The morning light was gradually emboldened and began to peek into the bedroom from in-between the closed flaps of the window shutters, making discernible the furnishings within. No longer able to resist the impulse to get up Wedad turned her head to steal a quick glance at Nader, her husband. He was quiet and still with his eyes shut, lying on his right side giving her his back. Aware that he was not sleeping and in order not to provoke him she gently slid from under the quilt cover and slipped out of bed. Waiting for the wedding day to begin for the past four hours the pair had been laying motionless side-by-side, watching the slow passage of darkness. She spent the time vigilant, staring through the dimness at the ceiling and walls, trying to square up the circles of her life. Although aware of each other's sleeplessness, the man and woman only exchanged a few words. When they had first come to bed Nader tried to make love to his wife but she gently turned him away saying, "I'm tired. Besides it is too late." But she held her tongue from scoffing at him, "You're soon to be a bridegroom. Shouldn't you be saving your energy for your new bride?" Wedad assumed his attempt at lovemaking was more of an apology than a desire of love for her. She was right. The pair had been married for ten bellicose years and knew each other's various moods very well. Both in an agitated state of mind they were fearful their discourse might descend into a tedious argument. As if by consent they preferred to dwell alone and in silence upon their private thoughts. He turned on his side facing away from her and closed his eyes.
After leaving the bed with anxious haste Wedad changed from her nightie into a blue anckle legnth smock she had taken out of the white wardrobe. She smoothed her dishevelled hair with a comb she picked from the dresser and tied a blue scarf with big red flowers around her neck. In mechanical, well practised movements she silently gathered up her husband's clothes as he had left them scattered around the floor after the previous evening's merrymaking. She bundled the garments together and placed them on top of a chair in the corrner. Quietly opening the door to leave she could not help first turning her head sideways to peek a final glance in the direction of the bed. Her anxiety eased. The man was curled up pretending to be fast asleep. A short-lived emotion of tenderness seeped into her bosom followed by a sudden surge of jealousy, like a snake slithering in her belly. The whole of her body shook in pain and bitterness. The feeling lasted a passing moment before its fervour was soothed. It disappeared without leaving any sour taste as she tiptoed out of the room.
Wedad was a thirty four years old woman with a lean and slender figure of an average man's height. Her black hair just touched the tips of her shoulders, framing a long plain face, more handsome than beautiful. She was prim and always sensitive to criticism about her looks. When in company her large brown eyes never seemed to know where to settle. Obstinate and proud to prove to everybody, especially her mother-in-law, that she approved of her husband taking a second wife and against his wishes Wedad had insisted on giving a party the night preceding the wedding day. Although there was tightness in her stomach and her chest was full of apprehension, she volubly received her guests, smiling and joking. To annoy her mother-in-law in particular Wedad noisily joined in the song and dance and even played the lute. With great success she had managed to hide the turmoil that had been wrangling inside her troubled head.
As if after a second thought Wedad went straight to the newly refurbished bedroom of the couple-to-be. Its shutters having been left open the room was bathed in the early morning soft light. Making sure that everything was clean and in its proper place and that the bride's clothes were neatly hanging in the wardrobe, she stood at the bottom of the bed and let her eyes stray around the light brown beech wood furniture. Satisfied that all was as it should be, her lips quavered a pale, stiffened smile. As she walked out of the room she felt wetness forming inside her eyelids and her face flushed. But the teardrops were of jumbled up emotions; more of joy mixed up with relief that was tinged with some anger. To calm her nerves she lopped across the darkened hall to the kitchen and brewed up a coffee pot and sat with it in the veranda which overlooked the street. In the common style of the Levantine dwellings of those in favourable circumstances Nader and Wedad's home was a flat roof detached villa. Built of white chalk stone blocks it was surrounded by a small garden that was fenced off by a low wall from the road. The house consisted of three bedrooms, a long reception hall and a large, oblong-shape living area in-between which was lined up with chairs. Behind the big sofa was the access to a stairwell which led to an air raid shelter underneath. Calming the tempest of thoughts that was blowing inside her head Wedad slowly sipped her coffee, watching life waking up in the street as the August morning light spread across a cloudless sky. By the time Ali, her three year old son woke up in his bed Wedad had already cleaned up the mess left by the revellers of the previous night and set the breakfast on the kitchen table. Because of their expectant mental state Nader and Wedad had no appetite for food and only managed a little to eat. To escape the confinement of the four walls of their kitchen they carried their glasses of tea to the veranda. Whilst the two adults sat in silence sipping their drink playful Ali got on with his noisy games and articulations in-between mouthfuls of food his mother was encouraging him to swallow. The boy ran into the kitchen after his dinky toy followed by her. Feeling very tense Nader was taciturn and looked perplexed. He took no notice of his wife and son. Still in his green and white stripped summer pyjamas he reclined on the settee, whiffing his cigarette, mulling and gazing at the road. The smoke rose from his black moustache which covered his upper lip in the fashion of the men of the east Mediterranean. He was nearing his fortieth birth day with a balding head, hairy chest and a bulging waist line. Tall and darkly handsome he had big facial features. From behind the blue column of smoke swirling upward in front of his face his Amorite-grey eyes stared ahead under their thick-framed glasses. Unlike his worked up wife the man was constrained, if reconciled, to his imminent second marriage rather than hopeful or thrilled by it. A little incomprehension would surface on his countenance now and then. He would animatedly gaze into space baffled before the furrows of concentration on his forehead would level again.
