Part 2 of 5 in the series titled Fatima’s Children
His father taps his foot impatiently, newspaper folded before him, his cup of jabana empty with his glasses on the side. His elbows rest on the table, hands folded as he gazes at his son somberly.
Noah could barely keep his eyes open, his head splitting from a headache. It was already past afternoon & he was supposed to be at work.
His father looks down, unfolding his hands to have them lay flat on the table.
-This is your fourth car Noah
Noah could only groan, realizing the headache was morphing into a migraine, and that his neck was killing him.
-In three months, you have wrecked a total of four cars
Bits and pieces of the night before hit Noah. His mother enters in a flourish, carrying with her waves of nervous energy. Overbearing in her need to protect & appease her only child.
– … you don’t like the eggs? I can remake it for you, oh honey you look terrible, I keep telling you that you need more hours of sleep, and you need to be more careful, you really should listen to baba…
A sudden boom cracks through the silence, shaking the table and cutlery. His father grits his teeth, flexing his fisted hand that was now surely sore from the thump.
-Just who do you think you are?
Noah’s mother still hovers over him, patting his hair, then checking his forehead for a fever when all he wanted was to yell that he was still hungover from last night.
His father jabs his finger in the air at the hanging clock across the room.
-Its almost two o’clock and you were supposed to be at work at nine. Do you want to embarrass me in front of Dr. Ibrahim, boy? Do you have any idea how lucky you are to even have this job? Or did you think you got it from your ‘hard work’? At your age I was already something
Holding up his hands he glares at his only son.
-I built an empire with these hands. And you? What have you done?
His father slumps against his chair and grunts with disgust, looking away.
-You are a disappointment
Noah could hardly suppress a snort as he looks at his father.
He barely knew this man.
Newly retired, he was home more often now, but only to be found reading his newspapers and spending his evenings with his fellow retirees. His entire childhood, Noah could probably count on one hand the number of times his father interacted with him. A few times to give a stern warning when he misbehaved, once to tell him exactly what he was studying in University, another time to tell him what job he would be working, and the last time the girl he would be marrying.
Gently he removes his mothers hands, rises slowly to look at his fathers averted face.
He wanted to beg him to just really look at him, yell at him, physically shake and slap him.
But he barely knew this man.
-I’m going to work
He looks down at his mother whose face he realized was lined with new worry. So he gives her a lop-sided grin and a hurried kiss on the cheek, knowing that she could easily smell the alcohol in his breath.
His parents argument trails behind him as he makes his way out.
-Must you be so hard on him?
-Your obsessive coddling ruined the boy Nadia! What’s the point of going to work now? He is the laughingstock at his office!
A crash of china is heard. His father bellows.
-I’ll have them put you on the National Service, drop you in the middle of South Kordofan so you can learn a thing or two! I wasted an expensive education on an undeserving, wretched, irresponsible, self-entitled brat, you hear me Noah? What a sorry excuse of a man you are, you hear me? A waste!
He leans out his tinted window, lasciviously staring the girl up and down. In response she only lengthens her stride, not even looking over her shoulder to glare.
Even as the practiced and offensive catcalls fall out of his mouth, if asked why he did it when it was so apparent the girl was not interested, he’d say it’s only a game that girls were all more than willing to play.
Except this one completely ignored him, which only baffles and infuriates him.
If hard pressed, he really had no clue why he did it.
Maybe because they deserve it.
Maybe because he was bored and restless.
Maybe because he didn’t have to explain himself or answer to no one.
But the simple truth was there was not a hint of regret in the deepest part of his conscience. He never felt a need to pause and reflect on his repulsive behavior. Never lost a second of sleep over it because he was too busy feeling stuck & confounded.
Menacingly he slows his vehicle even more. That’s when he notices the plastic bags she has in a death grip, one with a week’s worth of vegetables and the other with flavored Capo yogurt drinks, undoubtedly for younger siblings. The girl’s face was drained of color, her lips trembling as if something uncanny was in her line of vision. Suddenly his whole body goes rigid, completely ignoring the girl to stare intently behind her. Defiance flashes in his eyes as he abruptly hits the gas and speeds past her.
He never looks up at his rear-view mirror, putting as much distance between himself, the girl, and the mosque.
Noah sits on damp dirt, resting his elbows on his drawn up knees. In one hand he holds a lighter, the other a cigarette. He squints his eyes at the view before him, sun rays hitting the flat surface of the water, dazzling him. He made it part of his routine to come here every day to smoke, right before maghrib.
He’d found this spot a few months after smashing his car into a pole that stood a couple meters away. Miraculously & not for the first time, he’d stepped from the crash without a scratch, found his way to this particular shore by the Nile, sat on the damp ground & watched the sunrise until a yawning police officer had finally arrived.
