The Surrogates; Extract (1)

9 January, 2003;

I hate riding the motor. It’s just extremely uncomfortable, rather unsafe and it simply puts me under the spotlight in every single street we drive through. Ismail probably still doesn’t get it, but I’ve already been touched three times so far when riding behind him on that morbid piece of shit.

At first I worried about telling him. I was afraid he was gonna fight with the harassers about it and perhaps get himself in trouble. But now that I know him better, and know that this is more or less … unlikely, I probably don’t tell him because I don’t want to upset him by leading him to believe that our long, dangerous rides are no longer welcome.

We went to his friend’s house today. Maybe the best thing about the morbid motor is the facility with which one gets to park it. We just dropped it right in front of the friend’s house, then walked along some long, darkish, roofless doorway. The entrance was at our left; with an intercom installed. Ismail casually pressed on apartment 15’s button.

“You’re sure that’s the one?” I asked, suspicious.

“Please! I’ve been here like a thousand times before.”

A female voice answered the intercom. When Ismail announced himself, she immediately let us in.

We climbed seven, tiresome floors of stairs until we reached the last floor. I threw myself at the wall, exhaling noisily, and waiting for Ismail to ring the bell. Instead, he moved toward the remaining flight of stairs.

“Where the hell are you going?” I asked, almost incapable of producing words.

“Up,” he turned around, surprised I wasn’t following. “The outing’s at the roof.”

“God, no!” I exclaimed, bending my back with an impulse so that my curled up, hazel hair acted like a screen shielding my red, sweaty face, my hands laying on my slightly bent knees.

I heard him move a few steps down the stairs. Still not looking up, I was surprised to find his hands on my face, gently lifting it.

“Do you want me to carry you up?” He asked half meaning it, his eyes giving way to a cunning smile.

I answered back with a similar twitch of lips, picking up the purse I had earlier dropped at my feet, and moving up the stairs with him.

The roof looked nothing like a roof. The entrance was through a front door similar to those I’ve seen all through the floors I’ve climbed. We had to ring another bell in order to gain access. By then I was already hating that stupid friend. I didn’t want to go to that outing anyway. My father thought I was studying at Heidi’s. It was the only way he would let me stay up till midnight.

“Ismail,” they all called out, warm and welcoming, and I began to make out the dimensions of the place. It was more like a small apartment – just two rooms or so – which opened up into a gigantic balcony; in that case, the roof. No one was seated indoors, of course. They were all spread out in the chilly atmosphere, some lying on the flat, apparently uncomfortable cushions, others looking out on the quietish street downstairs. Food was stretched out all around the floor; cans of Pringles and Pepsi, packets of jelly and marshmallows. And of course lots and lots of chocolates. Most of those were empty, chaotically trashed on the floor. After some inspection, I was able to make out that the sealed, not-yet-eaten food, lay on the small metal table in the corner. Music was playing from some large stereo lying on the ground. The loud speakers had an immense effect. Yet, I didn’t like the music. It was a lame mix of house and trance, and some of those present were absentmindedly dancing to its noisy tune.

After a while of adjusting to the poor lighting conditions, the loud music and the chilly weather, I managed to spot Layla dancing in some corner; with the same absentmindedness of her peers. It was a moment when Ismail wasn’t by my side at which I spotted her, so I was able to clearly see the spite with which she eyed him. And how soon that spite dissolved to a look of longing; yearning even. That girl was in love with him. No matter what he said about them being “buddies”, even if he finds a way to prove to me that she’s a lesbian; I’d still know that in the bottom of her heart, she’s in love with him. And that turns her into an immediate enemy. A dangerous zone. Somewhere I shall always keep him at a distance from. And at those terrible, terrible coincidences when we’re forced to endure her company, I must keep completely alert.

“Are you having fun?” He asked, coming at me from behind.

“Hardly.” I openly complain. It’s when I think how comfortable it is to be around Ismail. I can tell him anything, anytime, knowing that he won’t ever take my words personally or with sensitivity.

“Why?” But that doesn’t prevent him from being disappointed that I don’t share his enthusiasm.

“It’s just so crowded and pointless. And you never mentioned that friend was a mutual one between you and Layla.”

“All my friends are mutual between me and Layla.” He answered naturally.

“Then I’m never going out with you and your friends again.” I simply rule.

“Farida, what’s with you? Why are you in such a bad mood tonight?” I move away to a recently vacated space at the veranda, overlooking the street. All the neighbors were staring with shameless curiosity. Dying to know what it is a bunch of teenagers were doing on the roof at night. A tall darkish guy ended up with a tablah somehow, and he was drumming on it in sync with the music. Another was popping the cork of a bottle of baby Champagne, with the beverage flying off to flood the floor, amid cheers from the shrill group. By then I was sure the neighbors were going to call the police; report on us for underage drinking and God knows what else.

“I’ve never been so irresponsible in my whole life as to attend such a suspicious party.” I nervously grumbled. “But then again, I wasn’t given full account on what it was gonna be like before agreeing to join in.” I turned at him, accusingly.

“Look, I know this isn’t your style, but I didn’t know he had invited so many people. I thought it was just a few of us. And believe me; when not crammed with so many people, this place is magical.”

“Then, can we please go home now?” I almost begged.

He pondered for a moment, then moved towards the host friend. From the way they boyishly hugged/shook hands, I could tell they were greeting each other off. It was such a relief to finally leave this place. I could almost hear the police sirens approaching as we sped off on the motor.

“Don’t drop me off at home;” I shouted through the deafening sound of the wind. It’s so freaking cold that even my thick, waterproof jacket didn’t succeed in keeping me warm. “I didn’t tell pappy that I was going out with you.”

“Alright.” He shouted back, making his way to the 15th of May bridge.


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