Lit-Mag #42 – The Arabian World
Jamila averted her eyes before slumping down on the cushion. It had been three days and she still couldn’t look in a mirror. She didn’t have to, seeing her reflection in everyone’s eyes. Her beauty was gone, that much she knew: to what extent, she didn’t care.
It had happened so quickly, less than a minute and her life ruined. The monsoons hadn’t come yet, filling the city with sheets of water. She liked to think that it might not have happened a month later when people ventured outside only when necessary. No one gathered in the squares gossiping. The boys would hurry home to warm meals, dry clothes.
Jamila would see him coming out of the madrasa, the one near the butcher shop her mother preferred. He was unremarkable, tucked into a knot of similar boys in pale cotton salwar kameez. They poured from the squat stone building with their heads full of the Quran. Other things too: their next meal; the cricket scores; a future wife; and sometimes a hatred stirred up by their teachers, a dangerous force in ones so young. This hatred, directed at the enemies of Islam, could be interpreted in alarming ways. The boys had no ready outlet, so they released it in small unsatisfying bursts: chants and yells; fistfights amongst themselves; pranks against the shopkeepers; catcalls and stares at the young women passing. They’d linger in the square watching the passersby, too old to kick a football around like the younger boys. On the brink of manhood, they had to shake off their desires to play, joke. Life was serious.
She wondered if Isfahan knew just what he had done. Did he regret it, feel remorse? She’d never know because he’d been sent away, “hidden away” her aunt said, to a village in the mountains. Nothing could touch him there, not the courts, the tribal elders, no one.
Most thought he was justified. “She encouraged him,” his cousins said, “deliberately passing the madrasa as the boys were dismissed. Dropped her grocery basket that day, even spoke to him.”
“Why was she out on her own? Where was her father? Her brothers? Her family should be thankful,” some said. “Her punishment is fitting. She was too beautiful, too proud.”
She didn’t cover her face, let her hijab slip low to reveal a rope of dark hair. The men were distracted, lusty thoughts slipping into their daily routines like beggars’ hands, unseen, unwelcome.
“How could she serve Allah with that beauty? It’s better this way, really,” some said. “She will learn humility, serve her family and her God. And so she may not marry, but that’s nothing. There were always men, good Muslim men, willing to overlook appearance for a pious woman, weren’t there?”
It had been three days since she’d returned from the clinic, three days since the bandages were removed. Her family made her rest, stay indoors, but she couldn’t lie around much longer. The work of daily life was weighing heavily on her older sister, her mother recuperating after the new baby. Jamila knew she was becoming a burden, but her sister would never complain. If Hasna felt tired, overwhelmed by the household business, one look at Jamila’s face would make her bite her tongue. That could be me, she thought. She loved Jamila fiercely, wishing revenge on Isfahan.
Sweet, quiet Isfahan. What would make him do this? Hasna knew his sister. They’d been friendly as children, Isfahan joining in their games until he began studying at the madrasa. Then he no longer spoke to the girls. His face became hardened, intently reciting verses from the Quran.
At first Jamila thought it was some sort of punishment from God and mentally listed her wrongdoings. Perhaps it was because she coveted her cousin’s necklace, or it could be the pride she took in her glossy black hair. She searched her mind for ways she may have encouraged him. She’d seen him looking at her before, felt his eyes darting over her quickly to avoid discovery. But she was used to this. Boys, men, had been looking at her this way for years. Maybe she was being punished as a temptress. Allah was angry. But when she saw the horror in everyone’s eyes, she knew that Allah wouldn’t sanction this. Hers was not a destructive God. Only men were capable of such cruelty.
“We will make a perfect match for our beautiful flower,” Jamila had overheard her father say only a month before, pride bursting from his words. Allah had been generous, bestowing him with five sons and two beautiful daughters. The latter’s beauty made them less of a liability. Sons were more desirable, but beautiful and chaste daughters could also bring pride to a family. A good match with a prominent family was possible. Hasna was the oldest and should be married first, but all the suitors favored Jamila, her skin fairer and her eyes almost green.
Jamila had heard them talking, making arrangements for Hasna, knowing she would be next, but she hadn’t listened too closely. Jamila didn’t want to marry, not yet anyway. She didn’t want to live apart from her family, follow a stranger’s rules, have babies. She knew she must, eventually. An unmarried daughter was a burden, a life of certain sadness.
