Chapter 9: Must get out

Angrily striding up the steps, Lana looked like she was on her way to smash someone’s head. When she reached the front door of Mark’s home in Mohandeseen, she violently rang its bell with sheer impatience. Maya, Mark’s little sister, opened it; barely fourteen, with straight, blond hair she wore loose, a very fair skin, bony physique and bright, green eyes – the same color of Mark’s eyes, those of a dark green shade; just like the color of their mother’s eyes. This was the first scene that met Lana’s sight in Mark’s house. She could remember Maya from the airport, but for a brief moment it seemed like Maya didn’t remember her.

“Hi,” Lana heartily stretched out her arm to greet her. “I’m Lana, a friend of Mark’s. I believe he’s expecting me.” She had called him earlier to tell him that she wanted to see him and to get the address from him.

“Lana?” It was Mrs. Leila Hassanein, Mark’s mum. “Is that you?”

“Tante Leila, how are you?” as they kissed, Lana overheard Maya’s voice whispering to her elder sister, Mai:

“That’s Lana, the girl from the airport. Remember her?”

That was how she realized that Maya unrecognizing her was a childish act to show disinterest.

“I wanted to speak to Mark about something, he said it would be best if we met here.” Explained Lana, feeling rather uneasy about being in a boy’s house.

“Yes sweetie, he already told me.” Leila had a permanent air of mellowness about her, mingled with some funny remarks. She was in her apron, wearing some simple clothes underneath. For the first time, Lana was able to see her blonde hair, for she didn’t cover her hair when at home. Her appearance was so unusual to Lana, whose mother wouldn’t take off her fancy clothes before she locked her bedroom behind her. “His room’s the first on your left. Yes, in that small corridor.”

Feeling lost, Lana slowly walked through the dark, narrow corridor. She had an idea about the size of Mark’s home, but she had no idea it was that small. Or did it seem so small only when compared to her grand house?
She came across a large portrait that was hung in the corridor. It was the picture of a middle-aged man Lana took to be Mark’s late father. His features were similar to those of his boys; the same large, rounded nose, the rectangular face and the wide cheekbones, while the girls had inherited their mother’s slender nose of perfect length and her tiny, thin-lipped mouth. However, both Mark and Maya took after their mother in the fairness of their colors, and Omar and Mai had their father’s dark complexion, hair and eye color.

Finally, she was standing in front of the alleged room. Before she finished her firm, flat knock, Mark had already opened the door. He was all alone in the room, even though it contained two single beds, one of which she reckoned was his brother, Omar’s, bed. That made Lana’s task a bit easier. She quickly let herself in, and just the moment the door was closed behind her, she screamed at his face:

“What the hell have you done?”

“What?” he asked almost as clueless as he pretended to be.

“You broke up with Tonya!” exclaimed Lana in a very high pitched tone. It was afterwards that she realized she had to keep it down low, so that she wouldn’t draw the others’ attention. “Why would you do something like that? Do you know how devastated she is?”

“Look,” he began, sitting on the only couch available in the room, “I tried to make her happy but I just couldn’t. I can’t keep making her believe that I love her when in fact … I don’t.” he paused for a second or two, then he resumed: “I know you didn’t tell her about what happened in London, but if she finds out now, it would be a lot better than if she had found out when we were still together.”

“That is just the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard.” Said Lana, still standing with her index finger sticking out and her voice drenched with dismay. “If you have any idea how madly she’s in love with you …” the words just suddenly died out on her lips. It wasn’t like Mark had been so attentive. Shirtless and barefoot, with only his denims on, he reached out for the sweater on his bed and put it on.

There was a funny thing about seeing him like that, with all his biceps and triceps standing out; at least for Lana. She had heard before that whether you like it or not, if you know someone’s in love with you, you’d feel a particular attraction toward them at some point. At that moment she wished with all her heart that this wasn’t true. She tried to take her eyes off him, but all that met her were the made beds, the organized books, the tidy room and the clean windows; all of which had Mark’s character in them.

“Look,” she resumed, a bit calmer now, trying to get the thought out of her mind, “you might be right, but you just brought it upon her too brutally. Just let her down easy; tell her you had meant to take a break to be able to see things from a new perspective and find out how it would go.”

“Won’t that be the same as giving her false hope?”

“Which is, by the way, something she’s currently in desperate need of.” Commented Lana smartly. Did she believe that was true? She couldn’t quite make that one out. Perhaps she did this out of guilt; perhaps she had that feeling that she was unintentionally ruining her best friend’s life and she wanted to do anything she was capable of to stop this from happening, even if that meant totally destroying Tonya. At some level, she hoped Tonya would get over her addiction by reducing the doze, and that the plan won’t backfire and have Tonya craving for the drug fiercer than ever.

