THE ATHEIST: A short Story



A short story in two parts BY Adel Bishtawi adapted from the novel Times of Death and Roses.


Rana, a beautiful Christian girl from Beirut, goes to her Muslim boyfriend’s flat for a coffee. As they were chatting she blinked. When she opened her eyes again she found herself naked in the darkness and virgin no more, a very serious female mishap in Arabia.
Here is what happened next:

Ali: “Can I breathe?”
Rana: “Quietly, if you please. I need to think of the plight you’ve plunged me in, parted legs first.”
“Why don’t you let me help you?”
“How can you help me when you are the cause of my calamity? I was an innocent young angel before I blinked a while ago and look at me now – a ruined, deflowered slut.”
“I hear Rana but I can’t see a slut. It’s too dark. Can I switch on a light?”
“No!” she yelled anxiously. “Keep the lights off. Please.”
“The moonlight is coming through the window; do you want me to turn it off as well?”
“No, I want to see what you do.”
“I’ll do nothing.”
“You said that but you lied.”
“I didn’t lie. You wanted to come here.”
“You didn’t stop me.”
“I tried.”
“You didn’t insist. Arabs always have to insist three times before anything gets done. You didn’t insist once, and maybe because I’m Christian.”
“I gave you the treatment of the people of the Book. You didn’t insist so I respected your decision.”
“But you should have insisted. Your Book told you to be cordial to us Christians not to screw us. There’s a big difference, you know.”
“When the lights are off and the desire is on everything becomes secular. They don’t call it ‘the atheist’ for nothing.”
“I heard Nisreen describe it as the ‘one who recognises no friends’. I should have remembered this but now it’s too late. You get distracted when you are attacked in the dark on all fronts. There wasn’t even a cover to take.”
“Well, you don’t enter a lion’s den and not expect to be scratched.”
“Just scratched? I wish. Mauled is more like it. You should have really stopped me.”
“I thought about it but then I realised it was already too late.”
“You should have thought of that earlier and insisted on me not coming in.”
“Were I mad to insist?”
“Were I mad to come in?”
“What is done is done. We need to think of what we’ll do next.”
She quickly opened her eyes wide in the darkness and closed them as quickly. “Oh, God, Jesus, Mary and the Saints! There is still a ‘next’ to do? I can’t take any nexts.”
“I meant what we have to do.”
“What would that be?” she said in a voice where anxiety and an urge to cry mingled. “I don’t want to do anything.”
“I meant –”
“I meant, I meant, I meant! Why don’t you shut up and give yourself and me some peace?”
He kept his peace and she did likewise but her anxiety spoke freely, “What is mum going to say when she finds out?”
His response remained hidden behind the chair, intensifying her anxiety and pitch. “Am I no longer deserving of an answer?”
“You told me to shut up.”
“Just answer this one, please.”
“She would tell you to demand from Ali to patch it up or –”
“Oh, my God!” she said with a bit of anger and a smaller bit of pain. “Haven’t I asked you to stop playing the comedian?”
“Control yourself. What will my neighbours say if they hear your loud voice?”
“They’ll say to you, ‘How did you find it in your heart to take advantage of a vulnerable girl like Rana?’ ”
“I’ll tell them that the vulnerable girl was the one who seduced me.”
“Seeing my tears, no one will believe you.”
“In that case, they’ll call the police.”
“The police? What have the police got to do with us?”
“This is not Beirut. This is Abu Dhabi.”
“What would the police do?”
“They usually do a lot of humiliating and dragging to the police station. A scandal which will be on every tongue in all the salons of Abu Dhabi, from the corniche to the bridge, from now until deep into the third millennium, provided the country still had oil.”
“You may tell the police that I’m your wife.”
“They’d demand to see the marriage certificate.”
“We have no certificate.”
“So what?”
“Don’t remind me. For the single man, the punishment is one hundred lashes or multiples thereof; depending on what mood the judge happens to be and the adulterer’s tolerance. In the case of a woman, you know the story of the adulterer in your book (Bible) so there’s no need to elaborate.”
