By: Aadel M Al-Mahdy
Looking out the window, he watched the dark-blue celestial canopy that expanded to rain the approaching night’s coolness over the city of Riyadh and the afar desert where sand dunes have majestically stood under the abating sun. He was about to check on his son who was playing in the kitchen when his wife’s voice broke the silence. “Hey, honey! Do you know lemon was expensive, today?” His wife said. “Ummm, you’re back” he wondered. “What are you doing? Where is Khaled?” His wife inquired, but he quickly answered, “He’s playing in the kitchen” His wife said; her tone of voice strongly criminalizing, “All by himself? Remember last time!” - “Here it goes; the tip of the iceberg”, He whispered to himself and then talked gently to avoid getting into argument, “Last time I checked on him, he was doing fine” But hearing a scream coming from the kitchen, he rushed out of his study room and shouted, “What on earth is going on?” His voice was inquisitively sharp. She yelled, “See what happen, when you leave the boy alone”, her voice was oozing with severe blaming.
In the kitchen, Khaled was sitting on the floor in a pool of water that covered the whole place, and nibbling on a peach like a rabbit with the only teeth he got; his upper front ones. In the meanwhile, peaches, apples, apricots were scattered everywhere while the empty fruit basked was sailing like an escape-pod being pushed by a cascade of tiny waves created by water gushing out of the washer’s draining hose. Khaled raised his hands, wanting his father to carry him and then muttered, “Dadda, dadda”, and then smiled innocently. He laughed and picked him up and said while tickling his tummy, “You naughty boy, you took the washer’s hose out of the floor drain again. You little devil” Khaled giggled. His wife then said, words coming from between her teeth, “So this is his second time! What a waist of detergent!” She was so furious that her jugulars popped, her face turned red and her distended abdomen shook. “Calm down! You are pregnant No harm done” He said. His wife yelled, “What! Look at this miss” He said, “We are on the first floor. The kitchen floor is an inch lower than the rest of the apartment and do not worry, I‘ll clean the miss”, and held Khaled’s chin in his hand and smiled. “Hey, buddy, did you enjoy it. I hope you did!” he whispered. His wife yelled.“You don’t care, ah, damn it, look at this! He nibbled each piece of fruit. Damn it, we have visitors coming today” He said while in the meantime started to leave.“No problem. I’ll buy some more” he said and started to leave. “That is not the point“ His wife yelled again. “Here it comes, the That-is-not-the-point. The first part of an ugly looking thread of argument” He murmured. “And where the hell you are you going with the boy?” She yelled. He pleaded, “Back to my study. Please, stop yelling" His wife yelled, “I am not yelling. I need to change the boy’s cloth” and then added with a voice full of sarcasm, “Can’t you see the body is soaking wet?” He said, “I’ll change his cloth. Please stop worrying!” and left. Half an hour later, her yelling echoed again, “Have you changed the boy’s cloth?” He answered, “Yes. You’re still yelling” and then added wondering, “I thought you would be calm by now” she shouted; her annoyance resonating, “I am calm. The bloody kitchen is now clean” ” . He said, “You shouldn’t. I was going to do it myself” She said, her tone of voice challenging, “Why didn’t you?” He answered, “Priorities. I had to change Khaled’s cloth first” she said, “Ok, Mr. mentally organized. It is too late for that now” He did not say anything, but carried his son on his shoulders and walked towards the apartment door. “Where the hell are you going?” she yelled. “To the store, to buy fruits” He said and then whispered to himself, “To any hell other than this one”
On his way to the vegetables and fruits shop that was closed to his residence, his mind roamed ─ He remembered when he fell in love with his wife. She was four years younger than him when he married her; beautiful and educated, and as he thought then, compatible to him. But time revealed to him a bitter-tasting fact; married couples needed not be compatibly parallel to each other. if they are, they would become an amoebic extension to one another; a boring sameness capable of nipping any relation in the bud. Dissimilarity, on the other hand, would be an interesting motivator; curiosity stirrer for gaining more profound acquaintance, hence one would journey for learning, for openness and expansion and also would fear not to compromise to meet mid-ways. He also remembered that he never had an intellectual discussion with his wife as her lack of self-confidence and self-esteem; an outcome of abuse inflected on her in her childhood by her parents, molded her into a cynical adult. He thought her ridicule was a self-defense mechanism; a dark cloud that might hopefully disperse by passage of time and by a Councillor assistance. In fact, had he not had his son, Khaled, he would have divorced her a while ago. So he had to swallow his pride and disregard her ridicule, particularly when another child was on the way.
