A complete wardrobe crowded with designer clothes presented itself in front of Lana. A wide collection of evening dresses: strapless, sleeveless, long or short sleeved, colorful or bulky, all would’ve sparkled in front of any fashionable woman’s eyes, getting ready to go out on an important event; all but Lana. She looked at the clothes with utmost boredom and desperation, and when she picked out one, she was being driven by necessity rather than admiration.
Mark was in the bathroom, changing. She didn’t knock. With the dress in her hand, she waited by the door until he got out. Then, she stepped into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. She might have shed a tear or two before taking off her pajamas. Despite it being three days after her fight with Mark, being in the house with him made it seem like they were fighting all over again.
It had all started Tuesday night, when Lana was preparing dinner. Dana had eventually gone to bed, so they had a little time for themselves. Mark was asking Lana for the floss.
“It’s in my nightstand drawer.” She said loudly as she was stirring the milk with the starch in the kitchen. The smell of the food was beginning to spread around, Lana felt it would be an amazing night. Yet, her feeling was somewhat disrupted when Mark came angrily to the kitchen with a medicine strip in his hand.
“What the hell is that?” he asked angrily shaking the shiny strip.
Lana put the spoon down and approached him to take a closer look at the strip. “It’s my birth-control pills.” She replied finally recognizing them.
“You think I don’t know that?” he bawled, “I wanna know what they are doing in your drawer.”
Lana looked at him with calmness, perhaps mingled with a bit of recklessness; she said nothing, though.
“I thought we agreed we were gonna start trying again.”
“So what the f …” he paused and took a deep breath, “why are they still in your drawer?” he asked again, but now in a mellower tone.
“I stopped using them three days ago. What? I can’t get pregnant before I throw them out of the house? Is it written down in the pamphlet?”
“I’m not joking, Lana.” He returned back to the loud voice. “You don’t wanna have kids, and you know it.”
“That’s right, and the biggest proof is that poor baby sleeping inside, who, by the way, is definitely going to wake up totally freaking out if you don’t stop screaming anytime soon.” She was beginning to get a bit worked up; the peace that was wrapping her up began to slowly unfold.
“Oh, the poor baby! Sure. Why would you wanna bring any other poor babies to life? Sure.” Lana took a seat at the couch. Sighing, she wiped her face with her hand. “I mean, they were your words: ‘let’s wait a while longer; I’m not ready yet for another baby. We are not ready for another baby. All the fighting and tension and …’” All this he said with a high pitched voice to make it clear that he was sarcastically imitating her.
“What a hell of a way to prove me all wrong! Way to go, Mark. You’re showing me that I had every right to be afraid; that we aren’t ready for another baby.”
“Well, I don’t need to show you; you took the decision all by yourself. You just thought you could go on using the pills and lie to me about it.”
“I’m not using them!”
“Then why are they still in your drawer?”
“Because they’re expensive and brand new. Why would I throw them away when I could still use them later? Huh? Would you like me to throw them away now and then come asking you for money later on?”
“Oh, so it all comes back to money. It all gotta come back to me being so poor and so cheap. That’s the real reason why you don’t wanna have any more kids, ain’t it?”
“What the hell is the matter with you?” cried Lana, standing up, “Are you even listening to yourself? Why do you have to make such a big problem out of nothing?”
“Because you’re lying, Lana!” He screamed it out loud with a burnt, sweaty face and a thunderous voice.
Just then, they heard Dana crying loudly in her nursery. “Oh, I hope you’re happy now.” Said Lana rushing toward her daughter.
When she came back to the living room, with her daughter in her arms, she found it empty. She overheard a sound in their bedroom, so she headed there. Dana was now awake; her eyes were wide open and the pacifier was in her mouth. She held on tightly to her mum’s shirt by her small, white hand. As she had turned a year old the week before, she was now beginning to walk around the house with difficulty. It was almost impossible to carry her for more than one minute without her trying so hard to break free and make her own way around the floor. Anyhow, at that moment, she wanted nothing but to remain in her mother’s arms. The loud cries seemed to have daunted even the little girl.
Walking into the room, Lana heard the sound of the foil around the medicine strip being torn apart in the bathroom. She went inside to see that Mark was flushing the pills in the toilet.