After breakfast Wedad took Ali to her mother to look after him for the day. To show their disapproval her parents had refused to attend the wedding reception and called their daughter reckless and stupid for apparently allowing her husband to bring into her house a sister-wife. They were both rancorous and in a voice had warned her, "The new wife will see to it that you are a divorcee before her first anniversary is out." But Wedad shrugged off their criticisms in defiance.
By the time Nader's mother, sisters and other female relatives arrived Wedad had tidied up the house and made it fit to receive the new bride. Out of malice the mother-in-law, only her long wrinkled face showing through her full length grey garb, went looking around the place. She checked everything, making certain all that her son might need to entertain his male friends, who would keep him company until it was time for them to bring him to the wedding hall, had been prepared correctly. By mid morning the house was full of women who arrived to share in the day's merriment. On entering the living hall a few of the younger ladies removed their scarfs and shook their heads to loosen their hair and cool off. However most women kept their hair hidden. Some men also came and joined Nader on the veranda. As other guests arrived the hubbub grew louder and everybody was rushing about talking and asking important questions. All kept an eye on the time. High up in the shimmering blue flames of the sky three enemy military phantom jets in their usual daily show of force broke the sound barrier. Thick and long white vaporous tails trailed the shining silver aeroplanes. There was a brief menaced hush at the sound of the sonic booms which reverberated throughout Irbed, rattling everyone and everything. Although outwardly unconcerned all were fully mindful of the meaning of the flying objects in the sky. Regardless, life carried on as before.
At noon a fleet of hired cars showed up in front of the house and double parked next to those which had already arrived, hooting and revving their engines, creating a great commotion in the searing heat. Everybody inside the house came out to see the motorcade and admire the bride's car. It was a red Mercedes decorated with coloured ribbons and big bows. A few of the closest female relatives began to yodel. There were kids everywhere, all excited, running, arguing and noising at the same time jostling one another to get into the vehicles. They wanted to accompany their mothers and sisters to Amman to bring home the bride and enjoy the usual raucous wedding procession through the streets of Irbed.
Vying with one another the arch rivals Wedad and her mother-in-law separately quizzed Nader that he knew where everything was and that he was all right. Carrying suitcases and boxes in which they had packed the clothes they would wear at the wedding reception later that evening, the women bid the tense bridegroom and his friends farewell and hoped to see them again at eight thirty at the Petra Hall. In accordance with other common theatrical customs of wedding festivities in the Levant, the bride would arrive at the reception hall before her intended. Dressed in white and bespangled with golden jewellery she would be made to sit veiled and alone on a raised dais dressed with lavish and bright hangings and adorned with flowers; such an extravagant throne was called a loge.
And so it was. At eight o'clock that Saturday evening on the sounds of the all male Beirut Musical Band the father of Swary led her wrapped in his black abyeah to the loge, enacting the ancient symbolic gesture of giving the bride away. The bonds of matrimony had been agreed upon and signed three months earlier. To spite her mother-in-law Wedad appointed herself mistress of ceremony which surprised all the guests, both male and female. They had all expected her not to attend and that if she was persuaded to she would sit sulkily, acting hurt and resentful.
But Wedad had never been an ordinary girl. To her mother's vexation, apart from her school uniform she would only wear a smock when indoors. As a teenager if she ever went out she invariably wore jeans and a loose blouse against her father strictest orders. If he got sight of her dressed so immodestly in trousers he would punish her and ground her to the house for weeks. Unlike other girls Wedad kept her hair cut too short and hated putting makeup on her face, painting her lips or colouring her nails. She never took notice of any of the amorous youths who marched up and down the pavements outside the girls' secondary schools, nor any other boy had ever written her name on the inside covers of his books or sent her his poems. Whilst her younger sister giggled girlishly and dressed and behaved to show off her femininity, Wedad was ordered and polite. Although as a child her temper was like gunpowder, as she grew older she consciously cultivated a disciplined mannerism, straining herself to behave correctly in order not to attract the attention or be in the view of a prospecting mother-in-law. In fact, Wedad secretly envied her two brothers for their apparent freedom and licensed privileges. When other daughters filled the idle time of their maidenhood in frivolous pursuits, awaiting marriage - which she thought was all that was occupying their timid minds - she dreamed of work and financial independence.
After the early turmoil of her marriage Wedad's life settled down into a familial routine and Nader learned to live with his wife's peculiar ways. Despite his strong and often violent objections she disobeyed him and wore trousers in public. It took him a long time to come to terms with her flagrant waywardness. To repress his jealousy of other men staring at his wife's round bottom he had to spend a great deal of effort to master self-control. Never really comfortable with just being a housewife, early on in their married life Wedad started to join him in their shop which he had named 'Boutique called Moonlight'. On the pretext of saving time, she brought her sawing machine into the store and took over any dress alterations needed by their patrons and learned the art of selling. The couple's financial situation improved even further. So when the women of Irbed saw her made-up in the Petra Hall they were not just surprised but amazed. Contrary to common knowledge Wedad had painted her lips red and covered her face with a light layer of make-up. She wore a sleeveless long, red dress which closely followed the contours of her body and exposed the tip of her cleavage. Red being her sister-wife's favourite colour, Wedad had specially selected the dress from 'Boutique called Moonlight' to wear at the wedding reception.
