Chapter 19: I dare you to move

The first time Lana’s baby kicked, Mark had just returned from work. It was almost 6 p.m. Usually at that hour, dinner would be prepared and ready on the table. Yet, ever since Lana’s pregnancy, the food department had been a little disturbed. For starters, Lana was never a kitchen lover as a girl, so getting her to cook without any help was a miracle that only Mark could pull off. Yet, when the nausea started hitting off and the belly burns became as frequent as the headaches, Mark was very likely to come home after a long, tiring day at work with an empty stomach and find no decent food to fill up this stomach.

For the first few days they ordered take out. Then, Leila got in the habit of coming over twice a week to cook for them. Some days, Lana would be so sick that she wouldn’t be able to even heat up the already prepared food. This was one of those days.

On the big, comfy bed, Lana lay uncomfortably on her right side. It was a fiery summer day with a blazing heat which the A/C couldn’t quite conquer. She didn’t move a finger when Mark walked into the room even though she was conscious. He took off his striped shirt – soaked up in sweat as it was – put it in the bathroom and threw himself on the bed. He then untied his shoelaces and tossed the shoes on the floor. Adjusting himself in bed, he also lay on his right side with Lana’s back facing him. He slowly moved up and gave her a kiss on the neck, with his hands moving around her waist.

“I missed you.” He said with his eyes closed.

“Me too.” She muttered almost inaudibly. He could tell she needed some rest, and so did he. Therefore, he thought it best for the both of them to stay like that for a while. Just when his eyes were closed long enough for him to catch a tiny nap, the bed suddenly shook so strongly that for an instant, Mark could’ve sworn it was an earthquake.

He quickly opened his eyes to find Lana on her knees on the bed, with her large, uncombed hair flying around and her arms wrapped around her belly.

“It kicked, Mark.” She joyfully screamed. “The baby; it’s kicking, right now.”

Mark stared at her with dropped jaws and eyes wide open. He was clearly oblivious to what he should do, struck by the magnitude of the event. Lana grabbed his hand and placed it on her moving belly. That was when some sense started coming to the whole thing. His once so strong and muscular hand couldn’t help but melt at touching this weird creature. He started laughing hysterically, while Lana picked up the phone beside her to tell her mother of the latest news.

 

 

 

THE FIRST TIME Tonya’s baby kicked, she was breathlessly running on the treadmill in the gym-room at her house. Her breathing was heavy and the sweat went dripping off her face, still she had half an hour to go. The Rihanna song playing in the background pumped her body up with adrenaline and gave her the power to continue. She knew she couldn’t possibly lose weight while nurturing a baby inside of her, but she hoped she wouldn’t gain any more weight, apart from the weight of her baby. It wasn’t for her love of a slim physique, as that was something Tonya never had and never planned on having; however, it was because she didn’t want to look fat on Nadia’s wedding night, which was to take place during the last month of her pregnancy.

As much as Tonya tried to fight this, Marawan, Nadia’s fiancé, was starting his new job in Dubai in the beginning of December, so they had to have the wedding by September maximum to have enough time for the honeymoon and for the pre-immigration procedures. This was a shock to everybody. When Tonya asked her what she would do about her work, for by now Nadia had become one of the most important wedding planners in Cairo, Nadia simply replied:

“They do have weddings in Dubai. I’m sure I’m gonna do even better there.”

Thus, Tonya was faced with the bitter reality of having to choose a maternity evening dress that would make her belly look less swollen than it would definitely be. But that wasn’t enough; Tonya knew that this was to be Nadia’s night – one of the hundreds of nights when Nadia and only Nadia would shine brightly like a star. Still, Tonya wouldn’t be the grocery bag crowding up the ceremony. This was simply the reason why she dedicated a full hour daily to running on the treadmill.

By the beginning of the remaining ten minutes, Tonya felt a strange movement near her belly. She immediately stopped, fearing that she had done something wrong to her baby. That was when she realized that this feeling was more like a tickling than it was pain. With the hand supporting her belly, she could feel the little guy moving around as if he was the one on the treadmill. She satisfactorily smiled to herself and started accurately recording every flicker of sensation she felt at that moment.

