Adham

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


-If you haven't, please refer to the summary blurb before this chapter. -An oud is a lute-type stringed instrument predominantly found in Arabian music.

Chapter 1 (v.1) - One

Submitted: January 14, 2020

Reads: 92

Comments: 6

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 14, 2020

A A A

A A A

Middle Eastern heat is no joke, even in a swanky, air-conditioned club in downtown Beirut. My phone’s slipped from my sweaty hands a couple of times now. I was looking at the time when someone bumped into me. I didn’t notice who, but I imagine they were drunk, as everyone around me seemed to be.

It’s been August forth for an hour and nine minutes. I was far enough from the corner but not too close to the dance floor either. Around me were women in clad garments that, in some cases, left nothing much for the imagination, dancing in front of men with sweat spots beneath their armpits and a drink in their hand. Some men left their hands unoccupied, free to roam on their partner’s body, and some couples were so unrestrained in their affection that I, a man standing by myself in a mass of bodies wet with sweat and alcohol and God knows what else, felt like I needed a shower.

I’d never gone clubbing before. I came with George, a local who got a job at our enterprise’s new branch. Lebanon was the third country to join the fold of E.’s Arab departments. This was the first time I’d been invited on one of our business trips, and considering that my two daughters were old enough to care for themselves and that my wife was at home for the summer, I didn’t feel guilty about going away for a week. Extending my stay for another two, however, did trouble my conscience.

George sauntered back, his arm wrapped around a brunette that was a few inches shorter than him. She was laughing for what seemed to be nothing in particular.

“Thalia, this is my friend, Adham.”

He pushed her closer. She stumbled and laughed, her cheeks turning pink.

“Nice to meet you.” Her voice quivered, and her smile told me she wasn’t done laughing.

“The pleasure is mine,” I replied, leaning forward to make myself audible.

“Adham is an American businessman,” he told her.

“Palestinian-American,” I corrected him.

“Oh, that’s remarkable.” Thalia seemed to want to say more, but the music pulsed louder, so she nodded with a brief smile instead.

“So, you doing okay, man?” George raised his voice.

I believe what he meant was if I felt awkward by myself while he sidled up next to half the women in the club.

“Yeah, I’m alright.”

He winked, brought his arm around Thalia and spun her on her feet. She stumbled again before they walked away. I wondered if it’s the alcohol or the heels that made her seem like such an awkward partner.

I brought out my phone again. It’s been August forth for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Some women were alone, but I didn’t dare dance with anyone, because something about the flashing lights, the heat, and how skins were unabashed to touch and frolic in this part of town, in this part of the world, told me that what will start with a dance might lead to doors I would rather not open. So what I did is that I went to the bar and ordered another scotch. No one in my entourage back home knew that I drank, and here, no one would care.

The ice in my drink clinked as I brought it to my lips. I could down the scotch, order a cab, and leave, but I didn’t want to end my first night out so soon. The hotel could wait. The emails and insomnia could wait. For now, a part of me, the curious me, the me who went clubbing for the first time today as a forty-one-year-old, wanted to stay, to take everything in; the liberty, the promiscuity, the clashing of warmth and chill, the lights pulsating with the music.

The whiskey’s coolness sent chills down my back. For a moment, I forgot about checking the clock, about work, about having to call Nadera tomorrow and explain why I’m staying for two more weeks. I’d already semi-prepared my excuse; my boss asked me to fill in for someone. I still had to think of who and why.

“You animal!”

I spun in my seat to find Thalia with lipstick smeared around her mouth and her open palm shaking in the air. I could make out the silhouette of her hand on the cheek of a man standing in front of her. I hurried to her side before he had the chance to do anything else.

“What happened?”

“He, he slid his hand between my thighs.”

There was my answer, brash and disclosed as if I wasn't a stranger she’d met less than an hour ago. Tears glimmered in her eyes, ready to wash the apples of her red cheeks.

There must’ve been something about the heat, the booming music, and the fact that no one here knew who I was, that prompted me to box her molester in the jaw. He fell on his behind, spitting out curses. The man was smaller than I was, but I felt no guilt. George rushed to our side.

“Out!” I yelled, “Take her out!”

I kicked the guy in the groin before he had the chance to attack. The people around us stood and watched. Some drunks cheered me on.

 

When the security escorted him and I finally made my way out, I was surprised to find George and Thalia outside. She was sitting on the pavement, her eyes downcast. George was wiping vomit from his shoes.

I chuckled. “Need a Kleenex for that?”

His nose scrunched, but disgust disappeared from his face as he scrutinized mine.

“You need it more than I do, buddy.”

It was then that I felt something dripping from my nostrils, and when I brought my hand to find that there was blood, I realized that my lower lip was also bleeding. I brought a tissue to my face.

“So, what about her?”

“She came here with our friend who disappeared in the middle of the night. I don’t have any money left for an Uber. And not only did she throw up on me…”

“I already told you I’m sorry,” she snapped.