“What the hell are you doing? You think that way you’re gonna force me to have babies? Show me how you’re gonna have another baby. In your dreams perhaps!” she said in a daring tone. The vibration of her vocal chords frightened Dana even more, so she began crying again. Lana kept angrily rocking her on her shoulder, trying to shush her.
“I’m the man of this house. When I say I want a baby, you’re gonna have it whether you like it or not.” Said Mark vigorously flushing the toilet.
“The man of the house, indeed! Look around you and tell me if anything in this house belongs to you. All of this is my father’s money. Hell, even the bed you sleep on! This is mine and my daughter’s house.” Said Lana, putting her screaming daughter on the bed. “And right now, I honestly don’t want you inside it.” She strode to the closet, opened it and began throwing his clothes all over the floor. “C’mon! Collect your trash and get out!” she pulled a bag from under the bed, and began squeezing the tangled up clothes in it. She then zipped the bag closed and threw it in his face. “Go out! I can’t stand you. Go!” she screamed pointing viciously toward the door.
All this while, Mark was speechless. He stood in front of her like a statue. Even though her eyes were red and watery and her voice was shook up, he knew she really meant it. Neither of them paid attention to their screaming kid who was trying to crawl down the bed. After unsuccessfully trying to breathe for a while, Mark grabbed the bag and stormed out of the room. Lana didn’t move an inch before she heard the sound of the apartment door being slammed behind her infuriated husband.
It was now her turn to pick up on the breathing habit. Like her husband, she found the task so difficult to accomplish. Walking towards the bed, she was able to catch her crawling daughter before she hit the ground. Lana held her strongly in her arms and began sobbing loudly.
IF BEING IN the same house was uncomfortable to them; imagine how it would be like for the both of them to be trapped together in the same car. As they took off in Mark’s new Honda Civic, they began feeling the air get thinner. Even though the past three days were bitter without him in the house, Lana felt, for the first time, what a blessing it was to be separated from Mark. All the fearful, sleepless nights she spent alone with her daughter; all the voices she overheard in the kitchen; all the shadows she saw creeping outside her bedroom door and all the nightmares that have been intimidating her for three long nights on end were now something she hungrily craved. For some anonymous reason – maybe not so anonymous after all – she remembered their trip back from London six years ago. She had the same feeling that she had had that day, a feeling of strong repulsion towards him and unbearable agitation around him. Except this time, something was different; she had regrets, for she wasn’t blameless herself.
THEIR TABLE WAS in the quiet area of the restaurant – which was actually a Nile boat. It was rather secluded; with fewer lights and definitely less attention. That helped Lana breathe a bit easier, for it meant that her messed up face, her puffed eyes and her unpleasant mood would be a bit less noticeable. Perhaps that was what worried her most about this outing, she tried her best to avoid it, yet Tonya made it perfectly clear that she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Mohammad and I wanna celebrate Mark’s new promotion with you. You can’t deprive us of that.” She had told Lana over the phone when inviting her. The promotion she referred to was actually Mark buying a share of ten percent of Mr. Baher’s most recent compound in Ein El-Sokhna. Mark had to use up all the money he had been saving to buy a bigger apartment to pay for this share. As much as they were getting suffocated in the apartment, Mark felt it was time to prioritize. And the share was going to get them the apartment eventually, not the other way round.
Lana had to figure out a way of asking Tonya to pass the invitation over to Mark without telling her of their ugly fight. Ever since the day she got married, Lana’s mother advised her against telling anybody about her domestic instabilities. Lana became so good at this that even her mother no longer knew about her numerous fights with Mark. She also didn’t like telling Tonya, particularly, about their arguments, for when she used to tell her of their slight disagreements before marriage, she could see some bright lust in Tonya’s eyes; one she didn’t understand and definitely didn’t welcome.
After a lot of consideration, Lana decided to text him the news about the invitation. She was relieved when she heard the key turn in the door at 7.p.m that evening; that meant he got the message; it meant he wouldn’t embarrass her by not showing up. He came into the room, and without even saying hi, he headed straight to the closet to pick up an outfit. At that second, she understood how it was going to be between them that night; cold, distant and uncaring. Yet, he took her by surprise by pulling the chair for her as she was taking her seat at the restaurant.
