Traces of a Tattoo, Chapter 24


Scene: Amman, Jordan: Wissam’s aunt house
One week later

Haytham had to lower his head in order to look inside the taxi that had just pulled over in the middle of the road, right in front of his house. He then ran, opened a metal gate, crossed a large terraced garden and shouted, “Mama! Wissam’s arrived.” He went back to the taxi and waited for Wissam to finish paying the driver.
“Haytham!” Wissam said in Arabic as he held his young but taller cousin for protection against the dangers of the road. “You’ve grown so fast.”
Ecstatic to see his cousin, Haytham wasn’t quite sure if he should shake hands or hug. Wissam put an end to the hesitation by extending his hand for a warm shake then gave his young cousin a semi-hug.
“Aroub has gone with my sister, Abeer, and her fiancé to the shopping centre to buy you a present,” Haytham said. “I can take you there if you want.”
“No, thanks. I’ll wait here.”
“Come!” Haytham said as he took his cousin’s hand and pulled lightly. “My mother is making spinach pastry especially for you.”
“I know. She told me on the phone. I skipped my meal on the plane.”
Wissam climbed two steps to the large terrace. He was immediately welcomed by a traditional trilling chant. It was like a password that opened the door from inside. His aunt appeared.
“Oh, Wissam, my precious,” she said in jovial tears. “I was so worried about you I couldn’t sleep all night. Oh! My precious.” She hugged him while making sure her dough-covered hands didn’t touch his suit.
With the warm welcome touching his anxious heart, Wissam felt his eyes misting, but he was soon distracted by the young children circling around him and his aunt. Tender, little hands pulled at his trousers. He wanted to see the children but instead surrendered to the peaceful, warm hug of his aunt.
“My precious,” the aunt said, agitated. “The darling Aroub was in a terrible condition when she arrived here from Damascus. We spent the four days of the feast in grief and sadness. May God punish the cruel.”
“We’ve finished with cruelty. How’s her eye?”
The aunt released Wissam and stared at him as if making a comparison. “Much better. We had her seen by the best opticians. They all studied abroad. They said that her eye is improving but advised having her seen by a specialist in London.”
“The entire Harley Street shall be at her disposal.”
“She’s in love with you.”
“I know.”
His aunt was stunned by his casual comment. “I mean deeply, deeply in love with you,” she said in tears.
“I know, auntie! What do you want me to say?”
She held his hand, oblivious to the dough. “Just be thankful to God. You’re lucky. Come now! Come, let’s go into the house.”
He released his hand gently. “I’d love to sit out here on the terrace.”
“As you wish, but mind the sun. It’s hot at this time of day. Under the shade of the grapevine over there is best.”
The aunt brought a chair to the shade as Wissam patted the heads of two young girls and a boy one after another. “They must be Fadwa’s children,” he said.
“Yes, they are. Her other children have grown up to your height.”
“Is she here?”
“At the market. She won’t be long.”
The boy approached and extended an open hand, expecting a present. Wissam laughed. “I brought you a bar of chocolate the length of your arm. I left it at the hotel but I’ll get it for you in the evening.”
“Why a hotel?” the aunt said. “I want you to stay here with us, as usual.”
“It is better that I didn’t, auntie. We don’t want to give Aroub’s family any wrong impressions.”
“What wrong impression? Aroub is like a daughter to me. She stays with Abeer in her room and you can stay in a separate room.”
“I know. But it is better not to. I also made a reservation for my dad.”
“Is he staying at the hotel too? I can’t accept that. His place is here.”
“Aroub’s mum will take his place, if you don’t mind. It’s going to be much better like that.”
“She and her daughter are very welcome. When is she arriving?”
“Wednesday morning.”
“And your dad?”
“He’ll be arriving from Dubai later today.”
“Then go receive him at the airport.”
“I’m waiting for Aroub. We’ll go to the airport together.”
“Take Ahmed’s father with you; Ahmed too.”
“Where’s Ahmed?”
“At the bank. Had you told us about your arrival time, he would have waited for you at the airport.”
“I didn’t have that information. They kept me on the emergency list to the last minute.”