Hearing a sound close to chattering teeth, he smothered a malicious urge to laugh for fear that she might have a nervous breakdown. The chattering stopped suddenly then he heard an incomplete laugh.
He tried to see what she had been doing behind the seat in darkness. She lowered her head as far as she could. “I told you not to look at me! If you don’t stop I’ll scream.”
There was silence for a moment. “Why are you laughing?” he asked.
“I didn’t mean to. I had the urge to ask where would they find enough stones in a desert country full of sand, but I didn’t want to look more stupid than I already am.”
“Why don’t you see the positive side of things?”
“What’s positive in my situation, Mr. Genius?”
“At least you are not thinking of demons, Miss Genius.”
“The demons are more compassionate than you are. They didn’t do to me what you have done. With them, it is all talk and promises and windows overlooking the sea. You’re the only one who did something. What am I to say to mum now? That I lost it in crossing my legs?”
“Tell her the truth.”
“What is the truth? I wasn’t aware of what was happening to me.”
“You don’t have to tell her everything. Fetch a box of matches from the kitchen then stand in front of her, light a match and blow it out with strength. Tell her that what happened to your virginity but don’t mention my name.”
He heard the sound of suspicious movement. Raising his head to discover its source, he spotted an object that flew in his direction, passed close to his ear then hit the wall behind him and fall on the carpet. He then heard her voice hitting the top of the scale of her yelling, “I told you a thousand times to stop kidding.”
“I wasn’t kidding,” he said as he tried to identify other flying objects. “I was just trying to help.”
“What help? Do you want to remind me that it’s like a spent match? I know that it is like a bloody spent match.”
A few moments passed in silence and then he heard muffled giggling. “Laughing again, Rana? Why?”
“I couldn’t help it.”
“What are you laughing at?”
“Every time I heard somebody say that losing virginity is like a match losing its burning power, I laughed. Actually, it’s just like a match.”
“And as expendable.”
“Except that it ruptures without a glow,” she said in a tearful voice.
“In the dark.”
“With nearly the same thrill one gets from lighting a match. Where is the enjoyment that we see in the movies?”
‘The enjoyment comes after marriage.”
“When’s marriage?”
“After the engagement.”
“When’s the engagement?”
“After the proposal.”
“When’s the proposal?”
“Do you want a proposal without love?”
“Love? Where’s love? There’s nothing – no love, no proposal, no engagement, no marriage and no hymen. Never in the history of womanhood virginity was sacrificed so cheaply. I dare you to say that you’re still waiting to love me.”
“What waiting?”
He heard a movement. Raising his head, he saw it in her hand, “Put it down! The vase is a gift from Louai.”
“If you don’t stop acting silly, you’ll get nothing at the end of your waiting but this vase.”
“Hit me on the head and the match would have been expended uselessly.”
“You forced yourself on me, that’s what I’ll say. And you won’t be able to deny it lying on the floor helpless like a belly-up-crocodile.”
“Would you go that far?”
“That far and more. You weren’t gentle with me.”
“I didn’t invent it. It always comes with a touch of seriousness.”
“A touch of seriousness? You acted like a guerilla on a raid.”
“What do you mean? It was mostly exaggeration.”
“No, it was not. There was manoeuvring, infiltration and… You’ve done well in training.”
“Not training, experience.”
He heard the familiar sound of movement behind the chair. “Put down the vase, I was just joking.”
“You’ve promised and you will be committed to wait for me,” she said, lifting the vase up. “Had you not committed yourself, I wouldn’t have come to your bed.”
“I’m totally committed. Six months means six month. After that we’ll talk.”
“Six months minus a fortnight.”
“Minus a fortnight.”
“What’s it that you want to say afterwards? That the match has been expended.”
“If you keep your commitment to the letter, I’ll say whatever you want me to say.”
She put down the vase. “You won’t cheat me or on me.”
“Never. I give you my word as a good Muslim.”
“But you’ve just said you’re an atheist.”
“No, no, no. I wasn’t referring to me but to him, him, you know.”
“Oh, him, my tormentor. So that means you are not going to tell me to finish my tea, pick up my little eraser and say to me, ‘Go back to your mum – don’t call us, we’ll call you?”
