22 – CHAPTER VI: BLISSFUL DENIAL (FINAL CHAPTER)

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‘Hey you!’ Eva passionately yelled.

‘Why hello,’ I responded, still taken by the revelation that she finally called.

‘God! How I miss your voice!’ she cried.

‘I’d missed you too, darling. How’d you been?’

‘Quite despondent. Life’s rubbish without you.’

‘Am I going to see you anytime soon? I’d slay countries for that.’ I dejectedly said.

‘Baby, I wish I could do whatever thing to make that happen.’

‘We’ll figure something out. I hope.’ I said as I wished her goodnight and scuttled back into my bed.

I woke up the next morning to read a text from her saying her parents agreed on a school trip, and that they’re okay with me going.

I proximately called her, taken by the utter disbelief of what my sight just came up to. Nonetheless, the phone kept on going to voicemail, and I figured it might have been too early. She’d have probably been in one of her classes at the time.

Everything was promptly plotted, and plans of all the things in her mind for our first Valentine’s Day together were soon about to hurdle out and befall.

In the middle of Sally Central Station, she kissed me.

It was a lover’s kiss – brief, soft and affectionate, full of the lingering memories of days spent in blissful denial and a reminder that this would be our last day together until another apt chance came to occurrence. It was as if these few hours together were a window between those two looming spectres, best forgotten until the inevitable passing of time forced us to face them head on.

For the next twelve hours, we would be lovers, just an ordinary couple, like any other.

It seemed fitting to spend a few of our last minutes together in Sally Central, one of my favourite spots in the city. It’s a place where the past and the future meet, where all the disparate fragments of Beirut mingle – the wealthy, the poor, the punks and the Hamra Street girls and boys, tourists and commuters – each passing on their way to separate lives, united only by a hurried few moments of scurrying, all briefly sharing the same experience, racing for a bus.

After the kiss, I looked up and around, as I always did when I was standing there. I liked to gaze up at the marble pillars and vaulted arches holding an upside-down Mediterranean sky, the zodiac view that ancient cartographers imagined angels or alien life forms might have when looking down on the Earth from the heavens.

Sally Central Station summed up all the things I liked about Beirut: it was full of promise and alive with the energy of people rushing to and fro, a veritable melting pot of bodies in motion; the opulence and grandeur of the gold chandeliers hanging from the ceiling were a promise to everyone who passed through with nothing but a dime in their pocket that somewhere overhead, opportunity waited.

Good things happen in Beirut; that was the message of Sally Central Station. If you worked hard enough, if you threw your dream in the ring, then one day you’d get lucky and the city would throw a chance right back at you.

I took her hand and pulled her along through the crowd to the ramp leading down to the gallery at the lower level.

I stood her in the corner, facing one of the pillars that joined the low arches and then ran to the other side.

‘Eva,’ I said, my soft voice coming through the pillar as clear as a bell, as if the wall were talking to her. She knew it was an architectural phenomenon – sound waves apparently travelling from one pillar to its opposite across the domed ceiling, nothing more than a bit of acoustic magic – but it was eerie nonetheless. I was a dozen feet away, with my back to her, yet could have been whispering straight into her ear.

‘Yes?’ she murmured to the wall.

‘Life makes sense when you’re around.’

She laughed and turned to look at me.

I walked back and took her hand again, pulling her into another embrace. My torso was pleasantly firm, and I was nearly a foot taller than her, so even in heels she could rest her head on my shoulder.

We had our way to the bus, and for my surprise, it wasn’t a school trip after all; just a bunch of her mates pulling out a ride to Mount Barouk, renowned of its snow at this time of the year. I felt a rush of relief travel athwart my skin, for it meant there would be no administrative supervision.

The first stop was at a local restaurant.

Eva refused to come down.

‘I don’t know… I’m quite a bit giddy. I’d rather keep my fast.’ She censoriously said.

‘You’ll have the entire day long to grumble. But for now,’ I whispered, into her ear this time, ‘let’s eat.’

It was a popular place and I was surprised that they’d been able to get a reservation at this late notice, though knowing Eva, she’d probably booked and her friends in advance and never mentioned the fact to me. We still had to wait for twenty minutes to be seated, but the waiter brought the menus immediately and waited to take our drinks order.

