she knew existed. Desi, banana, camel jockey, chi-chi, cholo, kaffir, paki, malaun, slopehead—they’d razzed each other on and off the court until Lissy decided to begin the year with a shouting match: Every offensive name they could think of got tossed out, never to be heard again. When she witnessed Shahid, the paki, go hoarse with cheering for Chander, the malaun, she punched one hand into the palm of the other, flush with success.
“We don’t just preach diversity,” went her standard line to the donors she was sent to woo. “We play it.” In the endless, endlessmeetings about the capital campaign, the d-word, diversity, always brought a marked stiffening from Don Shears, Enright’s president. But since she had taken over as A.D., Enright’s athletic gifting had almost doubled. Maybe the alums weren’t such bigoted blockheads as the administration imagined.
“Keep it flowing,” she shouted to Shahid. She never looked at him without a certain softening, almost like a bruise, in her heart. It wasn’t simply the assurance with which he played, or his birdlike qualities, the way he flew diagonally over the court to retrieve a drop shot or how his brows became a hawk’s brow as he stretched for the volley. It was mostly the look of wonder he wore as the ball arced high in a cross-court lob coming down to the back wall, coming to him. As if physics itself astonished and seduced him.
She watched him finish the point with a nick that died off the right wall, then turned to the others. Afran, at number two, was down 0–4 to a big lug of a kid recruited from Andover. The other courts were trading points. She moved into the bleachers to shake hands with a few stalwarts from the faculty. On the fourth bleacher she spotted Shahid’s sister, Afia, a shy girl who had come to the States last year to attend Smith. She was wearing a loose purple tunic over a black turtleneck, with loose black pants and flats. The only parts of her exposed were her face and hands. No wonder, Lissy thought, she couldn’t recruit women from countries like Pakistan. “Hey there,” Lissy said, making her way over. Afia was flanked by a redheaded girl sporting a Dartmouth sweatshirt. “Early in the season, for fans.”
“I am helping Shahid to study tonight,” said Afia.
“Attagirl. He could use some focus. What’s your excuse?” she said to the redheaded girl.
“This is my friend Taylor,” said Afia.
“Got a guy out there, Taylor?”
The redheaded girl grinned. “He’s up against Afran.”
“Well, it’s just the start.”
She turned back to Afia. Behind her reserve, Lissy had always detected a vibrancy, almost an exultation at the challenge of academics. Such a great thing Shahid had done, giving his sister this chance.
“Your family must be proud of you,” she said now. “And Shahid.” She perched briefly; she needed to get back to the courts.
“Oh, they are proud of Shahid,” the girl said. Her voice cracked a little.
“Come on, Chase!” Taylor jumped up and clapped. Lissy glanced at the scores. Shahid had taken his first game and was on a ninety-second break. But Afran was in trouble. By the time she’d excused herself and made her way back down, the first of his games was over: 11–7, Dartmouth.
Stumbling off the court, Afran collapsed on the bench. Shahid was already crouched by his side. “So,” Lissy said. “What’s going on?”
“Just don’t have it today, Coach.”
Normally she knew how to do this, to let a player talk his way through defeatism to the other side. “Let’s hear it,” she said.
“He’s crowding me, you know? So I try cross-courts to get him off the T, but he volleys, and then I’m just hitting straight again, playing defense.”
“So what are you going to do about it?”
“C’mon, Coach. Don’t make me go through this.”
She sighed. This was her third season with Afran. He could be his own worst enemy. “You want me to tell you?”
“I can’t do anything right today, okay?”
Shahid leaned in. “You can nick the ball,” he said. “You’re rad at that. If he’s geared up to cover a drive, he is not ready to dash up and cover the nick.”
Afran lifted his face from the towel. His eyes were bloodshot. “I guess I could try that.”
“Or I could show the kill and then just flick the ball to the back.”
“Now you’re talking.” Shahid tapped his racquet against Afran’s. “And what about the T?”
“Dominate it,” Afran said. “But, dude, he obstructs me.”
“So ask for a let.”
“Yeah, and let him call me Muhammad.”
“You think that lughead’s not calling me Muhammad?”
“Fifteen seconds,” said Yanik. He had the job of referee for Afran’s match. It was one of squash’s great features, Lissy thought, the way it called on players to shift from competing to judging.
Shahid stood up. “Whose game you playing?” he said to Afran. “His or yours?”
