Chapter 29.

Destiny (n.): A predetermined course of events considered as something beyond human power or control.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

 

I wrote many letters to Layla. I wrote poems, I wrote confessions, I wrote apologies and random thoughts but they all ended up burning in an ashtray. I never had the courage to send any of them. I thought of calling her but that required a great amount of strength that I did not have. How would she react if I contacted her? I often wondered. Would she be happy that I did? Would she be mad? Would she even care to give me the time of day? What would I say? What would she say? I figured I would probably never know.

 

When I arrived at Jeddah’s airport, my family was waiting for me. I had missed them so much since I had not seen them in a long time except for Badr whom I had seen just a couple of months ago. One of the worst things about working in Canada is never getting to see my family enough. I usually saved up my vacations for the summer and they would come and spend their holiday with me there. I had not come back to Jeddah ever since I left and I could not believe how much I had missed this city.

 

My mother was in tears when she saw me walking without a crutch for the first time and rolling my suitcase behind me. I hugged everyone and shook hands with Firas, Noor’s husband, who was also present. During the three years I was away, there was no reason for me whatsoever to visit Jeddah. Even my sister’s wedding took place in Beirut. True, some friends of mine in addition to two cousins got married and I was invited to their weddings but I did not have the willpower to travel and attend any.

 

Albeit my mother’s objections and her insistence that I get some rest, I was determined on going to Makkah. I convinced them that it was something I had to do now that God has blessed me with the ability to walk without pain. It was 3 after midnight when I, alongside my mother and Badr, headed to Makkah. We prayed Al-Fajr there then we did the Tawaf. I got tired and my knee was exhausted after it, therefore I had to rent one of the electrical wheelchairs to complete Sa’y. This was the first Umrah of any I had performed before that I wished it were longer.

 

I thanked Allah for all the good things He had granted me in this life. I thanked Him for all the things that I was blessed with, those that I knew and thought about and those that I did not. I prayed that He grants happiness for each of my loved ones. I prayed for my father, my mother, my sister, my brother, my cousins and my friends naming each of them. I prayed that He spares us Hell and grants us entry into Heaven with His generosity. I begged for His mercy. I asked that He erases all of my sins and magnifies all of my good deeds. I prayed that He eases the ache in my heart and gives me peace.

 

I prayed that He forgives me for all the mistakes I have done in my life, especially those that I made early in my relationship with Layla. They always weighed on my chest and at times when I was alone at night in Canada, I wondered if they were one of the reasons Layla and I were not blessed with happiness and ended up in the misfortunate way we did. I prayed that Layla was healthy and leading a good life. I sincerely hoped she was happy. I wished her Heaven, too

 

“God, if Layla and I are meant to be, if she is going to be good for me in life and the afterlife, then please inspire me with the words to soften her heart towards me. Please remind her of the joyful times we once shared. Please guide me to the actions that will bring her closer to me. Please help us get back together and bless us with happiness. You are the only one who can make this happen and you are capable of everything. Ya Allah, you know the amount of pure love I carry for this woman deep within me. Please grant me this wish.

 

God, if Layla and I are not meant to be, then I will not question your wisdom. I only ask that you rip the love I have for her out of this soul for otherwise I would not be able to live. Please help me forget her so I can finally move on. Please heal me and plant peace in my heart. O’ great one, bless me with the gift of being with her or forgetting her. Ya Allah, hear me as I pray. I’m but a humble servant for you begging for what it’s easy for you to give.” I prayed with all of my being.

 

After we were done, I felt relaxed even though I was tired. I felt some kind of peace within me. I had a big smile on my face the entire drive back to Jeddah. When I got to my room and lied on my bed. I slept like a baby, which is something I had not done in a long time.

 

During the next couple of weeks, I called all of my old friends who remained in Jeddah and tried to contact those who did not. I visited my uncles, aunts and all the close members of my family. I spent time with them and enjoyed myself. I wanted to make amends for all the mistakes of my past. I wanted to let them know that I am different now. I truly cared for these people and I had to let them know that I did. Everyone was glad to see me walking unaided and it gave me a warm feeling in my heart. The only one that I was not brave enough to call or visit was Layla.