She almost laughed when she thought of this now. The life of an unmarried daughter, a bojh, it seemed, was her destiny. After the attack no one would marry her. How could she uncover her face, even for a husband? They say that beauty is only skin deep, but anyone who’s had that beauty taken away knows it isn’t true. Especially when beauty is all you have. Isfahan had taken everything in that one moment: her beauty; her faith; her future.
“Can I get you something, Jamila? Tea? Something to eat?” Hasna paused in the doorway, the washing balanced on one hip. She’d finally become accustomed to Jamila’s altered appearance, no longer flinching when she saw her. She sensed the pain it brought Jamila each time she recoiled. Hasna made herself stare at Jamila’s face while she slept until the sight became familiar.
“No thank you, Hasna.” Jamila turned slightly.
“How are you today? How is the pain? Do you want more cream? Tablets?”
“No, it’s okay.” The pain returned a bit duller each morning. The tablets she’d gotten at the clinic let her sleep, six hours of blessed forgetfulness. In her dreams she was the same girl. By morning, the effect had worn off and the burning returned, infiltrating her dreams until she woke to the nightmare of her life. It was a stinging sensation, a constant itching reminder of the attack. She wanted to claw at her skin, cream soothing the burn for only a few moments.
In the clinic they’d had to tie her hands down so that she wouldn’t touch her face. She’d been nearly delirious when they brought her in, the tezab biting into her skin even after a shopkeeper doused her with water. Tezab, sharp water in Urdu, was aptly named. When Isfahan approached with the jar, she thought he was offering her a cool drink. The sun had been particularly strong that day.
Now sunlight, heat of any kind, was unbearable. She kept the curtains drawn, the room darkened while she waited. Waited for what she didn’t know. Death maybe. If only he had killed her. She would prefer that to this half-life.
“Thank Allah that your eyesight has been spared,” they’d said at the clinic. Other girls had been blinded. Jamila had heard the stories, mainly from Punjab province. Husbands wanting to divorce their wives, claiming adultery. Suitors turned away by families. The men were never punished, the burden of proof falling upon the victim. Families wanted it all forgotten, the embarrassment locked away in dark rooms.
Jamila never considered justice. Isfahan’s family was powerful, his great-uncle the imam. They would not allow the scandal. The night it happened her brothers had to restrain her father, holding him down so that he wouldn’t find Isfahan and kill him. Her father was a peaceful man, but the attack had awakened something in him.
Hasna later told Jamila that it scared her. “Abbu’s eyes were small and hard, like an animal. He was yelling so loudly the whole village could hear. He said he would kill Isfahan. Ammi was on her knees crying, begging him to calm down, the baby crying. Ali and Malik had to push the table against the door and sit on it until Uncle Mahmoud arrived. Then father listened, crumpling on Uncle’s shoulder in tears.”
Jamila knew it was for the best. Her father would be imprisoned, or worse, hanged if he’d killed Isfahan. Then what would happen to the family? How would they eat? It was so difficult already. Even with her father and two older brothers working, they struggled. And now there were medical bills, the creams, tablets. They’d never gone to the clinic before, even when her mother had trouble with the last baby.
“Where did you get the money for the clinic, Ammi?” Jamila turned slightly.
“Don’t worry about that, Bayti. You get better.” Her mother kissed the top of her head.
Hasna, always forthcoming, later told her that Abbu had borrowed money from their uncles and still it wasn’t enough. Ammi had to sell her ring for the medicine. Jamila wiped back her tears before the salt could sear her skin. She silently vowed to stretch the tablets further, waiting until the pain was unbearable.
“What will we do, Hasna? What will I do? This is not fair to Ammi and Abbu, to you. Who will want to marry into our family now?” Jamila tucked her knees into her chest and drew her cotton hijab closer. She’d taken to wearing it at home.
“Don’t worry, Jami. It will be okay, inshallah. We will marry, have babies, grow old.” Hasna sounded false, even to herself.
“Don’t lie. No one will marry me. I will live with Abbu and Ammi until they die, and then I’ll have to move in with Ali or Malik or you. I will be the rock around your neck as you try to swim to freedom.”
Hasna silently squeezed Jamila’s shoulder. The truth spread before them like blood on a sheet.
Jamila awoke with a start in the early morning darkness. Azzan called worshippers to the mosque. It was disorienting and, for a moment, she couldn’t remember where she was. The unfamiliar landscape of the room frightened her. Then reality flooded in, like the days and weeks after the attack when she’d wake from a lovely dream to find the ugliness of her altered life.
