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Excerpt from the novel " Desires Of That Autumn "

Today is Ahmad’s thirty fifth birthday!

It sounded like any other, busy road in a crowded refugee camp.
His hard-of-hearing neighbor’s TV was silent today.. usually that sound dictates the kind of day Ahmad will have. A busy news day means his neighbor will break their pact and crank to the volume, a slow news day translates into his neighbor watching him walk out of the building, then he channel-surfs nervously.
The pact was forged when Ahmad’s mother pleaded with the neighbor, then screamed “for God’s sake the boy is tired, he works night and day to provide for us”, she asks for silence so that he can sleep.

On that day, and only on that day, his mother lost her patience. She cursed their need, their life in the refugee camp, and the close proximity of its houses.

His mother left, and Nawal left no evidence that either remembered what today was.
So he was alone on his special day.

He wished he could open his eyes and find one of those surprises the rich cliques in Abdoun have for their birthdays. 
He feels warm, he smiles as he thinks of all of the little details Nawal has brought to their life since she started working in Karina’s Salon in Abdoun, he grins thankfully.

Hopefully her nightly return will hold a surprise that will turn his day around. His anticipation makes him forgive her forgetfulness.

He’s puzzled at how his pants hold no sign of last night’s wild dreams, of a group of girls, short skirts, green pastors and beautiful sprawling skies, in the middle of this all was Latifah, like he’d never seen her before.
A vision she was, and he felt things he’d never experienced before as his arms circles her waist and she surrenders to him, his lips meet the open air as she slips out of his arms and he awakens with the frustration of a dream he wishes he could finish for once.

He cursed his late houmous meal and the flatulent stomach it has left him with on his special day.
Today, he is forced to think of his age, and count the years. He hears their little bathroom leaking through the open door, the wood long too rotted to close. 
He’s been putting off fixing it, no time and no money, the family learnt to deal with it and not complain, he shivered against the cold water in the tiny square hole in the ground that passes for a urinal/shower.

He hopes for a surprise when he returns home at dawn, and he’s convinced his day would have gotten off to a better start had Nawal remembered his birthday…

They became friends when they grew older… his sister scares him sometimes… sharp, bold and inquisitive. A young pretty divorcee even in her veil and jilbab, but her description of men comforts him:
- hope their eyes pop out! They think we’re all easy prey! The divorcee or widow are “easy” losers!

He aches with lingering guilt. It tears him apart that he caused her divorce .
“But Nawal can take care of herself”

He silences his own fear, he made sure when he followed her that day, jumping on the bus, frowning, agile and aloof, cursing public transportation all the way to the Salon in Abdoun at 9 am.

She protests:

Half the taxi drivers are proselytizers, Quran and Hadith tapes blaring, it kills me when they become God’s heirs on earth and each commends me for being veiled!! You would think I’m waiting for their blessings. Does he know that if it were up to me I wouldn’t wear the veil. The veil never stopped anyone from straying, or does he really think I need his guidance? “I would guide ten men like him”! 

Her mother scolded her:” No Nawal, the proselytizer said: "If you guide to the righteous path, your reward is as you had walked it yourself"
- What righteous path, mother? He could lower his fares .. he could stop gawking at girls and ask for Gods forgiveness. 
Throughout the journey all I heard was “God forgive me God forgive me”, which means his intentions are questionable. God said look down. .
not gawk and then repent!

Ahmad is still haunted by the look on her face when she saw him . . silent blame cuts deep into the conscience. She looked like she understood his suspicion, her voice cried out tears that never came. She swears she believed his lame excuse for breaking the Salon’s code, she bore the humiliating wrath of the salon owner silently when she saw him standing at the door.
- If your brother ever does this again you can leave with him, good riddance! The Salon’s reputation is bigger than his insanity and paranoia! He looks like a bloody ox standing at the door, Nawal! What do I tell my costumers? Thank God no one saw him!