The pole still bore the marks of his accident.
His father had given him the same speech of disappointment and threats & Noah still left the house to step into a brand new car that was conveniently waiting for him.
The old man could never deny his only child, his heir, anything.
But Noah could see the fear in his father’s eyes, of his legacy being wasted on someone like him.
Since he was a child he was told to stand and be in awe of the solidity, greatness, and enduring frame of his father. So he chased and tried to fit into a skin that hung shabbily on him, that never became him. Even now, a head taller with the world and its experiences under his belt, he stood small and lacking next to this aloof & unreachable shadow.
Noah rests his forehead against his knees, feeling a sharp stabbing pain across his neck, his chest aching.
If he could, he’d plug his ears to stop all the nagging. From his mother begging him to settle & give her grandchildren, to his fiancée to set the wedding date, to his girlfriend begging him to leave his fiancée, when all he was really looking for was a way to vanish.
He finally lights his cigarette, breathing in deeply to exhale a thick cloud of smoke, his hand resting at the back of his still throbbing neck.
None of it really mattered, except her.
Every night, without fail, when he’d walk into the house at whatever hour, she would be there waiting for him. He’d always find her asleep in her chair, a habit she’d picked up because of him. And almost every night, he’d sit at her feet and just watch her.
He knew neither he nor his father deserved her.
The night before, after rising to softly kiss his mother’s forehead, he silently made a promise. He’d marry the girl and give her those grandchildren she so greatly desired. It was the least he could do, although she was entitled to so much more.
But what he didn’t know was that after he’d leave her she’d wake up cold and startled, hysterically crying for him to come back, his father unable to calm her.
Noah slowly gets up, patting his pants down from loose dirt. He takes a long drag from his cigarette, exhaling an even bigger cloud of smoke. Tilting his head, he reaches out with his hand, letting the smoke run through his fingers. He blows more smoke and watches it curl and unfurl lazily. He sweeps his hand, back and forth, playing with its tendrils, gently harnesses it, watching it spiral and coil at his command. He chucks the cigarette to free his other hand, so that he could conduct the smoke and air into any shape he desired. Elation thrums through his veins as the shapes become more complex, folding and unfolding to flower into forms that he only saw in his dreams. Picking up momentum, shape-shifting rapidly, like an endless origami, now dancing to his orchestration. He suddenly notices the fine dust that surrounded him, hanging dormant, refusing to take shape. With force he tries to influence this bizarre dust but it resists his command to twist, frozen and drawing closer as if it were intrigued by him.
Bemused, he softens his approach, timidly reaching out his hand only to hastily draw it back, recognizing that it, the dust, was a she.
His concentration is broken by the background noise of splashing water and squeals of laughter from children swimming in the river. He lowers his hands, shaking his head as he closes his eyes.
Hesitantly he opens them, and ruefully grins. Nothing was there.
He watches the children for a few more moments, before turning his back to the Nile, the dusk, and the beginning of the call to prayer.
-It’s about to start you idiots!
The boy huffs in exasperation as he waits for the others to catch up.
-We are going to miss it! Come on!
He stands close to the edge of the water, but for all his bravado, doesn’t dare to jump in without the others.
Just as he is about to yell, four bodies rush past him and into the water, yelping with delight. He dives after them, swims out further towards the center of the river, and finds the boys treading the water, all quiet, waiting.
-You think we missed it?
The surface of the water was flat, the sun’s rays bouncing off it, forcing them to squint as they continue to tread.
-I told you! It’s a specific spot & we missed it…
As soon as he spoke the surface of the water surges, rising slowly, almost lazily above their heads. The boys look excitedly to each other as the waves shift and lifts them, swirling playfully, the momentum picking up their bodies and throwing them mid-air. The water danced with them, joyfully swaying & rippling to their peals of laughter. They yell and squeal as the water twirls into abnormal shapes, engulfing them then releasing them, only to tickle them as it shape-shifts into foam and bubbles.
Through all of that commotion, there was not a hint of a breeze, the surrounding water remaining flat and motionless.
Just as it suddenly had begun, the waves stop without warning.
Simultaneously they all groan with disappointment, slapping dejectedly at the now docile surface. The group swims back to the shore, hurriedly grabbing for their clothes, realizing they were late as the first calls of maghrib prayer are made.
They goad and poke at each other as they walk. Leaving behind them the Nile, then quickening their steps past the bent pole that had been crashed into by a drunk driver. They could hardly suppress their shivers as they pass the site.
The driver had been young, and had immediately died from a broken neck a few months ago.
This post is also available in: Arabic