Without warning, without even giving Lana enough time to end this, Mohammad just walked into the room. And the sight that met his eyes was nowhere near nice. There was Lana, sitting on the couch right next to Mark, who was adjusting the collar of his sweater – which also seemed to be worn just as Mohammad’s hand had turned the door handle. If that wasn’t enough, the look of shame and surprise that took over both of their faces made Mohammad almost sure there was something going on between them, something that might as well include betrayal. Lana was struck, had she known that Mohammad was going to visit Mark, she would have never come. Suddenly, it occurred to her that maybe Mark invited him on purpose; knowing that Mohammad would show up and find them together. Probably that was why he hadn’t decided to get dressed up until she was right outside his doorstep. Could he have masterminded this rendezvous to arouse suspicion in Mohammad’s chest? Suspicion which would lead to breaking them up? Whether or not it was true, she still hated him all the same. But she shouldn’t hate him, hate was very likely to turn into love; indifference, that was what she was supposed to be aiming for.

“Hey,” Mohammad sighed heavily.

“Hey,” said Lana, getting up and moving toward the door, “look, I gotta go for now, but we’ll talk later, ok?”

For an instant, Mohammad thought about following her, letting her know that he was not pleased with the way she acted around Mark, that he had expected a more reserved behavior with him. However, from where he was standing, he had been a drama queen for quite too long. He remembered being told that women hate drama queens, especially when they end up being their boyfriends. So, he decided to play cool; maybe that would give her a chance to think about what she’d done. Besides, he didn’t want to cause a scene in front of Mark and his family. Nevertheless, his curiosity had already been aroused, and that made him bluntly ask Mark about the reason behind Lana’s absurd visit.

“She was just tryin’a fix things between me and Tonya.” Replied Mark impassively. Mohammad really wanted to believe him, but somehow he couldn’t.

TIME PASSED. Things didn’t get any better at either side. Lana’s plan didn’t exactly work, although … it kind of did. The way it happened was a bit different, but the end result was the same. Tonia got into deep depression, even her grades started getting affected. And one night, out of the blue, she found herself dialing viciously on her cell phone and longing to hear Mark’s voice.

“Please, just tell me the door isn’t entirely closed. Tell me there’s still hope. I gotta have a second chance. What did I do to deserve this?” she said as her tears showered her chili-red face the moment Mark said hello. He took a quick moment to resolve; he had realized before that she was going down, but now he could clearly see she had hit rock bottom. The picture of what she had become suddenly flashed in his mind as he heard her pleading voice. Standing in front of him in her black pants, thick jacket and sneakers and with her hair undone, she looked terrorizing. And that’s if one manages to skip her face, which was another disaster. The formations of wrinkles Lana had noticed before were no longer formations; they were now pure wrinkles. Her eyes, puffed up and red, looked like they hadn’t seen sleep for at least a week. Her once so rosy cheeks were now paler than a dying man’s face and no traces of her bright and shiny smile were to be any longer found. Yes, Mark had received a blow with seeing Tonya like that just this morning at college, but that didn’t make him change his mind, or his heart. Nevertheless, he came to the conclusion that giving her hope, false as it was, was still better than giving her nothing.

“The door’s not closed Tonya. Let’s just call it a break.” He calmly said.

That didn’t make Tonya a lot better, but at least it prevented her from failing her tests. However, right before the beginning of their finals, words came out that Lana and Mark were invited, as representatives of the university, to another festival, this time in New York. They were to travel right after their finals. This gave Lana the creeps; the last thing she needed was another trip with Mark. However, when Mohammad started politely protesting about her going on that trip, she flipped one-eighty degrees. He had made several remarks about this issue, but not one was more controversial than the one he made on the night they had spent together at his house.

It was two days before Lana’s first exam, and she had wanted Mohammad to help her study one of the core subjects that he had already taken four years ago. As badly as he hated his house, Mohammad just sort of hibernated there the week before his exams every semester to be able to catch up and study. So it had been decided that Lana should go home with him at the end of the day, and that he should drive her back to her house after they finish studying. Even though she didn’t openly express it, Lana was so happy about that arrangement. Mohammad had been to her house twice, he had seen her garden, her enormously huge swimming pool, her great mansion and even her bedroom. He saw all her family pictures hanging in every inch of the house, played on her grand piano, fed her Labrador: Bertie and ate food her mother had especially prepared for him. All that and not even once had he invited her into his house. She’d try to hint that she would want to see it, but he’d always change the subject. Deep down it killed her, but she decided not to discuss it with him. He’ll invite me when he’s ready. She’d think to herself, obviously this is a huge step for him. He just needs time. So, when the invitation eventually arrived, Lana was thrilled. And despite her intention of concealing her excitement, she was so transparent.