She feels for him, yet she stands there, hands sticky with hair removal wax, her chestnut hair cascading down her shoulders, as she nods in agreement to the Salon owner’s thunderous anger.

- Where is she going to get good luck? She is cursed with the same bad luck as her mother! 

Her mother apologizes for Nawal’s brief marriage . . to the neighbors . . the grocer . . family, friends and acquaintances . .

Ahmad was ten the day she was born . . he heard the midwife whisper to a neighbor as she cleaned up Nawal:
- Women are so conniving! How did she manage this with an impotent husband?”
They smiled carefully and knowingly. She then praised God and put the rosy bundle in his father’s lap.
He ran his hand across her forehead, and prayed for a long, lucky, and scandal-free life.
But her luck was bad, neighbors whispered about the scandal of her marriage, over in less than a year.

- An ounce of luck rather than a ton of smarts. “We cannot escape our fate”

- His mother laments, but Nawal never gave up.
Ahmad is defiant:
Damn him, a dog unworthy of the tip of her nail!
He thanks God that he listened to his head rather than her moron husband..
He had called him urgently. . he sat in the far corner of the court’s canteen and whispered:

- Ahmad, my brother, you’re a man like me, and you can’t stand by and watch. Nawal’s relationship with her colleague is “explosive and unnatural”. Your sister does not respect my rights as a husband . .
I confronted her and she threw an ashtray at me. . screamed at me like a crazy woman . . all the neighbors heard . . and why? Because I said it was me or the “valley girl”

She called me an idiot so I hit her. . but she did not back down . . I left her bed and it seemed it was what she wanted . . of course, “ the valley girl is doing my role for me!”

His anger rises, and her husband still insists that his suspicion is founded, he chokes him with both hands in the crowded canteen:

- Shut up or I’ll break your neck . . you can’t say that about girls from respectable families! You really are an idiot! She’s your wife . . the Holy Quran says “O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done.”

- Fine, wicked person . .
Calm down please, no need for another scandal, listen, forget the suspicion, you’re a clerk at the court and you know, a wife’s disobedience in bed is against the Sharia. Nawal is disobedient and we need to solve that problem, I have been good to her, I gave her a house, with a kitchen and bathroom bigger than your entire house, I let her work in Abdoun.”

Shut up!

- His anger is mixed with suspicion. 
He contains it:
- I swear if you’re wrong I’ll kill you, and if you’re right I’ll kill her in front of you.
If I hear that you’ve spoken ill of her, or if Nawal or anyone finds out you talked to me about this before I confirm for myself I will slit your throat like a sheep.

Ahmad hid and watched Nawal.
They laughed all the way to the bus stop . . each in a long black jilbab and hijab . . they got on the Fardous Street bus, he followed in a taxi, they entered a small ground floor apartment in a new modest apartment building . . he crept to the back of the building away from traffic and inquiring eyes. He crouched under the open back window and listened.

Suspicion was burning aflame in the black night.

- Damn her, standing behind us like a guard, wherever we turn, working us to the bone.
- She’s better than others, Nawal, am sure other salons are worse.
He hears the other girls Sudanese accent tinted with a Jordanian touch, a small scared voice insisting that love alone might not save her marriage.

- Here we are shielded from the constant badgering of his family and mine, we’re comfortable, but we have to go back to Sudan one day, and it’s bound to affect us . . it frightens me . . we might change, poor Noor, my heart breaks for him.

- What’s wrong with Noor?

She tripped over her own words, calmed herself, and faked jolliness:
- No no nothing. . but the day we spent the last penny we brought with us from Sudan, on doctors, work permits, and medicine, he found the only job he could, a guard for the company’s warehouse . . It’s not the job for him and he works all night . . but we need the money, and the treatment is so expensive . .we took loans from his job and mine . . He works the graveyard shift and comes home in the morning so tired as I leave for work . . we’re tired and we never see each other, we said we’d come to Jordan for a reason, and we can’t do it if we never see each other.
So we thought we’d change things . . Noor learned how to drive in Sudan, but he needed a Jordanian driver’s license. 

