Traces of a Tattoo by Adel Bishtawi: chapter 14

Traces of a Tattoo by Adel Bishtawi

Read chapter 14

Washington: Uncle’s house
Next morning

5783w

Samir held up both hands to his sister. “Could anything worse happen to me on my wedding day?” He complained, angry and frustrated. “My body is covered with spots, and now I have my hands covered with blisters. How am I going to get married?”
Alia examined her brother’s hands for the tenth time. She saw no improvement. She squeezed more cold cream and rubbed it gently on his palms. “Please don’t worry too much,” she pleaded. “You’ll make yourself ill with worry.”
He fumed. “I am ill; I am worried; I am angry. What will Maggie say? What will her family say? What will the guests say? Look at my hands again and tell me again not to worry.”
“These things heal quickly,” Alia said, hissing and biting her lower lip in sympathy. “Besides, you are not going to get married with your hands.”
“How am I going to shake hands with the guests? Over one hundred guests have been invited and ten percent more are expected to come without invitation.”
“You should have been a little more careful,” she said, glancing towards the kitchen where the ironing board still stood. “Grabbing the iron like that!”
“The ironing board was blocking the way. If I had known you used the iron, I wouldn’t have carried it.”
“I ironed your shirts. You could have been more careful.”
“How much careful can I possibly be? There’re too many things on my mind. Had I not booked the hall, I would have postponed the wedding a second time.”
“If you do, Maggie will definitely leave you this time. Why should she have to suffer as well?”
“It’s my fault then, is it not? We have known each other for four years now. The only spots I have seen were on her left buttock. Now look at me! I’m covered with them. Maybe I have become allergic to her.”
Alia gasped. “Could that be?”
Samir reflected for a moment and shook his head. “That can’t be. We have slept together four hundred and eighty-six times, and nothing happened. It can’t be. I must be allergic to marriage.”
Alia pushed herself back for a better look at the number. “You count these things in America?”
“She does. She’s an accountant, as you know.”
“What for?”

“For tax relief, I suppose. Ask her.”
“Solved then,” she said with a quick laugh. “You can spend your first night counting the spots and blisters.”
Samir sighed, looked sideways and laughed. “You’ve got to laugh, as you keep saying.”
“It’s a great cure. It may help you too. It could be due to all this anxiety about the wedding. It’ll go away once the party is over. Don’t worry. You’ll be more assured when we see the doctor. It’s almost time to go. The last thing we want is for the guests to leave with spots.”
“They’ll sue me to the end of my days. The assurance of the doctor is my top priority. And only after that I’ll show him my hands in the hope that he might have a quick cure.”
Alia turned to a closed door on her right, “Aroub!” she called. She turned back to her brother. “And Wissam, how could he behave this way? Did you see what he wrote?”
“Aroub shouldn’t have involved Paul. The guy has blown his head off trying to talk to her but she’s determined to ignore him. It beats me how she could write to Wissam about his long fingers whereas I know for sure they are exceptionally short.”
“And I thought it was just belated adolescent crush. She’s like her dad. When she gets sullen it takes a week before she comes around.”
“You didn’t tell me she knew how to use the Internet and send e-mail. If I knew, I could have made sure the computer doesn’t get us entangled with this Wissam, sugar and syrup.”
“I don’t know how she got involved with syrup and tar.”
“What did she mean? Did you ask her?”
“I did. But you know her. She said it was in response to what Wissam did. She’s acting as if he’s her fiancé. If he wants to be with Arlene, it shouldn’t bother her. He’s free to do as he pleases.”
Alia made sure her brother kept his arms in the air and walked to the closed door. “Aroub!” she yelled. “It’s too much. We need to go to the doctor’s.”
Aroub opened the door. “What is it, now?”
“What is it? Didn’t you see what happened to your uncle? He needs to see the doctor right away.”
“What do you want me to do? I’ve a sore back.”
“It wasn’t when you were flying to Wissam one e-mail after another.”
“Wissam has nothing to do with my back. It’s really hurts. Have you forgotten what happened in London?”