As Shahid turned away, Lissy touched his arm. “Thanks,” she said.
“He’ll be okay,” said Shahid. He glanced over at the score on Chander’s match, which had drawn even. “Go Rockwells!” he shouted. Then he replaced his goggles and stepped back into the glass cage.
Losing, Lissy knew, was never an option for Shahid Satar. When the coach at the Pakistan Squash Federation first called her, Shahid had played professionally for a year. You’d have thought he’d spent a year at hard labor, the coach said, so crushed was his spirit. Not that he had done badly. He had risen up the way boys did in countries with Olympic-sized aspirations: not through his family’s wealth or connections, but through the national sports system. Everything he had, all the medals and rankings, he had earned. There were simply better players on the international scene. When Lissy first spoke with Shahid on the phone, he had apologized for his failures, sure he was wasting her time, so many had believed in him but there he’d gone, again and again, losing in the third round, the fourth round. He’d been forty-eighth in the world in juniors, Lissy had pointed out. A long silence had ensued, in which she realized he was transforming her praise into pity. Finally he said, as though lying prostrate, that he would do his very best for her. He would fight for every point. And yes, yes, he would study. He wanted to learn things. Things besides squash.
His grades from Edwardes College in Peshawar had been good enough to get him an academic scholarship at Enright; the rest, Lissy understood, was being paid by a childless uncle in Peshawar. Already in this, Shahid’s senior year, doors had started to open for him in the States—a chance to coach at Harvard, internships in the corporate world that knew of squash through the elite clubs in New York. He impressed people.
A half hour later, his match was over in three games. As the others went into a fourth, the three-sided block of bleachers looking over the U-shaped set of courts filled with spectators. The players glanced back at the growing crowd and played more fiercely.
Amazing, Lissy always thought, the power of a cheering crowd. Her brothers and their friends, ruffians cheering by the swanky squash courts at the Missouri Athletic Club, called themselves Lissy’s Love Boat. Inspired by them, she used to hit rail after rail in the community center after school let out. To build her speed, she strapped weights onto her ankles. To train her reflexes, she sometimes hit blindfolded, trying to guess from the sound where the ball would bounce.
She resembled Shahid, she thought now as she joined him to watch Afran play his fourth game, more than she did his sister. Like Shahid, she hated to lose; she accepted no excuses from her weaker self. And like Shahid, she was more fragile than anyone knew.
Down 7–9, Afran hit a trickle boast, a tricky shot that came off the side wall and ricocheted low on the front, stretching his opponent into the front corner. Chase caught the effect of it too late and missed before he sprawled on the floor. “That’s my boy,” said Shahid, pumping his fist.
Lissy took her place on the bottom bleacher. If Afran lost this game, he’d be tied at two games all. Chase, she noted, had dropped twenty pounds and put on muscle since last year. He darted around the court more nimbly than Afran.
“I think he’s going down,” she said to Shahid.
“No way, Coach,” Shahid said. “Watch him now.”
Sure enough, Afran took the score to 9–9, then 10–9 with a looping lob that Chase wanted to call out and shanked instead. Though Chase nicked a ball for 10 all, Afran served an ace, and followed it on the next point with a series of rails until he pulled the ball off the wall and slammed a volley—a move that Lissy would have called pure Shahid. “You’ve been coaching him,” she said.
Shahid grinned. “A few tips,” he said. Then, as Afran shook Chase’s hand and the spectators began to gather their things, he glanced up to the bleachers and frowned. “You seen my sister, Coach?”
Lissy twisted to look up at the top bleacher. Afia was gone; not a hijab to be seen. “Her friend’s there,” she said. Taylor didn’t look happy at her boyfriend’s loss. “She’s probably in the ladies’ room.”
“Hey, man,” said Afran as he came off court. “Did it make a difference?”
“Three-two so far, thanks to you,” said Lissy.
“Thanks to him, you mean,” Afran said, fist-jabbing Shahid. “This is your year, man. We’re taking it all the way.”
“Inshallah,” said Shahid.
With a portion of the crowd drifting off, Lissy looked around for her second tier. She had four more matches to coach, and then the women. In the corner by the snack machine, Yanik was stretching his hamstrings. “You seen Gus?” she asked him.