Later that night, she stayed impatiently waiting for Mohammad’s return, thinking of all the possible scenarios she could use to tell him of something that could have possibly been the highlight of her entire life. After a full hour of waiting in utmost preparation, the door opened and Mohammad came in. Forgetting all about the speech she had prepared and the scenarios she had painted, the words went rushing out of her mouth, and for a second, she could feel her old, talkative self back. That was the first time they had something to talk about other than Lana and Mark.

 

 

 

IF LITTLE KIDS were most frightened by ghost stories, then aunt Roukaia was Tonya and Nadia’s scariest ghost story of all time. As little girls, they vividly remembered being bizarrely attached to her. They would beg their parents to sleep over at her house, or travel with her to Hurghada during their summer vacation. And she would never mind since she lived all alone in an apartment near Grandma Dodda’s in Manial. Yet, as they grew wiser, and she grew older, they started gradually realizing why their mother was never welcome of this strong bond. Progressively, Roukaia was transformed into their spinster aunt. At some point, they feared that spending time with her might force them to become like her.

As a result, when Nadia turned twenty-seven without yet being married, everybody was worried that she might end up a spinster like her old, unfortunate aunt. Especially when Tonya, who was four years younger, was the first to get married, Ameena became quite hysterical about her elder daughter’s marital status. So the news about Nadia’s wedding was some kind of victory; en event all of them looked forward to and at the same time frightfully dreaded to jinx. Even Dodda, who was probably the one who sympathized with her spinster daughter the most, was deeply grateful that her granddaughter wasn’t doomed to repeat the same scenario.

On the wedding night, and just two weeks before her due date, Tonya remained with her sister in the hotel room where she was dressing up. As the hair dresser was adjusting Nadia’s white, chiffon veil, Tonya stood in front of the mirror to check herself out. Her dress was black, but still she looked fat in it. Her face was swollen and her once so tiny nose was now almost twice its original size. This was not the way she would have wanted to look like at Nadia’s wedding day, she thought to herself. Her only consolation was that Lana, too, was in her third trimester, with a giant stomach and bulging features. However, Lana seemed to be half her (Tonya’s) size, even in that rosy, sleeveless dress she wore.

“Are you ready, sweetheart?” Ameena asked Nadia as she stepped into the room. Tonya quickly turned her face to her mother. She was wearing a purple, studded dress with a taffeta headscarf of a matching color. The dress was cut in a manipulative way which made her plump, short body look both slimmer and longer.

“Yes, how do I look?”

“Like an angel, darling.” Replied her mother with her hand on her chest.

“The dress is perfect, but it would’ve never looked so beautiful if you weren’t so mesmerizing.” Dodda added. She was in a black, glittery dress with a white headscarf. Even though her outfit was very elegant, it failed at hiding her aging features, her wrinkled face, her bent body and her really slow steps. At first, she thought it was best if she didn’t go to the wedding.

Why would I go? So that people would make fun of me? She had said.

But when Nadia begged and begged and blamed her for attending Tonya’s wedding, no questions asked, and refusing to attend hers, she finally changed her mind.

“Now, come on, everybody’s waiting downstairs.” Ameena said as she held her daughter’s veil.

The Zaffa was made up of men drumming and singing and women belly-dancing in Bikini-like suits filled with beads and colorful strips. This large group preceded the couple into the hall where the wedding would take place. Since the Quatb Kitab, which was basically the religious and legal part of the marriage, had taken place almost a week before that night, all they had left was to celebrate their marriage with all their guests. As the men’s strong palms dropped noisily on the oriental drums, Tonya could feel a contraction. She put her hand on her stomach and decided not to tell anybody. By the time the Zaffa was over and the happy couple was on the dance floor performing their first dance, Tonya sensed another contraction. This time Lana noticed her change of face.

“Tonya, are you alright?” she asked loudly to get her voice across all that noise.

She remained silent, patiently holding her stomach and trying to conceal the pain.

“Tonya.” Repeated Lana, this time softly touching her shoulder.

“I’m having contractions.” Said Tonya, in a low voice.