“Thank you.” She said sitting down.
He smiled bowing his head, in a very formal manner.
“I’m sorry we’re a bit late.” Began Lana, addressing Mohammad and Tonya, who were sitting opposite them on the table. Mohammad was dressed in a formal suit, while Tonya had a glamorous electric-blue dress on. Her recently dyed brown, wavy hair was flowing over her bare shoulders and covering up the tan she had just gotten two days before.
“No problem, we know how difficult it is for a couple to leave the house when they have a toddler on their hands.” Replied Mohammad, pouring some water in his empty glass.
“Oh, don’t tell me,” joined Tonya, “we just arrived here, and I’m already worried about Ali. No matter how responsible she is, you just can never trust a nanny enough about being around your baby. Don’t you think so, Lana?”
Lana was about to reply when Mark cut her off by saying, “Lana wouldn’t know, for we don’t have a nanny. In fact, Lana dropped Dana off at her mothers’ this afternoon to have enough time to get ready.”
“Oh.” Said Tonya, already sensing the tension as Lana cast off an annoying look towards her husband. She rubbed her hair uncomfortably, with her head tilting a bit.
“The thing is: Mark believes that a nanny is never a healthy atmosphere for a baby to grow around. She could help you out every now and then, but you can never fully depend on her.” Explained Lana trying to cool things down.
“Extremely true.” Said Tonya, holding up her glass of water, “Just the other day, I went for a nap and left Ali with the nanny. When I returned, I found him playing with some dirty tissues on the floor while the little princessa was too busy watching television.”
The pleasant conversation was interrupted by the waiter’s arrival at the table. He handed over the menus then stood by the table, waiting for them to order. Lana’s stressful way of turning the pages of the menu alarmed Tonya.
“Their Raviolis are very remarkable, by the way.” She said trying to lend her a hand. “I know they’re your favorites.”
“Good, then I’ll take the Raviolis.” Announced Lana closing the menu and passing it over to the waiter.
“What about you, Mark?” asked Mohammad.
Mark stared intently at the menu as he rubbed his chin. “I’ll take the Veal Steak.” He finally said. “Medium, please.”
“And I’ll take the lamb chops with garlic sauce.” Said Tonya.
“And you, sir?” The waiter asked Mohammad.
“The usual. Raviolis.” This he said with a quick glance at Lana.
“Anything to drink, sir?”
Mohammad looked at Mark with a wicked smile, “how about some champagne, since we’re celebrating and all?” he asked.
“I … I don’t drink anymore, Mohammad.” Replied Mark firmly. Lana smiled deep inside.
“And neither does Mohammad.” Said Tonya, gently taking the menu away from her husband’s hand. “We’ll all take coke.” She told the waiter, with a smile. “No champagne.”
The waiter took the orders, the menus and left. For some minutes, they all remained silent. Not a single word was exchanged around the table. Mohammad was the first to begin a trial of making conversation.
“So, Lana, Mark’s telling me you’re trying for another baby.” Lana nervously looked up. He had pulled the wrong string; he could tell, and he pretended to regret it.
“Actually,” Mark stepped into the conversation, as some sort of salvation at first. “We’ve decided to postpone this for a while.”
As much as Lana was pleased with the decision, she wasn’t so pleased with it being Mark’s decision. “That’s right,” she began as she took a tiny bite of her appetizer, “As a matter of fact, I decided I want to get back to work. And another baby would be anything but helpful at this stage.” She revengefully announced.
“Work! That’s rather sudden, don’t you think, darling?” asked Mark with that same fake smile which he had been wearing on his face all night long.
“Not at all. I left my job because I was too busy getting married, getting pregnant, having a baby and changing diapers. All of which are past or on their way to being past. Why wouldn’t it be the time for me to get back on track?”
“Because our marriage isn’t still over. And our baby still needs diapers, and breastfeeding, and attention around the clock. Have you considered what we’re to do with her while we’re both at work?”
“She’ll stay over at my mother’s, or your mother’s. Maya’s Midterm vacation starts next week and she told me she’s totally cool with babysitting for Dana.”
“Finally, the food is here.” Interrupted Tonya waving at the waiter with relief.