“Why would I say such a thing?”
“Why should I believe?”
“You have no choice.”
“But I do.” She picked up the vase again.
“This is not an option. Trust me on this.”
“Then six months minus a fortnight.”
“Six months minus a fortnight and two minutes.”
The months reminded her of something she had forgotten. She gasped. “Ali!” she cried in panic.
“What?” he uttered in anxiety.
“What if –?”
She cut herself short. She disappeared with a suckling baby anxiety and reappeared momentarily, having weaned the child, then quickly changed her mind and again disappeared and reappeared with the child having grown into a boy with a loud voice, “I become like Fatina?”
She gasped and re-examined her anxiety. She counted on her fingers and recounted before she dropped her hands. He saw her melt and disappear behind the seat.
“Ali!” she said from the bottom of the well of her fears. “This is the worst day of the month.”
“Oh, dear.” he said in regret and pity.
“Why didn’t I think of it before? Mum is going to find out and she’ll be within the walls of the monastery before the end of my cycle. Poor mum and poor dad too, and Rama. She’ll never find one to marry her once the word spreads. Poor Rama and her sister. What am I to do?”
From crying to wailing she moved in one jump. A worse scenario presented itself and took the place of crying and wailing. She remembered what Om Omar had said about new-born babies being left by their mums on the steps of mosques. Fright taking hold of her, she came out from behind the seat and threw herself on Ali. She took his hand, “If that were to happen, you would have to stand by me.”
“I certainly would.”
“Mum must know nothing. Between scandal and abortion she will settle for the scandal.”
“There will be neither abortion nor scandal. You will bring us a Rasha and return Rasha to her poor mum who hasn’t seen her baby daughter since you returned from Beirut.”
“Would you admit to fathering her?”
“Wouldn’t I?”
“Would you tell my mum that she’s your daughter?”
“Of course, I would.”
“I’d love to see you admitting that to her.”
“What would she do?”
“She’d throw you out of the balcony, with my help.”
“Why would she do that to a man who wants to marry her daughter and save her from scandal?”
“Would you tell her that you want to marry me?”
“If pregnancy does happen, I’ll consider the waiting over and marry you immediately.”
She fell silent. She had a brief dialogue with herself. He expected her to say something, but she took him by the hand and dragged him. “I want you to repeat that where I can see your face.”
She made him stand in the middle of the kitchen. She switched on the lights and asked him to repeat what he had said. As he did, she gazed in search of any sign of hesitation then asked him to repeat again.
“You’re indeed a brave man, just as Rama says,” she said, nodding in amazement.
“You’re the brave. If I were you, I wouldn’t have dared to go into the apartment of a man even if I had all the demons of the land inside me.”
“I did, but you’ll marry me nonetheless, won’t you?”
“The minute pregnancy is ascertained. No fear, regrets or hesitation.”
“But you don’t know everything about me.”
“Shut up, Rana!” he said with a long dismissive arm. “Listening to you talking about sins one would think your legs are like the Arc de Triumph – one army going in and another army coming out. Even the art of kissing you hardly know. Without the ample training you have had on the cheeks of poor Rama, this ‘hardly’ wouldn’t even apply.”
He didn’t understand what happened afterwards. He expected her to throw herself on him out of gratitude, but she instead roared off like a racing car, attained maximum speed in two seconds and hid behind the chair. “I’m not good enough even at sex?”
He stood outside the kitchen and spread his hands, “Now did I say that? I meant to say that all your sins are not worth a wet onion’s peel.”
“Are you absolutely sure of what you are saying?”
“Oh, brother! How serious can they be – your sins? It’s only in being deeply religious and hypersensitive that you think you have laid the world in ruins. What are these sins that you’ve plagued me with? If I were to show but the finger of one of my sins, I’d have to immerse you in water to get you to regain consciousness.”
“Why do you say that? Are you possessed by demons?”
“I have demons in me, if that’s what you mean. Of course, I do. We all have demons.”
She cowered and looked around searching for demons, “Even here?”