Yanik jerked his head in the direction of the unlit hallway toward the lockers. Sure enough, there stood Gus Schneider, in his uniform, his unruly hair tied back, squash bag at his side. But he wasn’t stretching. He was embracing a girl. For good luck, Lissy thought. She took two steps, then stopped. She recognized the girl. Her head bent back to receive Gus’s kiss, her head scarf had fallen away from her dark hair. Shahid’s sister, Afia.
Lissy smiled. How sweet, she thought. Discreetly, she turned away. She counted to ten. When she turned back, Gus was coming toward her briskly with his bag. And the girl was gone.
Gingerly Afia stepped out of the restroom. She looked both ways before she scurried back to the bleachers. Gus was on the far right court now, three other Enright players on the nearer courts. Shahid’s woman coach prowled back and forth like a blond lioness watching her cubs. Afia perched on one of the top bleachers, out of Gus’s sight, to wait for her brother. She tried to look into the middle distance, as if she were thinking about her biology class, or Maryam’s wedding, or anything other than the salty taste of Gus’s mouth on hers five minutes before.
It wasn’t the first time he’d kissed her. That had been last week, the night he had taken her out for her first hamburger, to Local Burger in Northampton, where he said they got the beef from nearby farms so it was probably close to halal anyway. She’d had a chocolate milkshake with the sandwich. She hadn’t thought much of the meat—she liked her mother’s kofta better—but the shake was creamy, delicious. When he’d pulled the car over to the curb to drop her off, Gus had put his hand gently on her jaw and turned her to him. Pulling away, she had felt a stirring deep inside, like the froth on the milkshake.
But that had been in Gus’s car, in the dark. This kiss had come suddenly as she’d been heading toward the restroom, in the hallway where anyone could be passing by. Suddenly Gus had been in front of her, his squash bag slung over his shoulder, and before she could speak he had cinched her waist with his free hand. Wish me luck, he had said, and his lips were on hers, his tongue flicking quickly in and out of her startled mouth. His fingers had feathered against her hips before he kept going. Anyone could have seen them, anyone.
But no one had. No one, she reminded herself as she practiced her absentminded gazing. Just like the first time the plane lifted away from the tarmac in Peshawar and she was sure it was going to fall, it was turning, it was falling, and then it didn’t fall but rose safe into the blue sky, a free-floating panic grabbed at her breath and pumped through her veins long after the danger was past. And she thought—as she’d thought then—never again, while at the same time the rush of pleasure slipped back and she realized terror wasn’t the only feeling in her veins. And this time, as she pushed herself back onto the bleacher, to look as though she had been there a long while, she felt also the damp warmth and tingle between her legs that Gus’s kiss had ignited. In the restroom she had soaked a paper towel and held it cold to her face, then a dry towel; she had wiped her glasses and fixed her scarf. All she had to do now was appear mildly distracted.
“Hey, Shahid, man,” she heard. She turned to see her brother’s friend Afran rounding the corner from the locker rooms. “Your sister’s right where you left her!”
She smiled modestly at Afran. Behind him, Shahid bounded out. “You go invisible, or what?” he asked in Pashto.
“That’s my power,” she said. And as she lifted her book bag to follow him out, she knew it would be all right. He hadn’t noticed a thing. Though he talked to the coach before they left, she didn’t even stop in front of Gus’s court. She had become expert at dividing her life into compartments, the way fetal cells differentiated until one group could function only as a heart, another only as bone marrow. When Shahid had told her about Maryam’s wedding and the tickets Baba was sending, she had felt only a surge of excitement and homesickness—not the homesickness she’d felt last year, when Massachusetts food made her ill and the winter cold threatened to kill her, but a longing to be back in Nasirabad, with its smells of spice and animal dung, with her sisters’ silly games and the clack of knitting needles from her grandmother, her anâ. By contrast, when Gus rang on the dorm phone—he knew not to ring her mobile—she felt only her heart rising in her chest, as if his call meant their future was unfurling before them as unblemished as a fresh carpet. Now and then she reminded herself that the heart and the bone marrow have to work together, or a person will not survive. But normally she put off for another day the question of reconciling her two separate lives. Only now did she have the memory of that sudden encounter, his hand on her waist, his lips. Like a jewel that glows in the dark.
