The next morning Faiza came to watch us again, this time dispensing with the charade of sweeping. I tried to think of something to say to her, but having already covered our marital status and hair, we were left with little common ground. I thought about the conversations I had with Mona, our classmates, and Graham, and realized that nearly every single one could be distilled down to a central theme: aspirations. What we wanted, what we planned, who we wanted to become, and how we were going to get there. Even in the gossip and the cheap thrills — who who-slept-with-whom, the pursuit of alcohol and drugs and weekend adventures — we were always talking about our own wishes. The fundamental assumption of my own agency underlay everything I thought and did. It was difficult to get into a different frame of mind and to imagine what I would talk about once there. I couldn’t even ask Faiza if she hoped to marry, for at fifteen she had already failed at that one permitted ambition.
“Do you like Manakha?” I finally asked, groping for a connection as she fluttered her fingers over a pink cotton sweater lying on a windowsill. My words immediately struck me as lame. It was like asking her if she liked life.
“I have to work a lot,” she said.