And when Nader was led into the Petra Hall surrounded by his closest male relatives and bosom pals who were loudly carolling him, to prove to everybody that she had no concealed enmity or hatred towards his bride Wedad joined his mother and sisters and began to yodle to greet the arrival of the men. With an ear splitting falsetto voice drowning everybody else's Wedad sang as she grabbed Nader's hand and guided him by herself to sit beside his bride. To be seen by the guests who were clapping and making a great deal of merry noise the three stood on the raised loge. It was filled with flower bouquets from well-wishers and draped with pink and blue pleated silk drapes and colourful flickering lights. The Beirut Musical Band played even louder, singing popular folk wedding songs. With shaky hands and sweat streaming from his forehead the nervous bridegroom lifted the veil from his bride's face. In front of the loge his friends shouted, "Kiss the bride. Kiss the bride", their aim being to make Wedad jealous.
Feeling that he was too old for such a noisy wedding reception, Nader was too embarrassed to oblige. He reclined on his seat exhausted and felt he was submerging in a pool of his own perspiration. His two wives remained standing amongst the flowers. Astounding everybody by her assertiveness Wedad jovially replied, "My husband and I are one. I'll kiss him and I'll kiss the bride."
There was a fleeting pause, a stunned silence before the guests laughed and returned to sing and dance. Wedad, bold as brass, guided the bride back to her seat which was what her groom should have done. First leaning over to Nader with her tall, slender figure and avoiding any eye contact, Wedad printed a little kiss on his wet forehead and then she stood erect facing Swary, the young bride. The two women's eyes met for a long moment. Extraordinarily Wedad suddenly hesitated and stopped dead on the spot. She was overcome by an abrupt and overwhelming emotion which the solemnity of the occasion had evoked in her. She felt self-conscious and began to tremble visibly. She thought her nerves were about to give way. Swary guessed the mental state of her sister-wife. To reassure her she smiled and held out her hand and touched Wedad's shaky fingers and pressed them hard. Swary obviously had lost none of her courage. Her quick, subtle reaction alerted Wedad and she regained her balance and self-composure. With clouded eyes she leaned over and put her hand on the bride's left shoulder. As the two women's cheeks met Swary whispered into Wedad's ear, "May Allah bless this marriage."
A woman from amongst the astonished females who on the whole thought that Wedad's happiness seemed real enough and not a bit artificial, told her company of female guests, "The accursed woman! How powerful she looks! I swear by all the names of the Most High if I were in her place I'd have exploded with rage."
One of the men who always preferred to stand at the back of the hall to watch the women and to envy the groom commented to his mate, "May both his wives prove wholesome to Nader. The man will turn over beds of pleasure." In Arab society's wedding receptions males and females mingled gregariously and openly. Nonetheless everybody was polite, respectful and acted with circumspection and with the utmost propriety. On such occasions no social limits were breached, at least not in public. So whilst the young unmarried girls were dancing to the tunes played by the Beirut Musical Band and exhibiting their beauties to catch the eyes of men and of match-makers, the married women sat down around the tables, exchanging the latest rumours and tittle tattles circulating in Irbed. Seeing and not believing her eyes a woman told her friends, "I can't believe that this is the same Wedad who ran away from Nader on their first wedding night!"
Knowing the conversation was going to be about what males and females did in bed the women around the table stretched out their necks and huddled their heads together. They all pricked their ears which were weighed down by earrings hidden under their scarfs. Wearing their fineries in the fashion of the women of the Levant their faces were covered by thick layers of make up and from their powdered necks hung down gold necklaces and chains. Speaking in a faint voice lest the men would hear them the woman continued telling her companions, "When Nader was alone with Wedad for the first time he tried to lift the hem of her wedding dress. At once she took fright and lapsed into silence, almost cold fear. She froze and became frigid and she refused to let him touch her."
To prove she was also privy to Wedad's wedding secret another woman jingled her bracelets and interjected, "And for their first night together Nader had reserved the bridal suit at the four star Hejazi Hotel."
A third woman lowered her head and whispered, "Woe upon the enemy! And didn't he sleep with her on their wedding night?"
The first woman answered in the same faint voice with which she had begun to talk lest she was overheard by anybody she didn't want to her the subject of their topic of conversation, "Oh no, you defeated of expectations. He thought his bride was shy and to reassure her he went to the bathroom, leaving her to calm down. She was trembling with terror, being left alone with this stranger and with no one to stand up for her. I swear to God, Wedad was still in her wedding dress when she opened the bridal suit door and let her legs race the wind down the stairs. She grabbed a taxi back to her parents' house. When Nader came out of the bathroom ready for love and amour there was no sign of his wife. The first thought that came into his head was that she was not a virgin and was afraid he would find out and expose her secret like many men do to their brides. Guessing that she probably went back to her parents' home, and to avoid a scandal, he followed her there."
The thick layers of makeup just managed to hide the reddening faces of the listening women. Some were embarrassed out of modesty for the delicate subject. Others were choked by private thoughts and gathered their breath. One of the masked women asked in disbelief, "And was she soiled?"
The speaker didn't take much notice of the question. Her kohl-blackened eyelashes blinked rapidly as she carried on in the same faint voice, "When he saw Wedad back at the doorstep of his house her father thought that Nader had found that she was damaged goods and sent her back to her family to deal with. He was enraged for the dishonour his daughter had brought upon his name. His moustache twitching with wrathful rage the father of Wedad roughly dragged her inside almost breaking her wrist, fearful that any of the neighbours might have seen her disgracing return. Whilst in his rabid mind he was considering which was the best way to kill her to cleanse his honour with her blood, he exploded with fury, demanding to know why she was back.
