This is another excerpt of the novel I am working on, you can read the previous one here. Meet Yasmin, this is the beginning of her story, or maybe somewhere in the middle…
I had been making my way home from work. Just another day like the rest of them. I finished twenty minutes late after a twelve hour shift but that wasn’t anything unusual. If I had finished on time this wouldn’t have happened, or even if I had finished later. But what’s the use of thinking like that, it happened.
It was the middle of December so it was dark and cold but a crisp, fresh coldness, the kind I like. It was a late Sunday evening so there weren’t many people around. I was nearly at the bus stop and that’s when I heard them. I had already vaguely noticed them and deliberately avoided any eye contact or even looking in their direction. There were two of them and I could tell they had been drinking. From what I could see out of the corner of my eye, they were still drinking, carrying bottles of alcohol with them. You learn to avoid certain kinds of people in this town when you’re like me. When you wear a headscarf. I guess I have somewhat developed an extra sense to make me aware of people who might be provoked by the mere sight of me in a headscarf. My extra sense had picked up on these guys straight away but I had no idea the extent of how things were going to go.
They noticed me and they started walking in my direction. They were behind me now. They were talking so loud to each other. I knew they were saying something about me, about my ‘headgear’. What a pair of bald bigots. Not that there was anything wrong with being bald. Dad was bald. It just came to my mind, a defensive insult, and alliteration just works.
The tone of their voices changed and I knew they were asking me something, they wanted to get a response out of me but I refused to even take notice of what they were saying, I refused to engage with them. Perhaps that made it worse. Perhaps it bruised their egos and their masculinity that I, a mere supposedly oppressed Muslim woman, did not respond to them showing fear in the way that they wanted. Mum never showed fear, no matter how scared she might be, she would make me feel so safe because I would look at her and she was defiant and brave through everything. Thinking about mum still sent a shockwave through my heart and pierced a knife in my gut. She was never far from my thoughts but I always felt the same impact just as sharp. They say it fades with time, time is a healer, well I was still waiting to feel healed.
Back to the present, my heart rate had increased, I could feel the adrenaline spike throughout my body as I sensed and heard them getting closer. They must have ran a few paces to catch up with me so quickly. I would have to go past my bus stop and the circle back round. I wasn’t about to make myself a sitting target. I quickened my pace slightly but I tried not to make it too obvious, hoping that they would just get bored and go wherever they were going to.
“Oi you paki, we’re talking to you!” It felt like one of them shouted directly over my shoulder, far too close for comfort, they would not allow me to ignore them. My initial thought: completely wrong insult to be flying at me, if you’re going to be bigoted and racist, at least be accurate. I’m Algerian, so maybe something like “you Arab terrorist” would be more fitting in their eyes if they knew this. Then again, all they see is a headscarf, a foreigner, an outsider, an intruder, an imposter. The specifics really don’t matter to them. I could be unfairly jumping to conclusions about them and their views but I think it’s within reason considering their comment.
“I’m just trying to go home,” I replied over my shoulder. I tried to sound confident, matter of fact whilst not provoking them and keep my voice steady at the same time.
This seemed to amuse them a great deal, they burst into an uproar of laughter and shouting, with no actual distinguishable words being said.
I did not like where this was going, by now I was feeling slightly frantic and I was debating whether I should just run or not. I couldn’t see anybody else around, why was there no one else around? Just at that moment I noticed someone at the far end of the road, they passed under the streetlight and I could ascertain that it was a man. For all I know he could be just as bigoted as the two behind me but perhaps it was worth the risk, I would take my chances.
They were still jeering and throwing insults behind me as I decided I should start to run. I positioned my bag more comfortably on my shoulder as I threw what I thought was a subtle glance behind me to see exactly how close they were behind me now. The one who was slightly less drunk noticed this movement. That was when he grabbed the back of my scarf in his fist, grabbing my bun with it. My head jerked back, and I cried out but only internally, it was such a sudden movement, sound just didn’t quite make it out of my windpipe. They always go for the headscarf don’t they, grab it or try to pull it off. They always go for the women in fact, these bigots. You don’t see them attacking Hassan who goes to the gym with the big “I’m a Muslim” beard. No, just the women and the elderly. The vulnerable.
I had to break free from his grip. I remember watching a video about how to break out of a hold like this in the event of someone grabbing your headscarf from behind. I couldn’t remember the manoeuvre, it vaguely came to my mind but the angle was all wrong and his fingers were well and truly entwined in my scarf as well as my hair beneath it. I tried to make out where the man was, the one I saw walking down the street. Baldy bigot number one pulled back harder on my scarf making it impossible for me to try and focus on anything down the street. I guess I was crying out at this point. Panic was really starting to set in. I had to at least try something. I whipped my arm round from the front whilst turning at the same time, making my arm impact on the hand he was holding my scarf with. It took him my surprise, his grip loosened and I tried to quickly move away. I wasn’t quick enough, baldy bigot number two had his turn of grabbing my scarf.
Why was this happening, what had I done to them. Anger was building up inside me as desperation set in. I heard shouting, coming from the man. I couldn’t make out a single word he was saying, perhaps that was because I was crying out at the same time. He sounded extremely angry, as angry as I felt. I couldn’t tell if I was more scared or angry at this point. For all I know this man was coming to join in, perhaps he was just as furious at the sight of me as these two bigots had been. I was being dragged now, in the opposite direction of angry man. So perhaps he was not angry at me. I realised I was crying which made me want to cry even more.