The imam called out again and she could feel his voice resonating through her body. This azzan was electrified, amplified, twentieth-century technology. In Dubai, the City of the Future, she constantly felt out of place. Even call-to-prayer had become one more thing that made her miss home.
There the imam climbed the mosque’s tower himself, his voice warbling out into the countryside, calling the faithful. Usually only men prayed in the mosque, but she felt invited by the imam’s voice. Hasna would grumble each morning, turning over to steal a few more moments of sleep. But not Jamila. She rose and cleansed herself, gave thanks to Allah.
Jamila stared out at the twin minarets that stretched from the mosque like stone arms raised in supplication. Islam was a religion of submission, a giving of oneself to God, a belief that everything happens because of His will. The same could be said of most religions. Jamila had never questioned this, until the attack.
Although she wouldn’t admit it, even to herself, she now found it hard to thank Allah, to put her will in his hands. She prayed as ever, a good Muslim in all ways except two. She no longer thanked Allah for her life and she could not forgive Isfahan. She knew this was expected, that it would make her a better Muslim, but she could not. He had taken too much from her.
“Jamila.” Someone knocked on her door. “Yella, the breakfast won’t make itself.”
She quickly wrapped the hijab around her head, expertly covering her hair and most of her face. The only part clearly visible were her eyes. She opened the door to her cramped, windowless room, a former closet, and crept out into the early morning light. Most of the house was still sleeping, and Jamila knew better than to wake them.
She opened the refrigerator and took out the oranges. Sana insisted on fresh-squeezed juice each morning. Her breakfast consisted of little else these days. Jamila had heard the other maids talking. Sana was desperately trying to lose the weight she’d gained after the last baby, a chubby boy who cried when he wasn’t held.
“Maybe if she got off the couch, she’d lose that fat,” Sari, a maid from another household, whispered to Alia.
“If she carried Little Man around for one hour a day, no problem. The pounds would go like that.” Alia snapped her fingers.
The two laughed conspiratorially over the baby’s head. They were sitting in the villa compound’s central courtyard while the children played on plastic playground equipment. Sari, a Filipina convert to Islam, and Alia, an Indonesian, spoke English. Each could handle a smattering of Arabic but preferred English because it allowed for more precise gossip. Neither seemed concerned that they’d be overheard.
The yard was still bathed in sunlight, a relentless white heat that seared Jamila’s skin through her hijab. Alia knew that Sana rarely left the villa during the day, afraid to darken her skin. She spent most of the afternoon splayed on the couch watching Lebanese soap operas. Sana couldn’t handle the boredom of caring for her boys.
She barely acknowledged her children, spending as little time as possible with them. Only when Farouz paraded them out to Safa Park or Jumeirah Beach was the whole family together. She assumed it made Farouz feel successful, virile, blessed, with the four boys fanned out around him. They were the perfect Muslim family. So Farouz drank wine now and again, visited prostitutes (but only occasionally and never during Ramadan), skipped early morning prayers every few days. So what. He never claimed perfection, but he was trying. He gave money to the poor, strictly fasted during the holy month, respected his parents. At least he didn’t beat his wife, or the servants.
Neither Sana nor Farouz spent much time with the children, and the boys were used to it. If they had nightmares, felt ill, or got injured they called for Alia. The maid had been with the family since before the first boy was born, almost six years. She was overworked and nearing the end of her second contract. Alia was thinking of leaving Dubai, going back to her own children in Indonesia. She’d saved almost enough money to start a business back there with her sister. The workload had increased dramatically with the new baby. Maybe she wouldn’t renew the contract.
This was what Sana feared. She didn’t want to find a new maid, train her, watch her closely to make sure she wasn’t stealing or sleeping with Farouz. The stories she heard made her almost appreciate Alia, if not like her. Her sister’s maid had gone in the middle of the night, stealing more than 5,000 dirhams worth of jewelry and small items that could fit in a suitcase. Sana’s sister had been liberal, progressive, wouldn’t dare hold the maid’s passport, something she regretted after the maid flew back to Sri Lanka and disappeared. Sana’s friend, Maryam, caught her husband having sex with the maid.
Sana didn’t have to worry about these things with Alia. She was hardworking, honest and ugly. Also, the boys were very attached to her. Sana could not lose Alia, so she hired Jamila to take care of the housework. This would leave Alia to watch the boys, and of course Jamila. Alia would train her, keep an eye on her.
