“Toss this outside,” she says, handing me a hot cigarette butt. As if I was thinking about dropping it inside the car. I roll my eyes, but she doesn’t notice because she’s too busy fanning the car for evidence of her indiscretions. She turns the air on full, pulling a can of aerosol deodorant from her bag at my feet. She sprays the entire interior of the car, including herself, and promptly douses me despite my protestations.
“At least,” she says, “iftar is in like, an hour. Let’s just drive around for a bit, try to get the smell out.”
Ramadan slows everything down, time and traffic included. As we make our way to her apartment on the other side of the city, trying to reach it before the sun sets, the density of cars increases with people getting home to make iftar.
“I’m so thirsty,” she complains, absent-mindedly fanning the air.
“If this is such a process, just smoke outside of your car,” I grab her arm, annoyed at how close it was getting to my face, and annoyed that this daily headache, the stress of trying to make her car smell like Tropical Passion, had become as quotidian a part of my Ramadan as suhoor and iftar.
Every day, she drives me from my part of the town to hers via the four places we always go. She’d come pick me up in her mom’s car, the windows down and her headscarf on her shoulders. During Ramadan, she turns off her car stereo when she gets me from my parents’ house, so that they won’t yell at us for listening to music in this Holy Month™. As we pull away, her scarf slips off and is thrown into the backseat, and mine follows. I turn the music up, and we roll up the tinted windows until we leave my part of town.
As soon as the coast is clear, the windows come down. “Pass me a cigarette,” she says absently, making an abrupt turn into a hidden road between our homes. I reach into her purse, fumble around old receipts, lipsticks and empty lighters, finding her most recent box of Marlboro Lights. She gestures impatiently as I look for a functioning lighter, “I really need a smoke,” she says, “my day was so stressful.”
I scoff. As though summer time back home could ever be stressful. The privilege of being able to wake up at 2 pm, get into a car and hang out with your best friend, watching the sun’s light manifested onto the Indian Ocean is not unacknowledged. The routine we have made out of having nothing else to do, this everyday requirement to find a few hours to be out of the house, away from our parents, share a cigarette or two or three without judgment, is a quintessential part of Ramadan. And now, as we come home from college to spend the summer with our families and Ramadan has been lining up with this season for the past few years, we don’t know how to think of visiting home without this essential tradition.
I even remember the deodorant she would buy, the cheap stuff that should empty half off into her car, everyday, burning a hole in my lungs (the irony is not lost on me). I remember the music, how she would sing all the high notes and I the low. I remember how she mocked my “white people music” and even the inflection in her voice when she did so.
We drive to the place with the dock overlooking the water where no Muslims would be, on a sunny, humid afternoon in Ramadan. Our hijabs are back on our shoulders just in case some uncle or Sunday school kid we knew would show up. The dryness of our mouths are only compounded by the smoke.
We sit silently as we pass the cigarette between each other, knowing that we are embarrassed of ourselves, guilty, ashamed of each other, and paranoid about someone seeing us. As we talk about our parents and school and how different we realize we are becoming from each other, we look past each other more than at each other, making sure no one we know sneaks up behind us.
Being young and Muslim and sinning so openly, like this, in a place everyone knew us and yet they were not around gave us the kind of rush we only saw in movies. We didn’t know how to break rules without hurting our parents and our community, but we so badly wanted to break them all. To walk the line between goodness and making our parents proud with having hundreds of exciting stories to tell the rest of the world. And it was easy, almost, because at least we had someone to share the cigarettes with.
Disclaimer: The name Huda Ghassan is a pseudonym. The author of this piece wishes to keep their identity private for fear of persecution because of their sexual identity.