Everyone was surprised at how quickly Tonya and Mark’s relationship evolved, especially Tonya. It was enormously unlike her to fall for a guy in less than a month, spend more time with him than she would spend with Lana and allow herself to casually hold his hand and even throw herself in his arms. Sometimes it was a relief that she wasn’t seeing him around her parents; she would’ve never dared to take things so far had they been watching her every-second-move.
Lately, she had been spending all her breaks with him. And the second her classes were over, usually at 4 p.m, they’d meet again for rehearsal and stay together till sometimes up to 9 p.m. Their number wasn’t very well constructed, and Tonya’s dancing wasn’t that much convincing – she chose hip hop as her dance genre, since it was the one genre where her performance could at some point come up to Lana’s – however, it was Mark’s strong voice that gave it the necessary edge. Mark never took singing professionally, yet everyone was surprised to see him signing in for that year’s talent show. He preferred singing in Arabic, and he chose to sing his favorite song for the Lebanese pop star: Rami Ayash, Khaleiny Maak, or let me be with you.
On a Monday evening, particularly at 6:30 p.m, just when Tonya was preparing herself to leave after they had finished rehearsing for that day, Mark made a sudden proposal.
“How about we go somewhere together?” he asked hastily. “I mean, if you don’t have any plans for tonight.”
Tonya was speechless; she just stood there, in the middle of the stage, arms swinging and mind pacing around. It was the first time Mark had ever asked her out, and even though she knew she had to ask her parents first, she was certain that she could secure permission within seconds, but …
“I’m supposed to be meeting Lana this evening. She’s dropping by at my house in a few hours.” She replied, heartbroken.
“Oh.” Sighed Mark in his own manner; he realized the kind of influence he had on Tonya; knew that he could guilt her into doing anything he wanted her to do. As much as he hated to abuse that power, he suddenly felt extremely tempted to exploit her at that moment.
“You know what?” she exclaimed, more lightly now, “we can go out now, and when Lana arrives home I’ll go catch up with her.” Mark silently eyed her with doubt. “Seriously, I know her well enough to be sure that she won’t make it to her appointment until at least three hours from now.” The look of doubt somehow faltered, left room for the eyes to give out a hopeful smile. “C’mon, let’s not lose any time now. Where are you gonna take me?” she asked cheerfully snatching his hand and grabbing him out of the theatre.
Since Tonya still didn’t possess a car – as her father had run out of money after buying and furnishing the 6th of October house and directly told her that she had to wait before he could save enough money to bring her a car – and Mark’s method of transportation was just as vague – for since the death of his father, his mother had been struggling to support for him and his three younger siblings, that he wouldn’t dare ask for a car until he afforded owning one – they both realized that using some form of public transportation was somewhat inevitable.
“We’ll take the metro.” Suggested Mark as he held Tonya’s hand in the middle of the street. In Egypt, the underground was referred to as the Metro.
“What? You don’t wanna use the metro? Afraid it’s gonna ruin your new shoes?” he asked sarcastically.
“No, it’s just that I’ve never tried the metro before. It’s a bit intimidating to me.”
“Why? It’s just the underground, not a roller coaster.” Tonya gave out a shy laugh. “C’mon, I’m an expert in metro affairs, I take it almost everyday to college.” She remained still, silently admiring him with her eyes, not paying attention to all the noise from the loud motors of the vehicles around them and the squeaking horns that were the trademark of the rush-hour in Cairo. “I said c’mon.” he repeated with a firmer grab now that got her to follow him around like a lost puppy.
The station looked somewhat overwhelming to Tonya, who used to believe that the metro was only for the poor people. As she looked around her, she felt it wasn’t very wise to change her opinion of the metro, for even though it carried passengers from all walks of life, the majority was smelly, messy people wearing clothes of the last century’s fashion and having their outfits soaked up in pools of filthy sweat. Tonya shrugged at the thought of having to ride with them, but there came Mark, like a knight on his white horse, making it all seem so peachy to her.
“I got us the tickets; let’s go.”
“Wait a minute,” she was trying to follow him with the same pace, which proved to be of real difficulty, “how much do I owe you?”
“What? The ticket?” she breathlessly nodded. “C’mon, get serious on me here. I’m only gonna tell you how much it costs so that you’d feel totally ashamed of yourself for asking such an absurd question.” He suddenly stopped in front of a large electronic gate. He inserted the magnetic ticket into the slim socket and made way for her. “After you.”
