‘I feel sorry for those without the saviour of Jesus Christ in their lives,’ Mrs James explained, spit flying from her withered mouth. At the front of the classroom, she waddled across the floor, her orthopaedic sandals skidding along the carpet. She had a bald spot and the yellow light bulbs shone off her shiny red scalp like a cold sore. Haram, I felt sorry for her bro.
Every room at St Bernadette Catholic College was ancient and upholstered with dark navy carpets and built with pale yellow bricks. In the middle of the room was a crucifix. A pale and dying Jesus looked down at every slut, virgin and closeted lesbian in the class at the same time. The classroom fit twenty of us, tucked into plastic blue chairs wearing our ugly snot-green and piss-yellow skirts that were made of wool and had to fall below the knee or else we would risk detention.
Mrs James had a sheen of sweat across her moustached lip. Her large breasts wobbled in her purple jumper as she bent to write on the overhead projector sheet the word, ‘Denominations’. Her spidery scrawl bled across the page in red Sharpie as she said, ‘We’ll go around the room and you can tell me what religion you are, girls. Then we can look at the majority and minority in the room.’ Mrs James spoke in a deep voice, enunciating every word in a strong Aussie accent. She sounded like Pauline Hanson.
‘So what religion are you?’ Sarah looked at me with a smirk, her yellow teeth contrasting with her heavily freckled and fair face.
‘So what religion are you?’ Sarah looked at me with a smirk, her yellow teeth contrasting with her heavily freckled and fair face. Her breath smelled like the Oak chocolate milk and ham sandwich I watched her swallow down at lunch from across the courtyard.
‘I’m Maronite,’ I shot back at Sarah. I turned around to my stack of books and pencil case on the desk so she couldn’t see my face when I said it. I was opening up my second hand copy of the To Know, Worship & Love textbook, while my heart beat like a durbake. Fuck. Could Sarah hear it? What a bitch trying to catch me out. But as if I was going to actually tell her. I had rehearsed this lie for years
‘Ew, so that’s like Muslim?’ Sarah’s voice was high-pitched. Her smile burned with flames from hell. Her face looked like the shaitan. Maybe this was Allah’s way of punishing me for lying. Maybe Allah put the devil in Sarah to follow me throughout high school and beyond until I die. Devil or not, I was sick of this racist sharmuta. I couldn’t stop fantasising about setting my cousins on her.
Maybe Allah put the devil in Sarah to follow me throughout high school and beyond until I die.
‘No, it’s Christian,’ I explained to Sarah through my teeth. My mum had thought it was a passable lie to tell people I was Maronite because it would explain why I was brown and had an Arab last name. Sarah’s blue eyes narrowed as she laughed, ‘Sure it is. I know all Lebbos are Muslim.’
Mrs James was going around the room. ‘Sarah?’
Sarah replied, ‘I’m an atheist just like my dad. He thinks religion is for idiots and so do I.’
Everyone in the class turned to look at Sarah for challenging our Italian Catholic teacher of religions so blatantly. But I knew Sarah would get away with it because the Aussie kids could get away with anything.
‘You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, Sarah.’ Mrs James tried to smile but gave up halfway through. Her eyes had the holy light of God in them. Mrs James wanted to rip the crucifix off the wall, perform and exorcism and scorch Sarah with Jesus’ love. Astagfirallah with that atheist bullshit.
I hid my hands under the table to hide how sweaty they had been the whole class.
I was next. I hid my hands under the table to hide how sweaty they had been the whole class. Maybe I could still drop out of this shit school and go public? Maybe Allah would just drop the fan from the ceiling and onto my head, killing me instantly for being such a liar? Mrs James nodded at me as an invitation to talk. Bismillah. May Allah forgive me for the next words. ‘I’m Maronite Christian.’ Even after it was over, I didn’t feel any relief. I felt like I should run out of the room, do wudu and pray one hundred times even though I hated praying. I knew in that moment that I was definitely going to hell to be tortured for eternity by watching Sarah eat an endless pile of ham sandwiches.
The bell rung, ending the worst class of my life to date. I got up and pushed the chair in fast. Time to gtfo. I watched Sarah stride out of the room with her head held high because she was an atheist and there was no God to be angry at her like there was for me.
Cindy El Sayed is a freelance writer.
This is a work of autobiographical fiction extracted from Sweatshop Women: Volume Two - a contemporary collection of prose and poetry written by women from Indigenous, migrant and refugee backgrounds edited by Winnie Dunn. Sweatshop is a literacy movement dedicated to empowering culturally and linguistically diverse writers through reading, writing and critical thinking. You can buy a copy here.
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