“Not in the flat, but here,” he said, pointing to his head.
“But you told me you had them behind a door in your apartment,” she said, thinking of a door next to the kitchen’s she hadn’t opened. “Which door is it?”
He again pointed to his head, “In my head here, behind a door in my head, here.”
“I haven’t felt the presence of demons in your head. While I was being crucified on your bed and you were doing those horrible things to me, maybe, but not before or since.”
“I’ve sent them on a long vacation.”
“Why haven’t you got rid of them?”
“There aren’t enough pigs in the world.”
“The poor pigs!”
“Don’t worry; I know how to keep them under control.”
“Just keep them away from me. I don’t want to see demons.”
“They too don’t want to see you. Angels and demons don’t mix.”
“You still consider me an angel?”
“You know my opinion.”
“Am I to despair of you having a bad idea about me?”
“We’ve finished with that.”
She uttered half a word then laughed. She uttered half of another word then laughed.
“Why are you laughing now? You couldn’t control yourself, of course?”
“I’ve been thinking that if I were a demon, not an angel, how would you have treat me in bed?”
Ali shook his head. “You wouldn’t want to know.”
“It is that bad, is it?”
“Absolutely. You can’t entertain mercy in these circumstances.”
“Hmm, intriguing.”
Rana was quiet for a while then she took a very deep breath as if she was going to jump into deep water. “I’m still a bit sore from your cave man gentleness so you have to be really gentle with me all the time, promise?”
“Of course I would. I’m always gentle.”
“Settled then. I have a confession to make. I’m really a demon. Grrrrrr!.”

A short story in two parts starring Rana, the naughty Christian girl, adapted from the novel Times of Death and Roses by Adel S. Bishtawi

As Rana was taking a shower before going out with her mum and little sister she began to sing a song she heard many times and hated it every time she heard it. It was simply too silly to bear. Questioning herself, her thoughts led her to Ali. Almost suddenly she realised she was in love with him. She blinked his image away but it came back clearer than before.
She had thought she loved another man in Beirut but now she wasn’t sure. Confused she goes back to Beirut to test his love and finish her studies. Ali, deeply in love with Rana but worried, travels to Beirut without her knowledge and sees her enter his rival’s flat. He tries to forget her but he couldn’t.
The man Rana thought she loved in Beirut was not the man she began to see. It was time to forget him and surrender to her new love for Ali.
Ali had grave doubts but she managed to convince him she had no affair in Beirut and she loves him deeply but she couldn’t dispel all his fears.
At a party at Ali’s uncle apartment, Ali finally overcomes his fears and doubts and proposes to Rana. Had Ali been nice to her she would have jumped of joy but now she needed to think and revisit her options:

“Listen, Rana,” she addressed herself in privacy after Ali surprised her with his sudden proposal, “If you accept Ali in your heart, mind and womb, then say ‘yes’ and ferociously uproot anyone who stands in your way. You have no other choice. If you reject him in your heart, mind and womb, then say ‘no’ and ferociously uproot anyone who stands in your way. You have no other choice here too. Accept with all three and reject with all three. Play the role of the prey that you are good at and let him play the role of the hunter which he thinks is good at. Time is going to show who is the real hunter and who is the real prey; who sends the shots in the playground of life and who sits on the spectators’ benches and clap; who comes hungry to whom; who comes passionate to whom; who first takes off his jacket and wraps it around the shoulders of whom because he doesn’t want her to catch cold.”
“Listen, Rana,” she addressed herself, “The man will always behave like a hunter. That’s the way he’s made by a way of life that’s mostly wrong and cannot be changed by you or anybody else. You’ll find out that if he doesn’t behave as a hunter you aren’t going to be able to bear life with him — he is going to leave you, and himself, without a definite role to play. For life to continue, preys are needed as much as hunters. If all are hunters or all are preys life ceases to be. Who’s more important than the other? Neither, both are important. Should the roles of prey and hunter get mixed and confused with each other, the likely scenario is this: the prey runs from the hunter, hides in the bushes, covers her head with her arms, holds her breath and wait. If the hunter gets tired of searching or bored, the prey comes out of her hiding place and laughs, thus shedding doubt on her status as a prey. Actually, life doesn’t discriminate: the hunter and the prey need each other and no one stands to benefit from oppressing the other. As time progresses, each takes from the other and their individual traits get mixed. Should there remain claws in the hands of the hunter; life is going to take care of trimming them. Life is going to say to the prey and the hunter: You both are mine, so be the man, woman and child that life is because that’s how it’s going to be to the very end of time.”