 

Two days before my scheduled flight back to Canada, I went to Apple Bee’s with my mother, Badr, Noor and her husband Firas. As we were ushered in, I felt my heart flinch. Something has gripped it from within. The feeling was very familiar and I recognized it instantly. My heartbeats were getting faster and stronger. It had been years since that last happened. I looked around and her eyes met mine. Layla was there.

 

When you truly fall in love with someone, you give a part of your soul to him or her. This part belongs to that person forever. No matter what you do, you cannot claim it back. This part of you is what you sense whenever that someone you love is close. That part of me is what let me know that Layla was near by.

 

I just stood there frozen in my place staring at her. She stared back just the same. She was sitting with two of her friends at the table in the far corner. My skin was heating up and my knees were growing weak. I did not know what to do. Out of all the scenarios I had in my head, somehow, I did not expect that I would meet her accidentally. I was not prepared to see her after it has been so long. “Isn’t that Layla sitting over there?” my mother asked me. “Yeah, it’s her,” I said. “Go and speak to her,” my mother said in a soft voice and patted me on the back.

 

The distance to her table seemed like a thousand miles. I wanted to run them yet I wanted to walk as slowly as possible. Every step closer to her was harder and I was getting anxious. When I finally reached the table, I said, “Hey.” “Hey,” she said. God, “I missed her voice,” I thought to myself.

 

I took a long look at her. This angelic face of hers must have been made in heaven. She had not changed a bit. If anything, she grew more beautiful. I could not believe my eyes. Was this really Layla? Was she the one who barely a day passed by without me thinking of? Was she the girl in the picture that hanged above my bed for the last couple of years? Was I finally talking to her? I was overwhelmed.

 

“It’s been a long time. How are you?” I said, my voice trembling a little. “I’m good. I see you’re no longer using a crutch. I’m happy for you,” she said. “Yeah, thanks. I had a surgery in Canada and my knee’s better now. It still has limitations but Alhamdellah for everything. How’s Lama and Yasser? How’s your mom?” I said fidgeting in my place standing. “They’re all fine, too. Do you want to sit down for a minute?” she said when she noticed I was not standing comfortably. I nodded my head and took a seat at the corner closest to Layla. “I’m sorry for my rudeness. Hi,” I said and greeted the two girls sitting at the table, one who I recognized as Rana. They said Hi back and then silence took over.

 

I turned to Layla and when our eyes finally met, the noise started to fade away. All the sounds disappeared and none remained except for the sound of our breaths. The entire universe was shrinking into this small spot that contained us. No one else existed. Nothing else mattered. The walls of ice between us were melting slowly by the warmth in our eyes. The years of distance were crumbling down by the strong beating of our hearts. The tenderness of which she used to look at me a long time ago was returning in her gaze. Her lower lip was quivering a little. My hands were trembling underneath the table. I was lost in this moment in which time seemed to stand still. All the defenses around my heart were breaking. It longed to escape from its safe shelter. It longed to feel alive once again.

 

“You look beautiful, breathtaking in every meaning of the word,” I said, sincerely. “Thank you, you look good, too,” she said shyly and we had another moment of silence. I had so much to say that I did not know where to start. All the words that I have memorized a thousand times before, I could not remember them. All the million ways I have imagined this encounter have vanished. Emotions were running wild inside of me and thoughts were colliding in my head. I closed my eyes for a second and took a deep breath. “There’s just so much that I want to say,” I said and my voice trailed off.

 

“Layla…” I said, not knowing how to proceed. She put her hand on mine and gave me an assuring look. “I know,” she said with a kind smile that captured my heart. I knew then and there that I was still in love with her. I knew that she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I knew that I wanted her to be my wife until death do us part. I knew that I wanted her to be the mother of my children. I knew that she was and always will be everything to me. We have lost enough time away from each other already. I took her hand in between both of mine and squeezed it gently before raising it to my lips and kissing it softly. My heart was dancing in joy when she did not resist what I had just done. She had a bigger smile on her face and she was beaming with delight. For a few minutes, neither one of us said anything. This time, our eyes were telling each other all about our mistakes, our apologies, and our love with a language of their own. Silence can be more eloquent than words sometimes. “Do you think we can start over?” I asked. Her tears fell.

