Stars & Garters


Disclaimer: The Marvel universe is not mine, and neither is the Common People concept. I'm just playing with them for a while.
Rating: G
Feedback: Yes, please. Send them to -- don't bother with flames.

Bapa - Father
Hari Raya - Literally, "day of celebration." Colloquial name for Eid in Malaysia.
Rendang - A sort of thick curry
Sisters in Islam - An Islamic feminist organization in Malaysia (

"HASHIM! I'm not going to tell you again -- wake up NOW or it's no food for you!" Aishah yelled up the stairs, her voice carrying easily in the slumbering hour of 3 a.m.

An indistinct groan answered her.


"Aishah, go make sure your brother's up," Hanifah suggested mildly, twitching at the irritation radiating off his daughter. "You know what he's like."

"Exactly," she fumed. "Bapa, it's been nearly a month. Ramadhan is almost over. Don't you think he should've learned to wake up in time for sahur without us yelling at him?"

Zainab giggled. "But you're the only one who yells at him," she pointed out, twirling the rice scooper. "Bapa drags him out of bed, Mama just knocks."

Aishah favoured Hashim's twin sister with a scorching glare. Hanifah placed a dish of beef rendang on the kitchen table, neatly cutting her line of sight. Between his eldest's boiling temper and his youngest's permanent sugar high, he thought fleetingly, he would have cheerfully given up his empathy.

Fortunately, Hashim stumbled in at that very moment, yawning his apologies. He slumped into his usual seat, face down on the table.

"The king has arrived," Aishah greeted him sarcastically, pulling out her own chair.

"Go away, sis," he mumbled, sticking his fingers inside the tumbler beside his plate. "Zainab, help?"

His twin grumbled under her breath, but obligingly poured water over his fingers. The liquid almost immediately disappeared into his skin, and he sighed happily.

"That's not fair, you know," Zainab complained. "You're the one with the useful mutant power. I'm just a walking asbestos suit."

Hashim raised his head slightly and grinned at her. "Blue hair looks cooler on me, too," he bragged.

"Shut up. At least I never got used as a mop."


Aishah rolled her brown eyes. "I go home for the holidays every year, and it's always the same argument. You're boring."

"So what's more interesting? That you came back as a born-again Muslim?" her sister fired back. "Why don't you bring us some Osama bin Laden t-shirts?"

"Zainab, don't talk to your sister like that," her father cut in, plucking the rice scooper from her fingers and placing it in a large bowl of rice. "Hashim, sit up and eat. Aishah, please ... don't take out your temper on your siblings."

They obeyed meekly. Cutlery clinked in the absence of voices as rice was scooped onto plates, the kitchen clock ticking in dissonant tune. Hashim poured himself another tumbler of water, this time actually drinking it -- though not before Zainab poked him in the ribs.

"Warmed-up leftovers again?" Hashim's lips twisted as he surveyed the dishes. "When's Mama returning from the US?"

"Hashim, you're fifteen years old. If you want something else, you can cook it yourself," Hanifah pointed out wearily, trying to sound patient.

"Is Mama going to be home before Hari Raya?" Zainab asked, poking at her grilled chicken. "She said she was delayed, didn't she?"

"Extra security at the conference," Aishah explained coolly. "Mutants are tolerated at the best of times, and large groups of mutants and mutant activists tend to make the authorities nervous."

Hanifah glanced at the empty space where his wife would have sat. "Hm. Don't worry about it, she'll be here," he said, trying to smile.

Aishah shot him a look so sardonic it made him wonder if she no longer needed touch to read someone telepathically. That thought brought a faint grin to his face, and a prayer to Allah for it never to happen.

"Maybe you should've taken political science after all, sis," Hashim mused through a mouthful of spicy beef and rice.

"I like biomedical engineering," she answered curtly. "Besides, I don't want to learn theories. I want something real."

"Your mother graduated with a degree in Law," her father reminded her, "but she's teaching in a private college now."

"Engineering's different from Law, Bapa," Aishah argued, an edge of exasperation sharpening her words. Her long red hair swayed as she leaned forward. "Besides, I am involved in politics -- and the Sisters in Islam."

"Don't we know it," Zainab muttered. "Hey, if you get caught under the ISA, can we visit you in Kamunting? We'll put a saw in a cake or something. You like chocolate, right?"


Hanifah sighed. "No more bickering, please."

The phone rang as his children trooped upstairs, led by a bleary-eyed Hashim eager for the blissful oblivion of his bed. Hanifah slung the damp tea towel in his hands over the back of a chair and ran for the phone, nearly tripping over the living room table.


"Did you miss me?" a familiar laughter crackled.

"Khadijah!" His pleasure at hearing her voice was immediately undercut by concern. "Is something wrong? Are you all right?"

"Fine, fine. I've just been detained by airport security."

Hanifah could feel his stomach twisting, and it was a while before he could speak. "Why?"

His wife's tone was carefully bland. "Apparently, because my father's name is 'Muhammad', I'm a potential terrorist."

"But you're not even wearing a headscarf," he protested, wincing at the stupidity of his words as soon as they left his tongue.

"I know. Well, there's one destination off our holiday list."