Unable to fight the urge, he kicked a pebble he saw on the curb so hard that it flew like a swift arrow across the street and hit the park’s fence making a loud noise.
Inside the shop, Khaled named the fruits, “Appul, appul, arcot, nana” ─ His father laughed and said, “Yes, Khaled, and don’t forget the pomegranate. They’ve hard skin, buddy, and your rabbit-like teeth won’t be able to go through it”
On their way back, Khaled was excited at the sight of the swings in the park. “Wings, wings” Khaled cried tightening his legs around his father’s nick. “Ok, Khaled” He said, “Take it easy! We’ll go to the park, but we have to be home before it is dark”
The sun’s eyebrow peeked from behind the low buildings that batched the horizon’s line but seemingly not for long. A little wind blew just in time to reduce the lingering heat left behind by the Arabian solar inferno. The park was almost empty. An old man with a long beard, died with henna, was sitting on the grass with a boy who seemed to be his grandson. “Judging by the type and way he is wearing his ghutra, he seems to be a mutawa, Khaled” He said to his son, but Khaled said, “Wing, wing”. Aiming for the swings, he saw a woman sitting on a bench adjacent to the swings’ area, holding the leash of a small beautiful dog which squatted by her feet. She seemed to be in her early fifty, still beautiful, and the fair color of her skin and of her hair, that reached down to cover her shoulders, bespoke of her Scandinavian origin. ─ So many expatriates in this country! I am one of them, he thought and then talked to Khaled, “Hey, Khaled, would you like to pat that dog”, Khaled’s eyes shone immediately in excitement and clapped his hands in a commanding manner. His father laughed, “Honey, this dog is for real. It won’t flip over” ─ Khaled has a mechanical dog at home that flips over when someone claps his hands. He then approached the lady to ask her for permission to let his son pat her dog, but baffled, he stood half-way; his eyes transfixed on the lady. “What in hell is going on?” He whispered to himself ─ resting on her thigh, the lady’s hand cupped to support her head while slightly bending forward; her whole body was shaking rhythmically as though she was sobbing. He put Khaled down and walked him towards her. Hearing their approaching foot steps, the lady rose up her head and looked at them. “God, her eyes are brimming with tears!” He whispered to himself again and then greeted her. She did not utter a word; her lips were shivering and her body was still jerking. “Can I help you in any way” He kindly asked her. She pointed with her forefinger to the old man and to her dog while tears were running down her cheeks. He then quickly told her, “I think I understand. He stoned your dog. Didn’t he?” She nodded, still unable to speak. “Was the dog on the leash?” he asked her. She nodded again. He then said, “Well, I want you to calm down. Nobody will hurt you or hurt your dog any more as long as I am here. I’ll handle the situation” He inhaled a deep breath and then resumed his talk, “I was about to ask you for letting my son pat your dog. Well, I guess it is too late for this now. But can you please look after him while I am talking to the old man” ─ “Yes you can” said she; chocking on her tears.
The old man was in his early seventies; skinny and the facial dark skin of his lozenge-like face, the wrinkles and creases around his eyes and the way in which he placed the ghutra on his head, all bespoke of him being one of the old generation with whom he had arguments about religion and they proved to be ignoramus zealots. He squatted on the ground juggling a couple of pebbles which he has taken from a tiny mound of stones standing before the old man’s grandson.
“Assalamu-Alaykum” he greeted the old man. “Wa-Alaykum Assalam” the old man greeted him back. He then asked him, “Why did you and your grandson throw stones at that lady’s dog?” The old man mumbled a whole bunch of crab. He decided to quickly put an end to this nonsense, so he said, “Listen old man, I am not going to level with you and explain how wrong you. You are a fool and your religious school of thought is full of crab. Neither am I going to waste my time reasoning quoting verses from the Qur’an or sayings from the traditions of the prophet,peace be upon him, that stand against your action. But, I am going to tell you this, I live in that building, over there, and if I ever see you again casting a stone at a dog, I’ll personally see to it that I’ll pin you down to the ground and pluck the died hair of your beard, one by one, so that you’ll suffer” The old man’s face turned pale, but he continued, “Now, I want you to get the hell out of here, or else I’ll use my camera ─ he pretended to be looking for his camera in his pocket ─ and photograph you, and your grandson, and the lady, and the dog, and write a report, and send it to all newspapers abroad to be published, thus you and your king along with the head of the religious Wahhabi authority will be a laughing stock. He took a long breath and then said after a short pause, "Now, let us see what your king will do to you if that ever happen” As if touched by a high voltage power source, the man jumped to his feet and quickly left, dragging his grandson behind him. He yelled, “Hey, you forgot your pebbles’ arsenal behind”, but his yelling fell on deaf ears.