When Wedad explained what Nader had wanted to do to her the father felt relieved and sighed deeply to calm himself, mumbling, 'Thank You God, the girl is just inexperienced.' When Nader arrived his father-in-law took him aside and explained to him man to man why his bride had fled. Then he ordered Wedad to go back with her groom, warning her of severe punishment if she did not let him have his way with her. After Wedad's mother came back from her daughter's wedding reception, unaware of the drama that had taken place, her husband told her what had happened and then asked her, 'Didn't you explain to the girl what to expect'. The mother laughed with hearty laughter then said, 'What do you think, my Baal? Of course I did. But you tell me, is there a girl in the whole world left in these days of cinema and television who does not know?"
The hushed audience of listening females round the table burst out in tense laughter to loosen their tightened nerves. One of them remarked, "The consumptive bitch! Did she never hear of the many differences in-between the thighs of men and the thighs of women."
When Wedad's mother-in-law became privy to what had happened at her son's wedding night, out of spite and jealousy she spread the tale around Irbed. She had wished Nader to marry her niece.
Having no ambition for academic qualifications, at the age of sixteen Nader left school. His father found him a job as a trainee sale's assistant at one of Irbed's big ready-to-wear stores along Cinema Street, the commercial heart of the city. Like all adolescents, sex was at the forefront of the youth's mind. However, in the didactic culture of the Arabs sex is sanctified and open relationships between boys and girls outside marriage are tyrannically prohibited. Guided by his older colleagues at the store, Nader, who did not lack intelligence, before long learned how to flatter and flirt with women. He soon began to observe that they, whether married or unmarried, frequented the stores because they were mostly bored and some were in search of excitement to fill their empty time. His colleagues swore by all the names of Allah that many of these women were not only easy to seduce but were actually looking for 'it'. Realising that his son was being led astray Nader's father, a wily businessman and sensible to the needs of young men took him aside and warned him, "Listen son, just as your mother and you sisters' flesh is inviolable to us so is the flesh of other men's mothers and sisters." And to make it worth his son's self-restraint in keeping his name above suspicion and gossip the father promised to help him finance his own store if he acted wisely and proved himself to be ready to trade and run his own shop.
Being brought up on paternal obedience Nader heeded his father's advice. Like many unmarried men, to satisfy his excitable libido he visited what everybody derogatorily called 'a respectable house' and paid for sex. Five years later he saved enough to pay key-money for a one window-front store in an ally off Cinema Street. With a little financial assistance from his father and a small bank loan, Nader furnished it and stocked it with ladies fashions, naming it 'Boutique called Moonlight'. Each day he sat alone for many hours in his shop waiting for customers. After reading the sports pages in the daily newspapers he would puzzle as what to do next. He was a typically ordinary man and only thought of basic bodily needs. He very rarely read a book or took interest in political or social issues beyond the front page headlines. Finally, boredom out weighed the fear of scandal and exposure as he actively began sizing up his female customers in search of 'easy' women. After a few abortive attempts, mostly due to unsteady nerves, he touched a woman's hand whom he had assumed was 'easy'. She did not object. To his surprise, when he tried to allure her to the back of the shop and into the changing room, she willingly followed him. In fact the woman was much bolder than he was and frequented 'Boutique called Moonlight' a few times after that. Nader quickly learned which ones were 'easy' amongst his clients. Soon, some visited him for sex alone. His colleagues advised him, "Married women are better. You can have intercourse with them without worrying about pregnancy or fear of emotional involvement." Irrespective of religious faith, males of the Levant think of themselves as the bricks that built society, whilst the females were merely the decor on the walls. However, by the standards of his environment Nader was considered liberal in his outlook to the female. Although he did not quite consider her as his equal in intelligence or social standing, nonetheless he respected her opinion and was willing to discuss the important issues with her. Because his manners were both polite and courteous, women flocked to his shop and he began to make good profit.
As Nader neared thirty years of age his parents started to urge him to get married. His mother selected her eighteen year old niece for him. To draw his attention to the girl's beauty and suitability she particularly pointed out her niece's high hips and heavy breasts, which indicated fertility. Though he did not tell his mother so, Nader found the obvious way his cousin was parading herself before him loathsome, and he could not bear to think of her as a wife. He was more attracted to strong women who looked him in the eye and smiled. It was at that crucial moment that Wedad suddenly appeared upon the stage of his life. The first time she came to 'Boutique called Moonlight' with her friends he took note of the simplicity of her dress and the lack of makeup upon her handsome face which immediately attracted him to her as a girl who made up her own mind. Wedad sensed his glances. Though she blushed, to her surprise she was not startled nor frightened and her eyes met his.
Wedad visited 'Boutique called Moonlight' many times afterwards and became its most regular patron. Each time she brought with her a different company of girls to advise them on the quality of their purchases. She impressed Nader with her free spirit and her unregimented conduct. To his delight he did not recognise the behaviour of an 'easy woman' in her. If he touched her hand she would withdraw it with a natural spontaneous reflex, as if she did not understand his intention. During the long hours of sitting alone in his shop, Nader found himself frequently thinking of Wedad. Born out of intrigue a sort of love for her developed in his heart and soon it became his business to find out more about her. When he announced to his parents that he had found the girl he wanted to marry, his mother objected strongly. But he refuted all the objections his mother had put in his way. When all else failed to convince him to marry her nice she screamed at her son in anger, "Wedad is a spinster. She is nearly twenty five years old." To the surprise of her parents, Wedad agreed to marry Nader when in the past she had refused other suitors.
