Out of It

Out of It by Selma Dabbagh

Book: Out of It by Selma Dabbagh Read Free Book Online
Authors: Selma Dabbagh
over the chain of red cross-stitches running around the collar of her shirt. He had surprised himself by the thought that maybe this in itself could be enough: just to see her like that sometimes, to give her pleasure that way. Maybe he did not need to try to have her, or even to touch her. But she must have felt his gaze because she had turned and, with a gesture that was both manufactured and aimless at the same time, popped a piece of sticky, honeyed baklava into his mouth with her fingers, as though it was something she had done many, many times before, and then he knew that he had never thought anything quite so stupid in his whole life.
    Her family had opposed the marriage. They objected to Sabri’s place of origin, to his religion and to the party he was affiliated with. They did not dare to voice their objection to his peasant lineage as they knew that if they did, she would have only become even more determined to stay with him. But their objections did not stop Lana.
    Sabri and Lana had married in a small Jerusalem hotel where their faces were beamed by a video camera into hearts dancing on a wall and Lana’s head had been scraped with combs, rose stems and metal pins; her face had been whitened to that of a Geisha.
    ‘Like a death mask,’ she whispered to Sabri as they placed her next to him on a raised velvet throne. He had lost her in this pile of tacky lace. This was not what they had wanted. The Intifada was going on. Celebrations were banned. They had asked for something simple, old-fashioned: a dress with embroidery, hennaed hands, and a troop of men dancing the dabke, at most. They didn’t want the hall. Or the mealy-mouthed waiters. Or the Lebanese and Egyptian pop music about lost love and dying hearts. But both families had vetoed their modest plans absolutely, far more effectively than they had vetoed the marriage itself.
    ‘I want you to take it off. Now,’ he had whispered back to her.
    ‘What, this?’ she said, pointing up to her face. ‘Or this?’ and she had plucked at the neckline of her dress revealing just enough cleavage to drive him wild.
    Afterwards, his extended family commented on how inappropriate it was that she looked so relaxed. She had not appeared to be intimidated by the prospect of the night that was to follow. But she had neither cared about upsetting everyone then, nor had she cared later when she had screamed at a delegation of women from Sabri’s family who came to ululate outside their window.
    ‘But I thought you liked tradition, custom, hmm?’ Sabri had asked after the women had obediently got lost, his nose nuzzled against her cheek, his bent knee resting against the side of her newly waxed one, the agitated voices of the dismissed women dying away outside.
    ‘All traditions and customs except for those that subjugate women and deprive them of sleep.’ She turned to him so that their noses touched. ‘And other pleasures.’
    Naji had been born nine months later, disappointed by his surroundings. The baby’s colicky objection to the universe rarely subsided. From being dedicated to the pursuit of national liberation, his parents’ lives were transformed into a perpetual quest to find something, anything, that would quell their son’s grief. There was no pattern as to what pleased him. On some days it was afternoon sunlight fluttering between the leaves of a tree; on others touching the shorn hair of boys’ heads would make him gurgle and coo, his toes curled into each other with excitement. He was, according to all who met him, a cranky baby and his parents sometimes said that he was only saved from being given up on altogether by the look of absolute trust that he gave them when he fed. With his mouth around the bottle’s teat, he would make an eye-to-eye plea for understanding of quite how difficult it was, how hard it was for him to accept his disappointment. His eyes would widen, one hand holding on to the bottle, the other seeking out tenderness of

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