Wissam realised he gave the wrong Arabic word but couldn’t remember the correct one. He struggled with his memory for a while. “I meant the… what list? The waiting list,” he corrected in Arabic.
“You’re safe and sound, that’s what matters,” the aunt said then added in a new burst of tears: “The poor thing! She won’t believe her eyes.”
“She will.”
“Make her happy for the love of God. Your dad is affectionate. You too are.”
Wissam’s eyes misted anew. He looked away. He admired the large cinchona tree whose branches extended out to the road a few metres from where he sat.
“Come children!” the aunt said to the kids who were playing outside. “Wissam is not used to noise in London. Don’t bother him.”
She waited until the kids went inside then turned to Wissam. “Shall I ask Haytham to get you a glass of lemonade, or do you prefer the tea with milk you’re used to in London?”
Wissam laughed, “No, thank you. Arabic coffee will do just fine.”
A cool breeze had Wissam close his eyes but he saw nothing except the road.
Haytham noticed. “I’ll take you to her if you want,” he said as if he saw what his cousin had seen with closed eyes.
“No, I prefer to wait here.”
“As you like… cousin? … Wissam?”
“As you wish. Wissam is better.”
“Long live Wissam!” Haytham said, and walked into the house with the self-confidence of somebody who’d just added two years to his young age.
Wissam sent his eyes across the metal gate to the down sloping road and pictured her. What will he do when he sees her? Jump out of the chair and race to meet her or remain where he is so that his longing will not embarrass her under the watchful eyes of the neighbours? Will he stand on his feet so that she too can see him, or remain seated until she arrives at the gate?
He remembered the sad face with which he saw her off at Dulles airport in Washington D.C. on her way back home. Now, he was only a few minutes away from seeing her after all that she had been through. But for some reason, he was now a lot sadder than he was at the US airport. He knew she was going to appear at the end of the road very shortly, but he was not absolutely certain that something he didn’t take into account would take her away, leaving him with nothing but a lyre whose strings the hand of fate had cut in the dark to kill all hope.
He heard fluttering over his head. A strange bird landed on his arm and pecked at the button of his sleeve as if to announce his presence.
“Hello!” he said to the little bird. “Who might you be you?”
“Mama!” Haytham shouted inside the house. “Al-Hoor is back. He’s on Wissam’s arm. Come, quick!”
“Is this Aroub’s bird?” Wissam asked Haytham who had brought the coffee.
“It is,” Haytham said. He stood at a distance, anxious not to frighten the bird.
The aunt came out of the house. “It really is the bird,” she said, pleasantly surprised. She called for the children to come out see the bird then turned to Wissam. “He has recognised you, the devil. By God, he has. He doesn’t come close to anybody except Aroub.”
“It’s a strange bird indeed,” Wissam said. He tilted his head left and right to have a better look.
The aunt asked, “Do you know where he comes from?”
“Aroub gave me a full description on the phone. I thought he resembled a bird I saw in the encyclopaedia but actually he doesn’t. The other one has his habitat in the Indies Mountains. He’s a bit larger in body and tail.”
The bird jerked his head suddenly and flew to the cinchona, then beyond.
“He eats only out of her hand, doesn’t he?” Wissam asked.
“He does. He ignores what we throw at him, though he’s so fond of freshly-baked bread.”
“Getting him into London is going to be a problem.”
“Why! Such a small bird you can hide in your pocket.”
“It’s not permitted. He’s to spend six months in quarantine.”
“Six months! Aroub wouldn’t bear leaving him for one hour.”
“She has left him behind, but nothing has happened to him.”
“Where do you think he’s gone? To her, of course.”
“How do you know?”
“I know, look at the road!”
Wissam looked. Dancing in a breezy weather, the cinchona’s branches allowed Wissam only a flickering image of Aroub as if to remind him of the roller-coaster that life is. She walked along the side of the road, or what was once a pavement, swinging a long, cream coloured plastic bag. At her side walked Abeer, and a few steps behind walked her fiancé who gave her a push from time to time, mostly requested, endearing ones.
