Ameena looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her worried face stared back at her. “Come on!” Adam, who was Ameena’s twin, yelled impatiently.
“Adam’s fitting in well,” Ameena remarked.
She remembered how, when they had first moved, Adam, who was regularly noisy and active, had been so subdued and unusually silent. Lately though, Adam was a pest as usual. Somehow, a pest seemed better to Ameena. Of course a pest wasn’t ideally what you’d want for a brother. If you got to choose your sibling you would probably pick an obedient, well-behaved brother who did all your work for you. But Ameena was relieved when Adam returned to normal. Adam had befriended a boy named Sammy who lived across the hall from them in their apartment on 5th Street in Brooklyn. Sammy was a basketball player. Sometimes at night Ameena could hear the sound of the basketball hitting the floor.
Every day Adam went over to Sammy’s house to trade Pokemon and basketball cards, while Ameena stayed in her room chatting with her Californian friends on the phone. There were three of them: Sarah, Amnah, and Maryam. Ameena had pictures of them on her bulletin board above her desk.
Ameena’s mom tried to encourage her to make friends, but Ameena refused.
“Move on,” her mom suggested.
Since Ameena was incredibly shy, she couldn’t even say hi to a girl who had been friendly to her and who was taking residence next door to them at apartment 1b. She had no hope at all.
Now Ameena had another problem: school. Ameena was a practicing Muslim and wore a scarf. Many ignorant people, especially in New York, had a bad image of Muslims. They associated them with 9/11 because those people had claimed to be Muslim. Deep down inside Ameena knew that she was just a normal twelve-year- old girl. She was exactly like everyone else except that she believed different things.
Every religion has its not-so-good people and its good people, Ameena noted.
She wished everyone else realized that as well. The fact was, they did not.
Ameena reflected on all of this as she headed to the door. She slung her backpack on her back and waved goodbye to her mom, who was sorting the laundry into darks and whites.
The city outside was chilly, and Ameena zipped up her sweatshirt. The autumn morning felt crisp.
Adam and Ameena soon arrived at Brooklyn Junior High. The two pushed their way through the crowd of people to their classroom and took seats toward the back. Ameena took in her surroundings. There were about five rows of desks, each containing places for ten students. At the head of the room, there was a large desk with a bouquet of tulips which matched the pale yellow paint of the room remarkably well. On the wall opposite the door, there was a pencil sharpener and below it, a cheap plastic garbage can. In each pupil’s desk drawer were five new pencils and a stack of clean white paper. Some rubbery-smelling erasers were also included. The red-paneled glass door cast a glorious light into the classroom when it was sunny outside. On the front of the door was a nameplate that read Room 12. All in all the classroom was pretty comfortable.
Ameena recognized the girl from apartment 1b. She was sitting next to her.
All of a sudden a hush fell over the class. Everyone’s heads were turned toward the door. A woman six-and-a-half feet tall marched into the room. She was brandishing her book as though it was a sword. She searched the room daringly for anything out of place. Satisfied, she stomped to the front of the room and announced, “Girls and Boys!” Everyone jumped. “I am Mrs. Franconi, and I am your seventh-grade teacher!”
No one objected, so she continued, “Open your books and get to work. School isn’t just to play around.”
Everyone opened their books without a word. Math and Language Arts turned out pretty uneventful, and no one misbehaved even once. Mrs. Franconi barked and boomed all class long, which hurt Ameena’s ears. Once, when a girl named Britta forgot how to spell “expedition,” Mrs. Franconi looked like a firecracker ready to explode.
When it was time for history, everything went from pretty good to horrible. Ms. Lillian was a beginner teacher. First, she was five minutes late for class because she was conversing with the other teachers in the lounge. Next, a little brainy girl knew the answer to one of Ms. Lillian’s questions and was so excited about it that she stood up on her desk, fell off, and twisted her ankle. Then Ms. Lillian started fretting all over her and gave her a watermelon sucker from a plastic baggie in her purse. A jealous kid called Ike climbed onto his desk, jumped down, and started fake bawling. Pretty soon almost everybody was doing the same. Everyone was just trying to get a lollipop. Finally, class was over. Ameena felt sorry for Ms. Lillian, who had to endure all these disrespectful kids.
After school Ameena and Adam were absentmindedly strolling toward their lockers when, all of a sudden, “Hey, Muslims!” someone teased. Without even looking, Ameena could tell this guy was not going to be friendly to her by his tone of voice.
Ameena whirled around. A boy with flaming red hair and a black T-shirt with red writing on it yanked at Ameena’s scarf. Ameena stood there, desperate and totally helpless. She hoped someone would arrive and help them, but no one did. Another boy who had spiky black hair and a plain, bright red T-shirt threw an overstuffed yellow water balloon at Adam and hit him smack in the face. A third boy with pale blond hair, wearing all black, shouted after the two now-retreating figures, “We’ll get you Muslims; we’ll get you!”
Ameena and Adam ran down the hallway with all their might. It seemed that there was no other way to get away from the gang.
Abruptly, Ameena stopped. Why are we scared of them? Because we’re cowards: that’s why! Ameena thought.
Out loud, she stated, although she was scared, “All you Americans fight for human rights, and you can’t even respect some harmless Muslims. Shame on you!”
Ameena couldn’t believe what she had just done. One half of her was saying, “You go!” and the other half of her was screaming, “What did you just do!”
But the words had an effect on the boys. They all glanced at each other without a word and fled.
Adam looked at Ameena and grinned. No one said anything for a few minutes.
“Whew! I’m glad that’s over!” Ameena finally broke the silence.
“Yeah, me too. Wow, but were you brave, Ameena!”
“I didn’t really do anything,” Ameena modestly protested. But Ameena felt good about what she had done. But now that this spectacular event had passed, Amena felt weary and tired.
Just then, a girl approached Ameena. It was the girl from apartment 1b. “Hi, I’m Rebecca Paulson. I am the only practicing Jewish girl in school. I know exactly how you feel. Don’t worry, after what you just did, I bet they’ll probably leave you alone because you actually stood up to them.”
It took a minute for all these overwhelming words to register into Ameena’s brain, but then she replied, “Thanks for understanding. Not many people do. Hey, do you want to come to my house tomorrow?”
“Sure,” Rebecca accepted gratefully since her mom was going to be out of town and she would be alone anyway. “See you tomorrow!” Rebecca waved and sprinted away.
Ameena turned to Adam and pleaded, “Let’s get out of here!”
Adam understood, so they trudged out the door of Brooklyn Junior High and closed it behind them. They started in the direction of home.
It was the first time Ameena had thought of their apartment on 5th Street as home. She pondered the day’s events in her mind. Most important of all, she thought, was Rebecca. Rebecca really cared and understood her.
Friend. The word tasted good in Ameena’s mouth. A friend who would always be with her until the end.