 

August 5, 2007

Chapter 28.

Dear Layla,

 

It is 3 a.m. and I cannot go to sleep. Thoughts of you are haunting me. I lie on my bed and I close my eyes but all I see is your beautiful face and all I hear is your sweet voice. I toss and turn on the bed trying to make myself comfortable but it had turned into a hostile ground. I open my eyes and look at the other side of the bed. I imagine you lying there and it makes my heart ache. The worst thing about going to sleep is the knowledge that I will not find you next to me when I wake up. God, how empty my bed seems in the morning. How empty my life seems in the morning.

 

It is 3 a.m. and I am wondering what you are doing this very moment. I hope you are laughing your heart out. I miss that laugh of yours. You are a million miles away but still I can hear it in my head. I have a picture of us hanging above my bed. Do you know that? The one from our first anniversary on the beach at night when we were holding glasses pretending to drink champagne, do you remember it? Every night I look at it and it makes me smile. It is the part of day that I look forward to the most. I am here without you in a strange country in a lonely apartment but this picture makes this dark room of mine shine a little bit.

 

It has been four years since I have last spoken to you. I cannot believe it has been that long. Four entire years have passed by. Time sure flies. Four years that do not mean as much as a single day I have spent with you means. It is funny I still recall everything as if it happened yesterday. These memories do not abide by the laws of time and distance. The harder I try to forget, the more I remember. The further I go, the closer you seem to get.

 

I kept up with your news by the way. I was sorry to hear about your divorce. I honestly prayed that this man would be able to make you happy. I was also deeply saddened when I learned that your father had passed away. He was a good man and he loved you from the bottom of his heart. That, I am sure of. I meant to call or send a letter but did not know if I should. I regret the fact that I was not there for you when this happened. I know how much you loved him and how badly you must be missing him, may God rest his soul in peace.

 

I have news of my own too but they can wait. I have so much to say to you that I do not know where to start. I think the first thing I should say is that I am sorry for everything. I am sorry for every tear I made you cry. I am sorry for every word I said that hurt your feelings. I am sorry for every night you went to sleep upset because of something I did. I am sorry for every day I made you feel unappreciated. I am sorry for every time I made you doubt my love for you. I have been a complete jerk and I deserve the worst this world has to offer. Letting you go was the greatest mistake of my life. I have paid the price and I am still paying for it everyday. Would you ever find it in your heart to forgive me? I know that my words can never undo any of the harm I have done to you but they must mean something because I am writing this letter from the deepest corner of my soul.

 

Layla, nothing means anything without you. This beautiful city is ugly because you are not here. The coffee is bitter because I do not get to drink it with you. The food does not have a taste because I am not eating it with you. What good is anything without you? You are the only woman in this universe that my heart longs for. You are the only one that matters. No one else is as beautiful, intelligent or funny as you are. You were the colors of my life and ever since you were gone, it has become dark and grey.

 

I would understand if you said you could never love me again. I would understand if you said you did not want anything to do with me anymore. My mistakes could be too big to ever be forgiven. I just want you to know that if given the chance, I would make up for every single one. I would try my best to make you happy. I swear I will make it my purpose to please you because you deserve nothing less than that.

 

It is 4 a.m. now and I remember how I used to call you and wake you up from your sleep at such times just to hear your voice. Not once have you protested or said that you were too sleepy to exchange a few words with me. You tried your best to stay up but you always fell asleep on the phone in the matter of minutes. Your words would become further apart and your voice fainter. It is only soon that I would hear the steady rhythmic sound of your breaths. I never hung up immediately. I always remained on the end of the line listening to you breathing. It was more beautiful than a love song. It was sweeter than a children’s lullaby. It is no wonder I cannot go to sleep these days. I miss you.