There was nothing special in Wedad's upbringing to distinguish her or make her different from other girls of her generation. Like Nader she descended from a working family who owned their own home in the respectable suburb of the Roman Lake. Her early child hood was happy and she preferred to play boys' games, which gained her the nick name, 'Hassan suby' (Tomboy). Her inwardness began as she was approaching puberty. Her mother forbade her to mix with boys and forced her to stay indoors. Ever since she could remember, Wedad found girls' submissive attitudes towards life silly, and she felt an outsider in their company. Not being able to express herself, she hated school and became taciturn. She failed all her exams not due to any stupidity but because of a personal complex which was brought on by a sense of not belonging. She left the classroom when she was eighteen. Wedad spent the next four years housebound, dreaming private dreams of independence and solitude. Fearing her daughter would end up an old maid, Wedad's mother sent her to learn dressmaking with a renowned seamstress. Wedad quickly mastered the sewing machine and started to take on simple tasks, alterations, button sewing and so on. Before long she found her vocation and began to make good money. As a seamstress the girls, especially young brides, used to ask her to accompany them to the shops to check the quality of the clothes they would buy. It was on such an outing that Wedad met Nader in his shop.
Their marriage survived the traumatic experience of its first night. Gradually it dawned upon Nader that his wife was not just afraid of sex but actually hated it. If they made love it was out of duty and obligation on her part. He heard the grating of her teeth and felt her tense body under him. Wedad's obvious lack of sexual enjoyment hurt her husband's masculine pride and made him feel inadequate as a man. The feeling that he was making love to a masturbation machine angered and degraded him very much. Furious arguments erupted between them for any paltry reason. It was not long before Nader began to beat his wife, laughing at her slow useless attempts to defend herself. He drove his hands down the back of her underpants and squeezed her bum hard then up her dress to her breasts, holding them and pulling at them. He began to get a certain morbid pleasure from humiliating her, showing her who was the boss. He would take her anywhere he found her in the house, at the stove cooking or mopping the floor - even if she was having her period. The slightest resistance she showed to shrug him away, his playfulness would slide off like his trousers and he would take her down there and cover her with himself. Once he even beat her with repeated heavy blows in the garden with the neighbours and passers-by watching him hit her with horror until she was brought down and he raped her behind the shrubbery. Wedad must stay still until he ejaculated. If she cried he would shout and threaten to do his worst and throw her out naked onto the street. When he finished, he just got up, wiping his front with her dress and leaving her lying there too terrified even to cry. Early on in their marriage Wedad even thought, "May be if we have some time together alone, without worrying about war and the next meal, I might make him see how I love him." But she never did. Her life was very sad and she hardly had any friends she could actually confide in and she began to feel very restless. When she was alone she wept and thought of suicide but only once did she attempt comitting it by throwing himself before a bus. Wedad was truly wretched and had nowhere to go.
To defend his manhood, Nader decided that his wife was frigid and began to think what sort of a desperate man would masturbate inside such an ice cold creature and set out to look for 'easy women' amongst his customers. Once Wedad realised that her husband had become less demanding upon her body, she guessed he must be sleeping with other women and felt neither jealous nor did she mind. On the contrary she felt strangely relieved. Slowly their married lives settled into a loveless routine which both learned to accept. Naturally Wedad rejected the company of women. The wasting of their energy in idle gossip had always nauseated her, both mentally and physically and so she avoided their gatherings. On the special occasions like weddings or funerals when she had to be in their company she felt alienated as if she were in a foreign country. To Nader's astonishment she started to join him at the shop. Once she felt confident enough running it, she suggested he should go out to the cafe for a little time. Though he trusted her to run things efficiently, at the beginning he refused to contemplate the idea, for fear of what the men of town might call him.
But Wedad kept on saying, "You look bored. Why don't you go to the cafe for
an hour or two to amuse yourself. Don't worry about the shop I'll look after
it." Nader's absences slowly increased until Wedad was fully in charge of
'Boutique called Moonlight'. He travelled to Amman and Damascus seeking in
particular the relaxed company of Russian and European prostitutes. The
newness of the concept of a woman running a shop in the male dominated
society of Irbed, though not quite unique, made 'Boutique called Moonlight'
famous. In their sixth year of marriage, late one night he came home and
forced himself upon her. She was unprepared and had taken no precautions.
After the siesta of a flaming Wednesday mid afternoon in July, Wedad left Nader and his son at home and went ahead of them to 'Boutique called Moonlight'. To attract the attention of the cafe waiter a few doors down the ally she stood at the shop's entrance and called out to order a glass of iced, mint tea. In a modest, short sleeved red dress, a nervous Swary walked hesitantly in front of her and with an uneasy smile trembling on her lips. She bid Wedad, "Good afternoon", and carried on her way with sluggish foot steps. For a moment the shop proprietress thought the young woman was going to stop. The lightly made up youthful face seemed familiar to her, but she could not remember where or when she had seen it before. Casting a glance after the petite figure with the silky, long black hair cascading over her small shoulders, Wedad mumbled, "She must have been a past customer!"
