Salon of Approval

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I sat there, in a familiar stranger’s house, shielded by my mother, who was far more social than I was. This was her environment, her comfort zone. I looked around the overly embellished salon, taking in the fusion of modern and archaic ornaments, noting the distinguished smell of Oud and the hint of Chanel Nº5 that floated in the air. I felt out of place, and with each passing moment, I felt my throat grow tighter, my palms sweatier. On the rare occasion that someone asked me about my age, name, or school, I inherently replied in a voice different from my own.

It was always the same scenario; it just took place in different locations, with slight variations to the characters present. My being there was no more than a formality. It saddened me to know that I wasn’t there as an individual, but as an addition – as someone who would one day be a legitimate member of this society. Not today.

I listened to the way they spoke. They were always talking about destinations – losing a few pounds, getting a higher professional position, or perhaps trips to Paris, London, or Istanbul. They talked fearlessly about what they wanted and I couldn’t help but listen. I stared at them in awe, though my stares were disregarded. I wanted to one day be so confident that no one’s stares would faze me.

A woman rose. I was unsure who she was at first but after a minute, I realized she was the hostess. She walked with a certain grace in her perfectly fitting monochrome dress and red-soled heels – an outfit I was sure from observing my mother had taken her very long to select. The refined woman carried the gold dallah – which surprisingly went well with her large gold earrings – in one hand, and a stack of fanajeen in the other as she circled the room, offering her guests Arabic coffee. She approached my mother, and I prayed that she wouldn’t interact with me, afraid that my bashfulness would be interpreted as rude or unfit for a setting like this.

Uninterestedly, she asked one of the most frequent questions there was: “How is school?” Typically I would have smiled ever so slightly and with the voice that wasn’t mine, responded by saying that it was fine. But something was different this time – I was determined to make an impression. “I graduate in 1,350 days!” I announced, hearing my actual voice enthusiastically relay the message aloud. I wasn’t sure whether I meant my comment as a joke, or as a mere observation. Either way, it stood out, and it wasn’t shy at all.

There was a brief moment of confusion at first; glances exchanged between the hostess and my mother, then, an approving laughter from the women. My mother looked at me and affectionately put her hand on my shoulder. The hostess looked at me with a humble smile, and gestured to me asking if I wanted coffee. She held out her hand to me, offering me the small cup of coffee, though we both knew she was offering me more than the traditional beverage. My mother seemed surprised when I reached out and took the small cup from the woman’s hand. Her eyebrows crippled with confusion and delight. I held the fenjan, white and decorated with a stylish trim of golden geometric shapes, in my hand as a prized possession – my token of acceptance. My eyes beamed with pride and confidence.

I came into the salon waiting for the moment I’d get to leave. I left looking forward to the next gathering, to the next time I’d get to be this version of myself – this elegant, coffee-drinking young woman, a woman who spoke with her real voice and was heard.

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