By Asad Shezad
Christmas break 2011. I remember feeling very uncomfortable; looking back, I was maybe the most uncomfortable I have ever been in my life. The seat I was sitting on looked cushioned but it definitely was not, because my butt was killing me. Seriously, whoever had designed this chair had to have serious problems with the world and wanted everyone to suffer and holy cow he was succeeding. Apart from my butt falling asleep, my neck was killing me too. I was dressed in salwar kameez or a Kurta, I don’t remember, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the collar was excessively hard and I was robbed of my neck mobility. Everytime I wanted to look at something I had to shift my body instead of my neck. If that wasn’t bad enough, I also had a freaking dog leash around me. Technically it wasn’t a dog leash, rather a kids leash, but it was still very embarrassing. There were three harnesses – one for me and each of my siblings – and My mom gripped the leash just as tightly as she did our passports. We were in the Karachi international airport, waiting for my uncle to pick us up and bring us to our Grandparents. Out of nowhere I was accelerated forward and landed on my knees. My brother had jolted out of his seat and now my Mom was out of hers too. “Why’d you do that Zaid ?” I said, clearly annoyed. I was already in a bad mood, but I didn’t know that what was about to happen would perhaps be the best thing to happen to me on that trip… no, in life.
I got up and looked at my brother.He was as still as a mountain and his eyes were fixated on something in the distance: The golden arches. At first I didn’t get it, why did my brother care so much about a stupid Mcdonalds, and then it dawned on me. “Mom, can we get Mcdonalds?” I said, in a very assertive tone. “You want Mcdonalds? I thought you hated fish o-” My mom didn’t finish the sentence. She figured out what me and siblings had seconds before. My mom didn’t say anything she just started walking, fast, toward the magical golden arches. When I got my crispy buttermilk chicken sandwich I didn’t bite it immediately, I gazed at it. A Mcdonalds food item had never looked so beautiful. Sure, the build of the sandwich was sloppy, but I didn’t care. This sandwich could do me no harm. I took a bite and it was the most magical moment in my life. To this day, nothing has ever topped that first bite.
About 6-7 years later, in the summer leading to my junior year I went to a pre-college lab program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I was there for 2 weeks – no parental supervision, just me making my own decisions. Notably, UMass Amherst just so happens to be ranked #4 for best college foods in America. Before this program, I had only eaten halal foods because that’s all that was available to me. Even when I was met with the chance to eat something not considered halal, I would decline. Going into this program, I wasn’t planning on eating any meat products. I hadn’t even thought of it until I stepped into the dining hall for the first time. Dinner that first day was overwhelming. However, there were vegan options so I decided on those, Sushi and stir fry noodles with no meat and many other things that I don’t remember anymore.
Once my plate was full, I went to sit with my brother and new friends. “Asad, you have got to try this chicken parm,”, my brother said as he crammed chicken and spaghetti into his mouth. “Zaid… what the heck are you doing?”, I said. I watched in horror as my brother continued to chow down on a one way ticket to hell. He swallowed, cleared his throat, and proceeded to say five words that I will always remember:
“Living my best life loser”
I immediately burst into laughter He was right,there was no reason for me to be angry! With no one to tell me otherwise, I got up and grabbed the first piece of meat I could see .
For the next 2 weeks, I lived in heaven. I had tacos, chicken parm, chinese food that wan’t vegetarian, korean chicken, grilled chicken, you name it – chicken. The last day of the program was tougher than I had expected. I only had one final dinner before it was time to go home. I just couldn’t go back to my regular diet of ethnic desi foods that my mom made. Yeah, Biryani was great for the first month, but I quickly began missing American food. But I couldn’t eat that, it was impossible. My mom wasn’t going to cook it and whenever I tried to make it myself it came out terrible.
One day, I finally found a way. It was pure genius. My mom wanted me to order Panera for the whole family because even she gets sick of desi food. I ordered what my family asked for, along with what I always get from Panera, a tuna fish sandwich. At that moment, I saw it, the glorious customize button that sat on the center of my phone screen. I tapped it and, low and behold, I could substitute tuna salad with chicken salad. Jackpot.
Now, I could just get a chicken salad sandwich from the menu, but then the receipt would have CHICKEN SALAD written all over it and my mom and dad would kill me. I didn’t have to show them the receipt, but I wasn’t picking it up so I couldn’t just throw it away. However, if you customize the tuna salad sandwich, then in big, bold, beautiful, letters, the receipt would say TUNA SALAD SANDWICH while I would be eating a magnificent chicken salad sandwich.
