“Why don’t you live with your wife?” Adra asked Ahmed, without sounding curious.
“It is a long story, but I will try to cut it short. It was just last year I was searching for some documents on my wife’s laptop that I came across a few hundred texts and many intimate emails between my wife and an old friend of hers. So this was not about one secret message but several. And then she had been meeting her not once, but several times in a week. I had unearthed a secret affair. ”
“Wait! then her lover is a woman? Now this cannot overshadow your marriage, can it?” she asked dubiously.
The ache inside him deepened. “As long as she is not with a man,” he said, “it's fine with me. Is that what you want to hear, Adra? No,no,no..no.” His pitch getting low as he spoke the many no’s, till he was barely audible but he continued-“Adra, this sinking sensation is destroying me.”
“Why?” she asked, almost in a whisper.
Ahmed looked at her in surprise. A sigh escaped his lips as he spoke her name aloud- “Adra. This was texting day and night. Endless Snapchat’s private messages, inside jokes, and meeting each other. On at least one occasion, when I was overseas, they had been together at our home.”
And almost screaming he blurted- “And in one email, I read she wanted to leave me. Yes, leave me. There were elaborate plans mentioned, but the thought about our kids' future stopped her. Now that email devastated me.” His tone getting more aggressive as he put his point across, yet he slowed down and continued-“For most days I was away at work and didn’t give her my complete attention. But that should not be the reason for her to cheat on me.
If she was unhappy… lonely… miserable, and the cause was me, she should have spoken. But making me the victim of her guilt and neither setting me free nor letting me go is killing me.”
“So do you plan to divorce your wife?” she heard herself ask.
He shook his head slowly and replied. “When I confronted her, she was teary-eyed and embarrassed. So damnably honest and painful about the shattered trust, comfort, and shared space. But marriage is for keeps otherwise, reputation and my kids’ future would be at stake. Sometimes I wonder if it is such a good thing to put a marriage back together again when there has been all of this hurt and loss of trust. But I do not have an answer to my question.
Sheena, the same Sheena who had laughed with me, admired me and was mine for sixteen years, till her inclination to the other woman made me feel useless in just a few days. Though she asked forgiveness and promised to devote the rest of our married life to make me happy, the words sounded hollow. I withdrew to avoid uncomfortable conversations or engaging in an emotional discussion that will cause a fight. I had no other choice but to cut her off and never speak a word to her ever again. And it has been okay for both of us.”
“Ooh, do you think you will heal this way, Ahmed?”
Ahmed’s forehead creased for a moment, perplexedly. He murmured, “Adra -in the middle of my marital strife, you are like a breath of fresh air. Do you remember our meeting six months ago?”
Before she could reply, he recalled his initial attractiveness when he first saw her in Riyadh-a tall, smart young woman in her early twenties. The type of young woman that one looked at twice. She had straight brows, a sensitively cut nose, and a determined chin. She looked very much alive. It was her vitality, her maturity, and her confidence that astounded him. His introduction to her was like something out of a fairy tale. And, because she intrigued him, he offered to drive her back to her hometown that day.
“Yes,” she replied, breaking his thoughts. “And I remember more - but only vaguely.” She continued-“That although you did your best to drive responsibly and defensively after the meeting was over, we ended up in an accident. And because of severe injuries caused to me, I am in the hospital for months. Six months.” She said.
Her face was very white now, and her eyes were two burning lights. “Do you understand? I am tired. ”
Ahmed said quietly, “Yes I know. And because I did not know what to do, except stay with you in your tough times, I moved to a new apartment in the hospital's vicinity, so that being closer to you during the day would be easy. That’s also a reason I am not with my wife. And because of my frequent visits here to the hospital, we have become accustomed to one other's companionship.”
Despite his awareness of the necessity for a meaningful and professional connection, he found it very difficult to keep his feelings to himself. He tried to speak further, but no words came out. She had invaded his senses, leaving him with no choice but to bridge the small gap between them.
He... whispered in her ear. “If you like, you may close your eyes and imagine a discharge in approximately a week.”
Her eyelids drifted shut, her lashes coppery against her pale, delicate face. “I'd want to be discharged right now,” she murmured, and the tenderness, the concern in her voice almost tripped him up.
... could he hope of Adra as just his soulmate? He tried to read Adra’s face — did she feel the same?… he stared as she lay on her bed, her eyes closed, her lips parted, her hands tugged around her pillow.
