Anita knew the fork to use first, the one to pick next. She knew the way to drink soup, the specific method to scoop out broth and gently sip on it, tasting it before swallowing. She wasn’t old enough to order wine, but she knew how to do that as well. She could pick the year, knew the questions to ask, knew how to pour the wine out.
Anita was an amazing greeter. She loved going to the door when her parents had guests over, welcoming visitors. She knew whom to greet first, how to take their coats, help them get settled. She opened conversations when there was a pause, and she knew exactly how to measure pauses. Some silences were okay, some were not.
Anita’s friend from school, Qasim, did not know any of this. He had come to her home once, and made all kinds of mistakes. He slurped his drink loudly, burped after he finished it, and kept using the bathroom every ten minutes.
Qasim was a funny one. He kept getting As in all his tests, though you wouldn’t believe it looking at him. Anita always thought he looked dumb, with his drab clothes and funny way of talking. Anita’s mother actually thought Qasim had special needs, when she saw him at her house the other day. He wouldn’t look at her, and kept mumbling when she asked him polite questions, the usual small talk one makes with visitors. Not that it bothered Anita’s mother, obviously. Anita’s mother would have loved to have a child with special needs over to visit. She would have spoken about it to her friends for the next few months.
Qasim never said thank you, never said sorry, never blessed Anita when she sneezed. Not that Anita would sneeze very often of course, and even when she did, it was always gently, and quietly. Anita knew how to behave.
Qasim wasn’t born here. Anita didn’t know where he came from, and he wouldn’t give her a straight answer whenever she asked. She imagined he was from Syria. From Pakistan. Bangladesh, perhaps. She knew those countries existed, naturally. She often thought of traveling there when she was grown up, helping the needy and winning a Nobel prize for peace. She knew she’d do well out there — there were so many people who needed help. She wondered how they drank soup, and whether they used their spoons from the outside in, or the other way round. She’d teach them the right way, as soon as she got settled.
Anita had tried to get Qasim to hang out with her and her friends, but he always turned her down. She wanted him to be with her as she and her friends discussed music, books, and politics. She was an ardent supporter of diversity, and having a diverse friend would be simply awesome. She once tried taking a selfie with him, but she had to delete it as he looked really ridiculous in the pic. He had no idea how to pose, how to smile, how to look cool.
There was this one time when Anita gave Qasim her copy of the latest Wimpy Kid book, which she loved. She didn’t think Qasim read books, from the way he looked at it. Qasim held the book for a minute, leafed through some of the pages, and gave it back to her with a brief thank you. Anita asked him if he’d read it already, but he said he hadn’t. She tried to insist he take it, told him it was hilarious and he’d really enjoy it. Qasim just looked at her with those infuriating eyes, and declined again. She watched him as he walked away, bumping into the English professor on his way out, laughing with him at the book Mr Reid held in his hands. Wasn’t a Wimpy Kid book, though. It had a number on its title, with a picture of a dancing red soldier on the lower left corner. Maybe they liked books about war, she thought.
Anita wished Qasim would be like her. Enjoy the books she liked, watch the movies she loved, listen to the music she enjoyed. She wished he would learn to talk like normal people. Know what to say, when, and how to say it. Wished he would stop clearing his throat all the time. Wore better clothes. Knew the rules. Knew what’s proper, what’s allowed, what regular people did.
Wished he could be just like her. Normal, like everyone else.
(Originally posted here)