• • •
When they’d picked up a pair of halal burritos and settled into Shahid’s dorm room, he put on the DVD of Othello he’d checked out of the library. Outside was windy, with fat gray clouds scudding across the sky, the last yellow leaves of fall dancing across Shahid’s window. Already the hours they had spent together last spring, with her hauling him through Principles of Physics, were a distant memory. He wasn’t taking any more sciences, just this lit course and then business and economics. Shahid was a better writer than she, Afia kept telling him; Shakespeare should be easier for him. But he had trouble grasping these plays. When the video was over, all he could talk about were the scenes that weren’t in the version he’d read for class.
“And they show a lot of sex, you know,” he said in Pashto, not looking at Afia. “Because it’s for the Americans, they need that.”
“They show it between married people,” she said quickly. “They wouldn’t show it on the stage.”
She had read the play, for his sake. If he could nail this class, he’d bring his GPA above 3.5, which was what the fellow at Harvard said he needed for that job, next year. She had her own paper to write, for Microbio, but she could do that tonight, with lots of tea. She marked a few places in Act Three. “You see how it’s morning when Cassio asks Desdemona for a favor? Emilia’s with her. She’s never alone with Cassio. But by that night, Othello’s sure his wife has been unfaithful and he strangles her.”
Shahid shook his head. “I’m lost already,” he said. “And it’s all in this old English—”
“But remember in the movie. There’s just the one night that Othello spends with his wife.”
“Yeah, when she marries him against her father’s wishes. I thought I could write about how it’s fated not to work because she’s so headstrong. And in the movie, what they do—”
“Shahid, it’s an American movie. We see that stuff all the time.”
“We don’t write about it.”
“Ignore the sex. If you look at the time frame—”
“Still, he’s a Moor. She’s Italian. Maybe it’s kismet, you know, that they die.”
“Where would you find the evidence, Shahid lala?”
He stood and stretched. His dorm room was smaller and more cluttered than hers. He’d drawn a single this year. “You don’t need evidence,” he said, looking down on the leaf-strewn quad. “This isn’t science.”
“I took a class in poetry last spring. You needed evidence even for that.” Carefully she pointed out to him that Shakespeare’s play let only twelve daylight hours elapse between the time Othello first becomes jealous and the moment he kills Desdemona. “And see here,” she said, pointing to where she had highlighted lines in yellow, “how he says she’s committed the act of shame with Cassio a thousand times. But she hasn’t had the chance to do it once!”
In the end, Shahid couldn’t stop talking about Desdemona’s planting the seed of suspicion by the way she dishonored her family. That was, Afia thought later, the way Baba would see it, and Khalid too—especially Khalid. So she helped Shahid write his paper about Desdemona’s disobedience and kismet. Even if the evidence wasn’t strong, she thought it would get him the B he needed.
Just as they were finishing, three of the squash guys came by to persuade Shahid out for a hamburger. Afia adjusted her hijab and averted her eyes. She knew all Shahid’s teammates. But Gus was among the three, and she didn’t trust herself. “I have to take my sister back to school,” Shahid said to them.
“Both of you come out with us,” said Yanik. “You’re not keeping halal anymore, Shahid. Don’t give us that bullshit.”
“My sister is,” said Shahid.
“Valerie’s hostessing tonight,” Yanik said. “C’mon, dude.”
“I have to get back,” Afia said. It hurt not to lift her eyes to Gus. He was the only secret she kept from her brother—well, he and her job. Three afternoons a week, she bagged groceries at the Price Chopper in Northampton. The scholarship she had from Smith covered tuition and housing, but she had told her family it covered everything, just like Shahid’s scholarship and his allowance from Uncle Omar. The older women at the Price Chopper knew about Gus and didn’t mind when he came by. She called them all “Aunty,” the way she would have at home. At the end of the day, they usually gave her a bag of dinged cans and boxes they’d found, and she sorted through for what was halal. It lifted her spirits, to tie on her apron and spend the dark evenings in a bright place where she felt cared for.
But she could not tell Shahid about the shameful job she held, bagging other people’s food and mopping up their messes; and she could not let him see how well she knew Gus. She put the Gus-feeling away, like moving a wayward cell with a tweezers back to the organ it was meant to serve. As they stepped out of the brick dormitory onto the parking lot, she saw the clouds that had been threatening all day had opened, and rain was coming down. She slipped off her flats and waited barefoot on the cold sidewalk for Shahid to bring his Honda around.
“What, no Wellingtons?” he said when she slid in.
“I bought some last year. They leaked.”
“Where’d you buy them?”
“I think it’s called Payless?”
