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The Origin Story

Leena Wahaj

The sunlight streamed through the glass window as I turned to the last page, quickly reading the ending before slamming the book shut with a gratifying snap. I returned the book to its appropriate place on the shelf before meandering down the library aisle, my tiny fingers tracing along the tops of the books. I’d read nearly all of the stories, and the librarians had come to know me well. After all, no other 10-year-old sought refuge in the library on all occasions. But I did. 


It was quiet here - no one shouted, and there were no bullies to tease you or make you feel left out. My mother often worried that I had no friends, but how could I explain that I did? I mean, I went along with Harry and Ron and Hermione, didn’t I? Somehow, my mother didn’t quite see it that way. 


“Finished another one?” inquired the kindly librarian, a middle-aged lady who reminded me of my grandmother. 


“Of course! It was so good, I couldn’t put it down!” I cried, my mind racing with far-off castles and talking dragons and princesses with golden coils of hair. They were all her recommendations, of course, so naturally, she grew in my esteem on a regular basis.  “ I don’t know what to read now, though.”


The librarian walked over to a large shelf under the sign: Comics. After mulling over several different options, she selected a yellow-covered book and turned to hand it to me. 


“Why, what’s with that face?” she exclaimed teasingly, for I’d scrunched my face into a wrinkly canvas at the mere mention of comics. Those were for babies, with pictures and hardly any words. I was ten, and ought to be reading proper books. 


I didn’t say all of this out loud, though, and resorted to saying that I simply did not enjoy comics as much as novels.


She laughed and handed me the book knowingly. 


“I think you’ll like this one - you both have a lot in common.”


And with that, she walked away, leaving me to wonder who the superhero on the cover was. 




Within minutes, I was engrossed. 


How had I, a Muslim Pakistani-American girl, never heard of Kamala Khan: the crime-fighting, magical power-wielding, and totally awesome superhero who looked like me? I’d never seen a Pakistani woman in a book before - much less a young one, who seemed to live a life strikingly similar to mine. It was a revelation!


I checked out the comic and waited with anticipation to show my mother. When she came to the school to pick me up, I waved the book like a yellow flag, my eyes sparkling with sheer excitement. 


“Ami! Look!” I said breathlessly, clambering haphazardly into the backseat of the car. 


“It’s a superhero! And she’s Pakistani-American - just like me!”


My mother’s eyes widened. 


“Really?” she said softly, and I could see just how good it felt to be seen, to have someone to look up to and relate to. 


“Really!” I exclaimed, practically shoving the comic into my mother’s lap. 




Fast forward 5 years later - I’d moved three times since, leaving behind the shy, quiet girl who hid in the library. Now, I’d left the refuge of the library behind, choosing instead to shelter myself amidst a group of people like me - all of us geeks, just about different things. From fandoms to comics, we had it all covered. Turns out, I could be social too - I just needed to find the right people. I hadn’t forgotten the girl in the library though; she was hidden inside, only to emerge on Sundays, when I curled up and read all day. 


“Hey Leena - have you seen this yet?” asked one of my friends, pointing to his phone. 


I shook my head as I walked towards him, craning my neck to see the bolded article headline.  


Ms. Marvel TV Show Set To Release June 2022.


The 10-year-old inside my soul was skipping; in an instant, I was back in the library by myself, reading that first comic about Kamala Khan; the Pakistani superhero. 


My hero.

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