See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.
“Keep it up and you’ll see what I can do with a machete.” – Ivana
How Interesting Life Is
AS IVANA SCREECHED INTO A FREE SPOT in the airport loading zone, Omar immediately spotted Hani standing at the curb several meters away, amid the touts, taxi drivers and thieves. The man’s thick, muscular frame was hard to miss. His face was set in a scowl as he – in typical security guard fashion – scanned everyone around him. A tall woman in hijab stood beside him, both of them clutching the handles of their wheeled suitcases.
Omar stepped out of the car, and Ivana followed.
It was blazing hot, with the humidity level sky high, as always. The two visitors had not seen him yet, and he studied them as he approached. Used to the cool weather of Bogotá, Hani and his wife looked flushed, like a pair of penguins suddenly transported to a tropical island. Hani’s wife wore jeans, a blue sweater and a black abayah that was open in front. Omar’s first thought was, that sweater and abayah are not going to help her here. His second thought was, huh?
He stared at the woman. Tall and lean. Wide-set green eyes, high cheekbones, and a slight cleft in her chin. A face he knew well, but one that had aged beyond what he would have expected in ten years. Crow’s feet radiated from the corners of her eyes, and curved wrinkles parenthesized her mouth. He’d once thought this woman could be a model or an actress. She was still attractive, certainly, but no one would expect to see her on the silver screen.
They saw him. Hani’s scowl deepened, if that was possible, with the wrinkles in his forehead looking deep enough to cast shadows.
“Oye, parcero,” Halima said in that Colombian slang that Omar remembered from their school days. “Qué más?”
Omar looked between the two of them. “You two are married?”
Anger flashed in Hani’s eyes. “Why do you find that strange?”
Halima looked at her husband. “You didn’t tell him about me?”
Hani’s eyes shifted left and right. “It didn’t come up.”
“You look amazing,” Halima enthused, earning her an angry glance from her husband. “Hani said your scars were nearly invisible, but I didn’t believe him.”
Omar touched his mangled ear. “Except for this.”
“Who is your beautiful friend?” Halima asked, smiling.
Omar looked at Ivana standing beside him. Her hair was disheveled from the events of the day, and her eyes were slightly puffy from crying, but these imperfections somehow only added to her attractiveness.
“She’s Fuad’s wife. She gave me a ride. You remember Fuad?”
Halima gaped in astonishment. “Indian Fuad? Nerdy Fuad from high school?”
“My beautiful love is not nerdy,” Ivana said in Spanish. “He’s a wonderful man. I was Miss Cuba. Qué bolá?”
“Eh.. Encantado.” Halima embraced Ivana and they kissed each other’s cheeks.
Ignoring this entire conversation, Hani said, “You’re late. I was starting to think you were blowing us off. Like this was all some big prank.”
Hani wasn’t joking. The man had only just arrived, and Omar already felt dismayed and apprehensive. “I’m sorry about that. I-”
“What happened to your shoulder?” Hani pointed with his mouth in the Panamanian way.
Omar noticed that blood had seeped through the bandage, shirt and sling, leaving a large, dark spot on his shoulder. Now that he saw it he detected the faintly metallic odor as well. “I got shot. That’s why I’m late, actually, I mean part of it. We also had a traffic accident.” He gestured to the car with his good arm. “You’ll see.”
“You got shot?” Halima exclaimed. “When?”
“Like forty five minutes ago.”
“Forty five minutes?” Halima’s mouth fell open. “Who shot you?”
Omar nodded at Ivana. “She did.”
Halima and Hani looked back and forth between Omar, who stood blank faced, and Ivana, who had assumed a bored posture, arms crossed, as if this rehashing of the shooting was an old argument best forgotten.
“It was his fault,” Ivana offered finally.
Halima burst into loud guffaws, tipping her head back and laughing until tears leaked from her eyes. Wiping them away, she said, “Oye, Omar. I forgot how interesting life is when you are around.”
Hani didn’t like that, and flashed his wife an annoyed look.
Omar tried to move things along. “Let’s get you both in the car and crank up the AC before I have to mop you off the pavement.”
