Chapter 16: Annie


Lana looked gravely at the guy who was squinting in front of her fridge. She was standing at his back, so if there was one thing she could clearly see, it was that penny-sized hole near his pants’ back pocket. The hole kept widening and shrinking as he moved the fridge vigorously; now plugging it in and then plugging it out.

“How many times did you say the electricity cut off yesterday?” he asked turning his neck slightly around to make it clear that he was addressing her.

“At least five times simultaneously.” Replied Lana, with her small, white hand covering her nose to prevent the smell of sweat (coming from the two dark spots under his armpits) from going into her nose. “It would go off, and in less than a second it would go on again. And then it would go off.”

He gave a nod and turned his neck back to face the fridge. Lana eyed him with interest mingled with a little bit of disgust. His fat physique, bald head and squealing voice weren’t all that made her deplore him. Neither was it his constant desire and endless trials to make it seem like he understood everything that had to do with her fridge. It was the fact that she had to spend her morning around him instead of being in the club or maybe out shopping. It had only been three months since she got married. And it was still difficult for her to get adjusted to her new life.

Nowadays, she couldn’t make one single decision without thinking of all the possible consequences it might have upon her marriage and husband. She had to call her mother-in-law every morning and check on her. That’s besides visiting her at least once every week. At first, those visits were more like a burden on Lana, especially when Leila, her mother-in-law, would start her talk about Mark and all the things he loved and the things he preferred. Even though Leila was probably only reminiscing about her cherished son’s childhood, Lana always took her words as some kind of lecture on how she should treat Mark. Nevertheless, Lana was beginning to get used to Leila’s annoying habits. Besides, she was now becoming great friends with Mark’s youngest sister, Maya. Particularly that they seemed to have the same interests, for Maya was very fond of dancing and she was now a freshman in college, faculty of Arts, CairoUniversity. Whenever those two were together, they just cliqued.

Mai, who was only two years younger than Lana, was the one everybody expected Lana to befriend. However, she struck Lana as some kind of a loner. She would spend most of her time either reading or studying. Now that she was in her third year in college, studying computer science, Lana realized she had to study a lot. But she also realized there was a part of her that focused on studying as an excuse to stay away from people.

As for Omar, he was the strangest of all of Leila’s kids. A devoted playboy, he probably dated all the girls in his class and even two classes up. Despite his bumpy voyage in college, once he got to work he seemed to change completely. He worked in the stocks, besides a full-time job in the bank. Yet, he always managed to find time for the ladies. Generally, Lana liked him; thought his reckless way of life was somewhat appealing, but he never struck her as a dependable man. She always believed that Mark was ten times better as a husband. But she still enjoyed the part of her duties that involved having him as her companion at least once a week.

Be that as it may, all the marriage duties which came with the territory were nothing compared with what she was doing currently;  taking care of all the house-related problems all on her own. Never in her life had Lana escorted a technician before; she didn’t even know how to behave around those people. Not even her mother, or father, had to take care of such dirty businesses back at her parents’ house. Things just seemed to get miraculously fixed back there, or perhaps it was the servants who took care of those kinds of chores. But now, she didn’t even have a full-time maid, and Mark made it perfectly clear that he couldn’t possibly take a day off just to hear the technician’s diagnosis, when Lana, who was entirely free, could do it instead.

“I’m sorry ma’am.” Said the technician after a full hour of complete inspection and failed trials. “It seems dead to me.”

“What?” cried Lana, taking her hands out of her back pocket, for this is where they had remained for most of that hour. “C’mon, this is a Busch. It can’t just die. For God’s sake, it’s brand new. Can’t we do anything to fix it?”

“Of course you can fix it.” he answered very confidently. “But it would cost you something in the neighborhood of seven, maybe eight thousand pounds. See,” he said trying to explain the problem with making shapes of his hands and fingers, “the turbulence in the electricity blew off the system. So fixing it would be almost like getting a brand new fridge, especially that you know how expensive its spare parts are. I’m so sorry, this isn’t usually the case, but you were very unfortunate with this fridge. I can see for myself that it’s as good as new.”

“What about the guarantee?”

“You do have the policy, but it’s not stamped.”

“So?”

“So it’s almost useless. It should’ve been stamped by the retailer who sold it to you. Or if you still have the receipt,” Lana disappointedly shook her head. Her father would throw those away as soon as he got out of the shop. He couldn’t have kept it.

