Nadia is still burning from Daniel’s touch and she is yet to shower, reluctant to wash away the scent of his skin against hers. She hates herself for fighting for a man she is sharing with someone else, for trying to remind him of all the reasons they got married to begin with and for hoping that his infatuation with sexy Sarah is temporary. But as much as she is furious with herself for giving a man who is undeserving of her love so much attention, a part of her feels proud that she is trying to salvage her marriage. She actually meant it when she swore "for better or worse."
When she was younger, perhaps more idealistic and a little naïve, whenever she’d hear tales of cheating husbands, she vowed that she would never allow herself to linger in such circumstances. That she was strong enough to walk away from an unfaithful husband. She was subconsciously brought up to believe that whenever a man did you wrong, you left him, and preferably castrated him in the process. After all, that was what her grandmother did. And her mother. Twice. Divorce wasn't a taboo in her family, it was a tradition. As a child, she would listen to her single aunts' stories about the wonders of singledom, her married aunts' complaints about their husbands and her divorced grandmother’s woes about her ex, with sadness. She ached to be different.
Now, it was her turn to be tested. Leaving
Daniel would be so, so easy but staying with him would show the world that her grandmother's descendants were more than just divorcees.
This determination prevented Nadia from confronting him the painful night she saw him with his ex – or perhaps current – girlfriend. Her pride stopped her from talking to Sugar about what had happened as well. She felt embarrassed and naked, as if all of her weaknesses had been exposed and she had nothing to shield herself with. That night, she went home and crawled into bed without even scrubbing her face clean of the layers of makeup she had foolishly thought would repair her confidence and make her feel sexy and desirable again. She was convinced that
Daniel would continue ignoring her, giving her time to work out her strategy, to assess what she really wanted out of her relationship.
He didn’t give her that time though. He came rushing into the apartment soon after and woke her up from her pretend sleep, claiming he had something to confess. Eyes wide with innocence, he told her a long and detailed story of his 'colleague', Sarah, who had just come out of an abusive relationship and who needed a shoulder to cry on.
“Did it have to be your shoulder?” Nadia asked in a controlled voice, playing along.
“She has no one else, babe,” he explained earnestly. “I just wanted to help her out, and I don’t know, she was all over me and I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I’ve told her that I can’t help her anymore. It’s not my place. Honey, I’m so, so sorry for losing my judgment. Please forgive me.”
Stunned by the lies her husband had told so effortlessly, Nadia began to cry.
Daniel, mistaking her angry tears as those of forgiveness, cuddled her affectionately and kissed away the black streaks running down her face. Soon, they were clinging onto each other’s bodies and weeping together, a mess of warm limbs and hot tears. And with every caress, her resolve to hate him forever slipped away. Their bodies united, she suddenly felt like everything was going to be okay.
For a few days, things had been okay.
Daniel came home every evening at 7:00pm, an hour after Nadia, giving her just enough time to rustle up a quick pasta dish or stir fry. After dinner, they snuggled up together on the large, L-shaped sofa to watch mindless TV, arguing over whether to watch MBC Action or Showseries. They didn’t talk much, but neither minded the long silences. It was better than having to reassess their relationship and try and figure out a way to save it. They didn’t have sex the next two nights though, despite Nadia going to bed in silky nightgowns that could cure even the most impotent man.
The third night, while
Daniel was still watching Pimp My Ride and lusting over the rusty SUVs that had transformed into cinemas or swimming pools, Nadia decided to go to bed in her birthday suit. Having analysed their relationship with excruciating precision for the past few days, she was convinced that his reason for straying was because she was unable to satisfy his sexual desires. Desperate to make him want her and to depend on her for everything – not just a clean, warm home – she doused herself in Very Sexy by Victoria’s Secret, lathered on fragrant body cream and lay between satin sheets waiting for him.
Daniel, when discovering his wife’s smooth, slim body between the fresh sheets, felt his heartbeat quicken, but in fear, not lust. Claiming to be tired, he gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and then lay as far away from her as possible, his baggy t-shirt and shorts providing an extra barrier. Smarting from his rejection, Nadia lay awake, her face hot with shame and anger. She resolved to divorce him the next morning.
Soon though, their bodies somehow ended up pressed against each other’s and they made slow, lazy love, which confused Huda more than ever. Just when she began to think that there was no hope, he turned to her once again, dispelling her doubts momentarily.
On Wednesday, Nadia comes home early from work with a headache so intense that she feels as if her eyes will explode. She hasn’t completed a single paper the entire week, and she is already a day late on a report on oil prices. Managing to wangle an extension from her manager who silently observed her dark circles and pale complexion and then advised her to go home, she takes two painkillers and then lies in bed with the heavy curtains drawn until the strength of the headache slowly begins to fade. When it does, she forces her lethargic body into the living room, where she takes out her laptop despite knowing that it will probably make her head feel worse. She feels old and haggard. Is this what it feels like to be pushing thirty?
She performs her usual ritual of checking her email and then her Facebook, where she updates her status to 'Nadia is at home with a splitting headache,' after almost writing: 'Nadia is contemplating whether or not to hack into her husband's email.' Don’t be so masochistic she warns herself while entering his password – patrolman1234 – and hovering over the 'log in' button. She pauses for a few seconds, chewing on her bottom lip. She knows that she will only make herself feel worse. After a little deliberation, her curiosity prevails and soon, she is opening up the latest chapter in the
Daniel and Sarah love story.
"It was so lovely seeing you again and I'm really sorry you had to leave so abruptly," Sarah writes. "I can't stop thinking about you and I'm dying to see you again. Name the place and I'll be there."
Bitch, Nadia thinks, scowling. Just take a hint and take a hike.
"I'm sorry for rushing out like that,"
Daniel replies. "And although I'd love to see you again, things are really hectic at work at the moment so I don’t think I'll be able to make the time."