He didn’t know how long he stood there watching her. As if the world around him no longer existed. Time had stopped. Till the night nurse walked into the room silently and took her place next to Adra’s bed.
Ahmed finally walked out of the hospital into the starry night.
That night, and in his house, Ahmed was tossing on his bed, sleep evading him, thinking about Adra. He felt something for her, something more powerful than the need to protect his child and even more powerful than the love he had for his wife.
He craved the warmth he hadn't felt in a long time, totally exhausted by the desires and passion that had engulfed his marriage. An optimist, tall, handsome, self-made, thirty-nine, and having gained a significant fortune in Egypt with his own construction business, he was now seeking comfort with another lady which he missed from his wife. With his youthful appearance, he knew he could pass for a man decades younger than his age, and therefore a young girl would be fine. He felt powerless against the poisonous web of desires that spun havoc in him.
How he wished Adra to be with him, and for one desperate wild moment he imagined being away with Adra on a romantic date, - a bed-and-breakfast -in another town, in another place. They have come here to be alone. They lie together on the couch and speak effortlessly of total trivia. He tells her about what he ate the day before and she talks about her friends. They go on for hours like this. Then he takes her hand in his or she takes his in hers- whatever -it didn’t matter in his imagination. He untangles his hand from hers and gently strokes each of her fingers. He studies the nails, the shape of her fingers, and runs his thumb inside her palm. He circles her knuckles over and over and in-between plants, gentle kisses on her hand. And then she has his hand as if they are taking turns when not. She moves her fingers over the palm of his hand, stroking and smiling. He runs a finger along the edge of her hairline, tucking a rogue lock of hair behind her ear gently. Her eyes gleam, her skin glows, and she nuzzles in the niche of his neck. Every part of his body gets aroused. It was a thunder somewhere that broke him out of this engulfing emptiness, forcing him to compose his fraying nerves.
This was what it meant to want someone with a burning passion.
He had to stop. She was young and trusted him. They were to collaborate on a significant project. Wasn't she only a business associate? He owed her more. Better.
As the first light of dawn stroked, his mind was scrambling. This woman- why did he want this woman so very much? A vision flashed in front of his eyes when he had brushed his dry lips with her wet ones, and what if he had asked her then, were you kissed ever? What if he had pulled her closer? And then claimed her mouth in a searing kiss. What if she did open for him, matching him stroke for stroke, caress for a caress? What if she became caught in a web of slow, drugging kisses, and all she could think was that she had to be closer to him?
And sleep evaded him for long. He wanted to stay in this superficial, unreal world with Adra, but he knew he had to sort his marriage first. Tossing and turning, he knew not when he slept.
He had awoken late and sluggish, to his usual cup of tea. Like every day, the maid had kept it on his side table next to the morning newspaper.
The day looked nice and bright. Memories of Adra flashed as the sunlight filtered through the curtains—and he felt the warm sensations again.
Just then, the skinny maid, with a frightened expression, appeared at his door.
Ahmed moved his gaze to the maid to hear what she had to say.
She'd forgotten to get ginger the night before. She was well aware of how much he disliked his tea without freshly grated ginger. But his morning couldn't begin without tea, so she searched the internet for a substitute, foolishly assuming there would be one.
“For one teaspoon fresh or ground ginger, substitute one teaspoon ground allspice, ground cinnamon, ground Mace, or ground nutmeg,” it flashed on her large smartphone screen. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
She used this recipe to brew tea for Ahmed. And she informed Ahmed, hoping the tea made this way wouldn't offend him.
Ahmed took a small sip but noticed no difference in flavor, so he sipped some more and could sense no difference. He found himself entrapped by new thoughts;
As intimacy was an ingredient for a successful marriage: ginger was for tea.
“The missing ingredient in his marriage, if replaced, will not overshadow his marriage just like if ginger was just an ingredient and replacing it really didn’t make a difference to the flavor of the tea.”... Convinced he was going to win Adra, he got up from his bed and stepped out of his room into the blinding sunshine. He blinked, to adjust his eyes to the illumination, and soaring on the new revelations he sang aloud-
“Umm..mm... The universe sends us gifts to help us grow.
Some presents are painfully low,
Some are shameful blow,
And yet others erotically intimately overflow,
... it's all a gift, though
This sunshine too, you know!”