“And if we fix it, it would be brand new?” asked Lana.

“Certainly! Shall I take it with me to get it fixed?”

Lana excused herself for a moment and went to the bedroom. She called Mark and told him about what had taken place.

“Shall I tell him to take it?” she enquired rather rhetorically.

“I don’t know, Lana. We could buy another new fridge for less than this amount of money.”

“Yeah, but this is a Busch. I mean, we bought it for twelve thousand pounds, it would only be fair to pay seven thousand to get it fixed.” Reasoned Lana.

“Well, let’s just think about that for a while, shall we? Give me a day or two and tell the guy we’ll get back to him later. Alright?”

So Lana passed the message to the technician and then she escorted him out of the house. Next, she called her mother to tell her about all that has happened – for Lana was in the habit of vividly describing to her mother every tiny event of her life – and asked for her opinion on the subject.

“What were you thinking, Lana?” said Dalia over the phone, “you can’t possibly get it fixed with the genuine spare parts for a fairer price. Tell your husband we’ll pay for it if he doesn’t have the cash right now. You can’t throw away a brand new Busch just because fixing it was a bit pricy!”

WHEN MARK CAME home that night, Lana was in the bedroom reading. In fact, she wasn’t exactly reading as much as she was going through some old magazines. As she heard the key move inside the door, she quickly rushed outside with the magazine in her hand. But just as she was about to walk in to the living room and welcome her husband home, she heard him speak with another man. Being in her nightshirt, she paced back into the bedroom and waited till she heard the apartment’s door close.

Coming out on tiptoes, with the rolled up magazine still in her hand, Lana moved cautiously until she was able to tell that the stranger was gone. Before she got the chance to ask Mark who this guy was, she saw a huge cardboard-box in the kitchen. She understood that the stranger was the one who carried the box into the house.

“What is that?” she asked kissing Mark on the cheek.

“It’s our new fridge.” He replied smilingly wrapping his arms around her waist and drawing her closer to him. Then he looked at her face in wait of the joyous expression he expected to find.

“You bought a new fridge?” she said moving away from him and roaming around the cardboard box, trying to read what was written on it.

“I figured we …”

Universal!” exclaimed Lana finally coming across the fridge’s brand.

“What’s wrong with it?” asked Mark, sensing the attitude.

“It’s Egyptian-made; that’s what’s wrong with it! We’ve been around a German fridge all this time, and now we suddenly have to get used to dealing with an Egyptian product with all its faultiness and malfunctions?”

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, our great, all German fridge is dead; after only less than three months of usage.”

“Exactly, so how long do you think this is gonna last? And by the way, the fridge isn’t dead. It just needs to get fixed.”

“For eight thousand pounds!”

“Pappy’s gonna pay for it. I mean, till you can pay him back.”

Mark impatiently looked at the ceiling as he wiped his face with both his hands. He would’ve snapped at her had he spoken at that particular instant, so he remained silent till he was able to keep his cool. “Lana, we can’t just turn to your parents every time we face a problem.”

“Consider it a wedding gift.”

“Another wedding gift? C’mon, Lana, I think your father’s proved his generosity already. And as much as I am grateful for this generosity, I’m gonna have to pass this one.” He paused a while to breathe. “Now, we already got ourselves a new fridge. And if we sell the old one, we’ll manage.”

He then moved to the fridge and began taking it out of its box. The sound of the cardboard in friction with the nylon surrounding the fridge failed at making Lana look at the new device. She just stood in the living room, with a distant look toward the window. Mark noticed.

“Check this out,” he began, trying to break the ice, “It’s 25-feet wide. That’s 7-feet wider than the old one.” Lana cast off a careless glance towards the neglected object. “And it also comes with a water dispenser. Didn’t you want one of those?” he asked looking at her. She saw in his eyes that he was begging for acceptance, and she complied. Slowly moving into the kitchen, she touched the aluminum exterior of the fridge. “Come here; let me show you how to use it.” he said smiling.

MARK WAS IN the habit of reading in bed before going to sleep. Every night, he would spend almost an hour reading anything before putting the lights out. It helped clear his mind and prepare him for a sound sleep. So usually, after the lights go out, Mark would be in no time snoring.

