This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons or events is purely coincidental.
Or whatever you choose to believe.

With visible relief, she entered the café and chose a table in the corner. She placed her bag on an empty chair, adjusted her skirt, and sat against the wall to have a clear view of the space. She checked the time on her phone again. Good. Despite everything, she wasn’t late. She hated being late, more so for herself than for others.

“What can I get you?” asked the waitress, a young student, as she diligently wiped the table.

“Coffee with rice milk for me, and mint tea for my friend, please. She’ll be here any moment now.”

And indeed, Karin appeared at the door. A bit disoriented, as usual, perhaps a tad more scattered. Her gaze scanned the room, searching for Sanja, who graciously waved from her table. Now, both of them smiled. They had managed to meet for coffee. Coffee wasn’t just coffee. It could be tea, lemonade, or something stronger… what mattered was that mysterious smirk that crept onto the faces of coffee drinkers, engaging in a conspiratorial meeting that had been the cornerstone of female confidantes for centuries. My ex never could never comprehend this, Sanja thought during the moment of silence while Karin was hanging her coat.

“But I don’t drink coffee,” he used to repeat like a parrot every time someone invited them for coffee. “What a dumbass…”

“Who?” Karin asked with a concerned look, and Sanja realized she had spoken her thoughts out loud again.

“Oh, you know. My ex. And all guys, really.”

And so, the ritual began. Karin immediately nodded, adding that all guys are the same and there’s no way of getting through to them.

“Well, you certainly can’t complain, dear Karin. You married a good one. You wish for nothing else.”

Karin was well aware of how different her situation was. “Talking out of both sides of one’s mouth” or whatever was that their heavily intoxicated high school professor once said?

“Oh, yes… Let’s be honest. My husband can be a special kind of a dumbass too. I know I sound hypocritical, but the fact is, I really have to love my husband, since I despise the majority of the male population. They irritate me every day! Can I tell you what happened just now, not even twenty minutes ago on the bus?”

Now Karin had all her attention. Sanja only now noticed that her friend still had an unsettled look, constantly adjusting her collar and checking her headscarf. Today, she covered her hair with pink jersey, as usual, skillfully tying it into a turban.

“I get on the bus, and at the second door, I immediately register the gaze of one specimen. Even before I pass, I feel this strange energy radiating towards me. You know, sometimes you can bet your hand or whatever, that something is going downhill…”

Sanja nodded, eyes wide-open, listening intently. At that moment, the waitress arrived with a tray, placing coffee and tea on the table, and then moved on to other guests without a word.

“And? What happened then?”

Karin grounded herself by clasping her fingers around the warm cup of mint tea ordered by her confidante even before she arrived. Such small attentions meant a lot to her. She took a breath and returned to her story.

“So, I continue walking through the bus; I usually prefer the back unless there’s no space. So, I have to pass this old gentleman.”

She uttered the last word with a mocking disgust. People like him don’t deserve titles. No respect at all.

“I see him deliberately look away, and just as I pass, he turns his knee into the aisle, pushing it into my stomach…”

Sanja stopped with her mouth open, ready for a fight, fists clenched on the table, nearly spilling her coffee; the cup audibly shook on the saucer. Some guests glanced at their table. “HE DID WHAT?!”

Karin was not confused by this reaction; she expected such a response from her friend. Only all the looks attracted by the noise disturbed her. If someone had reacted like this on the bus earlier... she thought.

“He didn’t kick me, I mean, it didn’t hurt. But it was so disgusting, you know? How he invaded my space, my body, Sanja! And you know me. I’ll never be silent. NEVER! I could have just gone on, like a meek little mozlim they take me for. But I didn’t.”

Sanja continued to nod attentively. Indeed, she knew her well. Their friendship went way back into ancient history, before Karin met her chosen one. A foreigner. A Muslim. A nightmare for all true Slovenian parents blessed with only one daughter. Before marriage, Karin embraced the Islamic faith and, as she claims, learned from the best role model—her husband, Karim. She likes to praise him, how his name in Arabic, meaning generous, matches his character.

They lived abroad for some time, and in the last year, they tried to settle in Slovenia. Karin had long wished for this. Now, back in her hometown, she bitterly experiences her homeland’s resistance to everything different. All her compromises with colorful clothes, because black abayas and long skirts are genuinely frightening, don’t outweigh this headscarf she ties into a neat turban. A suspicious character. A foreigner. You don’t belong here, glances tell her. Not all. Not everywhere. But enough for her to notice.