“No, I haven’t. But I also remember that just two days ago, you danced all night.”
“Maybe that’s the reason for my sore back. You should have stopped me.”
Alia looked at her brother in frustration. “If only I had listened to Khalil.” She turned to her daughter, “Why don’t you talk to Wissam and put an end to this saga? It’s beginning to look like an Egyptian soap opera.”
Aroub lifted her head a little, then tilted it to her left shoulder as if sending her agony to Wissam across the Atlantic. “I don’t want to talk to him ever again. Everything is over now.”
“Over! How? Is it better that you keep on locking yourself in like that? Why should your uncle suffer because of you? Look at his hands.”
In hesitant steps Aroub walked to her uncle. She kissed him and stepped back but quickly reversed and hugged him. “I’m sorry, uncle,” she said, fighting back her tears. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.” Squeezing her temples, she added, “And this awful headache doesn’t want to go away.”
The uncle, disregarding his blisters and cold cream, laid his arms on Aroub’s shoulder. “Your mum is right. Show mercy to yourself and us and talk to him. Maybe it’s only a misunderstanding.”
Aroub burst into tears. “I don’t want to talk to him. What if Arlene picked up the phone? Am I to say to her, ‘Please! I want to talk to your boyfriend for a couple of minutes?’”
“Why assume he is with her?”
Aroub got her hand up to her chest. “I am guided by my heart. It is always right.”
Imitating Aroub, Samir put his hand on his chest. His hand hurt but he couldn’t prevent himself from laughing. Aroub stepped back. Her offended eyes only increased his laughter.
“Your heart is your guide?” he said sarcastically. “No wonder you look lost. Hearts are always blind, but don’t worry. It seems to run in the family. I know someone who once was where you are now,” he added, looking at Alia who laughed and went into her room.
“My heart doesn’t err,” Aroub said in tears. “Wissam made fun of me, but I’ll teach him a lesson. Everything he said was a lie. I don’t know how I believed him. By God, even the British are better than him.”
“I said to his dad that I didn’t want to hear his voice or his son’s before the wedding party is over. After that I think I may sue Wissam.”
“Sue him?” Aroub said in sudden panic. “They’ll put him in prison?”
“Let him go to jail. It’ll be your revenge.”
“Revenge! Who said I want revenge?”
“You did.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You’ve just said that even the British are better than him.”
“Did I say that? Impossible!”
Samir looked at Alia in her room and winked. “We’ll report him to the police. We’ll accuse him of taking advantage of you while at his place.”
Aroub pictured Wissam being dragged half naked out of bed by angry police and placed behind bars. Her heart fell off a cliff. “No, he didn’t,” she screamed. “How can we send him to prison? He saved us and helped us. If the police asked me, I will most definitely deny he took advantage of me.”
“Alia!” Samir called out to his sister. “We need to take her along with us. She needs a doctor more than I do.” He turned to Aroub, “When we finish with the wedding, we’ll talk more about that. But until then, we need your help. Maggie is at the hairdresser’s. If she called, don’t tell her I burned my hands. You may say to her that your mum and I went out to buy a present.”
“Do you want me to lie? Again? All the lies of London were not enough?”
Alia came out of her room. “Is it only in Damascus that you lie?” she said to Aroub. “Lie this time. Do you want to say to Maggie that your uncle took the iron for a pillow? She’d think he’s lost it?”
Alia went back in. Aroub embraced her uncle. “How much I wish I listened to daddy. I’ve seen nothing in this trip but trouble. I can’t stand that your hands got burned because of me.”
“It’s not because of you,” her uncle said. “I was distracted because of this guy in London. If only I could take hold of his neck.”
Aroub pictured her uncle’s hands on Wissam’s neck, and went to his defence. “Why do you want to strangle him? He did nothing to you.”
Samir produced an ambiguous sound which still denoted exasperation. “Alia! Come along before I strangle somebody else. I tell you, the wedding is going to be postponed a second time.”
Alia emerged from her room ready for the doctor’s visit, and went straight to her daughter. “When I return, I want to talk to Hisham again on the phone. He’s got some explaining to do.”