He chuckled. “Silly sister. Those are cheap, you can’t expect them to last.” He glanced at the clock on the dash. “We’ll swing by the outlets,” he said. “Get you something for rain and snow too. What’d you wear last winter for the snow?”
Afia shrugged. She didn’t want to tell him she had ruined her sturdiest leather shoes, the only ones that could keep her warm enough. She couldn’t expect a brother to notice such things. That he thought she could buy anything at all was odd, since he didn’t know about the grocery job—but even with her own money, she was a burden. Shahid had had to ensure she was safely transported and cared for on weekends and school breaks. He had to answer to Moray and Baba for any tarnish on the gleam of her promise in America.
“They have good boots here,” said Shahid, pulling up in front of Clarks. “Britisher boots, rains all the time there.”
Afia hung back while he pulled one model after another off the shelves and examined them critically. Her eye was drawn to a pretty pair with a buckle on the side and a stacked heel, but she let Shahid ask the saleswoman questions about waterproofing and warmth. “Here,” he said in English when the woman had fetched her size, “try these.”
He handed her a pair of strangely elegant workmen’s boots. They laced up from a padded toe but ended in a flap of shearling. When she stood up in them her feet felt hugged. “These are the kind Patty wears in winter,” she said in Pashto.
“That’s the idea. They’ll keep you dry and warm too.”
She glanced at the tag dangling off the shelf. “But Shahid,” she said, “these are more than a hundred dollars. You can’t spend this on boots!”
He snorted. “You don’t know what Uncle Omar sends me for allowance, do you?”
“But that money’s supposed to be for you—”
“Do you like them? Do they fit?”
Her eyes strayed to the pretty pair. But they were even more and would not keep the rain off. Her toes began to feel the way they felt when she wiggled them in front of a fire. “They’re perfect,” she said.
The rest of the way to Northampton—her boots on in the car, her feet a pair of little ovens—they talked about Maryam’s wedding, the tickets Shahid would buy with Baba’s credit card, the dates they would each be finished with exams. Afia was excited to fly home in the middle of the year. She had told the other girls in her suite about Maryam’s wedding. She had even told her favorite professor, Sue Glasgow, about it. It would be fabulous, Professor Glasgow said, for her to see her family. She didn’t ask, the way the girls did, how long Maryam had known her fiancé; she didn’t ask if Afia liked this young man. Professor Glasgow taught biology, but she understood a lot more about the way families could be organized than the members of Al-Iman, which Afia had been invited to join when she arrived at Smith last year. The Al-Iman girls were mostly Jordanians, and they wore the hijab in the Turkish style, not at all like Pakistanis. The famous Muslim feminists they talked about were from the Middle East, and they all seemed wealthy, with winter vacations on the Black Sea or in Cancun. She didn’t have any more in common with these students, she complained to Shahid, than with the women in the South Asian club, who were all Indians and Sri Lankans.
“It’s the same for me,” Shahid said. “The only one who even starts to understand is Afran, and he’s from Turkey. That’s practically Europe.”
“So strange they are bringing us home now,” Afia said. “Our cousin Geeta was married when we were on spring break, but they didn’t even talk about flying us back. It’s so expensive.”
Shahid’s mouth twisted. “Baba probably wants to talk to me about the farm.”
“He’s not ready to turn over the farm!”
“No. And when he is, it should go to Khalid. He’s Baba’s true son.”
“Baba doesn’t think that way. He’s never made a distinction.”
Shahid shrugged. “Khalid’s the oldest. And I have no interest in the farm.”
“Baba will dangle something. To persuade me to return, not now but sometime, maybe with a Harvard degree.”
Afia’s stomach hollowed out. “And you won’t?”
“There’s nothing for me there. I love home, Afia. Just as much as you. But I can’t be a doctor, tending to poor women in the tribal areas. I’m not going to be an engineer. And I don’t see myself at the Peshawar Sports Academy.” They were turning up Afia’s narrow street. Shahid’s wipers squeaked across the windshield; his headlights shone on a carpet of wet leaves. “Inshallah, Baba could find you a husband who’s emigrating to America,” he said. “Another doctor, or something.”
“What, so I’ll stay in America and keep you company? It never works that way, Shahid. When does Moray see Uncle Omar?”
“She sees him.”
“Well.” He’d pulled over in front of her dorm. She gathered up her cloth bag of books and her old shoes, and hoisted her pocketbook over her shoulder. “I have almost three years still to go,” she said. “Let’s not talk about being separated yet.”