“…She won’t let me drive her home,” he continued.

Thalia puffed in frustration, putting her head in her hands.

“How long have you known each other?” I asked him.

“A little less than a month.”

“Then after what happened, you can’t blame her.”

I left George and sat by her side on the pavement, keeping a reasonable distance between us. We didn’t say anything for a good moment. I didn’t want to bother her or make her feel uncomfortable, but I figured sitting as mute as a fish wasn’t helping either, so I broke the silence.

“Are you okay?”

She sighed.

“I’m okay.”

More silence. This time, I didn’t want to pry.

“I’ll manage by myself, you can go back inside.”

“Actually, I wasn’t having that much fun to want to go back.”

“And this is more entertaining?”

I couldn’t hide my annoyance at her reply.

“No, definitely not, but sorry for feeling concerned.”

She gazed at my face and my bloodied lips, and her eyes softened.

“You didn’t have to do that, you know.”

“It doesn’t matter. How will you go home?”

“I’ll wait for my friend. I texted her, called a few times too.”

Calling someone a few times usually happens because they’re not responding. I looked at this girl; her honey-brown eyes were puffy, and there were traces of vomit on her black dress. If I were her, I’d want to leave right now.

“Why not a taxi?”

I regretted asking that question the moment the words left my mouth. She didn’t want George to drive her, and probably much less a stranger.

“I don’t feel like it.”

I thought for a moment, hoping to find a quick solution to her problem. And then the idea came to me.

“What if I rode with you?”

She cocked her head. We locked gazes for a moment that seemed both long and fleeting. Looking into her eyes was like walking on a tight rope above a valley of bronze and gold. It was thrilling and scary and no matter how much you tried to tear your eyes away, and how well you knew that it’ll throw you off-balance and you’ll fall, you wanted to stay there, frozen in time.

“Look,” she began, and that look was akin a magic word that roused me from her spell, “I’m waiting for my friend because I’m staying at her place. If I wanted to go home, I would’ve left already.”

There might’ve been no specific name or placement for my feelings. I looked at her and saw every young woman I’ve ever cared about, from my mother to my sister, to my many school crushes, to my wife, and my Amal and Emilia. But I also saw a pretty girl with round cheeks and almond eyes, and my childhood dream of being a hero surged from beneath layers upon layers of memories to fly out, fist first into the sky, ready to save the day. Still, if it weren’t for creative minds and a couple of comic books, we wouldn’t know of such heroes, we’d only know kindness, and like most things, if you overdo kindness, its sweetness sours.

I was looking ahead, but I could feel her eyes on me.

“Your nose is bleeding again.”

“For God’s sake…”

She chuckled. While I was fumbling in my pockets for another napkin, she’d opened her purse and extended a tissue. I took it, careful not to touch her fingers.

“Thank you.”

Thalia didn’t reply. She averted her eyes away from my face but left her purse open in her lap. I lowered my head for the blood to leak.

“So, uh, any fun things to do in this town?”

“Depends on what you like.”

I thought for a moment. What do I like? I know I don’t particularly like work, although it’s what takes up most of my day. I enjoy my morning runs, but I’ve already been doing these down in the Marina, near the docks. I haven’t been inquired, nor enquired myself about my likes for years.

At last, I remembered little Hassan and his father’s oud, a memory that brought me back to my early twenties.

“I like music,” I replied.

“What type of music?” She brought out another tissue.

“Thank you. I guess I like any type of music, as long as it’s calm.”

She was observing me again. I wondered how I looked in her eyes. What did she see at that moment, or rather, what was she hoping to see? What thoughts could’ve crossed her mind at the sight of a man nearly twice her age, his back arched as he sat by her side and bled through his nostrils?

Then came a nod, this time slower, more pensive.

“Alright, Lynn texted and asked if I can drive you down to Thyme Bistro. Yalla, let’s go,” George, who I’d completely forgotten about, interrupted our small talk.

Thalia checked her messages. Her friend had replied, but neither of us had heard her phone make a sound. We shared a glance as she stood up. George led the way to the parking.

“Well, I’m afraid I should get going.” I put my hands on my knees and stood up. “If you need anything, he has my number.”

“Thank you again, Adham,” she said, giving me a dimpled smile.

“You don’t have to thank me. Have a good night, and stay safe.”

She nodded, and we both turned around. I walked away from the pavement and her. As I brought out my phone to call a taxi, she called out my name. I could still see the gold and the honey in her eyes from where we stood.

“Go to Salwa’s Jukebox. They have live Arabic instrumental playing on Wednesdays.”

“Alright, I’ll check it out.”

I returned the courtesy of a polite smile and went on my way. But in my mind, my name, as it left her lips, played and replayed, joining into the sound of little Hassan’s oud, and I felt a yearning for something I’d lost so long ago, I couldn’t even remember its shape or name.

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Christy Writes. All rights reserved.

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