The driving lessons ate away at their wages . . But need and hope brought their young hearts closer. Noor talked to her all the time, helped her clean. Sometimes he would cook.
- God made it easier, I could not have spent those nights alone had there not been other Sudanese families in our building. They had problems conceiving too but by the grace of God they have great children now.
Ahmad imagines her laugh:
Their wives are pregnant again.
- Inshallah it will happen for you too Khadijah
- Inshallah, I swear I’m sick of the medication, my body can’t take it anymore.
-Why don’t you change doctors? They say Kelani is the best . .
They had come for him, his reputation had reached Sudan and they picked up and came, but he asked for too much money . . so she tried another lesser known doctor. Three IV operations failed “maybe it’s just not meant to be”. 
She seemed to be crying, he heard Nawal cradle her, as Khadija’s dream of conceiving fades and she chases it with perseverance and faith.
Ahmad was filled with pain.
- Do you love him, Khadija?
- So much, and at first sight. We met at a wedding, the girls stand on one side, the boys another, dancing and singing and glances search for the chemistry that binds two hearts. Imagine, Nawal, it was fate, Noor wasn’t from our town, he came from his village to attends his friend’s wedding, he was there for only one night, he saw me and “he was my destiny”
Nawal Laughs and says: “no one can overlook such beauty”
She recalls fondly a night long overshadowed by the burden of elusive conception.
- I was wearing a pink dress, and “his eyes never left me”, he asked me my name and then brought his parents to ask for my hand . . and we got married . . Noor and I are two peas in a pod. We were born for each other.
Ahmad realized that Amman was Khadija and Noor’s refuge for three years, she makes the wax in the Salon and then caters to the excess hair of beauty-seekers, she has her loyal costumers, she waxes until their skin glows. She humors the younger ones, their bodies never revealed before they meet Khadija, and their tips mirror their appreciation.
They picked Fardous Street because it was distant and cheap . . The promise of a child drains all they earn, so she supplements their income with henna painting when she can, but time is not on her side.
His sadness almost permeates the black of night when Nawal speaks, he wished he could kiss her head and make the pain disappear:
- At least your husband feels with you, not like the ox I have, when I fell in love, Khadijah, I thought luck had finally found its way to me, tall handsome and smart . . I lived with his parents in Baqa’a Camp and discovered he was jealous and suspicious. All hell would break loose if I cracked open a window in his absence.
The sudden silence was suspicious, he put his ear to the window and heard Nawal whisper:
- May God curse him for what he does to me . . Who do I turn to? How do I tell them? He poses a expert in religion, Khadija, he only enters me from behind . . what he asks me to do kills me . . I said to him take your rights of me and nothing else . . He says women are field you are allowed to plough in from wherever you wish . . The son-of-a-bitch muscles it out of me with his strength and weight . . he steels my wages and threatens not to let me work. I would die if he locks me in the house waiting for his abuse and asking him for money . . I couldn’t look him in the eye if I didn’t work. In the salon you see people, and don’t forget we’ve seen all of rich Amman stark-naked!
Their laughter dies down, She tells her to go to her family, women aren’t a toy . .
Nawal’s voice cracks up, his heart breaks . .
- Who do I go to? There’s only Ahmad . . poor thing has enough problems . . He works two jobs, wasted his life with no education or marriage, but he’s so smart and resourceful, he learnt computer skills in six months, he speaks English and has a great sense of humor. But life has been hard on him and he doesn’t need another burden . .
Her family has been through enough, her mother took care of her crippled father until he passed away, her little brother struck by a mystery ailment that made him wrinkle up and shrink and atrophy, the camp’s make-shift health-centre only had medicine for colds and headaches. God finally relieved him and his mother and pneumonia took him away . . She chokes up . .
The women’s confessions have crushed his heart. 
Nawal cant stand it any longer. She dashes out .