Khalid is in love. Go ahead, ask him. “Yes it’s true. I am in love. Sad to say, it has me by the throat,” placing both hands around his neck, showing what choking-love looks like. “But, . . .” shrugging, “. . . but what can I do? That’s how it works,” ending with an old-man chuckle.
This is more information than I bargained for, and I look away, into the sunny harbor, showing him that the harbor with bobbing yachts and assorted garbage from last night’s tide is more important than his love. Yet he refuses to pay attention, continuing, “She’s not only beautiful, but thoughtful. Can you imagine such a combination?”
And of course I can but look back at him as if he is right. “Imagine.” “We have an agreement: she calls me three times a day, I call her four. She wants me to know what she is doing every day, all the time, and I want to know. This is what love is – knowing and caring about one another all the time, every day, Sah?”
Almost immediately Khalid has made me tired, and I can’t help but yawn, saying, “Excuse me.”
But he continues, “Would you like to see her photo? Three weeks ago at the mall.” My saying nothing does not stop him from un-walleting her photo, pulling it out from behind a plastic window: thin pale lips, staring startled-like into the camera, a hint of dimples, a mole neatly planted above her left eyebrow. He waits for me to say something, and when I do, “Very nice,” he nods. “Yes, very nice. You can see the intelligence in her face, my Sasha. My grandmother says you can tell if someone is smart by the wide forehead.” I squint to look closer at her forehead, and it is smooth and wide and except for the mole, it reminds me of that part of the school map in northern Russia, white, flawless and unexplored. I hand back the photo. Before he slips it back behind the plastic window in his wallet, he gazes at it one last time. “Well, there you have it, my Sasha: three months, one week, three days.” This, he thinks, is funny and laughs, slipping his wallet back into his pocket.
Khalid is a good friend, but not a best friend; sometimes we smoke shisha together, and trade tales of wasta – some good, some not, almost all funny. He works for a car company. That’s all I know: works for a car company. In fact, that, he confesses, is where he first met her.
“One quiet Tuesday morning that was turning into nothing more than cigarettes and cellphones and thumbing through the newspaper, she came walking in, not even that, more like marching, as if her real destination was beyond our building, and we were simply something to walk through to get to the other side. But never mind, because like some kind of fate, with all five of us at our desks, she came straight to me, my desk, the third in line, saying, ‘I want a new car’. When I stood up to greet her, my tea jumped across the desktop, and she said, ‘Sorry, but I still need a new car.’ And that, as they say, was the beginning,” ending yet again with an old-man chuckle.
Khalid is twenty-seven and a half years old, lives in Salmiya with his father and mother and two younger sisters, both, he tells me, star volleyball players. As a rule, Khalid knows what it’s all about to be with women. Just ask him.
“I’m pretty sure I know what it means to be around females. After all, they’ve surrounded me my entire life, right?” Laughing at this as if he’s told a joke and in case I missed it, it’s funny and I should be laughing too. I smile.
That’s when his phone rings and he grabs it, as if it ringing twice would be all wrong. “Habibti, where are you?” I can only guess that it is his Sasha and she tells him what he wants to know, and once she tells him he smiles, laughs, smiles. Meanwhile I move my head from side to side, as if I know something about loosening stiff neck muscles but of course I don’t. Even though Khalid is looking directly at me, I can see that he isn’t, and he turns to speak to her in private.
It is time to leave Khalid and Sasha, to go back home, and I will once he says goodbye. Finally, his private talk all done, he slips the cellphone into his shirt pocket, and says, “Well, there you have it, 3:00 on the dot. Imagine.” I am not against punctuality and my yes is genuine. Still, it is time to leave, and we hug good-bye and he says, “See you soon.” “Inshallah.”
There once was a time when he would have walked me to my car but now as I turn to leave, he only lifts his cellphone out of his shirt pocket. When I get in my car I just sit, and what comes next is something like jealousy, anger and disappointment; if there is one word for all of that I would use it. It all has to do with something all wrong, between me and Khalid, a friend but not a best friend. Still…just ask me. “Yes, something is all wrong and not funny but I don’t know what to call it.”