That was the first break of many to follow. Too many broken promises, too many prayers to make things right, too many apologies and tears, too many sleepless nights, too much pain, guilt and swallowed pride had had their toll on us. We still loved each other. We wanted to fix things between us badly but wanting to fix things is not enough if you do not know how and we did not.
We were on our second break when the 6th year’s finals started. I locked myself in my room and did not go out unless I had to. I burned myself studying. It was the only thing left that I had control over. I was determined to prove to everyone that the crutch I depended on did not hold me back. I was going to become a good physician and nothing would stop me from achieving that. In the middle of the exams, Layla sent me a short message asking how I was doing and I replied with a shorter one saying that I was fine. When the exams were over, a strange sense of emptiness conquered me. A part of my life was over and it made me feel hollow. I had replaced my family, friends and even Layla with mute books and now it seemed even books were abandoning me.
Do you know what it feels like talking to an old friend whom you had lost touch with a long time ago? Even though you used to be close and you share many fond memories together, somehow you do not know where to begin or how to pick up from where you had left. The once friend has turned into a stranger. I called Layla the night I was done with my exams and that is how I felt. It felt weird asking her about work and her family in general. Our words were precise and short. We were simply polite towards each other as if the call was an obligation. For the first time I remember in our relationship, I did not have much to say to her. Ten minutes later, we hung up and sadly, I was relieved we did.
A week later when our results were posted, I found out I had finished 7th on my class which is a huge achievement. I called Layla immediately to tell her the news. “At least the month in which you completely ignored me paid off,” she said. We had an argument over the phone and I hung up on her. After such a thing, no achievement would have a taste or a meaning. Friends called to congratulate me and I was not in festive mood anymore. That night, my family put together a small celebration for me. I felt neither proud nor joyful.
“I’m going to Egypt tomorrow with my family. I need to get away for a while,” she said. I knew what she could not say. She needed to get away from us, from me. I told her to enjoy her time and that we will talk when she gets back in a couple of months. I was going to Dubai myself with my family so we both hoped that the time and distance would help us clear a few things.
In Dubai, I went berserk on my mother one day. My brother and sister wanted to go to Wild Wadi, an aqua park, but she refused to let them go because I was not capable of accompanying them. “Your big brother can’t go so you’re not going, too. It will upset him if you two went without him,” she had told them. I yelled at her, “If I’m going through shit then I will go through it alone. Others don’t have to. Noor and Badr shouldn’t suffer because of me. It’s enough the amount of things they endure for my sake. You need to stop worrying about me and then letting out your frustrations on someone else. I try to avoid you when I’m not feeling alright but then you come and while you’re trying to make it better, you make it worse.” I stormed out of the hotel room. I came back later and apologized but the damage was done.
When Layla came back from Egypt, I had started my internship. We tried to resume our dysfunctional relationship. Things kept going down hill. Layla was content on remaining the passively hurting part with occasional outbursts of anger while I continued being the aggressive attacker. She waited for a sincere apology that will take effect in my actions towards her but hollow words were all I offered.
Our families tried to help us. In the beginning, they served as a good diffuser for us and we liked having them around. However, eventually, we started dragging them into our arguments and they did not appreciate that. We used them as fuel, weapons and armors in our fights. Our friends tried to help us too but it was something we had to fix ourselves.
We tried to survive on memories of a better time but how long can you do that? At first, it makes you think what a shame it would be to throw something as beautiful as what we once had away and therefore you try to make things right again but after some time and failed attempts, it becomes a cause of hurt and disappointment. Looking back at what we used to be and comparing it to what we had become. How did we get here? We would ask ourselves over and over again. The hurt and disappointment are only made worse when the contrast between the past and the present is so obvious, so heart wrenching.
