Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Laws of Listlessness (LOL)

*This is a complete version of a series of short posts from last year....

She almost had declined her friends' invitation earlier in the evening, indulging that special kind of boredom that seeks no relief, only passive compliance - ennui she thinks, is pink. After a suitable period of earnest refusal, she did manage to muster the energy to get dressed and meet them at the cafe, irritatingly though, too early in the Autumn Amman evening. The taxi ride was annoying, the Palestinian driver had asked too many questions, barely managing to keep his tone appropriate, and she wondered about his expectations - how many women had been in the back seat of the Toyota, adopting a terminally distant and cold demeanor for his benefit, grunting minimal directions, wanting just to survive the short trip without some sort of awkward proposal?
Stepping out of the cab, careful not to tip or make eye contact, she spotted her two friends standing plaintively near the door, perfecting she thought, the sublime Jordanian stare: harsh beauty etched in mascara, precision rouge, and the hint of a chimerical malice. No wonder she mused, she was probably lonely. She stepped up to them briskly, and they mulled around a bit aimlessly, none of them braving the path to the entrance. Finally, tired of this provincial protocol, she lunged forth to the door, and like that, they were inside the cafe - knowing her colleagues would be irritated, having been denied their stoic and disinterested ingress. Fine with her though, as they would be able to find a decent table in an easy corner, close to the balcony with its merciful relief from the dank and ugly inevitability of hookah and droll exotic coffee. Why again had she decided to come?
She found herself chatting lightly with her two friends, while wondering if they were friends at all. Perhaps they were her partners in diversion, her literary license to venture out and view the edge of the world far removed from her traditional home, her school work, and the general unease she felt whenever she pondered her future. She wasn't unhappy, more like listless in the sense that she felt a pull towards an undefined and formless fate that had yet to make itself known to her. Patience had been bred into her, and she would wait out the ambiguity of her destiny as she had so many other things, but with a bit more impudence, a bit less prudence. Tonight for instance, she would smile if she saw a pair of soft eyes, defying the silent stricture of her stern and solemn sisterhood.
Her thoughts drifted up to the ceiling as she sipped her coke, wondering if any real Bedouin had actually decorated their tents like this. She didn't mind the motif, but wondered why it couldn't be a bit lighter, a little less brooding and woven. She became conscious of the dark tones and harsh pleats; why were carpets of some sorts on the floors, walls, even sporadically draped from the ceiling? Her parent's home had none of this, nor would she have it in her home, wherever that would be. No ancient and dusty rugs, no copper tea pots that looked like evil bloated birds. She hadn't noticed these things before, and truthfully, it was her favorite cafe if she had ever been pressed to admit it. Despite these feelings of temporary estrangement, there was still something familiar and compelling about the room. Perhaps the muted and dark hues were meant to absorb - to suck in the toils of the day, the insignificance of a hundred meaningless tasks, the pettiness of a dozen flippant desires squandered in a course of cigarettes and chai. Or maybe, the room knew her loneliness, maybe there was an empathetic entropy of sorts at work here, willing to wait to transfer some of the damp dolor that was creeping into her heart back into drab dark walls. Perhaps there had been life in this room a long, long time ago before it became a vacuum of human inertia and malaise
She shook her head in short violent toss, startling her two friends. They giggled nervously as she forced a smile and an inward declaration out of this forlorn fugue. Not tonight - tonight she would laugh and watch the dramaturgical production that would unfold at her feet in this place. And if she would lapse again into introspection, she would fight through it, not wanting to waste the promise of the evening on old and tired litanies. Her mood brightened and the room lightened. She turned to her friends and payed attention to the conversation, decidedly buoyant and playful. Caught off guard, they followed, and soon the trio were absorbed in a vibrant and visible but private deliberation, and time passed.
She hardly noticed the four young men that entered a few hours later, tactically usurping a table close enough and far enough from them that had been dutifully reserved by a half-drank espresso and a skinny sweating tumbler of orange juice. Their owners were unlucky, or perhaps too timid to confront the playful shabab, recognizing the efficacy of a warm October night and a tinge of testosterone, upon returning from the men's room. The displaced patrons slid over to a remote table, and the victors had a clear and viable path to the object of their evenings interest - three women they would steal furtive glances at, and whom they would conjure up and whisper all sorts of intrigue and unrealized stratagems at. The night was young, and the spectre of love was somewhere, obliquely ricocheting around the padded bounds of this Bedouin oasis.
The minor mental meltdown at the cafe wasn't the beginning of this speculative day - she had been around and around a bit with the mirror on her vanity a few hours before. She was preparing to go out as she had so many times before, but there was an unfamiliar bend to her mood today. The ritual had begun fairly enough with the marshaling of makeup dispensers neatly in two rows perpendicular to the mirror, dispassionately assembled in order of application. They would be layered, scribed, smoothed, powdered, and patted into a garrulous gestalt that would be her gift to the world. She would meticulously make her way through them, in no particular hurry to reach the penultimate execution, plucking invisible hairs with a cheap pair of tweezers whose ridged grips had been worn almost smooth by years of methodical, at times, maniacal employment.
Tweezers was such an odd word she thought that day, an odd word for an odd job. And as she leaned into the mirror, one hand already applying pressure to the cheap tool, the other pulling down on that part of her chin that made her cheek taut and ready for harvest, she saw him again sitting on the bed behind her, watching. It would have startled her if she had really seen him, or if he had a face - but he was a familiar apparition, more like a thought really, a reminder of that future lost somewhere in her past.
What would he think, watching her each morning as she moved through these maddening machinations, contorting her face, unable to speed things up, seemingly lost and tangled into that mirror. Would he be patient, or would he be jealous? Would he feel betrayed knowing the face he fell in love with was false, was the property of every man whose eyes cared to fall on her throughout the day? And what would be his? Would he love what he saw in the morning as he turned to her and gently pulled back the careless and stubborn whisp of hair that always escaped her diligent scrunchy, laying defiantly across her cheek, watching her closely as she smiled and woke defenselessly? Would he love the eccentricities that were already defining her face after twenty-five years, after she had removed much of the moisturizers and clinique foundation (sand) that muted their notes, their melody? Would he prefer this song, would he love the morning music that what was his and no one else's? Would the reflection she would see in his eyes be that which had always eluded her in her own mirror? Would she see the soft and vulnerable parts of her soul that longed for expression, longed for his love? Would he love her?