To catch the cooling afternoon breeze, Wedad placed her chair just inside the entrance to 'Boutique called Moonlight' where she sat, perusing through the pages of a newspaper. When she lifted her head to sip her iced, mint tea she saw Swary dragging her feet on the pavement and peeking shyly into the shop window. Wedad was suddenly gripped with an obscure emotion that shook all of her body and it trembled with the heat of sexual desire. With hungry looks, her eyes voraciously gazed at the shy, young girl. This sort of feeling was not new to Wedad. But on this occasion it was like an earthquake that shook her to the very core of her being and made her face flush red. Unable to gather enough courage, Swary felt awkward and she bashfully stepped away from Wedad's view. Aware that it was not the first time that strange sensations had griped her, Wedad managed to restrain the desire to stand up and look for the young girl. She slowly sipped her glass of iced mint tea then buried her face into the pages of the newspaper. When she lifted her head again, Wedad could hear the pounding of her heart. Her limbs involuntarily began twitching so that she could not stand, for before her stood the coy, frightened young girl, shivering. Her pretty face pale as death; all blood had drained from it. Neither of the two women was able to utter a word. Trembling all over, a few minutes had past as they just gazed into each others eyes, awakening deep sexual urges. Finally Swary, who knew exactly what she had come into the shop for, mumbled in a dry, deep, hoarse voice, "Hello."
In studied movements, as if to conceal her shaking, Wedad folded the newspaper slowly and then placed it on top of the glass counter. Steadying herself she rose from her seat and stood erect. For their tautness her nerves almost echoed the word, "Hello" back. After stepping behind the glass counter to serve her customer, she added, finding some of her voice, "How may I help you?"
Having overcome the first hurdle, Swary's heartbeat quietened down somewhat and her shaking eased. With every thing having been rehearsed several times in her head, Swary replied, "I am looking for a red summer dress."
Puzzled and considerably confused as if not fully conscious or able to think, Wedad politely inquired, "Is the dress for yourself?"
Swary answered, "Yes." She was now studious and measured. A mysterious beaming look glowed in her gentle brown eyes. Hesitating for a moment she then interjected in a conscientious attempt to break the ice between them and make conversation, "Don't you think red suits me?"
Wedad felt unnecessarily embarrassed by the look in her customer's eyes and didn't know how to answer. She diverted her gaze. Mentally guessing the young woman's size, she walked with unsteady steps to one of the racks and said, "These dresses are the latest assortment to arrive."
Whilst selecting a suitable dress the two women took their time and became less tense in each other's company. Their normal complexions gradually returned to their faces as they discussed the various dresses their colours, styles and quality of cloth. Swary choose a red frock and began to admire it asking with a beckoning look in her glazed brown eyes, "Can I try it on, please?"
Wedad felt the hot flame of desire scorching her face and knew that she was more than eager to respond to the call. With her erect breasts heaving she gestured with her head to the changing room and with a dry voice she stuttered, "Of course."
Swary took the dress on her arm and slowly ambled to the back of the shop and went into the changing room pulling the curtains behind her. With the whole of her body standing to attention, the proprietress waited. When Swary called," If you don't mind, please", with big strides Wedad walked into the cubical. Whilst Irbed was stirring from its siesta, Wedad looked down and Swary looked up as they stood face to face holding each other. Their heads were fevered, and the flames in their eyes echoed the lustful desires that were brewing within their heaving, erect and touching breasts. They stared into each others' glowing eyes silently. When, finally, their quivering lips met for the first time, they felt an engulfing fire melt them together. They both knew that moment was their whole eternity and that they must never part again.
Accompanied by a warm and close friendship, strong love penetrated deep into the two women's yearning hearts. There was not an afternoon that Swary missed visiting 'Boutique called Moonlight'. After Nader had left for the cafe, she came. Between their never ending talks and the many cups of coffee and glasses of tea, they stole hot kisses in the changing cubical. Swary was the expert at love making and Wedad was not the first woman she had fallen in love with. Reemah was Swary's school sweetheart. The two girls grew up in the same neighbourhood in Amman and had often stayed overnight at each other's homes. When they were preparing for their secondary school certificate examination, and in order not to waste their valuable study time going back and forth between school and one another houses, they begged their mothers to allow them to spend the fortnight proceeding their school finals together. Reemah being an only daughter, her mother suggested the girls studied at her place. Late one night she was woken up with a dry throat and decided to visit the kitchen to get a glass of water to drink. She noticed the light was still on in her daughter's room. In order not to disturb the rest of the sleeping house, she gently opened the door without knocking. Her aim was to advise the girls that they had studied enough for the night and should go to sleep to get some rest. To her horror, shock and disgust she saw them lying on bed. Their naked bodies were entwined, hugging and kissing each other with passion. The woman's instinctive reaction was to veil her daughter's honour and protect her from exposure. Although the whole of her body was shaking with indignation, she held back her screams and managed to control her raging wrath in order not to awaken her husband and sons. Soundlessly she forcibly separated the two mortified and embarrassed girls. Next morning when the house was emptied of males, the woman threw Swary out and forbade her never to come anywhere near her daughter. Reemah didn't dare to utter a word nor show her face for days and locked herself up in her room consumed by guilt, shame and fear. If she saw her mother, Remah sobbed and shed bitter tears to avoid a severe drubbing and punishment, claiming that she was fast asleep and unaware of what Swary had done to her. Reemah never went back to school again and was not permitted to sit the examination. A few months later she was married off.
