Authors: Na'ima B. Robert
Boy vs Girl
Dedicated to all who work to inspire our youth
With special thanks to Humayrah, Aaminah, Jannah, Sara, Sameer, Umm Abdur-Rahman,
Umm Ruqeyah and Umm Junayd - this book is what it is because of you.
Boy vs Girl
copyright Â© Frances Lincoln Limited 2010
Text copyright Â© Naima B Robert 2010
First published in Great Britain in 2010 and in the USA in 2011 by
Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 4 Torriano Mews,
Torriano Avenue, London NW5 2RZ
All rights reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electrical, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying. In the United Kingdom such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available on request
Printed in the United Kingdom
1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
Na'ima B. Robert
Farhana stood in front of her full-length mirror and scrutinised her reflection. Her hair was loose, ready to be restrained in a regulation ponytail for school. But for now, it hung about her shoulders and down her back, straight, but not dead straight enough to be the height of fashion. Nothing a pair of ceramic straighteners wouldn't fix, though. All the hot Asian girls wore their hair dead straight nowadays â curls were so out.
She peered at her skin, smooth, the colour of a latte, with a hint of mocha. With her green eyes framed by long, dark eyelashes and full lips, guys often compared her to Aishwara Rai, the famous Bollywood actress. As if. Guys will say anything to get what they want.
Her school uniform sat loosely on her tall frame and skimmed her curves, just the way her mum
liked it. No jumper bought two sizes too small for her, no skirts hitched up above the knee. Her version of the school uniform was just modest enough - what a decent Pakistani girl should look like, as Ummerji would say.
But as she adjusted her waistband her eyes flickered upwards, towards the white piece of fabric that was perched on the corner of the mirror. In the back of her mind, she could hear her Auntie Najma's voice: âThe
is a protection, Farhana, not an oppression. Your body, the beauty you've been blessed with, are your private property, not to be seen by just anyone. You're worth so much more than that.'
Farhana swallowed hard and reached for the
. She imagined herself folding it into a neat triangle, the edges precisely matched, lifting it over her head and bringing the two sides together under her chin, taking a pin and pinning it closed, drawing the two ends over her shoulders. Farhana in
. Did she dare?
But then she heard her mother's voice: âDressing modestly is enough â so many people go to extremes these days. Just look at your Auntie Najma! You don't need all this
hijab, jilbab, niqab
nonsense. For a start, it's not our culture and, while we are living here, we should try to blend in, not stand out. It gives the wrong impression, that Muslim women are oppressed. As long as you have faith in your heart, that's all you need.'
And she saw too, with absolute clarity, the shock on Shazia's face, the horror on Robina's, the weird looks from the other girls at school, the smirks from the guys down the town centre.
And then there was Malik. What would he say?
She shook her head. Of course she didn't dare. Not yet. Not today.
“Farhana! Faraz!” Her mother's voice came from downstairs. “Hurry up, you'll be late!”
Farhana grabbed her bag and scooped her books off her desk. She'd pack them properly later. “Coming, Ummerji!” she called down.
* * *
In his room across the hall, Farhana's twin brother Faraz was also getting ready for school. Born six minutes after his sister, he was later than her in most other things too. He had not yet put on
his school shirt, and was standing in front of the mirror in a vest and school trousers. He had already spiked his hair with gel as he did every morning, after splashing cologne on to his neck and stubbly chin. He smiled inwardly when he thought of the beard that was trying to assert itself â he was a man already.
He turned and looked again at his upper arm, smooth, brown and muscular. All that time at the gym last year had paid off: he wasn't weedy any more. Then he thought of the needles, the blue ink, the stain that might soon appear there, and he winced.
Could he really go through with it?
Things he had heard since childhood, in
, in conversations between his father and the brothers at the mosque, flew through his mind: tattoos,
, forbidden in Islam. âThere is to be no change in the creation of Allah â¦' Wasn't that what his Auntie Najma had said? He bit his lip.
Then he remembered Skrooz's voice, smooth as honey, with an edge as sharp as a switchblade. âAll the lads have it, Fraz. This symbol is powerful, blud, it commands respect, wherever you go. But not everyone can get it, y'know.
You have to
it, see? And youâ¦' He had pointed at him, nodding his head, looking at him sideways. âYou're well on your way, son, well on your way. Just a few more little errands for me and you'll wear the badge too.'
