I had known Karim to be the emotional type. I have known him to be sensitive, deeply affected and easily hurt. Yet I have known him to hide his insecurities, and cover them in a mask of apathy, and sometimes arrogance. But when it came to Karen, he was not the same guy I’d known. He was irrational, unthinking and impulsive. And sometimes when I looked at the way he acted when he was around her, I felt like I didn’t know the guy the least bit.
When he saw the missed calls and messages from her, his heart skipped a few beats. Had it been someone else, he’d have thrown the phone back on his bed and ignored all attempts of reconciliation. But he eagerly opened her messages to see what she had to say.
“Karim, please pick up.”
“I really need to talk to you, I want to explain things.”
“I’m getting worried. Please pick up your phone!!!”
He did think about ignoring the messages. He did think about not wanting to talk to her. He did think that he shouldn’t. But his heart told him otherwise, and in a few seconds, the phone was on his ear, as Karen’s rang.
“Karim, is everything okay? Are you okay?” Was Karen’s immediate response.
“Now you’re worried.” He wanted to sound distant and cold, but the eagerness and the hurt betrayed his voice.
“I know, I know. But I need to explain. It’s not how it looks. When can you meet me?” Her voice was hushed, but eager. Karim knew she was sneaking out to talk to him. She’d be in trouble if she was found talking on the phone during her shift. He wanted to turn her down, and tell her he does not want to see her, but Karen, the one who took him out of his insanity, also made it easy for him fall back into it.
“You finish work at 6 today. I’ll meet you in Dunkin Donuts- Concorde.”
“Okay, but please no one can know you’re coming to see me, and I mean no one.”
“Just don’t, please. I’ll explain at 6. I have to go now.”
“Umm-Okay, see you then.”
Karim sat on his bed thinking about that phone call, his heart battling against his mind. He was both eager and dreading the time he would meet her. What could she have to say to him? What on earth would justify what she had done? He found himself drowning in his thoughts, trying to figure out all the questions running in his head, but when he looked up at the clock, he knew he had no time.
He got out of his room and went to the kitchen to grab a bite. His food had gotten cold, but he ate it anyway. It was already 5:00 pm, and in just an hour Karen finishes work. As soon as he was done eating, his father walked in. He looked at Karim who stared down as he sat on the kitchen table. He waited for his father to blurt out some sort of criticism or crude insult about his stupidity, just like he had been doing for the whole time that Karim lied in the hospital. He waited for his father to pick a fight, to complain about something, to scream at Karim’s mother and to bicker. He waited for something that would make him hate his father even more. But instead, his father walked in silence. From the corner of his eye, he saw his father approaching him, and standing right next to where he sat. Karim looked up and his father was looking down on him with a sad smile on his face, and his father opened his arms.
“El hamdella 3al saleme baba.”
Karim stood up in disbelief as his father hugged him.
“Thanks dad, allah ysallmak.”
His father squeezed him into his arms and held him tight. It had been years since Karim could remember a hug from this man. The man he felt he no longer knew; the man who had turned from the most loving father to a stranger whose sole aim was to make his family despise him.
The hug seemed to last, and Karim’s father held on to his son like he hadn’t done in a very long time. Karim could almost feel his father’s heartbeat as their chests closed on each other. And when his father finally let go, Karim’s heart thundered in its beating as he looked in his fathers eyes, and saw the tears swelling.
“Chemotherapy starts in a couple of weeks.” His voice was crackling, “And you’re gonna fight this bastard out of your body. Hear me?” The tears began streaming down his cheeks.
“Yes. Sure. Sure, I will.” Karim’s heart was beating, and his chest started heaving at the sight of his father’s crying. There was a lump in his throat as he fought with all his might to control himself.
“You will be fine. We all will be okay.” His father looked him in the eyes as he grabbed his shoulder, then patted his back, and went off as he wiped the tears from his eyes.
Karim stood motionless. And as soon as he heard the kitchen door close, his breathing became heavy as the lump in his throat untied and all the tears came flooding. He started crying and shaking uncontrollably, he leaned on the sink and covered his eyes with his hand as he heaved and shook and trembled. He raced to his room, locked his door and jumped on his bed and dug his face in a pillow and allowed every tear to cry itself out of his system. He cried for the father he had missed for the past years, he cried for Karen’s desertion, for his cancer, for his accident. He cried for his mother, and for every single time he hadn’t allowed the crying. The fight against his tears was over. He had lost, and he was sinking, so he allowed himself to sink in deep.
He waited until his tears subsided to get up and take off to meet Karen. He knew his eyes were red from all the crying, but it was almost 6:00 pm.
Concorde center was nearby, so he walked. And when he got there he found Karen already waiting for him. She had ordered for him and was smoking a cigarette nervously. When she saw him she stood up and ran to him and hugged him tight. She in her turn started to cry and to blurt words of apology. Karim’s mind no longer fought him, he hugged her back. He had missed her perfume. He had missed her arms clasped around him. He had missed everything that girl represented. But he still could not forgive her. He let go of her, looked in her eyes then turned away. He could not face them. And they both sat down in silence.
“I missed you, Karim. You have no idea—“
“Please Karen. Stop. You know what I want to hear.” He cut her off. He was done with the feelings. He was done with the crying.
“Karim, I am so sorry about what happened. But I swear I had a good reason for not seeing you.”
“Yeah, I’m sure there is a logical explanation why my girlfriend for almost two years did not even bother coming to the hospital while I was going through all that shit—“
“Karim, please listen.”
Karim locked his eyes to meet Karen’s.
“I did go. I did go to see you every single day you lied in that hospital, I was there in the waiting room.”
Karim frowned in confusion.
Karen looked away, and the tears began again.
“I was there. But…” She sighed to compose herself. “ But… I was not allowed to see you.”
“Allowed? What the hell are you talking about? Allowed by whom?”
Karen lowered her head, she hid her crying face with her hands. And through her sobs came the words.
“Karim, I– I wasn’t allowed… your parents wouldn’t let me.”
[…to be continued]