We were silent on our way to Aroma Café, both of us lost in deep thoughts. Layla broke the silence first asking, “So you have no idea why your father would want to meet us there?” I told her I did not. “What did he sound like then? Was he angry or not?” “I couldn’t tell. He sounded normal I guess.” “Is that good or bad?” “I don’t know. I’m confused same as you. Let’s just hope for the best,” I said then she surprised me with a question that made me laugh, “How do I look?”
I glanced at her. Her lip-gloss was almost intact but her eyeliner and mascara were smeared below her eyes. On her right cheek, a visible black line was formed from all the tears. “No comment,” I replied jokingly. She hit me playfully on my arm saying, “Come on. I don’t look that bad.” “You look fine. I was just kidding,” I assured her. “Oh my god! And you were going to let me go into the place looking like this!” she said as she was looking at her reflection in a small mirror she took out of her bag. “Luckily there’s nothing I can’t fix,” she said and took out a couple of cosmetics from the bag, cleaned her face first then applied them. “What about now?” she inquired after she was done. “Beautiful as always,” I said.
We arrived there around 11:30. The moment we took our seats next to each other Layla said, “I’m getting a little bit scared now. What’s going to happen?” “I honestly don’t know. Let’s just wait for dad.” The waiter approached us but we told him we were waiting for someone. I ordered Orange juice nonetheless. After about forty minutes of shifting uncomfortably in our seats, holding hands, staring blankly at the glass of juice on the table and many questions and speculations regarding what this is all about, finally my father called. “I’m five minutes away. Are you there?” he said. I told him we were. He asked me to wait for him outside and hung up. “Where is he?” she asked. “He’ll be here any minute. I’ll meet him outside. Wait here,” I said and stood up. I left her worrying there and headed to the entrance.
He walked in a couple of minutes later and said, “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long.” “Oh no, you’re actually early,” I said. “Good,” he said and nodded with his head signaling I should lead the way. When we reached the table, Layla stood to greet him. He extended his arm, shook her hand and said, “How are you, dear?” She had a puzzled look in her eyes but she replied, “I’m fine, Ammo.“
Dad took a seat across the table from us. He lit up a cigarette and smoked it for a while. It was obvious that his mind was drifting away. He finally looked at us and said, “One of the cruelest things to do in this life is forcing two people who love each other to part.”
He paused for a second before continuing, “I’ve been in love once before your mother. It was a long time ago. Her name was Carla. I had met her on my first day of college back in Lebanon. I was a Sunni Muslim and she was a Marooneya Christian. It is difficult as it is nowadays. Imagine what it was like back then in the midst of the civil war. Sunna, Shi’ah, Maroon, Catholic and Drooz. The whole country was a mess and it wasn’t very acceptable to marry someone of another belief. In addition, my parents wanted me to marry a relative of mine. Carla and I knew we couldn’t be together so I just packed my things and left Lebanon for good. I went to the States for five years before coming to Saudi Arabia. I didn’t intend on staying here but then I met your mother and my whole life plans changed. I fell in love again. Why am I telling you all of this? Can I ask you a couple of questions first? Do you two really love each other?” We looked at each other’s eyes and nodded our heads. “We do, very much,” we said. “Do you plan on staying together and getting married?” he asked. “Inshallah,” we said.
“In my room, when I raised my hand to slap you again she begged me not to, risking to turn my anger towards her. I saw the look in her eyes, hurt for you. She didn’t want you to get hit. That’s something you can’t overlook. I also appreciate the fact that you didn’t lie to me about what happened in there. Instead, you just said you’re sorry and told me you were in love. In the tone of your voice, there was truth. However, what made me realize that you sincerely cared about each other was seeing you in the front yard before you got into the car. I was watching you from my window. You hugged each other and then you kissed her forehead. I feared that my son whom I’ve raised had become a bad person or that he was getting fooled by one but just seeing you two like that then and now, I must say that my doubts have vanished. I wish you all the happiness of the world.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I approve of what you did this morning. What you did was greatly wrong but what is done is done. You have to promise me that you’ll never do such a thing again until you’re married. I can understand that you’re young and in love and mistakes happen but that’s what I’m asking of you. You have to promise me.” “We promise,” we said. “That’s good. Needless to say, I won’t be telling your mother nor will I speak to any of your parents. I trust that I have raised a good son who will take care of you, my girl. And I’m sure that you will take care of my son too, wouldn’t you?” Layla blushed and said, ” Of course I will.”
“I told you about Carla to let you know that I do understand. Heartbreak is one of the worst feelings in life. It took me too long to recover. Sure, I’m thankful for how things worked out in the end but that was an experience I don’t wish upon anyone, let alone my own son and the girl he chose to love. If I had sensed you were only playing around or whatever, my response would have been very different. But now I honestly wish to see you two married and happy together one day.”
We were both stunned and speechless from everything he had said. We did not know what to say. Layla’s eyes were starting to tear up then. “If those are tears of joy then I’m glad,” dad said. I squeezed her hand under the table.
Dad lit up another cigarette and ordered a salad for himself. He asked us if we wanted anything but we said no. He then looked at us and said, “Now tell me all about you. How did you two meet? How long have you been together? What are your plans for the future? I especially want to know more about you Layla if you were going to be my daughter in law,” he said and winked at her. She blushed to the point where her cheeks turned red like tomatoes and we laughed about it.
For a couple of hours we told dad almost everything. He listened to us as we talked and completed each other’s stories. He made us feel comfortable so it was easy for us to open up to him that day. Of course, there are things that we did not tell him about but he learned everything he needed to know about us. “You said you told your mother, did you?” he asked me after he ordered the bill. “I told her about Layla, only the big headlines. Who she is and that I love her and intend to marry her one day,” I said. “That’s good” he said then added,
“Surely you don’t need me to tell you that you should concentrate on your studies and not let this distract you. You know the finals are only a couple of weeks away. This is another promise you’ll have to make in addition to the previous one. Ok? I want to see some A’s at the end of this year from both of you.” We nodded our heads and promised him.
In front of the entrance to the café dad turned to us and said, “I have an important meeting now that’s why I have to leave but you two don’t go home just yet. It’s 2:30. You didn’t order anything inside. You must be hungry. Here you go.” He took out his wallet and gave me 300 Riyals then looked at Layla and jokingly said, “I’m sorry my son doesn’t know how to treat ladies.” Then he told me to take the money and take Layla somewhere nice. I was lost for words. After everything that had happened today, he was being very kind to me. This was not what I had expected. Layla was speechless too. We barely mumbled “Thank you” to dad. We both kissed him goodbye. And just as he started walking away to get to his car I said, “Dad, wait.” He stopped and I went to him, hugged him and said thank you one more time.
You need to understand that my relationship with my father, at the time, was a long way from perfect and as the years to follow passed by, my relationship with him deteriorated so badly until it reached a point where we would be only yelling at each other if not simply silently ignoring one another. Later in life, we tried to fix everything that was wrong between us. When I think about it now, regardless of how things turned out in the end between Layla and me, that morning will always be one of the very best times I shared with my dad.