She ripped out the last phantom hair from her manufactured face forcefully, and dutifully relegated him back to her future. Moving on to her hair, her mood brightened as she picked up the brush and brought it down silkily through the lush and generous locks God had blessed her with. She thought of God when she brushed her hair, but not when she covered it, as maybe she should have. Her hair was her favorite feature, and she didn't mind hoarding it for now, protecting it as the precious gift it was from the mundane and base elements of her day. She loved the juxtaposition of modesty and makeup that emerged as she assembled her hijab for the four thousand, eightieth time (mental math - twelve years or so), always choosing a modest tone, simple color. As she deftly applied the nearly microscopic pins, she smiled pedantically as she thought about the bright and bold scarves the younger girls piled high upon their heads, fringe and tassels carefully and playfully constructed to belie the tart and caustic eye liner that funneled their withering, perfunctory gaze.
Finally, it was time for the last of her self-indulgent sacraments, the subtle and delicate assignment of perfume, the reverent, redolent contribution to the composition. She let him back for this bit, even up to the edge of the bed behind her, silent witness to the only act that made her feel girlish and pretty - as she held the small, smug bottle up near her neck and sprayed its mist into the air inches away, then gracefully sliding over into it, embracing it cautiously while letting it envelope her lightly and lovingly. She smiled and closed her eyes, knowing he would like this, knowing it was a simple and gentle act, much like the way he would kiss her for the first time maybe in the moonlight, maybe in a soft and silent rain.
She was in a much better mood as she left him there sitting on the edge of the bed. She moved with more purpose now, out into the night, ready for anything, nonsense or noir....
She was pleasantly surprised when she allowed herself to realize what a good time she was having, aimlessly chatting about all things she cared little for, probably just glad to be out and temporarily relieved from her mirror, its inhabitants, and their inverted reproaches. She was somewhere in the midst of her third coke, already bored with the silly little straw, when she took the time to appraise her neighbors, despite the fact she had detected their attention a half an hour earlier. There were four of them she saw, catching two at a time with a pair of stolen glances. Typical Ammani guys she figured, laughing at the observation, knowing exactly what she was, what she thought but had not transcended. Fair was fair though, and she would manufacture enough intrigue to acknowledge them eventually, perhaps when she switched drinks and lost the straw and its lingering indictment of the lip gloss no one was supposed to notice.
Yes there were four of them, and they seemed to be having a good time, judging by their volume and a steady diet of hand-slapping and alternating looks of mock indignation. They were silly, but they were having fun - she always admired that about men and boys, the closeness they shared. Given half a chance, they would be off playing at some sort of game, jostling and prodding each other, secure in the knowledge that once the activity was over, once they disbanded, there would be no betrayals, no shifting of alliances, no temporary yet vicious subdivisions of the clan. Her thoughts returning to her friends, their loyalty, there were times she really wished she was a man.
She picked up her tea (it was time to change tactics) and slid back a few inches in her chair, far enough for the taller of her two friends to provide just enough cover for her to survey the nearby table and its occupants. There wasn't an immediate point to this impending exercise, more than the dispassionate intercourse of the residue of boredom and a little bit of pain. This wasn't a Western cafe, there would be no prolonged flirting, no eventual awkward interchange, no feigned reluctance over the acceptance of a phone number hastily scribbled on a bordered napkin, bisecting the damp ring of his last drink. She wasn't sure what she was thinking other than she had seen too many movies.
They were still laughing, the four of them, and probably aware they had caught her attention. Her colleagues were somewhat annoyed that she had violated this law of disinterest, but she didn't care - it wasn't hard to maintain the steady pall of their dialogue and people watch too, might even be fun. She wondered what her father would think, knowing she was even looking. It had taken her a quarter of a century, two college degrees, and a fairly decent job to dissuade him from arranging a matrimony, but she doubted he would slide any further to the left of these ancient and staid conventions. Nope, her husband had better be a Jordanian of the right family and profession, and the union certainly could not be conceived in the chatter and buzz of cafe stuck somewhere half way between Amman and Amy Winehouse.
Back to business, she chided herself, time to take a good look, engage in some playfulness. She dismissed two of the four immediately as not her type: one looking as if he spent more time at his mirror than she at hers, though she doubted his ever gave him any lip; the other she recognized as being perpetually seventeen, frozen in the midst of his last great match, offering no future promise other than a couch full of his football mates anytime the satellite beamed down an event from any of the four corners of the earth. Nope, they were definitely out - the other two would require more scrutiny, perhaps even another potpourri tea.
She settled on a double subterfuge, letting neither her partners nor the two young men at the other table know that she was up to. This required that she pay enough attention to the inane babble of her friends in order that she could keep defraying the gossip, keeping the ball bouncing between the two while appearing engaged so that her cautious but intrigued appraisal proceed undetected by her subjects. It was almost getting too clinical she thought, almost to the point of spoiling the whole activity, almost. She pressed on, and brought her full attention to the remaining duo, noticing immediately how different they were. The first was her type, spot on! He was a little taller, but not as thick as the footballer, neat and well dressed, not obsessively so, not like his GQ cousin. He was confident too, she really liked that - he was the leader of the group she could see, whether or not the others would admit it. He had an easy air, and had cast a quick but approving smile at her once when she let her gaze dawdle irresponsibly. She was smiling, she realized, and he probably knew why. His would be a fun fantasy, long walks, moonlit nights, reckless journeys to wonderful places - fun, but not something she would entertain tonight, she didn't have the fortitude for the fiction of a prolonged romance and the abbreviated divorce.
