NakedGirl: The Story of Dareen
by donnylaja

Part 18

Imam Tahir sipped the coffee from the little cup, grimacing but then drinking the whole thing, pretending that he hadn't forgotten to put in sugar, then putting it back on the saucer in front of him on the floor.  Across from him in the big circle sat the Grand Imam and his two adjuncts. Another regional council, at the big mosque in Dunwoody.  It was good to see old friends, to chat with other imams at meals, see how things were going in other areas of the southeastern United States.  And good to hear guests from other conferences of this loose-knit patchwork called American Islam.  But now the Grand Imam was in "expounding mode" and though others were supposedly welcome to add their comments, one was hesitant to do so.  The Grand Imam did not like too much dissent, not when "the days are now perilous", as he kept saying.

And he didn't like to talk about specifics.  Tahir was ten years into being an imam and knew that specific issues were best dealt with in small groups.  But the case history method could still be instructive.

In contrast to Tahir, who was short and nervous, the Grand Imam was a tall man with a long white beard who carried himself like a great dignitary, which of course he was.  He also spoke like one.  "Women historically have been treated as less than full humans, sold like cattle, and that was an error which the Prophet never condoned," he was saying.  "Yet Allah created Man and Woman different for a reason.  Women have breasts for a reason.  Men have superior strength for a reason..."

The Grand Imam was glancing at him and it was apparent what the Grand Imam was talking about.  His adjuncts had mentioned it.  The message was that they thought Tahir was letting his congregation get too liberalized.  For one thing, he had separated the men and women side by side, instead of women in the back.  That was a big change, which he hadn't discussed it with the council first.  And now, Tahir knew, it was too late to go back to the old setup without telling the congregation he had made a mistake and sending a chill throughout his mosque.

Always, he had tried to steer a middle ground.  He didn't want to lose his flock by being too strict, yet wanted to keep Islam distinctive and apart from the type of gross secularization that had caused the mainline Christian churches to dwindle.  And then there was the pull of the Wahabis and the Shi'ites.  No one dared sympathize with them these days, not here in America, yet there was no denying the undercurrents of attraction they held for some young people. All that wildness.  It reminded him of gangster hip-hop and its pull on black youth.  How self-destructive.  Unfortunately it was also, for lack of a better word, sexy.

"True happiness lies not with what may seem convenient or fashionable, but with following the will of Allah as revealed by the Prophet..."  Again the quick glance.  Tahir knew he was talking about Dareen Alkaras.  And some other women in the congregation, but especially Dareen.  The Grand Imam had been to his mosque three or four times this year.  Back in February he was visibly amazed when during the question period some women raised their hands.  He astutely chose not to ignore them, politely taking their questions, which were fairly innocuous, but it clearly made an impression on him.

The Grand Imam had a photographic memory for faces, especially those of the young women, and at his next visit when Dareen had a question he called on her by name.  Again, a rather obedient question, asking whether women should wear a kerchief at all times.  (The Grand Imam recommended it.)  But then... news had gotten out of Dareen's outburst at the special service after that pulse bomb -- questioning her Imam's command to evacuate after a bomb threat -- and today, as the Grand Imam droned on, Tahir knew the subtext of his remarks: Dareen Alkaras must be spoken to.

Tahir felt firmly that, though Dareen's outburst was a cause for concern, it was a product of excited circumstances and nothing she had done was objectionable.  She was from a good family who attended this very mosque, she was not trying to be disruptive or loud, in fact she was clearly basically a shy girl, simply someone who was well-educated and smart and wanted a faith that was thought through, and not just accepted without thinking. In fact he wished more women in the congregation were like that.  And if Islam were to survive and thrive in this country, it would have to make room for such women.

As the Grand Imam continued speaking, Tahir determined to take a bold step.  After the session ended, he would invite the Grand Imam downtown to his house for dinner and meet the issue head on, discuss the matter of Dareen Alkaras and how she was not a threat to traditional Islam in the least.

Lourdes got the job at the bikini shop.  Which would do at least for a while.