Back to the lady, he found her in complete astonishment. “The man left as if he’s seen a ghost. What did you say to him?” The lady asked him. “Oh, it is a long story, but I doubt you’ll ever see him around here anymore” She thanked him, and then asked, “Is he one of the religious authorities?” He said, “The Mutawa’een...I believe so... and...an ignoramus one, too” She wondered, “Who are those people?” He said, “They are followers of a zealot who lived long time ago during when the Ottomans were around...a religious reformer and a leader of a movement that was named after him” She asked, “What does that word Mutawa’een mean?” He said, “It a plural the singular of which is mutawa meaning among other things, one who bends, one who makes flexible and obedient, one who forcibly sets straight” He then looked at Khaled who was lying flat on the ground and giggling as the dog was on top of him licking his face. “So he is the religious Fender-Bender” The lady interrupted. “You can say that. I see your sense of humor is back!” He said, laughing. “Did I offend you in any way?” She wondered, “Oh, no, you didn’t. As a matter of fact, I am against their strict views. But it is just fair to mention, the old Saudi generation must be given some credits. Irrespective of their strict perception of specific religious matters, they have many qualities rare to find and lacking to some extent in the young generation" She wondered again, “What are these qualities?” He said, “Honesty, faithfulness, loyalty, humility, generosity; all are desert principles. The oil-rich generation, who never herded animals under the desert blazing sun but lived in air-conditioned houses and drove expensive cars, have become arrogant and notably shallow” She said, “I have been here for while, but I have never had serious talks with any of them” He said, “Just hope not to meet the ones who are under the false impression that they have already had all science and technology and that they are starting from where the other stopped; a slogan I have heard once from an idiot” She said, “People are impressed by all what the money has achieved so far” He said, “Those are the fools who are unaware of the fact that their country still lacks the human and industrial infrastructure required for the so called start-from-where-other-stopped” and then he added, “But would you believe me if I tell you that there are open-minded ones. Surprisingly, some of them are also Mutawa’een” She said, “I have just been unlucky today, I guess” He said, laughing. “I guess so. And some of them confided in me their disapproval of the way in which the religious authority was handling the situation in a country; the total economy of which relied on the expertise of foreign expatriates of different cultures and different beliefs” She then wondered, “Can’t they do something about it?” He shrugged while scanning the sky with his eyes then smiled as the mystical hurries-like lunar face unveiled by the absence of the day’s blazing sun, shone intensively. The age-contours on the lady's face were emphasized - Where did I see this lady? he thought, and then said, “Look at that! It is a full moon. God, it is so beautiful and mesmerizing” She said while looking at the moon, “Oh, yes it is indeed” He then commented, “I guess the old man under the influence of the full moon.” She asked, wondering, “What is that?” He said, “Haven’t you heard of the full moon influence? It is said when the moon is full, crime ratio increases” She said, “yes I have, but…” He interrupted her, “Well, I think the observation is nothing but pseudo-scientific” she said, “No, it is true, but the moon was not yet around, when the old man showered my dog with his pebbles"
Pointing to his residence and said, “By the way, I live in that building over there. I am married. My wife is at home. She speaks English fluently. If you like to have a chat with her, a cup of cocoa or just sit and relax, I’ll be honored. We can also continue chatting about the subject” ─ “The honor will be mine. I’ll be glad to do that. My husband is going to pick me up in an hour or so. Would I be able to use your phone to tell him where I am?” ” She asked. “By all means” said he and then turned his face to his son and said, “Let us go, Khaled. Enough playing with doggie! Let us go before Mama is worried”
The four of them then marched towards his house. “Hey, Khaled, look how shiny that constellation is!” He talked to his son. Looking where his father pointed, Khaled raised his hands and murmured, “Star”, and then clapped his hands. “They are called the big dipper. A big ladle to serve dinner to the celestial realms in their cool spatial corridors after departure of the blazing sun” he said. “Oh, that is poetic” She said. “I wish I was a poet” He thanked. “May I ask you a question?” She asked. “By all means” He quickly replied. “Your son’s name" She said. "What about it?" He asked. "Is it true that Arabic names are descriptive and meaningful?” She asked. “Most of them are” He answered. “What does Khaled mean, then?” She then asked. “Khaled means immortal. I named him after an Arabian brilliant general who had never been defeated in a battle" He explained, but she asked him again, “Are you preparing Khaled to be a warrior?” He patted Khaled on the head and then smiled. “We’re all warriors in our own ways. Not in the lexical sense of the word, though”, and then added after realizing they were in front of his apartment door, “Ah, here we are”
