“I think we should concentrate on studying the next couple of weeks which means locking ourselves home and not seeing each other,” I told Layla while we were having lunch at Benihana that day after our encounter with my father. “I know. I’ve got so much that I need to catch up on too myself. I really want to get an A this year,” she said. We were both good students. We had gotten A’s on our first year of college but she barely managed to pass with a D on her second year while I got a C on mine. We were determined on doing well this year when it first started and now we were even more so after we promised my father that we would.
In those weeks prior to the exams, I did not see Layla. Surely enough, we were calling each other every couple of hours to see how much studying we had done and encouraging one another to work a little bit harder. At the end of each night, we would talk for a few minutes then say that whoever wakes up first should wake the other up.
Her exams were only two weeks long while mine stretched for four. Our exams’ schedules were very different which served to our benefit. There was only one day in which we both had an exam on the same time. On that particular day, she went to college and back to her home with Rana because I could not take her. On her other exams however, it was I who picked her up in the morning and drove her back after she finished.
She would revise stuff on the way before I drop her off to college. Then I would take my books and papers of whichever subject my upcoming exam was going to be and head to Dunkin Donuts, the branch near college. I would sit there and study until she calls me and says she is done. I would take her to her house then head to my own if I did not have an exam at noon or go back to college if I did.
Things went smoothly during the whole exams period and we were both very excited about how well we had done. On the last day of my exams, I went out to Friday’s with my friends for lunch and met Layla for dinner at Senses. It was the last time I was going to see her for a couple of months because the next day she was leaving with her family to Egypt where they had an apartment and usually spent their summer vacations there. Her results were out and we were celebrating as well as saying our goodbyes. She had gotten an A on every single subject. I had bought her a Swarovski necklace as a present. “But I didn’t get you anything,” she exclaimed. “It’s ok. This is just a small thing to help keep me in your mind when you’re far away.” “Thank you. Can I wear it now?” “Allow me, please,” I said and put the necklace around her neck. “Perfect,” she said and planted a soft kiss on my cheek. At the end of the night, I told her how much I am going to miss her. Sweet adorable Layla had tears in her eyes as she got into Dania’s car after she hugged me. Dania, who was visiting an uncle of hers near by, had offered to take Layla home after we were done because it was difficult for me to do so at night.
A week later, my results were posted and I had managed to get all A’s except for a single B. I called Layla immediately and delivered the good news. She was happy for me and I was happy, too. I was happy about everything in my life at the time. Everything was going better than I had dreamed about. Life was as perfect as it could be.
It was in the middle of the summer when my brother, Badr, called me while I was in the gym and said in a very disturbing tone, “Come back now.” He did not respond when I asked him what is going on and only repeated his sentence before he hung up. I went home as quickly as I could to find all of my uncles’ cars parked in front of our house. The minute I stepped foot in the house I sensed something was terribly wrong. As I climbed up the stairs, I recognized the voice of my mother crying out loud coming from my grandmother’s room. I headed there and froze in my place at the sight of the lifeless body of my grandma lying on her bed.
All of my uncles were in the room. Some were crying audibly and some were fighting back their tears. Mom’s crying was the most heartbreaking one of all. She was shouting all over the place. I was in shock for it was the first time I witness my strong mom in such a state. My brother pulled me out and gave me the details. Grandma had passed away while she was sleeping less than an hour ago. Then I was given many errands to run in order to prepare for the burial, the funeral, etc. I had tears in my eyes and my chest was tightening. Grandma had been sick for a long time and this was not unexpected, yet it did not make it easy. Mom would not stop crying or wailing until it reached a point where one of my aunts who is a doctor had to inject her with a tranquilizer to calm her down.
The sense of loss and mourning that had engulfed our house after the death of grandma was overwhelming. Needless to say, I called Layla that night to inform her of what had happened. She said she was sorry and all the right things she was supposed to say. She told me she wished she could be there with me during this difficult time but I assured her that I will be fine and that it’s mom I am worried about the most.
We talked for some time then she said she would keep my family and me in her prayers. I thanked her, told her I loved her and hung up. Grandma was buried in Makkah the next day, which was the first day of Al-Aza, the service. Most of my friends came to pay their respects after Bashar, one of my best friends, called and I told him what had happened. He took the liberty of informing everyone else.
Almost a week after grandma’s death as I was settling into bed late at night, my mobile phone rang. I looked at its screen thinking it is probably Layla checking on me. It was not Layla calling. Instead, a very familiar name was showing. A name engraved into the back of my mind forever. It belonged to the girl whom I call my first love and my first heartbreak.
After a minute of hesitation, I answered, “Hello?” “Hey, Khalid. It’s Dalia,” she said. “Yeah. I know,” I said not knowing how to proceed. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for your loss. May Allah have mercy on your grandmother’s soul,” she said sympathetically. “Thank you, I guess,” was all I managed to say. “I came and paid my respects on the second day. Have Noor told you?” “She did. I thought she was mistaken.” “No, sure you didn’t think I wouldn’t come.” “How did you find out? Did Amro tell you?” I asked in a rather aggressive tone. “Yes,” she replied in what sounded like an apology. “How are you holding up? How’s everything? Oh, I heard you got an A this year. I was glad when I heard that,” she said,
I do not know what it was that made me respond to her. Was it that Layla was away in Egypt and I needed someone to talk to, especially with everything that was going on and me feeling strangely vulnerable at that late time of night? Was it the fact that I had shared three years of my life with Dalia not too long ago? It had been over a year since I last spoke to her. For whatever reason, I found myself filling her in on most of the important events of the last year. I told her a little bit about Layla but she changed the subject rather quickly and we never got back to it. We talked about many things and shared many stories of our own.
A couple of hours late into conversation, I suddenly stopped after I had a notion that made me hate myself. There was a stupid moment in which I found myself thinking that I had missed Dalia, missed her voice and missed talking to her. “What’s wrong?” she said. “Can I ask you something? Why did you really call? Don’t tell me to say you’re sorry for my loss because you could’ve done that by sending a message or even saying it in a minute over the phone. There’s more to it. What is this? Why are you talking to me for this many hours after it’s been so long?” I asked, confused. “You’re right. It’s not just because of your grandma. I felt it was an opportunity to call you even though it’s a sad one. I wanted to talk to you for some time now. Can I ask you something?” she said. “Sure,” I replied. After a long pause, she asked me, “Do you believe in second chances?”