The outdoor mall was right off the subway stop but Dareen had offered to drive her home after her first day.  Lourdes had invited her in and Dareen had an awkward conversation with her parents, who were polite but distant.  It was hard communicating in broken English, since they obviously didn't understand anything else and Dareen's Spanish was too poor for her to risk misunderstandings.  She hoped she had gotten through to them that she was tutoring Lourdes in English as part of a Library program.  She also said several times, "Lourdes is intelligent," pointing to her scantily clad young friend.  They nodded but it was clear they didn't think much of their daughter's recent choice of wardrobe.

Not that it wasn't appropriate to the heat.  In spite of the hot weather the worn-out little apartment was made even more boiling from the rice and beans cooking on the stove.  Dareen's feet were hot in their stockings and sensible shoes, her body was hot under the layers of itchy clothing, her breasts felt squeezed and practically tortured, her head was hot under the kerchief.  Yet she looked at Lourdes, forced to be nearly naked all the time, and wouldn't want to trade places for anything.

Lourdes had been hanging out in Dareen's room a lot recently, at Dareen's own invitation.  It was clear that the girl enjoyed this haven away from prying eyes.  Now, two days later, Dareen was sipping coffee and reading the paper in the kitchen, thinking she should have a copy of their apartment key made for her.  Elly wouldn't mind.  In fact the three of them had gotten to be something of a group.  They went out to eat the other day at Reilly's, the pizza place on the corner.  Lourdes had sat next to the wall so that her skin would not attract stares.  This meant Dareen had to sit at the edge and the bulge of her sweatshirt-covered chest attracted a couple of looks, but she was good at keeping her arms in front so that no one got a direct view.

Later that night, without having to say why it was needed, Elly took Lourdes into the bathroom and gave her a razor and cream so that the teenager could trim her pubic hair.  Elly left the bathroom with the door closed so that the teenager could have privacy.  It was a full half hour later when Lourdes emerged wordlessly, buttoning the top of her tiny shorts.  Then they turned on the novelas.

Having finished her coffee, Dareen put the empty cup into the sink and padded over in her stockinged feet to her doorway.  Pedro had done a good job on it, though he still needed to cover the two-by-fours and then do the painting.  Then she contemplated Lourdes, lying sprawled on the bedroom floor, doodling on some sheets of blank paper.

She was barefoot, her flip-flops (now down to thin-soled three-dollar items from Old Navy) scattered across the room.  She had had to give up panties entirely, maybe to her relief (Dareen had never worn thongs but imagined them to be very uncomfortable) and had gotten a new pair of prewashed jean shorts, even more low-rise, even shorter, measuring maybe only five inches long.  Dareen had noticed that even when she was standing and tugging these new shorts up over her trim little butt, Lourdes could not prevent the beginning of her crack from showing.  Now, with the girl's legs bent and sprawled on the floor as she scribbled busily, Dareen counted three inches of butt cleavage.  The top of the shorts actually seemed closer to the beginning of her legs than it was to the Y-shaped dimple at the base of her back.  Above, the tube top now being too stifling, the poor child was reduced to a tiny string bikini top which showed the rounded sides of her size 32-C breasts.

Dareen stepped closer and noticed something else, what Lourdes was writing.  This was not simply doodling.  She was writing numbers, stacks of numbers in fact, though written in loopy, teenage-girl style.  And down near the bottom were triangles.

"What are you doing?"

Lourdes looked up, aware now of Dareen's presence, reflexively tugging up her shorts.  "I figure out roots square of numbers.  I like to do this, it's fun.  Division too."  She gathered the sheets and drew herself up cross-legged, making a vestigial effort to hide her bare toes, which caused her practically free breasts to wobble.  She began to point with the pencil but paused to casually tug at one of the little bikini top triangles which had been in danger of moving off its nipple.  "But I have trouble with angulos.  If you know how large each side is, and know the angulo here" -- she pointed at one of the triangles at the bottom of the sheet, "you must know the, sorry, the angle here.  But I can't think of how to do it."