In the car, Ivana asked, “Do you want to go to Torre del Cielo to get your car?”
He’d forgotten about his car. But he felt too tired to drive, and asked Ivana to drive them all to his house.
“Okay, but you owe me big time. I’m not your chauffeur.”
“I wouldn’t need you to drive if you hadn’t gone all Mambises Cubanos on me.” Omar had done a paper on the Mambí fighters in college. Cuban guerrillas who fought for decades for independence from Spain. Nearly the entire black population of Cuba – men and women alike – fought as mambises, winning their freedom from slavery in the process. In one battle, 8,000 starving mambises, armed with little more than courage, ferocity and machetes, wiped out 20,000 highly trained Spaniards.
Ivana seemed to like the comparison. She flashed a rare grin, and said, “Keep it up and you’ll see what I can do with a machete. I used to cut cane before I became Miss Cuba. So knock that over.”
Halima sat in front next to Ivana. On the road, Halima wanted to know what had happened between the two of them. But Omar was closed-mouthed because he was still angry and didn’t want to start another fight with Ivana; and Ivana refused to talk about it for her own reasons, maybe because she was embarrassed. So the two ladies chatted about being Miss Cuba (Ivana’s favorite subject), their families, and life in Cuba and Colombia, as Omar and Hani sat in back, making stilted conversation about the flight.
As they passed the skyscrapers of Costa de Este, shimmering in the midday sunglight, Hani peered out the window. “Do you live in one of these?” He said it jokingly, but Omar detected an edge of jealousy or bitterness. He was having a hard time deciphering Hani’s emotional undertones.
“I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those glass monstrosities.” He ignored the scathing glance Ivana gave him in reply. He’d forgotten for a second that she lived in one of those monstrosities.
Happy for You
When they pulled into Omar’s driveway, he saw Nadia Muhammad’s mini SUV already parked there. She must have dropped by for one of her surprise visits. She’d gone native that way. Panamanians loved to show up unannounced. If you didn’t feel like entertaining visitors, you simply said, “I’m going to make coffee,” and you disappeared into the kitchen until they took the hint and departed. If they were a bit thick, and called out to inquire what was taking so long, you’d call back and say, “Don’t leave yet, wait for the coffee!”
On the other hand, when Panamanians actually said they were coming to your house – or any other meeting – half the time they never showed up. And if they said they were coming at, say, 5 pm, you shouldn’t expect them before 10.
Stepping out of the car, Omar pointed to a two-story whitewashed home across the street. “My mom lives there. She remarried a couple of years ago.” He went to lift the suitcases from the trunk but Hani insisted on doing it himself.
“Aren’t you coming?” Halima said to Ivana, who still sat behind the wheel of the car.
Omar realized that he must invite Ivana. Not to do so would be to treat her as if she really were a chauffeur. She would refuse anyway – she was only interested in her rich party friends – so he put a smile on his face and said, “Yes, please Ivana. Come and join us for dinner.”
Ivana frowned. “Why?”
Omar blinked. His mind was a blank. Finally he said, “Nur would love to see you.” Which was true. Nur was convinced Ivana was a movie star.
With a trace of a smile, Ivana shut off the engine and got out.
Halima admired the garden, then sat on the edge of the gently splashing fountain, dipping her fingers in the water. “Ooh, it’s so nice and cool,” she murmured. “This is lovely. I’m happy for you, Omar.”
At the door, Omar knocked with two slow raps, then three quick ones. Then he rang the doorbell. He had a key, but this gave his wife time to put on her hijab if needed. The special knock told her it was him, and the doorbell meant he had visitors with him.
The thick wooden door, like the house, was painted light blue. The door was fashioned in the shape of an arch, with a blue floral pattern painted around the edge, and was divided into vertical halves, both of which could be opened as needed. The house’s interior and exterior had all been redesigned two years ago, after Omar made a sales trip to Morocco to meet a distributor, and fell in love with Moroccan design. He’d actually brought a craftsman named Abbas back to Panama with him, and the man had spent four months working on the house before returning to Morocco.