‘Coke?’ I asked, ordering an espresso for myself.

‘Fresh orange juice for me, please,’ she said to the waiter, watching a hint of a smile pass across my lips as she ignored my suggestion.

The menu is rather overwhelming here,’ I said. ‘Shall we share some Hummus to start?’

She nodded.

The waiter disappeared to the kitchen, and I stretched my arm across the table and laid my hand over hers. Her touch was colder than I expected, considering the heat of her body, and I shivered involuntarily in surprise. She’d been holding her glass with that hand, I realised, and it must be cold, though she always ordered her drinks easy on the ice.

‘Do you miss it? Dubai?’

‘Yes. Not all the time, but when something reminds me of our old house there, a word or a smell or a sight of something, then I do. Not my friends or my father so much, because I talk to them on the phone and by email, but I miss the land, the ocean.’

‘It’s like reading a book, watching your face. You give away more than you think. It doesn’t all come out in your art, you know.’

Everyone was almost done with their breakfast, and we were soon to set off on the road again.

‘We’re sitting in the back,’ Eva whispered into my ear, thanking the staff on our way out.

They responded with a warm smile. Eva was a generous tipper. I had read somewhere that you should always pay attention to the way a woman treats animals, her mother and waiters, so I filed this bit of information away in her running positive column.

We were there in no time.

There it rested. Sheltering the summits of a chain of betrothed mountains with a silvery grey sheath, the snow mirrored the shimmering glimmer of the golden sunbeams respiting on its pallor.

I took her hand and snitched behind everybody’s backs.

We hiked up a tiny hill and seated each other on a rock-like nugget, the intact region beneath us.

No one could have possibly caught a glimpse of us assembled up there, but we were aware of everyone underneath our sight.

People looked like petite grinded chocolate chips bathing in a pool of white cream.

Stray sounds of children in the bottom reached us, amplified, deafening in their quietness.

‘Isn’t this beautiful?’ she said, glancing at the sun.

I smiled at her.

Her light brown hair unfurled all the way across her shoulders. She stretched, sat up for a moment and in one swift movement pulled off her tight print jacket.

I couldn’t help but admire the curvature of her back as she arose of her pew. The mountains of her ass were like a geometric symphony delineating a perfect curve with mathematical precision.

Shadows had begun to fall across us, and the remaining light barely illuminated her face in the hand-mirror as she attempted at fixing her light make-up.

The garment she wore bit into her skin with all the hard comfort of a steel embrace.

Reflections of a magical escape were already hasting across Eva’s head. She dreamed of an enchanted mystery tour. A journey far away in which we were its sole characters. She wanted me to grab her hand and run missing. Shade away into a secret place of our own. Never to come back.

She was suddenly awakened of her fantasy with the heat of my lips across hers.

Her arms were then reluctantly gripping me.

Classical. An impressionistic cascade of soft, delicate feelings that reminded us of the sea, and the shimmering surface of the troubled waters. We stood at that intersection while the rest of the world rushed past, and I imagined that if the moment was caught on film, the picture would be of just us, our bodies delineated in a whirl of colour, as we were the only two people existed, whole, while the rest of the population was indistinct, people blending together in a blur, each individual as featureless as the next. We had always seemed fond of each other; everyone thought we were the paragons of romanticism, proof that two people could stay together through thick and thin. When we looked out and saw what we imagined was the world in front of us, we’d felt for few moments that we were free of the shadows and saw everything outside borders.

We had hit the highway back in a flash, and everyone on the bus was peevishly enduring the aftermath of the lengthy running and snow play.

Plans were set to finally stopover a pub on the way back, but Eva and I were by now too fatigued for the mingling or even the toleration of any human interaction.

We nipped out of the bus and wandered across the fronting street, while the rest had themselves comfy inside.

She took my hand and we meandered together with the hushed sea.

I held her still to my chest, and I could feel the tears trip down her cheeks as she was copiously realising this would sooner be goodbye, yet for an unsettled period this time.