Aroub stopped suddenly, removed darkened glasses and pointed to a hill in the distance. She asked Abeer who in turn asked her fiancé. The latter shoved Abeer gently to allow both girls to have a panoramic view of the hill.
Wissam looked at the hill. Seeing how far in the distance it was, he smiled at the thought that her eye must have improved dramatically. He refocused his eyes on her and her approaching steps. Like he does to ensure the good quality of a photo, he moved the arrow pointer to a particular spot and, with a magical command, puff! The entire surroundings disappeared. He clicked a second time and the selected spot of the photo blew up to engulf the whole screen and his mind, rendering him unable to see anything but her.
He moved back his eyes and stared anew. “Do you have the slightest idea of how much I love you?” he said in a whisper that he wanted her to hear.
Aroub and her companions started crossing a large, abandoned field which, thanks to the flooding rain of winter, had encroached on the crumbling pavement. The field extended down the slope, by passing a cluster of houses whose backyards looked more like scrap yards than gardens. They were made uglier still by their proximity to workshops where huge hammers constantly dealt ignoble blows to mercilessly fatigued car hulls. Abeer and her fiancé evaded a large hole in the pavement and walked in line behind Aroub. Halfway through the field, Wissam spotted a shadow circling over Aroub’s head. She lifted up her hand as if wanting to drive him away, and then ran after him down the slope, followed by Abeer. The fiancé lingered behind to give way to a passing girl then ran after the two girls.
Wissam glimpsed a shadow flying through the branches in his direction. Rapid fluttering followed before the bird appeared suddenly on the edge of a window very close to where Wissam sat.
“Hello again!” Wissam waved his finger to the bird then turned his eyes back to the road to see that Aroub stood frozen on the side of the road, staring in his direction.
The dancing branches didn’t allow a perfect view, but she saw him, removed her glasses and raised her hand. He saw her mouth open but didn’t hear a voice. He saw her chest move up and down with her head like the waves.
“Aroub!” he called out, and moved with the speed of sound, or so he imagined. He crossed the terrace, rushed through the gate, jumped the porch and ran towards her.
She extended her arms to him. Her legs shook. She went down on her bent knees but her arms remained fully extended before they too started shaking.
“Wissam!” she called. Fighting against her imagination and fears, she reached for Abeer’s arm and held firmly. Wissam arrived and went down on his knees. She let go of Abeer’s arm and wrapped both arms around his neck. “Wissam!” she said crying, “Wissam!”
“I’m here, love!”
“Wissam,” she repeated as she moved her head around his neck frantically, not knowing what to do with her lips. “At last! At last!”
A passing car stopped. Curious, the driver looked at Abeer and her fiancé and gestured at the kneeling couple. Abeer wiped her eyes and with a gesture of her hand asked him to leave them alone and move on.
“Come my love, come!” Wissam said. Aroub held tighter. “Come, it’s over now. Don’t worry.”
Aroub closed her eyes, shook her head in rapid movements and held tighter still.
Neighbours looked down at the couple from open windows. Another passing car stopped and the driver offered a lift to the hospital. Children gathered around them. Wissam wrapped one arm around Aroub’s waist and slid the other under her bent knees. He carried her and walked quickly to the house.
“Oh my God!” the aunt screamed as she saw Wissam coming through the metal gate. “What’s happened to her? She was in good health when she left.” She cleared the way for him and pointed to the chair he had sat on. “Over here!”
Wissam helped Aroub sit on the chair. She still held to his neck but he was able to look at her face. Seeing her pale, fear took hold of him. He patted her cheeks then turned to his aunt. “We need a doctor right away.”
The aunt, acting authoritatively, scolded Abeer for crying, sent the children out of the way and leaned over Aroub. She held her chin and moved it left and right then straightened up and opened her hands to Wissam.
“Doctor! What doctor? She’s seen them all. You’re her doctor now.”
“Aunt, what are you saying?”
The aunt turned to Abeer’s fiancé. “He thinks I’m joking.” She turned back to him. “My precious, you’ve studied in London and you make films and still don’t know what to do? Just hug her and she’ll regain herself. Hug her tight! Let her feel your presence. That’s what she needs. Hug her or, by God, I’ll hug her for you.”