Farouz balked at the prospect of hiring another maid, but Jamila came cheaply. She was a distant cousin of a cousin’s wife, and her family was anxious to be rid of her. Something about a jilted suitor, a disfigurement, some scandal, an older sister whose chances of a suitable match had been thwarted. Sana was reluctant when she heard Jamila’s age, not one to bring temptation into her house. She was assured that no man would want Jamila, however, and they were right.
“Jamila, hurry up. Remember you must start the coffee first or it will not be ready in time.” Alia watched as Jamila measured some ground coffee into the Mr. Coffee.
“Yes, yes. Now add the cardamom. Sir will not drink it without. Okay, okay, enough. Remember to grind more coffee beans later,” Alia said. It had been almost a week and Jamila still made mistakes. Don’t they have coffeemakers in Pakistan? It was an uncharitable thought, and she caught herself. Before moving to Dubai she hadn’t known how to use a coffeemaker either.
Alia had agreed to another contract when Sana hired Jamila. How could she not? Alia’s husband was disappointed. He’d been waiting six long years to live with his wife again, to reunite the family. Sure she’d been back once for a two-month holiday, but that was almost three years ago. She was due for another holiday at the end of this contract, but Sana said it would have to be postponed until Jamila had proven herself. This gave Alia greater incentive in training Jamila.
“What are you doing? No, no. You must strain it after. What do you think, Madam wants to choke on a seed?”
Jamila took the pitcher of orange juice from the refrigerator and tried to remember where the strainer was kept. So many cabinets, so many utensils. “Sorry, I’ve forgotten where it’s kept.”
Alia sighed and pointed. “That one. Now focus. You have to remember. I won’t always be here. You don’t want to anger Madam. I have seen it and it’s not good.” Sana wouldn’t really hurt anyone. Alia was just trying to scare her, but it didn’t matter. The look in Jamila’s eyes said she was beyond caring. Alia took the strainer from Jamila’s hands. “Here, let me help.”
The household chores were not very different from the ones at home-cooking, cleaning, washing-but they were now complicated with new appliances. Instead of taking the carpets outside and beating them, she was supposed to vacuum the dirt. But then how to clean the floors? Everything had to be cleaned daily, the house made ready for visitors who rarely came.
Jamila worked most days from sun-up until 10 pm when the last dinner dish was cleaned. It left little time for herself, but she didn’t mind. What would she do? Where would she go? She didn’t know anyone and she didn’t have any pocket money yet. Sana had advanced Jamila’s airfare to Dubai, over 8,000 rupees, and it had to be paid back. After sending money to her parents and repaying Sana each month, there was little left. Just enough to purchase personal necessities like shampoo and soap, things that Sana didn’t provide.
Life settled itself into a quiet routine for Jamila. She rose early, prayed, and began her daily chores. At the end of each day, she bathed and fell exhausted into bed. Fridays, her morning free, she would spend holed up in her closet writing to her family. She didn’t know what to say, tell the truth and risk hurting them or lie and pretend all was pleasant. The pen perched in her hand as she labored over each sentence.
When the heat broke, and she felt more comfortable, Jamila would write her letters in the garden beneath one of the carefully groomed palm trees. The garden was always perfect, always green even during the most oppressive months. Thin hoses snaked between landscaped bushes. Vibrant flowers were constantly replaced, nothing allowed to wither.
The gardener, Hossam, tended the yard diligently even during the heat of the day. He’d left India ten years before with a degree in electrical engineering. The agency in Kerala had promised a high-paying, high-prestige job in Dubai building the city of tomorrow. His family had scraped and borrowed to pay the agency fee, but what other choice did they have? Jobs were scarce in India and educated, hardworking people were plentiful. The offer in Dubai seemed to be the answer. Only after he cleared customs and the agency paid for his residence visa was he told there was a slight change. The engineer job was no longer available, but there was something similar with a villa maintenance company. Hossam tried to cover his disappointment. He had no other options. So he took the position, at first emptying trash cans and sweeping up.
Later, when it became apparent that he knew about flowers, he was promoted. Hossam had always been able to grow things. He didn’t have a passion for gardening but he was certainly good at it, able to coax beauty from the most barren landscape.