“What did you say to him? Did anyone see what happened?” Sanja asked her friend.

“You can imagine how my blood boiled. When you actually don’t have something intelligent to say, but later in the shower at home, you think about what you should have said… I loudly said, ‘What’s going on, sir?’ and I think it surprised him. He couldn’t muster an insult, let alone a whole sentence. He mimicked me back with a contorted face, like some toddler in kindergarten. ‘Behave,’ I replied, and as he continued making faces, I loudly added, ‘Disgusting,’ and went to sit down.”

Sanja now shook her head, her eyes wide open and with a hint of hope in her voice, she asked again if anyone had seen, reacted, or intervened.

“Nobody. No one even looked, let alone said anything,” Karin replied with a resigned smile.

“On one hand, I’m not surprised. On the other, of course, I’m horrified! I wish I were there with you. I would have scolded him too!”

“My dear Sanja, always ready for a fight,” Karin thought to herself, and she took a few more sips of tea, which had cooled enough in the cup. However, a storm was still brewing inside of her. Why should she lie that this whole thing didn’t affect her? Because it could have been worse? Because he didn’t grab her, hit her, or tear the scarf off her head? As she got lost again in the whirlwind of potential worse scenarios, tears welled up in her eyes. I mustn’t cry like this in public. Come on! Pick yourself up, she screamed in her head. She quickly wiped her cheeks with the sleeve of her sweater.

Sanja, of course, noticed, but she didn’t want to put her friend in an even more awkward position. She knew well how tears poured from her friend’s eyes when she hugged her and tried to console her with clichés. So, she just held her hand for a moment and said, “Damned bastards.”

This sparked Karin back into anger, and her expression changed in an instant. With clenched lips, she nodded and added a pinch of self-irony, “Well, at least I didn’t cry on the bus. Didn’t give him the satisfaction. Or did he achieve his goal in provoking me… What do you think?”

“You definitely did the right thing. Don’t stay silent! Ever. Let’s not pretend how open our Ljubljana bubble is. We have quite a few rotten and stuffy corners,” Sanja pondered.

Karin continued to reflect on the incident, which, in reality, wasn’t that significant. So, what hurt her the most? “I still can’t believe that no one reacted. That no one said anything to him or to me. Not even if I’m okay…”

“Of course. You should have ended up in the ER with bruises, that might have had some effect. We both know how things stand when there’s a debate on violence against women. Until someone physically hurts you, the police can’t do anything,” Sanja declared sarcastically.

How ironic, Karin thought. “My husband is the designated suspect number one on the list of all propaganda machines. A savage. A violent predator. No, no. Slovenians are not the problem; foreigners are lurking and attacking Slovenian women.”

Ah, it’s useless, she continued inwardly. I’m already an outcast. That’s why no one stood up for me.

“You know what pissed me off the most? How everyone talks about all the poor Muslim women being oppressed. Because wearing a hijab is considered oppression in Slovenian reasoning. Someone asks me about it once a week. About the forcing to wear the hijab and the exclusion of women from public life. I say it’s despicable. I say it’s not what Islam is about. But that’s not enough; they don’t want that answer. Always that damn ‘but’ when it comes to the hijab. ‘But what if they are forced by parents or husbands…’ They are not ready to believe for a moment that there are women who are not forced. They don’t know any Muslim women personally, yet they can talk for days. They are not interested in their stories because it would spoil the image they cling to. They love to deal with the suffering far away, far away. I swear, it borders on fetishizing. Fetishizing even those female bodies that are not on display for everyone, they must be liberated. We must look far, far away to forget how many problems we have here. To pretend that we lack nothing, that women have already been given what they fought for… the foreign invasions are our only problem. We turn away from the violence we witness on the street; we pretend we don’t hear anything through the walls of our apartments. And an old man pushes his knee into my stomach and mocks me, and I’m not worth anyone standing up for me. Disgusting! Where were all these righteous fighters against the oppression of Muslim women then? Did they just happen to miss my bus? Damn number six,” she concluded her monologue with a grimace.

When Karin finally ran out of breath, and her thoughts continued to race, Sanja allowed a moment of silence. It’s all true, she thought. Even she can’t truly understand how Karin feels.

The cups on the table were empty. The two friends lingered for a short time in conversation before heading towards the cafe’s exit, where they bid farewell.

“Are you taking the bus home? Don’t pick on any older gentlemen again,” Sanja teased her one last time.

“They better not pick on me!” Karin replied with feigned boldness, raising her index finger.

Both of them, smiling, headed off—each in their own way.

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