“Do you know a woman who wished to be a man?” Rana asked herself, laughing.
“No! Not if she made her wish while in command of her senses.”
“I won’t tell now. There’s no more time for laughing. But I want to ask: Do you want life as your business, or don’t you?”
Rana looked at little Rasha then at little Taysir in her mind but didn’t answer herself. “In that case, what you have is a man whom you can depend on. He’s intelligent so he will find solutions quicker than others. He will overcome problems faster and more efficiently. He will not be fooled, nor allow anybody to fool you. With him, you’ll have no fear of demons, human or otherwise. He’ll take care of you and your children as long as you take care of him. This is a man whom you can trust. The demon will not reach you before reaching him. The demon will not reach him easily because he himself is a demon but with a catch: he loves you, Rana, and you love him with all three. So what choice is it going to be?”
“Suppose he yells at you, what do you do?” Rana once asked her lifetime friend Fatina as they spoke of Ahmed, Fatina’s husband.
“He can be hot tempered, like all Iraqis, but he doesn’t dare to,” Fatina said, laughing. “He complains but he doesn’t yell.”
“What do you do when he complains?”
Fatina showed Rana the remote control and started flipping channels. “That’s what I do. I take him from one channel to another. I design the channels and start the flipping business. There are enough channels to make him dance or sing; to calm him down or provoke him; to get him out of the house or bring him in; to make him agree to anything or reject everything.”
“So marital life is a lasting peace,” Rana said, amused.
“Lasting peace? No, a protracted truce. If he doesn’t complain at least once a month I trompe unexpectedly on his nerves and speed off to the safety of the bedroom.”
“Why would you do that?”
“A house doesn’t bear to have two men, but it also doesn’t bear to have two women.”
“And does he sulk like other men or does he forget easily?”
“It depends, but it always helps if he gets the hint that I’m waiting for him in bed.”
“It sounds like a multi-purpose wiper, this bed thing.”
Fatina laughed at Rana’s way of avoiding talking directly about sex. “It has worked for me, so far,” said Fatina continuing her laugh. “But it does look like men can’t resist answering the silent call of a woman waiting for them in bed. It feels primeval.”
Rana blushed and giggled lightly to herself. “So one must be ready at all times if the marriage is to be kept vibrant.”
Fatina thought and shook her head. “No, it’s not like that, I think. Sex is not a sealant that fills marriage cracks. It just lubricates the difficult road of married life and makes it easier to go on. It blinds both men and women to the faults of each other.”
Rana was silent for a while. She moved her eyes to the window and came back. “I’ll keep that in mind, thank you.”
Rana laughed, Fatina thought of what she’d just said and laughed too. She suddenly stopped and looked serious. “If you want to listen to me at all, I’ll tell you never to use sex as a weapon. It is not devised for this purpose. Let it be spontaneous. Many broken marriages I know of are caused primarily by the wrong attitude to sex. A woman appears ready to use the weapon of depriving her man of sex if she is angry, upset or simply wants him to get her something she likes. It should be done with caution and sparingly. But what happens is that some women overplay their hands and overestimate the importance of sex. If repeated, the man gets weaned. Once weaned, his eyes open as if suddenly to her mistakes. Her feminine premium is cancelled out. His next move is to apply economic pressure, depriving her of money. She reacts by imposing stricter sexual deprivation until the bond that kept them together for so long is torn apart, and their marriage with it.”
Rana stood up and retreated. “It sounds awful, all this.”
“For people I know, yes, but not for me; not for my dad and mum; not for your dad and mum. We are all doing fine. You will be fine as well. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried but men can be very difficult, no?”
