I sat at the table, looking around at the various family members I hadn’t seen in ages. All of them were cousins, except for my mother, who sat right next to me.
We used to have these dinners a lot when I was younger. A big cookout where they would make jumbo or crab. I used to like it. This time was crab again.
“So, aren’t you hot in that?” asked Vern from across the table.
I assumed he meant the scarf I had wrapped around my head. My hijab.
“It’s summer, you know.” he said. “And you still dressing in all black.”
“So, you a Muslim now?”
Diane was bringing out plates. She was dark skinned and wearing a comfortable jersey and a pair of jeans.
“Food ain’t gonna serve itself, y’all,” Diane said.
“Hey, Jenni, you a Muslim, right?” Vern asked me.
“She ain’t no Muslim,” my mother said.
“That’s cause she worship the devil,” Julian said. He was Vern’s younger brother.
My mother looked at me, waiting for me to defend myself. I had on dark eyeliner and a dark blue, lip-stain lipstick. I left my white contacts at home–didn’t want to scare any children.
My mom decided to speak for me.
“No, she ain’t.”
I got up. I would make my plate of food now that people were coming back with their own.
“Can you make mine too, sweetie?” My mother asked.
I shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Don’t let her, she’ll put a spell on it!” Julian said.
Mckayla, our cousin, joined him in laughter. I remembered growing up with them and feeling left out. They always got each other’s jokes. I preferred running outdoors and pretending I was from a different planet. They wanted to play “casino” and fake gamble, which led into real gambling and drugs at the age of fourteen, and I kept to myself, got really into books.
In the kitchen, I made my and my mother’s plate; mac and cheese, cornbread, some yams, and the main course; the crab.
I brought my mother’s plate back to the table with me and overheard Bea, Diane’s sister, speaking.
“You know that’s a warning sign. Probably writing all sorts of magic and curses in that notebook of hers.”
My mother glanced at me warily. I sat her plate down and took a seat.
“Extra butter for me,” Mckayla said.
They all began to chat and eat, giggling at jokes and talking about their lives, the girls they knew, the boys at school, and the new job they were working.
“Vern can’t work at Wal-Mart no more cause they caught him stealing,” Julian said.
“Man, whatever,” Vern said.
“What do you do, Jenni? Still in college?” Diane asked.
I nodded. “I have a part time job too.”
“No,” I said. “Girlfriend.”
Julian started up again. “Ohhh, I told you she was gay.”
“My baby ain’t no dike,” my mother said. “Her girlfriend one of them transexuals.”
“So, he got a dick?” Bea asked.
“Excuse me?” I said. “She and that’s none of your damn business.”
My face burned and my eyes stung.
“Stop, making her angry, mama,” Julia said to Bea. “Or she’ll summon Satan.”
“I’m not a satanist, but I wish I was then–”
“Uh-uh, none of that devil talk here, Not in my house, Jenni,” Diane said.
I looked at her as if i’d been slapped. She was the only one I actually liked.
“I didn’t do–”
“Jenni,” My mother said. “Can’t you just eat your food?”
“How can you let them talk about her like that?” I asked.
She just gave me a look. Silence. Was she disappointed in me because I wasn’t like them? They didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand them.
I shut up. I tried to eat but I wasn’t hungry anymore. I tried to drown out their talking. I thought about home, my wonderful room, my girlfriend. That’s when I felt a sharp tug on my scarf. My hands went up quickly and held it in place before they could pull it off.
I turned to see Mckayla by me. I glared.
“What the fuck is your problem?” I asked.
“Aren’t you hot? It’s hot in here. You should take it off,” she said.
“No. Don’t ever touch me again.”
“But you aren’t even Muslim.”
“Just let her wear her damn scarf and sit down,” Pamela, Mckayla’s mother, said.
Mckayla glanced at me but took her seat next to Julian. My eyes were burning. I drank some water.
“Then why do you cover up?” Vern asked.
I looked at him and shoved a piece of crab into my mouth. Diane put music on. Hip-Hop and Rap. Everyone liked it but I didn’t move to the beat. They danced in their seat and Mckayla got up to shake her hips and pop her ass. She was cheered on.
“Come on, Jenni,” she said.
I shook my head. I wasn’t like them. I didn’t understand this music and they didn’t understand mine. I rather bang my head to metal or relax to some classical.
“You should invite your girlfriend next time,” Julian said, eyes gleaming. “She got a beard?”
“Fuck you,” I mumbled, too low to be heard over the music.
I looked at my mother. “Can we go home now?”
“Why? I’m having good time,” she said.
And indeed she was. They were all smiling and having fun with each other. I didn’t understand them.
“Then can I sit in the car?”
The mother let out an exasperated sigh and pulled out her keys and gave them to me.
“Here. Just don’t come next time,” my mother said.
I held my jaw tight and took the keys. I didn’t say a word as I left. I went to the car as I said and climbed into the passenger side, bundling up in the cold and dark.
I’d be damned if I would cry.