Arab Soothsayers Cannot be Trusted
Her papery thin hands clasp mine in a vise. “You will have three wives” – she rasps, her veil flutters with the exhalations. “The first two will give you great grief but no children. The third one will make you happy and your seed live on.” She reclines, depleted by her self-imposed exertion, a diminutive Arab relic of mummified old Jaffa. I look helplessly at Eli. He shrugs, a familiar glint in his eyes. We pay the dwarfish girl that ushered us in and bow out of the sage’s presence. “You are young”, Eli smirks, “You have time to prove her right, to get our money’s worth.” I am eighteen years old and have never been with a woman. I doubt if this particular prophecy will come to pass.
I remember that particular day and the Arab soothsayer when I watch her cajoling a pram with another man’s infant in it across the wet and pitted tarmac, 8 floors down. She is on her way to see me. We will make fervent, desperate love and then talk, the baby immersed in a whispered slumber at the corner of the bedroom. Her eyes grow misty grey with passion and in its wake settle into a hint of green. Her dainty body blushes as she bunches the ravaged sheets among her heaving breasts. She is another man’s but when we copulate, she is irredeemably mine.
She is not much of a talker, but when she does talk her insights are incisive. She has been conditioned to suppress her sparkling intellect under the guise of an ingénue’s naivety. She has always had a strained relationship with the truth and a vivid and deception-prone imagination. After all these years, I have come to learn that I know nothing about her. Not a thing. Like her nation, she is a mystery wrapped in an enigma in my bed, among the humid sheets.
She gazes at me furtively, assessing, evaluating, gauging risks and rewards like a seasoned actuary.
“So, what have you decided?” she enquires.
I shrug like Eli did all those decades ago. I feel my sagging age against her relative nubility, my supernumerary years like an unbridgeable abyss. The light just dimmed beyond the tightly drawn curtains (“What if someone is looking in or taking photos?”). I sit facing away. She compliments my back, my shoulders, so I frequently offer them to her.
“I can’t leave him now”.
I laugh involuntarily but no longer bitterly.
“No, really. Not the way he is.”
I wave the tired argument away. I have heard it all before. I will go on hearing it, I know.
I swivel to face her, aware of the flabby deficiencies of my aging physique:
“Listen, you gave me life. You owe me nothing. You made me happy, more than I deserve, more than I thought possible. I told you years ago: you restored my trust in cosmic justice, in the balance of things. I suffered horribly all my life until I met you, but the time we had together since made up for it. My existence now is like a giant scale and it is fully poised.”
“Thank you,” she says, “It is nice to hear. I am glad I made you happy. I am glad I compensated somehow. But I cannot change my life now. I am not ready.”
I glance at the stirring, now yelping packet in the corner. She averts her eyes.
Silence and then she whispers contritely:
“I ruined your life.”
I never know if she is truly emoting or merely teasing out my reaction. I say nothing and her mood brightens up in that labile flux that is her quiddity:
“Let’s travel! Let’s have an adventure!” – she exclaims. I call her my Bambi and my Magic Unicorn and in such moments, when penumbral dusk gives in to night, she is ethereal and ephemeral and translucent like the spell that she has cast on me so long ago.
She springs out of the crumpled bed and stares at the twinkling screenface of her smartphone in disbelief: “I have to go!” She grabs haphazardly at her scattered attire, bouncing from one to the other in a kind of tribal dance she must have practiced with many men. I hate to think of her with other lovers, my discarded predecessors. I envy them her intimacy. I greedily hoard every shared memory and every jingle-bell laughter and every tear we shed. Her smells and tastes. And yet so much is still beyond my reach.
“You remember the old Arab soothsayer? The one who foresaw the three women in my life?”
She pauses, suspended in mid motion, then: “Sure”.
“She got it wrong.”
“She was right about the third woman and how happy she would make me. But she was wrong about the child and that this third woman will be my wife. She will never be mine. She is spoken for, another man had claimed and wouldn’t let go.”
She dismisses this observation airily, absent-mindedly: “We will see”. She is preoccupied, her brow furrowed. She is not into romance and what she disdainfully labels “poetry”. But I am a psychologist and I know better: it is a mechanism of defense against her own intensity. Or maybe I just want to believe that there is depth there, some resonance, a hint of vulnerable humanity.
Sometimes she surprises me with her erudition. She is well-read and a cinema buff. She leverages idioms from movies to illustrate her sentences. But mostly she is flighty, avoiding on purpose the deep and the profound, a mistress of concrete thinking, abhorring the abstract and the impractical.
She hops on one leg towards me, laughter coursing through her now partly concealed nudity. She kisses me on a tear-stained cheek and then, grabbing her bag, she approaches the pram and contemplates the child. “I hope she has my hands”, she mutters wistfully. She bends down and touches her lips to the baby’s damp forehead.
“It is very hot here. I have to really go now. I hope I didn’t forget anything like my watch.” She giggles.
And she is gone.