As soon as she had finished her request, Gazina felt the mosque grow quiet, as if a chill had swept over it. Gamaal looked into Gazina’s eyes for a long time, saying nothing. He released Gazina’s hands and turned sharply from her, and walked away. Gazina looked on in consternation, feeling shame and anger rise within her, that she had requested the impossible, the forbidden. She knew her Gamaal by now. He would not say no, for fear of hurting her. Not in front of a big congregation. He chose to keep quiet instead. Saying no without saying it. Why had she thought he would jump at the idea? He was a man after all, flesh and blood, with all the faults of Adam, with limitations, in the brain and in body and in thought. These thoughts came to her in one quick flash.
Gazina felt the anger rise in her, and soon after it, the let-down. “He does not want to go through with this relationship, at least not with a multi-religious or religionless marriage ceremony. Of course, he is Muslim, through and through. What had I thought?
She stood there for a moment, numbed, unable to react, while her brain processed the scene before her … Gamaal walking away …
As if sleepwalking, Gazina, in turn, turned in the opposite direction, walked to her seat quietly, picked her bag and walked briskly out of the mosque. She jumped into the taxi at Jalan (Road) Raya Kuta, thanking God that there was always a good Blue taxis service in front of the mosque. She gave the name of their (now her) hotel, where, upon instructing the driver to wait, she quickly went to her room, threw her belongings into a suitcase, ran an eye over the room taking in one last memory, and closed the door on that page of her life. She sleepwalked the corridor to the elevators, and rode down to the reception, praying that as the elevator doors opened, she would not be met by the tall striding figure of Gamaal. Of course not, he would not follow her. He was glad she had gone. Gazina paid her part of the bill, walked through the automatic doors, out into the Balinese night, pulling her blue roll-on case behind her, and jumped back onto the taxi, instructing the driver to the airport.
“I will not weep this time. I will not allow myself to suffer from my love for Gamaal again,” she told herself once she had settled into the passenger seat and let her mind and heart process the events of her night. She would work at her emotions quickly and forget that one. No pain, no suffering, no regrets, no nothing. She would keep a clear mind, and take care of her heart. After all, she did not really need Gamaal. At 52, what more did she want to experience that she had not experienced so far?
“Although,” she admitted to herself, “it was beautiful while we had it.”
She was thinking furiously as the taxi bore her on the streets of Bali. Why was love so elusive? Why was love hard to grasp and to keep? Why is that even the best-placed to love always mess it at the most crucial moments? What is it about love that makes it so complicated?
“Even when I give my best, it still does not look like the best is enough for any man. Well, they are greedy brutes. I am done with them!”
“Maybe,” she shocked herself with a new thought, “it is this very best that I give that chases away my men! She thought. Maybe, I give too much, and expect too much in turn! Maybe men are just incapable of reciprocating my love to the levels I want! Maybe I am the worst for loving the best!
“Well,” she decided. “If no one is worth the best, then they are not worth the quest! Gazina felt a chill course through her. She pulled a scarf out of her bag and threw it loosely around her head and shoulders. Then she remembered she had not changed her top for the whole day. Turning quickly to face the back of the taxi, she changed her top for a green one. To hell with the driver. The act was completed within 30 seconds.
She refreshed her make-up as the taxi sped along the streets. She absent-mindedly picked up the street statues of Bali … I will not stain my face with tears this time. I will adorn it with make-up. I will not give my heart to tears. Instead, I will give it a song. “I caaan’t believe it, Althoooooough I did it!” She sang inside, and felt the thrill of a new adventure coming upon her.
“How come even Gamaal fails at the zenith of our love? Why did my request extinguish his love as if I had given him a blow? Was it going to be too much of a burden for him?” She thought about this a moment.
“Yes, that must be it. A financial burden. An organisational burden. Oh, Gamaal is a simple person. What I asked for was complicated. Blast me for destroying him! His love! He did not want to say anything because that was too much for the congregation to hear. So he decided instead to turn away from it all and keep himself true to his character. Fair and fine! I will stay true to mine too.”
Gazina allowed the rhythm of her heart to beat with the sounds of Bali … the traffic sounds, the horns, the music, the people on the streets, the worshippers lighting candles at their shrines, the smells of night food.
“If love is so slippery, I would find something to replace it. Travel, discovery, study! No study! I have had enough of that! But you know what, Gazie? Something else will come up. It always does! And you know what else, Gazie? I will embrace it, whatever that is to come upon me!”
