When he arrived home that night she was still awake. But she lay still and with her eyes closed, as he asked her whether she was awake, and then went to shower. He returned, climbed into bed, and soon started snoring. Eventually she fell into sleep, too.
The next morning he woke up early, made breakfast and brought it to her in bed. He sat on the bed edge, making light chit-chat, sounding amiable. After she was done he took the tray away, then came back and sat next to her. Breathing in deeply, he began…
He took her hands in his, and entwined his fingers with hers.
– Listen. I have something to tell you, he said.
She untwined her fingers from his, and took her hands back.
– It’s OK, she said, her face expressionless. I already know about her.
He flinched visibly, in shock.
– I already know about her, and it’s okay.
– I don’t understand?
– It’s okay you don’t have to worry about it.
– I don’t understand why you aren’t angry.
– You love me right?
– You had no lasting feelings for her?
– Would you ever leave me for her?
– Then we are okay. Just don’t do it again.
She watched his shock change: first into incredulity and then relief as he realised he was actually getting away with it.
– It will be different from now on, I promise, he said, a wide smile on his face.
And now: the cut.
– As long as we’re confessing things, she said, her tone still even – I have something to tell you too. While you were at work I invited an ex over. And we ate together, in our bedroom. We ate together, in our bed.
His eyes narrowed, his smile turned upside down.
– If this is a joke it’s not at all funny.
– It is not a joke.
– You did what??
A look of incredulity, turning into a scream of disbelief, as he realised she wasn’t joking.
– WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? he screamed in her face. IN OUR BED? IN OUR BED? We are done. We are so done. And he will pay for it! You will tell me who it is and he’ll pay for it I promise you that.
– But I love you.
– Don’t tell me that! Don’t ever tell me that again!
– But I have no lasting feelings for him.
– You lying, cheating mbahal eater!
– But I would never leave you for him.
– You might as well have, because we’re finally done! DONE! And I will KILL this man.
– But why all this wiling? How is what you did any different?
– How DARE you ask me that?? You brought another man into our bed! OUR BED!
Screaming himself into a frenzy, then one of his trademark door slams as he went into the bedroom. All evening long it went on, as he paced himself into a fury.
And then, as she had expected, he called her father.
That night: a summons. A phone call from her mother; a time to be at the house the next day.
When she arrived her mother was waiting for her at the gate.
– Go inside, she said to her, hurriedly, your father is waiting in the saal. Deny everything. You and I will speak later.
She went in, and greeted him, where he sat unsmiling, a grim look on his face. Her mother went into the backyard and sat on a bang, from where she could hear the conversation.
– Your husband called me yesterday with very serious allegations. He has told me that you brought another man into his house. Is this true?
– Papa. He went outside our house and ate with another woman. Why are we not talking…
– Shut your mouth! her father roared – How dare you speak like that in front of me?
Her mother, sensing the danger, abandoned her eavesdropping perch and came in, to save the day.
– Of course it’s not true! she said, with a chiipu – Stop that talk. Who would be crazy enough to believe that? He is a jealous man – they make up things in anger. But of courseit’s not true! Did we raise that kind of child?
Her father considered for a moment, then turned to her.
– I want to hear your voice, and your voice alone. Are these accusations true?
A deep breath, her mother’s sharp gaze on her.
– No, Papa.
He looked her in the eye, and she held his gaze. And then, satisfied, he sat back in his chair, the grimness gone now from his face.
– Now listen to me, he said, – Whether he lied or not, whether he went to other women or not – he is your husband. When he sent guru for you, I asked you two things. What was the first one?
– If I loved him and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, she replied, grudgingly.
– And what was your response?
– I said yes.
– And the second?
– If I knew that once I left I could never come back, not for any reason.
– And you remember what you replied?
– I agreed.
– Now here it is. You will go back to your husband. You will tell him you lied, and apologise. Then you will tell him to call me, and tell me you have apologised and he has forgiven you. And then you will dedicate yourself to your marriage, and stop all this talk of other women – I don’t want to hear any nonsense of this sort ever again. Do you understand me?
– Yes, Papa.
A breath, a relief of the tension in the room.
Her mother walked her out, and as they reached the inside of the gate she stopped and faced her.
– I’m not going to ask you if it’s true or not, she said, – because I know you would not do such a thing, and Allah knows you would not do such a thing. There are things a Muslim should never even consider, no matter what you’re feeling. You understand?
– Yes Ya.
– Good. Go now and do what your father asked – come by tomorrow after work and eat lunch with me.
When she got home he was sitting in the saal, watching a football game. He stiffened as she entered, but did not turn or acknowledge her.
She went into the kitchen and stood at the sink, her hands spread out on the counter, her back slouched. She took a deep breath, and expelled it slowly.
She knew the exact words to say:
I’m sorry baby. I lied because I found the shirt and was jealous. I wanted to provoke you… I wanted to hurt you as much as you hurt me. Of course I didn’t bring another man into our bed – am I crazy?
She had said words like them in all her time with him, had coaxed him back from many a ledge. Managing him, keeping him thinking of himself as the proud man of the house, since that seemed so important to him.
But she thought in that moment that she would rather die than say them; because nothing in her cared about him anymore, or what he thought about her or anything she had done.
So she went into the saal, and called him by his name. He turned with a glare.
– What?, he growled.
– I just wanted to let you know that you and I are done. My father hasn’t accepted it yet, but he will eventually. Sowill you.
He sprang up from the couch, screaming in her face.
– Do what you want! I don’t want you here anyway! You liar!
He marched out of the room, banging the door behind him.
She thought: he’s still stuck, in the old patterns of fighting. Bang doors, break things, put up walls of silence; the balance of blame swaying one way then the other; until they both returned to the center, exhausted and ready to compromise, to take each other back.
There would be no taking back, this time. So there was no point in following the pattern, for either of them.
So she left him, to come to that realisation in his own time.
It took many returns, to wear her father down. But she did, in the end; going back so many times he finally, grudgingly, accepted that she didn’t want to be with him anymore; and did not send her back to him again. Eventually, even his facade of being disappointed in her faded away too, and they returned to their former, jovial relationship.
In time she remarried, found another man who was kind to her, and taught her new ways of eating: slower and more sensual ways; hot foods still but also now colder ones, chilled in the fridge and on the mind all day long, desserts consumed right before sleep, a soothing ascent into pleasant dreams; and other ways of eating too, waysless selfish, ways containing the possibility of procreation…
And in time these meals proved fruitful, and she bore him three children.
And they all lived happily ever after.
– And just like that? Merr Mbaakeh asks.
– Just like that, Merr Sally replies.
– You know, sometimes I think you’re just making these up.
– Me? Never! All of them happened exactly as I tell them. Well maybe a little adjustment here and there, to make them sweeter to the ears.
They both laugh.
– Well then, old friend. See you tomorrow?