Safiah's Smile
she sealed
her mind from the outside world and dreamed of better days.
    “Malia.” Safiah approached her meekly the
following morning, her limber elbow carrying the weight of a large
brown faux leather sac. “Where are you going?”
    Malia abruptly turned and swallowed hard at
the sight of the radiant Muslim girl with the thin voice who was
evidently interested in her plans for that crisp September day.
Malia saw the words The Middle East etched onto the spine of
the thickest of the three textbooks that bulged from her oversized
purse and gazed at it curiously. How can she speak to me after
what Danny did? For days she had boasted of Danny’s kindness,
of his heart of gold, and of his selflessness. Her cheeks burned as
she recalled Danny’s ludicrous prejudice towards Safiah just the
previous evening. The night that had held so much promise. A
hopeful night turned to dust.
    “I…,” she was startled. Safiah’s hair was
covered by one of her many stunning silk headscarfs. But this one
was different; it was sheer. Malia could see her sinuous black
locks. She imagined that they reached the center of her slender
back. “I signed up for cheerleading,” she confessed. “I needed a
distraction.” A portrait of her brother, staring at her nobly in
his soldier’s uniform, was painted slowly in her mind. But within
moments it vanished. Missing in action. The thought brought a sharp
twang to her arm and her chest trembled. Yes, she needed a
distraction. Desperately.
    Safiah bit her lip, contemplating. The
vibrant red of the portion of Safiah’s mouth that was crushed by
her teeth turned a sickly white. She opened her mouth to speak.
“What time is the um…” she paused, her naturally pink cheeks
colored several shades darker, “the cheerleading practice?” she
innocently inquired.
    Malia automatically brightened. This
would be good for her, she thought. She needs this more than
I do. “Promptly at four-thirty. Safiah, it would be great if
you could come.” She didn’t even consider the issue of modesty. Her
tired mind failed to even consider it.
    “Great,” Safiah exclaimed. Her brown sac
swayed violently with her enthusiastically gesticulating arms. She
retreated towards the library. Tomorrow was her exam on the
Israel-Palestinian conflict in the post World War II era. Maybe she
would find a study group. But, in reality, she most likely would
not, she knew.
    Malia paced to her dormitory, and snatched
her uniform from the top drawer of her wooden dresser. The knob was
a small sphere of rusty gold. A fake gold, Malia guessed. Chips of
gold paint stuck to her palms, and she swiftly pricked the
poisonous paint from her skin. She then looked down at the uniform
lying limply in her arms. It bore thick red and white stripes.
Crisp and clean, no wrinkles, and freshly ironed.
    She had always considered joining the squad
in high school. But at James Madison, cheerleaders were perceived
as immature and naïve. Superficial and, oddly enough, untrustworthy
and disloyal. She thought of Haylie, the innocent cheerleader who
had fallen into the arms of the heartbreaking quarterback, Corey
Simon, and rolled her eyes. High school seemed so distant now. So
distant and, simultaneously, so incredible. If it were possible,
she would go back in an instant. Just to relive it. To appreciate
the simplicity. To gloat in the lack of responsibility that hid
behind the apparent overflow of responsibility that they had so
earnestly despised.
    Swiftly slipping on the dress and her white
Nike sneakers – the ones with the glossy red swoosh sewed to its
sides, Malia pranced to the football stadium, her mind spiraling
with both numbing anxiety and thrilling anticipation all at
once.
    Stacey Gross was poised flawlessly in the
center of the field. The other cheerleading aspirants observed and
imitated her every move. Malia eyed a freshly baked batch of
chocolate- chip cookies lying flatly in a glass dish by Stacey’s
feet. Betty Crocker, most

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