Impulsively, she leaned over and planted a kiss on her brother’s cheek. He turned to her, his eyes wide with shock. “What’s got into you?”
“Thank you,” she said, “for my boots.”
“Thank you for my essay.”
She made her way up the puddled walk and through the old-fashioned foyer of the dorm, so much cozier than Shahid’s. Gus had not reentered her thoughts—not since she had glimpsed him in Shahid’s room, and not yet, not until the tie to Shahid loosened and this strange life of her own slipped in. She climbed the curving stairs to the third floor, where her room was open. On the floor sat Patty and Taylor, eating pizza. “Hey, girlfriend,” Patty called out. “I hear your bro did good.”
“He did. About Chase, I am sorry he loses, Taylor.”
“’S’okay,” Taylor said, not taking her eyes from her laptop screen. “Chase is a punk.”
“They had a fight,” Patty explained.
“Oh! I am sorry.”
“But look here,” Patty went on. “You’re a total celeb, my hijabi roomie.”
Afia sat on her bed and pulled off her boots. They were not beautiful boots, but she would treasure them. Already, on the thin carpet, her feet began to cool. That Chase and Taylor would fight seemed a tragedy, but no one in the room was acting that way. “What is a celeb?” she asked.
“A famous person! Look here.”
They made room for Afia by the coffee table. At Patty’s nod, she lifted a slice of the pizza. Then she peered at the screen Taylor tilted toward her. “This is Smith College,” she said.
“Look closer. Look at the faces. It’s like a slide show.”
Chewing, she watched while a photo of a girl in a graduation cap gave way to one of a girl hitting a hockey ball, which faded to a pair of girls with a professor—she recognized Sue Glasgow—staring at a test tube. That image, too, rolled away, and there was a crowd of excited young women, holding aloft pieces of cardboard with slogans: We are Smith! Diversity = Strength! There, at the right edge, stood Afia herself, her right hand in a high five with a girl from Somalia and her left holding a hand—oh, Allah be merciful, a man’s hand—that connected to a figure who had been cut from the frame. She remembered the event, in late September. She remembered Gus’s hand.
“Roll it back,” she said, the pizza slice poised in the air, halfway to her mouth. Though what she wanted to say was, Take it back, erase it.
“Just wait,” Patty said. “It’ll come around again. Cool, huh?”
As the photos rotated through, a knot of fear gathered under Afia’s rib cage. The rally appeared again. “Cool,” she managed to say.
Waiting outside Coach Hayes’s office the first week of December, Shahid drummed his foot on the tight carpet. He had the itinerary in his back pocket. The past three Januaries, he had played the Tournament of Champions in New York, with Coach Hayes at his side, the week before spring classes began. It was a so-called amateur tourney, but the best in the world came to America for it, and he had the chance to see guys he’d played in the juniors, now struggling like him to figure out their next path to glory. This year, as luck had it, Afia could not leave Smith before December 22. Baba would not hear of a visit shorter than two weeks, and the championships were four days after New Year’s.
He loved squash. It was difficult to say why, to put the feeling into words. Only to say that if he couldn’t play squash, he wasn’t sure how he could live. He would miss this tournament, not that he had any chance of winning, but just for that pulse of life beating within its glass cages.
He hadn’t felt this way at first. It had been Uncle Omar’s idea, one weekend when he’d come to Nasirabad. Squash, Omar had said to Baba. That’s the sport for Shahid. We have a great training center, right in Peshawar. Makes champions. Were not the two greatest squash players of all time Pashtun?
That first week at Omar’s home had been an experiment, a strange bed and a new routine, lessons with Coach Khan every morning at the Peshawar Sports Academy. But when he returned home to Nasirabad, Shahid hadn’t been able to sleep at night, for missing the din of the city. Cars had honked and people shouted inside his ears, their strange accents like distant music. The town of his birth had seemed arid and lifeless. Then he had taken the new squash racquet Omar had given him and shanked the hard rubber ball around the high-walled courtyard by the grammar school. He lost himself in the movement of the ball, the way it came off all the walls, the angles and spins. It was like getting to know a person—if you sent him that way, he bounced up, over, and low on the back wall; if you sent him this way, he hit the corner and shot back to your forehand. The ball answered you back. It surprised you. It caught you from behind, unawares. When Omar’s BMW pulled into Nasirabad a month later, Shahid’s bag had already been packed. His mother’s eyes shone with tears. His father hosted the neighborhood for tikka. To the world championships, they toasted. To the Olympics one day!