“No!” Aroub shouted. “I don’t want you to call again. Wissam will think I’m neither eating nor drinking because of him.”
Alia exchanged looks with her brother. She chuckled as she took the cheeks of her daughter in her hands. “But you’re neither eating nor drinking. You are not even sleeping or letting anybody sleep.”
“And she has a headache as well,” Samir added.
Resuming her weeping, Aroub ran to the door of her room where she paused. “I’ve become the object of your laughter. What do you want me to do to myself?”
As Aroub went into her room and shut the door, her mum followed her but was stopped by the uncle who raised his finger to his mouth and gestured to her to approach. “Let’s leave her alone for now. We’ll deal with it when we come back. Let’s go, the taxi is waiting.”
They walked towards the main door. The phone suddenly rang. Samir veered towards the telephone stand and was about to pick up when he remembered his hands. He gestured to his sister to press the handsfree button.
“What is it now?” Samir said, politely.
“Have I called at the wrong time, sir?” A voice inquired in a British accent.
“It depends on who you are and want you want,” Samir said tersely. “I’m very busy.”
The caller cleared his throat. “I know, I know, sir. You’ve a wedding on your hand, but –”
“How do you know about the wedding?”
“We’re not exactly Scotland Yard, but we know a few things. We don’t call before we know. Not much, just enough. That’s our job, sir.”
“You haven’t told me yet who you are and what you want. Are you calling from London?”
“From London; from London England, as you say in the US. From the Drugs Offences Monitoring Desk or DOMD for short.”
“Drugs!” Alarmed, Samir looked at his sister who got her hand to her mouth and looked away. “I never touched drugs in my whole life,” Samir said into the interphone. “I also didn’t go to London in six years.”
“We know that. Don’t worry. You have enough concerns of your own. By the way, my name is Michael Brennan. Where were we? Yes. I have here a file and I want to make sure of certain details before I turn it over to the investigators.”
“Investigators! I don’t understand?” Samir said. He raised his shoulders to his worried sister and curved his lower lip.
“We know, we know, sir. Don’t worry. The file doesn’t concern you. It concerns Miss… Miss… Where’s her name? There it is. I’ve found it, ‘Arwaab’, Kenyan, I presume?”
“Arab. You didn’t tell me, what’s Arwaab – I mean Aroub – has got to do with all of this?”
“She is staying with you, isn’t she? The information we have says she is. Her suitcase has been traced and we have been looking at its contents for some time now. There’s something in it which was of interest to our sniffing dogs. Do you know anything about that, sir?”
Samir stepped back from the phone and leaned on his sister who had sat on a chair nearby. “That’s just what we were missing,” he said, whispering. “I told you, the wedding is definitely postponed.” He returned to the phone but his sister grabbed his shirt, pulled him to her and began whispering into his ear.
Samir raised his head along with his eyebrows, surprised by what his sister told him. He went back to the phone. “Yes, hello! My sister here thinks she knows what alerted the dogs. It’s a Syrian recipe of food we call Chingleesh. She carried it from Damascus as a present for a friend of mine living near the airport. It emits a strong and heavy smell when enclosed for a long time. Are you satisfied with the answer? Is it over?”
“Hmm. I want to thank you for the information. It will be useful, no doubt. This thing you’ve described to me, is it smokable? What do you do with it exactly?”
“Some people like to eat it.”
“But you’re not one of them.”
“No. I hate onion.”
“You made the request for it yourself, did you not?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Tell me, please, Arwaab…, did I pronounce the name correctly, sir?”
“Almost.”
“Thank you, sir. The Miss whose name I’ve pronounced, is she certain that she had packed her suitcase by herself and didn’t put in it anything she’d received from another person?”
Samir looked at his sister. The latter nodded affirmatively.
“She’s certain,” he said.
“Quite certain?”
“Yes.”
“Could I put the question to her in person?”
“Could you tell me what you want to say to her exactly?”
“Nothing more than I’ve said to you. You see, sir, my shift is almost over. I’ve had this file for three or four days now and it can’t be put off any longer. Now, it’s in your choice that I put it in the green tray or send it to the investigators in the red tray.”
