Today's Reading

Clara pressed her point. "When do you get to be happy? When was the last time you went on a date, or finished and performed a poem?" Clara thought Ayesha was afraid of love because of what had happened to her father and afraid to dream because of her family's expectations.

Ayesha disagreed. "My family is counting on me to set a good example for Hafsa. I'm the eldest kid in the family. I want to set the bar high for everyone else. I can't let Mom, Sulaiman Mamu, or Nana down, not after everything they've done for me. All that other stuff can wait."

Clara sighed. "Why don't you come to Bella's tonight?"

A long time ago, a different Ayesha had performed poetry at Bella's lounge. Another reminder of the road not taken. She smothered a laugh that sounded like a sob.

"Ash, you got this," Clara said, her voice softening. "Do all that teacher stuff. Send the troublemakers to the office. Make a seating chart. Stop hiding in the bathroom."

There was a discreet knock on the stall door, and Ayesha ended the call with Clara.

"Miss Shamsi?" Mary said, sounding awkward. "Your class said you might be in here."

They're not my class, Ayesha thought. They need a circus trainer, not a teacher. She flushed, wiped sweaty palms on her pants, and tucked the purple notebook back inside her bag. Mary stood outside, a look of pity on her face.

"There was an emergency, but I'm better now," Ayesha said with dignity. "When does the class end?"

"You still have another forty minutes, honey." Mary patted her on the shoulder. "I'll send an assistant to help with your first class. She'll keep an eye on them when your back is turned. Oh, and I forgot to give this to you earlier."

Mary handed Ayesha an ID badge with STAFF written in bold letters at the top.

Ayesha stared at the official-looking badge. This was why she had attended teachers' college, why she had worked so hard at her in-school placements. Her mother and grandparents had left behind so much when they immigrated to Canada. She wanted their sacrifice to mean something.

There was no turning back, not now.

Her thoughts drifted to the purple notebook in her bag. Maybe if she worked on the poem tonight, she could perform it at Bella's sometime . . .

But no. All of that lay behind her. It was time to focus on the road in front.

"Everyone starts out right here. You'll get the hang of it," Mary said.

Mary meant to be kind, but Ayesha knew that not everyone started from the same place. Some people were always a little ahead. Or in her case, constantly playing catch-up.

The rest of the day was not as dramatic as the morning, yet Ayesha felt deflated when she drove home after school. Teaching was not what she'd expected and nothing like her training, where she'd had the comforting guidance of a mentor teacher. The entire experience had been nerve-racking, and she had felt perpetually caught in the bored tractor-beam stares of twenty-eight teenagers.

All she wanted now was to go home, drink a cup of very strong chai, and reconsider her life choices.

She turned onto her street and spied a red Mercedes parked in the driveway.

Hafsa was back, and this time there was no escape.

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