The advantage.

9 Feb

In my life, I have often been confused with other people. Or some people think they have seen me somewhere else. I always just assumed I had that kind of face, but certain situations have made me think that in some cases, it might not be so innocent. For instance, one time at university, I sat next to another hijabi in class, having become friendly with her beforehand, “Oh, I’ll have trouble telling you apart now” commented the teacher. She was a nice teacher, but it stuck with me because apart from the hair covering, we didn’t look alike. And of course, since then, having had many other experiences, I found that this fitted into a general pattern of some seeing us as all the same, as “the other”.

Though, it still takes me by surprise. Like recently, I have started working at the same place as one of my besties Aisha, by happy almost-coincidence. We went on the induction together with other new starters, during which we played a bonding game where we had to throw balls about and memorise each other’s name. I really need to emphasise how effective this game was. By the end, I could not only tell you their names, I could spell them backwards if you needed me too. It was fun too and pathetically, I truly felt like we bonded. Therefore it was to my disappointment that when Aisha (who also wears hijab) mooched off to another team, one of the ladies referred to Aisha by my name. Nobody who heard her corrected her. I indignantly told them that this was my name and they laughed. This annoyed me more. This was not a laughing matter. This was a grave matter. I told Aisha afterwards. “But we don’t even look alike”, she said, confused. My poor, innocent, friend.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed if the context had been different, indeed, it was a context in which we had to learn to recognise each other by our names. She confused me with another hijabi, not just another person. It means: all you are to me is another covered Muslim girl and I cannot be bothered to look at your face. I told another friend. She thinks the confusion would also occur if two people wore glasses or grew beards. I appreciate her opinion. I acknowledge it would be more conducive to community relations to agree with her, but I choose to assume the worst. Seeking a confirmation of my opinion, I complained to another hijabed friend. She informed me that this also happened when we were in sixth form, where another girl tried to give her a pen she had borrowed. When my friend told her it wasn’t her that had lent it, she responded “Well it was one of you anyway”.  

And at work, it also happened again but in different forms. The thing is, these people were generally very nice people, so I was less and less irritated. It felt like a good intentioned oversight, you know? So what if they spoke to me because they thought I was my friend? The important thing is they spoke to me nicely. But troublingly, I began to like it, to seek it even. You see, my friend embodies sunshine, whereas I am the prince of darkness. I also absolutely hate the first stages of a friendship where its all small talk and awkward, so to be honest, it was a dream having ready made friends who spoke to me because they thought I was someone else. I became addicted to the glamour.

So when another lady said hello to me the other day as I was walking to the station, I greeted her back warmly even though I didn’t know who she was and was quite certain she did not know who I was. “No wait”, she said. My heart dropped. She took a step closer me, then another step, then another step (it was dark), peering into my face. I tried to look my most attractive. But it wasn’t enough, and she apologised when she realised I wasn’t the hijabi she knew. “But we can still be friends” I called after her. I weeped as she abandoned me on the corner of the street, still in my wedding dress.

That night, I made a vow to myself that I would never be put in such a vulnerable position again. I had recently read “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell, in which a chapter was dedicated to how the underdog succeeds by using people’s assumptions of them to their advantage. My brain ticked. A while later, I remembered reading the first chapter of those teenage point horror novels when I was younger. It was about a pair of twins, one was super popular and the other the opposite. They were so identical that sometimes they would swap places in school and spend the whole day pretending to be each other. One day, they went on a skiing trip and swapped clothes, the popular one then falls of the ski lift and dies. The unpopular one then pretends to be the popular one for the rest of her days (or so I assume, I didn’t finish the book).

Do you see where I am going with this? One day I will invite Aisha on a skiing trip. I will ask to borrow her jacket. We will then go on the lift. And then, an accident will happen. I will then go back at work and sit in her seat. Her colleagues will come up to me, and say “we are so glad you’re ok”, “we’re so glad it was her and not you”, and I will smile and nod in agreement and everybody will be none the wiser. And the next time I meet a hijabi who is more successful/popular/clever than me, another serious accident will happen. And I will do this again and again and again, replacing these hijabis with myself, until I have reached dizzying heights of success. And that my friends, is how the underdog turns a disadvantage into an advantage. 

2 Responses to “The advantage.”

  1. Nuha February 10, 2014 at 7:16 PM #

    absolutely loveee this article!!!

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