Gamaal turned and walked back to the stage, the ring that had just been handed to him from his aide, Ankur held reverently in his palm ... He blinked as he saw the empty space where Gazina was supposed to be, and quickly thought oh, she went to the bathroom. He held the ring lovingly, imagining it on Gazina’s finger. Would she, anyway, accept it? Now? Was he pushing it a bit too far and too fast? She had accepted the opening, the Fatiha, but what would she make of a ring, the ring she had admired and believed to be Hossam’s?
He stood there for a while, the Sheikh to his left, the congregation to his right, and looked at the stained glass windows that were straight ahead of him, raising his eyes until they beheld the ornamented ceiling, a Qur’anic verse inscribed onto it in elaborate Arabic calligraphy, the colours giving the text a kind of mobile appearance; and the letters entering and leaving each other with great intricacy:
سورة الإخلاص - Sura Al-Ikhlās
آية: 1 قُلۡ هُوَ ٱللَّهُ أَحَدٌ آية:2 ٱللَّهُ ٱلصَّمَدُ آية: 3 لَمۡ يَلِدۡ وَلَمۡ يُولَدۡآية:آية: 4 وَلَمۡ يَكُن لَّهُۥ كُفُوًا أَحَدُ
-The Devotion Verse
1: Say,"He is Allah, [who is] One, Allah, 2: The Eternal Refuge. 3: He neither begets nor is born; 4: Nor is there to Him any equivalent.”
Gamaal read this with a patient disposition and brought his eyes back to the ring in his fingers, thinking; He neither begets nor is He begotten. (Therefore He neither woos nor is He wooed, neither marries nor is He married, therefore never had to suffer such sweet pain as I am ...) Gamaal’s thoughts were interrupted as the Sheikh made a few steps and whispered into his ear. He nodded, and the Sheikh went back, the Qur'an on its stand. The Sheikh stood at the podium and began to chant the verses of the Qur’an to keep people’s minds together, waiting.
It was only after waiting some time when the congregation began to stir. Eyes were thrown cautiously towards Gamaal. A discomfort began to gnaw at his sides. He, too, began to wonder and some worry crept upon him. She would be back by now, if she had gone to the bathroom. Unless, … unless she actually is unwell. A terrible diarrhoea, or a heavy period? Gamaal needed to send a woman to the ladies’ bathrooms to check. When she came back and reported no sign of Gazina, Gamaal walked up to ask the door keepers, who told him Gazina had taken a taxi. They thought that the important ceremony had been finished, or perhaps she had needed to pick up something and bring it quickly to the mosque … or to change clothes. They had no idea what they needed to do.
Gamaal held his ring between his thumb and forefinger, ready to slip it onto Gazina’s finger. Surely, Gazina would come back. The gatekeepers are right. She must have gone to collect something from the hotel room. But what? Maybe to change her clothes was a better reason. She had realised the event was bigger than she had prepared for. He cursed himself for not giving her enough preparation, but he had wanted her in her purest state. The manner of women must have come suddenly upon her? Yes, that should be it. She had hinted as much that she got heavy when her time came. She would still slip it onto her finger soon. He settled in his chair to wait, his mind already picking possible vibes and alerting him of something not right. He tried to call Gazina again. His call did not get through. He fought his anger and frustration.
“Gazie is not irrational,” he thought.
Where could she have gone? He rang the reception from his mobile. And was informed she left on the same taxi that had brought her. Did she say where she was going? No. But they assumed it was to the airport. She had paid her bill. Did anyone see the taxi number? No, but it was a Blue Taxi. Ok, then she must be on her way back here. Going to the hotel room, changing and leaving again quickly. She would appear soon. His eyes stayed on the road. When more than an hour had passed with no sign of Gazina, Gamaal admitted to himself something was very wrong.
He was suddenly immobilized by the events of his life.
Conversing quickly with the Sheikh, Gamaal left the mosque and took the next taxi to the hotel, only to be greeted by an empty room 454. Gazina’s bag was nowhere to be found, nor was her blue suitcase. When he opened the wardrobe and found not a single item of Gazina’s, Gamaal felt faint, and had to sit down to make sense of what was happening. The room felt cold, empty. The air was thin. He did not understand this. He turned the ring between his fingers. The gems winked in the hotel room night lights. It should have been winking on Gazina's finger by now, he thought, and only then wondered what had happened to her. Why had she taken off? Had she heard some bad news, urgent news, or what? Gazina was scheduled to leave Bali three days after him. He was the one leaving tomorrow, not Gazina. Now, a sense of real panic crept upon him.
Something drastic must have happened. He must find Gazina. She had not answered any of his calls so far. A fear settled at the pit of his stomach, and with it, a need to rethink the whole set of developments leading to Gazina’s flight from his request to open marriage talks. That would be a long train of thoughts, requiring a different time span. For now, something was pushing him into action.