Abeer could not keep herself from laughing. Annoyed, her mother grabbed her by the tail but she managed to evade her, drawing laughter from everybody, including the children.
The aunt sent the children into the house and went after them. But she stopped suddenly and looked back at Wissam. “On the cheek, precious, not on the lips. Don’t spoil our girls.”
Wissam rested his cheek on Aroub’s head, pulled her up and hugged her. “You don’t know how much I missed you. There were moments when I thought I’d never see you again. But you’re here, in my arms.”
Aroub’s chest moved as if coming out of a long sleep.
“Tell me you’re here,” she whispered.
“I’m here.”
“Don’t leave me again like that, please!”
“In Arabic or English?”
“In both.”
“I can swear in Italian as well.”
“By the trio then, please!”
The aunt waited until Wissam finished whispering into Aroub’s ear and signed to her daughter, who was standing by the entry door, to come to her.
“Hold it there, my precious,” she said to Wissam, laughing. “Stop fooling around, the neighbours are watching. Inside, you can hug as much as you want.” She cleaned a folding, dining table which stood in the middle of the terrace and turned to Aroub. “Aroub dear, it’s time to set him free. Let him eat.”
Abeer brought a large tray and laid it on the table. Haytham followed with a jug of lemonade where slices of lemon and ice still swirled.
Aroub let go of Wissam but quickly threw her arms around him when he attempted to make a step back. She released a faint cry.
Watching the couple, the aunt’s eyes spawned tears. She wiped her eyes and looked at her daughter. “May God punish the cruel? Look at her! The poor thing is holding on to him as if he’s her own soul.”
She advanced to Aroub. “Take it from me; he’ll never leave you for a second until you’re formally engaged to each other. If he did, he would no longer be the son of my brother, or I his aunt.”
Aroub raised her head to Wissam for confirmation. He nodded repeatedly, smiling.
“Come, dear!” the aunt said to Aroub. “You’re so close now. We want happiness. We can cry any time we want but not now.”
Hesitantly, Aroub released Wissam but knotted her arm with his firmly and looked in his eyes. “Three days and four nights?”
“Three minutes and four second if I can help it. We first need your mum to be with us for the marriage contract to be signed.”
“She’ll be here Wednesday morning.”
“My dad will be arriving later today. I arrived late because I wanted to make sure I had all the papers you need.”
“Don’t leave me alone ever again,” she said. “I won’t forgive you if you do.”
“I won’t.”
The aunt wiped Aroub’s face and held a tissue paper to her nose.
“Blow in here!” she said to her. “Your voice sounds like the rusty motors of our mountain taxi cabs. Wissam shouldn’t see you when you’re less than perfect. He might change his mind.”
Aroub smiled arduously. She took the tissue from the aunt’s hand but not her arm off Wissam’s. Not knowing what to do, she looked at the tissue and cried.
Wissam snatched the tissue from her hand, held it to her nose and nodded to her to blow.
Abeer jabbed her fiancé with her elbow. “Look!” she said. “Look and learn the art of love.”
“Come here!” he said, as he got a tissue paper and held it to her nose. “You and your father can blow in my tissue.” She ran towards the house. He ran after her.
“Do you see?” the aunt said to Aroub. “My nose could very well drop off but my husband wouldn’t budge. Hold to him with all the strength you have,” she added, clenching her fist.
Aroub tightened her hold on Wissam’s arm. “Tighter than that!”
“Tighter. Don’t ever let him move. But let him eat first. He won’t be any good to you if you let him die of hunger.”
The aunt looked over Aroub’s shoulder to the bird. “Here comes another hungry sweetheart. Feed them both and don’t forget yourself. This way you’ll be eating, feeding and learning how to nourish children all at once.”
“Open your mouth,” Aroub said, offering Wissam a pastry.
“Shouldn’t you remove your glasses first?”
She shook her head and put the pastry back in the tray.
“I don’t want to,” she said.
“I want to see your eyes.”
“No; not now; please.”
“I want to see your eyes!”
“Why do you want to see them?”
“I missed them.”