 

Forever yours,

Khalid

 

I signed the letter then re-read it for at least ten times. I took the lighter and stared at its flame for a while. I set the paper on fire and watched it burn into ashes slowly as I laid it in the ashtray. I lit up another cigarette.

Chapter 27.

“You know, giving up isn’t always a sign of weakness. Sometimes it takes great strength to finally let go of something or someone,” said Bryan. “Yeah? Well, I’m sure there was no strength whatsoever in what I did. I was simply a fucking weak coward who didn’t fight for the only woman worth fighting for in this world. Instead, this is what I did to her,” I said as I threw the cigarette I was smoking to the ground and stepped on it with my foot.

 

“I think you should go and see Dr. McCloud,” said Dr. Ingraham, the Pediatrics Chief Resident at Toronto General Hospital where I was doing my residency program. “There have been some complaints about you during the last couple of weeks. You are one of our most promising doctors and I’d hate to see your future with us affected in any way. I’m sure there is a reason for this deterioration in your performance and I’m positive that Dr. McCloud can help you. He’s a good psychiatrist and I understand that you and him are sort of friends already. This is not an official request but I strongly suggest you do so. Take a few days off if you want so you can come back energized and on top of your game, ok?” she said. I always thought of Dr. Ingraham as a big sister to me and I knew she was looking out for me so I thanked her and promised her I will.

 

The next day I was at Bryan’s office. “You think I can smoke a cigarette in here?” I asked him as I was sipping my coffee. “You know it’s prohibited to smoke inside the hospital. Not to mention you’re a doctor and out of all people, you shouldn’t smoke,” he said. “Well, my friend, there are many things that I shouldn’t do but that doesn’t stop me. Oh yeah, what I was telling you earlier. Take smoking for an example. I used to despise it alongside those who smoked. I don’t know how I ended up being one. If you asked me a few years ago, I would tell you that I don’t imagine myself ever smoking. Hell, I would tell you I don’t imagine myself ever talking to a shrink but here I am. I guess we can never really tell the future, can we? I used to think I had the entire future figured out. I was going to be happily married to the girl of my dreams, maybe entertaining the possibility of having a baby and on my way to becoming a successful surgeon. But look at me, a divorced, lonely, bitter man who blames the world for the choices it has made for him.”

 

Bryan was one of the few friends I have gained there. He helped me with a jammed vending machine in the hallway once and somehow we became friends albeit the age difference. All he knew about Layla prior to our therapy sessions was that she is my ex-wife. He had asked me where is the Mrs. and what does she do when he noticed the engagement ring in my finger. He sensed from my answer that it was a sore topic for me and therefore he never pushed to know more. Over the course of many private sessions with him, I have told him most of the details regarding Layla and what had happened between us. The first thing we discussed, however, was the reason that led Dr. Ingraham to advice me to seek help.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking online to my cousin Rima. She kept saying that she wanted to tell me something but did not know whether she should or not because it might upset me. I told her that I have heard it all and hardly anything really upset me anymore so she should just tell me. When I finally convinced her to tell me what it was, I wished I did not. She told me that Layla was getting married the next week.

 

My first instinct was to ask her to whom and when exactly and where but then I thought better not to. What was the point anyway? Wasn’t this what I had wished for Layla? Didn’t I want her to be happy? I prayed that this man is a good man who would compensate for the pain I have caused her. Rima asked me if I was all right and I lied to her telling her that I was. I said that I had work to do then I signed out.

 

It had been over two years since our divorce. It felt like eternity had passed but as if eternity was merely minutes. Layla and I seemed like a previous life on its own yet the events were so vivid in my mind as if I had lived them yesterday. The memories did not acknowledge the normal laws of time. They did not become less clear. They did not become harder to recall. On the contrary, the more time passed by, the more frequently bolts of memories attacked me and the finer they have become. I did not know if I should move on or not, or more accurately, if I could or not. Talking to another woman felt like betraying Layla but here she was getting ready to marry another man. I could not help feeling angry. How can she do that? How can she forget me so fast? I did not realize how hypocritical it was of me. I had no right to judge anything she did. I had forfeited that right by my own choice a long time ago.