Right there, overhead the ornamental portions of the cemented pavement, we grasped into a twenty minutes embrace.

The heat visibly rose to Eva’s cheeks as words tried to pass her lips but were unable to do so; a rushing herd of emotions clearly bubbled inside her.

Strange how memory could imperceptibly shift at random through the spectrum of a rainbow, and a curious filter of emotion. Staring at the moon shimmering over the night sea on our left, it felt a bit like dreams that pierce the wall of your sleep, and that you feel you should write down as you know they will be gone in the morning, and you will not remember them again. I knew that if I were to die at that moment, the memories of her would stay with me until the very last moment, playing like a loop of film on the screen of my mind. The best way to go, I felt, with her on my mind, would have been with the image of her feeble smile in my eyes, there for eternity. As she moved closer to me, her eyes hesitant, both unsure what to say or do next, it was as if we were both being moved by a power we had no control over. Like magnets coming together. As a wave of emotion swept over me, I stood still. Overcome by a complex of maelstrom of feelings. Startled by her offering. Her greeting. I was aware that every cell in her body was screaming for her to throw herself in between my arms. I could feel the heat radiating from her. Being sure if that underground river on which our lives floated had not existed and carried us with its flow, we would have probably not even met, it was as if the months had melted away. The rest of the world faded. There was an inevitability about it all. It was at times like this I felt bereft and words were just not enough to express the turmoil raging inside me, and realised she wanted me to tattoo her heart with indelible ink, make me hers and banish for the emptiness inside that plagues her.

I was beginning to be aware of the mere point that this might be it.

The twenty-two months of a heavenly affiliation were about to come to a sudden halt.

I felt that by the moment I let go off her, she might not be able to come back again. I had sundry feelings that she was wishing to have told me something, yet rendered powerless.

‘You’re not coming back, are you?’ I hummed with a quivering voice as a chute of tears fetched its trail down my cheeks.

She couldn’t mutter a single word, exploding into a stream of weeping.

‘Are you, Eva,’ I outrageously shrieked, ‘are you?!’

‘They’re taking me back to the Emirates,’ she barely voiced through her lamentation, ‘that’s why they allowed us today.’

I squeezed her even snugger.

‘But… You’ll still come back, right?’

‘I don’t know. I want to be with you.’ She cried.

 

Eight months went by.

Life went on, as it always does.

Months went by in a flash, time swept away in the peaceful flow of life with myself.

I once heard a wise man say, ‘It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and preserving courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created for years or even generations.’

Of course, she will still be on my mind, and not a day would go by without painful memories as well as joyful ones piercing the mask of her enforced emotional silence. I still visit our little hill, and as I tread the damp grass of the heath, I can’t help recalling the sight of Eva making her way across it towards the bench where she had been mine privately for the last time. I can’t help remembering her joyful smile seeding life in the depths of anything it laid its rays upon. It now feels like a lifetime ago. I know it was inevitable and there was no point in fighting it. I just had to accept these bittersweet feelings and survive them as best I could. Maybe time would bring a measure of solace, but I’m not betting on it.

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22 – CHAPTER V: ALONG CAME HER CALL

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I was haunted by the most perverse dreams. All of them involved Eva, most, or some other faceless man, where they made love; her face a picture of ecstasy, while I watched, powerless, uninvolved, obsolete, consumed by jealousy, helpless, forgotten.

I spent the mornings after these dreams wondering where she was and to what extent she was pursuing her contentment without me. I knew that I had started it; I had taken the lid off that simmering pool of emotions, that deep well of darkness within her.

I missed her emails and text messages informing me of her adventures. True, it had been a way of taming my jealousy – I didn’t own her, though I wanted to – but it had also been a way to keep an eye on her while she was still growing into her new skin. To check that she was in control of giving away her control, that she had not been pushed too far.

The verity that her parents were standing between our meetings kept me edgy and unreasonably green-eyed. I couldn’t help thinking about her. It seemed like my entire thoughts orbited around her existence.

I was aware of my contradictions, accepted them, but acceptance didn’t make finding the right path easier.

The jumble of thoughts swirled around inside my head.

