Khalid kept his head down as he walked through the narrow back hallway of Livetech Solutions, his employer for the past five years. He was dressed in his usual work attire—full-sleeved white robe that skimmed his ankles, black dress pants, white skullcap jammed over dark brown hair that curled over his ears. His beard was long and luxuriously thick, contrasting sharply with his pale olive complexion.
He was a large man, tall and broad, and the corridor was narrow. He looked up to see his coworker Clara standing in the middle of the hallway, whispering into her cell phone. Khalid did not wish to disturb what appeared to be an intense conversation; he also did not wish to brush past her in the hallway. He had been raised to believe that non- related men and women should never get too close—socially, emotionally, and especially physically.
"When an unmarried man and woman are alone together, a third person is present: Satan," Ammi often told him. Khalid found this reminder helpful, especially when paired with cold showers. There wasn't much more that a twenty-six-year-old virgin-by-choice could do, really.
He didn't mean to eavesdrop, but Clara had raised her voice. "When do you get to be happy?" she said sharply into her phone.
Khalid blinked at the question, which so neatly mirrored his own thoughts.
His cell phone dinged with a new e-mail, and he opened it, grateful for the distraction. His heart sank when he read the subject line and recognized the sender: his sister, Zareena. He hadn't told her about their move. He hadn't been sure how she would react to the sale of their childhood home. It looked like some other busybody had thoughtfully informed her instead. He began to read.
Re: the last to know?
I can't believe I had to hear the news from my father-in-law. You sold the house and moved? I loved that house. It was so easy to sneak out of my bedroom. But I guess it was too hard after Abba died.
Guess what? I got bored and started volunteering my time for a Cause. You would be so proud of me. I'm teaching English to a class of little girls at the local school. My students are super sweet. Their parents can barely afford to send them to class. Half the time they show up with no lunches, but their clothes are so tidy, their hair in neat braids, and they want to learn so badly. Not like when I was in school! They always bring me a flower or a fruit they stole from someone's garden. I sneak them rice and dal sometimes.
P. S. Maple donuts and Tim Hortons hot chocolate.
P. P. S. Thanks for the gift. Can you use Western Union next time plz? It's closer and you know how I hate to walk.
Zareena's e-mails and texts arrived every few days and reported on her daily life. Sometimes she complained about the dullness of her days, or which of her dozens of in-laws were irritating her. Sometimes she asked him about work, or if he had talked to a girl yet . . . or even made eye contact with one.
The one thing she never asked about was their mother. The second thing she never discussed was her husband.
The postscript was always something Zareena missed about Canada. Her words brought the taste of maple dip donuts and too-sweet hot chocolate to his lips. Their father, Faheem, used to treat them on the way back from Sunday morning Islamic school when they were kids. Before Zareena went away.
This excerpt ends is from the paperback edition.