“Pakistan Had A Woman President”

2 March 2011:

I rush down the steps onto the Cortelyou Road platform. It’s a quiet morning.

I still have homework to do, and I don’t want to be late to class–unfortunately, I just missed the B train.

A few minutes later, the Q train pulls up and–after two seconds of debating–I decide to get on even though I’ll eventually have to transfer. I sit down in the middle of the blue row. To my right are two men in the middle of a conversation in a foreign language that I don’t recognize. The rest of the train is silent. Most people are lost in their own worlds through the  wires transmitting noise to their ears or newspapers that focus their eyes on the small print.

I place my bag on the lap – never on the dirty floor. Some people give me a look. I can’t blame them, my bag is usually bigger than me. I open it up, which only turns more heads, and take out a pen and folder.

I waste no time in getting started on my homework. Ten Arabic questions that need to be answered within six train-stops. I read the first question–my mind blanks. I look up and notice that some people have continued to occasionally stare back at me. I don’t mind; I’ve never minded. I turn back to my work. I skip the first question and move onto the second. After answering two more questions, I realize I have an untapped Arabic resource at my disposal. I take out my phone and quickly text my friend.

Meaning of: “bima tastamti3 akthar bil-musiqy aw bil-aflaam?”

Two seconds after sending it, I wonder whether he understood what I wanted. I text him again:

Is it what do you prefer more–music or movies?

I ask hesitantly. His reply is quick:

What do u enjoy more

I thank him and quickly get back to answering the questions. The train reaches Atlantic Avenue. I need to transfer on the next stop.

“Is this Farsi or Arabic?” the middle-aged guy, who was in a deep conversation with his friend a few minutes earlier, asks in a thick accent. An accent I can’t quite point out.

“Oh, this is Arabic,” I respond. The new conversation seems to have provoked some interest in the surrounding people. They pay attention even more closely now.

“That is good,” he says, pointing to my handwriting.

“Thank you,” I say, smiling. Arabic writing is no joke in my book.

“Where are you from?”

“Oh, I’m from Pakistan,” I say, hesitant to say where I’m from, as I usually am. I’m no patriotic person when it comes to any nation, but that’s a story for another time.

“Oh, Pakistan! I’m from Tajikistan. Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan,” he says excitedly, pointing his fingers in mid-air as though to point out their exact locations. He pauses, then adds: “Pakistan had woman president.”

“No, Pakistan never had a woman president,” I say.

“Yes,” he says, looking at the floor trying to think of the name.

“Bhutto?” I ask, but he doesn’t hear me. He continues to think. “Bangladesh has a female president,” I say.

“No, not Bangladesh. Pakistan. I don’t remember, but there was,” he says, still trying to figure out the name of the female president of Pakistan.

“I would know if there was a woman president of Pakistan,” I say, laughing. A lady in front of me has been paying attention to the whole ordeal. Our eyes meet. She turns away. I turn back to the man and repeat, “Benazir Bhutto?”

“Yes!” He says, his eyes wide with excitement, “Benazir Bhutto.”

“She was the prime minister,” I say, remembering the time a classmate of mine thought I looked like her.

“Prime minister! Yes. Her father, Bhutto, was president.”

“Yeah, and now her husband is the president,” I say, packing up my things and getting ready to get off the train. I stand up and wonder how I should say goodbye. I turn towards him.

“Have a nice day,” he says.

“You too,” I say with a smile and exit the train onto the Dekalb Avenue platform.

I’m never good with goodbyes.

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