“I told you that it is food.”
“I know, sir. I know. But our dogs are not stupid.”
Samir looked at his sister with a grim face. “Do you want to say that my niece is trafficking in drugs? I’m going to call my lawyer at once.”
“Please do. That’s your right. But, of course, the problem can be solved a lot easier if you were to show some cooperation. I didn’t say your niece is trafficking in drugs. What I want to say is that somebody might have slipped something into the suitcase without her knowing. That’s why I need to talk to her. These things happen, as you know. We don’t want to punish the innocent. We’re not going to take of your time more than necessary. It might take a few minutes then you can go back to your business.”
Samir didn’t want Aroub to talk before he knew what is wanted from her. “Aroub’s not in a state which allows her to talk right now.”
“Why is that, sir? Is she worried about something? She closed the suitcase herself, no?”
“Of course, she did.”
“Did you see her do that?”
“Of course, not. I’ve her mum with me now. She was with her at the time. She told me so.”
“It’s disconcerting like that, sir. I would like to finish with this file and return the suitcase to its valid owner. But it seems things are going to take a different path.”
Samir glanced at his watch, looked at his arms, at his sister then at the closed door. “I’ll confess to you,” Samir said.
“That’s good, sir, that’s much better. Go ahead, confess!”
“I didn’t mean to say ‘confess’. I’ve nothing to confess. But this girl is going through a very difficult phase and doesn’t want to speak to anyone.”
“Does she regret something?”
“No. She has run into a disagreement with her boyfriend, you know how young people disagree with each other, and she doesn’t want to speak to anyone. But if you give me your telephone number, I will have her call you tomorrow.”
“I won’t be here tomorrow, so I’m afraid she’ll have to speak to a member of the Investigations Unit. I’ll give you their number; got a pen?”
“Wait, wait a second. I don’t have time. I have to go to the doctor’s immediately. You said that it’ll be one question only, right?”
“One or two. Three at the most.”
“And everything will be over?”
“Yes, I promise you.”
Samir turned to his sister. She hesitated but agreed at last and walked towards her daughter’s room. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. She changed course but Samir gestured to her the urgency of getting Aroub to the phone.
Having been briefed by her mum, Aroub came to her uncle. He gave her a sign of encouragement and hurriedly joined his sister who had answered the call of the taxi driver outside the house.
Aroub looked at the phone for a while before picking up the receiver slowly. The phone switched back to handset calling automatically.
“Hello!” she said in a feeble voice.
“Miss Arwaab?”
“Aroub, yes!” she said.
“Ah. Sorry. These foreign names we find some difficulty pronouncing. You’re from Syria, as is noted here, no?”
“Yes.”
“Your father… Kal; Kalil?”
“Khalil.”
“An unusual name to pronounce indeed, Miss.”
“It can’t be usual unless it’s John or Smith?”
The detective laughed. “This is a good one. I didn’t think of it. Err… We’ve found your suitcase Miss. Good news, eh!”
“Yes,” she said nonchalantly, “I’m holding unto the back of the chair in front me lest I fly from happiness.”
“You don’t seem too excited that it has been found?”
“Nothing excites me these days.”
“Are you worried about something in the suitcase?”
“No. But… How can I say it? I don’t know.”
“I understand Miss. You feel sad and angry at the same time, right?”
“Is this the second question or the third,” she said, annoyed by his interference in a private matter.
The detective laughed, “No, no, we haven’t started yet. I will start now, if you don’t mind.”
“Go ahead but please don’t be long because I have a mega headache.”
“Maybe I could advise taking a Nurofen.”
“Nurofen?” She repeated as the name rang a bell in her mind. She felt her temples. “Nothing has worked. Thank you, anyway.”
“I asked your uncle if you are a hundred per cent sure, I mean a hundred per cent, and that you didn’t put in your suitcase anything somebody had given you.”
“Of course, I didn’t,” she said. Feeling pain in her mouth, she added quickly, “It’s now my grinders’ turn to start hurting. And my tongue.”
