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.

——————–


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.

Chapter 21.

“How do you know that you’re in love with someone?” Layla asked. “When I’m ready to share my blanket with her,” I said and she laughed. “Seriously? Is that it? Your willingness to share your blanket with someone is all it takes for you know?” “Absolutely. You see, I’m very possessive of my blanket and I never share it with anyone. So if I met someone I’m actually willing to share it with, then that’s when I know I’m in love.” That conversation took place the first time we went out on a date and every time I remember it, I cannot help smiling.


My mother looked at me in a funny way trying to decide whether I was serious or joking. When she saw from the look in my eyes that I was serious, she gathered up all her papers, put them aside and said, “Work can wait until tomorrow. Now come here and talk to me.” She sat on the edge of the bed and I did the same. “Are you sure you want to marry this girl?” she asked. “Yes, I’m sure. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I wasn’t.” She nodded her head then said, “The other important question is: Does she feel the same about you too?” “Of course she does! We’ve been together for almost two years now.” “What’s the rush for then? Why not keep things the way they are now? Don’t you think you’re too young? God knows we’d be thrilled to see you engaged, especially your dad, but I have to know your reasons behind this decision. I mean why now? Why not wait one more year or so at least until you’re in your final year and then you’d be the perfect suitor for her or any other girl for that matter. I’m sure if she loves you she wouldn’t mind waiting for you,” she said.

 

I knew that there was no point in hiding anything from my mother because eventually she was going to find out. I was always an open book to her and she never failed to read me clearly. Therefore, I told her how Layla’s dad found out about us and what happened. “Well, you can’t blame him. Don’t tell me you don’t understand or see his point of view. The man is afraid for his daughter and I think he handled it really well. Someone else might’ve slapped his daughter, hit her, or locked her in her room. He was very moderate in his reaction to tell you the truth. You both should be thanking your lucky stars it ended up like this.” “I guess,” I said. “So you think proposing to her is the best solution to this problem?” “Yes,” I said and she smiled without a comment

 

“Tell me about Layla. You didn’t tell me a lot the few times you talked to me about her. Now I think I have the right to know all about her, don’t you agree?” So for a little over an hour I told my mom about Layla and how even her little imperfections are what make her perfect for me. I even showed her a picture of us together that I keep in my wallet and she said that Layla was beautiful.

 

“So, is it the right thing to do?” I asked. “Listen sweetie, you know very well that I’ve always supported you in every choice you have ever made, even the wrong ones, because that’s how you learn. I trust that you’re wise enough to know what’s best for you and I’m here only to advice you. I haven’t met this girl personally yet but if she’s half as wonderful as you describe her and if she’s half as crazy about you as you’re about her, then you have my blessings. I say let’s do it. May Allah write what’s best for you and guide you in every step you take into the path of happiness.”

 

She then hugged me and when she let go I saw her eyes tearing up. “What’s wrong, mom?” I asked. “My little boy wants to get married. I can’t believe this day has come. It’s only yesterday you were crawling and couldn’t even feed yourself!” I laughed and hugged her again then said, “Don’t start with the emotional and embarrassing stuff now please.” “I’ll make the call tomorrow and inshallah khair,” she said.          

The next day in the afternoon, I was sitting in the living room with my mother when she made the call. I was nervous like I had never been in a very long time. My mom introduced herself and said that she was calling because her son wanted to propose to Layla. After some pleasantries, Layla’s mother asked how did we get her number and from where do we know Layla. My mom told her through Rima who’s a friend of Lama, Layla’s younger sister. Layla’s mother knew who Rima was and immediately the conversation became friendlier and even drifted into the topic of young teenage girls and hard it is to tame them these days. After a few minutes of chatting, my mom told her that I had seen Layla before and that she really impressed me with her beauty, elegance and intelligence and that when I decided I wanted to get engaged, I couldn’t think of someone else better. Then came the selling part in which my mom had to emphasize my good qualities. They talked some more and they agreed that my mom and my sister visit them at their house next Wednesday.  

All of that took place without Layla’s immediate knowledge since I did not have a way of contacting her and had to wait for her to call me but I figured she would not really mind. The next morning, she called from her friend’s mobile sounding nearly freaked out. “You can’t do something like that without telling me first!” she almost shouted through the phone. “OK. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d react this way. Fine, I’ll tell my mom to call yours and cancel the whole thing if that’s what you want.” She giggled and shouted again, “You evil man! That’s not what I meant but next time, consult me first!” “Next time I want to propose to you I’ll tell you first! Now for my sake please dress up nicely and impress my mom on Wednesday.”     

