His sandaled feet dipped uncomfortably in the warm sand as he stood motionless outside his flat staring at the shadowy lights coming through the two big open windows. He felt the heat creep up his legs to his chest which gradually became tighter and tighter threatening to cave in like an empty egg shell the moment he takes another step.
Omar would have preferred to remain with Salem on the left bank of the creek gazing silently at the swaying kerosene lamps of the old dhows as they sailed up the waterway in their long journey to another world densely impregnated with untold mysteries, expectations, and deep inexplicable and indescribable sorrows. One lamp swung forcefully by a sudden wave and shone its flickering light on their faces before extinguishing itself in the darkness behind.
A stronger light from a bigger dhow forced him to close his eyes and it was then that he suddenly realised how peaceful the night was. The stillness was so complete and overwhelming, words would have sounded too alien in the surroundings and the serenity too perfect to be disturbed by human worries. But then the dhows disappeared and he suddenly felt frail and lonely. He tried to force out of his mind his gnawing fears but, like waves wanting to have their brief rest on the sands, they kept surging mercilessly to be admitted. They finally triumphed. They were too serious to be ignored any more; too real to think they could not be happening to him, and too menacing to pretend they do not exist.
There was something wrong, something gravely wrong, and he needed to speak. He picked up a small twig in his right hand, mauled it for a while then broke it angrily and threw it in the water. “Jane is leaving me in the morning,” he said.
Salem was stunned, stunned and speechless. He followed the last of the sailing dhows until it was dissolved in the distant darkness. “I felt something was wrong the moment I saw you but I didn’t ask because somehow I didn’t want to know,” he finally said. “One way or another, one day or another, for one reason or another, they’ll all leave, all of them.”
“Was it painful?” Omar asked hoping the answer would be different from the one he expected to hear.
“No, it wasn’t,” Salem said with a violent facial jerk. “It was hell; it still is, and hell it will remain…for a long time so be warned and be prepared.”
Omar gulped, and Salem remembered things he thought he had forgotten and let out a long tortured sigh. “Aside from the loss of a child, I know of nothing more painful. Even nightmares became preferable to reality. If there’s anything you can do to avoid it, anything at all, and at whatever price, then do it. Such wounds never heal, and blood will gush at the slightest memory, forcefully and unexpectedly. And when you finally think it must be over, you would put your hand over your heart and withdraw it red with the blood of your raw scars.”
Omar had thought it could be that bad and Salem confirmed his fears. “If you sought to terrify I am terrified already but I’m not telling you to be terrified. I want advice. A very good one, and fast.”
Salem nodded. “That was my advice to you,” he said. “I want you to be terrified. I want you to be aware of what will be hitting you so you’d leave immediately and do, say and promise anything to make her change her mind. Had she been in any way like Lynda, I’d be very honest with you and tell you to let her go. Please be generous and forgiving but let her go. Jane, however is not Lynda. Lynda was cheap. You know I had my suspicions all along, then she came up with the pregnancy thing, and I somehow thought she could change. Nobody does. Still, good women are rare, and Jane is one of the rarest I’ve met in my life. She’s worth every effort. If you don’t want to do it for either of you, do it for Mara. And don’t think too much of your pride while trying to mend the fences. You can’t preserve your pride and your marriage at the same time.”
Salem should know, Omar thought to himself. He had a wife once, a beautiful daughter and years of happiness to live and look forward to. Then something happened and seven years were erased from his life with one stroke and left him with a heap of painful memories and lasting scars. He knew Lynda but he later discovered he didn’t know her enough. Many women are like this. If they want something they’ll crucify you with their favours, and many men give in and spread their arms to be willingly strung up. She made Salem a happy man but only as long as he did what she wanted him to do. The moment he said ‘no’ he became an enemy.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Salem told him as they left the solicitor’s office in Edgware Road. “I never thought a human being can have so much hate. Walking to the solicitor’s office in the opposite direction I saw a bloom of hatred hovering above her head, dark and threatening. The closer she became the larger the bloom until it took the size of a cloud. I’ve never been more terrified in my life.”
