There is simply no other way to describe it: when she gets up and leaves the coffee shop, she ever so stealthily walks sideways. She does this to keep an eye on him. Unfortunately, she is not very good at sideways walking and needs more practice. He smiles because he can’t believe he is that important, that all of this is for him.
In the one hand she carries a shopping bag full of two newly-bought sweaters, one gray, one white; in the other she has a firm grasp on her cellphone. If she were to suddenly stumble and fall, her face would have no chance whatsoever. Her hijab is a deep sea purple-green, framing her cheeks and eyes perfectly, and for some reason this makes all the difference, and so, taking a last sip of once-hot coffee, he follows her.
It does not take him long to understand that she is used to being followed. She takes long purposeful strides that signal this is a kind of race, if not a race then a contest for sure, and he is to follow her, if he can. Although he has only been to England twice–once for a football match and once to watch his mother and sisters shop–he knows enough to think of the word ‘keen.’ He is not keen on chasing her. And, by the time she reaches the pharmacy, she, in that special female way, senses this and slows down; and daring to turn full-faced to look back, she sees he is nowhere in sight. Slipping on her sunglasses, she drifts over to the nearest shop window to stare into a silky display of glittering watches.
As a rule she does not care for malls unless it is with friends or family. But today is different because she needed to buy the two sweaters on sale, 50% off, a sale that ends today. If she had been with Sara, her closest, loudest cousin, the question would have been: “Who needs a sweater? This is Kuwait, one of the hottest places on the planet. Everybody knows this.” But knowing Sara she would have been prepared, answering, “As you know in December, January and February it can be cool here, even cold, Sah? Everybody knows this. Besides, . . .” holding up two fingers, “… besides, number one, everything is on sale, and number two, why would they even sell sweaters if nobody bought them? Sah?”
If Sara had been there, she would have frowned at this last part, and then thought about saying something clever, only to change her mind at the last moment.
Meanwhile, there is no Sara here, and she hasn’t stopped staring at the watches she does not need, does not care about, when he slowly catches up, stopping to stare into an adjunct shop window that is selling blouses. This, he knows, is bad luck on his part,–staring at women’s blouses, but he has no choice. Together they watch but not watch one another. Finally, all done looking into a shop window she cares nothing about, she looks down at her cellphone and pushes buttons as if there is someone who needs talking to when, really, there is no one.
Come to think of it, there is nothing about him that is special, that should have her walking sideways, striding briskly through a surprisingly empty mall. He wears a plain white t-shirt with a too-small pocket that is holding something like a red pen, but no, that can’t be right, but certainly something red. That, and she can see that he just had his hair cut, there is a fresh paleness around his ears, along his neck. So nothing intriguingly special as young men go, and yet, …yet…what? He stared at her? While the ‘what’ lingers, for the time being she is content to look into the glitter of watches as sweepers sweep, shopkeepers talk on cellphones, stare into computer screens, some of them slanting in doorways, asking anybody who gets too close if they would like to be sprayed with something that smells good: perfume from China, cologne from Germany, or perhaps both.
She secretly likes it that he does not speak to her, does not approach her; in some way that she is not entirely sure about, this is more good than bad.
The haircut coolness along the back of his neck has him rubbing that place, a small rawness that stings if he touches it just right. It is then, in mid-stroke of his neck, that he hears a bang and jerks to see. But, like always, it is nothing: some mall sweeper has dropped a tin can the size of a baby’s head, the banging echoing up and down the empty mall. Done looking and the mall sweeper saying sorry to anyone who will listen, when he turns back to look but not to look, she is gone. He looks down at this fingers and then back at the shop window that is crowded with pink and red and green blouses, and then back to the mall sweeper, who is just now picking up his dropped can, that he decides, yes, it serves him right. That yes, he needs more practice, or at least something like it. Sighing. Looking back down at his hands, at his chewed fingernails. More practice.
Just before she takes the turn that will take her out of the mall and to her driver, who is patiently double parked, waiting, exchanging honkings with whomever challenges him, she too will sigh and take off her sunglasses and then immediately put them back on, which will make no sense at all if somebody were watching her, and she thinks that yes, it serves her right, but then again, it’s not her fault, not really; there are others to blame. And she is so certain about this last part that if you were close enough you would hear her say, “It’s not my fault.”