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.

 

 

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Chapter 15: Shine On

 

There were days when Lana woke up, opened her eyes and slowly got out of bed to make coffee, and then she thought about her life and what’s to be done with it. That’s because Lana couldn’t think, remember, calculate or approximate without those little atoms of caffeine going through her body and filling up her stomach.

However, this was not one of those days. This was one of the days when Lana’s pupils would widen the moment her eyes would open up; when it would take her less than a second to see things clearly, to realize what exactly has been done with her life. Then, she would jump out of bed, from intolerable excitement. And when she’d drink her coffee, it would be basically to cool herself down with a hot, soothing drink. And what could give her that feeling better than her own wedding day?

“Tonya!” she screamed running across the kitchen the second she heard the bell ring. It was indeed Tonya, in her denims and with a dress on her arm. Lana had to wait till the maid who had opened the door took the dress from Tonya so that she’d leap into her arms.

“Oh, thank God. Tonya, you’re here.”

“What’s the matter?” asked Tonya gently pulling her away to see her face.

“Sara’s still asleep and mum says I won’t have enough time to get ready. She’s already calling people and telling them that the wedding’s at five o’clock instead of three.”

“Hey, just relax, alright?” she took a deep breath, and so did Lana. “Now, is the dress ready?” Lana nodded. “Is the veil ready?” Lana nodded. “Have you shaved?” Lana nodded. “Have you confirmed with the hair dresser?” Lana nodded. “The make up artist?” Lana nodded. “Ok, that’s one, two …” she was counting on her fingers, “Five. No, they’re six. What are we missing? What … Your shoes! Oh my God. How could I forget? Of course it’s your shoes. Are they ready?” For the last time, this time probably more chilled than before, Lana nodded. “Ok, then. Let’s get down to business.

“We still gotta wake your lazy sister, though.” Added Tonya as they were climbing the stairs.

THE ENTIRE DAY was spent in preparations; the hairdresser and the make up artist tended to Lana, Sara, Tonya and Dalia. So, it wasn’t a short while before they had the time to get dressed. Between every couple of brushes on her cheeks or blows in her hair, Lana would peep out of her bedroom window to look at the garden being completely set up. The wedding was to take place in the garden. And even though Lana was the one who proposed the idea, now the thought of it was scaring her to death.

“What if it rains?” she asked as Tonya was zipping her dress. Dalia was dressing Sara up in her room, so the two of them were alone.

“Lana, it’s June. It’s never gonna rain.” Said Tonya as she tied the white ribbon around Lana’s waist.

“You’re right.” Lana was silent for a while. “God, it’s June.” She resumed again, obviously very worked up. “How could I be so stupid as to have an open air wedding in June? It’s too freaking hot.”

“Lana, relax, will you?” Cried Tonya with her hands around Lana’s waist.

Lana acquiesced. She decided to shut up for a while and moved instead to the jewellery department. She reached out for the jewellery box on her hairdresser and slowly opened it. It had two sets of jewellery; one was a butterfly-shaped diamond pendant with matching earrings and the other was a pearl necklace also with matching earrings and bracelet.

“You’ve managed to make me change my mind about my wedding, Lana.” Said Tonya as she was fixing her hair. “Up till this morning I wanted to have it done in the open air. I thought maybe Mohammad’s house would be a good choice. You know, his garden is almost as big as yours, so it could host a nice wedding. But after your pack of worries and insecurities, I’m thinking maybe a hotel won’t be so bad. Anyway, I haven’t officially discussed it with Mohammad yet. He still refuses to tell me what he prefers.”

Lana gave her an attentive smile. She was going to make a proposal, but she decided that maybe it wasn’t her place to do it. So she just returned to her jewellery.

“Which one do you think I should wear?”

“The butterflies.” Replied Tonya, rather spontaneously. “There’s nothing Mark loves better than butterflies.” She didn’t think about the words until they were already spoken. And when they were out, she realized that she had messed up, big time. Yet, she couldn’t take it back. And why should she feel impelled to take it back? Even if it made Lana’s face color, it was a fact; nothing could possibly change it. Therefore, she decided to finish off what she had already started. “I used to date him back in the day, and I can’t help but remember how fond he was of butterflies.” She slowly added.

After a short pause of awkward, uncomfortable silence, Lana said:

“Butterflies it is, then.”

Tonya helped her to put them on. Next, she readjusted Lana’s veil and tiara. Finally, she gently held Lana’s face between her hands and made her face the mirror.

“Now you’re perfect.” Lana politely smiled. “Ok, then. I’ll go downstairs and see how things are going, whether or not the groom arrived and maybe figure out how much longer you have to wait here. Alright?” Tonya kept smiling back at her even when she turned away and moved to the door.

“Hey, Tonya,” Called Lana, still seated by the hairdresser, stopping her, “I think you should stick to the hotel. For your wedding, I mean.”

“Oh really? You think that would be better?” asked Tonya, a bit pleased with Lana’s interest in her affairs.

I happened to date Mohammad. And if I remember correctly, he wasn’t a big fan of surprises. And clearly, an open-air wedding; full of surprises.”

MARK WAS STANDING in the hall when Tonya went downstairs. She couldn’t take her eyes off his fluffy, fair hair when she first set eyes upon him that day. Then she moved her eyes to his black tuxedo, and his bow tie. His face was red and his eyes shyly looked back with a nervous glance. She couldn’t remember him looking more appealing than he looked at that moment. Then she remembered: it was his wedding day, and she wasn’t the one in the white dress. And that struck her so coarsely, even more harshly than the sight of Mohammad standing right next to Mark with his hand on Mark’s shoulder. Its blow was so hard on her that she wasn’t even able to face the excruciating truth: that her fiancé was standing right in front of her eyes and yet she couldn’t see one single attractive feature in him. While she saw every feature of his best friend, his groom-to-be best friend, as breathtaking. She was about to scream, what is she doing to herself? But her thoughts were interrupted by Lana’s father, whom she noticed by her shoulder.