Fatina’s loud laugh spoke of her objection. “Men difficult? Oh, my God. We are the difficult ones. Poor Ahmed! Compared to me he’s an angel. Even demons can’t put up with me sometimes, just like you and most other women. Besides,” Fatina whispered to her, “men like us giving them some troubles, occasionally. Had I not been deeply in love with Ahmed I would have had drowned him with troubles.”
Thinking of the two demons in her life, Rana felt pity for their fates as husbands. But pity was not an appropriate feeling. She laughed loud.
Awakened, her sister Rama crawled to her lap.
“Why aren’t we at home?” Rama said, looking around her.
“Ali wants to marry me, what shall I say to him?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Rama said, closing her eyes.
“Just like that, without thinking?”
“Give your consent now and think later.”
“Would you accept responsibility if I didn’t like him?”
“Stop acting like a spoiled child. If you don’t want him and he’s prepared to wait for me I’ll take him,” Rama said with a smile and dozed again.
Rana tucked her little sister in bed and opened the door gently. What she saw was not the familiar sitting room of Fatina’s parents but a totally new world. She took a sweeping look around and stepped in.
The standing ovation, less the applause, that her appearance attracted from all those present startled and humbled her. She cast her eyesight down. With all eyes floating on her face, she felt that her decision was impatiently awaited, that it touched everybody’s life in one way or another. As for Ali, whom she couldn’t look at, she knew that her decision could send him to hell indefinitely just as it could send him somewhere else. She didn’t know what that ‘somewhere else’ was but she’d promised him that he would have no regrets because he too had promised her the same.
Fatina and her mum advanced towards Rana in tandem. A hunch about the likely decision her daughter had made stopped her mum cold. Left alone, Fatina spread out her arms. Rushing into a warm hug, Rana rested her head on her friend’s shoulder, wept and made two little nods.
Fatina celebrated the nods, “Congratulations, sweetheart.” She twirled her and finally led her to her mum.
Rana spread her arms to hug her mum but the latter stopped her, “Don’t rush, Rana! Think it over.”
“I want no more thinking,” Rana said, wiping her eyes. “I’m tired of thinking.”
“Your study.”
“I’m tired of studying too,” she said, crying softly. “I want to stay here; – she mustered all the courage in her heart and pointed her index in the approximate direction of Ali without looking at him — with him.”
Her mum walked away from her. Wiping her tears, Rana advanced towards her dad who opened his arms and led her aside.
“It doesn’t matter,” Ali overheard the doctor telling his daughter. She whispered in her dad’s ear, the latter reclined and said in surprise, “What?” She whispered again, this time he turned her to face Ali and said, laughing, “Your opinion would have been enough for me to give my consent, but now I insist on your marriage.”
“You’ve given her your blessing but I see that my blessing is not required,” her mum said to her husband. “I’ve raised her up, but I don’t matter any more.”
“Mum!” Rana said. “You’re the most important thing to me, but you don’t know what Ali has done for me.”
The mum threw her arms in the air, “If you want to marry him, go ahead, but keep me out of it.”
“I can’t do that, mum. I want you with me all the time. You’re my mum.”
“What would they say?” the mum said, on the verge of tears. “Mariam spent all her life in the church but ended up marrying her daughter to a Muslim. That’s what they’d say.”
“Why should what others say matter? Ali is not going to force anything on me. I won’t allow him; please!”
She shoved her out of her way. “I’ll not be able to show my face in the church again.”
She hurried into the bedroom to get Rama home.
Rana ran after her mum, “Mum! Please! Who is going to share my happiness if you don’t?”
The mum stepped inside the room. Rana followed her in. The doctor followed them but stopped, knowing he couldn’t start to reason with his wife until she calmed down. He had to rely on the skills of his daughter.
Ali suspended the fate of his heart. Standing opposite the open door of the bedroom, he saw Rana talking to her mum softly and gesturing with shaking hands. When the mum covered her ears, Rana stood, totally lost, weeping silently. It was apparent that they both didn’t want to disturb Rama. At one point, Rana turned back and looked at her dad and Ali. Her eyes pleaded for help but none was forthcoming.
