To the one I would never want to be without,
This is not much, but I would like to think that you’ll like it. Ever since you walked into my life you’ve brightened every single day of it.
I can easily say that you’re my best friend and likely the closest I’ve ever been to another human being. You ask me sometimes on the things I don’t like about you, and like always I brush it away. Cause the truth is I have never wanted you any other way. Your “warts” are just a couple of more reasons I’ve fallen for you deeply. I love your eyes… and the rest of your face too. Your intelligence intrigues me, in your fits of passion you inspire me and not to go without mentioning your body… it’s banging. I am never more at ease than when I’m with you, it’s even better than being by myself. For that I am eternally grateful that you are in my life and I am going to do whatever it takes to keep you around. You’re just something else Habiba. I do hope that I can keep this flame burning for as long as I possibly can. For now, thank you for being my joy and the coolness to my eyes. I love you so much, it’s weird.
Happy 7th anniversary.
You and your words flooded my senses
Your sentences left me defenseless
You built me palaces out of paragraphs
You built cathedrals
I’m re-reading the letters you wrote me
I’m searching and scanning for answers in every line
For some kind of sign
Of when you were mine
Just when I thought that I was done with the tremors at the thought of you, listening to that, I felt them again. I quickly folded the letter in thirds and put it back into the beautifully embroidered archival box of mementos I was to gift you for our 10th anniversary. Today, we’d be two years closer and like always I’d pen two identical letters; one for you and one to go into this box to be the culmination of having spent a decade with the most adorable person I had ever met.
I tapped onto the archival box lightly, careful not to miss a beat to the melody playing in the background. For more than 6 months straight, the Hamilton and Dear Evan Hanson soundtracks have been my companion, shuffle on repeat and nothing else. They felt more personal since my wife left. The themes of extreme loss, infidelity, wanting to belong and do right by the people under me really resonated. It festered the pain as I brooded which was the only way I had known to grieve. My tears only belonged in my eyes.
Time flies. It’s been 8 years since I got married, 3 since Fatimah Al-batool was born and 7 months since I found out my wife had been having an affair with another man. Not only that, turns out she’s been taking money from our joint savings account for a while now and as of currently I’m on the verge of bankruptcy. This woman has taken almost everything from me. And now she’s coming for the custody of my daughter too, that I can’t let happen.
I stood up and started pacing through the living room. Conjuring scenarios of every instance I might have fallen short in this relationship for the past eight years. There’s just something about your wife cheating on you that pushes you to place your entire life on a slide under a microscope, analyzing your worth as a man.
I like to think that I was a good husband. Perhaps not great but good at least. I was good to her, good to her family, I provided and I’d like to think that I was also not boring, I always tried to spice things up. Yeah, the frequent dinner dates might have stopped one year into the marriage but still… I was home, whether we read or just had an evening of watching television in comfy clothes, I was there. I always thought that that was all that mattered but turns out it was not enough.
I stare at the walls in this room and they look so bare without our pictures hanging on them. I obviously had to take them down to rid my daughter of every shred of memory of that woman. For as far as I am concerned, she’s dead to us. I picked up the archival box into my bedroom and shoved it as far I could under my bed then stepped back into the living room which was also a passageway to the bathroom. I have to get ready for a meeting with a potential client out of town.
As I was washing my face by the sink before the mirror, for the first time in a long time I saw myself. With my unkempt hair and equally ragged unkempt beard, now dripping wet. I notice black spots on my face, more defined contrast to my milk-tea complexion, my thick mustache sits angrily on my face, my brooding shoulders have fallen a bit, making my neck look longer and it dawned on me that I no longer look good in a vest, my belly just went public. I washed up quickly to avoid seeing this man who has clearly lost faith in everything.
I move back to the living room where the music is still playing and seat my short shorts on the edge of the sofa. Men with bodies this hairy weren’t meant to be this under-dressed. I stare at my leather-strapped watch, hypnotized as my mind wanders into the great beyond. I don’t notice the dark figurine emerging from the periphery.
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
My train of thought is abruptly cut short by my mother’s palm gently resting on my shoulder, almost startling me. I feel her sad eyes on me, bound with the general warmth of being a mother. I cup the back of her bony palm and look at her from the edge of my shoulder, gently laying a half-smile on her.
“Assalaamu ‘Aleykum ma”
“Waaleykum salaam.” She pulls up a chair in front of me and sits, “Vipi, how was your day at the shop leo?”
“Good alhamdulillah. Well… things are still the same but kheyr in shaa Allah”
“Yeah,” she clicked. Subra in shaa Allah, patience. As long as you know that Allah isn’t unjust and that you’re working so hard to provide halal for your family, he will surely straighten your affairs for you.”
“Yeah.” I looked to the ground for a few seconds, interlocking my palms as I support the back of my hands by use of my thighs. And then broke the silence. “But ma, I am afraid that I’m going to have to close the bookshop. The people here just don’t read anymore. Well, they’ve always not been into books but it didn’t really matter because I didn’t need the money. I just had this passion to single-handedly change things… and back then I could support us. We had the big house before renting it out and moving into this servant quarters, we had the car which we’ve sold and we had dad’s inheritance to support and you know what happened to that. I only own a bicycle right now and the store isn’t doing so well. The bills will soon pile on us and if we don’t diversify to boost our cash-flow we’re doomed.”
Me and my mother have gotten used to understanding each other’s silence in places where words fail. And without uttering anything, she takes my hand and buries it into both hers, giving me the ‘it’s all going to be okay’ look. And almost like the music player had learnt to read a room, it went back at it…
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down
The Hamiltons move uptown
And learn to live with the unimaginable
She quickly let go of my hand.
“Hisham, why are you always listening to this depressing stuff?” She hits her face with her palm as she stood up and I let out a chuckle. “You do realize that you have to move on at some point, yeah? There’s a lot to live for and you’re still so young.”
“I know ma” I said, defeated, not even having the courage to look at her, “I just need a little more time.”
She walks into the other room of our two-bedroomed place which she shared with her grand-daughter. She stopped at the doorstep as if she’d forgotten something.
“So, when are you seeing that woman again?” She shot.
“You say that like I get some sort of pleasure from seeing her. You do know that it’s before a judge, yeah? I shot back. “It’s on Monday”
If I could her
Tell her everything I see
If I could tell her
How she’s everything to me
But we’re a million worlds apart.
And I don’t know how I would even start
And just like that I stopped the music, clearly it had started abusing the freedom that I had allowed by putting it on shuffle.
“Finally,” she said.
And me and my mom look at each other, withholding the half almost sadness, half almost laughter feeling conjured by the irony.
“Where’s Fatima?” I asked
“She’s probably playing outside.”
I stood up and opened the door to find Fatima on her little red bicycle riding around the walls of this compound. She looks so happy and she smiles even more when she sees me. With her I always seem to forget. She’s the reason that despite hating my wife, I still love her face. She’s what I see when I look at this little girl… and I can’t hate that. She shouts from the gate, “Daddy look at me” and I can’t help but smile and be reminded of that Hamilton song.
Oh, Philip when you smile, I am undone
Look at my son
Pride is not the word I’m looking for
There is so much more inside me now
Oh, Philip you outshine the morning sun
When you smile, I fall apart
And I thought I was so smart.