Wednesday came and apparently, it was a success. My mom came home ecstatic talking all about how sweet and funny Layla is. She also said that she and Layla’s mom hit it off from the start. I could not believe my ears. My mom does not like anyone easily so it is rather remarkable that she liked Layla’s mom. A couple of days later, Layla called me and told me that the joy was shared in their house, too. Her mom liked my family. They had agreed that next Wednesday, it is time for me to come along for the visit.           

Layla had not told her dad that it was I, the guy whom he saw with her in the pictures, who is coming to their house. We thought a lot about it and figured it is best to withhold that information from him and see how he reacts. Of course, he was not going to embarrass us in front of our families. We predicted that he might sense it is I but he would not be sure enough to reject me before he sits with me, especially after the great success of my mom’s previous visit. We feared that if she told him that it was in fact me, he would probably refuse to meet my family and me, which would leave us in awkward position. However, if we left him in the dark and he met us, maybe his previous perception of my character would change into a better one. Perhaps after he gets to know a little more about my family and me, he would realize that I am good enough for his daughter and that we in fact belong together.


We also hoped that Yasser would be a supporting element for us. He had arrived from UK on Friday and was genuinely happy for us. He even called me to say congratulations. I told him that we still do not know what his dad’s opinion would be so he should hold off his congratulations yet. He told me that I should concentrate on winning his mother because if I did that, she will deal with his father and I will not have much to worry about then.        

On the promised day, we were sitting in their big salon chitchatting about trivial subjects such as the weather and the newest restaurants in town. We were waiting for Layla’s dad to come down and join us since we were all there. 

 

Half an hour later, he showed up and shook my dad and brother’s hands. When it was time for him to shake mine, I could easily see the recognition look in his eyes. He knew who I was but he did not say anything. I said, “Honored to meet you.” He nodded his head. He took the seat opposite me and that declared the beginning of the interrogation-like event. I had expected that so I was prepared. They asked for all kinds of personal information. Which schools did I go to? What were my grades? What do I want to do when I grow up? Which field do I want to specialize in? Where do I want to live? What are my plans in case we actually got married Layla and me? I tried to answer all of their questions in the most gracious and respectable way, not forgetting to add a touch of humor every now and then.

 

Sometime in the middle of the evening, Layla’s dad asked me, “So, how do you know Layla?” I sensed that he meant to put me on the spot by that question. “Lama is one of my cousin’s best friends and I’ve met her before a few times. Through her I met Layla too.” I answered. At the end of the night when it was time to leave, everyone said goodbye and what a pleasure it was to meet each other. The most mysterious person was of course Layla’s dad because I did not know whether he liked me or not. He did not give me any indications whatsoever towards this or that. He seemed pleasant enough and polite enough. Overall, it was not exactly the dream visit I once hoped for but it was much better than what I expected it to be.    

Later, I learned how true what Yasser had said was. After we left and while Layla’s mom and the maid were cleaning up, her dad voiced his objection. “I don’t think we should agree to this guy. We don’t know anything about him and frankly I don’t like him that much.” Her mother looked at him as if he is crazy, Layla told me. “What are you talking about? He’s such a gentleman. He’s going to make a really good husband for Layla. Anyone with a sane mind can easily see that. True that we don’t know him that well, but that’s why there’s an engagement period. It’s not like they’re going to get married immediately. They’ll probably remain engaged for more than a year and that’s plenty of time for them to know each other better and for us to know him better, too.” Her dad would not quit and said, “This is not the first guy to propose you know and he’s not going to be the last. Why wait around for him to graduate while there are other suitors who are more financially secured and career established than him. He’s still a student with a long way to go.” “But I like him and his family and obviously Layla likes him too. Didn’t you notice how they were stealing glances towards each other when they think no one is looking? I thought that was adorable,” she said. “Because they already know each other from before.” “Yeah well he told you that he had met her before. His cousin is Lama’s best friend.” “I’m not talking about that. A couple of weeks ago I saw some pictures of your daughter and Mr. gentleman holding hands meaning there’s more to the story than “We’ve met through Lama.””

 

Layla told me that her dad had a smirk on his face when he said that as if he has dropped the bomb that is going to win him the battle but her mom then simply said, “Oh Abdulmalik, grow up. So what? All the girls these days have boyfriends and guy friends. You think I didn’t figure out that there was something going on between them? I had suspicions that Layla was involved with someone a long time ago but I chose not to dig deep and prayed that I had raised her well and that she’d make the right decisions. Luckily, her boyfriend turned out to be a decent young man who did the right thing and came to our house through the front door with his family rather than play her and break her heart then disappear for good. I’m very fond of him and his family. I think Layla and Khalid are going to make such a nice couple that everyone will envy. Just be happy for your daughter please because clearly she is flying high now” And that was the end of the discussion.      

