Chapter 25.

[Layla is calling] The mobile phone’s screen informed me. I silenced it and threw it on the bed. I did not have the energy to speak to her. Answering her call will probably result in another fight and I grew tired of that. I stood in front of the mirror and stared hard at my reflection. “Why do you do this?” I asked. I looked into the eyes looking back at me filled with blame and resentment. I hated the man I have become. How did I end up like this? I wondered. A pathetic miserable jerk is all I am. I took a perfume bottle and threw it at the mirror breaking it into many pieces. I looked at my distorted reflection in the few pieces left separated by black patches and lines. I thought to myself, “Now this looks more like me.”

 

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.

Chapter 24.

It was 2 o’clock after midnight and the walking path behind the Hilton was empty as expected except for a few lurkers. I stretched in my place for a couple of minutes. It was the first time I walk around outside the house without a crutch in nearly eight months. The usually severe pain in my right knee was faintly present after the large amount of painkillers that I swallowed half an hour ago. My doctor alongside my family and friends would call me insane if they knew what I intended to do. I looked upon the path that stretched ahead. I closed my eyes for a second, took a deep breath then started running.


I spent two nights at the hospital before going home. The physiotherapist had taught me how to use the crutches, which I will need to aid me walk hopefully only until the next month at the most if all goes well. The first couple of weeks after the surgery were of the most gruesome weeks of my life. The pain was constant and I counted the hours between the doses of painkillers prescribed to me. I could barely move the first week. I needed help when I had to go to the bathroom. I felt weak and completely dependent on others. I hated that. However, there was a silver lining to that dark cloud; you cannot help feeling loved when so many people come to your house carrying gifts and wishes of well being to you. Two old friends of mine whom I had lost contact with through the years found out by chance and came to visit me. My best friends took turns spending time with me. There was always someone with me in my room to keep me company and I appreciated that more than anyone could imagine.           

Layla was my anchor throughout these tough first weeks. The night I went home, even though I was in excruciating pain, I was happy that Layla was going to spend the night at our house. She never did before. Of course, her mother had a condition, Layla has to sleep with my sister in her room but she and we knew that was not what was going to happen but she said it anyway. Layla slept on the sofa in my room because she could not sleep next to me out of fear she might accidentally hit my leg in her sleep or something. I could not sleep from the pain but looking at her angelic face was my morphine. It made the pain fade away a little every once in a while.      

A week after the surgery, my rehabilitation and physiotherapy program started. I went to the hospital four times a week for horrendous two hours every time. I was trying my best to improve as fast as possible. I also had a concurrent schedule of home exercises to support my physiotherapy sessions. I felt progression every time but apparently, it was slower than expected. My first moment of fear was three weeks after the program had started when the physiotherapist, Robert, frowned during an exercise in which I am supposed to bend my knee all I could and he would measure the maximum angle of flexion. He said, “Is that all you could bend? Try harder.” I told him that I could not bend it anymore because the pain was killing me. I felt my entire body in stress trying to increase the angle but I could not. He told me that I should be able to bend my knee more than that by now but that it is still not a reason to worry then we switched to another exercise. The next day, I met with the surgeon who had performed the operation and he examined me. My knee was still swollen and he instructed me to keep taking my medications and continue with physiotherapy.


Two months later, the pain was still present, and I could not stop using the crutch. I only needed one then instead of two. I could not bend my knee to full flexion without feeling the pain rising from within. I could not walk for more than fifteen minutes without feeling the pain rising, too. I became careful with my movement. I could no longer run or carry heavy things. I could no longer drive, stand or walk for long periods of time. Anything that put the slightest pressure on my knee was forbidden to me. I saw a different doctor who requested new X-Rays and an MRI but he could not tell what the exact cause of my pain was, neither could he treat it. The pain was not as bad as it used to be but it was always there, constantly present and exacerbating intermittingly. I would be fine for a few days then without a warning, without any reason whatsoever, I would feel a strike of electrical current in my knee and the mind numbing pain would begin. It usually lasted for half an hour before it went away after taking my pain pills and applying ice packs to my knee.        