Finally the door to Coach Hayes’s office opened. Margot, number one on the women’s squad, was heading out. Coach patted her back, murmuring something. “Hey, Shahid,” Margot said. “How was your Thanksgiving?”
He rose. “I got caught up on work. Coach fed us turkey.”
“I hear that’s quite a feast,” Margot said to Coach Hayes. “Can I count as an international student next year?”
“You and everyone else from New York,” Coach said.
Shahid exchanged grins with Margot as they passed. He would have liked to have her at Coach’s Thanksgiving because she would have made Afia feel less alone. The other guys—Afran, Chander, Carlos—were all from countries where people knew how to keep a respectful distance, which was good. Still, Afia had spent most of her time in the kitchen helping Coach’s husband or on the floor playing with Coach’s three-year-old daughter, Chloe. She said she enjoyed it, but Shahid thought she would rather have been with her Smith friends.
That had been a stroke of genius, he admitted to himself with a nice dollop of pride, finding Smith College for her. After she took her O levels in Nasirabad, her teachers had recommended the university in Peshawar. But she could never have stayed with Uncle Omar, who had no wife. In America, Shahid had declared, he could keep a close eye on her. She could get her medical degree at a women’s university and come home to attend to the women in Nasirabad who needed doctors, women who could not be seen by men. Baba had doubted there were such places in America. But Shahid was persuasive, and Afia’s eyes shone. She had sent in the application for a scholarship, and the letter had come back by express, an acceptance. Their mother had clapped her hands even as she wept.
There were men on her campus, he knew. But the place was designed for women, sensitive to women. Afia would have been horrified by what went on at Enright during the weekends. She would have felt tainted—no: She would have been tainted. As it was, she had returned home last summer the same innocent she had been when she went away. Moray and Baba had been pleased beyond measure. They’d told Khalid so when he came down from the mountains and tried to persuade them to keep Afia home before Amreekastained her namus, her purity. This fall, when school had started up again, Shahid had felt easier in his heart, able to let his sister live her college life without checking up on her every other day.
“I hear you got a B-plus on that Shakespeare paper,” Coach was saying as she led the way into her office. “Good job.”
He smiled sheepishly. “Thanks to my sister.”
“Afia?” Coach’s blond eyebrows went up. “Thought she was all about science.”
“She’s better at everything that is not a matter of hand-eye coordination.”
“Don’t put yourself down, Shahid. When you apply for that Harvard job, you’ll be giving them a GPA that speaks for itself.”
“Does Coach Bradley really think I am qualified?”
“I know he wants you. It’s a question of the business school. You don’t want to be a squash coach all your life.”
“I could be an A.D. Like you.”
She ignored this. She knew him too well—better, in some ways, than either of his parents. She knew he couldn’t care, as she did, about twenty or thirty young people at once. He cared deeply about a few. And he was too proud to be a great coach. When he listened to Coach’s honor talk every year, the parts that stuck with him were loyalty and courage because they echoed pashtunwali, the code of the Pashtuns, of his tribe, which he would never shake off, Harvard or no Harvard.
“So,” Coach was saying, glancing over his itinerary. “You miss the Tournament of Champions. Well, they’ll survive.” Her mouth, though, was tight.
“I’m sorry, Coach, but my parents—”
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s look at the schedule for when you’re back.”
She turned to the wide screen on her desk. It was open to the website for Smith College. “Why are you looking at my sister’s school?” Shahid asked, surprised.
“Oh, that’s Margot. She’s lesbian, you know. And Enright’s such a straight place. She’s thinking of transferring, so we were looking it over together.”
“Margot is—” he started to say, shocked at the word lesbian, which he’d heard before but never about an actual girl he knew. But then his eye followed the photos that drifted across the screen below the Smith College logo. “Wait, Coach,” he said, as her hand went to her mouse.
“Shahid, it’s not what you think, they’re not all gay. I wouldn’t have suggested you send Afia there if—”
“Wait.” He put his hand on her wrist. “Look,” he said.
He pointed to the screen. A photo bloomed into being: a rally of some kind, and his sister, his sister, her mouth open, shouting something, and her hand holding another hand, definitely, yes, he sat clutching Coach’s wrist while the photos looped through and he could see it again, a big hand attached to a muscular arm. A man’s hand.