“What? I can’t hear you. The music is so …”

“I’m having contractions.” Repeated Tonya in a voice loud enough to be heard by Baher and Mark who were both sitting on another table. For a moment Tonya thought everybody had heard her, she could sense several eyes looking at her with pity and fear. But when she looked up, she found out that her words only reached Baher, Mark and Lana’s ears.

“My God,” muttered Mohammad, immediately slipping an arm behind her back and using the other to hold her trembling hand. Before he could make any decisions, he felt some water drops splashing on his L.E 1000 shoes. He looked at the drenched shoes, then at her face.

“Yep,” she nodded with tears in her eyes, “my water just broke.”

“Come on,” said Lana motioning for all of them to follow her. “We gotta get to a hospital a.s.a.p.”

“Wait.” Cried Tonya stopping everybody’s movement. “We can’t tell anybody. We’ll just spoil the wedding if we do so.”

“How about we tell your mother that you’re feeling a bit dizzy from the noise and the spotlight, and that you’re gonna rest in your room upstairs?” Proposed Mark referring to Tonya and Lana. “That way nobody would worry.”

It seemed like an agreeable plan. And thus, it was set for execution. In less than five minutes, the four of them were in the entrance of the hotel waiting for the valet to bring Mark’s car. Mohammad was already on the phone with Tonya’s O.B doctor. He hung up just as Mark sped away.

“He said he’s on his way to the hospital.” He informed them. “He also wanted us to time the contractions.”

“They’re less than three minutes apart.” Said Tonya with difficulty.

“Good. He said you won’t be ready for delivery till they’re a minute apart.”

“Oh,” Tonya rubbed her hand against her stomach, with her body bent so that her head rested on the back of Lana’s front seat, “there’s another one.”

Mohammad kept patting her worriedly. “Let’s see how long it would take the following one to come.”

During the trip, Lana, whose seatbelt remained unfastened, turned around to be able to see them. She did nothing but utter some encouraging words to Tonya. Mark, on the other hand, was totally occupied with trying to get to the hospital as soon as possible.

It wasn’t long before they said their goodbyes to Tonya, and waited for her in front of the O.R. She had spent less than an hour in her room before the doctor pronounced it was time to deliver the baby. When asked if he would like to accompany her, Mohammad remained silent.

“Mohammad,” said Lana, “she needs you in there. It’s bad enough that her mother couldn’t make it.”

“I don’t think I’ll handle it.”

“Mohammad, she’s really weak and helpless. You’ll manage.” She waited for him to take action. Nevertheless, he just stood there like a statue.

“Fine.” She turned around quite crossed, “I’ll go in.”

Going away, Mohammad slowly slid over a chair. Mark took the seat by his side and put his arm around Baher’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry, man. She’s gonna be alright.” He said calmly.

Mohammad looked at him. He tried to delve deep into his face; see if he had the slightest expression of worry or distress. Tonya would always tell him that there remained a part of Mark, small as it might have been, which still loved her and cared about her. He had already done his best in search of this microscopic part on his own wedding day. And there he was, looking for it again. And there he was, admitting his failure, again.

As he looked away, he felt a vibration in his jacket pocket. He picked up his cell phone and glanced at the screen.

“It’s dad.” He sighed, looking at the ceiling with the phone in his hand.

“I’ll take the call.” Offered Mark grabbing the phone.

Just as he was about to answer it, Mohammad advised him against telling Mr. Baher about Tonya’s delivery.

“He’s gonna find out anyway. And then he would blame you for not allowing him to come.” Reasoned Mark. “I’ll tell him not to tell her mother. But I can’t not tell him that his grandson’s about to come to life.”

Mohammad made a careless gesture with his hand and left Mark’s side. He stood by the O.R door regretting not going in. He knew that Lana’s words were right; that deep down, she would’ve wanted him with her. He remembered her trebling hands, her tearful eyes, but her freaked out voice was what he remembered best. He could almost hear it ringing in his ears; deafening him.

For some unknown reason, he didn’t feel like a husband expecting his newborn, but rather as a teenager who had messed up and was now waiting for the punishment of his mistake. Never before had he thought about having this baby for real; raising it, taking care of it, watching it grow and providing for it. For the first time it struck him; he was going to be a dad and he wasn’t yet ready.

