Yasser Hashem. There are not many people in our social circle who have not heard of this name. Yasser, who is a year younger than Layla, has always been regarded as one of the most handsome men in Jeddah ever since an early age. He used to go out all the time and make his presence known everywhere especially in the private beaches during the weekends. All of that took place while he was having an ongoing relationship with a girl named Amal who was also regarded as one of the most beautiful girls in Jeddah. Their relationship was considered high profile among the young crowds and they were easily recognized wherever they went. Everyone knew about them, shared gossip about them, loved them and envied them. They seemed like the perfect couple. The couple you only see in movies but never in real life. They had met during their last year of high school and they were in love. Their relationship took its first blow when he was accepted into Aramco’s academic program. He had to leave Jeddah to Shargiyah for a year and then go to study Industrial Engineering abroad in Birmingham, UK for four years.
During the first year, they managed to keep their relationship almost the same way it has always been. He came to Jeddah every other weekend and somehow was always around. The crack in the relationship started getting too wide though when he finally left to Birmingham. They tried to keep a distant relationship but it was nearly impossible. Amal was sad and upset most of the time and because UK was not close and vacations were not many not to mention the expensive airline tickets, Yasser came to Jeddah only twice during his first year there. In the second year’s Christmas break he came back only to find out that Amal was engaged. Layla described to me how her brother broke down then. Amal had been avoiding him for a while before that, not answering his calls or emails. Her close friends were avoiding him too and he had sensed something was wrong but he never expected it to be of that severity.
A week after his return, Amal finally answered one of his multiple calls and tried to explain why she did what she did. She told him that this guy proposed to her while he was away and she refused to meet him the first time. The guy was persistent and tried again after some time and her mother sat down and talked to her. Amal told Yasser that he still has a long way to go. More than three years until he graduates all of which he is going to be spending outside the kingdom and she just could not cope with that. It was too much for her to take. Not to mention that after he graduates, he will be assigned to one of Aramco’s hellholes, as it tends to do for its new employees. It would take them at least four years before they can settle down with one another and she just could not wait and stand the torture that long. She told him she loved him but it was time for her to think with her brain rather than her heart. This suitor, however, was ready, an architect planning to get his masters in Canada. She met him and she felt good about him. A couple of weeks later they were engaged and they set a wedding date.
That night, Layla told me, she saw Yasser crying for the first time in his adult life. He went to their parents and asked that they let him propose to Amal. He would not take no for an answer and so the next day their mother called Amal’s mother and explained the situation to her. Her mother was kind enough to say she understood and knew most of the story but that the girl is already engaged and what God has written has been done and there is nothing they can do now. Yasser turned into an emotional mess for the rest of that short vacation before he returned to UK even though Layla and their parents insisted that he does not but he said it is easier to be there where there are not as many memories and reminders.
Men react in different ways to heartbreaks. Some seclude themselves and drown themselves in sorrow while others try to go on with their lives as if nothing has happened and most think in order to achieve that they have to go out with as many girls as possible, which was what Yasser did. In the beginning, apparently, he believed all girls to be unfaithful liars so he took revenge on a few and broke their hearts mercilessly. After some time however, he stopped doing that and simply continued meeting all the girls he could meet. He was well known among the Saudi students in Birmingham and London and when he came for the summer vacation in Jeddah, that summer was his open season. He went through girls as fast as he could and quickly developed a reputation of being a player. Most girls however did not mind that and agreed to go out with him whenever he asked them if they were not the ones asking to begin with.
With that background, Layla and I were confused regarding how Yasser would react to our relationship. We had no idea if he would welcome it, if he would reject it and insist on its termination or if he would be indifferent which was what we had expected and hoped for actually. We discussed at length how our relationship should be introduced to him. We wanted to be the first ones to tell him before he hears about it from someone else.
On the third day after his return to Jeddah, Layla told him. They were both up late after watching a movie and he seemed in a good mood. She told me at first he appeared calm and indifferent like we expected but after a while he got interested and started asking many questions about the relationship, its beginning, its nature and most importantly, about me. Somehow, Layla managed to persuade him into agreeing to meet me the next day.