That left one, the smallest of the four, the one with a little patch of something on his chin. He didn't appear to be very athletic, nor did he look like he spent any particular time in a men's store. He didn't dominate the group, yet he navigated it with a silly smile and probably a subtly sharper intellect, she thought, marked by a smaller set of hands and a tiny twinkle dangerously poised to produce a wink, lodged in the corner of his soft and puckish eyes. She liked him she thought, in a warm and uncomfortable way. It wouldn't be an abrupt and crushing crush, more like a slow dance; each turn peeling back a layer of prohibition, softening the edges of the embrace, 'till her head surrendered to his shoulder and he carried her through the rest of the song, slow and silently. She had seen too many movies, and now, in the course of a few seconds (maybe minutes, maybe an hour, she really didn't know) she was feeling decidedly vulnerable, with nowhere really to go. What if anyone else knew what she was thinking, what if he did? What was he thinking?
Almost as if on cue, she looked up and over at him and found him looking at her, far more assertively than she could have imagined. She felt the immediate gravity that dictated she lower her eyes and turn down the smile, and the nuances of a balmy blush rising that even her carefully constructed makeup could not suppress. But she did not avert her eyes, nor did she tighten her cheeks in the absurd gesture that seemed to ward off emotional effusiveness - she simply looked at him. And he looked back. Her friends were gone, his evaporated. The music had stopped, and the room had cleared of smoke and the tedious decorative debris of dozens of other humans made inconsequential by the soft promise of his self conscious style. She held his gaze as long as she could, even as the world objected and rumbled back into her ears, attacking her periphery. She did yield, breaking it brusquely, but brought it right back, determined to explore the safety in his eyes, the sheltering sanctity of his smile. Her world had cracked open, and he was staring straight inside....
He used to know how to dress for these things, knew where he was going and why. He would go out tonight with an increasingly nagging aimlessness, feeling trapped between many things. He would meet his friends as he should, but he wasn't sure he was up for another night of football and over priced coffee. This unease was as unwelcome as it was unexpected - his life (most of it anyway) was coming together just as he had hoped, but something wasn't right, he wasn't happy. Still, he knew he would feel better in an hour or so, even if it was just a reprieve from the loneliness that was starting to seep into his dream.
He grabbed a cab, and not feeling very chatty, decided to forgo his customary conversation and unofficial status as the sole representative of the city of Maan's Chamber of Commerce. Normally, he would have found some connection to the driver even on the shortest of fares. He loved talking to people, loved talking about their homes and heritage, and mostly, enjoyed testing his hypothesis that he was connected to anyone in the world by only three degrees of separation, half that of the normal human being. Tonight though, he was too preoccupied with the analysis of another evening of cafe carousing, for the first time wondering why he was going out.
It was a short trip, and he jumped out of the cab, eager to get inside and find his friends. He was feeling better now, able to drive away the creeing onset of angst he had been experiencing earlier. Once inside he saw his three mates milling around the restroom, waiting for him to go in and find a table. He walked up smiling, prepare for the friendly barbs that would assault him. They wrestled invisibly for a few moments, then turned seriously together towards the task of finding a table - a critical task if they were to have any chance at an evening of whimsical adventure and squandered romance.
He knew the owner of the cafe, he knew every owner of every establishment he ever went into. He looked around for his friend, not seeing him, began to survey the tables. It wasn't half a glance before he saw them, and he almost immediately dismissed them as not being table-view-worthy. The two he saw were exactly what he hated about these places, Ammani women who would have nothing to do with him, and seemed to be perpetually bored with themselves, bored with everything. He wondered why they even bothered, but he supposed being nasty and disgusted here beat being nasty and disgusting at home where they had long lost any capital they could trade for attention. He caught himself frowning as the third caught his eye, then the frown opened up to an unspoken "wow." If he had known better, he would have let her seen the expression, understanding the confidence of temporal vulnerability.
With determined speed, he calculated the appropriate vector and found the optimal table a suitable distance away. Close enough to watch her when he could, far enough to mute the nonsense he would be engaged in for the rest of the evening. The table would have been perfectly vacant, if not for the obligatory space savers awaiting their owners' return. There were two drinks and four chairs, a perfect invitation for usurpation - space optimization (four vs two), and the sanctified mission of love he was now undertaking trumped all other proprietary forms of dominion. To be safe though, he would place the larger of his friends nearest the men's room, figuring the previous occupants would return from that direction.
With a quick glance and nod at the waiter (whom he knew, and was almost a third cousin to), he signaled the removal of the drinks, erasing all claims to his vantage point. Impressed, his friends joined him, and in the midst of the revelry of his conquest, almost lost the chair to one friend he didn't want her to see. An abrupt grab followed by an easy grin got him his seat, and the four of them sat down for the evening. It was a few minutes before he looked over at her, as a matter of fact, he was trying not to look anywhere until he was sure that any adversaries seeking redress had returned and surrendered. They must have seen the folly in regaining their territory, as no overt challenge came. He took it as a very good sign.
They conversed boisterously about football, each oddly having adopted a different European team, a different European country. There weren't a lot of matches these days, so the arguments tipped precariously on hypotheticals piled carelessly on hypotheticals - if they did play, so and so would do this, his counterpart would fade like a little girl and die in embarrassment, and so on. The game used to be more fun, but he knew it well an would fuel it a bit longer as he steadily grew more bold in his surveillance. He wanted to watch her, but he didn't want her to know, his friends, her friends, anyone else in the cafe. Tough work for a novice Lothario, but he was determined. She was very pretty, and for once, he could sense a petite and kind personality penetrating her makeup and her I'm here but not really interested face. No, she wasn't pretty, she was beautiful.
He found himself broadcasting a smile that was not appropriate for the prattle of the table, and he immediately tried to erase it and replace it with something more suitable. He couldn't, realizing smiles were not his to manufacture about the time he felt the terrible flush reaching his soft cheeks - death if the others saw it. He cleared his throat, took a drink, and resolved to get his head back in the game at hand, vowing to let her alone for awhile. He calmed, and his colleagues hadn't noticed, another sign he mused. When he had built up enough composure to return to his primary interest, he was a little more than dismayed when he looked up and noticed she had moved back a bit, almost totally obscured by one of the two harpies flanking her. Undaunted, he continued with his dual intrigue, vowing to walk away from the evening with more than a caffeine buzz and nicotine tang - the absence that had tinged the confluence of his recent achievements now had a face and a figure, and he couldn't imagine the rest of his life without her.