Suddenly, flashes of all his fights with his father played in front of his eyes. His mother’s image was still fresh in his mind: dead in the bathtub after a fight with his father; a fight which he overheard from his room even though it was at the other side of the house. He still heard her voice screaming and his father’s voice shouting, he had envisioned the slaps he overheard as they struck his mother’s face. The sound of the glass breaking was louder and stronger than the sound of the thunder coming from his bedroom window. It was a night he spent his entire life trying to get over, yet constantly seeming to relive.

He remembered this one time when he was a little boy, probably four or five years old, when his mother told him of the love saga that took place between her and his father.

If they had loved each other so, yet he wasn’t capable of becoming a good husband and father, how could I ever turn out any better? He wondered.

“Speaking of the devil.” He muttered to himself as he saw his father approaching them. Before he could greet him, the door of the O.R. swung open and out came the doctor followed by Lana.

“Are they ok?” he asked rushing towards them.

“Congratulations.” Said the doctor smilingly as he patted him on the shoulder. “She just delivered you a beautiful, healthy boy.”

His eyes turned to Lana, who was wearing scrubs. The cap covered up her tied hair and her wide smile revealed her large, bunny-like front teeth. “She’s waiting for you inside.” She said with extreme happiness. “And he looks just like you.” She added laughing.

“That’s a blunt lie.” He said smiling back as he moved quickly to Tonya.

An air of fervor overtook him. His eyes moved straight towards the little piece of flesh wrapped in a white sheet in Tonya’s arms. The nurse was helping her hold him.

“Are you the father?” the nurse asked him.

“He is.” Said Tonya slowly, yet joyously. She looked very different from the way she had just looked the last time he saw her. Her make up was now totally wiped off her face; her hair was curling – due to being wetted by sweat – near her hairline. A captivating, vibrant smile was drawn upon her exhausted face. It was a smile he could hardly recall; one of satisfaction, gratitude and clarity.

Some strange feeling was caught creeping to his heart, a feeling towards her which he had never felt before. Perhaps it could have been passion, or maybe acceptance. Ever since she got pregnant, he stopped seeing her as only a partner in his vengeance and began seeing her as an incubator, merely an incubator to his unborn child. But now, she was the mother of his baby, the baby who – as much as he hated to admit it and tended to disbelieve it – resembled him in many ways. And that made all the difference to him.

 

 

 

THE NEXT COUPLE of weeks were probably the best weeks Mohammad had lived. Except for the little incident with the baby’s name, (since Tonya announced in front of his father that she wanted to call the baby Ali after his grandpa – something which Mohammad was definitely opposed to and at the same time powerless to take back) he couldn’t have wished for better times. He didn’t care about the number of times he was awakened in the middle of the night by little Ali’s loud cries. Even though they had a nursery right next to their bedroom which had been prepared especially for him, they both couldn’t let him off their sight for one moment. Therefore, they got him an extra bed in their room and he got into the habit of sleeping in it.

By his second week, his features became a bit clearer. He had his father’s small, hazel eyes and his mother’s rather thin-lipped mouth. His nose was a combination of both of their noses, for they had almost similar button noses. As for his hair, it was way too early to tell, as they both knew that the hair develops to various styles till it sticks to its permanent shape.

From day one, Mohammad began thinking of all the nice things he wanted to get him; all the moonshine dreams he had for him. He began playing music for him with the purpose of developing further his natural-born musical ear. He decided he would teach him playing the guitar as soon as he was able to properly use his hands. He even started choosing all the songs he would teach him to play. In his eyes, his cherished son was all he wanted from life; he was the most beautiful baby in the entire universe, and no other baby, even if it had been Lana’s baby, would be able to take this title away for him. Many days passed without him thinking about Lana, without talking about her and Mark with Tonya, without craving his revenge so fiercely. The fire within him had cooled down, for a while he even thought it was extinguished, all until the day baby Dana was born.