He put the plates down, poured the drinks into the glasses and left. Lana hadn’t finished one quarter of her dish when she excused herself and headed to the restroom. She went inside, took a long, thorough look at herself in the mirror. Her lipstick was almost erased. Her eyebrows, which had just been plucked that day, didn’t match. Yet, she didn’t care. Tears began filling up in her eyes, she let them go. Ever since she was a kid, she loved looking at herself in the mirror, watching her eyes go red, tracing the tears as they left her eyelids, worked their way around her nose, flushed her cheeks and finally reached her neck. That scene somehow used to calm her down. It would also help if she sobbed loudly every now and then. She was able to do that for the past three days, but now, right at this moment, it wasn’t one of her options.
After almost five minutes of this, she wiped off her tears, washed her face, and waited a minute or two until her eyes were no longer red. She didn’t have any mascara or eye-shadow on, so she didn’t have to worry about readjusting her make up. She just put a bit of lipstick on, and left the restroom.
As she moved outside, she noticed Mohammad standing over the deck and watching the reflection of the moon in the Nile. Before she could even tell, Lana found herself standing over by his side. He looked at her, then back at the water.
“I wouldn’t have insisted on your coming tonight if I had known that you had a problem.”
“It’s ok. I know that.” Said Lana, sadly smiling.
“Don’t worry. You’ll work it out. You always do.” He said with a soothing smile. It made Lana remember how he used to cheer her up when she broke up with Nader. Back then, she believed he was the only person who truly understood her. She forgot all about his reserved manner, his annoyingly jealous nature and his desire to control her. All she remembered was his warm, mellowing smile that night in his car, when they took a drive along the highway. There was no overflow of feelings in her heart towards him, yet ideas started popping up, ideas that should never invade the mind, especially the mind of a happily married woman.
What would’ve happened if I hadn’t broken up with Mohammad? Did I make a mistake when marrying Mark? Should I have married Mohammad instead? Those were all questions that rang loudly in her mind. Hijacked by a ton of guilt, Lana quickly dismissed those thoughts and returned to her husband’s side. Cold and lonely as it was, it was a lot better than the sinful position she had just been occupying.
“HEY MUM, it’s me.” Said Lana sullenly and slowly over the phone. She was still in her off-white, full length evening dress; sitting at the dresser right in front of the mirror, taking off her earrings and tying her hair backwards. “We just came back … Yeah, we had a nice time … The food was great … It’s that new Nile cruise in Zamalek … Yes, right next to the club … Sure, perhaps we’ll go together someday … How is Dana? … Good, I expected her to give you a hard time before she finally slept … Listen mum, if she wakes up in the middle of the night, just give her my sweater and tell her ‘mummy loves you’, alright? … No, she usually just needs something with my smell on it to pacify her … Alright then, I’ll come pick her up first thing in the morning … Good night, mum.”
She put the phone down, and resumed toying with her now empty ear. The door of the closet was violently opened. She saw in the mirror Mark’s reflection with a bag in his hand.
“You’re leaving already?” asked Lana.
“Yes.” He answered, dryly as he opened his nightstand drawer.
Lana still looked at his reflection in the mirror, without looking at him. “I first thought you were staying at your mother’s. But I sensed from her way of speaking that she knew nothing about the fight. So I guess you’re staying elsewhere, then?”
He remained silent.
“Where are you staying?” she asked now looking at him; the real him. “If I am still entitled to know.” She added looking back at the mirror, as she sensed he didn’t consider it her right to know. The last sentence was almost muttered to herself.
“At a friend’s house.” He didn’t look at her while speaking. He just took some medicines out of the drawer and into his bag.
“Dana misses you, by the way.” Began Lana, her voice faltering. Mark’s moving hands stopped. He remained quite still. “The other day, she came across your grey T-shirt … you know; the one you wear at home. She held it tightly murmuring: ‘Dada dada.’ She meant daddy, but she’s still not so good with pronouncing words.”
“What do you want, Lana?” asked Mark, looking at her for the first time.
She turned around, stood up, and took a seat beside him on the side of the bed. “I want you to know that I’m sorry.”