“I’m sorry. It’s not going to be long. You kept the suitcase by your side and didn’t leave it alone at any time, right?”
“Right. Why don’t you want to believe that the Chingleesh is the culprit?”
The detective lowered his voice, “I have the file in front of me and I’ll tell you why. But, please, don’t mention it to anybody. Consider it a state secret but between you and me.”
“OK.”
“Is your uncle or mum near you?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I’ll say after you tell me.”
“They’ve left. He has an appointment with the doctor in a few minutes.”
“Good. I don’t want to lose my job. I have a wife, two kids and now three dogs, so I can’t say before I make sure it will be a secret between us.”
“I don’t believe what’s happening to me. Nothing but secrets in this trip. And now drugs.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m doing this out of consideration for your uncle’s circumstances. I don’t want the investigators to knock at his door and take him away in the middle of the night. The last thing he needs now is to get married in the interrogation room. Remember that the suitcase is yours and I don’t think you want your uncle dragged into a thing like this.”
Aroub raised her eyebrows and sighed, “OK, I’ll keep it a secret. Go ahead. But I want to remind you of my mega headache.”
“I’m very sorry for you. We’re about to finish.”
“So, let’s finish.”
“OK. We used two dogs. The first, whose name, by the way, is Paul, disliked the smell of the suitcase. You know that some drug traffickers use pepper.”
“How does the dog tell you there was pepper in the bag? Does it speak English?”
The detective laughed, “I’m Irish but what you said is funny. I didn’t think of it. I’ll tell my wife. I’ll tell her —”
“So!”
“Unfortunately, the dog doesn’t speak, but it lifts its leg, puts its paw on its nose and sneezes to tell us there is pepper or strong spices. It’s immediately replaced.”
“It sneezes like us?”
“Almost, but it doesn’t hold a tissue paper to its nose.”
She laughed until her heart hurt. “Then what?” she asked.
“Yes. Then the second dog – the first dog’s name is Paul, remember?”
“I remember well. My head aches, not my memory.”
“Yes. The second came to the first. They exchanged information. They have their own way of doing that, of course. Then it went about its business. We came to learn that the suitcase contained something other than the thing you mentioned. The second dog told us so. It approached the suitcase cautiously and squatted. In a second it lifted a paw to its nose and pointed with the other to the suitcase several times so we knew that there was something else.”
Unable to get the receiver away in time, Aroub laughed into the ear of the detective. But she shut her mouth quickly. Her body started to shake. “You too are making fun of me, aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. What I’ve just described to you is the only means we have to be a step ahead of the traffickers. Think of what could happen if we open the gate for them to flood in. And please keep in mind that I’m doing you a favour, a very big favour. You promised to keep it a secret, remember? Remember also that I’ve a wife, two kids and three dogs. Their fate is now in your hand.”
“That’s all I needed. So, are we finished? Do I tell my uncle that it’s over and that there’s no need for him to worry? And are you going to send me my suitcase?”
“Of course, But you still have two questions to answer.”
“I thought it was only one.”
“Me too. But my partner here, Arlene, reminded me that there was a second question.”
“You have a partner whose name is Arlene?” she asked, laughing.
“Yes, I do.”
“Arlene, Arlene?” She repeated, unable to stop laughing.
“If she heard you laughing, she wouldn’t be pleased at all. She left the office before the Christmas holiday happy and came back resentful of everyone.” The detective brought his voice to a whisper as he added, “I heard she was dumped by her boyfriend who left her for another girl.”
Said Aroub, “The poor girl. It’s always sad when something like that happens. I’m full of sympathy for her.”
“You say that from your heart?”
“Yes, from my heart. From what’s left of it, anyway.”
“Ah! You’re talking from your heart. Before I joined this desk, I was the editor of the Agony corner in the Morning Sun. Have you heard of it?”
“The newspaper or the corner?”
“Both.”
“I’m not sure.”
“It’s an evening newspaper with a wide circulation in Birmingham. A corner for the lovers, you know. They write about their problems and I reply.”
“You give advice on romantic problems?”