Omar stared at the stillness of the creek and recalled a more terrifying scene. It was so terrifying Salem never mentioned it again. Lynda wanted a large sum of money from Salem but he hadn’t seen his daughter for over a year and he refused to give her the money unless she brought Reem with her. Tears flooded his eyes the moment he saw his daughter. As she approached he opened his arms and shook with emotion then came the shock. Her shoulders had barely touched the tips of his fingers when she stood on her toes suddenly, collected spit in her mouth and spat in his face. Screaming with abuse, she ran and hid behind her mum.
Omar sucked the cold air through his shaking teeth and asked his God for help. Will that happen to him also, he wondered. Will Jane poison Mara’s mind and turn him into another mythical monster? Will she spit in his face in front of tens of passers-by in one of London’s main streets? Will Jane, like Lynda, accuse him of being a bastard, or that he never flushes the toilet after using it, or never remembered her birthday or that of his daughter? Will she?―
Omar stopped himself. He can’t say it; he won’t say it. Even when Salem threatened to end their friendship of 28 years if he didn’t tell him what he really saw, he refused. Had he told him, Salem would have left Lynda regardless of the consequences. He would have dressed up his daughter himself, joined her hand with her mum’s and sent them away without a tear. That same evening, he would leave for the desert. As long as he remains there he’ll force himself to forget but then he’ll come back to the city, and he’ll remember. Even if he never utters a word of it, Omar will be blamed if only to avoid blaming himself. Later still he will avoid seeing him. Jane will always remind him of Lynda and Mara of Reem. Every time he sees them his wounds would open and gush forth again and that will too much to bear.
Omar felt an urge to leave. The night at the best of times is not suitable for reasoning and that particular night was exceptionally quiet. The usual distractions of noise and movements were few and their worries and anxieties were intensified. Salem gave him his best advice and deepest sympathy and understanding and it was time to give him something in return. “Stay around people as much as possible and listen to the stories they want to tell. Your problems, grave as they are, may pale in comparison,” Omar said gloomily. “Also, my friend, suffering is meant to be a temporary experience. Don’t make it a lasting one with equally lasting harm. Mistakes were made by both of you. I don’t believe Lynda is suffering still and you shouldn’t. Forget, forgive and forget and let the wheel of life turn as usual.”
Salem listened in silence. As he absorbed Omar’s words he felt relief but something in his tone made him very worried. “You sound to me as if you are expecting the worse?”
“I am,” Omar said, “Shouldn’t I?”
Salem corrected: “I meant to say you seem resigned?”
Omar searched for proof but he couldn’t find any. “I’ll do whatever I can,” he said, “but if it’s going to happen, it will, won’t it?”
Omar threw his head back and made a loud dental sound. “You are resigned to whatever fate will bring to you but you shouldn’t. our decisions make our fate, not God.”
Omar heard everything he wanted to hear. He will take his friend’s advice into consideration but he will have to make the final decision. “You are not helping,” Omar said. I need to think for myself now.”
Salem fell silent. He thought of what he wanted to say next, dismissed it and then re-instated it. “You’re right,” he said. “It isn’t my worry about the three of you that speaks but my guilt as well. The fact that Jane is thinking of leaving only five months after Lynda’s departure doesn’t seem to be purely coincidental. I know Lynda is still talking to Jane but I don’t know what she’s telling her. That woman has a poisoned mind and Jane, forgive me for saying it, can be susceptible.”
Omar stood suddenly. “Maybe,” he said, “maybe. We shall see.”