Faraz felt his heart expand in his chest. It felt good to see the sly looks of respect that came his way nowadays. Maybe one tattoo was worth it? Just the oneâ¦
He heard his mother calling him and he shouted down to her. “I'm there, Ummerji, I'm there!”
He grabbed the clean, pressed school shirt that his mother had hung up for him the night before and shrugged it on. A clean shirt was as far as he would go to appease his mother â she could forget the tie though. Only losers wore ties at his school.
Another call from downstairs and he bolted out of the door.
* * *
“I spoke to
Shakir last night,” said the twins' father, Mahmood, as he peered at the morning paper over his breakfast.
“Did he say when he thought Ramzan would
be?” Their mother, Uzma, was lifting fried eggs on to two plates, supervising the toaster, waiting for the kettle to boil.
“He reckons next Monday,” answered Mahmood, sipping his hot, sweet tea, “but they will wait to hear the news from Pakistan before announcing it.”
“D'you think we'll start fasting with everyone else in the UK this year, Dad?” Farhana poured herself a glass of juice and sat down.
“Ah, get us a drink, sis,” Faraz said over his shoulder as he sat programming his iPod.
“Sure, lazybones,” she said, scowling good-naturedly. Why did he always have to be waited on? Honestly, men!
Uzma, the twins' mother, gazed fondly at this exchange between her two children. Farhana and Faraz had been born after six years of marriage - a lifetime in her mother's eyes - and there had been no more children after that. This certainly wasn't what she had imagined when she had first made that trip over from Karachi as a new bride, all those years ago.
, her parents had chosen well: Mahmood, her cousin, was a good man, she couldn't
fault him and, all in all, she was content. She had a girl
a boy and they were good kids, respectful and well-behaved. She didn't worry about them going off the rails and doing anything crazy, like some of her friends' childrenâ¦ Even Pakistanis weren't safe from the corruption that filled the media, it seemed.
She shuddered slightly when she remembered the riots that had taken place a few years earlier, riots that had spilled over into her life when a gang of youths had looted their little newsagent's shop. She remembered thanking God that her Faraz wasn't old enough to be involved. He had still been an awkward lad in glasses at the time. Not that she ever worried about him getting into that sort of thing. Not her Faraz. He had always been the soft one, the tender one, the one who came to give you a hug for no reason, who could cry over a beautiful recitation of the
Farhana was the tough one, the brainy one, who wanted reasons and explanations for everything. Uzma knew that it was meant to be the other way round but she couldn't deny their true characters, any more than their father could accept that Faraz was not a macho sportsman like he had
been. She poured her husband another cup of tea and turned her thoughts to Ramadan.
“Well, it depends, Farhana,” Mahmood was saying. “The mosque will want to follow Pakistan, as they always have, so we'll just do what they do.”
Farhana was always baffled by the debates about the start of Ramadan â about whether the moon had been sighted or not, and by whom, and in which country. It seemed simple enough: if the new moon was seen, the new month in the lunar calendar had begun: time to start fasting. It didn't stop people arguing about it, thoughâ¦.
She bit into her toast thoughtfully. In a few days, they wouldn't be eating at this time. The kitchen would be clean and silent, no plates or cups on the table, no sizzling frying pan. That would all have been cleared away after
, the meal they ate before dawn, while it was still dark. It would only come to life again in the afternoon, when they started to prepare the food before
, the evening meal to break their fast, at sunset.
Farhana smiled. She was looking forward to Ramadan this year. Something inside her said that this year would be different from all the others.
I'm going to make a change
, she thought to
herself, and her smile broadened.
Faraz, too, had Ramadan on his mind. He had tried to fast last year but there was too much going on, too many distractions. He had given up halfway through, although his parents didn't know. It was easy enough to get a bite to eat down the town centre where his parents rarely ventured â there weren't too many Asians there and the shops stayed open all day.
But this year, he planned to do it properly. He was sixteen, after all. He didn't need the stubbly chin to remind him that he was a man now, at least according to their faith.
Time to fix up.
There was no rest for anyone on Saturday. Even the twins didn't get to have their traditional lie-in. Ummerji was in their rooms, opening the curtains with a flourish, before 9:30am.
“Come on, up, you two,” she said briskly. “Ramzan's coming - we've got lots to do!”
First, there was the house to get in order: cleaning, dusting, airing the mattresses, dealing with all the laundry. That was Ummerji and Farhana's job. Then Ummerji sent Dad and Faraz out to the market with a long list and strict instructions to come straight home.