 

I remembered I had a bottle of wine in my kitchen back from the first time I have invited some people from the hospital. Nicole, the pediatrics department’s secretary, had brought it over. I opened it and took a sip. It tasted like shit. Why on earth do people drink this horrible thing? I wondered. To escape, I thought. The next time, I took a larger sip and lied on the couch. I figured I would drink the entire bottle as long as it would prevent me from thinking about Layla at least for the night.

 

I woke up the next day with a severe headache and called in sick. In the following couple of weeks, I started drinking beer even though it tasted even worse than wine because I told myself I could not get drunk form beer easily. I also used up most of my sick leaves and on the days I went to work I could barely concentrate and my bad temper was even worse. Eventually, Dr. Ingraham asked me to meet her to discuss my current condition and told me to go see Bryan, Dr. McCloud.

 

“So what is your hunch, Dr? Is something wrong with my head?” I asked at the end of our first session, jokingly. “Not really. It’s more your heart. You’re still in love with your ex-wife,” he said.  He advised me to ask someone out and go on a date. He told me getting involved with someone else might busy my mind off thinking about Layla and the past. 

 

The next day, I asked Nicole out. She was funny and smart and I liked spending time with her, not to mention she had been flirting with me for some time before. Hence, we became an item for many months to follow. I guess I wanted a cure for my loneliness and Nicole provided just that. It was more of a companionship than a relationship to me but she took it more seriously than I did. Things were going well between us until she started nagging me about my engagement ring. “When are you going to take it off? Don’t you think it’s time you moved on?” she used to say every now and then. I kept telling her that I was not ready yet. Removing the ring meant leaving Layla behind for good and I did not intend to do that for anyone’s sake. We had an intense argument about it and she, basically, told me it is either her or the memory of my ex-wife and the ring. It was not much of a tough choice for me. I kept the ring and broke up with Nicole. The ring meant much more to me than anyone else.

 

I sought a cure for my knee’s condition. At the hospital where I worked, the Orthopedic Surgeon did not have an answer for me. He admitted that my constant knee pain baffled him and he was uncertain of what the cause might be. He referred me to another consultant in a different hospital telling me that this particular doctor specialized in knee injuries and maybe he could help me.

 

Two weeks later, I had an appointment with him. The hospital in which he practiced was a 30 minutes drive from where I lived. In the taxi, I was lost in my thoughts. I had high hopes and low expectations. When the nurse called my name, I entered his clinic and I said a small prayer that God grants this man the ability to fix my knee. He was a middle-aged man with nothing special about his appearance. We exchanged pleasantries then he took my full history. He examined me and reviewed my recent X-Rays and MRI. He ordered an X-Ray for my knee with a special view. “I think I have a theory regarding what’s causing this pain of yours. It’s not that clear in your X-Ray but I think you have Patellar Lateralization exacerbating your Retro-Patellar Chondromalacia but it will be evident only in arthroscopy. I have to operate on your knee and then I’ll be able to tell.” We talked some more and the thought of having yet another operation scared me. Going through that whole ordeal again was not something easy to accept. This time I would have to go through it alone since none of my family was here.

 

I told him I needed to think about it. I did not sleep that night. I just lied on my bed contemplating my options. What if this was the answer? Can I afford not to have this surgery? I did not plan to visit the doctor at the hospital where I worked and when he referred me to this one, I did not plan to see him either. Somehow, I found his number in my white coat and thought, what the hell, and I called him. So up until that moment, everything had been strangely facilitated. I prayed Estekhara and slept afterwards. In the morning, I called him and said that I will have the surgery. A week later, I was rolled into the OR.

 

I had taken two weeks off work and my brother Badr had flown in from Jeddah. He was going to miss college for a week and he had a vacation on the second. After the surgery, the doctor met me and told me that it was a success. He told me that running or carrying heavy things or any severe strain on my knee could still cause me pain especially that it had been gravely traumatized before but that at least I would be able to walk without a crutch and without pain. As I lied there on the hospital bed, for the first time in many years, I felt free. I thanked him and promised to stick to the new physiotherapy program they had planned for me. “Doctors make the worst patients,” he joked. “Oh no, not this one I assure you,” I said and we all laughed.