The heavy door swung open and Omar’s wife appeared wearing blue jeans, a white scarf and a knee-length, sky blue blouse that matched the house’s color perfectly. “What took you so long?” she asked. “Was the flight delayed?”
A Colorful Feast
“Ay Dios, parcera, look at you,” Halima gushed, rushing forward to embrace Omar’s wife. She and Ivana had been speaking Spanish on the way from the airport, but now she switched into English. “You look fantastica, hermana! How you got so skinny?”
Samia touched Halima’s face gently with her fingertips, tracing the line of her jaw. Halima stiffened as though to pull away, but Omar had already told Halima and Hani about Samia’s blindness, and Halima seemed to remember this and relax.
“Halima?” Samia was amazed. “Is that really you? SubhanAllah, I can’t believe it!”
“And me too,” Hani said. “It’s true, you look wonderful.”
Samia smiled warmly. “Hani, it’s wonderful to see you again. So to speak.”
“Ivana is here too,” Omar said.
“Oh!” Samia didn’t seem to want to let go of Halima, but she did, and held out her arms to Ivana. “Is Fuad here?”
“No, only me.” The two of them exchanged the obligatory kisses on the cheeks.
They all entered the house. The heady scents of food flooded Omar’s nostrils: grilled onions, spices, meat: it made his mouth water, and he realized he hadn’t eaten since having a small breakfast many hours earlier, before martial arts class. His stomach rumbled audibly, and he rubbed his belly to quiet it.
Hani and Halima left their bags in the hallway. In the kitchen, Omar saw that Samia had prepared a Malaysian feast: upon the table, as colorful as jewels, sat platters of noodles with shrimp, veggies and eggs; barbecued chicken slathered with chili-ginger percik sauce, and laksa soup made with fish and tamarind.
Apart from the food scents, he detected the unmistakably sickly-sweet scent of tropical flowers – orchids maybe? – but did not see where it was coming from. It was a powerful scent that flirted with rottenness but managed to remain pleasant.
Nadia Muhammad stood at the kitchen counter, chopping a salad. As usual, she wore a brightly colorful shalwar khamees. She was barefoot, and wore an orange hijab – she’d begun covering only recently. Omar could hear the sound of childish play coming from deeper in the house – Nadia’s two kids playing with Nur, no doubt.
There was no sign of Nadia’s husband Shahbaz, which was not surprising. He was a successful lighting systems designer, and his specialty was rare enough that his services were in constant demand. The man was making money, but developing wrinkles and gray hair at the age of thirty.
Oh, and now he spotted the flowers, in a blue glass vase beside the kitchen window. The vase held two huge heaven lotus blossoms. With their velvety white petals curling up around nearly spherical pink ovaries, which in turn were topped with yellow filaments, the flowers looked alien and almost obscene. He’d seen heaven lotuses only in one place before, growing in a greenhouse at Florida State University. Omar’s mother had taught him to identify many native Panamanian species, and he knew that you rarely saw heaven lotuses because the heaven lotus tree – a small tropical tree that grew to about eighteen meters in height – was endangered, and even more importantly because the flowers survived for only one day before wilting and dying.
He wondered where the two flowers had come from, but he didn’t get the chance to ask, because when Nadia and Halima saw each other, they broke into shrieks of excitement. Soon all the women were speaking at once, asking questions, expressing amazement at being together again, praising Samia for the amazing banquet she’d laid out, and commenting on the beauty of the house.
Then Hani stiffened, not even blinking, as if he were a troll that had been turned to stone by the rising sun. Halima turned to see what Hani was looking at and she too fell silent in mid-sentence.
Omar saw what had turned them into statues. Internally he cursed himself for being a dummy. He should have considered that this might be a problem.
“Guys, I’m sorry,” he said hastily. “She’s Samia’s guide dog. She’s a sweetheart.”
Halima gave a nervous smile. “You are sure it won’t bite?”
“I promise,” Samia said. “Her name is Berlina.”
Hani had not moved. “I can’t believe you have a dog… I mean. You know.” He was tense, as if he might turn and run out of the house. But Halima knelt and called Berlina, and the dog padded softly to the newcomer and nuzzled her hand. She did not lick, as she had been trained not to do so.
