Foreign-Returned

Sadia Shepard in The New Yorker:

SadiaIn Connecticut, Hassan shared a desk with a woman—a girl, really. Later, this would be what he remembered most about the job, long after the inconvenience of his morning commute, the banality of his days spent making spreadsheets, and the mediocrity of the cafeteria had faded from memory. He would remember Hina the way he saw her on her first day. The crunched, focussed expression on her small, sharp face as she claimed her half of the desk, a purse over one arm and a duffelbag over the other, a light sheen of perspiration on her upper lip, a dark-gray head scarf wound tightly around her head and fixed above her right ear with a long, silver pin. Hina nodded at Hassan in greeting and then took a brass-colored nameplate out of her purse, placing it carefully on her side of the desk. It was the kind of thing you might order from a mall kiosk that specialized in monogrammed gifts. “My name is Hina Bhati,” she said, pointing at the nameplate, in case he hadn’t noticed it.

“Yes, I see that,” Hassan said.

Hassan had been at the bank eight weeks. Long enough to know that there was a slow way he could take from the men’s room back to his cubicle, a route that killed off three minutes of the work day. Long enough to learn that casual Fridays meant khakis, not jeans. Long enough to feel that the two-person, T-shaped desk he’d been assigned to was his alone. Hina Bhati looked to be in her early twenties, at least seven or eight years younger than he was. Why on earth were they sharing a desk? Hina had an accounting degree from suny Albany, a fact that he learned from the diploma she hung on the wall next to her computer, tapping a tiny nail into the plaster with a miniature, purse-size hammer. On her desk she arranged a tissue box with a crocheted cover, a small, iridescent vase with three silk flowers, and a sturdy, expensive-looking ballpoint pen. She put several large computer manuals on the floor and stood on top of them in order to reach the high shelf above her desk. There she placed her Quran, swaddled in a maroon velvet cover and decorated with multicolored ribbons. Once her belongings were in order, she tucked an imaginary hair inside her scarf and raised the height of her chair until her feet didn’t touch the floor. Hassan noticed that she swung her heels back and forth as she talked, as a child might.

“So,” she began, fixing him with a flat stare, “we might as well get to know each other. Where are you from and how long have you been at the bank?”

More here.

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