“You won’t like what you see.”
“I will.”
“Wissam, please!”
He reached to the glasses but she moved back. “Please don’t. You won’t love me afterwards.”
He got his forehead to touch hers. “Aroub! I asked myself time and time again if I’d still love you if you lost one of your eyes and my answer to myself was, yes! I’ll still love you even if you lose both eyes. I’ll love you forever no matter what happens.”
“Me too. I didn’t tell you on the phone but you restored my life way after the last minute and it won’t be to anybody else no matter what happens.”
“I saved mine, as well. Had I believed in miracles, I would have said saving you was a miracle.”
“You don’t believe in miracles?”
Wissam shook his head. “I have never seen a miracle. If I can’t see one, they don’t exist.”
“But they do, my love, they do. It’s just you are not looking at the right places.”
Wissam looked around him. “I can’t see miracles.”
“Don’t look around. Look at me; look at you; look at our love. Every love story between a boy and a girl is a miracle, every single one of them.”
He wasn’t sure, but he won’t agree, and he won’t disagree either. Maybe there are, maybe it is. First, he’ll look into her eyes and then he may want to think again. He looked at her again but her glasses blocked his way. “I want to see your eyes,” he said softly.
She cried silently. She unhooked his arm and lifted up her head. He carefully removed the glasses. He closed his eyes before he opened them slowly.
He examined the right eye then the left. He moved his head back and looked at both eyes. He moved his head further back enlarging his focus to include the upper half of her face. He couldn’t see any difference between what had remained of her eyebrows in its natural state and what her hand had improved. But they stretched in the mirror of his eyes. He pictured them as if he had painted them digitally; spending the whole night filling the millions of tiny squares one by one. As they enlarged in the middle, their curve tilted up then suddenly flattened. What remained of the curve deepened then recoiled to draw a larger curve. It elongated, curved again then tapered towards the end. He let his imagination figure out why did the end taper in that particular drawing and where it wanted to plant itself.
Now he didn’t see her eyes as wide as they were before, but then again, she did not open them the way she usually did. The whiteness of the iris was so intense that he wondered how he was going to be able to reproduce it on the screen though he had millions of colours at his disposal. He was more surprised at the sight of the mixture of red and black in the cornea whose pupil expanded to an extent which he thought he could look through and see her love for him floating near the opening.
He waved to his reflection before he moved to her left eye. Here the whiteness of the iris was also intense but the intensity tapered off going towards the outer perimeter after which it turned grey, darkened then became a small dot of no particular shape in the corner of the eye.
“That’s where his hand landed,” he said to himself while gnashing his teeth. She shuttered her eyelids and squeezed her eye when she saw his hand over her head. But the cruelty of his hand pushed against her eyelid and left its mark.
“Close your eyelids, please” he said, again gnashing his teeth.
Her right eye was perfectly sound. Its upper eyelid curved and met with the lower eyelid to form what looked to Wissam to be the perfect edges. Her eyelashes lined up like menacing spears but turned softer and promising towards the tips. He looked at the top lid of the left eye and again he saw where the smack had landed. On the exterior edge, he also saw a small dot of no particular shape where red and blue mixed together. The red colour of the tiny veins that spread all over the outer side of the eyelid intensified in that corner before reclaiming their natural colour towards the centre. In the corner, the eyelids’ edges met and their lashes assumed a spear-like posture though four or five were broken. The edges had no parting anywhere but they did not shut as perfectly as those of the right eye.
“What do you think?” She asked.
“I think,” he said, and took his time to find the right words, “I think that God is telling me with your eyes, ‘Look at one of my finest miracles and be in awe, in love and thankful.’”
“I don’t want you to make me cry. I can do that on my own. I want you to tell me what you think.”
“You’ve been seen by many opticians. I agree with what they said. You have to be seen by a specialist and very soon. That will be the first thing for us to do in London.”
She took the glasses from him but before putting them on she looked at him to see if he wanted her to. He took them back from her, kissed her eyes one by one then put them on her. “Your eyes need all the protection they can get. It’s too dusty and sunny over here.”
“I want to learn digital directing, like you, but I’m not sure if it’s possible.”