 

Exactly two months later, I was perfectly fine. I was able to complete my rounds and finish my shifts at the hospital without taking any painkillers of any kind. Everyone around me noticed how cheerful I had become. I also cut back on smoking. I had not quit completely but I was trying to. I was slowly turning back into the person that I once used to be and I had missed that person. Dr. Ingraham said, “If we knew this operation would change you in this way, we would have paid for it ourselves and made you do it a long time ago.”

 

I decided that I had to perform Umrah to give thanks to Allah for the gift he had given me. Now that I could walk, I should walk around Al-Ka’bah. My next vacation was coming soon and I had already booked a flight back to Jeddah. This would be the first time I return to Jeddah in three years.

Chapter 26.

“Khalid, I’m afraid,” Layla said one day. “What are you afraid of?” I asked. “I’m afraid of this, us. I’ve let you in. It wasn’t easy doing that. Now you have the power to hurt me whenever you want. To you, my heart is defenseless,” she said. I laughed. “Nothing’s funny,” she protested. “Your fear is, my dear. I thought you knew by now I would die before I ever hurt you,” I assured her. How innocent and foolish I was then.

 

I never told anyone why I did not fight for Layla. I never told anyone why in that afternoon in her house, I raised the white flag and surrendered. I simply gave up on us. I did not ask for a second chance. I did not beg for forgiveness. I did not apologize for all the mistakes I have made. I did not promise to make things right once again. I did not say I loved her too much to let her go. I did not do any of the things I could have and should have done to save our relationship. Later in life, whenever someone asked me why, I just shrugged and looked away. I made it clear to everyone it was something I did not want to talk about. Not even Badr, Noor or any of my friends could persuade me into opening up about my undisclosed reasons. They were my own and I kept them to myself. No one needed to know.

 

There was a moment when Layla was talking in which a dreadful realization hit me hard. It was I who made her utter those words. It was I who caused her this much pain and misery. It was I who made her weep. It was I who, blindly, destroyed the wonderful relationship we used to have. Everything was my fault and no one else’s. There was no one to blame but myself. Wasn’t I the one who promised her happiness? Wasn’t I the one who swore never to make these eyes of hers cry? Wasn’t I the one who vowed to protect her from all harm? I asked myself. Where were all my promises and vows? Gone and disappeared. She had given me all the love she could offer and more. What have I given her back? Shit was the word that, unfortunately, came to my mind. I felt guilt and shame eating me up inside.

 

I did not ask for a second chance because I did not think I deserved one. I did not feel worthy of Layla anymore. I was no longer good enough for her. She deserved someone better than me, someone who is not as pathetic and miserable as I was. She deserved someone who is not damaged as me. I felt as if staying with me would be only a gesture of kindness on her behalf and I could not accept that. Who would want to be with a crippled man anyway? Even though I never admitted it, that was how I felt, crippled. I could not dance with her the way I used to do. I may not be able to protect her when need be. I could not carry things for her. On the contrary, she had to carry things for me. I could not carry her anymore. I could not drive her to wherever she wanted. Instead, I had to wait for a driver. Even on our wedding day, I would have to stand next to her with a crutch. That was not how I pictured it would be one day.

 

Suddenly people’s opinions had a value to me. I never cared what people say but now I did. I imagined them whispering whenever we passed by, “Oh poor lady. Her man is damaged.” “Look at those two; what a lovely young girl stuck with a fat crippled man.” In addition to other remarks similar to those. I never heard anyone say such things with my ears but I heard them in my head nonetheless. I had gained a lot of weight after the accident since I overate whenever I got upset and I did not exercise anymore. I felt ugly especially when standing next to Layla whom sadness, in a strange way, made her look translucent and delicately beautiful.