Again he was standing in front of the O.R door, but this time he was accompanied by Tonya instead of Mark. He still couldn’t get the image of Mark crying as he was holding Lana’s hand and leading her to the O.R out of his mind. It was the first time he had ever seen Mark cry. He didn’t cry even at his father’s funeral. This scene triggered some old feelings inside him, some ideas about an unfinished business which still needed to be taken care of. He tried to bury those feelings deep inside.

But they all came afloat when he saw Lana’s little girl. If Ali resembled him, then Dana was a spitting image of her mother. She took after her in her bright, brown eyes, her large nose and defined jaws. Even her hair was of the same color. Tonya said she looked more like Mark. Probably so, for Mark and Lana looked more like they were brother and sister. But no, Dana’s face was small and oval like Lana’s, not square-shaped like Mark’s.

As Tonya tenderly held the baby, Mark stood beside her and kissed his daughter’s tiny hand. This moment brought Mohammad five years backwards, back to the day he was introduced to Mark’s new girlfriend; Tonya. He tried to remember Ali’s warm smile, the one he would put on his face when being tickled. Mohammad always said that this was Ali’s best look ever. Yet, Dana looked more appealing to him.

She should’ve been my daughter. He heard the words loudly bellow in the back of his mind.

“Excuse me. I need to use the restroom.” He said rushing hastily towards the restroom and locking the door behind him. He opened the tap to its full, took a handful of the running water and splashed his face with it. He then looked up. The Dorian Grey reflection stared him back in the face. He hadn’t seen this one in a while; for a moment there he thought it was gone forever. But there it was again, telling him it’s not over.

 

 

Chapter 17: Out of my mind

If Lana’s life changed dramatically after marriage, Tonya’s life couldn’t have been anymore like  it had been back when she was still Miss Tonya Al-Shareef. She still went jogging first thing in the morning, had her breakfast while watching TV, practiced dancing for almost and hour, put something together in the kitchen as a small contribution to dinner (at her parent’s house, her mum usually prepared dinner, while now at her new house, the cook would prepare dinner), went shopping every couple of days and listened to some heartwarming music before going to bed.

Perhaps the one thing that had changed was her place of residence; now she was living in Baher’s house with his father. Despite Baher’s strong refusal towards this, Mr. Ali made it perfectly clear that he wasn’t going to give him a house of his own. The way he saw it: the house was huge and he was alone, and Mohammad was going to take it sooner or later after his father’s death, so why live somewhere else? Tonya didn’t disapprove; better yet, she saw this as a crucial part of her plan. This would be one of the things that shall make Lana wish she hadn’t married Mark. Tonya could tell how much Lana hated seeing her (Tonya) better than herself, richer than herself. If anything, that was probably the reason why Mohammad eventually gave in.

His father gave them the largest room in the house, more like a suite. Spacious and elegant as it was, it still had the air of a teenager’s room, for Mohammad moved his guitar, amplifier and record collection in. And that wasn’t the only stuff Tonya had to get used to being around, since Mohammad announced that Sugar would be sleeping with them! Neither being cats’ best friend nor worst enemy, it didn’t take her long to get adjusted to the fur flying in the air, the smell of her litter in their bathroom or her endless meows in the middle of the night. After a while, Tonya began to get used to her, and maybe even enjoy her company.

As for her relation with her husband, it wasn’t as successful as that with the cat. The only difference in their relationship now from their relationship before marriage was sleeping in the same room. And even in that aspect things weren’t so great, since they slept in separate beds. They spent their entire honeymoon celibate; all they did during those two weeks in the Far East was plot their revenge. Mohammad sometimes thought about making a move, yet he was always afraid of being rejected, especially that he saw no encouragement from Tonya’s side.

It wasn’t until they visited Lana and Mark’s home for the first time. Had there been one thing both of them saw as bright as the sun that night, it was Lana and Mark’s clingy habit. Lana nearly sat on Mark’s lap at one instant. And she wouldn’t take one step without giving him a kiss on the cheek first; it was like a confirmation of her every movement.

That night, Mohammad found Tonya dressed in a rather revealing nightgown instead of her regular pajamas. He was even more surprised to find her taking a seat right next to him on his fold-out couch.

“I was thinking,” she began less steadily than she had probably wanted to be, “that maybe since we’re already married, it’s time we start acting like a married couple. I mean, why should they have all the fun while we have all the misery? It’s the least of our rights.”