Images raced through my mind, of bad films seen an eternity ago, of events in exploitative novels that had once tickled my fancy, picturing Eva in some Arabian or African marketplace, sand swirling all around, while the burly, dark-skinned slave masters advertised her. Maybe in those wakening dreams she was wearing a veil, maybe she wasn’t, but in every loop that flew across the horizon of my imagination, her spirit was nuder than nude, so terribly exposed, on display for all to see, fragile. Or she was dragged from a bamboo cage on the bridge of a pirate ship, the consequence of kidnapping on the high seas and soon about to be acquired by some Oriental prince for his amusement.

I was losing her. And I couldn’t do anything about it.

I wasn’t in a position where I was permitted to call her, didn’t want to fan the flames of any quarrels with her family. We’d agreed she’d call once able to.

I waited for her call for days. I spent my hours roaming through malls looking for distractions of the shopaholic variety and dropping in to see mindless action movies in the hope they might help me take my mind off things, but the call never came. For a second I thought she might be torturing me on purpose, ensuring my mind was ablaze with yearning by the time she made contact with me. But why would Eva ever seek revenge upon me? Every time I entered an auditorium, I adjusted my mobile phone to vibrate in the hope of news during the screening, but to no avail.

I was becoming scared of my own thoughts, of the inevitability of the path I was moving towards.

I missed her.

It was late evening now. I slid behind the wheel of my mother’s car and took a breath before expertly backing out of the parking space. The road had been nearly empty when I arrived, but was now jammed with cars.

Thoughts of her still flooded my mind, the image of her looking back at me, last time I drove her home, ran through my mind on repeat as I negotiated some odd car coming the other way on the avenue and barely avoided a cat, racing to safety on the other side.

Back home, I quickly slipped out of my clothes and collapsed back onto my narrow bed, not even bothering to shower. There was nothing to do for another week. So much time to kill, too much time to think. I tried to read, but the words of every single book I picked up just became a blur and I was unable to concentrate on a plot or subject matter.

Neither would sleep come and soothe the storm raging within.

Even studying had never been like this to me. I’d always fine-tuned my lectures, though I was careful to vary my material, keep things fresh. I had enough notes ready and was always quick enough on my feet that I needed very little time to prepare. But not any longer, now that Eva’s departed.

Then, at two in the morning, one balmy night with the windows open wide to the city’s heat and the regular sound of sirens from ambulances and police cars rushing down the canyons of the avenue, my phone beeped.

Along came her call.

22 – CHAPTER IV: ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

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czAllIWantForChristmasFacebookThe weather in Beirut was unusually balmy, although I seemed to make a habit of getting myself caught in seasonal showers on the rare occasions I strayed far beyond my village. The way my cotton shirts, once drenched, would stick to my skin as I rushed towards some form of shelter or made my way home in the rain reminded me of late spring back in the South. It was an odd feeling, definitely not one of nostalgia, as if that had been another life altogether.

It was two nights prior to Christmas, and I felt no need to go out and socialise, meet anyone. A holiday, that’s what this was. Back in the solitude of my sparsely furnished room at night, I would listen to the sounds of the street outside, sirens blaring all through the night in between the blankets of silence, every sound the breath of this city.

I hadn’t replied to Eva’s text yet, thought something dreadful might’ve occurred and assumed the best I could do was hold in to my serenities and wait.

I had woken up that morning to come across a voice message from Sam, my only friend from high school, inviting me to dinner as she’d be spending Christmas Eve with her family, and wouldn’t have the proper time to hang out any time for a couple of days.

I had considered her offer, but something was locking me back in that room. It was as if some unseen hands were pulling me away from any social interaction. Like a metaphysical authority imposing me to avoid people. But then I thought, why not?

I called her back and the meeting was set at 1 p.m.

We both had a taste for Japanese food. Raw. Sometimes I judge people on their taste in food, and I seldom approve of those who profess to dislike raw fish, or tartare-style dishes. Culinary cowards, I felt.

The sushi restaurant was a small place on Thompson Street where you seldom found more than a handful of customers, as most of their business was takeaway. Consequently, the underemployed sushi chef was generous with the size of the portions.