Despite his lower blood sugar levels, he was warming up to the football banter that was slowly unfolding at his table. This was a tradition after all, and it wasn't his friends fault that he was losing interest in the cordiality of the convention. It was old territory, but the revue was mandatory, as were the somewhat worn objections: Bayern Munich (his team) had won more German league titles than any other team, and had won the UEFA Championship four times, at least one more title than the best of the teams of his compatriots. He would point out (for the hundredth time) that they had won their league title consistently throughout the past century, winning five in the last decade alone. He considered these data as supreme and incontestable, and had long since stopped listening to any protestations. The only question tonight was whether or not they would boil the debate down to its sinews and drag in thirty years worth of players. He didn't have the energy to support Franz Beckenbauer vs Bobby Charlton as he should, determined to ply his second trade of the evening - somehow talking to the woman a dozen feet away that had captured his imagination and who had exposed the hole in his soul.
He liked her posture, odd he thought to like a posture, but he did. She was taller than he imagined he would prefer, and probably thinner. As he tumbled down a list of her attributes, he noticed there was no compromise, no talking himself into any uncomfortable features or quirky facets - she would be perfect as his eyes poured over her, smoothing, assuaging, purifying. He had watched an old man spreading plaster on a wall once, his hands softly pulling a trowel down not filling in the imperfections, but asserting his love into the texture of the space. He knew it would be like this each time he looked at her, in any light, in any place he would reconstruct her this way with his eyes, his longing, his love. There would be no fade either, nothing of hers would ever lose this newness, each time he looked at her would be like this, there would be no fade.
It occurred to him that she might break his heart, somewhere in the midst of his second frufy coffee and an argument about the best goal-keeper in the modern era. He wasn't afraid of this possibility, as he had been sufficiently (in his mind anyway) inoculated with enough love and loss cliches by his favorite author, Paulo Coehlo. Deep down though, he supposed surviving her loss before he even met her would be more than he might cope with, literary under girding aside. He had already weathered a few heartaches, but the things he felt now for this woman whispered their admonitions, pleading portents of pain should he fail her, them.
Pain was a relatively new concept for him. The few failures in relationships had been difficult and he was lonely now, wondering at once whether he should even consider pursing this current interest. He suspected that the consequences of his previous dalliances would be minor compared to losing her. This was all new territory for him - a new threat to his recent resolution to be more assertive; now instead of worrying about initial rejection, he worried that she would be receptive, and that he would then lose her. It was all a bit overwhelming for a two minute silent soliloquy.
He wondered what Paulo would do at this moment. Was Paulo ever a "ladies man?" Would he stroll over and talk to the woman not feeling his friends' eyes on his back, or the forbidding force field projected by her zealous guardians? What would he say if he actually made it to the table unscathed? Would Paulo acknowledge the other two, even include them in a conversation? Or would he focus entirely on the object of his desire? Would she be responsive? Would she see his immediate charm, be overwhelmed by the language of his love? He frowned a bit, realizing for the first time that he had something less than a positive thought about his would-be mentor - he was now jealous of Paulo Coehlo.
He felt like he was in his own philosophy class. Sliding between realities and fantasies, losing the distinction between either. He had never been folded into and against himself like this. He was sure his friends were noticing his distractions, they probably figured he was tired. He was working a new job after all, one that was very demanding and required odd hours at work. Maybe that was it, he was fatigued and that explained all of this metaphysical musing. There - he had just gone thirty five seconds without thinking about her. He wondered if he could do it again, but doubted it. Looking at her again, he caught her looking back for the first time, and he didn't know what to do other than to hold her eyes with his. When she broke contact, he almost looked away but did not. Her eyes returned to his with a renewed resolve, and he knew for the first time that his imagination could now take substance. He was a bit light headed, not exactly sure if he was in love, or if he had ingested too much caffeine - it didn't much matter at this point, the night would be like no other.
Things were coming together for him, at least the way he had wanted them to. Funny, he thought, as he went down his list of goals, the satisfaction of achieving each waned more rapidly lately. He had been working at a large bank, lost in a corner compiling numbers and perpetually fighting off the tedium. It amused him to think that although he was surrounded by enormous amounts of money in some form or other, he made so little - surely this place could spare more. It was pure boredom that drove him out of fixed fiduciary functions into the wide open world. When he left the bank for the newspaper, he thought he had broken away into paradise. Paradise turned out to be ok, but the luster wore off the dream quickly. The dream was still fine, and he loved his work, but something was missing, something a bit incomplete about the whole thing. He knew this pursuit of fulfillment of his wouldn't be a serial affair however, the newspaper would be enough professionally, his deeper need for satisfaction would have to be fed elsewhere.
He had worked hard making his way to the paper, writing short pieces as a part-time contributor for a few years. He had charmed and old English teacher to help him proof them, and he had even begun to develop his photography skills in the process. By the time he was ready to step up and apply for a full-time position, he was handling his own articles and his own pictures. With Coehlo-like confidence, he vowed to work on his own book as he learned his trade at the paper. Most likely, he did not understand or appreciate fully that he had found his niche' so early on in his life, it just all seemed so natural. He loved Jordan, the little bits and bobs of it, the people, the history, the fact that the people knew the history. He thanked God he was a Muslim in a Muslim country where the lessons of the Koran and of its people were not lost in a Western fugue - he would make a living telling and showing the small, simple stories that held together the nation, held together the elegant ancestry of a thousand generations of Jordanians.