Mohammad didn’t mind her excitement, but he also didn’t want to make a great deal out of this visit. He didn’t even show her around the house; he just hastily led her to his own room. Yet, Lana was still able to sneak a peak at the house, which wasn’t as big as she had expected it to be; the garden was almost half as big as her garden, the pool was roughly the size of the children partition in her pool and there was hardly a back yard. As to the inside of the house, it appeared to be very expensively furnished yet very cold. There were only two pictures she came across; one was Mohammad’s parents’ wedding picture and the other was a picture of Mohammad when he was around five: dressed as a fire-fighter and happily smiling. It was clear; elegant as it was, the house lacked a woman’s touch. Mohammad had told her before that they had only moved to that house five years earlier. Before that, they lived in an apartment in Dokki, a place where Mohammad still would go to hang out with his band and sometimes practice, even though his father had built him a studio in the basement of the Maryouteya mansion.

Soon, Lana found herself in Mohammad’s bedroom. That was the only thing that turned out to be bigger than she had expected it to be. The first thing that met her eyes was the large mirror. Right next to it was a desk put in one of the four corners of the room. Above the desk was a shelf which extended to the other corner; it had all of Mohammad’s albums and CDs. The bed was in the middle, with a night stand at each side. Opposite to the desk was an electric guitar placed in a vertical position and leaning against the wall. It was connected to an amplifier placed right beside it. There was a door that Lana could tell led to the bathroom and another that led to the closet. Again, the room was void of any pictures.

Just as she was about sit on the bed, Lana noticed a small piece of grey fur extended near the pillow. It was a bit peculiar seeing fur in a guy’s bedroom, but seeing that fur move and develop a pair of open eyes, that was terrifying.

“Oh my God!” screamed Lana jumping off her feet, “what the hell is that?”

“Relax.” Said Mohammad calmly smiling and reaching out with his hand to the moving fur, “that’s my cat, her name’s Sugar.” The cat, which had also jumped up at Lana’s screams, was now a bit less frightened. Yet, her ears were still leaning backwards and her breathing was still quick. Mohammad started gently stroking her, she relaxed a bit, but she still cast off some unfriendly looks towards Lana. It was a beautiful Persian cat, four months of age tops. Mohammad had bought her from a friend only a month ago; figured he would need the company. From that day, she considered the room as her property and Mohammad as her sole keeper.

“You should’ve told me about that before,” said Lana, still refusing to be seated again on the bed, “I don’t like being around them.” ‘Them’ was a general reference to cats.

“Just let it go, Lana; I never act like that around your Bertie, even though I’m not exactly the biggest fan of dogs.”

Somehow, she managed to sit again, now pulling her books out of her bag. She could feel the air of stress around them, but she decided to wait it out.

“I’m so glad we’re doing this.” She began, as Mohammad started going through the books.

“Yeah, it definitely gives us some time together before you’re off to New York.” Lana could see what lied behind this remark; still she chose to ignore it. “Which reminds me; I hope you realize that it would take you almost a day to reach New York.” Lana gave out a sigh of boredom, one that says I know where this is going. “And how long are you gonna be staying there? I believe it’s even less than five days this time. That’s beside the fact that you won’t have enough time to rehearse before the festival, not in New York and definitely not here, with all the exams ahead of you. So, if you think of it, the trip isn’t really worth your while.”

Lana remained silent; she just kept biting on her pen as some sort of way to release her anger. “And of course the packing is another thing.” resumed Mohammad, not at all paying attention to Lana’s change of face, “I remember it took you almost a …”

“Stop it Mohammad,” Said Lana in a strong tone, “nothing you’re gonna say’s gonna make me change my mind. I’m leaving and that’s that.”

There was a moment of silence. Even the cat could feel the tension arising. She was as still as a statue; not even blinking for once.

“Ok,” said Mohammad, finally breaking the silence, “I am tryin’a make you change your mind. I admit it. It’s just … I have a bad feeling about this trip.”

“You’re just jealous ‘cause I’m going without you.”

“Well, maybe I am, maybe I’m not so happy about you flying abroad with another man.”

“You don’t own me Mohammad; it’s not like we’re married.”

“So, I don’t get any say in your life?”

“Look,” Lana was now standing, with that same index finger protruding as she spoke, “You’re the one who built that bridge between us, ok? So don’t try to burn it now.”

“Bridge? What bri…”

“You never tell me about your personal life! You won’t even tell me why you can’t stand your father! For God’s sake, we’ve been seeing each other for God knows how long and that’s the first time you let me into your house! I’ve been to Mark’s house, but yours …”

“Oh, so this is all about Mark, isn’t it?”

“What about him? What?”

Mohammad’s mouth was opened and his lips were about to form a word when the bedroom door was suddenly opened.

“Everything alright?” Asked a man who only showed his face as he held the door ajar. He was bald, with grey, short hair and a smile very similar to Mohammad’s. Lana recognized him as Mr. Baher; Mohammad’s father.