“Just give it time. Be patient. Inshallah it will get better,” Layla said. “It’s been three months already. I’m tired of waiting and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get better any time soon. I’ve been to two other doctors now and none could figure out what’s wrong. I’ve done everything they asked me to do. I never missed a single dose of medication. I followed the physiotherapy program fully. I was the most compliant patient a doctor could ask for but my knee still hurts. School starts next week. What am I supposed to do?” I almost yelled at her.

 

My 6th year, the most important one of my entire study, was going to start and I was walking around with a crutch. I knew well enough that no matter how hard I would try, there will be some limitations to what I can do and learn and I feared it would affect my education not to mention my grades. Everyone kept telling me to give it more time and I hated that. I was running out of time. I was getting tired and impatient. Everyone had some sort of brilliant advice to help me through and I was not ready to listen to anyone anymore. “Pray and ask God to heal it,” my mom said when she heard my voice rising in the living room once. Layla concurred, “Yeah you should. You even stopped praying some time ago and that’s not good.” My knee had started throbbing with pain and therefore I snapped at both of them saying, “I can’t even bend my knee to pray. I don’t want to use a stupid chair when I pray anymore. This wasn’t my choice. I did not ask for it. I did not wish this to myself. You go pray if you want. I’m not going to.” I went into my room and shut the door leaving them with stunned faces.    

Showing up with a crutch when school started made me a hot topic. Everyone who did not know about the accident kept asking me what happened and those who had heard about it kept asking me how my knee was. It was obviously a good conversation starter in everyone’s mind and I was getting sick of it. I did not want to retell the story every time over and over again so eventually I ignored any question regarding my knee or the accident and many thought I was being cold or arrogant but I could not care less. I also snapped whenever someone said that he or she understood how hard it must be for me. I would tell them that they do not understand shit about what I am going through. People started calling me Dr. House, who is the main character in a TV show, around the hospital because I became famous with my crutch and bad temper. The smallest of things easily triggered me and therefore I tried to keep my distance from others by constantly burying my nose in whatever medical book I had with me. It actually helped me get ahead in our competitive field and the doctors easily recognized me and admired my knowledge. I never let the pain or the crutch stop me. I pushed myself harder than I should have probably and ignored the pain whenever it came. I simply gritted my teeth and took more painkillers. I pretended to be fine in front of the doctors and did not complain so they do not consider it a sign of weakness. My friends kept telling me to take it easy and that it was not wise what I was doing to myself but I did not listen. All of my attention was focused on medicine. I felt as if it was the only thing that I had left and so I had to excel in it. The pain was getting worse every day.

 

Layla had the worst deal of everyone else. My family and friends suffered from my bizarre change of character but she suffered the most. I snapped at her whenever she said something I did not like no matter how insignificant it might be. I yelled at her for things that were not her fault. I ignored her for days and would not return her calls. I sent her on guilt trips telling her that she was the cause of the accident. I resented her at times when she was too good of a person to sink to my level and counter my attacks. I made her cry and hurt her more than the coldest heart in this universe would hurt an enemy. I hated myself every time I said a word that hurt her feelings or raised my voice at her. I loathed myself. I tried to understand why on earth I was doing that but I could not figure it out. Why, of all people, would I hurt Layla? I kept asking myself. Not everyone is blessed to have such an angel in their lives but here I was breaking this angel’s wings and pushing her away. I kept promising myself every moment of day and night that the next time is going to be different but whenever pain traveled through my nerves, I felt myself turning into the devil again and I would do exactly what I had sworn I would not do just a few minutes ago. I guess we hurt the ones who love us the most because they let us. That love will make up excuses on our behalf and those who love us will believe these excuses regardless of our actions. This vicious cycle that was sabotaging our relationship was a reason for me to try to stay away from Layla. I started telling her every time she called that I was busy, that I had studying to catch up on and other plainly false excuses.   