Halima squealed with pleasure. “Her nose is cold!”
I Smell Blood
Samia halted in the midst of her conversation with Halima and Nadia and scanned the room, tilting her face slightly upward and turning one way and the other. “Is someone hurt?” she said to no one in particular. “I smell blood.”
“Oh!” Halima exclaimed. “You didn’t know?”
At the same moment, Nadia spotted Omar wearing the blood-spotted arm sling and said, “Hey Omar, what happened?”
“Omar?” Samia’s voice took on a note of panic. She held out one hand. “Come to me.” He went to her, and she immediately explored his body with her hands and discovered the sling. She touched the wet spot. “Hasbun-Allahu wa ne’m Al-Wakeel. What happened?”
Ivana flapped her lips in exasperation. She had seated herself and begun to eat before anyone else, plucking a piece of barbecued chicken from a platter and chewing it appraisingly.
“It’s only a scratch,” Ivana offered in Spanish. “My beautiful love already stitched it. He said it’s nothing. Just change the bandage. You know…” She licked her fingers. “This chicken is better than a kiss from my Fufu. But don’t tell him I said that.”
“But what happened, for God’s sake? Were you attacked?”
Halima, grinning as if she were party to an inside joke, pointed to Ivana. “She did it,” Halima said. “Ivana shot him.”
“What? That’s not funny, Halima. What really happened, Omar?”
Omar sighed. “It’s true.” He knew he should defuse the situation by saying that it was all a mixup, but he was still angry at Ivana. As if in agreement, his shoulder gave a nasty jolt of pain as Samia probed it with her fingers, trying to see how badly he was hurt. He caught her hand and pulled it away. “Don’t.”
Ivana, unconcerned, licked barbecue sauce off her fingers and smacked her lips. “It was an accident,” she said casually, repeating her earlier defense. “He broke into my house like a burglar.”
Omar could not really dispute this, so he offered up the most damning piece of commentary he could think of: “She had a golden gun.”
“Not solid gold,” Ivana clarified. “Twenty two karats.”
Nadia Muhammad been watching this exchange with a growing expression of incredulity. Now, before Samia had a chance to probe further, Nadia began to laugh.
“Oh boy,” Omar said. “Here we go.” Nadia’s laughing fits were legendary.
Her laughter grew until she was bent over at the waist, hands on knees. “It’s not funny!” Samia protested, but this only made it worse. Nadia, wracked with huge guffaws, fell to the ground, clutching her stomach. Ivana seemed delighted by this turn of events, and began to giggle as well. Hani rolled his eyes and gave Omar a scolding glance, as if to say, “Can’t you control your women?” Which Omar thought was unfair, since his woman was the only sane one in the lot.
While this was going on Omar spoke to Samia quietly, telling her what had happened, and reassuring her that the wound was minor. She was upset. “Leave it for now,” he told her. “Let’s have a good dinner with our guests.”
The children came running to investigate the commotion. Nadia’s daughter Fariel, who everyone called Fairy, and who was eight years old and a rabble rouser, was followed by Jameel, who was seven and had a beard and mustache drawn on his face in black marker. From the ink marks on Fairy’s hands, Omar was pretty sure she was the perpetrator.
They kneeled beside their mom, grabbing her arms, saying, “What are you laughing about, Mum?” But they were smiling. No doubt they’d seen their mother like this before.
Nur stood behind, looking uncertain. He’d dressed up for this dinner, and looked so smart in his blue pants, white dress shirt and bow tie. If only Samia could see him. Omar called him over, pulling the boy against his side. His little body was warm. “It’s okay. You know how Auntie Nadia is. She’ll be back to normal in a minute.”
Nur touched his father’s arm sling. “Did you hurt yourself, Papá?”
“It’s a scratch. I only needed a few stitches and a bandage.” Ivana overheard this and gave him a wink, as if to say, glad to see you’re sticking to the story.
Nadia stopped laughing and saw the mess on her son’s face. Her mirth turned to pique as she seized the children’s wrists and marched them off to the bathroom, shouting the whole way.