“We’ll make it possible. I’ve been appointed assistant to the chief of the animated film section at channel five. So, I guess the institute won’t deny you an opportunity to study.”
“So, you think my eye is going to improve?”
“I don’t know what exactly the problem with your eye is. The muscles of the upper eyelid seem to be a little lacking in strength.”
“It also gets tired quickly.”
“That too.”
“Do you still love me as before?”
“What did you say?”
“I love you more so stop crying. I want to be happy, as before, and I want you too to be happy as before.”
“I’ll try.”
“No. Don’t try. Be happy.”
“Worse things happen at sea.”
“Yeah, much worse. But they don’t happen at the hand of a father.”
“My dad loves me. He didn’t mean to.”
“I want to be thankful to God that he did all that he did and didn’t mean to. If he really meant to harm you, I guess I’d be weeping over your dead body. I can’t weep the death of two women who live in my heart.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what? It’s not your fault. If you were in England, he’d be rotting in jail.”
“He says that jealousy blinded his heart. Maybe it’s true.”
“And maybe it’s not. Jealousy is in each of us. But it’s like a virus which doesn’t replicate and become dangerous except in a suitable environment. It’s a bomb but one which doesn’t explode until we light the fuse cord. He let the fuse cord burn and he created a suitable environment for the virus. He has no excuse.”
“Mum has left him. I know what he did and I don’t blame her. But I think of him sometimes. He’s not used to living alone. Even Majid has moved out to live with his grandmother.”
“Let him go to Beirut.”
“He doesn’t go there anymore except for work.”
“How do you know?”
She hesitated then shrugged her shoulders.
“I heard.”
“Did you talk to him?”
“How did I forget? Nothing escapes your attention. Only once. I felt sorry for him.”
“I can’t believe you said that.”
“I know.”
“You, all of you, love to torment yourselves. Why?”
“I’m sorry.”
“Aroub! He could have killed you.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“How could you talk to him? Do you know the kind of hell I’ve been living in since Nadida called?”
“I know.”
“No, you don’t know. I stood before my mum’s grave and looked up at the raining sky and said, ‘Please, one is enough. If there’s going to be a second, I want to go with her.’”
“I know,” she said in tears. “I know.”
“No, you don’t know.”
She raised his hand, kissed it and kept it on her cheek. “I want to learn everything from you. Teach me how to love you and how to love myself as before. Teach me how to love life but please don’t teach me how to hate. I don’t want to hate anybody. If I hate my dad, who will be next?”
“I don’t want you to hate him, or anybody else without a reason. But I also don’t want you to reward him. I want you to remember what he did. That’s all. This is the only way for him to know that he made a mistake. This is the only way for everybody to know that children are in trust until they grow up. They’re not a training ball. What did you do to deserve what he did? What did your mum do? Nothing; nothing at all.”
“I know.”
“If you know, then you have to forget about him.”
“I can’t. He’s my dad. He’s the reason you know me.”
“OK, then forget about him until he remembers himself very well.”
“You’re not angry with me?”
“No, my love. If I were, I wouldn’t have said a thing.”
“You’ll be always like that?”
“Of course, I don’t go to bed angry for whatever reason.”
“We will seek common grounds,” she said, raising her finger, “always, right?”
“Always, but reaching common grounds will be easier if you cooperate.”
“A payment for understanding?”
“Not a payment; a reward.”
“We’ll see if you are to win the first reward.”
“Beware! I can be very convincing, just like you.”
“We’ll see,” she said. She felt the shivers, but not from the cold. She closed her eyes. “I can’t believe we’re together at last.”
“Me too. Sitting here, I looked at the road and asked myself if I’d see you or that something would happen. But I saw you in the end. I don’t want to leave you again. I don’t ever want to see that letter.”
“You know,” she said, swinging her head, “I sat on the bed, put the laptop in front of me and started writing. I filled more than two pages. I don’t remember all that I wrote but I did tell you how much I love you and how much I suffered. I wrote that you may ignore my letter and wrote and wrote. In the end, I pulled at my hair and shouted at myself, ‘Aroub! What on earth are you doing? Is this the time for these things? If you want to write, then write about things that will uproot him, like if it were a storm.’ I did and I sent the letter and waited. The next hour was the longest in my whole life. I even panicked when I couldn’t plug the charger. I was scared that the batteries would fail me.”