Before the accident, I used to go for a late night jog in the path behind the Hilton Hotel whenever I got frustrated, angry or distressed. It was my safety valve for negative emotions but I no longer had that and therefore things just accumulated inside of me and started blowing up any minute and those who were closest to me the most, got hurt the most. That is not to say that Layla and I did not have some good times because we did. When my brother, Badr, graduated from high school, he applied for medical college. We celebrated when we learned that he was accepted. Layla’s brother, Yasser, surprisingly, proposed to a girl named Shaima’a who went to the University of Birmingham with him and we were happy for him. The difference was that this year, you could actually count the good times rather than the bad ones. Most of that year is tainted by something that I have done. Guilt was probably one of the most prominent feelings during that period of my life. It ate me up inside every day and I could only feed it more by the actions that caused it in the first place. I longed to break free for some time, be alone and fix myself just enough for me to function as a normal human being rather than the angry bitter jerk I had become.       

I hated feeling sorry for myself and repeatedly told myself that there are many in this world who are less fortunate than I am and I should be thankful instead of sorrowful but I could not help it. I remember once in Prince Sultan Street, I saw an old man who had no legs and a missing arm, too. He smiled at me and said Alhamdellah after he thanked me when I reached to give him 20 Riyals. I despised myself. This man is smiling and I cannot find it in me to be happy. He is saying Alhamdellah and I am not. I promised myself that this was the last day I feel sorry for myself. That promise did not last for long because a week later, Layla, I and my family went to Java Lounge which we had not been to ever since the accident. Layla was quick to say let’s sit downstairs. I refused and insisted that we go sit upstairs at our usual table. The stairs took me a long time to climb up with my crutch and I felt as if everyone was staring but I was determined. I was in a lot of pain when we finally reached the table and sat down. I cursed silently.  

Layla was getting fed up and who could blame her? She started to yell back at me sometimes. She started creating some distance between us from her side. She was getting tired. She had every right to. She was an angel while I was the devil incarnated. She did everything I could ever ask for to help me without me even asking. She was patient and understanding. She was loving and caring. She was more than I deserve. The better she was to me, the more I resented her and resented myself.


A few days following a big fight we had, I was at Layla’s house in a poor attempt to fix things between us. We agreed to go out and so I called the driver and told him to start the car. It still was not easy for me to ride with a driver every time I wanted to go somewhere but I was beginning to get used to it. On our way out, my mobile phone fell on the floor and I reached to get it. I could not. I leaned on my good knee and extended my arm to get it when, I do not know how, I lost balance suddenly and my right knee hit the floor and I felt the pain exploding in my brain. I cursed and stood up grasping my knee in my hands and noticed that I still did not pick the phone. I reached for it again when Layla said, “Wait! Let me get it for you.” I do not know what possessed me to yell at her, “Don’t treat me as if I’m fucking crippled. I’m not. I’m completely capable of getting the stupid phone off the floor myself.” She looked at me with the burning hurt look in her eyes that I am too familiar with and I could not take it anymore. I felt it piercing my skin and making holes in my soul. “Don’t look at me that way. I can’t stand it. I’m sorry if I got into a stupid accident and screwed my knee for good. It’s my fault I can’t even pick a fucking phone off the floor. What do you want me to do? Out of all people, you shouldn’t treat me with pity. It’s annoying as hell,” I yelled again. A small tear was forming in the corner of her eye that made me despise myself. Heavy silence ruled then. The silence that has an actual physical weight you feel pressing on your chest. We just stood there staring at the walls avoiding each other’s eyes. “I think we need a break from each other, at least for some time,” I finally said. She did not say anything and that itself expressed her agreement. I walked past her and slammed the door behind me.

 

That night, I went for a run for the first time in nearly eight months. I ran until I fell on the ground scraping my palms in the process. I started crying then and there from the overwhelming pain. I could not tell which pain was more sever though, my knee’s or my heart’s.

Chapter 23.

{Say, “Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us. He is our protector,” and in Allah let the Believers put their trust.} – Surat At-Tawba; Verse 51


The second we hit the pavement, the world switched into slow motion and turned mute. Layla’s loud scream was the last thing I heard before silence conquered all the sounds. I remember I screamed too but I did not hear my own voice. Nothing could have broken the silence. I lifted my arms to protect my face and started reciting
Alshahadateen. The right front tyre had hit the pavement first so in the air, the car tilted to my side and I thought it was going to flip over and that it was going to be the end for me, if not for the both of us.