It was increasingly difficult to keep his production up - stories, photos, friends all took a toll on his calendar. He wasn't getting rich either, but he could see a future. It all shouldn't be so tiring he thought, he should be more enthused than he was. The paper was treating him well, and he had many friends and mentors there. He had no problems finding stories, and he was developing an eye for things, his pictures were improving (though he stubbornly ignored the advice of an old friend, extolling him to explore the "thirds rule"). He feared he had entered his profession quickly, and had landed in a comfortable looking place that would swallow him for an eternity, well at least for a long, long time. Maybe it wasn't so much the place, as it was that he was in it alone. Family and friends were no longer filling out the edges for him, it was time to find a partner, a woman who would take up the frustrations and vagaries of his day. Someone he could share his wishes and aspirations with, someone who would make him not care if he achieved any of them.
Getting ready to go out that night, he decided not to don a sport look, choosing instead to attempt to create a more sophisticated version of himself - a collar perhaps, slacks that weren't born looking old and used, and a sweater that might have been too much for his masculinity a few years earlier. And it wouldn't be just Armani and artifice (not that he had any Armani) - he would comport himself like a man confident of his future, ready to accept and sanction any felicitations from suitable companions. When he walked into that cafe later, men would look then defer, and women would blush then confer - he would own the place, not just because he knew the owner, the waiters, their cousins and uncles, but because he was the man. He laughed softly to himself when it occurred to him that wool sweaters and mid-priced aftershave provided no such guarantees.
As his confidence slid back down a bit from his vision of the victorious conquest of the cafe aborted, he contemplated taking his camera that night. Not to capitalize on any serendipitous moments, but to use it as a tool to talk to a woman. He had no idea how a successful exchange would transpire, but a camera couldn't hurt. It was heavy enough he thought to still his shaking hands, and perhaps the notion of being interviewed by a reporter might be enough to get him through the door so to speak, at least long enough for her to start to appreciate his other not so immediately appreciable qualities. He wasn't sure either what those were, just more of the equation that had to be worked out. Still, the camera couldn't hurt.
He turned his attention to his hair. To this point, he had held himself hostage to a gel-concocted cowlick of sorts, sweeping up off his forehead stopping just short of a horn. It just wouldn't do tonight though, he needed something more mature, something that exuded a manly mettle but not a haughty hubris. Perhaps he would wash it again, then just toss it a bit and leave it like that, like he really didn't care. That was it - tonight he would work as hard as he could to appear as if he cared about nothing, and nothing would start at the top of his head. He was very pleased with this strategy of non-strategy - maybe he didn't need the camera after all.......
She was watching him more closely now. When he got up to go to the restroom, she did a quick but thorough appraisal - he was a little shorter than she thought she might like, nicely dressed but she didn't care for the sweater, and he walked sweetly as if he was afraid to disturb anyone. She chuckled as she realized that if he was on the menu, she might have taken him as an appetizer rather than a main course. She resolved to reevaluate her appetite while he was gone though, there might be more there than a mound of tabouli and a few stuffed grape leaves. Maybe even a mixed grill!
Ok, she was hungry, she realized it. She talked her bodyguards into splitting some bread and hummus with her while she mapped out the rest of the evening, making sure to provide for a little more coffee and some cagey and clandestine romance. She would test him she thought, catching and holding his glance from time to time, even taunting him a bit with a half-crooked smile. She wasn't sure how strong or confident he was, but she would find out. Having never done this before, she felt a bit of nervous guilt that tasted better than the hummus. She would surgically remove him from his masculine menagerie, daring him with a tiny nod and a slight flare of her nostrils. He would have no defense for this orchestrated assault, and she wondered how he would react - would he withdraw into the safety of his clumsily clustered comrades, or would he emerge and overtake her impudence with his cool and calculated confidence. Frankly she supposed the former, but prayed for the latter, despite the fact she had no idea what she would do if he approached her. She hadn't noticed that he had returned a few moments earlier, so lost in her plans. But he was back, and she was ready for the first exam. One step at a time, time for her trip to the Ladies room now, time to declare her intentions......
He got peculiarly excited when he saw her shoulder dip indicating that she would push her chair back a bit with her thin hips and then rise. For a second, he was afraid she might be leaving, but he noticed she wasn't reaching for anything as she rose. Yes tall and thin, no she didn't look at him. He did a quick scan of his friends, hoping they were involved with something significant, for he knew it was about thirty feet from her table to the restroom, and if lucky, he could watch her all the way, eleven seconds of indulgence, two blinks and a forty degree sweep of his head. It would be the boldest thing he had done in a lifetime of bold but unrealized schemes - he drew his breath and vowed not to count, afraid the nuance of numbers would roll of his lips, tipping his intrigue to his friends. Yes she was rising, and he was almost dying......
She kept her head dipped as she stood slowly from her cradled cocoon. She would not look at him at all, she would not let him know this slow, sultry sachet was for him. To tell the truth, she wasn't sure she could be sultry, having never practiced it. And as far as a sachet went, there were no assurances there either. It had better be figured out quickly she thought, or she might stumble and fall halfway to to the hammam. As she stepped away from her chair, she looked away from his table, smiled, and began to take small measured steps. For the first time since she was in her teens, she became very aware of her derriere, not a good thing especially when her only image of a sultry walk came from a Mata Hari movie she had seen as a little girl. This short walk might be far more treacherous than she bargained for.....
Well, his surveillance scheme backfired almost immediately - the minute she began to walk away from her table, he realized for the first time how cheaply he had held the word elegant. He knew its meaning now, it was draped all over her. In an instant, he had lost his nerve and half of his mind. She walked across the room like she was meeting her lover for the tenth time in a day - slowly, surely, all his always. He knew there was no rival at the other end of the stroll, but he was jealous, jealous of a love that would never be his. His mouth was open he figured, so he squished his lips together and rejoined the banality of the table banter and wondered if he would regain his composure before she returned. His or not, he wanted desperately to look into her face as she came back, choosing to stare down the improbable, choosing to know if there was a semblance of hope in her eyes. He needed to know........
She wasn't sure how she made it to the wash room without falling or laughing. All at once, walking became like smiling when you are told to smile, virtually impossible. She had felt his eyes on her too, but only his. They pressed against her, through her clothes into her skin like a lukewarm rag. What had he thought? Did he like watching her? Was he laughing or was he appreciating her? She might never know. Pushing the door open assertively, she moved determinedly past the long row of mirrors, caring not for their inevitable inferences, hoping only to collect herself before she returned, if she returned - the idea that she would now walk back in full view of him, having to look his way was crushing. She had no schema for this enterprise.