He disappointedly smiled, looking on the ground. “You’re not even aware of what you’ve done. I’m getting really tired, Lana. I feel like some kind of worn out animal, running round and round, yet never getting anywhere. Nothing I do is ever enough, on any level. There’s always what your parents have, what Tonya has, what Sara has. I’m never good enough.”
“That’s not true.” Said Lana stretching out her arm behind him. “If I have been giving you that impression, I’m sorry. But I never feel that way inside.”
“Good to know, because I was beginning to doubt if you still loved me.”
“Love you! Mark,” she grabbed his hand, he wasn’t very co-operative, “I wake up every morning hardly believing that I have you by my side.”
“Yet you never tell me. All I hear from you are complaints, demands and comments.” Lana found nothing to say to that. “And you topped it all with Tuesday night’s behavior. Do you even realize what you’ve done?”
“I know I’ve messed up, but …”
“Messed up! You demeaned me with your father’s money, then you literary kicked me out of the house! Do you know how humiliating that was? You broke something so strong within me; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to mend it.”
“Yes, but you were the one who started it.”
“Started what?” he yelled indignantly standing up.
“The fight. You came screaming like a madman for no good reason. For God’s sake, you called me a liar!”
“I didn’t call you a liar.” He said firmly. “I said you were lying.”
“It’s the same.” She said with a sarcastic laugh.
“No, it’s not the same. By saying you were lying, I meant on that particular subject. To call you a liar, on the other hand, would mean that you lie about every other subject, which is something I never said or meant.”
“I wasn’t lying anyways.” Said Lana indignantly.
“Well, maybe not. But put yourself in my position, would you have believed me? I mean, we both know you didn’t want a baby.”
“No I didn’t. Yet I saw how badly you wanted another one, and I thought to myself, ‘why should I deprive him of something he so desperately craves?’ See? You’re not the only one who compromises and sacrifices around here.” A pause. “Ok, I’m high maintenance, I get it. But at least I’m trying to change. The change might not be so big to you, but it’s huge to all the people who knew me back in the day. No one recognizes me anymore, hardly even my parents. All the things you see as extravagances, I was raised to believe were necessities. I’ve spent my whole life around those things enjoying the luxury they provide me with, still I gave it all up just to be with you. If you’re tired of never feeling good enough, then I’m tired of always feeling spoilt and materialistic.”
They both stopped talking for a while. Sitting sideways on the large bed, with their backs facing each other, they could only entertain themselves by staring at the ground. The silence was beginning to get awkward, so Mark broke it off saying:
“Conclusion: we’ve both messed up.”
“So there’s no chance of us getting back together?”
“Do you want us to get back together?”
“Do you want us to get back together?”
“I can’t deny that right this moment I feel that my love for you has decreased a teeny tiny bit.” Lana’s face frowned at hearing this. “But there’s still more than enough to make it work.” She couldn’t help but smile now.
“But there are certain things we need to work on, though.”
“Certainly.” Now Mark turned to her. He crawled on the bed until he took her side. “I have thought about what you said back at the restaurant. You know, about getting back to work and all. And – even though I’m still pissed off over the way you announced it – I think it might be time you get back to work; if it would really make you happy.”
“Really?” said Lana grabbing his hand and placing it near her heart.
“Dana could stay at my mother’s and your mother’s alternately. But you gotta be home by 4 p.m maxim. That’s my one condition.”
“Sure.” Nodded Lana assertively. “I already talked to my old boss today morning, and he said there was a spot available for me with fewer working hours. Of course it’s not as good as my previous position, but I’ll manage.”
“I bet you will.” Affirmed Mark in a sweet manner. “And consequently, I think we need to postpone this whole baby thing.” It must have been Lana’s lucky day, for the happy surprises kept coming up one after another. Yet, she couldn’t have seen the next surprise coming. “Not just because of your work, but also because I think there’s something better that needs to be done with the money we were gonna spend on the newborn. Something more important.”
“What is that?” asked Lana optimistically. Could it possibly be the big house she’d been dreaming about? Maybe he was keeping away some money which he hadn’t used in buying the share? Or perhaps it’s a villa in Ein El-Sokhna? Could that be part of the promotion?
“I think it’s time we start paying your father’s heavy debts back.”