I started seeing flashbacks of my entire life right in front of my eyes. Everything from scattered bits and pieces of my childhood and the major events that occurred in my adulthood up until the moment I saw my grades for this year a few minutes ago. The memories were so vivid I would not have been able to remember them with such clarity had I tried. They felt so real as if I were reliving them again.       

I recall bargaining with God while we were in the air. Please, God, if you let us make it through this alive then I would be a good man. Layla would be good too. I would keep my prayers on time. I would perform Umrah at least once a month. I would donate more money to the poor and needy. I prayed and begged for His mercy.   

We could not have been in the air for more than ten seconds but it felt like eternity. The windows were starting to break and I could swear I saw the lines forming slowly from a point of origin and spreading like a spider’s web. Finally, I closed my eyes and waited for my fate.

Luckily, the car did not flip over. My side of the car hit the ground first and I felt the power of the collision explode through my entire body. The car dragged in the dirt for a couple of meters ahead. A few seconds later, silence surrendered and sounds took over again. I opened my eyes not believing we had survived. “Alhamdellah,” I said then looked panicky at Layla. “Layla, Layla, are you ok?” I asked. She seemed drowsy but she replied, “Yeah. I guess I am.” I let out a sigh of relief.    

Just then, my friend, Ahmad, forced open the driver’s door while yelling, “Khalid, Layla, are you alright?” Turns out, he was right behind us when we exited the university and saw the entire accident take place. He parked his car on the side of the road and came running to us but we could not see him because of all the dirt floating in the air around the car due to the impact. Layla’s door was stuck, too, so he had to force it open same as he did with mine. He helped us both get out of the car because we did not have the energy to do so on our own. He told us he called the traffic police and that they were on their way. He asked us if we needed him to call an ambulance but I said we were fine. I told him to call my father immediately because there will be many repercussions to this accident and my father can use his connections to get us out of this mess. “Do you have insurance?” he asked me and I told him that I did. “Inshallah Khair,” he said and stepped away to call my dad.      

I was holding Layla’s trembling hand in mine while we sat on the ground with our backs resting against the side of the car. She did not say a word during my short conversation with Ahmad. She only stared ahead. I turned to her and said, “Alhamdellah for everything. Hey, don’t be upset. What happened has happened. The important thing is that we’re both ok, yeah?” She burst into tears. “We almost died just now. Life as we know it could’ve ended in the matter of seconds. No, I’m not ok. It was scary as hell and I can’t stop thinking about it,” she almost yelled and continued crying. I put my arm around her and said, “I’m sorry. I would undo it if I could. Everything’s going to be alright now, I promise.”


An officer showed up twenty minutes after the accident but thankfully, my father had arrived at the same time. I told my dad what had happened and he promised to make it all go away. Layla was on the phone talking to her family and assuring them that she was fine. I could picture the look on her father’s face now filled with certainty that I was not worthy of being welcomed into their family indeed. Layla complained of her back and so did I in addition to my neck so Ahmad offered to take us to the hospital where my mother works and we thought it was a good idea. Layla told her family to meet her there. My father was going to stay behind to take care of all the paper work and legal issues. He would meet us later. I took only a few steps when I fell on the ground with striking pain shooting from my right knee up into my brain. I held it tight in my hands and screamed because the pain was more than I could take. I gritted my teeth hard. I had hoped that my right knee was not injured again in the accident and so I was afraid of walking on it and therefore remained where I was after Ahmad helped me out of the car. Apparently, it was. I had to lean on Ahmad’s shoulder and use my left leg until we reached his car.  

When we reached the emergency room of the hospital, I found my mother waiting for me. She had called in ahead and alerted the ER team that I was coming and that I have been in a car accident and so a room was prepared for me and a wheelchair was ready for me at the door. I was injected with a painkiller the moment I came in. X-Rays and an MRI were performed for my knee since it was the main concern then. The radiological consultant said that there was an apparent tear in the medial meniscus, a ruptured ligament and suspicion of minor hemorrhage. The orthopedic surgeon agreed upon reviewing the X-Rays and MRI himself. I was scheduled for surgery first thing in the morning the following day.    