‘So how’s your girl?’ Sam asked.

‘Can we basically thrash out anything else? Please.’ I promptly replied.

‘Why? What’s the matter?’

‘I don’t even know, chum. It feels like everything I sketch just goes all the way around. Like things are meant to thrust me in the back.’

‘Is it her parents?’

‘I’m not sure. Sometimes I feel I don’t yet know her in any way. That I’m in love with a mere stranger who’s escorting me to plain murkiness.’

‘What did she particularly say that makes you feel so?’

‘It’s not what she said. It’s the feeling that I’m not even close to being her first priority any longer.’ I replied.

I’d forever believed I’m no one’s leading main concern in this existence; not my family’s, friends’, generally anyone’s. Nonetheless, Eva was capable of changing that. She’d loaded me with heaps of compassion and care that it was inevitable to assume I’m lastly rocking the pinnacle of someone’s list of concerns. It felt unusually fine, I thought, but it was shuddering with time, or maybe I was just envisioning the fading of something otherworldly.

‘Will you see her any time soon?’ Sam inquired.

‘I wish I knew.’ I tiredly retorted.

Sam was getting ready to hit the road back to her family after her sister’s phoned her requesting a ride to the Red Cross centre, where she’d volunteered at.

Glancing at the window, I saw the day’s weather was grey but clear, with no signs of imminent rain, and opted for a walk outside to clear my mind.

It was already afternoon and joggers were by now thin on the ground, heavily outnumbered by childcarers with prams and buggies, trailing noisy charges, and pensioners ambling idly by the ponds, watching the ducks, feeding them in spite of the warnings not to do so. Past the second pond which expanded into a bathing area, I took the first path and wandered in a daydream towards the narrow bridge connecting this part with wilder areas.

This was what I loved so much about that city; the infinity of places where within a few minutes’ walk from a main road in almost all areas you could find yourself deep in a landscape of trees, sky shielded from view, a comforting jungle of greenery and nature. There was something almost clandestine about it that appealed deeply to me, a sense of privacy and isolation at the heart of the urban jungle. A place for secrets.

I took a different direction, instinctively opting for the comfort of a winding, barely delineated dirt avenue where a thick canopy of trees blanked out the sky. A jogger came running towards me and I shifted aside to give her the right way on the narrow path. She briefly nodded in acknowledgment. It was a young woman in black leggings, wearing an incongruous pair of emerald-coloured satin shorts and a heavy dark-green sweatshirt. Her dirty-blond hair was held tight together by an elastic band and her ponytail bobbed up and down in her wake, accompanying in delightful synchronicity the rhythmic movement of her breasts despite the obvious constriction of her crop top. As she passed by me, I heard a thin melody straining through her headphones before fading as she continued her run away from me.

For some inexplicable reason, I wanted to know what she had been listening to. It felt important.

I stopped and sat for a moment on a felled tree trunk, allowing the fleeting memory of the young woman to linger a while.

Just as I was preparing to rise up and move on, my phone rang. It was Eva.

‘Hey you!’ she amorously cried.

‘Hey…’ I answered back, ‘how’d you been?’

‘Not bad actually. What about you?’

I despised long phone calls, something Eva never seemed to have knowledge of.

‘I’m good. I guess.’

‘Oh, I need to tell you something.’

‘I’m all ears.’ I replied.

‘So this affluent cousin of mine came over yesterday and officially proposed…’

‘And?’ I startlingly asked as I hardly attempted to keep a straight face.

‘I mainly deliberately spilled the coffee on him gesturing rejection, but made it sound like an absolute accident. And after I disregarded his entire existence the whole time, he ultimately gave up and said we shall organise a further meeting. We all know there won’t be any further meetings.’ She giggled.

‘Ah, I see.’

‘And as for the cellar thing, um, I’m just too sorry. I can’t risk my mother finding out.’

‘It’s entirely fine. I wouldn’t want to put you in such a situation anyhow.’

‘So you’re not pissed at me?’

‘I couldn’t. Even if I wished to. It’s insurmountable.’

‘You realise what’s ahead of us two days from now, right?’