She was puzzled; the ticket went in, and the ‘valid entrance’ sign was on, yet she didn’t see the gate quite open up. She looked at him with confusion; a mute cry for help apparent on her expressive face. He met it with a calm smile, and then he pushed her gently through the gate, her thighs crashing into the metal wand. It was only at that moment that she realized that the gate was already opened; all she had to do was to push through. Installing his ticket into the socket, and going in immediately after her, he took her hand back.
“Pretty simple, huh?” he asked humouredly. He could see that she was horribly embarrassed by making a complete fool out of herself; even the guards watched the scene with giggles. As her face blushed, he jokingly patted her on the shoulder. “It’s ok. The same thing happened with my little sister, Maya, when she took the metro for the first time last week. It’s typical.”
By then, they had descended the stairs and were waiting for the next metro to stop. Another metro stopped on the opposite line.
“Is this our metro?” Asked Tonya clueless.
“God, you really don’t know a thing about the underground, do you? No darling, that can’t be our metro.” He pointed at the rough railroad separating them from the vehicle. “How could we get on board this vehicle when we’re on another sidewalk? There, see that silver one coming up? That’s our metro. Now, in any train, there would be two carriages for women only. But since we’re riding together, you won’t need to worry about mingling with male strangers, so we’ll just get on one of the mixed carriages.”
As the train approached, Mark adjusted them both exactly on the green arrow where the doors are supposed to be opened. Soon, the spot was flooded with people, all pushing through especially when the door opened up. As he made way for her with his stolid arms, Mark made sure that Tonya was on board before he followed behind. Then, just as the doors closed and before the engine started again, he advised her to get a firm hold of the nearest metal pole.
“So that you won’t be thrown down whenever it stops.” He explained, holding the same pole.
When the train started moving again, she was slightly rocked in her spot, banging her head against Mark’s muscular chest. She had never smelt his Adidas perfume so clearly before. And the texture of his blue T-shirt was so soft that her cheek loved being rubbed against it. Even though she would secretly criticize his strange taste in fashion with Lana, at that moment she simply loved everything about him, even his old, straight cut denims and his tight shirt.
“You never told me,” she began, trying hard to get over her stupid feelings, “how much does that ticket cost?”
“Just one lousy pound.” Replied Mark carelessly.
“I told you; the metro’s the best humane solution for reaching faraway destinations in Egypt and still being under a certain budget.”
Looking around her, she could see the people Mark was talking about; those who had a budget so limited that the metro seemed their only decent and reasonable form of transportation. Most of them were men, and they didn’t stare as much as she was used to, probably because of Mark’s presence. Yet the few women riding with her were literally burning holes in her face and body with their piercing eyes. They looked at her as if she had come from a different planet, and as if staring was not at all a problem. At first she thought staring back would teach them a lesson, but when they didn’t stop, she just decided to focus on Mark.
THEY TOOK OFF at the Bhouth station; a walking distance from the perpendicular Mohie Eldin Abou Elezz street, one of the most popular streets in Mohandeseen. There they stayed at McDonald’s for almost three hours. Every passing hour, Mark would remind Tonya to call Lana and check on when she’d arrive at Tonya’s home. Every other call, Tonya would have to wait till she got the ‘no answer’ tone.
“She’s probably just having a heavy nap; must’ve been out practicing for the talent show all day long.” Said Tonya after her last unanswered call. It was nine p.m. now, the sun had long gone down and the streets outside were glowing with the lights of the numerous shops.
“It sounds strange that she should have an appointment with you then drop it very enigmatically.”
“I’ll just call her sister to see if she’s home.” Said Tonya, already dialing. “Hello, Sara … How are you? … No I’m great … Look I was just asking about Lana, you know I was supposed to meet with her earlier and she’s not even answering the phone …” Tonya was silent for a while, Mark guessed that Sara was speaking something important, “ok then, I’ll be here right away.” Announced Tonya in a worried tone. “See you.” With those last words, she hung up.
“What’s wrong?” asked Mark.
“She doesn’t know exactly. But she told me Lana got home some time ago, all blue and gloomy, and now she’s locked up in her bedroom, not talking to anyone.” She paused for a while. “I have to go see her,” this she said while packing up her purse, “this can’t be good.” By now, she had stood up, the large, colorful purse hanging down her shoulder and a half-empty Pepsi can in her hand. “Thank you for this amazing day. Especially the metro ride was a thrill. And I mean that.”