Layla’s family had arrived a while ago and she assured them for the hundredth time that she was fine. They went with her for a complete physical examination while I had the X-Rays and MRI done. Layla’s dad showed me some compassion after he had learned that I am to have surgery the next day. My brother and sister too showed up worried about me. Everyone was scared for my sake and for a moment, I felt lucky to have so many people care about me.
Dad came in later and told me that everything concerning insurance, traffic police, the other man who had hit my car and related issues were all settled and I am not to worry about them. I thanked him and I wondered what I would have done without him. He was always there for me ready to get me out of whatever trouble I got myself into throughout the years.

Since it was late afternoon by then, we saw no need for us to go home and come back so we decided to stay the night in the hospital. My mother and Layla remained with me when it became late and everyone else went home with the promise of coming early morning before I would be taken to the operating room. Layla and my mother took turns sleeping on the couch. I would not have been able to sleep if not for the sedative I was given at midnight.

When I woke up the next morning, I found Noor and Badr talking with Lama. Poor Layla was asleep. Half an hour later, I was being prepped for surgery. My anxiety levels were sky rocketing because being a medical student; I knew everything that could go wrong during any procedure. I kept praying silently while everyone tried to cheer me up and to encourage me each in his or her own way. When the chief anesthesiologist was infusing the sedative into my blood stream right before taking me into the operating room, Layla held my hand tight and whispered into my ears, “Inshallah you’ll come out safe. May God be with u, dear. I’ll be here the moment you open your eyes again.” My consciousness faded away in a few seconds.           

Around noon, I opened my eyes for the first time and saw that everyone was asleep on the couch and on chairs except for my mother who was awake. “Alhamdellah,” she said. My throat was dry and I could barely speak. Less than a minute later, I fell asleep again. I kept falling asleep and waking up in a drowsy state until late afternoon when I fully regained consciousness. “Hey, everyone, sorry I kept you waiting for long,” I said. Everyone smiled and started cheering me for making it through. We have been talking for a few minutes when I asked my mom, “How did the surgery go? What did the doctor say? Did you meet with him after the operation?” My mom gave me half a smile and told me that we will talk about it later and that I needed to say Alhamdellah and thank God for keeping me safe. I sensed something was wrong so I asked her again to explain to me or to call the doctor so I could speak to him myself. She then gave in and told me what the doctor had told her.

 

“The operation went well Alhamdellah but there might be a few complications. Your son’s injury was more severe than it appeared to be in the MRI. The bleeding more prominent and there was damage to one of the nerves supplying the knee as well. In addition, your son has a poorly healed previous injury, which did not help. We can’t really tell now how it would all turn out in the end. We did the best we could and inshallah there will be no complications. Nevertheless, you have to prepare yourself for the possibility of that happening in the form of limited movement of the knee that might require him to walk with the aid of a crutch for some time. Of course, with an intensive rehabilitation and physiotherapy program we could help restore his knee into its original state or as close to that as possible. At this point, only God knows what is going to happen. Whatever that might be, God knows best. Alhamdellah for your son’s survival and for everything,” he said.

Chapter 22.

They say, “If you want to make God laugh then all you got to do is tell Him your plans.”


Layla’s father never approved of me. It was obvious that even though he was happy for his daughter he was not going to consider me a welcomed addition to his family. True he never failed to treat me with respect yet it was the respect you would offer a stranger rather than a dear son in law. Honestly, I could not have cared less if it did not mean that much to Layla. I tried to impress him in numerous ways. I was always on my best behavior whenever he was around. I attempted to engage him in conversations about topics I knew he was interested in but to no avail. After some time, my attempts became less frequent and my desire to gain his approval grew weaker. I made peace with the fact that my relationship with him is going to remain strictly formal. Layla, however, never gave up and she always had ideas regarding how to get her dad to like me better or to include him in our usual familial gatherings of which he often declined to join.