‘Yeah…’ I replied, ‘would we be able to arrange anything?’

‘I wouldn’t know about that to be honest. Mum is sort of mad at me for how I reacted towards that rich shit lord.’ She sighed.

‘It’s alright. You’re back. I got you. All I want for Christmas is you.’

22 – CHAPTER III: AN UNDESIRED GUEST

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It was early evening now, and the late seasonal sun cast a warm glow over Eva’s face, bathing her in a light that didn’t suit her. Haloed unnaturally by the last pale rays drifting from a steadily darkening sky, she gave the impression that she didn’t quite fit into the normal world, though by all accounts she seemed to operate perfectly well in it. Maybe it was just that her dark, earthy features aligned better with cooler weather. Eva was attractive, no doubt about that, but she had looked better, I thought, in the pallor of our crypt.

She was leaning casually against the doorway, her body casting a shadow over the front porch, where Katherine, her mother, now stood, one step below her.

‘How’s Ali?’ asked Katherine.

‘He’s… uhm… He’s OK.’

‘Have you seen him yet?’

‘Of course not, mum. Where could’ve I possibly seen him?’ Eva swiftly answered.

She knew her mother was going to drown her with questions, and figured it was definitely not the correct time to ignite any wrangles with her, so she settled for responding with just what should suffice Katherine’s irritating inquisitiveness.

The moment Katherine fetched back the idea of Eva meeting Ali, flashbacks of the very first time he invited her to stay over hit her wall of consciousness.

She remembered the soft breeze which blew across the lawn as she walked into his front yard, and how with each gust of wind she smelled the faint scent of books that lined his room, and the rest of the house. They seemed so much a part of him that she imagined his skin might feel like parchment, but of course it felt just like the skin of every other man.

The books, though they did suit him, weren’t what she expected the former time she paid him a visit. She had always associated book collections with messy people, with mad lecturers and more obviously academic types.

At first, she thought he must have a cat too, which was likely curled up, observing her presence from the safety of the shelves, but she deduced shortly after her arrival that Ali was not a pet person. He wouldn’t be able to put with an animal, uncontrolled, winding its way round his legs, even a creature as independent as a feline.

He wasn’t unduly secretive, didn’t seem to be consciously hiding anything, but nonetheless had offered very few details about his life, the day-to-day routine of his existence outside their meetings.

He liked his privacy, she supposed, and she could understand that, reticent as she was to invite anyone to her own home.

She was surprised how he had taken her there. Though his books gave him more humanity, somehow. At least, if he didn’t have a story of his own, he seemed to enjoy collecting stories of others.

The thought made her like him more. They weren’t so different, this man and her, though they might seem so to any casual observer.

Later that evening, Eva was told by her mother that they would be expecting some visitor the next day.

She hadn’t given the matter any further notice, but was content with persuading her ego that it was just a neighbour, or perhaps some far cousin.

All that strolled her mind was her concern about Ali’s reaction to that text, seeing that he hadn’t replied to her yet.

The next morning, to take her mind off the text, Eva went for a furious jog at the local park, powered by her headphones, playing Ed Sheeran on repeat, then went window shopping on Swiss Road, stopping for a coffee and breakfast at her favourite café in this part of town, on the aptly known Brick Street. The café doubles as a vintage clothing store, with racks of outfits inside dating back to the 1900s, and consequently, has the sweet, almost dusty smell of old things, a little like the scent of Ali’s books.

It was still fairly early, much earlier than she usually got up, but the street outside was packed already, each side jammed with racks of clothes, antiques, and bric-a-brac laid out on blankets on the pavement, leopard-print chaises longues perched next to office furniture, food stands selling everything from barbecue ribs to fruit smoothies served in coconut shells, the air fairly crackling with the eager energy of market traders and excited tourists visiting for the first time.

She sat in the café most of the day, observing the ebb and flow of the other diners, wondering which of them, if any, were also going through the same mental stress she was dealing with.

Right in the heart of her attentive scrutiny, her phone beeped. It was a text. With all her wits and senses, she wished it was Ali.

She looked down at her phone to read:

‘Where on earth are you?

Your cousin who wanted to propose is here.