That painful experience had shaped Swary into a hardened up sparrow. She lived through terrible few days, expecting her friend's mother to acquaint hers with what had happened. But the woman kept her silence to safe guard her own daughter's reputation. When Swary realised that her secret would not be exposed, she gradually recovered her equanimity and concentrated on her studies. Despite that dreadful experience and somewhat disturbed state of mind, Swary, who was both sagacious and innately intelligent, passed the secondary school examination with reasonable grades. Disappointed with the timidity of Reemah, Swary left Amman and enrolled in the Yarmouk university in Irbed to read business. In a conscientious effort to understand her own sexuality she searched through literature and learned that she was a homosexual. Once she saw Wedad, her sixth sense told her that she also was a lesbian. For months Swary had been passing by 'Boutique called Moonlight' and on many an occasion she had stopped herself from entering the shop at the last minute before she finally gathered enough courage to walk across its threshold and face Wedad.
The relationship between the two women remained thus for over two years; stealing a few hours of love whenever the opportunity allowed them. For her strong desire to be near Wedad, Swary rarely visited her family in Amman. Despite her mother's strong objections and under the pretence of early graduation, she stayed in Irbed for the summer semesters. She was nearing the end of her studies, when fate intervened in the strangest way. Nader had seen his wife's young friend in the shop on many occasions and thought to himself, "What a pretty girl!" At the beginning he kept a respectful distance. Compared to Wedad, Swary was confident of herself and her womanhood and she flaunted her femininity which made her quite attractive in his eyes. He wrongly guessed that she must fancy him when in fact she had always avoided him. He started to dally in the shop to steal glances of her. To the amusement of both women, Nader suddenly began to make the usual advances towards Swary as if she were an 'easy woman', seeking her sexual favours. But she did not respond. It was not long before the women simultaneously stumbled across a permanent solution to their predicament, which would not only keep Swary in Irbed but would also keep them under one roof.
They agreed that on separate occasions Wedad would leave Nader alone in 'Boutique called Moonlight' with Swary for short periods of five minutes and never longer, Swary insisted. Nader, being the man he was, tried to seize the opportunity, but Swary played her part well. When his eyes conversed with hers, she looked directly into them then let her gaze slide over him. Lust hazing and focusing his sight almost before he had time to register her persence, there she was, smiling as if she had stepped over into his outstreched arms. Swary made him think she loved him and wanted him, but she could never betray her friend. Nader's passion for her grew stronger and he lusted for her.
When the two women judged that the moment was right, Wedad said to her husband one morning, whilst they were eating their breakfast, "Swary is a good girl. We'll miss her when she graduates." Nader thought that his wife had no idea of his love pursuit with her young friend. Fearful of exposing his secret he held his tongue. He was startled when Wedad continued, "I think you fancy her." He was even more surprised when she playfully said, "Why don't you marry her?" Over several weeks she would bring up the subject reassuring him that despite the great age gap Swary was keen on him. Wedad insisted that she could never be jealous of his happiness. To assuage any financial worries he might have she told him, "Swary and I are like sisters. Our house is big enough for all of us." (Legally the man has to furnish a separate home for each wife.) When Nader came to ask for her hand in marriage, Swary accepted him against her parents' strongest objections. After her graduation they were married. Each night Nader slept in the bed of one of his wives. Both women hated to have sex with him except out of matrimonial obligation and to smooth out their daily life. To avoid intercourse, quite often they sent him to bed drunk. Men refused to believe him when he spoke of the concord and harmony within his household. It was well known, "The husband of two wives is fatigued" they insisted, but he looked refreshed and happy. Swary found work in the Jordan National Bank. "To keep her eye on our account." Wedad suggested to Nader, "We should transfer the Boutique called Moonlight business account to her bank." He did and gave his first wife a power of attorney.
Nader and his two wives lived harmoniously for a year. Whilst Wedad was in charge of 'Boutique called Moonlight' and Swary went to work, their husband spent his idle time wandering between cafes drinking and playing cards or dice. Wedad became pregnant a second time and gave birth to a girl. To amuse Nader, and perhaps encourage him to spend more time out and even travel, his wives bought him a car. Failing to carry and in response to an inner maternal desire which she could not curb, Swary went to the gynaecologist. After taking a coarse of hormones, she carried. Being a petite woman, her pregnancy was difficult and she suffered terrible pains. To nurse and look after her, Wedad slept with her. Swary gave birth to twin boys which made Nader very jubilant. Under the pretext of helping Swary to look after her babies, Wedad continued to share her sister-wife's bed. Occasionally one of them would visit his room, but the younger wife could not keep up the pretence, and refused to sleep with him. The women realised that their husband's usefulness had lapsed. It was time to be free of him. It was Swary he was more keen on sleeping with, but her constant rejection of his sexual advances made him lose his temper and he took to the bottle. Their fights degenerated into physical violence. To protect themselves they locked their bedroom door against him. Not understanding what was going on, and out of his depth, he threatened them that he would bring onto them a third sister-wife. Wedad answered him boldly, "Please do! The town is full of foolish spinsters."