She braced herself then squared up against the mirror over the over sized sink in the restroom. Having no idea why she was so nervous, she placed both hands on either side of the porcelain and leaned into her own reflection, and challenged it to steady her, to bring her back to the life she left just a few hours before. She did settle a bit when she noticed her old nemesis - three stubborn hairs - creeping out of the right side of her hijab. The mirror had utility now, and she welcomed the familiar battle. She crept forward and slowly pushed the perpetual intruders back in with her index finger. There was no doubt that these were the same three hairs that always escaped, perhaps representing that one percent of her that objected to modesty, that wanted to hint to the world the beauty that lay beneath. She thought about cutting them then and there, but reconsidered, appreciating the dissent, manageable as it was......
He sat at the table contemplating a pose. Having only a few minutes before she emerged from her break, he wanted to be ready, strategically poised to notice her accidentally halfway back to her table, giving her enough of a chance to meet his eyes without having to keep them for too long. All he needed was a second or two, he would know. Paying a bit more attention to the current contention about him, he knew he could remain aloof, the others were in a stoic mood, prolonging their diatribes, squaring off in alternating pairs giving him a minute or two. He smiled as he put his right arm up on the table crossed in front of him, his chin tucked in to the left a bit, back straight, producing a cantilevered effect that made him look wiser, perhaps even taller. Eyes lowered slightly, he could detect her approach then casually, incidentally raise them and catch her out in the open, nowhere to hide. He felt good about this......
Vanquishing her follicled foes, she stepped back from the basin and surveyed her look. Yes, she liked being tall and thin even though she knew many men preferred shorter, larger women. She liked the way her clothes fit her, liked being able to pull her hands down the sides of her waist smoothly as she tucked in layer over layer. Her father had told her once if she didn't eat more she would have to start running around the shower just to get wet. She wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but she liked it, probably because she loved it when her father teased her. It was his way of showing affection, and if being skinny drew that from him, she would never gain another ounce. He wasn't very tall either, like her reluctant Romeo in the other room. Was she taller than the young Ammani out there? There had been no good point of perspective when he had left his table earlier for her to get a really good reading. Suddenly, she smiled at the thought of dancing with him once they were married, maybe to Celine Dion in their living room, her head tilted down next to his, wondering if that would bother him. Yeah, he was shorter, but she didn't mind because in her mind, he could dance, and her chin would fit his shoulder perfectly.
The thought of dancing pleased her and felt like a perfect segue to flee the creepy, infringing confines of the bathroom - perhaps it was the row of stalls jealously and formidably guarding their secrets, the multitude of mirrors in a place where maybe mirrors were never meant to be, or just the antiseptic marble misplaced in this ciphered den meters away from the lit world. She was happy to leave, ready for the walk back, ready to face him for she knew he was waiting. In an instant she was out, and she focused on the carpet taking her back to her table, not knowing exactly when she would look at him. Breathing and measuring her steps, it was improbable that she wouldn't notice the small bunched bit of rug joining the hall to the open cafe, but she didn't.....
He saw her halfway down the small hall, disappointed that she wasn't already looking in his direction. There had to be a point he thought, when a pose turned sour, and his was turning fast. As he was about to shift in his chair, abandoning his blueprint, she tripped.....
It was like someone had hit her from behind with a chair, like in one of those awful wrestling shows - she lunged forth at once fearful and embarrassed, knowing he was looking right at her. In the horrible half-second, she grabbed for the back of a stranger's chair and for once, thanked God for long legs as she kicked out her right leg and managed to slide it into baseboard of the opposite wall. A shorter woman would have perished here amongst the fashionistas and hipsters, hers had only been a near cataclysm. Still, amidst this melee of misfortune, she had caught a glimpse of him impossibly.
At the instant he caught the terrible hitch in her gait, he lunged forward instinctively, knocking his caramel latte macchiato squarely into the lap of his one friend he would fear as a rival for her affection. Karma he thought, knowing how much money the fancy track suit had set the guy back. Everyone was jumping up or back unceremoniously, and a bit cowardly depending on their proximity to the syrupy spray, and all he could do was look over for her. She had stopped, frozen in the face of the spectacle that was erupting around him. At once he heard noise, knowing a good bit of it was aimed at him, angrily. Still, he looked at her. Their eyes locked, and he felt more foolish and inadequate than he ever had, and she was in love.
She saw him rise to her defense, ridiculously, but ever so romantically, incidental chivalry that displaced her momentary tumble with a humiliating ataxia attracting every condescending ego in the room. Yep, she loved him right then and there.......
He pulled his eyes back from hers and dealt with the fallout of the coffee spill. His friend was furious that he wasn't contritely attending to him, so he refocused and grabbed some napkins and thrust them at him. Ignoring the medium-spiced expletives, he tried to restore order and decorum to the table. Mercifully, most of the cafe had returned to their previous pedantic pleasures, as he tried to salvage the evening. As his friends reassembled around the table, he thought they might want to go, and he really wasn't sure if he wanted to stay or not - he didn't dare look over at her, as he supposed she and her friends might still be laughing. Finally mopping up the last of the spill, they all sat back down, resolving to make the most of the rest of the evening. He would pay for the incident for a very long time he supposed, and the additional insult of humiliating himself in front of her made the evening one for his relatively long list of forgetful Friday forays.
As he slumped back in his chair, defeated even before the razzing began, he was relieved he was perfectly placed between his largest friend and her. He wouldn't have to look at her for awhile, maybe never. He contemplated leaving, but if his mate could sit there with a crotch full of coffee, he had better stay. It was a full forty minutes before the conversation drifted slowly back to football, and he was relieved that he would escape the rest of the evening with a degree of anonymity. He relaxed, relinquishing himself to his failure comfortably reengaging his comrades in an old and safe debate. There was nothing in his philosophy however to prepare him for what was coming, he never had a chance.......