All I Got Was This Gold Ring
Halima bent down and gave Nur a hug, and he took it like a little man, stoically. “And you, conejito, my little rabbit, you are so handsome. I think your parents must be so proud mashaAllah.”
“Thank you Auntie,” Nur said dutifully. Halima laughed in delight, as if the boy had performed some bit of magic.
Hani and Halima went to the guest room to wash up, and Omar, headed upstairs to the master bathroom to change his bandage. Seeing the wound for the first time in the mirror, he was shocked. It looked ugly and messy, with ragged edges. And it hurt worse than an animal bite. He applied a silver-based antimicrobial gel that Fuad had given him, wincing as he did so, and rebandaged the wound.
When everyone was refreshed and seated at the table, with Jameel’s face scrubbed pink and all three kids at a folding table beside them, Omar said a mealtime dua’, thanking Allah for reuniting them all. Then they dug into the hearty Malaysian banquet with relish. At one point Halima said, “I can’t believe you can cook such increible food when you can’t see.”
Omar knew Samia well enough to know she would not be offended. People made thoughtless comments like this all the time, Samia was used to it.
Omar kept an eye on Hani, worried the man might still be frightened of the dog, but he seemed to have relaxed. Halima commented again on how good Samia looked, and how she’d hardly recognized her without the “baby fat.” Omar glanced at Samia, but her expression was calm. She knew that Latin Americans tended to be very forthright about such things.
Samia explained unashamedly – speaking in English – that during her first two years at Florida State University, she struggled with loneliness and gained a massive amount of weight. Her mother was busy with work, her father was gone of course, and she had no friends at FSU. Her diabetes spun out of control. She had high blood pressure, sleep apnea, fatty liver disease, and her eyesight was degrading.
“I was barely hanging on,” Samia said. “In fact I was on academic probation. Then along comes Omar, like a drill sergeant. What a pain in the neck! Made me walk laps with him on the school track. Pressured me about my diet. Study groups in the library. If I’d had a gun I would have shot him.” At this, realizing what she’d said, her smile faded and her head tilted in Ivana’s direction. An awkward silence fell. Ivana was not quite fluent in English, but she understood enough. She scowled, looking at her food.
They were rescued by Halima exclaiming, “Omar!” She waved a finger at him. Her hands were calloused from work. “Why you do that with Samia? It’s not your job to change her.”
“Actually,” Samia said, “that’s a good question. Why did you care so much? We weren’t even that close.”
“I-” Omar stammered. “I couldn’t leave you underground.”
Halima frowned, and Samia said, “What do you mean?”
Omar shook his head. “Just a dream I had once.”
“Okay… Very mysterious. Anyway,” Samia went on, “by the time he was done with me, I could have won an Olympic gold medal. Instead all I got was a gold ring.” She held up her wedding band.
Halima laughed at this, and Nadia joined in, which scared Omar for a moment – he couldn’t take another laughing fit right now – but she seemed to have gotten it out of her system.
With all of this going on, Hani ate silently, hardly looking up from his plate.
“So you got married in college?” Halima wanted to know.
“No. I graduated, and Señora Bayano hired me to manage the accounts at Puro Panameño. Omar proposed two years later.”
“But how you work when you cannot see?”
Samia gave a flick of her fingers. “Our systems are paperless now. I use assistive technology. A screen reader that can read text out loud. I touch type, I use keyboard commands instead of a mouse. Like that.”
“You have adapted totalmente, mashaAllah.”
Samia grunted. “I miss reading.” Her tone was matter-of-fact, but Omar knew this was a source of sadness for her. “I listen to lectures and audiobooks, and I have some Braille books, but the classical Islamic books are mostly unavailable in those formats.” She stood. “Let me get dessert.”
Nadia began to rise. “I’ll get it.” But Samia insisted she could handle it.
Samia set out little dishes of ondeh-ondeh, which were dessert balls made of rice cake filled with cream, and coated with grated coconut.
Tameem and Basem
“Oye, Omar,” Halima said. “Did you ever discover who did those pranks on you in high school?”
Omar looked to Samia, but her face was expressionless as she took a bite of ondeh-ondeh. “No,” he said slowly. “I never did.”