And that’s how it happened. Nevertheless, neither of them could feel any passion throughout the whole thing; not just the lovemaking part but their entire marriage. It was like they were performing roles in a silly play. At times, Mohammad would feel like he was just a puppet whose strings were in Tonya’s hands; she got to move him around whichever way she pleased, made him do all sorts of things that she thought had to be done. As much as he hated that, there were those times when he fantasized about Lana while Tonya was in his arms, that was when he would have wanted her to get hold of her strings, control him, strangle him, even , if she should, just to stop him from his obsessive delusions.

It was one of those times when Tonya popped up a staggering question:

“If there was one thing you could do differently about your relationship with Lana, what would that be?” she said as she looked at the ceiling. She was lying right next to him in bed, covered up with the blanket and with her hands resting on her chest.

“I would’ve called to check on her when she was in New York.” Replied Mohammad after a moment of consideration.

“What, you didn’t call back then?” asked Tonya turning to him, shocked.

“I checked on her, through Mark, and you.” He said slowly looking downwards.

“Still, you had to call her. Let her know that you cared.”

“Well, if it had been me, I wouldn’t have wanted her to call me. I wouldn’t have wanted to talk to her when I was so weak and down. I thought … I thought at such moments, people just prefer to be alone, at least ’till they’re strong enough to face the world again.”

“She didn’t want to be alone.” Remarked Tonya sarcastically. “And she found a hell of a company, too. God, Baher.” She still called him Baher when she was excited. She was trying to get used to calling him Mohammad, since it was absolutely ridiculous for a wife to call her husband by his family name. “You should’ve traveled to her. If you had done so, nothing would’ve been the way it is right now.”

“Well, I didn’t and that’s that.” Said Mohammad a bit worked up.

“What about you?” he asked after taking a moment to calm down. “What would you have done differently with Mark?”

“You know what?” she looked at him as she spoke so expressively, “Nothing; I would’ve done absolutely nothing differently. The way I see it, I didn’t mess up anything. I mean, I saw him, I liked him, I started showing him that I liked him and he started showing me that he liked me back, and before you know it: we were an item. Things were going so smoothly, just like a sweet dream. All until they went to London. I don’t know what the hell happened over there, but he came back totally different. He was cold and distant, and then he broke up with me.” Her words really got into Mohammad’s head, for he seemed so thoughtful. “Did it change things between you?” Asked Tonya, noticing the change in him. “The London trip, I mean.”

“As a matter of fact it did, but to the better. She left angry and bitter and returned tender and sweet.” They both thought about the mystery for a while, then Baher said:

“Forget about that. Can’t we get them out of our heads for just one second?”

“I wish we could.” rejoined Tonya, moving out of bed. “but as fate would have it, I’m meeting with her in half an hour.” She headed to the closet.

“Where to?” asked Mohammad, stretching his arms in the empty bed.

“The usual; shopping and then maybe dinner.” Bellowed Tonya with a distant voice coming from the closet.

“By the way,” she added coming out of the closet, fully dressed, “there’s something I wanted to tell you.”

“What?”

“It’s late.”

“What is it?”

“My period.”

Mohammad looked at her with raised eyebrows.

“Ok, I had a test and it came back positive.”

“Oh.”

“So I was thinking, with the hectically insane lives we’re leading, the last thing we need right now is a poor baby who would pay for our and their mistakes.” She looked at him in search of confirmation. “Don’t you think so?”

“I guess.” He replied hesitantly.

“So you’re with me on the abortion thingy?”

“I think it should be for the best.”

“Good,” she said picking up her purse. “I’ll tell you when I set a date, then.” And with that, she left.

 

 

 

IN LESS THAN three hours, she was back. Mohammad was trying some guitar riffs when she violently opened the door. From her red, angry face and her bright, burning eyes, Mohammad could tell something went wrong. And he didn’t need to ask, for she would tell him anyways.

“Change of plans.” She indignantly announced.

“What?” He asked laying the guitar down.

“We’re keeping the baby.”

“What? Why the hell would we do …”

“Lana’s pregnant.”