Nasrin pulled my hair when I told her I didn't want to play with her dolls. I wanted to play football with the neighborhood boys. Even though sometimes they wouldn't let me because I was a girl, they couldn't deny my speed or the fact that I scored a goal on the biggest kid in the yard. Nasrin pulled my hair and said, "Sahar, you will play with me because you belong to me. Only me." That was when I fell in love with her.
We were six. We didn't wear head scarves then. We were little girls, not "whores of Babylon," to be met by the scrutinizing eye of any asshole with a beard. Nasrin has the longest, darkest hair but it never gets tangled or neglected under her roosari like mine does. I always think there's no point in making my hair look decent if I have to cover it in school, but Nasrin is always taming her locks — blow drying, using mousse, a flat iron sometimes. No matter what she does to her hair, she will always be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
It's difficult, hiding my feelings for her. Tehran isn't exactly safe for two girls in love with each other. I wonder if people can tell I love her when I look at her — in the park, at the bazaar shopping for bras, everywhere. How can I not stare? Even at age six, I wanted to marry her. I told my mother when I came home after playing with Nasrin, who lived a few houses down from our apartment. Maman smiled and said I couldn't marry Nasrin because it was haraam, a sin, but we could always be best friends. Maman told me not to talk again about wanting to marry Nasrin, but it was all I thought about.
I thought about marrying her when we were ten and Nasrin cried that I got my period before she did. I thought about marrying Nasrin when she taught me how to put on eye-liner when we were both thirteen. I thought about marrying Nasrin when we finally kissed, on the mouth, like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere did in Pretty Woman. It's a stupid movie, but Nasrin always makes me watch it with her. We got the DVD from my older cousin, Ali. He's in university and knows everything cool but gets awful grades. I don't like that the movie is dubbed; the voices never match the actor's lips. And Julia Roberts has big lips. She could fit a whole kabob barg in her mouth if she wanted to. It was three months ago that Nasrin and I kissed. Even though I'm seventeen now, it made me feel like I was six again and she was pulling my hair.
We are always around each other, so I don't think anyone will suspect that Nasrin and I are in love. She worries, though, all the time. I tell her no one will know, that I will protect her, but when we kiss I can feel her tense. She keeps thinking about the two boys who were hung years ago in Mashhad. They were hung after being accused of raping a thirteen-year-old boy, but most people think the two were lovers who got caught. I remember the video of the hanging my cousin Ali downloaded for me. I don't know how Ali gets away with the things he does, and would never ask, either. When I saw the video, I wasn't scared, but I got angry. They were so young, just sixteen and eighteen, blindfolded, standing next to each other in the square with nooses around their necks. I felt my neck itch as they were slowly raised on cranes. Whatever crime they committed, I didn't want a part of it. I wanted to stop loving Nasrin, but how do you stop doing something you know you are supposed to do?
Nasrin keeps telling me, "We aren't gay, we are just in love." I've never even thought about being gay; all I know is I love Nasrin more than anyone. Nasrin always used to giggle with the neighborhood girls about boys, but I never joined in. Why should I care if Hassan grew a mustache that looked like a baby caterpillar? It wasn't going to change the fact that I am in love with my best friend. It wasn't going to make my baba stop crying, wishing that my maman didn't die all those years ago. It wasn't going to change the fact that I had to teach myself to cook meals, and my khoreshts will never be as good as Maman's, even though Baba says they are delicious. I miss her sometimes, but these days I just resent her for not
I've gotten used to Baba's long periods of silence. Sometimes he won't speak for two days, but when he comes out of whatever trance he's in, he is in a good mood and pretends nothing happened. I'm no doctor, but I think he is depressed. I wish he would snap out of it.
Nasrin is in my room, painting her fingernails while I pretend to do my science homework. I've been studying a lot for the Concours, which determines which university you get to go to and in what field. About one and a half million students take the exam every year in June, and only 150,000 get acceptable scores. Your performance on the exam is all that matters. Your grade-point average is meaningless, which Nasrin always reminds me when I get a less than perfect score on an Islamic Studies quiz. It's September now and I already feel anxious. I want to go to Tehran University to study medicine, which is just about every student's dream, but I think I actually have a chance. Nasrin on the other hand . . .
"You're staring again," Nasrin says. She looks up from her nails and gives me a smile. I look down at my textbook and hope my face isn't red, like all the other times Nasrin catches me watching her.
"Don't you have homework?" I ask.
Nasrin just blows on her nails and rolls her eyes. "I'm not a genius like you, Sahar. I'm going to move to India and be a Bollywood actress." She stands up and goes into one of her Indian dance routines. Nasrin is an excellent dancer and gets a group of girls together from her school to practice. They usually have me film them while they dance Persian, Arabic, or whatever other dance routines they have been working on. My favorite was when they did the Ne-Yo dance. Black American singers sound better than anything, though I fear saying that in front of Nasrin because she loves her Persian pop so much.
If she spent as much time on her studies as she did her dancing, maybe we could end up at the same university, but I know that isn't going to happen. Now that we are getting older, we have only a few more years left like this together. Things will change. Nasrin will have a lot of suitors. The men will line up on her block. All of the well-to-do in Tehran will come to her family's house, dressed in their best suits.
The suitors will have tea with Nasrin's parents, and they will explain that they can provide her a good life with whatever important and boring job they have. Her parents will pick the best man for her, meaning the one with the most money. Nasrin comes from a good family, and they have money themselves, so she will marry the best that there is. I am not the best. I am an awkward girl with breasts so big that sometimes I feel I might tip over. I don't know when I am going to lose her, but it's going to happen, and I don't know if I will be able to handle it.
Nasrin finishes her dance, and her face falls when she sees mine.
"What's wrong, Sahar joon?" she says. She's always been able to read me, even when she doesn't want to.
"I wish we could stay in this room forever," I say. She grins.
"Wouldn't you miss fresh air? The sun on your face?"
"The morality police complaining that your head scarf isn't on properly?" I always go by the rules, but Nasrin couldn't care less. She's always pushing the boundaries, with most of her hair showing at all times and a little scarf flopped over the end of her ponytail. Nasrin sits down next to me and takes my hand.
"We can't live in here forever. There's never anything to eat in your room, anyway." We both laugh, and she plays with my hair.
I lean in and kiss Nasrin on her lips. She returns the kiss with urgency, and I definitely know that no man or woman can ever make me feel the way she does. If that makes me gay, so be it.
From If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. Copyright 2013 by Sara Farizan. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Young Readers a division of Workman Publishing.