“But wait.” He said stopping her midway. “I’ll drive you there.”
“With your invisible car?”
“No, with a cab.”
“I don’t see the point. I’m taking a cab anyway. Why would you ride all the way to Qautameya when your house is right here in Mohandeseen?”
“I was gonna escort you to your house in 6th of October anyhow, this isn’t a great alteration.”
“Why?” asked Tonya loudly, a bit infuriated.
“Because a beautiful girl like you shouldn’t be riding a cab all alone at night.”
That settled it, and soon, they were in the streets, Mark waving his hand on every cab that passed them by.
“THANK GOD YOU’RE here!” exclaimed Sara the moment she saw Tonya. “She’s still not talking to anyone, and mum’s gotten all worried. You know what happens when mum gets worried.” She did, for behind the Lady face, Dalia could become a nuisance given the right cues.
“Is she up stairs?” asked Tonya, already ascending the stairs.
“In her room, but it’s locked.”
“It’s not locked.” Shouted Dalia, who was standing in the corridor leading to Lana’s room. “I just checked it. The door’s unlocked, but I’m afraid she might do something crazy if we walked in on her. She made it specifically clear she didn’t want to see anyone.” Dalia said this with a downcast look. “Tonya, darling, would you care to try to see her? I’m sure of all people; you’re the only one she’ll tolerate now.”
“Of course.” Replied Tonya with a strong air of certainty.
She slowly walked in, eyeing the place carefully. Before seeing anything, she had heard someone wheeze and blow their nose. The closer she got, the louder the voice sounded, but the lights were off; she could barely see where her feet landed.
“Lana,” she called a bit frightened, “is that you?” then she heard someone reach for the switch of the lamp, could tell by the clicking sound of the switch that she would be able to see very soon. And she was right. Yet, by then she’d realized it would have been better if she hadn’t seen anything.
On her own bed, Lana was seated with her face planted between her knees and her arms embracing her legs. As she switched on the light, she slightly raised her head, with her long, loose hair falling back in place after it had been scattered around her knees, she weakly whimpered; “Nader dumped me! He just dumped me!!”
LANA SAID NO more that night, and Tonya never asked. She just took her in her arms and allowed her to cry all the tears that were raging inside of her until she eventually fell asleep. Then she called her parents to tell them she was sleeping over at Lana’s that night. When they woke up the following morning, Lana was feeling better and Tonya knew she wanted to talk about what happened.
“What went wrong?” asked Tonya in a calm voice, as she lay down in bed beside Lana toying with her soft, mousy hair.
“He met someone.” Replied Lana in a broken voice. She was quiet for a while and then she resumed, “But that’s not the problem. What’s really burning me up inside is that I’ve been pushing people away, people who have been very good to me, just because I’m committed to him. Then he just tells me that he doesn’t love me anymore! That it wasn’t gonna work anyways and that he’s fallen for someone else!” Lana was very intense, yet she managed to keep herself from crying. “And you know what the best part is? He told me that if our love had been real, he would’ve never had feelings for anyone else. So now that S.O.B is making it my fault.” That was as much as she could pull herself together; she broke into tears and her words were no longer articulate.
“Shsht.” Said Tonya as she wrapped her arms around her and gently patted her on the shoulder, “You’re better off without him.”
“And now my father’s gonna go all ‘I told you so’ when he finds out. There’s gonna be hell to pay, and I’m the only one who’s gonna pay it since the asshole is faraway in Beirut enjoying the sun and his new girlfriend.”
“Uncle Sayeed won’t tell you anything you don’t wanna hear. Besides, no one knows yet that you broke up.”
“You didn’t tell them?”
Tonya shook her head. “I figured it was your news to break. Didn’t wanna say anything I’m not supposed to.” Lana met this with slight relief. “I’m not asking you not get emotional. You have every right to be so; wallow, cry, smack things through the wall, whatever. But please, don’t give him any more attention or grief than he truly deserves. And if you ask me, I think he’s gotten more than he deserved already.” She paused, hesitant about continuing, then realizing it was the best she could say at the time being, she said, “and we both know that there are others, twice the man he is, who’d dream about being noticed by you.”
Lana’s weeping stopped and she turned her eyes towards Tonya. “All I’m saying,” said Tonya in an attempt to take back what she had said, knowing it had upset Lana, “it’s not the end of the world.”