The Incognito Me

The Incognito Me

I am beginning to like the smell of chlorine. Before this trip, the only picture it brought to mind was scrubbing floors or the stinging smell of hospital corridors. But now it smells like leisure: of early morning swims in the pool before practice or warm afternoons sitting by the water before the evening’s concert.

Every hotel they put us in on the tour has a pool. Back home it would be the height of luxury, but in these places, it is part of the background, like the huge beds and extravagant breakfast buffets each morning in the restaurant.

“Hey.”

I raise my head to see a teenage boy sitting just down the pool from me, his legs dangling in the water. I smile and sit up languorously. “Hey.”

“You staying here on vacation?” He indicates the 5-star hotel looming above us.

“I’m here with my mother. She’s at a conference. I’m just relaxing while she’s in sessions and meetings all day.” I’ve told this lie before and it comes easily. I peek over the tops of my sunglasses. He’s cute, if a little pale.

The boy grins. “Nice. Hey, I like your accent. Where are you from?”

“Where do you think?” I ask, moving closer to him, if only because I’m not supposed to.

“Romania?”

“Wow, first try,” I reply with a small laugh, even though geographically and linguistically he’s not even close. “So, where are you from?”

I would have guessed the US or Canada, but my phone lying on the tiles next to me buzzes before he can answer. He would not be able to read the language on it, but it is clearly not Romanian and I cover it quickly with my hand.

“I have to go do my homework,” I say, truly apologetically. I haven’t been able to talk to a boy my age in forever. It’s really my alarm to get ready for the concert.

“I’m Taylor, by the way,” he says, holding out his hand. “Maybe I can see you later?”

“Elizabet,” I say, shaking it. “Sure, if you can find me.” My outward flirtiness is mixed with a twinge of sadness since I know I will never see him again.

Taylor doesn’t notice. “It can’t be that hard to find a blue-haired beauty in this place.”

“Very true.” But I know I’ll be getting back late from the concert and then checking out early in the morning to fly to the next city on the tour. I think about taking off the sunglasses, but it’s better this way. So instead I flash him one last smile before turning and hurrying back to the elevators up to my room.

“There you are,” my mother says when I come back to the room. “Did anyone see you come in?”

“No.” She cycles between wanting to give me as much freedom as possible and worrying about discovery.

I take a shower and the transformation away from Elizabet begins. I dress and put on my chador. I wrap the headscarf carefully to contain every strand of blue hair. Then I pick up my violin from the bed, and now I am only Rasa Akbari, a violin virtuoso on a world tour with her mother as guardian.

“Ready?” my mother says.

I glance out the window, down fifteen floors as if I could still see Taylor and Elizabet talking with their feet in the pool, smelling the liberating scent of chlorine.

“I’m coming,” I say, but I put on the sunglasses as I leave the hotel room, just in case Taylor sees me.

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