As Omar turned left to head for his car, Salem caught his hand. “Tread softly,” he said. “Tread softly. If you think it’s too serious don’t go home. Women shouldn’t be confronted when they are angry, nor men when they are sad. Wait a few days and you’ll be looking back at your petty quarrels with amusement. It’s nice to be proud and defiant, but is it worth it? If I had been more tolerant, more understanding Lynda may not have done what she did and things may have been different. They tell me the worst part of a separation is the first twelve weeks, but that’s not true. I’d like to claim that I’m on the path to recovery, but I know deep inside I’m not. If it’s not Lynda it’s Reem. Even if you want to forget you can’t. Every little girl becomes Reem and every woman becomes a Lynda. So, my friend, do whatever it takes. Sing to her, dance, stand on your head, tie her to the bed if you must but don’t let her go.”
The lights were suddenly turned off in the small room. Omar looked at his watch. It was past 10 so his wife couldn’t have just put Mara to sleep. The little one must have woken up for some reason and Jane went to investigate. He traced his wife’s movements through the broken shadows in their bedroom until she turned off the lights. For a while he thought she could have gone to bed but a dim light shone through Mara’s window and it was obvious Jane had moved to the front room. She’s waiting for him, he reasoned, but what for? She isn’t going to say that she has changed her mind and she’ll give both of them a second chance. Her mind was set. Maybe she wants another row? Maybe some more recrimination and tears. Maybe-
Omar cut himself short. He’s ready. Whatever she’s going to do or say he’ll be ready for her. She’ll expect to be implored, bribed, promised the earth and even threatened, but she’ll never be surprised. But surprised she will be, very, very surprised.
A sharp grinding noise, the strong smell of stale curry and the faint sound of a Hindi song rushed to his numb senses as he passed by his neighbours’ flat. Through the partly opened door he noticed the black cover of a tape recorder still lying near the window where he first saw it more than a year ago. New layers of dust had entirely concealed the little white loudspeaker holes but it was kept there as a reminder of a lost battle against the incoming fine sand of the Empty Quarter. Gulshan’s mouth twitched painfully under his hairy moustache as it strove to convey a hurriedly phrased command to his wife who sat on the matted floor opposite him. Omar didn’t understand but she suddenly turned round, peered through the window and pulled up her sari over the hanging layers of fat. What prompted her to cover up in her sitting room on the second floor was unclear as there were no buildings opposite, but she was a woman of sudden, amusing dramatics that everybody liked to see.
He opened the door and went in quietly. His wife was on the yellow sofa staring at the TV but there was nothing on the screen except white speckles that either moved independently or in consonance with a stifled hissing noise that flowed continuously from the set. Her right arm was above her eyes probably to soften the strong lights flooding the room from the hall. She didn’t stir so he wasn’t certain whether she had had just dosed off or she didn’t hear him come in.
He looked around and whistled to himself quietly in astonishment. She must have used every suitcase they have but they weren’t enough. On the dinner table, on all the chairs and almost in every space available in the dinning room and the corridors leading to the other rooms piles of clothes, soft toys and baby-food utensils lay unpacked. One suitcase that blocked his way to the kitchen was exceptionally large but it still bulged like a wooden barrel. Thinking it contained clothes, he bent and lifted it with the strength he thought adequate but it was far heavier than he thought. A superlative escaped his mouth but it was louder than he intended. He turned to see if he had woken his wife up and almost jumped when he saw her right behind him.
Her eyes stared at him, shifted to the suitcase then back. “What?”
“It’s far too heavy,” he said pointing at the suitcase,” what’s in it?”
She looked at him searchingly and hesitated. “My stuff…and Mara’s,” she said. “Would you like me to open it for you to see what’s inside?”
Omar was shocked at how far apart they had become. “This is not what I meant. You can take everything.”
“Only what is mine, and Mara’s”.
“Jane! Go to each room and take whatever you like.”
she shook her hand. “I will only take what’s mine and Mara’s. I’m not sure about some pieces of jewellery so I laid everything on the bed for you to sort out.”
A large green Christmas stocking in one of the piles caught his attention earlier. He picked it up, went to the bedroom and swept all the jewellery in it and brought it back. “Take it, Jane, please, and go round the flat, as I told you, and take anything you like.”