Three weeks later was the day of Qira’at Alfateha, which is the official ceremony that announces us to be engaged. We had decided that it is going to be a small affair with only family and close relatives. We exchanged rings and then spent the rest of the evening mingling, receiving congratulations and watching the two families getting to know each other.

The real celebration, however, was the following night. The father of a friend of mine was the manager of a private compound so with his help we arranged a poolside dinner party. We invited all of our friends and cousins and told them that it is going to be a mixed party and that casual attire is required. We did not want any thobes or suits present. We just wanted to have a good time and celebrate our engagement with those who were genuinely happy for the both of us. We danced, drank, ate and laughed until tears came out of our eyes.

 

At midnight, my sister and a friend of hers emerged out of nowhere carrying a large cake that had a picture of Layla and me on top. We cut the cake and everyone cheered then after taking a couple of pictures of us with it, I took my piece and jammed it into Layla’s face and she, in a very fast reflex I must admit, did the same to me with her piece. Suddenly everyone was trying to get their hands on a piece of cake so they could slam it into either Layla or me. I was covered in cake and before I even knew it, I found myself being carried up by my friends and then thrown into the cold water of the swimming pool. A few seconds later, Layla was dropped into the water too by her friends. We got out of the pool laughing so hard we could not even stand up straight anymore. Probably the next day we are going to wake up sick with fever and we would not be able to get out of bed but still we will feel good. This was a night to remember, a night to cherish forever. Nothing really mattered then.

We were engaged.

Chapter 20.

“We both know very well that I’m not a hero

We both know that I do not have any super powers

I may not be able to save you when you need me to

But I will gladly jump in the fire with you if you were burning

I will gladly jump in the water with you if you were drowning”

– Translated from an Arabic poem I read many years ago.


“Calm down, dear, and tell me what happened. Everything’s going to be alright. Just please stop crying and tell me. Maybe we can work it out.” I tried to reassure her and understand what happened and finally after a few more minutes of continuous sobbing and scattered words, she seemed to be capable of speaking coherently. “Sunday morning, I went out for breakfast with Abeer and her sister. I had left my laptop in my room on hibernate as usual. Anyhow, dad’s laptop is being repaired and therefore he decided to use mine in order to check his email. Usually I put our pictures in CDs and remove them from the laptop but the pictures from our last visit to Al-Shallal were still there. I blame myself for being so foolish and careless but I swear to you my dad has never even did as much as touch my laptop ever since I got it. I have no idea why this time out of all times he decided to use it instead of just waiting to use the computer at work and why on earth did he look in My Documents.


I came back home and found him waiting for me in the living room. He asked me to sit in front of him and said that we needed to talk. I felt uncomfortable when I heard his unfamiliar harsh tone. “I opened your laptop today and guess what I found in it,” he said looking directly into my eyes. “What? How could you? You don’t have the right to do that.” I raised my voice trying to seem offended especially that I didn’t know what he had found and I wasn’t going to admit anything yet. I had forgotten about the pictures.

 

He completely discarded my dismay and continued in even a harsher tone, “Well, regardless of your little protest, the point is that I saw pictures of you holding hands with some guy and clearly you’re close to him. Don’t act like I’m mistaken. You know damn well what I’m talking about so wipe that stupid shocked look off your face now. Anyhow, I really don’t want to nor do I need to know anything about this guy or whatever is going on between you two. I don’t care. You will, however, stop contacting him from this day on. I will be watching you and if, God forbid, I found out you were still talking to him then the consequences won’t be good for either of you.

 

You have disappointed me much more than I ever imagined you could. I thought I had raised you well but apparently, I didn’t. The most precious thing a girl has is her honor and reputation and for you to go and throw them away at the feet of some guy is despicable. I think it’s fate that has led me to this awful discovery. I have never laid hands on any of you personal belongings before and look what happened the first time I did. It’s such a shame that I had to find out this way. If you had any respect for your mother or me, you would’ve told us about him before. Moreover, if you had any respect for yourself, you wouldn’t have let him touch you and hold your hand like he does in the pictures.