Come home. Right now.

K’

Her heart skipped a beat.

22 – CHAPTER II: THE KEY TO A CAPITULATION

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I woke up next morning to the maddening sound of the alarm puncturing every second of our calm night.

‘Turn the bloody thing off, will you?’ Eva murmured with a hassled drowsy tone.

‘It’s almost 7 a.m. sugar, we need to make it home.’

Although I was wholly realising that I wouldn’t want this to come to an end by any means, not her parents or mine discovering our modest hidden place, I also didn’t want to let go off her. I wished I could lock her in between my arms for the rest of our existing lives. These were the moments I lived for. The quiet before the storm. The ritual of unveiling. Knowing the point of no return had been reached, breached. I wanted to savour every single moment, imprint every memory on my grey cells.

I moved a hand slowly across the sheets and grazed her extended fingers. Long, sharp nails painted scarlet, two heavy rings, one with a small diamond.

She looked down at her hand squinting with one eye opened, answering my unformulated enquiry.

‘It’s to keep the guys away. Everyone thinks I’m engaged.’

‘I see.’ Her palms were unreasonably warm.

We’d kissed. Her breath a cocktail of last night’s cappuccino, desire and heat rising from her stomach. Her breath halting as my hands wandered across her waist.

‘What’s your perfume?’ I asked, intrigued by the uncommon fragrance.

‘Oh, that,’ Eva said with an enticing smile. ‘It’s not a perfume, just the cream I massage into my skin every night. Keeps my body soft. You don’t like it?’

‘It’s unusual, I must admit,’ I replied, then reflected, ‘It’s you.’

Strange how every woman has a distinctive smell, a signature, a delicate sensory equilibrium of natural scent, artificial perfumes and oils, sweet and sour.

The tides of coincidence move in curious ways. Sometimes I felt as if my whole world has flown by like a river, its zigzagging course all too often dictated by random events or people, and I had never been truly in control, had just drifted from childhood, and early struggles onwards to the quiet waters of teenage, like a drunken embarkation on foreign seas. But then again, wasn’t everyone on the same boat? Maybe I had merely proven to be a better navigator, and the storms hadn’t been too fierce along the way.

Eva offered me this sensation of power and perhaps superiority. The way she deliberately submitted rendered me overwhelmed with feelings of dominance which I’d never acquired the proper chances to examine before.

We had our way out without anyone noticing our exit, fleeing into my mother’s car like captive war jailbirds, compelled to abscond a holy land, yielding all our reveries behind.

Half an hour later, we were there.

I had to park a few meters away from the house. Just in case.

I stepped out of the car immediately and rushed towards her door. A rite I figured that no matter how cliché it seemed, it aided eradicate the feeling of inattention I was edgy she might be holding inside.

We strode along this entrancing path facing her house. An inviting lane, crosswise invaded by lofty trees which entirely shaded the place.

‘Text me when you’re in.’ I said.

‘Sure thing,’ she responded with a frail smile.

I moved back as I waved away, still enthralled by the commotion aroused by her final cheek-kiss.

Eva paced into the front door with steady steps. She moved a hand into her purse and cautiously picked her keys up. A sudden shiver went down her spine as the wind flicked at her bare arms, reflexively stealing away the silver-like keychain from her ownership and dropping it on the ground.

The instant she was aware of the reflection that her keys were approaching an abrupt collision with the floor, which was quite sufficient to produce a thud capable of awakening her mother or siblings, Eva intuitively engendered a succession of thoughts of a calamity. A series of prospects that crossed her mind like a ring of pictures in motion. Right there, through the endless seconds before the crash, everything that surmounted the tranquil pause was her thought of what might help her out of the inevitable situation. She was so terrified she couldn’t recall her breaths. Would her mother dash into the doorway holding a pan, and perhaps a knife, in panic of a thief crashing in? What would she tell her? Would she call her father and tell him all about it? What dreadful punishment was awaiting her? What shame was her future concealing?

The sound of the smash with the floor put a sudden end to the daydream and stirred her out of the fantasy. She stood there unconscious of the occasion.