Jane hesitated. “If I come back I’ll ask you for things I would like to have but I have too much already.”
“I’ll pay for all the excess package you’ll have.”
Jane became suspicious. “You will let me take Mara,” she said as her suspicion turned to fear, “you will.”
“Mara will go with you. I want her to go with you.”
Jane had prepared her words but what she heard was new and she didn’t know what to say but he knew. “Jane,” he said. “I mean every word. You are not Lynda so you will not poison Mara’s mind against me. Mara isn’t Reem so she will not allow anybody to poison her mind. When she’s older she can call me or write to me and I’ll go to the end of the world to see her. But now she needs you more than needs me. One day she may need her dad more and I’ll be there for her. Now take her and take anything you like.”
“Mara may need things later. Let’s leave it for another time.”
Omar shook his head and breathed deeply. “There won’t be another time. I can’t take it a second time. Before I take you to the airport I will give Gulshan the keys to the flat. I will tell him to take everything, and when the flat is empty I want him to take the keys to the landlord. I won’t come back to the flat. If you come back I won’t be in it but somebody else.”
Jane gasped in disbelief. “Why would you do this?”
“Why would you do this,” he snapped while sweeping the flat with his hand. “Why?”
“I told you. I told you a hundred times.”
“Tell me again. Make it a hundred and one times and tell me again.”
Jane opened her mouth in pain, dropped her head sideways and began to weep.
He took two steps to the kitchen and stopped. “Weep,” he said, “weep, but I won’t take your weeping for an answer. When you stop, come to me and tell me again why are you doing this.”
“Omar!” She cried after him. He stopped and turned. “Omar,” she said crying. “I can’t it take it longer. Can’t you see this? I can’t take it.”
“Can’t take what,” he asked from where he stood.
“Everything what? Name a few.”
“Oooooooooh,” she screamed in anguish, and rushed to the bedroom but he was closer to the door and he stopped her. “I’ll help you,” he said, and caught her aimless-moving hand. She took a step towards their bedroom but that wasn’t where he wanted to take her. “Look at her,” he said quietly as they stood above Mara’s cot. “Before you tell me another word, look at her. Look at her and think of her then say whatever you want to say.”
“Come with me,” Jane pleaded with streaming tears as she came into the kitchen.
“For a holiday, yes. For good, no.”
“Why not? You, too, should think of Mara before you speak.”
“I think of Mara all the time,” he said, “but look at me,” he added with a hand sweep over his clothes, “I am an Arab, An Gulf Arab with a dishdasheh and a moustache. Do I look like I belong in Wales? I’ll be the laughing stock of everybody in Hey On Wye.”
“You wear European clothes when you to England, don’t you?”
He nodded. “I do, on holidays and not all the time. But it’s not only how I look or what I wear. I have nothing there ― no job, no relatives, no friends, no sun, nothing. I think of Mara and I think of you but I have to think of myself as well.”
By now she was convinced he wasn’t going to give in no matter how many tears are shed. She wasn’t even willing to try again, not since their last big row, but earlier that evening Lynda phoned. She took down the flight number and the arrival time, delved aimlessly in small talk then abruptly stopped. When she spoke again she was crying. “I can’t tell Salem,” she said, “but Reem is being very, very difficult. She wouldn’t go to school, she wouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t listen. I’ve tried everything and I don’t know what to do any more. If she doesn’t change soon we’ll have a social worker sent to investigate and God knows what will happen next.”
Jane smiled faintly and pushed her lips to his cheek. “Reem needs you. She needs me, but she needs you too, please.”
He wasn’t swayed but when she attempted to step back he held her arm. “This is all silly, Jane,” he said. “You’ve got to stop this. If I’ve done something wrong, tell me. If you don’t like something about me, tell me. I’ve heard you and I will hear you again and again but I’m not convinced what you’re doing is right.”
