It’s when she’s taking off her sock with one hand and trying to keep her balance in front of the sink with the other that the janitor walks in, and Leila tries not to wince by the appearance.
Instead she shoves her hand out to the automatic sink so it’ll dispense another handful of water. Doing wudu is never easy outside of her own home—even in masajid she’s not really sure what to do at the stalls—and it’s only made twice as awkward by her spectator, who she’s sure is eyeing the mess that Leila’s making on the floor. Leila is vehement in paying attention to her ablution and not to her audience, because, hey, it’s not like this is the first time she’s had to wipe her hands, her face, and her feet in public before, but it’s still distracting, she can still feel the janitor’s eyes on her back, and Leila was excited when she first came into the bathroom because there were two people in stalls and maybe if she went fast enough, she’d be done before they came out.
She’s not feeling all that lucky, though; she feels bad because she knows it must suck to have to clean up after those water-tossing Muslims, and it must be weird to see if you don’t know anything about ritual purity, but… that’s still no reason to stare!
She hears two flushes and two stall doors swing open, and she winces as she’s joined at the sinks with two people who are just washing their hands.
Don’t look at them. No eye contact, not even in the mirror. Focus. Each drop is a sin that’s being forgiven.
One wipe of her foot—water from the sink. Two wipes—more water. Three—sink.
She puts her right sock back on as the janitor gets a phone call, clicks her tongue, and leaves to answer it outside. The other two girls are finished by then, too, and as they leave, Leila catches the beginnings of the word, “Awwwwkwaaaaard…”
She’s only alone for the fraction of a second before the door swings a fourth time. Leila sighs and completes her wudu without regarding the stranger, but then she hears laughter. Leila looks up.
It’s a hijabi, grinning and shaking her head as she unpins her scarf and rolls up her sleeves, shoves her own hand in front of the dumb automatic sink that smells like Rutgers soap.
Leila starts laughing, too.
Featured image found here.