Nader entertained a certain doubt that the situation in his home was not normal, but he could not fathom how. He thought that he was no longer the master in his own domain and felt redundant and useless. It was very hard for him to accept that conclusion. He sulked, refusing to eat or speak to anybody. The atmosphere was so charged that thunder could roar at any moment. One hot, dusty and oppressive Friday afternoon, towards the end of October, a row erupted between the three. Resorting to violence as usual, Nader dragged the screaming Swary to the bedroom and attempted to rape her. Shaking with rage, Wedad thought that was the final chapter. She could no longer stand back and decided that she must run the risk of facing up to their tormentor. Telling her son, Ali, to keep an eye on his brothers and sister, she locked the frightened children in their room. Wedad was courageous and valorous when she rescued Swary. The two women for the first time fought back together and gave as good as they got. Nader felt that he had lost all authority. He slammed the front door behind him, threatening to divorce both of them. Although unaware of it overtly, divorce was Nader's ultimate weapon against his wives. For it would not only cause his parting from their lives but also the separation of Wedad and Swary as each by tradition a divorcee would return to her own parents' house. The two women felt the manner of their life was endangered, but decided to wait and see what their husband would do first. On the third morning after his departure, Swary rang Wedad at 'Boutique called Moonlight' from the bank. She informed her that from a cheque that had just arrived on her desk, Nader was at the seaside resort of Aqaba on the Red Sea and that he had withdrawn a very large sum of money from the account. When the house and shop were in his name, Wedad thought it prudent should they be deserted and to protect themselves, else they might end upon the pavement living on the charity of others she should immediately act. She possessed one thing which she had to make use of at once before it became too late and Nader cancelled it. Since he spent most of his time idling in cafes and Wedad ran 'Boutique Called Moonlight', he put into her charge its finances. That evening after they had put the children to bed, Wedad and Swary sat down to decide their future. They both agreed their marriage to Nader had ended and that they should find a way to secure their own and their children's future together. The following morning, they opened a new joint bank account in both their names at the Jordan National Bank where Swary worked. With her own power of attorney Wedad transferred to it every penny that had been left. Claiming that they were planning to expand their business and using 'Boutique called Moonlight' as security, she borrowed a maximum bank loan and also transferred the money into the new joint account.
The absence of Nader did not alter anything in the lifestyle of his two wives and children. Swary went to the bank each day at the usual time. The school bus collected Ali. Before leaving to 'Boutique called Moonlight', Wedad saw to the morning household chores, then deposited the little children at the nursery. After work, Swary shopped at the downtown market where prices are lower than at her local shops, then collected the children. To take care of the housework and help with the children, Wedad and Swary imported a Srilanki maid.
It was late at night in December, when Nader parked his car outside his house. The autumnal winds had abated and the winter cold had begun. Irbed lay still but for the screeching wheels of a speeding car or the barking of stray dogs. He sat behind the driving wheel for a long time, waiting for the light in Swary's window to be switched off. Nader wanted to speak to Wedad first. He felt he might be able to have a discussion with her as she was nearer his age. Nader had come back to Irbed several days before and took a room in a hotel. He spent the daytime spying on his wives and the evenings he wasted in the bar getting drunk. To his surprise, Nader discovered nothing suspicious. Though somehow he doubted the possibility, he really hoped that they were having an affair with a man or even men, for that he could comprehend and knew how to deal with. Not for one moment did he want to consider the obvious which had been staring him in the face for years. It was too hard upon his masculinity even to contemplate the truth. Finally he made a decision to come back home. He wanted his relationship with his wives to go back to what it was before the twins were born.
But Swary's bedroom light kept burning. A group of boisterous drunken youths went by. Nader examined his watch. "It has passed one o'clock." He muttered. After the youths had disappeared round the corner, he looked up to the light in the window and told himself, "Swary cannot still be awake. She must have forgotten to switch the light off." He got out of the car. With utmost care not to make any noise, Nader turned the key in the lock and then very slowly and gently opened his front door. The light from Swary's ajar bedroom door streamed out into the dark hall. He tiptoed towards Wedad's darkened room. Nader heard women voices and halted. Wrath thundered in his chest as he snarled under his breath, "The bitches are sleeping together." He changed direction and still tiptoeing, he moved toward the light. Through the crack between the door and its frame Nader peeked at his wives. His nightmare scenario was true he had to accept what he couldn't outer in words inside his head. They were sitting on the bed in their nighties. Reading from a book in her hand, Swary's head rested against Wedad's shoulder. He heard his young wife read, "And Sappho of the violet hair said, 'If there was a jot of beauty and purity in your longing heart, then shame would have not touched your eyes and you would have declared your love openly'."
Stunned, Nader froze for a while in his place, watching the two women in love. Confused and bewildered, he slowly and noiselessly retreated. He shut the front door behind him very quietly and stepped into the sallow light of the cold night.
Feeling idiotic for being so outrageously abused, Nader drove off. It suddenly dawned upon him that really there was no place for him between Wedad and Swary and the problem was his alone. One wish began to swirl in his turbid mind, "I wish I were dead, rather than facing up to what is happening under my own roof. " The stillness of the night was shattered by the screeching of a car which came out of the road junction just ahead of him. A death wish made Nader push his foot hard on the accelerator. There was a mighty crash before everything went dead silent again. Feeling numbed with pain, Nader opened his eyes. He immediately realised that his head was sticking out of the smashed windscreen but he could not feel the rest of his body. The blood was streaming down his face and he saw the limp, bloody body one of the youths he had seen earlier, stretched over the bonnet of his car. The silence lasted a few more minutes before Nader heard the distant sounds of sirens and his mind began to dwell again upon the truth in his house.
The accident paralysed him from the neck down. Although he did not entirely lose his power of speech, at forty five years of age Nader lived the rest of his remaining days in a bitter sullen existence. Each morning after cleaning and feeding their husband, Wedad and Swary would wheel him onto the veranda. Reminding the Srilanki maid to keep an eye on him, the two women would then drive off together for work as he sorrowfully glared after them.
© Arab World Books