 

Homes have doors you know and you should’ve insisted that he comes to us from the front door and asks to have a relationship with you in the proper way rather than doing it in the dark behind our backs just like low people do. I’m pretty sure that this guy once he got whatever it is he wants from you he’s going to flee and you’re never going to hear of him again. What would have you gained then? A broken heart, a dishonorable reputation, and a black future in which no decent man would want to marry you. I’m not saying any of this to intentionally hurt you but I’m telling you the truth because I love you and I want to protect you. If this guy was a man in any sense he would’ve been here in our house with his parents asking us for your hand. If he loved you in any way, he wouldn’t have allowed you to belittle yourself the way you obviously did.

 

Layla, I’m really hurt, disappointed, angry, frustrated, confused and other million things at the moment. I don’t know what to do with you. Of course, I won’t tell your mom about this. She doesn’t need to know what her daughter has been doing. For now, give me your mobile and your laptop and you’re not allowed to go out for a month unless I say otherwise.”

 

All the time he was talking, silent tears were running down my cheeks and burning them like fire. I felt so ashamed and I despised myself. I didn’t know what to say so I just sat there and prayed to God that dad would stop saying all those things but it seemed the more I prayed the more dad spoke. At the begging, he was looking into my eyes and then when I started crying he simply looked away and kept talking as if he’s addressing the wall. My dad has never treated me this way before. He never said anything hurtful to me before. When he was done, he stood to leave and looked down on me in every possible way you could look down on someone. I wished the earth would open up and swallow me. I wished I would turn into dust.

 

“I’m sorry,” I finally managed to utter, barely audibly. “What good is your sorry now? Tell me what good is your sorry now?” he said. “Dad, wait. Please believe me. He’s a really good guy. He loves me and I love him. We’ll get married and we’ll make each other happy,” I said with a breaking voice. “I don’t see him here, do you?” he said and picked up his keys and went down the stairs. “Tell your mother I might be out late tonight,” he said then slammed the door and left the house. I sat there crying for hours and hours with no one to console me except for our maid who couldn’t do anything but sit on the carpet at the corner of the living room and feel sorry for me. I cried in hope that the tears would wash the shame away but no matter how hard I cried, the shame seemed only to grow bigger and bigger it engulfed me.”

She then started crying again. I could tell she was fighting her tears as she was telling me the story taking deep breaths occasionally and being barely capable of finishing more than a couple of sentences together at once. I stayed silent the whole time not knowing what to say or do. There was no way I could understand what she must have felt. I hated myself. I loathed myself. It is my fault that Layla had to go through that. I felt so helpless sitting on the edge of my bed clutching my mobile in my hand and listening to Layla crying on the other end. I needed to make things right. I had to fix it.

                                                                                        

In the middle of everything, I could not help thinking of the irony of fate. It is only soon that we had decided that we wanted to get engaged at the end of this summer and that we would stop seeing each other and do everything the right way. Back when we saw each other almost on daily basis, none of her parents had a clue but now such a minimal mistake could lead to multiple complications.   

“Hush now darling, stop crying. We’ve been through a lot before and I promise you we’ll make it through this too some way or another. I’m going to make it right somehow, trust me. I love you from the bottom of my heart. That is a force not to be taken lightly because for you, I’ll fight the entire world. Your dad will realize that all his assumptions were wrong when he sees me knocking at your door. I’m going to prove him wrong and we’ll live happily ever after just like beauty and the beast, of course you being the beast and I’m the beauty,” I joked. I heard a very faint laugh and it made me smile.

 

“Listen, don’t worry. I believe that we’re destined to be together and your dad will have to see that too.” “But even if he agreed, he’ll never forgive me,” she said. “I promise you he will. No one can stay mad at his daughter forever not to mention that the moment we bring him a grandchild he’ll forgive and forget like nothing has ever happened.” “Thank you,” she said. “What for?” “For always being my rock and anchor. I feel like I have caused you many troubles in the last few months and made you go through a lot of drama.” I laughed and said, “It’s ok you don’t have to thank me for anything, not now. You have the rest of your life to thank me. Anyhow, I think you should you hang up now just in case someone sees you or your dad comes unannounced. You don’t want to upset him this period. Take care of yourself please and hold that pretty chin of yours up high. Everything’s going to be alright, Ok? I love you.” She said I love you too and we hung up. I sat there and started thinking. I promised her and assured her many times that everything is going to be all right when I myself did not know that for sure.     

A couple of days later, I entered my parents’ room to find my mom doing some paper work as usual. “Mom, have you got a minute?” I asked. “Yeah sure. What’s going on?” “Remember that girl I told you about a long time ago?” “Layla? Of course I do. You’re still talking to her, aren’t you? It’s obvious from your phone bills you know.” I smiled. “Yeah that’s her. Well, this is her mother’s number. I want you to call her and tell her that I want to propose to Layla.”