“Indeed, I do. I’m the one to know, believe me. Or that’s what I thought until I received a letter from a girl dumped by her boyfriend. It was a sad story. I called for details but she was not willing to talk on the phone so we met. She’s now my wife. But, of course, her first condition was that I leave the newspaper lest another weeping dumped girl snatch me away from her. It was a sad decision, but I don’t regret it. Every time I see her in the morning, I thank the imbecile who had dumped her.”
“He’s an imbecile if he left her without a reason.”
“Arlene is like her, you know. She was dumped by her friend for another girl who later dumped him for no reason. She pretends to have a headache every time he tries to talk to her. Am I boring you?”
“No. I like to hear her story. She reminds me of a girl I know.”
“So you like me talking with you? I’m a good talker, am I not?”
“Are you flirting with me? I told you I’ve a headache. Please!”
“I wish I could flirt with you. I have a photo of you in front of me. But I think you’re much prettier in person.”
“You have a photo of me!” She shouted in surprise. “How did you get it?”
“It’s our job. But you don’t have to feel concerned at all. I love my wife. She’s the only woman in my life now, tomorrow and to the end.”
“Ah! That’s a nice thing for men to say.”
“You said, ‘Ah!’ from the heart, Miss Arwaab.”
Aroub felt deeply emotional. Her voice faltered.
“Hello, Hello! Are you still with me, Miss?”
She wiped her tears. “Yes, I am. What were you saying?”
“What was I saying? I forgot. No! I remember now. I was saying that that was the worst thing to happen. Arlene split up with her friend on account of his new girlfriend but the new girlfriend dumped him. And Arlene left the office early. That’s what we call in England, the triangle of misery. Heard of it?”
“I heard now. It’s an appropriate name, though I don’t understand who dumped who.”
“Me too. It’s complicated, isn’t it? But you’ll be surprised if I tell you that Arlene says that the new girlfriend is currently in Washington.”
“Really? Why doesn’t he fly to her to hear what she has to say? Maybe she does have a headache, after all.”
“You think so?”
“I don’t know. It’s not for me to say.”
“A good suggestion indeed. But there’s a problem. I heard that the new girlfriend, the one who is in Washington, thinks that her boyfriend is still with Arlene. Imagine!”
“She shouldn’t jump to conclusions, I guess.”
“That’s very wise of you to say. You’re young but you speak wisdom. You know, there’s nothing better than being open to one another. In that way things can be sorted out and solved quickly. But the young don’t always think this way. They make their own calculations. They add this and subtract that while unaware that the calculator is out of battery. That is the question, as Hamlet says. Do you know Hamlet?”
“He’s like Shehryar, both don’t trust women.”
“Here you are! You don’t only know Hamlet, but the other one you’ve mentioned as well. I shouldn’t have asked you such a question. But of course, you know that Hamlet suggested to Ophelia that if she needed to marry she should marry a fool. That’s bad, especially between lovers. Nobody wants to be a fool. I’ll give you an example. I heard that the new girlfriend promised to call on midnight sharp on New Year’s Eve but didn’t keep her word. He waited for hours then unhooked the receiver and wanted to throw himself in the river.”
“In this cold?”
“Imagine! He would have frozen to death. What’s painful indeed is that it all comes down to a technicality and a misunderstanding.”
“How’s that?”
“The time difference.”
“The time difference?”
“Yes, imagine! The time difference. He thought she’ll call midnight London time, while she must have called midnight her time. Imagine! Confused young lovers who knew not their hands from his elbows, as we say in English, though I’m Irish. As for her, she thought that he spent the night with his old girlfriend and that he unhooked the receiver so that they would not be disturbed. The triangle of misery, as I told you. The three slept on their faces. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is a hilarious comedy in comparison.”
Aroub looked at the clock.
“The time difference?” she said as if to herself.
“Yes! Miss, Miss, are you still with me?”
“Yes. Did you ‘the time difference’?”
“Yes. You know what I mean? Its five hours the difference in time between London and Washington. It’s now approaching 1 p.m. in Washington while it is about 6 o’clock evening time here. Is it not?”
“It is.”
“That’s what I meant.”