“Is our Barbie ready, yet? ‘Cause the maa’zoun is here and we should probably get started.”

“She’s ready.” Said Tonya looking down at her entangled hands. “I’ll go get her.”

In a few minutes, all the noise in the hall came to an end, and the violins started playing very tunefully. All eyes were turned upon the stairs; down descended the princess of the entire ceremony. In her sleeveless, white dress, tightening up at the chest and loosening down the waist, with a wide, white ribbon separating both parts, Lana couldn’t look more majestic. However, in Mark’s eyes; she looked simply angelic. The sight of her in that way made him remember the time he first saw her dance. He could see that pretty, diffident smile on her face, that same smile he would only see when she danced. After she stopped dancing, he thought that smile would disappear from his life. He knew it was a smile which expressed her utmost pleasure, and it pained him to think that he couldn’t whatsoever manage to draw it upon her face. But now the smile was back, and his heart leaped out of his chest when he watched it widen across her face, making her look all innocent and childish.

She was carefully seated next to her father, who was sitting on the maa’zoun’s right and who, in turn, had Mark sitting on his left. First, the maa’zoun got out some papers which had been prepared earlier by Lana and Mark; papers that legalized their marriage and recorded their marriage conditions. All they had to do now was sign them. And being signed, the maa’zoun stretched out his hand and Mr. El Masry put his hand upon it and then Mark put his hand on Mr. El Masry’s. Then the three hands were covered with a handkerchief. Doing that, the marriage ceremony began, with both Mark and Mr. El Masry, on behalf of Lana, repeating the wedding vows after the maa’zoun. When it was over, women gave out the joyous sound known in Arabic as a zaghrouta, and Dalia came over with the wedding ring. Mark slowly took Lana’s hand and pushed the ring through her finger. It was a beautiful, solitaire ring; even though the rock wasn’t that big, it looked so enchanting. Then they helped each other switch their wedding rings from the right hand to the left one.

Being finished, they greeted the maa’zoun and moved, followed by their parents, siblings and guests, out to the garden. That was when the fire works started going off, the glitter started flowing around and the slow music started playing. It was a moment to love and cherish forever. A moment that made both of them, as he looked into her brown, glimmering eyes and she looked into his green, cheery eyes, forget all about the tension they’ve been living in ever since their engagement. They forgot about his mother’s disapproval of the wedding program – wanting a real oriental Zaffa with the drums and the bagpipes, and of her mother’s disapproval on their place of residence – feeling that the apartment was too small for her daughter to live in. They forgot about the fights they’ve had, the hardships they’ve lived through and the obstacles they’ve faced. If there was one thing they both kept coming back to, it surely was their little kiss at sunrise. It was the only time they ever kissed – excluding of course that kiss in London – and they both couldn’t believe that they could taste this feeling again and not have to feel guilty about it. Life seemed so bright in their eyes, and for a while they seemed to be living in one of those love songs they used to patronize.

The time for cutting the cake came up, and their rectangular-shaped, four-level wedding cake made their mouths water as they cut it together with the same wish: that they should live in happiness and never part. At that time it seemed so ridiculous for them to wish for such a thing, for they couldn’t possible see any reason why they shouldn’t live happily ever after.

They were called, afterwards, to the dance floor for their first dance. The music started playing and their bodies moved closer. When she rested her face against Mark’s chest, feeling his strong muscles contract with nervousness, his breathing get louder and louder, Lana could hardly believe that she was in his arms. They were almost levitating; it felt as if they were dancing on a cloud up in the sky and everything else around them disappeared; all the things they had to give up to be married, all the sacrifices they had to make, all the hearts they had to break; everything, except for the beating of their own, excited hearts.

BEING SO ABSORBED, Lana couldn’t notice Tonya’s sudden disappearance. Nadia, who was watching the happy couple with a pinch of bitterness, noticed her sister’s escape. She glanced at Mohammad to see if Tonya was with him, and that made him realize that Tonya was missing. Nadia’s mind became less troubled when she watched Mohammad exiting the crowd and taking off to look for her sister.

He almost skirted around the entire house until he found her hiding by the shade of some abandoned tree by the back door. She was facing the wall and her arm was covering her face. He could tell that she was crying.

“Tonya, are you alright?” he asked dubiously touching her back. He twitched when the tip of his fingers got in contact with her bare back. Her strapless dress exposed it all.

She slowly turned around and faced him, and contrary to what he’d expected of her, he saw her eyes red with tears. “I can’t stand it Mohammad. Something inside me kept telling me that this day would never come. Despite all, I somehow thought I would never have to go through it. But now it’s happening, and I just don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to overcome it.” she spoke in-between sobs.

“But we have a plan.”

“To hell with our plan!” she screamed as she stamped her foot. “God, I’m just … I’m choking, Mohammad.” She threw herself in his arms. And he was extremely receptive. He kept patting her shoulder and going through her hair, thinking about their own wedding night. He knew they would never be as happy as Lana and Mark were at that moment, that they would never be so sincere about their first dance. Yet him marrying Tonya somehow seemed inevitable. She was the only girl he’d been with for the past three years, and he knew almost everything about her. Since marrying someone he loved was no longer an option for him, Tonya was the best wife he could currently think of. And he knew she felt the same way about him.

Nevertheless, despite his agony due to seeing Lana in Mark’s arms instead of his, he couldn’t help but ache when he saw Tonya crying so hard over Mark. If there was one thing he knew for sure at that particular instant, it was that he hated Mark, and that he couldn’t wait to take his revenge.