She was smiling broadly as she sat down, so much so that it irritated and interrupted her friends' sense of erudite illusions. She had a plan now, and she didn't care one bit for the rest of the evening or even if her friends ended up detecting her infatuation. Her heart was light, maybe for the first time since she was small and had learned she was getting a baby brother. Funny, he was probably some body's perpetual baby brother - that made her smile and love him more. He was cute, that was the word she had been searching for; sort of soft in a cuddly way, even that bit of something on his chin was cute. She was chuckling when she noticed her friends staring at her incredulously - she didn't care, they could spend the rest of their lifetimes stuck in their purgatory purchased with macabre mascara, blush and bitchiness.
She could see the back of his chair, still too close to the wall for her scheme. She thought she had an hour or so to employ her enterprise. Like all feminine artifice, it would be subtle, seem to be spontaneous, and it would linger like the aura of anise and ambergris. She would wait now, wait for that chair to move out and for him to recover what was left of his masculinity.......
He was feeling better, perhaps resigning himself to the futility of his earlier designs, grateful for the safety net of his friends and their plausibly deniable, but very real love and concern. Laughing and chiding with a bit more verve now, he didn't notice her rise and take the backwards tack towards the entrance behind him. An hour or so before, he had squared himself up, not to look at her, but to at least catch her when they left and moved through the middle of the room to the door. He probably wouldn't dare eye contact again, but wanted one more glimpse of her, he was owed that after the jocose java juncture that had flipped his evening of timidly tempted triumph to terribly transmuted tragedy. Yep he was morose, would probably stay that way for a week or so until some new catastrophe supplanted this evenings frivolities. Yes, he didn't even see her coming behind her, had no idea of the of the sensations he was about to feel, or the power of a woman's guile laced deep and solidly in the simplest of gestures - yep he had no idea.
He felt her before he saw her. He had no schema for this, she was behind him somehow and he had no where to go. She was leaving behind him, through a space a half a meter wide not meant for human egress. As the gestalt of the moment crystallized, he realized how much trouble he was now in. The world had rolled up unceremoniously on him, and for once, being at its center had absolutely no appeal to for him. He now was critically aware of the cavernous cafe and its expanse of revelry about to be cashed at his expense. Horribly, ironically he realized that the events earlier in the evening had not been the epilogue but the advent of his ruin.
Frozen, aware that his friends had picked up on the incursion, he watched stunned as her two escorts passed in front of him, cutting their eyes pityingly as she was at his back, impossibly close. He knew his friends were as lost as he, but probably grateful they were not ensnared in this silent snare. They were the men they were really at that moment, lost and frightened in the wake of woman's efficacy - little boys huddling as their mothers glared, shaking that indicting index at them. His only hope was that his injured friend was the only one going home with wet trousers at the end of the evening.
He stiffened as she pressed behind him. He didn't know where to look - thankfully, her friends had slid on by and were gone, but he felt the terrible awareness that his mates were locked on to him, not in jest but in merciful relief as they had nowhere to escape to either, except into his miserable moment. He had seen a show on the nature channel once, where a pack of wolves were chasing down a deer of some sort, until their intended prey had stopped dead in her tracks, and the predators did too. They circled her, confused and irritated. They jumped around, eventually snapping at each other, not knowing how to deal with this reversal of conduct, this violation of cosmic carnivorous courting.
They would have turned on each other too, these cafe carnivores, if this volte-face two-step had lasted a few seconds longer. Behind him, she slowed momentarily and he closed his eyes. The world hadn't tumbled to a stop like this since his car accident - there he had inadvisably put his hand out of the window to stop the approaching vehicle with traumatic results; here he was even less tempted to risk life and limb. He could sense her approach, she wasn't heavy but he could feel the floor bouncing up subtly via the four legs of his chair, up and into him through the padding on his chair. A connection he thought. He found himself leaning slightly forward at the critical moment, realizing he wasn't breathing. She was on him now, and he exhaled embarrassingly as she skewed her hips a bit to pass his chair. Unfathomably, he sensed her reaching up behind him, and if he hadn't been circumvented by the thick table top, his hunkered down homies, and a sincere desire not to spill any more beverages, he would have bolted having reached his limit for this vixen's venture. Just a few seconds longer, one way or another.
He felt the weight of her hand on his chair, felt the vibration as it brushed over the curved copper colored metal back sending a queer pulse up his spine to his oxygen depleted brain. He really had no mechanism to process the impulses that had long since capsized his composure, leaving him cognitively incontinent. Having no basement left for his paralysis, she dug him a new one as she let one of her delicately long fingers languish dangerously across the oddly patterned cloth of his chair and the textured nuance of her nail tore directly through the tissue of his heart. He might have fainted, he wasn't sure, but when he caught himself breathing again, she was gone. He saw her as she walked through the door, hoping she would turn, but she did not. Raising his head to face his friends, he had no idea what to expect. He was recovering from his synaptic seizure, wondering how long it would be until his full faculties returned, not knowing the protocols of ignominious stroke.
Yes, his buddies were laughing now, but perhaps out of a mitigated reprieve imbued with just the slightest touch of veneration, as none of them could contemplate having stared down that terrible test and living to tell the tale. His was a bitter-sweet victory though - finally king of the latte Lotharios for a night, completely exonerated for the "spill" as it was fated to be referred to in the coming years, but empty in that she had disappeared gutting the whole experience of any karmic context, any romantically procured kismet. The evening would be deemed a wash, perhaps the most incredible parody of all the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl movies he had ever seen, lacking of course the third act where he prevails, but the night had been novel, and his friends would never look at him the same way ever again. He had matured through the debacle, and was prepared to harden his heart to this loss, at least until the next pretty face in a frilly hijab hijacked him again in a cafe or bistro. He would be brave.

