The door opens to fragrant smells of freshly baked samosas and lamb biryani. As my parents exchange pleasantries with our hosts, I sneak a quick peek into the house and feel my chest slowly fill with dread – I don’t see a single face I recognize. Before I can stop myself, the mental image of a Pro-Con list materializes in my head, with a single tally beneath the ‘con’ column.
As we’re ushered into the living room, I smooth down the pleats of my navy-blue dress, wondering how my meticulous ironing had all come undone in the span of an hour. Scanning the small crowd of guests in search of a friendly face, I eventually settle down next to a woman who looks to be in her late 20s.
“Salaam, my name’s Hafsa! Nice to meet you.” She dosen’t sense my nervousness; I silently revel in my great choice of seating.
“My name’s Mariyam. Nice to meet you as well.”
My eyes drift towards the black and gold balloons reading “Happy Eid!” that adorn the oak banister, arching and twisting upwards alongside it.
“Great weather we’re having,” she exclaims. I secretly award her plus points for originality.
“Yeah, it’s nice to get a break from the constant humidity,” I reply.
We stare awkwardly at each other for a few seconds, each waiting for the other to continue the conversation. I rack my brain for something, anything, to say, but come up empty.
A fit of laughter erupts from the group next to us, and she angles herself slightly away me to get a better look at the commotion. Our silence takes form and nudges itself into the space between us.
It’s often at this point in the evening when my social anxiety starts to kick in. I slide the diamond-studded ring on my middle finger back and forth in cyclical motions to calm my nerves. My toes dig into the plush brown carpet, and my mind wanders off to a place that’s anywhere but here.
A lot of the time, introverts like myself tend to get a bad rep – either we’re lonely, socially-awkward hermits, or worse, seen as those with a “second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” While that socially-awkward bit might apply to myself, I’d like to think that introversion is just as normal and as common in people as extroversion is. The only difference being that socializing or making idle small talk might not come as easy to us, nor does it interest or rejuvenate us in the same way it might for the extroverted.
And large Indian gatherings (such as the one I find myself in tonight), don’t tend to cater to my introversion. I sigh in frustration as my mother, draped in the grandeur of her chiffon sari and all, drags me off to meet with yet another distant relative I’m supposedly related to. When people pander on about the stereotype that all brown people know each other, they’re lying- all brown people are somehow related to each other.
Another mental tally forms itself under the “con” column.
This “uncle” of mine happens to be someone my parents knew from their time living in Saudi Arabia. He remarks how big I’ve gotten, and I offer a meek half-smile in return. My mom eventually picks up the conversation again, and I fade into the background of the party, shrinking in her shadow.