6 November 2015

4 October 2003 - from "Taboos in Arabic"

Salma is panting, trying to keep up with her 52 year old father. It’s a sunny day, with swishes of wind. Saturdays are their together-running days at the beach. They’ve been doing this for as long as Salma can remember. Her father, a marathon runner.
They reach the end of their running trail, at the Maxim restaurant. Salma’s t-shirt is clinging to her body like second skin. She’s out of breath. Her father looks at his stop watch, then bends to do his stretching. “You know, Susu, you will need to start doing your warm up and cool down stretches if you ever want to do any marathons.”
Salma is already lying on her back on the asphalt, staring up at the sky. Bliss. “I prefer to cool down watching the sky and the clouds. So you going to tell me if we beat our record or are you just going to do your goofy yoga stretches?”
Her father slowly turns his head towards her as he stretches his neck sideways. A stupid grin appears on his face. “Please! Do not underestimate my animal poses. And yes, by a whole minute and a half, Susu.”
“Baba, I’m almost 24 years old! When will you stop calling me Susu? Can’t you just grow up?”
“Never!” He yelped and slowly sank into the camel position. “Almost 24, Susu. I can hardly believe it. It seems it was only yesterday that you were running behind me like a little puppy. Ha! And you still can’t catch up with me!”
Salma rolled on her side and sat up on her heels. “You just wait! One of these days. And sooner than later it’s you who’s going to be watching that sand kicking from under my feet.”
Joubran rose up, his muscular body showing through his tank-top, and held out a hand to his daughter to help her up. “Yalla, let’s go.” They walked into the Maxim restaurant, warmly greeting Mtanes, the 31 year old guard, and conscious of the looks they got. A middle-aged, good looking man, with his arm around a young woman’s waist, both of them red-faced, their clothes clinging to their bodies.
They sit at their usual spot, the closest table to the kitchen, so that their body odour mingles with the smells from the kitchen. They’ve been coming here for years, every Saturday, after their run. Hanna, the head waiter, winks at Salma and she grins at him, “Hey, you’re not supposed to wink at women now that you’re engaged to be married!”
“You don’t really count, kid. Who would be interested in someone who always stinks and has sweat running down her forehead, anyway?” The three of them laugh. Salma hears his booming voice in the kitchen, “same as always at this time of day on Saturday for our dear friend Abu Salma and his daughter.”
A few minutes later, Sharbel, the 23 year old waiter brings them two bottled waters and some freshly cut up vegetables. “Had a good run?” Mtanes has the bluest eyes Salma has ever seen, and an angelic smile. “She still can’t beat me.” Joubran boasts. “Give her a few more years, Abu Salma. I’m sure she will, one of these days.” He smiles at Salma, arranges their silverware and plates, and goes to take an order from a nearby table.
“Can you tell me again what’s wrong with him, Susu? He’s intelligent, saving money to continue his law studies, caring, responsible... should I go on?”
“Baba, would you just stop it, please? I promise I’ll let you know when I fall in love. Now, can we change the subject? What about my birthday present?”
“Oh yeah, coming up in two weeks. How about I take you shopping and you pick whatever it is you’re into now? Sounds good? Afterwards, I’ll treat you and your mama to a gourmet restaurant.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Salma nibbles on a cucumber. They continue chatting, savouring this special time together. Her father tells her about a case study he discussed at a psychology conference he recently attended in Spain. Salma was fascinated by her father’s analysis, interrupting him mid-sentences to ask questions.
Salma looks to the side and sees a young woman in hijab sitting with a man in silence. They’re just finishing their meal. The man looks nervous, the woman seems unnaturally calm. The woman turns her head and looks straight into Salma’s eyes. A shiver runs down Salma’s back at the blackness of the woman’s eyes. She lowers her eyes and stares at her vegetables. “So, my last year at university, baba. I think I’ll take some classes in Philosophy this year, what do you say?”
“My daughter, the philosophical psychologist. I think it suits you well.” He says and pops a piece of carrot into his mouth.
The nervous man and the unnaturally calm young woman are now sipping Arabic coffee, still in complete silence. The man’s eyes are darting in every direction. Salma watches the calmness of the woman. She’s been staring at her hands, now with a hollow look in her eyes. She is beautiful, Salma thinks. She tries to imagine her without the veil, her black hair flowing down her shoulders. A stray thought catches her breath. The veil. The look in the woman’s eyes. The unnatural calmness and the hollow eyes. The nervousness of the man. Their silence. She quickly takes a sip of her bottled water and starts getting up. Her body begins shivering, but she must control herself. “Yalla baba, let’s go. I can’t stand my own smell.” Her voice louder than usual, enough for the young woman to hear her Arabic clearly. “What’s the rush? A few more minutes won’t kill you. Hanna? Can we have that kahwa on the house, brother?” Salma sinks back into her chair, breathes deeply. It’s nothing, she tries to convince herself. They probably just had a fight. Couples fight all the time. Totally normal behaviour.

Hanadi Jaradat, a 29 year old lawyer from Jenin, blows herself up. The sea rises and falls.

(c) khulud khamis, 2015

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