Although the thump was too slight to draw any alertness, and that she was in just safe hands now, Eva had had enough.

She sneakily clambered upstairs to her room, her heart almost bounding outside.

‘I can’t squander another second at your place.

I’m sorry.

E.’

She texted.

22 – CHAPTER I: REUNION

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Reunion4

I blame it on Vivaldi.

More specifically, on my CD of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which now sat face down on the bedside cabinet, alongside the body of my softly snoring girlfriend.

We’d had a fight when Eva had arrived to the secret basement at 3 a.m. following an arranged underground meeting between us and found me lying on the wooden floor, nude for an underwear, the concerto playing as loudly as the surround system would allow. Loud.

The presto movement of ‘Summer’, the Concerto No. 2 in G minor, was just about to kick into full swing when Eva flung open the door.

I hadn’t noticed she’d returned until I felt the flat of her shoe resting on my right shoulder and shaking me back and forth. I opened my eyes and saw her leaning over me. I then noticed that she’d turned the lights on and the CD has come to a sudden halt.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ she said.

‘Listening to music,’ I replied in my smallest voice.

‘I can hear that! I could hear it all the way down the street!’ she yelled.

She’d been away in Dubai for family vacation for the past four months and we’d agreed to find us a covert place for our gatherings, in fear of her stern mother sensing any kind of haziness about this relationship, and my parents too.

Her father was always away, wandering the globe as a head chef of some Saudi wealthy ass, which gave me some type of respite and, indeed, freedom.

She looked remarkably fresh for someone who had just got off a long flight. She was wearing a crisp white shirt, wide leather belt and dark-navy baggy trousers with a very thin pinstripe, the matching jacket slung over one arm. She was gripping the handle of her wheelie case tightly. It was late November and it had been raining outside, though I hadn’t heard a thing over the sound of the music. Her case was slick with rain, rivulets running down the side and pooling onto the floor alongside my thigh. The bottoms of her trousers were wet where her umbrella had not been able to shield her, and were stuck to her calves.

I turned my head toward her shoe and saw an inch of damp calf. She smelled musky, part sweat, part rain, part shoe polish and leather. A few drips of moisture fell from her shoe onto my arm.

‘When did you arrive?’ I inaudibly inquired, still taken by the sheer state of wooziness as Vivaldi repeated itself in my head.

‘Just a couple of hours ago. I had to wait for everyone to fall dead asleep and thought I could pass by your place.’

‘How did you know you’ll find me down here?’ I dazedly asked.

‘Jesus Christ, Ali…’ she shrieked. ‘The entire neighbourhood could tell you’re wasted to unconsciousness in this cellar!’

She wheeled her case up against the wall next to the CD rack, removed The Four Seasons from the player and walked out. I considered getting up and following her, but decided against it. There was no way that I could win an argument with Eva when I didn’t have any clothes on. I hoped that if I just continued to lie still, I could defuse her rage by appearing less visible, hopeful that my unclothed body would blend better into the wooden flooring if I was lying horizontally rather than standing upright.

‘So you’re just going to leave?’ I sarcastically broke the deafening silence occurring as she stood prepared at the backdoor, ‘I know you won’t.’

‘Don’t defy me. I will if I want to.’

‘Oh darn it Ev! You marched all the way down lugging your case, under the rain, and you hadn’t had in mind the slightest thought of spending the rest of the night here?!’

‘Just put some clothes on, you filthy bastard,’ she said strolling back in, with a smile that locked up all the world’s sanctifications between the majestic gate of her lips, ‘or on second thought, just don’t.’ She added.

She chucked herself onto my bare tummy, tying back her legs, and leaned down for a kiss.

It was classical. Our bodies plainly demarcated in a reel of shade, as her curly locks of almost damp hair caressed my face, flying away with every portion of acumen I could ever behold.

‘Did you miss me?’ she whispered.

I grabbed her waist and pinned her down on the bed, the one we’d secretly budged in from her old grandmother’s house back in May, and climbed up on her.

‘Did I?’ I replied. ‘We should sleep. We’ll need to get up in a few hours so I can take you back home before your mother notes your absence.’

She clutched me down next to her, nodding approval.