“Hey, uncle.” She said shaking hands with him, and using her other hand to wipe the sweat off her exasperated face.

Whether or not he had meant it, Mr. Baher managed to end the quarrel that night. However, the real fight was still on, for during their way back; Lana and Mohammad didn’t exchange a single syllable.

“YOU JUST GOTTA take this one, Lana. It’s, like, dying to be worn in New York.” Said Sara, Lana’s sister, referring to a blue, sleeveless top with the pink drawing of the Statue of Liberty on it. She was holding it in her hand while going through Lana’s closet; the one in her bedroom.

“Are you kidding? Why do you think I bought it? They won’t let me pass through the borders if I don’t have it on me.” Lana grabbed the top from her sister’s hand and tucked it into her bag.

“God, College seems so cool.” Said Sara looking at Lana’s college brochure with admiring eyes. “I wish school was over already.”

“Careful what you wish for.” Hummed Tonya cynically from the bed. She was just lying there; not asleep, but not exactly awake either. Still, she had to come and help Lana pack.

“Looks like someone’s having ‘boy’ problems.” Said Sara lightly moving towards the bed with the most luminous smile set upon her face. She had a figure almost identical to Lana’s, except for her slightly larger breasts and rather rounded hips. As to her face, it shared the same radiance, yet not the same acuteness of features. Even though Lana’s nose was a bit too large for her face, and her upper jaws were a little extended outwards, the way her entire features went together covered it all up. As for Sara, she managed to escape those annoyingly big features, yet she couldn’t capture the cuteness of her sister. Perhaps what made her face really shine were her dimples, especially when they would show clearly as she smiled.

“C’mon Tonya, tell me.” Said Sara teasingly as she laid on bed behind Tonya and caressed Tonya’s right shoulder with her hands. Her head was raised and her hair fell on Tonya’s face. Tonya, who was leaning on her left side, still refused to face her. “What is it? Are college boys so cruel? Mohammad seems nice, Lana never complains about him.”

“That’s ‘cause Lana’s taken some anger-management classes.” Commented Lana as she was folding her Fuchsia shirt.

“Oh my God,” Sara gave out a wicked laugh, “what’s with you two?”

“I broke up with my boyfriend and Lana’s getting there.” Replied Tonya, still with a bored tone.

“We’re not breaking up; we’re just on a break!” Said Lana, a bit angered.

“Yeah, so are we.”

Sara looked from one of them to the other, then gave out a loud giggle that lasted for almost half a minute. When she came to realize that she was the only one in the room finding the situation humorous, she politely stopped and started asking for reasons.

“Oh, don’t ask me.” Said Tonya when she was asked. “He’s the one who said we should break up. Then when I practically begged him to take me back, he was kind enough to pronounce us ‘on a break’.”

“Isn’t he the same guy we ran into at the airport?” asked Sara, innocently. “He seemed nice.”

“Yeah, he’s only that nice around Lana.”

Lana’s folding and tucking stopped; she didn’t know if Tonya was making a joke or if she was waiting to see Lana’s reaction. What if she knew? Would she get mad at her? Or worse, would she tell Mohammad? Could she? No, she was better than that. Besides, how would she know anyways? It was very unlikely.

“And how do you feel about him traveling with my big sister?” asked Sara with that stupid smile still filling up her face. God, shut up, Sara. Screamed Lana at the back of her mind.

“Maybe you should ask Mohammad that question,” remarked Tonya in a trial to direct Sara to her sister’s business for a while, “I bet that’s why they’re fighting.”

“We are fighting because our differences are so much more than our similarities. Honestly, I don’t see any future to this relationship.”

“But he does.” Said Tonya.

“That’s because he’s blind.”

“You’re just saying that ‘cause you’re mad at him.”

“So I guess there’ll be no goodbyes for you at the airport, Lana … again.” Said Sara, finally seating herself on the bed.

“Don’t know, don’t care. Currently it’s the last thing on my mind. All I need to focus on right now is the dance and my performance. I mean, it’s New York, you guys. If that ain’t overwhelming enough, I honestly don’t know what is.”

LANA DIDN’T SEE it coming, yet Mohammad was a man who learnt from his mistakes. The way he saw it, things would get even better than they were once she comes back from New York. So if that meant he had to take the initiative, he didn’t mind. There he was, waiting for her at the airport with the sweetest goodbye he could ever give. The fact that she was very cold with him didn’t fill him with the slightest bit of worry. And the fact that he was very cold with Mark didn’t fill him with the slightest bit of guilt. Together he and Tonya stood as they watched the plane take off into the air, with one single prayer; may God separate those two and give them – Mohammad and Tonya – the happy endings they’d been craving for almost a year.