She kept her arm in his and checked her anguished words. “I can’t stand it here any longer, Omar. I tried but I couldn’t. I love you but if I don’t leave I’m going to lose my mind. You will lose me, and Mara will lose me. Forever. Is this what you want?”
“Tell me why? What is it that makes you lose your mind. Give this thing, or things, a name and let’s deal with them.”
An anguished and lengthily “Ah” tore out of her chest, followed by another, longer still, and another that seemed to him endless in its torment. But no words.
Omar blinked away the sudden wetness in his eyes. If he keeps his eyes on her for another second he’ll go with her. He turned his face away until his shaken resolve was steadied, then faced her again. “I can weep too,” he said, “but that won’t solve the problem. There’s something that’s tearing us apart and I want to know what it is. I don’t want help for myself but help I must have from you to help you, help Mara, all of us.”
She stretched her arms and opened her hands wide. “An hour ago I could have given you a hundred reasons that would convince anybody to let me go. Now that I have seen Mara in her sleep I can think of none. Why do I feel like this?”
“Maybe because Mara is a more important reason than all the reasons you thought about. Maybe she wants you to stay…with her dad so she can have a dad.”
Jane wiped her tears and looked at him straight. She was the one to decide what role Mara should have in making up her mind, not him. If it weren’t for Mara she would have left a long time ago. A great deal of pain was suffered as a price, and she’s prepared to accept more but suffering is not meant be permanent, and she had had enough. “I can’t make you understand and that makes me feel bad, but I also believe nothing I say will make you understand, and makes me feel worse.” She waited for a response but none was coming. “It won’t be for good, I promise. Just enough to think things over and understand why do I feel like this. You can’t ― you won’t ― come with me so let me go. Who knows? I may be back in a week. I may even love you more. I hope you understand this.”
Omar wondered what made her re-command her previous resoluteness. Several possible reasons crossed his mind and none lingered long enough to be analysed. Something cringed inside him and the worry became fear that had to be tested with confrontation. “You want a free sample of separation, a drop on the back of your hand, a taste? I don’t believe in free samples. In one voice,” he said emphasising each word, “in one voice you are telling me that you still love me but nevertheless you want to leave me. Now, there could be logic in this but it’s not the logic I am willing to understand, or accept.”
“How can I make you understand if you don’t want to understand?”
“How can I understand that we are facing a problem unless I know what is causing this problem in the first place? How can I deal with it?”
“There are hundreds of reasons. If you don’t want to recognise them, it’s not my fault.”
Omar became impatient. “Give me one,” he screamed, “just one.”
She didn’t answer.
“I’ll give you one,” he volunteered. “Lynda.”
She didn’t understand. “What does Lynda have to do with this?”
“Everything,” he said. “Five months ago everything was fine. The moment Lynda ran away you began to change. Is this what you want to do as well ― run away like her?””
“Rubbish,” she said dismissively.
“You still talk to her, don’t you?”
“yes,” she said. “She’s my friend. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have met you. You know that.”
Omar shook his head in disbelief, then shook it harder still with his anger. “That woman was caught bonking her ex boyfriend in the back of my car at the Hilton’s parking lot. The wife of a friend I value more than a brother claimed that she had left her cigarettes in the car, took the keys and went to make love to her ex boyfriend while we were waiting. How can you call her a friend?”
Jane looked around and raised her shoulder slightly. “The valet made the claim and you believed him. And anyway, it was my car.”
Omar pulled his right arm until it touched his chest and swung it across the kitchen top. “It’s OK then?” he screamed as an electric kettle was plucked from its socket and hit the wall followed by two cups and a bowl, ” It’s OK just because it was your car? I bought it for you.”
Jane sprang backward and held the frame of the kitchen door. “I didn’t say it’s OK. I said what has all this to do with us?”
“Having destroyed her marriage she’s encouraging you to destroy yours, isn’t she?”
“No she isn’t,” she screamed back. “Lynda made a mistake and she’s paying the price, a very heavy one if you want to know.”
