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Excerpt: Read from Kimia Eslah’s latest novel, Enough
In her third novel Enough (Fernwood Publishing), Kimia Eslah takes on the empty promises of corporate DEI initiatives through the experiences of three women of colour navigating the structural racism and microaggressions of their workplaces. This excerpt features one of the protagonists, Sameera Jahani, as she grapples with a racist encounter at work.
Friday afternoon became evening, and Sameera remained buried under the covers, her pillow dampened by tears and her apartment consumed by darkness. The embarrassment of being dismissed outright, and publicly, by Howard Crawley stung even hours after the ADM. She’d endured the pitying glances and patronizing head shakes as she had slunk out of the conference room, and she’d made it through the day by hiding in her cubicle, avoiding anyone who might mention the incident. Once home, she’d crawled into bed and cried until she’d fallen asleep.
She awoke to an aching head and intense hunger but she refused to rise, or even remove the covers. Fumbling between the sheets, she found her phone and checked the time. Shannon would be home soon, excited about their Friday night ritual of brewery hopping and street food, and Sameera was not in the mood to leave the apartment. She considered ordering takeout from the comfort of her hideaway; possibly burgers and poutine, Shannon’s favourite.
The blue light of the screen lit up her blanket tent as Sameera browsed menus and added a copious amount of food to her cart. A notification popped up, indicating a text message from Agatha, her brightest team member.
It read, “Heard about ADM. Here if you want to talk.” Sameera dismissed the message, cringing at the vision of her co-workers sharing snippets about her mortifying exchange with the CM. Each time she reassured herself that the episode was minor, she recalled Courtney Moore, queen bee and self-appointed mentor, leaving the meeting without glancing her way, conveniently preoccupied by a conversation with another manager and too busy to offer a sympathetic smile. He’s the racist, and she treats me like a pariah. How does this even make sense? Who initiates an EDI project and then says they can’t hire everyone “off the boat”? What the fuck is wrong with these people?
The floor boards creaked and Sameera paused, hoping to hear Shannon climbing the stairs to their second-floor unit. The sounds that followed belonged to the downstairs neighbours, a trio of graduate students who travelled as a pack. Sameera’s lower lip trembled in disappointment and tears escaped from the corners of her eyes. She wiped them away and tried to complete her takeout order.
Still, Crawley’s quip tormented her, “If you’ve got a cousin … send them to HR.”
More tears dripped onto the pillow, and Sameera returned to berating herself for speaking at the ADM. Courtney Moore was burnt out and uninspired but she was not a joke; she knew better than to broach a controversial topic before an undependable audience. Then again, Courtney was white and Sameera was Brown, and her being Brown was the basis of Crawley’s joke. Why was he … so offended, so hostile? I didn’t say anything radical. It was all in line with that presentation.
Keys jingled, and Sameera heard Shannon walk into their apartment. At that moment, there was no sound more welcoming than that of her girlfriend’s steel-toed work boots as she clomped down the arms’ length hallway, making a beeline to the kitchen. After her twelve-hour shifts at the hydro company, and having eaten every morsel in her travel cooler, Shannon still always returned home hungry. Her first destination was the fridge, where she grabbed a block of cheese and an apple.
“Babe?” Shannon called out, and Sameera could tell that her head was in the fridge.
“Hey,” Sameera replied weakly from under the covers just as she submitted her takeout order.
“Where are you?” Shannon asked around a mouthful as she neared their unlit bedroom.
During their first months living together, they fell into bed as soon as Shannon returned home, and Sameera served as her lover’s first course. Nowadays, they bonded at the kitchen table where they binged on snack foods and traded work stories.
“Sammy?” Shannon whispered playfully from the end of the bed.
Sameera felt her girlfriend lift the bottom edge of the blanket, and in a flash Shannon was tickling the soles of her feet.
“No, no,” Sameera shrieked, kicking her legs to free them of Shannon’s strong grip. “Watermelon! Watermelon!”
Upon hearing their safe word, Shannon stopped her tickling and dove under the sheets. Sameera nestled herself into Shannon’s larger frame, breathing in her lover’s musky fragrance and the lingering scent of solder and rubber.
“So, what’re you wearing under here?” Shannon asked huskily, fondling Sameera in the dark and expecting to find her nude. “You’re dressed! Well, I can fix that.” Shannon’s hands moved quickly to untuck Sameera’s shirt.
“No, no,” Sameera pleaded, pulling toward Shannon and closing the gap between their prone bodies.
“Aw, babe. What’s wrong?” Shannon asked once she realized she had misinterpreted Sameera’s intentions.
Grateful for the opener, Sameera sighed deeply and related her experience at the ADM. While she spoke, she kept her arms tucked in between their bodies and her nose pressed against Shannon’s collarbone. It was childlike, she realized, but it met her need to be soothed, and Shannon, who was rubbing circles on Sameera’s back, responded lovingly.
“I don’t understand why he was being such a jerk,” Sameera blubbered. “I mean, I was building on his ideas.”
Shannon did not respond other than to stroke Sameera’s back. “I was basically saying the same thing. I don’t understand,” Sameera said shakily, remembering the side-eyes from her colleagues.
When Shannon continued to remain silent, Sameera pulled back and pouted, though the gesture was fruitless in the dark. “What? What is it? Why are you being so quiet?” she asked, her voice quivering with concern.
Shannon shook her head and replied apathetically, “What do you want me to say?”
This expression triggered Sameera, who recognized it as disapproval and bolted upright. She snapped back at Shannon, “That I’m right. That he was being an asshole. That it doesn’t make sense.”
Shannon remained prone and silent. In the dark, Sameera could not make out her lover’s expression but Shannon’s shallow breaths signalled her annoyance.
Infuriated by the bitter turn in their conversation, Sameera exclaimed, “What?! You think I’m making this up?”
Unhurriedly, Shannon answered, “No, I don’t think you’re making it up. I see you’re mad. I get that. It sounds really embarrassing.”
Sameera waited for more to follow, something that substantiated Shannon’s reproving tone and when nothing came, she shot back, “It was more than embarrassing, Shan. It was …” Racist! The word refused to pass her lips. If she sounded that alarm, then all hopes for sympathy would be dashed. Instead, she settled on describing her feelings. “Insulting. Really fucking insulting.”
She met more silence from her lover.
* * *
Kimia Eslah writes novels about urbanites, underdogs, and the Iranian diaspora. CBC Books, Ms. Magazine, and The Miramichi Reader have praised her work. Her latest novel, Enough, is a corporate drama about three women of colour who challenge the old boys’ club at Toronto City Hall.
Kimia pens a monthly newsletter about being dominated by cats, and other meaningful life realizations. To subscribe, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before she wrote social justice novels, Kimia designed courses. After that, just to shake things up, she made a kid. Then she did a bunch of laundry. She now writes full-time.