 

I had been thinking whether Layla and I should remain together or not for some time then but her father’s words and the frozen tears in her eyes that day made me realize that I could no longer offer happiness to Layla. Perhaps she was better off without me. We were both still young. Maybe she could find someone else who can give her what I failed to give. Maybe letting her go is the right thing to do for her sake. She might hate me a little now but that would be better than resenting me for life if we stayed together and I kept being the awful person I was. I thought that this was the best possible way to preserve the wonderful memories we shared and stop tainting them with blood and tears.

 

I could tell Layla was shocked with my reaction. It was not what she had anticipated. It was obvious in her widening eyes and slightly opened mouth. She was lost for words. She shook her head a little and I noticed her hands trembling. “I think that is the best thing to do now,” I said. I pretended to be strong. My voice sounded cold and emotionless. Under the surface, my entire world was falling apart. I felt as if the words cut my throat from inside and I was choking with blood. It is the best thing to do now. I repeated the sentence to myself silently. Layla’s tears were pouring down and I prayed to God that mine do not fall. I stood up and hesitated for a second before leaning down and kissing her forehead. “I wanted to make you happy. I’m sorry I couldn’t,” I said. I walked out the door and it was the last time I saw or spoke to Layla for a long time.

 

Our fathers discussed the legal issues of our separation. Layla’s father insisted that they give back the Mahr I had paid. He wanted us to have Khol’a instead of Talag. Both meant divorce and the termination of our union and were frowned upon by society. However, the former was usually by the wife while the latter by the husband. Thus, Khol’a indicated that something must have been wrong with me in order for my wife to leave me. This would make a difference in the future when other suitors would come for her. If we had Talag then they would think that there must be a reason why I divorced my wife and they would lose their interest. That was how our society worked and we played by the rules. I told my father not to argue with anything and to grant her whatever she asked for.

 

As it is my defense mechanism, I dived deeper into work and spent most of my time at the hospital. I was either at the hospital or in my room. I stopped going out all together. My parents tried to take me out many times but I always refused to go except in a few rare occasions. Badr and Noor did not have better luck with me, too. Sometimes, Bashar and Ahmad, who were the only remaining friends I had left, came by to visit and watch a movie with me in my room but other than that, I did not see people outside the hospital. I did not want to go to a place and risk meeting Layla or a member of her family or any of our mutual friends, not to mention that all the places in Jeddah had a memory of some kind of us. I did not need the reminders or the blameful looks. I was content on staying in my room reading, writing, and dealing with my tragedy alone. In the end, I had asked for this.

 

I liked the hospital because it felt like the only place in the world where I had a purpose, where my presence mattered. Helping others was the only thing left that made me feel good about me. It is ironic though how kind I managed to be to complete strangers and could not be that to Layla. I had one month left of my internship when Layla and I were officially separated.

 

Six months later, I was at the airport waiting for my flight to Canada. The University Hospital was sponsoring me for a Pediatrics Residency program. I had two large suitcases with me. I had taken all that I thought mattered to me for I was not going to return to Saudi Arabia anytime soon. My family and a couple of friends were waiting with me and everyone was in tears. Saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things I had to do but I promised to call often and I kept reminding them that we could chat over the internet everyday.

 

It felt weird leaving the life I had known for so long behind and going off alone to a far away country to begin an entirely new chapter in my life. Even though I had been waiting for this moment for the last few months because I longed to escape for good, I was still unprepared for it. I had many mixed emotions. I was excited and afraid at the same time. I was relieved and worried. I was happy and sad. Emotions were swirling inside like a wild twister. When the final call to board the plane was made, I kissed my parents hands, hugged them and hugged my sister and brother, and said goodbye. I was crying like a baby when I handed the customs officer my passport.

 

On the plane, I thought of Layla. I wondered what she was doing that very moment and if she was thinking of me too. I wondered if she knew that I was leaving tonight or not. I contemplated calling her for the first time in a few months but then I thought what that would accomplish. It was too late. I was going away to a different country that does not know about Layla and me. They always say that endings are nothing but new beginnings and I wondered if this was my so-called new beginning. I was lost in my thoughts when I heard the flight captain announcing, “Please fasten your seatbelts in preparation for take off.”