She screamed. “Yes. I’m not Lynda but yes, like me. I am paying a heavy price, like her, and I can’t take it any longer. I can’t adjust to this life. I tried but I simply can’t. Of all the marriages I know ours must be the most difficult. I can’t tolerate these phone calls you get from your friends in the middle of the night. I can’t stand eating with my hand any longer; I can’t bear the sand, the humidity, the heat, the restrictions. Go ahead and break down the whole damn flat,” she screamed, “but I must tell you that I can’t tolerate your mum’s intrusions in my life and in my kitchen. If she wants a boy she should go ahead and have it. I won’t. I don’t want more children. And you want to know why? Because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the future. Lynda left Salem. What does he do? He marries his cousin the next month. Mohammed already has two wives and he wants to buy a third from some poor family in India. You may think you are different from all your friends but you are not. You will wait until I’m older and then bang ― another wife. If I dare open my mouth to complain my daughter will be taken away from me―
She gasped for air and shouted: “Do you want me to wait for all that. I’m sorry but I can’t and I will not.”
Omar was totally stunned and he was lost for words or reactions.
“I’m glad you’re convinced at last,” Jane said as she reached for the door handle.” We will leave in the morning,” and slammed the door shut.
A deep tortured sigh escaped his heart before he had a chance to check it lest it wakes up his wife who was sleeping in Mara’s room. His eyes moved systematically from on corner of the ceiling to the other as he lay motionless waiting for the first light of dawn. Like an old projector, images clicked mechanically in his mind and exposed themselves while others joined the queue and waited obediently to be summoned. He was past exhaustion mentally and physically, but most of the images were full of vibrant colours and constant motion. First there was the sea, greenish-blue as always and bubbling with the soup of life. If you know where you are you will get as many fish as there are hooks on the line, sometimes without a bait. You would think by now you know every fish in the Gulf but you will be always surprised. Not just fish you haven’t seen before, but fish nobody knew existed. Then there were the boats, of course. To escape the eyes of human predators, he used to take Jane and her friends to a cove in a small island just behind the first offshore drilling platform. Storms sometimes would cut the ropes holding the fishing baskets to the sea floor, and some will be always found near the cove.
That’s how he made Jane love him. He was busy hauling out a large fishing basket when Jane felt something brush against her hip. She looked in the water around her and saw nothing but the fear persisted. “Omar!” she called to him, “can you see anything around us?” He rested the side of the basket on the boat and scanned briefly. To the left of the rocks bordering the cove he saw the tip of a large fin but it was a dolphin’s. He was about to tell Jane there’s nothing to worry about when he suddenly changed his mind and yelled for everybody to get out of the water fast. “Sharks,” he yelled, “sharks.” Jane could have made it easily to the rocks but no. He wanted to prove to her that he cared. He dived and came up next her and pulled her away. And then―. Omar tried to remember what happened next but he couldn’t. And then―. Again he failed to remember, then he remembered something else. One way or another, one day or another, for one reason or another, they’ll all leave, all of them. It’s simply a matter of time.
These damn mixed marriages are not working, he said to himself. If they are truly made in Heaven they must be by a cross-eyed angel who weds the wrong woman to the right man and the right man to the wrong woman and then blame them for making the wrong choice. It isn’t that “unmixed” marriages are better with more married people opting out than opting in in an increasing number of countries including tiny Malta, but the glue that bonds mixed marriages appears to be made of cheap stuff. To begin with most don’t understand each not because they don’t speak the same language, but because they don’t understand the cultural language of each other. When they do, they discover they’ve been missing things they shouldn’t have missed. The wife joins the choir, or something like that, and the man locates the local mosque and allows himself to re-baptised as a good Muslim. And like the Wedgwood mugs that are sold at a discount because of a genetic impurity, children of mixed marriages find it difficult to take sides and make choices. They are Muslims and Christians at the same time, white and dark, liberal and traditional, secure and insecure. They like America because for all what it has to offer, but they have to hate it to please their Palestinian or Iraqi mother or father. These are some of the faults that came free with the mixed marriage of their parents but they have one true characteristic other children don’t usually have. Each and everyone is unique.