Somehow, my foolproof plan came through. While the receipt did say chicken salad in tiny print, my parents never saw it, and if they did, I’m not dead yet. I won’t lie, it was weird eating a sandwich at the dinner table with my mom. I was beyond paranoid that she’d smell the chicken or ask for some of my sandwich, or realize that my sandwich wasn’t loaded with tuna, but chicken. Praise the lord, none of that happened.
Notably, my parents are very religious. Last year, they made me go to a religious convention with them in Baltimore, Maryland called the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). They wanted me to attend nearly every lecture for the 3-day weekend. I wasn’t excited about this, but I was excited about the fact that, within 5 minutes of our hotel, there just so happened to be a Chick-Fil-a and a Shake Shack. I remember walking into the Chick-Fil-a to get lunch, desperately hoping that no one would see me. I mean, I was at a Muslim convention, and a brown dude getting chicken that wasn’t halal would definitely raise some eyebrows. But I was mistaken.I opened the door and the whole restaurant was full of Muslims. I was beyond relieved. It was quite ironic that at a gathering of many of the most religious Muslims in the country,we were all sinning happily.
All this successful sneaking around was slowly making me less and less precautious. I started getting chicken in my bowl at Chipotle, which my mother could’ve clearly seen if I hadn’t blocked her view with a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I started to take more and more risks, and inevitably, I was going to run out of luck at some point.
It happened in February of my senior year. I was having a normal school day when I got a fateful text from my friend. He had a doctor’s appointment that afternoon and was going to Buffalo Wild Wings afterwards; he wanted to know if I wanted him to pick up anything for me. I immediately texted back, “Hell yeah, I want the 2 boxes of the spicy BBQ wings.” My friend came halfway through lunch and by the time lunch was over, I hadn’t even finished the first box. So I decided to put them in my backpack and go home – my first mistake.
When I got home, I quickly ran up stairs and finished my wings while watching Netflix. I had no idea something was going to go wrong. My second mistake was tossing the boxes in the trashcan in my room. I should have thrown them in the dumpster outside, but my dumb ass wasn’t thinking. Full and happy, I told my parents that I was going to the library to do some work. I was at the library for not even 30 minutes when I got a horrifying text from my mom telling me to come home now and that we had to talk. I have never been more scared in my life. At first, I didn’t even think of the evidence in the trash can. I quickly thought of every possible thing I could have done wrong in the past week, there were a lot, but there was no way my parents could’ve found anything… except that I had just eaten two boxes of Buffalo Wild Wings: the devil’s food.
My heart sank to my stomach and suddenly I felt nauseous and anxious. My heart was pumping fast, I was having a hard time breathing, and my face was getting red and very hot. What was I going to do? I quickly texted my mom asking, ”Why?” and she instantly responded with, “NOW!”.
Well that was it: I was fucked. My parents were going to get me a one way ticket to Pakistan to find my roots and an arranged marriage. I started to think of excuses; how could I get out of this situation?
I walked inside to find my mom’s disappointed face. She didn’t look at me and her eyes were watery and enlarged. She looked destroyed, as if she was contemplating where she went wrong as a parent. She held up the two incriminating boxes.
“I found these in your room.” she said in a surprisingly calm voice.
“Huh?”, I said, trying to play it dumb.
“Oh those… Mom don’t worry, I didn’t eat those, my friend did.”
I knew this was going to be a longshot, but not only did I not want to be married to a random girl in Pakistan, but never in a million years would I want my mom to think she messed up parenting me.
“My friend gave them to me! If you collect 5 stickers off the boxes you get a free meal.” I spurted frantically.
My mom stared at me blankly. Then my dad laughed out of relief,
“Sarwat!” He chuckled, “He’s right, restaurants have these promotions, you know like Da Vinci’s pizzas at the mall.”
They both bought it! I wanted to fistpump into the air but I didn’t. To sell it, I took the boxes back and asked them if they wanted a black bean burger from Buffalo Wild Wings for free. Luckily they said no, because I’m pretty sure Buffalo Wild Wings doesn’t sell black bean burgers.
Looking back at all the times I came so close to getting caught and how annoying it was to be cautious all the time, I really am going to miss it when I go off to college. It was always fun to be a little rebellious and I think that’s human nature. My life is like Romeo and Juliet, and Chicken is my Juliet.