“I wasn’t home at the time but my dad heard faint ringing. He had just switched off the TV and was about to leave for the club. He was expecting an urgent call from his brother in Dubai. About what happened next, he said: ‘I put on my overcoat, switched off the lights and opened the door. Suddenly I imagined that somebody called out for me, faintly pronouncing my name. I felt a strange shiver invade my whole body. I closed the door, went into the living room and switched on the lights. There was nothing unusual to be seen at first, then I noticed that the display glass door was open and the photo of your mum was about to fall to the floor. I put the frame back in its place and stood there wondering what is really going on. Suddenly, I felt as if a hand grabbed my shoulder from behind, pulled the overcoat off of me and pointed upstairs as if wanting me to go up to your room. I went upstairs, read Aroub’s fax and ran to tell you.’”
The description made Aroub shiver. She shook her head. “Where did he find you?”
“By the statue of the nymph. I had the ticket to Damascus with me. I was going to be on board the next day, but the waiting was so heavy on my heart. I went there every night. I’d stand facing the river and say to her, ‘You, the queen of waiting, do you think that my waiting will come to an end one day, or am I to come every night to wait with you for ever?’”
“My mum said to me, ‘Hisham would have waited all his life, his son would wait for at least a month.’”
“He’s going to wait as long as his dad would have waited and more. To tell the truth, when I received your fax, I didn’t know what to do. It was only when I called aunt Salma that things became clear to me. I knew all along that you’d find a way out. Anyway, there was no longer a need for my dad to come with me. He felt free to go to Dubai and later join me in Amman for the wedding.”
She looked at him. The thrill she felt illuminated her eyes. “I see you two not one,” she said.
“Don’t panic. I was joking.”
“Don’t joke like that,” he said, breathing deeply. “I thought something had happened to your vision.”
Her eyes filled with tears, “Please, help me regain myself.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you. But first help yourself and you’ll soon regain your wings and become ready to fly.”
“Like the bird?”
“Exactly. Where’s he?”
“On the tree. Maybe he’s found his… His what? His mate?”
“His mate, unthah (female); either name is possible.”
Aroub pushed her chest back and opened her eyes wide. “Impressive. You’ve advanced in your Arabic.”
“I was waiting for you so I got myself busy learning Arabic.”
“You’ll soon start teaching me Arabic too.”
“Soon I’ll lose my temper.”
“Why?” she said, ready to cry.
“I can’t help it. I’m hungry, Aroub. I’m very, very hungry.”

Image credit: Sonia D., private share

About the author

Adel Bishtawi

Adel S (Said) Bishtawi was born in Nazareth, Palestine, 1945. He read English Literature at Damascus University, attended short courses of familiarisation of languages including Latin, German and Russian, and attended a course in Linguistics at the Central London Polytechnic.

Adel published more than 20 books in both English and Arabic. the last of which is Only When Desire Screams co-authored by Selvi Sado. A journalist since the late 1960s, he became Front Page Editor of Al Arab Newspaper (London), the first pan Arab Newspaper launched in Europe. In 1978, he joined Jihad Al Khazin in launching Asharq Al Awsat Newspaper (London) as Business and Supplements Editor. In 1980, he was appointed Central Managing Editor of the Emirates News Agency in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In 1988, he joined Jamil Mrowa (who later re-launched the Daily Star in Beirut in 1996) in London for the re-launch of Al Hayat Newspaper and continued under the editorship of Jihad Al Khazin until he left in April 2001 to dedicate what is left of his time to literary and historical writing. as well as investigating origins by means of historical and etymological linguistics.

Adel produced and co-produced a number of TV documentaries. He produced, directed and wrote “Muslims along the Silk Road”, a five part-60-minutes-each documentary tracing Muslim culture and heritage and the legacy of Muslim pioneers and merchants along the Silk Road starting from China.

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