 

I remember once having a conversation with Layla early in our engagement about her father’s apparent unwillingness to embrace me into their family and what could be the reason for that and she said, “It’s not simply a dislike of your character or disapproval of the way we had met and our old relationship. There are many other factors too I believe. You see, I was always dad’s favorite and our relationship used to be strong especially when I was younger. He was my confidant you could say and I used to tell him everything. Therefore, it’s upsetting to him that I hid such a big part of my life from him for that long. It doesn’t make it easier too the fact that he discovered it by chance rather than my own confession which would’ve made it more acceptable to him in a way. I guess he feels cheated and it’s not an easy feeling. Maybe he’s disappointed that I had a relationship with someone to begin with. Perhaps in his mind he didn’t think it’s something I would do. You know how parents tend to be sometimes, thinking that their kids are angels on earth. You’re also the new man in my life. You’re the one he has to compete with now and eventually you’ll win and you’ll steal me away as it always the case with marriage. I also expect that dad would’ve preferred that the man I was going to marry came through him or by his knowledge. Last but not least, even if he changed his mind now and thought that you are indeed worthy of his daughter, that would mean he would have to admit he was wrong in his early refusal which is a very hard thing for my father to do. And of course there could be other things that neither you nor I know about.” I asked while she was sipping her cup of coffee, “So, basically what you’re saying is that he might just never like me?” “Don’t be so pessimistic. I’m sure with time he’ll love you,” she said with an assuring smile. Little did we know then of the chain of events that was going to take place later in time and serve to affirm that disapproval even more.

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Just as the new school year started, Layla began working in Samba bank as a teller. She was not looking for a job then but when my uncle mentioned they were looking for females to hire in different positions, I brought up the subject and she said why not. Next day she was hired on the spot after my uncle made a call to one of his friends. She was in a good financial situation since she received 4200 Riyals a month while I was stuck with the monthly 990 I get from college. I jokingly demanded that she gives me at least a thousand Riyals out of her salary every month so we can have a better balance but she refused! It was not the best of sensations to know that for at least two more years, she would be the one supporting us. She liked working there and made a few new friends. It was not the dream job but it was perfect for the time being.

 

I would finish college around 4-4:30 and I would go pick up Layla from the bank and take her home. Sometimes we went out for lunch but most of the days we both would be very tired and cannot wait to get home. That year passed in a glance. Due to the extensive number of rotations, clinical exams, finals and the concomitant large amount of studying required not to mention maintaining my relationship with Layla, I was busy most of the year with barely time to breath. Towards the end of the year, I was exhausted. I had studied hard and performed well but had no idea how my grades were going to turn out. I felt drained and I could not wait for the summer to come. Layla, too, grew bored with the routine of her job and longed for a break. What we anticipated the most, however, was our Melka.    

When Layla and I first got engaged, we had decided that our engagement period would be prolonged until I become an intern in two years time at least and then we would have our Melka and the Wedding to follow after a few months. We also agreed that we would leave to Canada after I finish my internship so that I could enroll in a Surgical Residency Program and hopefully upon completion; aim to get a Fellowship degree in Pediatric Surgery all of which will take probably eight years. During that time, Layla intends to get her Masters and PhD, too. After she is done with her studies, I will still have a couple of years left to receive my Fellowship degree so in that period, we intend on having two babies, preferably a boy and a girl. We had not decided on their names yet though. Layla would work in these three years left here until it is time for us to leave. Our families did not mind the general layout of our plans except a little for the long period of time that we would spend outside the country but they understood my need to do so in order to become a good surgeon. It seemed like we had our entire future figured out then.


During the second term of that year, the subject of the summer vacation often came up and discussed. I never had the chance to spend the summer with Layla since she was always abroad on most of its days and this time I wanted that to change. In the summer, my brother would be busy with college applications and admission exams that most likely he will not be able to travel anywhere and my parents would surely stay with him. My sister was going to Dubai with a couple of her friends. I was invited to go along with them and I almost agreed if not for the seemingly brilliant idea that came to my mind. Layla and her family were going to Italy in July instead of their annual summer trip to Egypt. Her dad cannot go with them because he is busy with work. When I told Layla about my idea, she got extremely excited and we agreed that we would discuss it with our parents the next time we are all together.