Nadia's pulse races in excitement. Although he hasn’t even come close to ending this ‘relationship’ with Sarah, she feels as if she has won a battle. He's choosing me, she thinks, tears brimming in her eyes, the smallest smile beginning to play on her lips. She is relieved that she never confronted
Daniel about all she knows and that he has actually chosen her without her forcing the decision on him. She has never been one to force men to take a stand, unlike many of her girlriends who would place time limits on their boyfriends to propose to them - or else.
Daniel and Nadia had ‘dated’ for only six months before they he proposed to her. In Nadia's world, 'dating' consisted of hanging out together like friends and occasionally saying romantic things to each other. There was no kissing, no hugging and definitely no screwing. They had met through mutual friends while he was in London on an internship and after their relationship developed into a romance, he had decided to stay on, despite being unemployed and relying purely on his savings. He rented a tiny room in Forest Gate, using up all of his funds in pursuing Nadia , and when he had just about used up every penny he had ever accumulated, he proposed to her with a cheap ring, promising a better one once he was wealthier.
Nadia didn’t care that the ring was cheap. Just seeing him kneel down before her, his eyes bright with hope, made her warm up, his love wrapping itself around her. She agreed without thinking twice and he pulled her into their first embrace. She didn’t melt at his touch though. Instead, she stiffened slightly and pulled away, blushing at the longing in his face.
“Just wait until we’re married,” she had said with a shy smile, looking down and fixing her turquoise cotton top. He looked away, and she squeezed his shoulder reassuringly, reminding him that it wasn't her who wanted to keep a distance, but their Lord.
So they waited. Although occasionally tentatively entwining their fingers,
Nadia was careful not to break down the barriers she had spent years building in accordance with her faith and her beliefs.
Daniel did plead for her to relent every so often, his desire at times too strong to remain silent, reasoning that they were about to get married anyway. She always tried to lightheartedly brush off his advances, sometimes getting annoyed at his persistence.
Now, the man who would have become horny at the sight of his wife in a shell suit, didn't even bat an eyelash at seeing her in sexy lingerie. And for the life of her,
Nadia cannot understand why.
She feels much lighter knowing that whatever it was that
Daniel and Sarah had is over. Her headache now just a slight twinge at the back of her head, she logs into his Facebook, telling herself that she will feel better once she knows that she can definitely trust him.
After a quick browse through his friends list, which she is already familiar with, she opens the inbox. The entire first page is full of messages from women. Her hands shaking, she struggles to open one up randomly. It has been sent by a girl lying on the beach in a barely-there bikini, clearly just a teenager. The blood drains from her face when she reads it.
Hitting the back button, she quickly checks all the messages on the first page to find the same sort of thing with very slight variations.
Looking at his stuffed inbox, one would assume that
Daniel is very popular with attractive women and has them all falling at his feet. However, one reading the exchanges would learn otherwise. Rather, the attractive ladies are popular with
Daniel and he is falling at their feet. He has sent messages to countless women, usually scantily clad ones, asking them if they are in Dubai and whether they would like to meet up for some ‘harmless, no-strings-attached fun’.
Harmless. The word glares at
Nadia, telling her that her feelings and her heart mean nothing, that it is okay to slowly kill her. It is harmless to break her heart, to shatter her world.
Old, young, fat, thin, white, Arab, Asian,
Nadia wonders why
Daniel feels the need to seek attention from random women when she is willing to provide him with as much love, care and attention he can possibly need. What is it about her he loathes so much? Why isn't she enough?
Exhausted, she steps under the shower and with a loofah, begins to rid herself of every caress and kiss he planted on her body the night before. Fuck you, she repeats over and over in her head, scrubbing her arms and her thighs with aggression. Her skin becomes raw but she doesn't stop, her hands working faster and faster until finally, the tender skin splits under the pressure and begins to bleed. Gasping for breath, she drops the loofah and sinks to the floor of the shower, water pounding down on her head and dripping down her face, mixing with her tears and her blood. She stays there for over an hour, her knees drawn to her chest and her arms clasped around them.
Daniel comes home and knocks on the bathroom door. He waits for a moment, and when there is no answer, he pushes it open, the hot steam instantly clinging to his face.
Nadia?” he calls out from the other side of the curtain. Again, he can hear nothing but the sound of rushing water. He pulls the curtain open and finds his wife, small and shriveled, curled up on the floor of the shower. Her eyes are bloodshot, her skin is red, and her usually wild hair is flat against her head.
“Get away from me,” she stammers, looking up at him, her body shaking violently and her teeth chattering.
“What the hell -” he starts, reaching down to her, shocked at the state she is in. She flinches violently when his fingers touch her sore skin.
“Don’t touch me!” she screams, shoving his arm away from her. “Don’t fucking touch me!”
He stares at her as she buries her face back into her legs and screams. Without a word, he leaves the bathroom and closes the door softly behind him, her screams now muffled. Feeling panicky, he looks around the apartment in an attempt to work out exactly what she thinks she knows about his extra-marital activities. It could be anything. Spotting the Vaio sleeping on the coffee table, his palms begin to sweat. He wakes it up tentatively and finds his own Facebook page staring up at him.
Shame fills his body and he frantically looks through his messages, anxious to know exactly what
Nadia has seen. The more conversations he opens, the more embarrassed he feels until his sense of shame is so huge, it numbs his desire to lie his way through the layers of deceit he has wrapped around his relationship.
The initial cold, numbing fear rapidly turns into the lightness of liberation as the boulder on his back is lifted and he realises that he doesn't have to lie anymore. He doesn't have to keep looking over his shoulder. He can just be himself, regardless of the consequences. Closing the laptop, he leans back against the sofa and waits for
Nadia to confront him.