The news was full of it, a sort of 24-7 marathon of words and stories she'd never heard said aloud in Parma, Idaho. National TV personalities were saying "LGBT" like they'd said it their whole lives and like talking about gay people was as natural as talking about cars or baseball. But there was blood and people crying and this was about death, about anger and hate and making millions of people afraid.
She was not afraid. She'd found a ride to Boise on Craigslist and a place to stay with a Lesbian couple she'd found on Facebook. Friday, at the gas station, time could not have gone more slowly. Her polyester uniform itched and her name tag "Fatima" drew the usual number of stares.
"What's that? A Muslim name?" It was closing time. The man was tall and wearing coveralls. His boots had tracked dried mud across the linoleum floor. Fatima watched as each chunk broke free and scattered or crumbled into a pile of dust. Her bag was packed and in the store room. Each of the man's steps meant one more minute before she could leave to meet her ride, James.
The man banged something on the counter. The sound made her jump. She looked up from the floor to his face. Her instinct to smile was the first to kick in. It was a question she'd gotten most of her short life, at least since 9-11. That was what she always did when asked this, smile.
The man's eyes had narrowed to tiny knife slits. He had a red plastic bottle of motor oil in his hand. "I don't give money to Muslim whores." This seemed to be a statement of fact, and, given the motor oil in his hand, Fatima know the man was going to have to give her money or she would have to press the button under the counter which let the Sheriff's office know there was a problem. She fingered the button.
"Terrorist bitch," the man hissed. Fatima watched in slow motion as the man leaned in to grab her. It was an oddly familiar motion that set off a panic in her. Her mind went to that time, that place, to the disgusting heat of breath on her neck and a man touching her all over. She saw the clinic where she went after, the men and women with signs who also called her a bitch and a whore. They said they'd prey to their god for her. She saw her own father's face and his shame. It was an image which for two years now she'd blocked out.
"Sir. I have already called the Sheriff's office. You need to leave." He voice was dry and level, her finger still on the button ready to press it. The man leaned back from the counter, lowered the arm he had raised to hit or grab her. She stared at him. In the eyes.
He turned and left.
In the car with James, who turned out to be a clerk from the grocery store down the street, Fatima used the visor mirror to put on her rainbow earrings. She dug in her bag and pulled out the "Queer as Idaho" T-Shirt that she had found at the Youth Ranch Thrift store.
James eyed her shirt. "What's that?"
"I'm going to Gay Pride. Aren't you?" Her grin was full of white teeth that flashed bright from her dark face.
James was not going to Pride. He was going to buy a new car stereo at a box store.
"Be careful out there," he said as he pulled up to the curb in downtown. A rainbow pride flag hung at half mast in front of city hall and Fatima felt her hands shake. James went on, "I have friends who come down here on nights like this with baseball bats."
Fatima stepped out and did a spin on the sidewalk in her black pants and the T-shirt she'd pulled over her tank top. "They'd have to catch me!" she laughed. Over the years, she'd found that laughing was the most effective response to threats. It was a way to make people think there was maybe something they didn't know, some information that made her less of a perfect target than she seemed. It had worked in high school. Sometimes.
But she was there with the pride flag hanging motionless above the street. At home, her parents would be cooking dahl and filling the neighborhood with the smell of cardamom, ginger, garlic and garam masala. They would be setting the table under her mom's little gold plastic statue of Ganesh and maybe bringing meals to their Muslim friends, the ones who'd stayed home for days since Orlando, afraid again of having their headlights bashed or the word "terrorist" scratched into the paint of their cars with a knife or a key.
Fatima looked behind her. The streets were filled with couples holding hands, men with men, women with women. Dance music blasted from an upstairs balcony, huge pride flags waved, and people smiled at her and laughed. Inside, for a moment, she felt something let go, unwinding like a spool of thread. Her wiry legs launched her into the air and through the crowd. Bodies swirled on the street and people sang. Here in this moment where she was safe and alive, she felt the warm shoulders of those near her press into her back and sides. She thought of the men and women in the Club in Orlando who she knew had gone there that night to feel just this thing. She felt her chest tighten and her eyes water, but she threw her arms in the air and her head back and began to dance.