“Hello, Yasser. I’m Khalid, pleased to meet you,” I said and extended my hand. He appeared to consider whether he wanted to extend his and shake mine or not but after a few seconds he shook it and nodded with his head. They were already inside when I arrived at Apple Bee’s. I took a seat across the table sitting opposite them. Layla gave me an encouraging smile that I appreciated. Yasser began speaking and it was obvious who was going to lead the conversation that day.
He asked us when and how we met, what has been going on ever since and what our plans are. He also put me under what felt like an interrogation. He inquired about my family, my past and me personally. He wanted to know what I am doing now, what I want to do in the future and what my intentions with his sister are. He also asked many other questions I do not exactly remember now. I managed to make him laugh a few times during the two hours we stayed there so it broke the tension a little bit. After I paid the bill, he told me he was going to ask around about me and that we will be sitting one on one just me and him in a couple of days. I said I do not mind and told him it was a pleasure to meet him again. This time he said, “Likewise.” It was a minor relief for me. Layla and I left with half smiles on our faces.
Indeed, a few days later, Yasser called me and asked me to meet him at Wox cafe at 8 o’clock if I could. I said sure and went there on time. Layla had told me that on the night I first met him, Yasser had said, “Khalid looks like a good guy.” Fifteen minutes later Yasser showed up and apologized for being late and I said it is fine.
“Now let’s talk seriously. When Layla first told me that there was someone in her life, I wasn’t really surprised. I guess it’s kind of expected and natural especially these days. Show me a girl that doesn’t have a boyfriend of some sorts and I’d give you a thousand riyals! Anyhow, I had known about Rami before so at first I was skeptical about meeting you. You see, I never liked Rami. Don’t ask me why. It’s not because he was a bad person or anything like that but for some unexplained reason I just didn’t like him. Sometimes you can’t help the way you feel and as upset as I was when he hurt Layla and cheated on her, I was somewhat pleased their relationship ended. You, on the other hand, I liked you even before I met you when Layla told me that it was you who brought up the idea of meeting me in the first place. That’s rather brave and I respect it. Rami never suggested such a thing and when I did he actually stalled for some time,” Yasser said.
“Well, it’s because Layla has met my sister and my brother before many times and I have met Lama, whom I adore, many times too. I felt something was missing and that you had to be included in the picture especially that the parents aren’t, for now that is,” I said.
“When I met you that day you appeared to me as a decent man who genuinely cares for my sister. You’re very well-put together, respectful and apparently sincere. All of which are qualities I appreciate but I wasn’t going to make a judgment based on that only. I had to learn more. I’m pleased that you’re Rima’s cousin. I love that girl! True, she pulls many crazy stunts and drags my little sister with her into her madness but she’s a very sweet person and they love each other. Lama loves you too obviously. She thinks the world of you.
I started asking around about you and frankly, no one had anything to say except the best about you. However, do you know who the person that sealed the deal for me and made me welcome this relationship? Mazin Abdul Kareem. Do you know him?” he asked. I recognized the name rather immediately. Mazin was one of my sister’s best friends during high school before ties were slowly loosened until they ceased to exist when he headed to Egypt for college after he dropped out following a year in KFUPM. “Wow! The world is so small indeed. How an earth do you know Mazin? He used to be a good friend of my sister a long time ago.”
“We actually went to high school together but we bonded during my year in Shargiyah. I then went to Birmingham but he dropped out and went to Egypt. We kept in touch though and we still see each other every time we’re in Jeddah. When I asked him if he has heard of you, he instantly recognized your name. You know, he actually said great things about you. I rarely see Mazin speak with such admiration of another guy. I explained the situation to him and he assured me that I should be thankful it is you who’s involved with my sister.”
“I don’t know what to say. I feel like I need to thank him or something,” I said. Yasser smiled then turned serious and said, “I just want you to know, if you ever hurt my sister in any way, I will hurt you and God is my witness so please, be good to Layla.” “You don’t ever have to worry about that. I will take care of your sister very well. I give you my word. She’s in good hands. She’s in my heart.” We stayed there for a while chatting about random topics like the English league before he said he had to go back home. When we were heading for our cars, he said, “You know what? How about you, me, Layla, Lama and your sister and brother all go out together one night before I leave to Birmingham again?” “Yeah, sure. That would be nice,” I said.
When I got into my car, I immediately dialed Layla’s number and informed her of everything Yasser and I talked about. She was worried sick of how this meeting would turn out. “I think he’s ready to accept you as a part of our family now,” she said.