Tonight is menthol cool with a plastic-pearl touch. I draw the loaded brush over my fingernail. It leaves a track of mint white in its wake. It immediately fractures, spiderweb lines spinning as the varnish dries.
“White crackle nail polish,” says the memory-voice in my head. “Let’s try it.”
White on black is a no-brainer. I go for a base coat of orange instead. The neon color catches the moonlight, scooping it up and throwing it on the walls. White on orange, my own personal warning symbol.
Some people rebel with tattoos or body piercings. Others by cutting off their hair or dyeing it. A few go over the edge and cut themselves. This little missy does her nails.
“It looks so pretty,” she says, bending over and gripping my hand, pulling up my decorated fingernails towards herself.
“Thank you,” I say. I let my hand stay in her grip for a few moments. Then she lets go.
Funny how girls gravitate towards a display of color, I think as I turn back to my work. Me? I am drawn to black. Not to say that black isn’t a color. Just that when you see someone garbed from head to toe in black, it’s usually an abaya girl.
I used to be an abaya girl. I used to point out that no, wearing an overgarment with a head cover does not qualify as wearing a “burqa”. I used to get up every morning, wash my face, do my hair, brush my teeth, then let the veil fall over my face and my body. I had confidence, if not flair. I had the everyday wardrobe malfunction. I had-well, I had it all, then gradually I lost it.
It’s easy enough to arrive at your new destination in all black, but keeping it up once you set foot out of the airport is not easy. It depends on family support, really. The Westernized family member says, “Take the overgarment off. Take the head cover off. Put this pair of jeans on. Now don’t you look nice. Why don’t you go out like this?”
“Why” is the favorite question. It is also the hardest one to answer.
“I’m not going to take my clothes off and go out,” is my heated response. Heat ignites the argument and away we go.
It ends up at an interesting compromise. Skirts and blouse instead of an abaya, and of course, keeping the head cover on. It takes all the simplicity and ease out of getting dressed in the morning, but really, as long as the family accepts you, the extra time is worth it. I suppose.
Still, the suggestion is there. It’s always there. “Why don’t you just go out like this?”
Um, no. Really. No.
What they don’t understand is that this “compromise” is not a shedding of the Islamic outer garment in favor of mainstream clothing. The blouse and skirt play the role of the outer garment. Yes, I did ask two female scholars about this. One of them is my friend, the other is my Quran teacher. Yes, you can take off your face cover when you move to a Western country. However, what about your accountability when it comes to an uncovered face? Meaning, do you sin when you uncover your face? My Quran teacher’s response: “I could tell you the answer, but you’re not going to like it.”
What a fine balancing act we perform between people and purpose! The purpose of life calls, yet we lean towards people.
I’m guilty of going through a painted-nails incident when I used to be an abaya girl. I staged a mini rebellion with orange and white mini flags. When the red flag finally went up in my mind, I took the orange and white ones down. It was nice to see my natural nails again. Sure, people might not stop to admire them, but they are safe.
When you uncover your face and hands, keeping up a modest appearance is a challenge. You want to adorn your face and hands. You struggle against the internal temptation and external suggestions. There are days, weeks, months when you are a winner, then that day or phase when you trip and stumble until you find your way again.
Nobody said it was going to be easy, but we know that if we stay firm, it’s going to be worth it.