On a Wednesday evening while we were all on the dining table in Layla’s house, we asked everyone to hear our idea. “Khalid and I have been doing some thinking, about this summer vacation, and we thought it would be really nice if he could come along with us to Italy,” Layla addressed her mother. Both her mother and mine looked at us as if they did not know whether to laugh or to strike us with the big wooden rice spoon! Luckily, Lama shouted, “That’s a great idea!” We had told Lama, Noor and Badr about our plan and instructed them to support it. I felt bad for Badr because he would not travel anywhere while Noor did not seem to care since she was going away anyway but they encouraged me to suggest the idea. Lama was ecstatic from the moment we told her. Yasser, however, was, as usual, a mystery and we did not know if he would welcome me coming along or not but we figured we would deal with him later if we managed to convince our parents first.  

It took us a couple of weeks and continuous nagging until our parents, surprisingly, agreed. However, Layla’s mother had a condition. “I spoke to your Dad.” She looked at Layla and continued, “As you might expect, he wasn’t crazy about the idea but he also knew that there’s no point in fighting it so he simply said it was fine by him. But I do have a condition to give you my final approval.” Now she addressed me, “I don’t think it would be appropriate for you to travel with us while you’re still just Layla’s fiancé. It doesn’t look good for us, for Layla and even for you. In the end, we live here and it’s just not that ok. I know that we had spoken about this before and said that we would wait until you finish school but if you want to come with us to Italy then you should have your Melka done before that, preferably in the first weekend after your finals. It would put my heart at ease this way. What do you think?” Layla and I exchanged glances and I said, “That is a great idea.” We would have hugged each other if her mother were not sitting right in front of us.


Our Melka was set to be a traditional affair because we figured that since our wedding is going to be far from traditional, at least our Melka should be. My last exam was on Tuesday. Our Melka was on Thursday a week later. The men’s Melka was in my house while the women’s took place in Donyaty Hall in Westin Hotel. At my house, I was trying to sense how Layla’s father was feeling as the guests were arriving but he was vague as usual and I could not tell much but he seemed happy. When it was time for us to sit with Alma’zoon and for him to pronounce Layla and me officially married, I was nervous and excited at the same time. When he asked Layla’s father since he is her guardian if he accepted me to be Layla’s husband, there was a moment of hesitation I do not think anyone else had noticed. I thought to myself, “Holy shit! He’s going to say no!” Thankfully, he did not and he said yes. I let out a silent sigh of relief. After that, we danced and sang with Al-Jassesah and had a good time.

 

After dinner, the guests started leaving and less than an hour later, I headed with my family and Layla’s to Westin Hotel to participate in the celebration that is taking place there. I always thought that the entire concept of Al-Zaffah is funny but when I stood there next to Layla, holding her hand in front of all the women present in the wonderfully decorated hall, suddenly it seemed like a fairytale that I never quite pictured myself as a part of before. I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming sensation of happiness that took over me that moment. Layla was absolutely beautiful. I could not believe that this piece of perfection, which God has created, this heavenly angel on earth now belonged to me. I could not believe that now I get to call her my wife. She was breathtaking in every meaning of the word. I felt like the luckiest man that has ever lived and I said a silent prayer of thanks. I leaned over and whispered to Layla, “I love you.” I felt her hand shaking in mine but it could have been my hand that was shaking. We squeezed each other hands tight and started descending upon the stairs accompanied by the sound of music and happy cheers from everyone there. We had the most magical time that night. I remember when I went back home that night when it was all over, I lied on my bed thinking to myself, “What good deed have I done to deserve all of this happiness in my life?”

 

A week or so after our Melka, my exams results were posted. I passed by Layla, took her with me and headed to college. I went to see my results while she waited for me in the car. I found out I had gotten my badly hoped for B and I was thrilled. I rushed back to the car and told Layla. “What do you want to do to celebrate?” she asked. I said, “Let’s just get out of here and we’ll think about it. Maybe go have a day at the beach or something. Let’s call the others and see.” Just as we were entering King Abdul Aziz Square near college, Layla said, “I’m proud of you.” Then she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I smiled and looked at her. I was distracted only for a second in which I took my eyes off the road ahead of me. In this senseless second, my car got hit in the left front tyre by another car heading right that I failed to see. I was speeding and when I pressed the breaks hard which is something I should not have done, I lost control of the car and it headed insanely towards the sidewalk. We hit the pavement and the car literally flew in the air.