“The time difference,” she said, smacking her forehead. “Of course, the time difference. What stupidity!”
“I beg your pardon!”
“I wasn’t talking to you. I too didn’t know my hand from my elbow, as you say, or I didn’t know my head from something we usually sit on, as we say. Listen, please, I enjoyed talking to you but I’ve to hang up. I need to talk to someone right away.”
“I understand. I’ve two questions. The first would take only a second. I too need to go back to my dogs and wife.”
Impatient, Aroub started to shake. “Make it quick. I want to talk to him, please; I want to talk to him, now.”
“Are you absolutely sure you didn’t put in the suitcase anything which violates the laws of the United Kingdom?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I believe you. The file now goes into the green tray.”
“Thank you. How can I repay you for your favour?”
“By sorting out the problem with your boyfriend. Life like that isn’t worth much. Believe me. I too know about life.”
“I will, right away.”
“Maybe you should wait until your mega headache is gone.”
“It is gone.”
“So, you will call?”
“I will, right away.”
“Promise?”
“How many men do I have to promise in one trip? But I promise you.”
“I knew you’re a good girl. Wait for the suitcase in the next few days. And don’t put in your bags things like that again.”
“Never. Neither Chingleesh nor drugs.”
“Especially the first. Dogs don’t like it. And, please, keep our conversation confidential. Good luck.”
Aroub hung up. She breathed as she had not done in days. She ran to her room, fetched a paper and came back to the phone. She dialled Wissam’s number but suddenly put her hand on her mouth and screamed, “My tooth brush! Where’s my tooth brush?”

Wissam pushed the microphone aside, switched off the recorder and the voice simulator and unplugged all the computer’s additional connections. He walked to the door.
“Dad!” he shouted to his dad who was in the front room. “How much are you prepared to pay if you don’t have to dance on the table naked?”
“What!” his father said.
“I think I’ll start with your laptop. I want to take it to Washington with me tomorrow to give to Aroub.”
“What!!”
“Leave the check book too on the table, where you wanted to dance.”
“What!!!”
“Also, tell aunt in Damascus to get ready for a visit soon to Aroub’s family.”
“No!” His father shouted from the front room. “This girl has driven you completely mad.”
“We drove each other mad.”
“That she did is clear. That you did is not clear.”
“It will be. The telephone is going to ring any second now. Please say hello to Aroub and wait until I pick up the phone in my room then hang up. Don’t indulge in a long talk about her mum. I want to ask Aroub if she’ll marry me, but first we’ll get engaged.”
“What!!!!”
The telephone rang. Wissam returned to his room and closed the door. He sat on the chair and auditioned the second question. “One, two, three, four, five,” he counted and picked up the handset. “Aroub, my love, how are you?”
“I’m fine now, how are you?”
“Aroub, I’m going to ask you something very important. You don’t have to answer me right away. Take as much time as you want; I’ll wait for your answer as long as you want.”
“I do. What other questions do you want to ask me?”
Aroub heard a skidding sound followed by a bang and a suppressed cry of pain. She screamed: “Wissam! What happened?”
“Aroub, darling,” Wissam said after a while. “You would not believe this. I’ve just fallen off my chair.”
“How?”
“I’m not exactly sure. I thought I heard you say something.”
“What did you hear me say?”
Wissam hesitated. “I thought I heard you say, ‘I do.’ Did you say that?”
Aroub laughed. “I said, ‘I too,’ meaning I too have a question for you.”
“Damn it!” Wissam said, utterly disappointed. “I could have sworn you said something else. I must have wanted to hear those words from you, but it wasn’t to be. Never mind, I’ll ask now, but first give me two seconds to steel myself.”
When he felt ready, he didn’t have the chance to ask. All he could hear on the phone was Aroub’s laughter, getting louder and louder by the second. “You silly boy,” she said in between laughs. “Of course I said, ‘I do’. I love you; what else can a girl in love say?”
Aroub heard a skidding sound followed by a bang and a suppressed cry of pain, a bit louder than before.
“My love,” she screamed with deep concern. “What happened again?”

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