After the first contract he considered going back to Kerala, but to what? There were more jobs now but mainly in IT, jobs outsourced from England or America. He worried too that his skills were old, new graduates more attractive. And so he stayed, making peace with his life. He would not be an electrical engineer. He would not get married.
Oh, his parents had tried to arrange a match, but his salary was too low to support a wife in Dubai. Other men married and left their wives in India, seeing them for two months every two years. Letters, phone calls, children made and never seen. This was not for Hossam. A marriage in name only would not suit.
This was difficult, of course. Men did have urges. He’d heard how other workers found release: prostitutes; pornographic magazines; even amongst themselves. These things did not interest him, degraded the marriage act.
“What are you doing? No, no. Stop that,” Hossam spoke sharply to Jamila, making her jump.
She took a step back and clutched the bucket to her chest. Her heart was beating quickly. Jamila hadn’t expected anyone to be in the garden.
“Have you done this before?” Hossam motioned to the bucket, trying to control his voice. He’d only seen the new maid a few times, never spoken to her. In general he tried to avoid the people who lived in the villas.
Jamila nodded, unable to speak. Her hijab was slipping, so she secured it more tightly.
“You cannot do that. It will kill the plants, the flowers.” He motioned with his hands.
“I used to do this at home, to save water. It never hurt anything.” Jamila was feeling defiant. Who was this man, this gardener to tell her what to do? He had no power over her.
“You are putting chemicals, cleansers in the wash-water, yes?”
Jamila nodded, shrugging her shoulders slightly.
“These will kill the plants. Only clear water, please. Okay? You get me in trouble if these plants die. How can I rescue poisoned plants? I am good, but not even that good.”
“Okay.” Jamila turned and went back inside, the empty bucket banging against her thigh.
The next morning Hossam was working in the flower bed. Jamila passed him as she emptied the rubbish bins. He smiled and said, “Good morning.”
Hossam was the first man to talk to her since she left home. The man in customs only looked at her passport and waved her through and she rarely saw Farouz. He simply nodded when they infrequently passed in the hallway. She had forgotten how it felt to have a man’s eyes on her, his attention. She was surprised to find she missed it.
These chance encounters began happening more frequently, but not enough to suggest impropriety. Hossam would tell her about the different flowers. Jamila would bring him cool water. She found herself looking forward to his visits, finding excuses to be out in the garden. She talked to him almost as an equal, but not as a potential suitor. Jamila never considered romance. Hossam was much older than she, and he was Indian. Sure he was Muslim, but she doubted her parents would allow such a match. If she thought for a moment that Hossam was interested, she would have avoided him at all cost.
For so long she’d thought of men in terms of what they wanted from her. After the accident, she put such thoughts aside. Jamila stood firm in her belief that no man could want her.
Hossam hadn’t heard about the accident but he suspected something was awry. Jamila wound her scarf tightly, constantly checking it. Sure, she could just be particularly chaste and modest, but he sensed desperation. One day when they’d been standing somewhat close, he detected small scars peeking out beneath her eye. It was only a moment, but he had seen them.
“Eid Mubarak.” Hossam greeted Jamila one morning.
“Not yet. Not until tomorrow or the next day.”
“Well, I will not see you if Eid starts tomorrow so I must give you good wishes today.”
“True,” Jamila said. “In that case, Eid Mubarak to you.”
They were in the final days of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer. It had been particularly hard for Jamila this year, away from her family. The fasting was always difficult the first few days, but this year it was the lack of water that gnawed at her. Her workload had increased to include several elaborate iftar feasts for the extended family. While Jamila wrapped vine leaves, made humus, arranged store-bought savories, her mouth watered. This bit of saliva wasn’t enough, though. Her throat was dry and sore by mid-morning. Her rancid breath made her thankful for the veil.
This was good, she thought, to suffer. She should know hunger, deprivation, so that she would appreciate what she had. So many others had less, much less. She thought of the construction workers out in the desert, thousands of them working in the heat, hard physical labor without food or water. Some of them wouldn’t even swallow their own saliva, choosing instead to spit it out.
Ramadan made her miss her family in a more fundamental way. This was a time to be surrounded by loved ones, breaking the fast each evening, talking late into the night. She and her sister would help their mother prepare the feast, laughing together. Not this year. In Dubai, in Sana’s house, Jamila was surrounded by strangers, people who didn’t look at her and rarely spoke to her. Sometimes she felt like a piece of furniture.