He laughed weakly. "At least if we bring Aishah along. She's still going through with it."

"Hani, it's not like she's off to fight in Chechnya. Let her be -- it's a business between her and God."

"Hm. Will you be home soon? Or do I need to call in Li Chin to teleport you?" he offered, half-serious.

"Thanks, but no." He could almost see her grin. "I've missed my flight, but I've arranged for another one with MAS. I should be home ... let's see ... tomorrow evening, I hope."

"Good." He listened to her breathing, across borders and an ocean, closing his eyes in a kind of short relief -- not knowing if the worst was over, but thankful she was alive for him to worry about.

"How's work?" she asked softly.

"My editor wants me to do a feature on the mutant school for New Year. Other than that, the usual." He sank into an armchair, watching the still shadows on the wall. "But as long as the government sticks with the line that mutants are gifts from God, I won't complain about propaganda too loudly. How was the conference?"

Her laughter tinkled through the line. "Not bad as it could have been. It's good networking opportunity, at least. I think I'll be exchanging quite a lot of e-mails with many people in the future. Oh, and I met Charles Xavier--"

A loud beeping sound interrupted them.

"--but I can't talk for long now so I'll tell you about it when I'm home. I should be getting off, anyway. The last person who used this phone was a sick, sick man."

"You should've covered the handle with a handkerchief so you didn't have to touch it," he chided gently.

She made a dismissive sound. "You don't think that'll look suspicious? Anyway, I'll see you soon. Bye!"

"Bye." Hanifah waited until he heard her hang up, then replaced the phone. A few more minutes slunk by before he could make himself get up, telling himself he still had to do the dishes.

He found Aishah in the kitchen, scraping leftovers into a bowl for the cat. She smiled briefly at him before going out the door into their backyard, where he could hear her calling for their pet. Half an hour left before imsak, Hanifah thought. He tipped out what was left of the rendang into the sink. Someone, possibly Zainab, had dropped a cracker into the bowl. The light brown square stood out starkly against the dark red gravy, floating with the motion of the thick liquid until it came to an uneasy rest against lumps of rice and turmeric-yellow chicken. He fished it out gingerly, tossing the sodden biscuit into the garbage bin.

"You can't stop me, Bapa," Aishah said quietly behind him. He remained silent, feeling the determination/bitterness/passion reeling off her, entwined in her being. She moved beside him and they stood at the sink together, working through the dirty dishes.

"Are you sure about this? You know your mother and I always tried to encourage you to make your own choices, but I don't want you to make the wrong one."

Anger spiked, like thorns cutting the air. "It's the right one for me."

He turned slightly to face her, tenderly brushing her hair in smiling resignation. "I won't be able to show off your hair to admiring relatives anymore, then?"

Her lips quirked upwards. "No. But I promise I'll wear pretty scarves."

"That's fine." Hanifah's eyes crinkled at corners. "Have you said your niat?"

She looked a little disconcerted. "No, I--"

"For shame, Aishah. Forgetting one of the principles for fasting, how will you be a proper Muslim?"

She glared at him for a second, then burst out into giggles. "I remember having a lot of trouble memorizing it. You and Mama used to have to coach me through it every night." She paused, a little awkwardly, before asking, "Say it with me again?"

"Of course." He set down a foam-streaked glass and looked into the clear dark eyes of his eldest daughter, the child who was always secretly his favourite. Aishah turned off the tap, meeting his gaze fearlessly.

She was as tall as he was now, he realized.

"Nawai'tu saumaghadin an'ada'i fardhi shah'ri ramadana hazihis'sanati lillahi ta'ala,"* they said together. For a fleeting moment her strong contralto and his own light baritone found perfect harmony, smiles blossoming in mirror images.

Aishah returned to the dishes and the mirror was broken, leaving invisible splinters for the unwary. He watched as water poured over her fingers, swirling in eddies of dirty foam and soggy food. Hanifah sighed inaudibly, and picked up another fork.


The End

*Translation: "I intentionally fast tomorrow, to fulfill the mandatory ("fardhu") fasting of Ramadhan, this year for Allah."

Story Notes
If you're not Malaysian and/or Muslim, you might need these. Trust me.

In Malaysia, Malay-Muslims as a general rule do not have family names. They take their father's first name as their surname. Most women, as far as I know, wear headscarves ("tudung") by choice -- something which involves quite a bit of soul-searching. The burqa, by the way, is definitely not in fashion at any time in Malaysia.

During Ramadhan, as a general rule people eat the night before or early morning before fasting (this is known as a "sahur"). It's not mandatory, but it's one of the things that are "sunat" -- not required, though recommended and celestially rewarded. You can't eat after "imsak" which is, IIRC, false dawn. Also, for your fast to be valid, so to speak, you must declare your intentions ("niat") before imsak. Otherwise, no heavenly brownie points for your trouble. I've given a transcription of the original Arabic and an approximate translation at the end.

These are very general descriptions, so I suggest that you look up reference books or sites such as Islam Online:

The ISA is the Internal Security Act. Among others, it gives the authorities the right to detain suspects allegedly threatening the safety of our fair country for up to two years without trial. Its infamour detention centre is located in a place called Kamunting.