There was nothing anybody in the room could say or do to defuse the rising tension and bring the crisis to the happy ending everybody, except Rana’s mum, desired. All were helpless; all knew there was nothing they could do. All were expecting something to happen in silence. Ali thought of things he could do but they were quickly eliminated. He’d seen a great deal in his life thus far but he never felt more helpless — helpless and weak. The situation was never more serious. The fate of his future life and that of Rana was at stake but he couldn’t think of anything useful to do. The only one who’s capable of doing something was Rana, but he wasn’t completely sure. As he does when confronted with despair, he turned slowly and sent his eyes across the window to the boats of the Marina and the open sea beyond. For an inexplicable reason, he found himself thinking of miracles.
Like everybody else, Rana too felt helpless. She felt desperate. She tried to approach her mum again but again her mum screamed at her and pushed her back.
A sudden spark deep in the salon attracted Rana’s attention. Ahmed had just lit a cigarette, took a puff, handed it to his agitated wife and blew at the burning match.
With the long confident strides of a determined lioness going for the ultimate kill, Rana walked straight to a coffee table near Ahmed who leaned, picked up a pack of cigarettes and matches and extended his hand to her. He had guessed that Rana probably wanted a cigarette for her fuming mum.
The mum had been talking to Rama when Rana returned to the master bedroom. Ali saw her mum turn to face her. Rana said something he couldn’t hear. The mum pushed her hands and kept her daughter at an arm’s length, covered her ears and shook her head furiously.
Then things took a rapid turn.
From his place, Ali saw a sudden glow flicking between Rana and her mum. Momentarily, he saw Rana raise her hand with a burning match for her mum to see clearly before she meaningfully blew it out with strength, cast her eyes down and slid the expended match into the box.
She laid the box of matches and the pack of cigarettes in her mum’s hand and retreated.
Coming out of the bedroom, Rana glanced at Ali through tearful eyes. He remembered the scene in his apartment after Rana’s first encounter with nudity in the arms of a man. Both laughed then when losing virginity was compared to a spent lighted match. He bent his head sideways and emitted a long, muffled whistle of admiration. Feeling his reaction didn’t gain full expression; he whipped the fingers of his right hand and shook his head in utter bewilderment.
Rana proceeded to her dad, rested her head on his chest and sobbed bitterly.
Shortly, her mum appeared in the doorway of the bedroom with Rama behind her. After having appeared in shock while in the room, she now looked rather dazed. She looked at the box of matches in her hand, then at her daughter then at her husband and finally Ali. As she walked slowly towards him, Ali couldn’t help feeling apprehensive.
All eyes were now on Rana’s mum. Unaware of what had happened in the bedroom, they didn’t understand why she stopped in front of Ali and stared in his eyes, and then stared again at the box of matches in deep silence. Feeling threatened, Ali looked at Rana as if sending a cry for help. Rana responded. With her heart pounding of anxiety, she advanced quickly and stopped at a short distance, ready to protect him should her mum decide to dig her nails in the flesh of her lover’s face.
As if in a trance, the mum looked around then slowly faced Ali. “You are going to marry my Rana after what you’ve done to her, aren’t you?”
She gave a nod of relief. “Then love her because she loves you. Because she loves you I will love you too.”
The bombshell had Ali pump his bent arms in the air. He was ecstatic. “Thank you, thank you both.”
“But nothing is to be forced on her?” the mum said. “We will go to church together and we will talk to the priest and we will ask him to bless her marriage.”
“Do, and don’t worry,” Ali said, glancing at Rana with great relief. “Even the demons don’t dare to force anything on Rana.”
“What are your plans concerning marriage preparations?” she asked again, before turning to her daughter.
“They start the minute you give us your blessing and Rana decides. All your conditions are accepted,” Ali said staring at his sweetheart whose eyes filled with tears of joy, “All of them.”
Nodding her approval, the mum kissed him on the cheeks, reclined then hugged him. She gestured to Rana to approach and hugged them both.
“Mum!” Rana muttered, crying of joy, “Mum!”

Main image credit: Sonia D., private share

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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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