All this time Hani was silent. Omar suspected the muscular man was thinking of his purpose in coming here. Wondering when he’d get to present the business proposal. But Omar was proved wrong when Hani said, “I don’t mean to be a jerk in asking this, but do you ever hear from Tameem or Basem? I know they were bullies to you, I mean, if I’m out of line for asking-”
“No, it’s fine,” Omar broke in.
“It’s not like I want to get in touch with them. I’m just curious, you know. We were close for a while.”
“Hani.” Omar gave the man’s muscular shoulder a squeeze. It was like squeezing a rock. “I don’t mind at all, but…” He’d been hoping this subject would not come up.
“It’s not good news,” Samia finished.
Hani put down the ondeh-ondeh he’d been about to bite into. “What do you mean?”
Omar took a breath, let it out. “Basem crashed his car in a drag race on Avenida Balboa. It was years ago, like a year after high school. He died.”
“Driving too fast is dangerous,” volunteered Fairy, from her place at the kids table.
“Yes, baby,” Nadia agreed.
“Then why do you drive so fast, Mum?”
“What about Tameem?” Hani asked.
Instead of answering, Omar spoke to his son. “Nunu, take your friends and go to your room. You can play video games on your iPad if you like.” The kids were done eating anyway. Nur was just pushing food around on the plate.
“Can we take Berlina?”
When the kids and dog were gone, Omar tapped nervously on the table.
“More bad news?” Hani asked.
Omar nodded. “Tameem is dead too.”
Hani deflated, his chest sagging. The sound that came from him was like the whistle of air escaping a punctured balloon. Omar wished this topic had not come up, but didn’t see how he could have avoided it.
“How?” Halima asked.
“You don’t want to know.”
At this Hani sat up straight, anger flashing in his eyes. “I’m not a child. You don’t have to send me to another room like you did with your boy.”
“Amor,” Halima said, reaching for his hand, but Hani pulled away and made a chopping motion, nearly knocking over a pitcher of juice. “No! I didn’t come here to be condescended to.”
Omar shrugged. If that was the way he wanted it. “The whole family was murdered. Someone broke into their apartment in Punta Pacifica, tied them up, tortured Tameem’s father, then cut their throats. The police thought it was one of the Colombian cartels. That maybe Tameem’s father was laundering drug money through his construction business and dipped his hand into the pot.”
Hani sat stock still for a moment, then stood abruptly, tipping over his chair. He walked to the front door and went out.
Halima jumped up. “I will go after him.” She hurried out.
A Tree That’s Been Hit By Lightning
Omar sighed. Samia had tried to warn him about Hani, but he hadn’t listened. He eyed the popiah basah rolls. They were particularly toothsome Malaysian spring rolls filled with turnips, fried onions and bean sprouts. He’d already had dinner and dessert, but the rolls were so good. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, savory and rich. He picked one up.
“So…” Samia said. “Hany is married to Halima. That’s interesting.”
Omar froze with the roll a centimeter from his lips. “Uhh… yeah. Crazy, huh? He never told me.”
“Is she still beautiful?”
Nadia, sitting back in her chair and rubbing her belly, said, “Yeah, she’s still as hot as heck.”
Ivana sniffed. “She’s no Miss Cuba,” she said in surprisingly good English. She must be learning from Fuad.
“What do you say, Omar?” Samia wanted to know.
He studied his wife’s face. Was she toying with him? She was not normally the jealous type. “Yes and no,” he said honestly. He never lied to Samia. She knew him too well. Furthermore, she could hear the difference between truth and a lie. Maybe it had to do with being blind. “She’s like a tree that’s been hit by lightning. You can see that it was lovely once.”
“Very poetic. Are you writing love poetry now? I know about the love letter she wrote you on the last day of school.”
“What?” Nadia interjected excitedly. “Halima wrote you a love letter? Why did I never know about this?”
Omar slowly set down the popiah basah roll and leaned back in his chair. Hadn’t he thrown that letter away years ago? Or was it in a box at the bottom of the closet? “How did you know about that?”
“She told me back then, when she wrote it. She used to talk about you. Did you arrange this whole meeting with Hani just to see her again?”