The final straw that broke the camel’s back was when I started smoking. Layla would not have it. “Since when do you smoke?” she asked me, shocked, when she found the pack of cigarettes in my car. “Over a month now,” I told her. “When were you intending to let me know?” I shrugged and did not answer. I told her that a few cigarettes a day do not make me a smoker but she said that one is as good as an entire pack as far as she is concerned. I do not really recall why I started smoking to tell you the truth. I had just gotten out from a long tiring shift when I met a friend of mine smoking outside the hospital. I asked him for a cigarette. “But you don’t smoke,” he said, surprised. “I do now,” I told him. It burned my mouth and I did not like its taste. Nevertheless, I finished it. I liked the way it made me feel.
Nine months of my internship had passed then. A few days later, Layla’s father called me and asked me to meet him at their house the next day. I went, not knowing what to expect. The entire time my relationship with Layla was deteriorating, he did not get directly involved. He simply remained distant. He watched from afar waiting for her to turn to him and admit that she was indeed wrong and that perhaps I was a mistake in the end.
“Son, I think you and Layla should leave each other for good,” he said. Just like that. Without any introductions, without any warnings or signs of any kind, he threw this bomb at me. I blinked my eyes then opened them wide in disbelief. “What?” I said, thinking that maybe my ears had fooled me. “You heard me. I had spoken to Layla and convinced her that this is the best thing to do. I watched you torture my daughter for over a year now and I won’t let you do that anymore. Do you have any idea how many times you have upset her and made her cry? Do you have any idea how unhappy she is? I hardly ever hear her laughing from her heart like she used to. She is a bright spirit but you crushed her soul. Her only fault is that she loves you. Do you think you’re the only one who suffers? Trust me. She feels the pain you feel if not more. I had a bad feeling about you from the very first day. I didn’t know why but I had a hunch that you’ll make my daughter miserable and time proved me right.
You are both still young and it would be a shame for you to destroy each other’s chances of happiness in the future. I will not sit and watch my daughter spend her days in agony over something that is not worth it. She deserves the happiness you obviously can’t offer her. So if you truly care for her, you have to let her go.”
Each word he said felt like a stone being thrown at me, like a dagger being inserted into my flesh. I did not know what to say. I did not know how to respond. “I need to speak to Layla,” I said. He stood up and called for her. “She’ll be down in a minute,” he said and went upstairs, leaving me alone with my thoughts. “You should leave each other for good.” His words were still echoing in my head. Even though Layla and I did not have a wedding yet, we were technically married. He means divorce. He wants me to divorce Layla. People terminated Melkas all the time but I never realized how hard it could be until I was faced with that option. “Divorcing Layla,” I kept repeating that sentence in my head.
I saw Layla coming down the stairs slowly. There was a blank look in her eyes as if she was lost in another world. She sat in front of me and stared at the floor. “Do you know what your father just told me? Do you agree with what he said?” I asked. She did not say a word and just took a deep breath. I tapped on the table with my fingers. It was an unbelievingly uncomfortable situation. “So now what? Do you want us to part then? Is that what you think we should do?” I asked. She kept staring at the floor not saying anything. “Layla, say something,” I pleaded. “I’m tired,” she said then sighed before continuing, “I’m tired of you. I’m tired of me. I’m tired of us. I’m tired of fighting all the time. I’m tired of pain. I’m tired of unhappiness. Do you understand me? I’m tried and I don’t know what to do anymore.” She lifted her head and her eyes met mine for a second before she looked away. There were frozen tears in her eyes.
I knew what she wanted and needed. That was my cue, my sign to rise up to the occasion. She wanted me to take her into my arms. She wanted me to promise her that everything was going to be all right. She wanted me to fight for her, to stand up and say that I am not giving up on us that easily. She wanted me to give her hope that we can still make it through. She wanted me to put together her broken soul. She wanted me to apologize and make up for all the mistakes I have done. She wanted me to be the man she fell in love with a long time ago. She wanted me to say I loved her.
I took a long look at her then closed my eyes so I do not see her face. “Maybe we should go our separate ways. I’m sorry,” I said.