Nevertheless, that night, Lana didn’t hear the snoring begin after darkness prevailed. Instead, she felt Mark’s hand on her shoulder. She was sleeping with her back facing him, yet she was able to tell his every-second movement. His hand kept running around her body till it reached her waist. That’s when she felt him getting closer, with his hand stroking her chest. She had been trying to keep silent all night long, but this final move sort of triggered all her canned acrimony. She burst into loud tears.

“What’s the matter?” asked Mark startled as he sat in bed and turned the lights on. “Is everything ok?”

“Please Mark,” she began with a choked-under-tears voice, “if you love me, please just return that fridge and let pappy fix our old one, please.”

“I … I don’t understand. Haven’t we settled that already?”

“You don’t get it. I can’t just have people come into the house and see this. My mum alone is gonna go mad. And Tonya, oh my God! Tonya’s coming by tomorrow! If she sees it she’s gonna start pitying me in her all-so-considerate manner. It’s just eight thousand pounds Mark, please.”

“I don’t have them! Alright?” cried Mark, finally snapping. “All I had was the money with which I got the fridge tonight. I was gonna buy myself some new clothes but I thought, ‘hey, this fridge thing’s really bugging her, so I gotta prioritize.’”

“And I’m telling you, you don’t have to pay anything. You just let pappy …”

“I’m not letting anyone pay ANYTHING.” Screamed Mark so loudly that Lana fearfully trembled. “Pity! Now people are gonna pity you? For God’s sake, Lana, this is a four-thousand-pound fridge; it’s no junk.”

For a few minutes, Lana remained right next to him in bed, all shivering and crying. This time he didn’t apologize; didn’t pat her on the shoulder; didn’t even ask her to sleep. He just rolled around in bed with his back turned towards her. Gaining enough strength to walk on her feet, Lana quietly moved to the kitchen. She stood there in the middle, staring at the new fridge.

“Stupid, stupid fridge.” She cried kicking it.

Then, she sat on the kitchen bar and started going through everything placed there. She came across the magazine she was reading when Mark came home. It was the issue where her wedding pictures were published. She viciously grabbed it and began flipping its pages till she reached her wedding.  A very happy couple with fire in their eyes and love printed all over their faces stared back at her. She tried to look for all the love she had felt on that day; she found it all there. Yet the dreams weren’t really fulfilled. The life she had imagined to live with Mark was so different from the life she was currently leading. Unlike what she had anticipated, she didn’t have a job. And as much as she hated to admit it, money matters were causing a bit of an issue between them. And there were also the people’s expectations, especially Tonya and Sara’s; every time she got around those two, they would start talking about how beautiful her life ought to be now that she had married the love of her life, congratulating her on being able to come across material differences so largely. It all burnt her up inside; that she constantly failed at making her dreams come true. First, it had been the dancing, but screwing this up wasn’t her fault. She had adopted her marriage as her new dream; that was where she planned on shining and reaching the stars. However, there were times when she felt it was so challenging to move forward. And that night topped all her hard moments.

Then she remembered her mother’s words; how she had predicted that Lana wouldn’t be able to live happily with Mark due to his financial situation. She hated to be that materialistic. Even if it was a fact, she still wouldn’t admit it.

Her eyes rested once and for all on that detested fridge, and for the first time, she saw it in a different light. She saw Mark, walking out of work so exhausted and in desperate need of rest, yet making his way to the shop to buy the fridge. She saw his not-so-rich wardrobe, with many old, out-fashioned clothes and she saw how much that wardrobe must have needed refreshing. And most importantly, she saw him foreseeing the look on her face when seeing the new fridge – a look of relief, happiness and satisfaction, and how that look would’ve been worth all his trouble. And lastly, she saw her own reaction; ruthless and ungrateful as it was and saw how strongly she had hurt him.

With the tears still in her eyes, Lana ran to the bedroom. She found him lying there in bed, just like she had left him, but she could tell that he wasn’t yet asleep. Kneeling down on the floor at his bedside, she slowly grabbed his hand, all masculine and full of veins, and kissed it.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered truly remorsefully.

Even though it was dark, she could see his eyes open. They looked so bright; perhaps it was the tears that made them shine so. “I can never fully describe to you how much I hate myself right now.” She said pushing his straight hair backwards. “But I only hope you would have a heart big enough to forgive me.” Her hand was now on his cheek, which was so hot (probably with rage). His hand caught hers off guard and drew it to his lips. He engraved a tender kiss upon it. Lana sighed in relief. He then pulled her into bed and took her into his arms.

 

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