It’s the fifth time this week that you’ve come and sat in front of me and asked that I read your fortune. I’ve dyed my hair a deep burgundy, with its white strands it makes lovely highlights, but you haven’t even noticed. So I irately shuffle the red cards on the glass table and for the umpteenth time explain that reading the cards only gives results once a month; and you, as always, don’t hear me and start with that repetitive sentence, “Sara, think about it, he’s cheating on me! On me!” And then your hazel eyes fill with tears and you pause and say, “I can’t believe it.” I lower my gaze and without concentrating lay out the cards, carelessly, sometimes even incorrectly, and I say, “That’s impossible. You’re wrong. He’s caught up in a lot of things, has problems, and he’s secretive, too, but his problem isn’t another woman.”
You say, “Impossible? I even recognize that woman’s smell. I know it well enough to pounce on her like a leopard if she passes me on the street.”
The hair on my body stands up – the non-existent hair. You like the fact that my body hair is like soft fluff and is hardly noticeable, but if you could see it now, you would know that it has all turned and is standing upright, watching you.
Before you came I spent an entire hour taking a hot shower, and just like grandmother, God rest her soul, I scrubbed myself with a luffa for so long that you could see the blood under my skin. Last time, too, when you said that woman’s scent is familiar to you, I was terribly shocked and shaken. After all, I know you have the strongest sense of smell in the world. And even though you sat in the front row in class, if someone whispered your name at the far end of the room, you would turn around and stare at them. Your ears are sharp and your memory is excellent. You even remember the names of every single boyfriend I had in high school. You say, “He goes with her, with that filth, he takes a shower there and brings his snoring to my house.” Saiid is used to sleeping with large pillows under his head and that’s the reason why he snores.
I say, “You have a trip coming up, an unexpected trip. Two tickets will come to you as a gift.”
You say, “Sure, I should definitely get up and go, leave the house so that the gentleman can have his fun and pleasure more comfortably.”
I say, “Idiot, I’m saying he will buy tickets for both of you and you will go together.”
You say, “Not on your life.”
You don’t listen to the fortune and I’m talking nonsense, I see nothing in the cards other than a big Queen of Clubs. I don’t know whether to steal my glance away from you or from this wretched Queen of Clubs that pops up in front of me every time I read a fortune and doesn’t budge. I look at the beautiful emerald ring that you wear on your middle finger, the one Saiid bought for your birthday. He was wavering between an emerald and a ruby. I chose the emerald.
You want to use these cards as an excuse to pour your heart out. You take the blue pack of Merit cigarettes out of your purse. Just like when we were in high school, you still don’t know how to inhale. You just fill your plump mouth with smoke, and just as you’ve done for all these fifteen years, after the first puff you unconsciously push back a lock of short straight hair from your forehead. For the first time you make a threat, “I bought benzene. I will finally send myself and that house I scrubbed like an ass every day until a month ago up in smoke.”
I tell you, “Will you shut up or should I? Don’t you want me tell your fortune?”
You say, “Sara, curiosity is killing me. I tell myself I hope he’s taken up with someone better than me, but I’m afraid I’ll see her and suddenly realize the dreadfulness of what’s happened to me.”
I don’t answer you, I know I’m not better than you, I’ve never been. I know that if I were better than you I would love you so much that I wouldn’t even spit on Saiid. I know even Saiid realizes that he will never find anyone better than you, and maybe that’s why he’s come after me, after someone he knows he is much better than. He enjoys feeling magnanimous. After years of repressing myself and all my wants, I have now learned to judge myself honestly.
Although I’m only four years older than you, I look some ten years older. I know I’m overweight and out of shape and I’ve been lighting one cigarette with another for years, and I know these are all things that Saiid has always fought with you about. But he takes pity on me and forgives me and perhaps that’s why you are now sitting in front of me looking so pretty and delicate, just like you did years ago when instead of hanging out with the older kids in high school, I loved to visit the first year students to find my hazel-eyed friend so that we could go steal sandwiches. I look at you. You still get by on this one cigarette a day and you can’t even inhale.
Saiid has bought a box of German diet pills for me. I know it was expensive and I know I won’t change by taking them. As he was leaving, he took the box out of his pocket, put it on the kitchen table and said, “They’re diet pills. If you decide to take them, you can’t smoke.”
He said it, shut the door and left. And as usual, the clanking of the chain behind the door rang in my ears and I thought that in the morning when out of habit Saiid gave me his cigarette butt to put out, he again said nothing about my quitting smoking. Staring at the ceiling, I took a last drag on the cigarette and remembered how you always used to say, “You unrefined ass! Ladies aren’t supposed to smoke their cigarette all the way to its butt end.” When I snuffed out the cigarette in the red ashtray next to the bed I wondered, Why am I lying here? And I realized that I still don’t know.
Saiid called and said, “Mommy Sara, the lunch you had cooked up smelled wonderful, I left my heart there with it, but I had to go.”
Leila, this confused scatterbrained kid still loves the smell of herb stew and the lamb filet in fresh fava bean rice.
Translated by Sara Khalili