He rang the door bell, but before inserting the key into the key hole, he added, “A doctor is a warrior, so is an engineer, a writer and a farmer. Anyways..." She looked at him in the eyes. "I can’t wait until the second one is born”, He said. “Am I right if I assume that your wife is pregnant already?” She said. “Yes you are” He said, turned the key and shouted after he had opened the door, “Honey, we are home. We have a visitor, oh, what the hell! Honey, are you alright?” He was worried as he saw his wife sitting on the sofa in the living room huffing and puffing while her knees were spread apart. He rushed towards her, held her hand and asked her what was wrong with her. “Pangs of delivery. I think she is due right now” the lady said said. “What! Delivery! She is due the end of next month” He screamed. “Honey, my water broke” His wife whispered and then added, “Who is she?” Answering her in a very calm voice the lady said, “Eva is my name. Don’t be alarmed. It is an early delivery. What is your name?” His wife answered, “Arwa” - “Oh, it is a nice name. it sound musical. Ok, Arwa, I want you not to worry” The lady said in a calm voice, and then looked at Arwa’s husband and said, “I need some clean towels, and call the University Hospital ambulance, not any other hospital, and boil some water!” The wife asked her, “What are you going to do?” She told her that they had to be ready before the ambulance came and asked her not to worry as she was a nurse at the maternity ward of UH.
He went to bring the towels, but when he emerged from the bathroom, he saw his wife already lying on her back in the bedroom; her legs bent and spread apart, and Eva sitting next to her holding her hand while her other hand was gently stroking Arwa's distended abdomen. He placed the towels beside his wife and went to call the ambulance and boil the water. In the kitchen, while he was boiling the water, he heard one scream followed by a short period of silence, and then he heard a sound no father in the world would fail to recognize though he might have not heard it before, then the doorbell rang. He ran to open the door. There were two nurses holding a stretcher. He invited them in, and told them that his wife was in the bedroom with a friend and that she might have already delivered the baby. The nurse pushed the stretcher towards the bedroom. “Hi, Eva, what’re you doing here?” Seeing Eva holding the baby by his feet, the brunette nurse asked her. “Delivering a baby, Suzan” Eva said, handing the baby to her. “Here you go, umbilical cord already cut and tied. This is the quickest and easiest delivery I have ever done so far” Eva said.“What a big relief!” the wife said and then asked Suzan if they knew each other. “Eva is the Maternity Ward Supervisor at the University Hospital and she is my boss”Suzan said. The other nurse, apparently a Filipino, checked the baby. “Congratulation! You have got a baby boy” The Filipino nurse burst out saying. “Really. Oh, look at his little thing” He said, looking at the baby’s male organ, “I am going to name him Hamzah” ─ “Name who, his Weenie?!” Surprised, the Filipino nurse inquired. Though she was still weak, Arwa burst out laughing. He looked at the nurse while placing his hand on his mouth to conceal a smile and said patting her on her shoulder, “Of course not. Weenie is already named weenie. I don’t need to rename it. I meant the baby” The nurse’s face blushed, but when he bent to kiss his boy, she shouted, “Don’t, don’t kiss him!” He was confused for a second and said quickly, “Ah, adult’s germs. Ok buddy, how dare I am to spoil your clean slate! Damn those adult’s germs!”, and then asked the nurse, “Can I at least touch him on the cheek with the tip of my forefinger” The Pilipino nurse nodded.His wife and Hamzah were transferred to the stretcher. On the way out, he looked at Khaled who was sitting on the sofa playing with his toys. “Khaled, look, you have a baby brother” He said. Khaled raised his head and murmured, “Beby”, and quickly returned to playing with his toys. “By the way, Eva, I am going to accompany my wife. Will you be able to look after Khaled until I am back? If any thing happen, just call me” He told Eva. “By all means, my husband is coming to pick me up soon. I’ll then bring Khaled to the hospital. Hamzah may have to be placed in the incubator for a few days. I’ll be there to make sure that everything is alright” He said while walking to the door, “Thank you very much! I am in your debts” but Eva stopped him, wondering, “I am curious. What does the name Hamazah mean?” He smiled then posed like a lion standing on his hinds ready for attack, and bared his teeth, then roared two times. “Ah, a jaguar” She cried. He said, “Pretty close, but with a mane, Eva. A feline with a mane” and then closed the door behind him.