Dareen wasn't a math whiz but she had always paid attention in class and remembered something of her high school days, specifically ninth grade.  "You'd need to find the sine or cosine, I forget which."

"The what?"

"You'd need trigonometry."

"What is that?"

Dareen looked at Lourdes and then quickly back at the sheet to hide her thoughts, her pity and her anger.  What a shame, what a crappy school system.  About to graduate from high school and they hadn't even taught her trigonometry yet.  And such a bright girl who thirsted for knowledge.

The next day at work Dareen went down into the stacks and signed out a book on elementary trigonometry for Lourdes to read.  Searching the computer data base Dareen saw that there was a book on it in Spanish, out at the Athens branch.  But she decided against ordering it.  It would take a week for it to come in, and besides, it was better for Lourdes to keep learning English too. Also, math was an international language, a bright child like her could probably pick it up just from the diagrams.

And now, Dareen's lunch with Jamal.  Today was the day she was going to do what Billy suggested: tell him that she, shy little Dareen Alkaras, was the fabled NakedGirl.

She asked Jamal out to the diner he had gone to with her before and of course it had just started raining buckets.  Dareen hadn't brought her umbrella to work; Jamal went back up to get his, and they ran together under it, Jamal not being afraid of putting his hand on her far shoulder as he held the umbrella over the two of them.

"What was with the lunch with Billy?" he asked right away, or at least after they had ordered.

"I just never hung out with him before."  Dareen tried to invent a story.  "We had had a little argument about that... statuette, and we were patching things up."

"Oh yeah.  That flag.  Not that I don't mind seeing naked women in the office," he added with a smile.  "But seriously, he just has a blind spot about that flag."

"He has a good heart."

"It's not just that.  I told you about my great-great uncle.  Billy sees that flag as a symbol of pride.  To me it's a symbol of murder.  A much bigger point than his."

They ate.  Dareen was about to say something a few times.  How to bring it up?

Jamal cleared his throat and ventured, "Dar, have you been working out? You seem a bit more pumped up lately."

"Um... yes, I've been exercising."  She didn't tell him about her upcoming breast reduction, like she had with Ms. Hom.  And felt bad about it.  Keeping Jamal in the dark about everything just didn't seem right.

Jamal said, "That reminds me of another invention I thought of."

"Like the Ice Hat?" she said with a little smile.

"People at my gym, I see them huffing away lifting weights, running on treadmills with all that excess energy.  If only all exercise machines could be attached so that energy wouldn't go to waste.  They would actually be helping feed into a big flywheel of some sort.   I've done an internet search and it's amazing, but it looks like nobody's thought of it yet.  Mechanical energy, stored up so we can make it through another blackout like with that pulse bomb."

Another little smile.  They were finished now and Dareen felt her chance slipping away.  Unfortunately Dareen's attempt at disclosure was too little and too late.  "Jamal, you know, that NakedGirl statuette..."


"How do they know... that she's white?"

Jamal paused for a minute and scratched his close-shaven head.  "That's what I like about you Dar, you have a different viewpoint.  No one has actually taken a picture, right?"  He thought some more.  "Even if she was black, though, I wish she'd be more diverse in her, um, perpetrators."

And so they got up, Jamal still a little puzzled as to why Dareen had uncharacteristically taken the lead in inviting him to lunch.  They walked back to the office over the wet streets as the sun came out again, Dareen almost kicking herself.  NakedGirl might be big and brave, but Dareen Alkaras, mild-mannered librarian, was a weeny.

That night, disgusted with herself, Dareen went to her bedroom and got ready for what she had been feeling lately was the only thing she could do well, as she closed the new door behind her, sat on her bed, peeled off every bit of clothing, and lay down.  She put her head down and said a short prayer to Allah, asking for guidance and peace of mind, and waited for her powers to come.  And possibly a call for help from somewhere.  She thought of recent days.  So many unfinished situations, so many stopgap solutions.  She had an uneasy feeling, that things were percolating to a head, that something was about to snap.