*Epilogue - She had the taxi stop a few hundred meters short of her house, not because of any untoward proposals from the driver, but just because she felt like skipping the rest of the way home, even at this post-pumpkin hour. Cinderella had left a slipper, but she had something better. For if the young man did indeed know every proprietor in every coffee house throughout the four corners of the kingdom, he certainly did not know all of their nieces! She would call her uncle in the morning, and indifferently inquire about the unfortunate young man she had seen him talking to, the one who had caused such a commotion in the middle of his cafe. She would see him again, and she would contemplate letting him win the next skirmish. Prince Charming had at last arrived in her life, inauspiciously shorter than she might have fantasized, but far more intriguing......

A Letter Written a Lifetime Ago, Never Sent

*An old post I found in my draft box. Not particularly good, but interesting to read somewhat removed.....

My Sweet Mind, My Black Heart
You are gone, I know it now, perhaps far later than I should have. Gone, not that you just are no longer mine, but gone in every other sense. The pain is intense and deserved, a masochist's paradise I suppose. Driving away the pain has been an avocation as of late, an effort to find hope, to find a semblance of what I have lost. In this battle, I find my heart and mind perpetually at odds, thwarting my progress. My thoughts are beautiful and magnanimous, my feelings brutish and ugly. Neither seems to prevail.
I once read that it was good to think of all the negatives about someone, that that would help ease the pain. When I try, I fail for many reasons - there were things I resented, things I never reconciled, but they were never worse than those I perpetrated on you, and my sense of equity defeats the exercise. Trying to indict your love, trying to deny or defame it provides no utility either, for I have realized it is not the absence of your love that burns so deeply, it is the burden of my own love for you, no where to place it, no where to lay it down. You opened my heart, taught me how to love for the first time in my life - tragically, you never taught me how to stop.
My mind paints the canvas that should stretch my soul. It is a picture of you, with your new love, your true love. Happy that the woman I loved so much, is happier and loved so well. I see you together, smiling, walking through your days in wonder, as only two people who know they will be together eternally can walk. I want these things desperately for you, and I smile beautifully when I ponder them. But my heart objects, gnaws at the decency of my thoughts. It hurts and wants to hurt, but has no target, no relief. It is not smart, and cannot construct elaborate mechanisms of revenge or malice, I am thankful for that. All it can do, is temporarily derail that which I need to do, want to do.
The pleasure my thoughts bring me is slowly abating the distress my senseless heart interjects. Those perfect, pure images fade slowly now, and return bright and vividly ever more often. I will prevail, and there will be no more letters, no more affirmation of my selfish pain. When that happens, I will be a good man, worthy of the time you gave me, the wonderful gifts you shared with me. A good man.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Missing Jordan

I miss Jordan for very different reasons. I miss the people there, the teachers and friends I have come to know, a family that has adopted me as an uncle, and a friend that brought me there in the first place. Jordan was one of the few places I could be myself, really just act and react naturally everywhere I went. I loved walking in Amman, strolling in Aqabah, hiking in Wadis. I have been to more restaurants in Amman than I have been in any other city on earth. And I met the best group of teachers in my thirty years as an educator in refugee camps scattered around Amman. Jordan has been very good to me.
I don't know if and when I will get to go back - my hopes to make the Academy a yearly thing have been put on hold, and truthfully, the folks in the inaugural group could do a fine job on their own continuing it. I am very glad they are planning a graduation ceremony for the first 21 teachers to complete; they did a lot of work and are great examples for their peers. I can honestly say that I would have loved to have my two girls in any of their classrooms - honored as a matter of fact.
I have met so many wonderful professionals in Jordan, people who work hard for next to nothing, living and caring for others as good Muslims. Shorouq and her talented sisters, Muath the intrepid reporter (promoted from cub reporter recently), a street cleaner who remembers me each time I visit, teachers at several of the public and private schools I did trainings for, Samia who went off to Florida on a Fulbright Scholarship, Imani, Sara, and Yazan, three kids who let me act foolishly when I visit, and so many others.
I miss my friend who introduced me to all this, that friend has long since moved on to other adventures, other worlds. My friend drew me to Jordan and was the main reason I visited for a long time, but left me with the rest of it eventually, and I am forever grateful for that. I don't know if I will make it back to Jordan anytime soon, but in so many ways, my heart is still there. And since this is my blog, I will end this post with an acknowledgement to a great group of people: The first graduating cohort of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Academy sponsored by UNRWA and New River Community and Technical College. Twenty-one of the original thirty-four made it all the way through, and arduous feat. Here they are:


Graduates (with distinction)
Tahani D.

Graduates (with honors)
Tahani M.

The Academy Leadership Team
Basem (honorary FB page leader)


Thursday, November 15, 2012


I don't know what to feel anymore. It shouldn't be my pain anyway - not that I don't care or it is not my business, but I don't deserve the dignity of their suffering. I want to write something, to shout something, to raise my hands and fists to something. But I don't know where my indignation ends and my vanity begins. When I draw attention to myself under the guise of welfare for others, these lines become very blurry for me anymore (perhaps I am just now being honest with myself). I have made it my business to witness suffering for more than twenty-five years now, and I am not sure I am any better for it. I am not sure whatever good I have done even comes close to balancing the neglect and pain I have caused others. And if I am on the wrong end of this personal balance, what does my anger and grief mean anyway. I don't know what to feel about Gaza or a dozen other terrible places I have seen in my life anymore. I don't know what to do for them.
I don't know what to think about Gaza anymore, I am tired of my own intellect. I am tired of knowing more than others, knowing better than most, knowing of places and peoples few have ever heard of. I am tired of an intelligence that yields no answers. An intelligence that spends more time absorbed in its own relative measures of pain and sorrow, miraculously immune to the horrible lessons paid for by others it has witnessed for a quarter of a century. Neither smarter nor stronger than those who victimize others, I have little pretense left for battle.
At fifty-four, the crimes and sins of others offend me differently, I am staring into a mirror now. Greater, smaller, extrapolated, or personified, they are mine too. Tomorrow I need to measure anger with patience, horror with kindness, frustration with pity. Not in or for Gaza, but for the small bits of recompense I can continue to pay back to a world that I have not improved. I am retreating now, humbled not by an evil world, but by the brutal magnification of my own weakness. I don't know anywhere else to start.