He slapped at the screen with the back of his hand. “What the hell is this?” he shouted. He stood up. His head felt full and tight. “What is she doing?” He looked at Coach, who had a strange, pale look.
“Shahid, calm down,” she said. “That’s Afia, right? You’re upset because—”
“Turn it off! Turn the bloody thing off!”
She peered once more at the image as it loomed up, then closed down her browser. She stood to face him. “She’s at a rally,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong. You’ve had your picture on the Enright site. She’s not being inflammatory or anything. If you want me to talk to her . . .”
“It’s not what she’s doing, Coach. It’s what she is holding.”
She frowned. She looked confused. Three years now, she’d been his coach. So long he’d almost forgotten how horrified he’d been when he first laid eyes on her. When he wrote home about life at Enright, he never mentioned having a female coach, much less a female A.D. They would have thought him disrespected, or thought squash was not just unpopular in the States but reviled. Even Uncle Omar, who had spoken with Coach Hayes on the phone, thought she was an underling, and Shahid had never set him straight.
But whenever Coach fixed him with her knowing eyes, Shahid couldn’t imagine an authority greater than hers. She never barked, like other coaches; she didn’t need to. She went to the heart of the matter, whether it was the joint you’d smoked the night before or your showing off for the girl in the third row. Even when you were at your worst, she would know at least one thing you were doing right. She never dissed your opponent. You’ve got his attention, she’d sometimes say. Now earn his respect. The year before Shahid came, Enright had landed Jean-Louis Nèves, a top recruit from Belgium. When Nèves got caught DUI, she suspended him without a blink; when three others threatened to quit, she opened the door to usher them out. They came back the next day, Nèves the next year. He told Shahid that Coach had kept him in therapy every week; he’d hated the bitch, he said, and yet he owed her his life.
Now, though, she was recoiling. “Shahid,” she said, “you had a girlfriend, last year.”
“This is nothing to do with that. Did you not see?” He waved at the blank computer screen as if the picture were still on it, his sister’s hand in that paw.
“Shahid, you and Afia are in the States now. If she wants to have a boyfriend—”
“Does she? Does she have one?” He was shouting at her now, at his coach. Coach Khan had caned boys who shouted back.
But only a flicker of something—disapproval? doubt?—disturbed her gaze. Then she said, “I don’t know, Shahid. It’s none of my business. I’m not sure it’s yours.”
What People are Saying About This
"Vivid, compelling...Afia and her brother Shahid live between two worlds—their traditional family in rural Pakistan, and New England's liberal college culture...Lucy Ferris's nuanced insight enables us to see this story from all sides—a rare achievement."—Claire Messud, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman Upstairs and The Emperor's Children
“A collision of cultures between star-crossed lovers redefines the meaning of honor in this modern-day literary thriller. Once again, Lucy Ferriss has delivered a bold and engaging novel, one you¹ll find impossible to put down.”—A. Manette Ansay, author of Vinegar Hill and Good Things I Wish You
“A wrenching story of Pakistani siblings struggling to adapt their expectations of love and trust to an entirely different American context where a Facebook post can lead to betrayal and the destruction of an entire family a world away. The story is told with compassion and insight into the traditions of both societies. I couldn't put it down.”—Jenny White, author of The Sultan’s Seal
“A Sister to Honor is a powerful exploration of faith, family, and the deep cultural divides that threaten to destroy these in our modern world. Ferriss has written a remarkable novel that strikes the perfect balance between the global and the personal.”—Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street
“The swift-moving narrative traverses very different worlds, creating an exquisite tension that lasts well after the novel is over. Recommended for fans of Claire Messud, Jenny White, and readers who like a political slant to their fiction.” —Library Journal
“Breathtakingly pertinent… A heartbreaking situation, illuminating the cultural gap between the modern and traditional world.” —RT Book Reviews
“Ferriss fills one family’s story with the elements of a political thriller. The well-drawn characters and believable settings lead readers to some understanding of how these young people are torn between tradition and modern life, but there are no easy answers.” —Booklist
Praise for Lucy Ferriss
“One of the best writers around.”—Oscar Hijuelos
“A courageous and thought-provoking writer.”—New York Times bestselling author Tom Perrotta
“A masterful storyteller.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Wally Lamb
“Ferriss precisely traces the evolution of feeling.”—The New York Times Book Review