Women know why men come to them but allow them to fool themselves thinking it is for sex. It isn’t. It’s the only ticket to eternity. It’s the only road to creation, the only way to become a partner with God in the unique gift of life’s perpetuation. Out of the darkest passages of the human body shines the light of creation, of the most bizarre liquids, life, the most precious of all things, is made. The child is the father of the man indeed, but he is also his mentor and tormenter. Now he understands. He once asked Salem if his new wife would accept Reem just in case she decides to come back to him. “She would,” he said, “but I wouldn’t.” Before he was asked to explain he said that except for a miracle, Reem will never change. “Of the two,” he added, “Reem scares me most because her mind isn’t packaged by naivety like her mum.”
Omar cringed from asking the question but it kept coming back. “Will she, or will she not?” he asked himself. Will Mara tell him it was his fault and she will never forgive him, or will she say she understands and both are forgiven? Will she one day rush to his open arms, or will she jump up, collect her saliva and spit in his face?
He had asked his wife to see Mara before she decides but he had gone there before her. . Awe stricken, he stood motionless like he would in God’s hands and studied her features before loading them into his parched memory one by one, neatly, carefully, very, very carefully to keep forever. What wondrous dream her eyes are shielding from him, and what enchanted secrets? Who can produce such a portrait? How will he mix his colours and where? And that is what her face was: A colourful portrait knitted laboriously with love from countless little features that endlessly and mysteriously shape and reshape to produce an ever changing dreamy landscape of unequalled beauty and a wonderful impression of melancholic impact.
In happier times her mother looked almost the same in her sleep. look at her face and wonder, he said to himself as she slept on the sofa. This is the face of a happy woman. A woman loved, and in love. A woman who gave him in three years the happiness other husbands may not enjoy in a lifetime. She was the source of his past joy. From now on she will the source of his misery. The past she’ll always remind him of; the future he has seen in Salem already.
The two-seater sofa in Mara’s room skidded suddenly. Heavy foot-padding followed, then the familiar creaking of the wooden bathroom door. Almost immediately afterwards he heard the gushing crescendo of urine. The foot-padding back was almost the same but not in the same direction. She went by Mara’s room then her shadow appeared and tiptoed towards the bed. She lifted the cover gently and slid in pushing her body sideways.
Like fireworks, something inside him popped in bright colours and faded before he could ascertain its nature. Is that it? He asked himself. Has she changed her mind? She didn’t speak a word so he can’t be sure. Whatever the reason, it must be positive and he was grateful to her.
Slowly, he turned and lay on his side facing her. His eyes had adjusted to darkness and he could see her features clearly but they were not what he hoped to see. Her eyeballs rolled uncontrollably for a while and stopped, then rolled again. Her mouth twitched, and for a few seconds she looked as if she was biting her lower lip. Something dark was troubling her and it pained him to think he could be the cause. She took a deep breath followed by several erratic chest movements then she turned and faced him. He closed his eyes and, slowed his breathing and pretended to be asleep.
The bed moved as she sat up. She looked around, turned her head and looked at him closely. A few second later she got out of bed, walked a few steps and stopped. She looked back at him, moved her head sideways and tiptoed back. She lay still on her side for a long while, then she crept up to him. She laid her hand on his face, lifted his chin gently and slid her right hand under his left cheek and sobbed.
“You know I love you.”
“I know,” he whispered.
“And you still love me, don’t you?”
“And you are not angry.”
“Not angry, no.”
“It won’t be for long, I promise. Two weeks, maybe three. I’m not exactly sure.”
“We’ll see,” he said.
“You’ll keep the flat for us, won’t you?”
“I will. For three weeks. Only.”
For her that was enough for now and she felt relieved. She took a very deep breath, closed her eyes and fell quickly asleep.
Translated by Menamedia