Alia was the only one who regularly spoke to Jamila, but that usually consisted of orders. Criticism was less frequent now. Jamila had finally learned to care for the house the way Sana liked. This made Alia happy because soon she could take her holiday. Alia was not unkind. She simply kept to herself, spending her free time with other Indonesian maids. A few of them would spend their Fridays elsewhere. Jamila didn’t know where they went, but Alia always came back with a shopping bag or two. They didn’t include Jamila and she never intruded. She didn’t know if it was because Alia didn’t like her or because she couldn’t speak their language.
So Ramadan had become a time of loneliness for Jamila. Hossam’s greeting reminded her of this. She knew he was separated from his family as well, but she thought it would be easier for a man, a man with no wife or children. Jamila imagined that Hossam had many friends with whom to celebrate. He seemed so likable, smiling and waving to his co-workers in the van that dropped him off each day.
Eid al-Adha lasted three days and then it was Friday. Four days was a long time for Jamila. The family visited friends and relatives, so Jamila had a good amount of time to herself. She found that she didn’t like so much freedom. It made her think about things. She called her family with a calling card that Sana had given her. Halfway through the call she had to hang up. She was on the verge of crying. Jamila didn’t want her family to know how lonely she was, how much she missed them. There was nothing to be done about it, so why make them feel bad. She told them half-truths about her life in Dubai, about the luxury. Her sister talked about her upcoming wedding, but only briefly and only after Jamila insisted. Jamila was half-glad that she would miss the celebration.
The day after Eid, Jamila awoke with a fever. Every muscle hurt and she had to vomit into a pail. She could barely raise her head off the pillow. Alia knocked on the door when Jamila hadn’t started breakfast.
“What is it?” Alia asked when she saw Jamila.
“I am ill, so ill. I cannot get up.” Jamila hunched over the pail to vomit again.
Alia had a look of half-annoyance half-disgust, but she simply shrugged. “Okay. I’ll tell Madam you’re ill. I guess I will have to take over your duties today.”
“Thank you, Alia. Thank you.”
It was three days before Jamila could get out of bed. Alia relayed messages from Sana, who wouldn’t set foot inside a sick room. “Did Jamila want to see a doctor? Did she need anything? Did she think she’d be better soon?”
On the fourth day, still weak, Jamila resumed her duties. The vomiting and fever were gone but her appetite had not returned. The sunlight hurt her eyes after being in a darkened room for so long. Jamila saw Hossam in the garden but she didn’t venture out.
“Hossam was asking about you, wondering where you were,” Alia said that afternoon. “Why is he talking about you? What’s going on with you two?”
“Nothing.” Jamila could feel her face redden beneath her scarf.
“Nothing, hmm? Seems like something. He asked for you by name, was very concerned when I told him you were ill. You better not be fooling around with him. Sana would not stand for it.”
Jamila felt indignant. How could Alia suspect such a thing? Doesn’t she know that I’m a good girl, chaste in every manner? But of course she doesn’t. How could she? No one in Dubai knows me, except maybe Hossam. Surely he doesn’t think …doesn’t expect anything?
All night Jamila thought about Hossam, replaying their conversations. Have I said anything, done anything to show an interest? She didn’t think so, but nothing was certain.
The next morning while Jamila was dumping the mop water, Hossam entered the courtyard. When he saw Jamila, his face changed. He smiled. This doesn’t prove anything, she told herself.
“And how are you feeling? I heard you were ill.” Hossam shifted his weight slightly so that he stood a bit closer.
“Yes, I’m fine thank you. Better now.”
“That is good to hear. I must confess I began to worry when I didn’t see you for so long. I thought you’d gone home.” Hossam’s face was open, his lips curved into a half-smile.
“So? Why should you care if I went home? I am just some maid in a villa and you are the gardener. I’m nothing to you.” Jamila waved her hand and giggled stiffly. She could feel nervousness bubbling in her stomach.
Hossam paused and his eyes clouded slightly. He looked as if Jamila had slapped him. The moment widened and Hossam edged back a bit, almost imperceptibly. Their eyes locked for a moment, the burden of speech heavy in the air.
“In any case,” Hossam said quietly, “I’m glad you have recovered.”
Jamila nodded, the empty bucket clutched tightly in her hands. She wanted to speak, to say something to break down the wall she’d thrown up between them, but she couldn’t. All she could do was watch as Hossam turned toward the gardening shed. The front garden needed his attention. It had been neglected for too long.