He stared at her, trying to read her expression, but her face was as unrevealing as a brick wall. “Samia,” he said sternly. “How can you even-”
“Hah!” Samia squealed, pointing at him and grinning. “I got you. I wish I could see your face right now.”
Relief flooded through Omar as his cheeks grew hot. “You dummy!” Picking up his cloth napkin, he threw it across the table at Samia. It flapped through the air and hit her in the chest.
“Attacking a blind woman!” Samia cried. “That is the lowest of the low.”
“I’ll do more than attack you.” Omar rose from his chair and went around the table. His wife lifted her arms to him and he bent forward to embrace her with his uninjured arm, taking in her scent, somewhere between clean and spicy, due to the cooking no doubt.
“Oh my God,” Ivana said, still practicing her English. “Too much lovey dovey stuff.” She stuck out her tongue in a gagging motion.
“Seriously,” Nadia agreed. “Get a pushbutton.”
Samia disengaged herself from Omar’s embrace and pointed a finger in Ivana’s direction. “Ivana Maxiel Santiago Domingo. Just so you know, if you had killed my husband, wallahil-atheem, I would have killed you too.” Her face had gone white, and her arm shook.
“¿Por qué me culpan todos?” Ivana raised her hands to the sky as if supplicating the Creator. “Omar break into my house. I shoot him by accident, okay? I tol’ you Samia I’m sorry.”
“No, you never said that.”
“I tell you now, I’m sorry, lo siento, fue un accidente. You want me to go, I go!” She flung her arms out, knocking over her empty water glass, and stood.
“No. Come here.”
“Why? So you kill me?”
“I’m not going to kill you, idiota. just come here.”
Looking at the floor like a chastened schoolgirl, Ivana went to Samia. “¿Que?”
Samia reached out and pulled Ivana to her, and embraced her. Ivana stiffened for a moment, then put her arms around Samia. To Omar’s amazement, Ivana began to cry. Samia patted the beauty queen’s back until her sobs subsided.
A Crucible of Fate
“Well, this was all fun,” Nadia said. “Where did Hani and Halima go, anyway?”
Omar snorted. “They’re walking back to Colombia.”
“Really?” Samia asked.
“No, I don’t know. I’ll go see.”
“Say hasbun-Allahu wa n’em Al-Wakeel.”
Omar said it.
It was dusk outside, though it seemed later than it was due to the heavy cloud cover that hid the fading light of sunset. He found Hani and Halima in the front yard, sitting on the edge of the fountain. Hani rested his elbow on his knee and his cheek on his fist, while Halima rubbed his shoulders.
“I’m sorry I told you all that,” Omar said.
Hani did not look up. “Do you ever think about that day?”
Omar didn’t have to ask which day. “Not really.” Which was true. What happened, happened. He was grateful to Allah for everything.
“I do. All the time. And now… Tameem and Basem.” Hani shook his head. “Man. It’s like we’re cursed. Like that day was a judgement. It was a hammer that struck us all, and either forged us into something better, or shattered us. No, you know what?” He shook one finger at the ground as if lecturing the grass. “Not the day, but what we did on that day. What each of us did on that day has damned us.”
“You’re overthinking it, hermano. It was a thing that happened. Part of our Qadar. Not some crucible of fate.” Though inwardly he wondered. Was there something to what Hani was saying? Was it possible that your actions on a single day of your life could shape the remainder of your existence? Maybe so, but certainly that had nothing to do with Basem and Tameem’s tragic deaths. Did it?
“Did you bring me here just to humiliate me? Show Halima how rich and happy you are? The life she could have had with you?” Hani said, still looking at the ground.
“Hani!” Halima exclaimed. Then, to Omar, in Spanish: “I’m sorry, brother. He gets like this sometimes, you cannot take it personally.”
“Don’t apologize for me!” Hani barked. Without warning he stood and struck Halima, backhanding her across the face. The blow had the clapping, meaty sound of a hard hit. Halima cried out, reeled and almost fell into the fountain, saving herself only by putting one arm fully into the water.
Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 12: Love and Affection
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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.
Source: Muslim Matters