Gazina still had three days before boarding back to her work city. Where could she go to spend these days in a quiet but pleasant place? Quickly, she scrolled her google maps and decided on an accessible but new place. Bali was full of places to discover, but she had discovered Gamaal in Bali. Some distance would do her well. She asked the taxi man where she could get transport to Sourabaya. Could he drop her where she could drive to Sourabaya straight away? The driver made three phone calls, and sped along Jalan ByPass Ngurah Rai to meet with a driver who was to take her to Sourabaya in five hours. Was it going to be safe? Were there going to be other passengers? No. if she wanted to get there in five hours, she would be the only passenger and they could start right away. If they waited, it could take another three hours before the next passenger showed up, and most people had already travelled in daylight. If she was afraid, the Blue taxi driver assured her, “Here is my card, you call me straight away,” he said as he turned into Jalan Pulau Ambon. Was that enough security? Gazina hesitated, but decided she had done more daring things in her life and come out of them more thankful she had done it than regret it. Nothing with goodness was not worthy a risk.
Riding on the wave to erase Gamaal from her mind and heart, a new adventure was welcome. She felt in her bag for her torch, her pepper spray, and for her knife. She stepped onto the combi, a taxi for multiple passengers.
As the combi sped along Jalan Ahmad Yani, Gazina settled in her seat, and called up Booking.com onto her mobile, booking herself with ease into a good hotel in her destination city. Her head was still covered down to her eyes in a golden scarf thrown over and tied loosely at the neck, the Balinese style. She was now in her favorite light green top, with brown pants, having changed at the service station as the driver filled the combi with fuel. It was going to be a long night, and some practical clothing was needed. She had reasoned that she did not want to wait all night at the airport for a flight the next morning. She also had not wanted to fly to Germany. What would she say? Daniel would be pissed, and he did not like surprises like this one. Sharm was out of the question. Gazina would only think of Gamaal and the hurt he had inflicted on her, the shame he had hurled into her face. How dare he!?
She now understood the game that Gamaal had been playing all along. He just had wanted her to come this far so as to accept the opening ceremony, and had wanted nothing further. It was his ego he was caressing. Did he still have what it took to charm a woman right to the end. He had had his answer, and was now so full of confidence that he did not need her anymore.
“Now that you have gotten it, you have achieved your egoistic satisfaction, and turned your back on me at the most crucial moment. Gamaal! How did you do that? You hesitated to my request, you hesitated! You turned away from me at the most critical moment, O Gamaal!”
Tears of disbelief stung her eyelids. Despite her earlier resolve, Gazina let the tears threaten, and force their way between her eyelids, and flow down her cheeks. It was the second time she was crying for love with Gamaal. She had promised she would not do this after Cairo. He had a way of making her angry. Gamaal had. The lights of the Bali city fell off, and the night claimed their vehicle as the driver sped north-westwards towards Sourabaya. She was not taking this, not from Gamaal!
“Why have I trusted him, anyway? Why did I think he was different? Gamaal, he is a man. And a man is a man. Mwana wenyoka inyoka!” -The child of a snake is a snake! She heard her Mhayi’s voice whisper to her.
“Yes, Mhayi. It has taken me this long to learn that they are all the same. That there is no exception. What did I think? Everyone says there is no angel in men. I thought I had found mine. I wanted to prove the world wrong. I wanted to be different, because Gamaal was different. Oh, how he pleasantly wrapped me around his finger! Oh, how he wove his way to my heart!” Despite herself, she smiled inside as she remembered those first encounters online, but that was then. Now, it is now. Now, there will be no online. She remembered as she pulled her android from her bag, swiping the screen with an experienced forefinger, and saw the green circle against his name. She swiped that angrily aside, and went to the menu, and blocked Gamaal. “There! Let us see if you can deceive me again!” Gazina thought. Next, she went through all those messages they had sent to each other, and deleted them, for her and for him.
“Trash Gamaal!” she thought, getting some satisfaction from the acts of deleting him, from her phone, from her heart and from her life.
She had loved Gamaal. She had trusted him completely. She had enjoyed his style. She had determined she would make him happy, and he had made her happy … but that was in the past. The present demanded a different set of thoughts, emotions, and decisions. He had deceived her big time, just as he had made her love him big time.
“You took me so very high, so that my fall would be so very heavy, ya Gamaal! That is fine. You have shown me the best side of you, and the worst. Always the two sides of a coin. Never a one without the other! No God without the Devil. And I will prevail over the worst, just like I rose up to the occasion of the best.”