“You know, I never told you this, but I remember when I was growing up…” Shakit continued in a solemn tone, differing drastically from firmness that was there mere seconds ago. Zeena refocused her thoughts from the moment in the courtyard months ago, and looked at Shakit across from the table with her benedict in front of her.
“My mom used to bring my dad water everyday after work and would bring him food before he even knew that he wanted it. As a kid, I always wondered why, why didn’t he bring her water or food instead? Why she was the one that stayed at home? Why was it that when she wanted to buy something, she had to ask him, and when he came home with a brand new car, no one asked any questions. Honestly, as a kid, I thought it was a part of the religion, Zeena. I thought my mom was being a good Muslim by covering her body and being the good wife.”
Zeena shifted in her chair and played with her earrings as Shakit spoke. She had never heard him talk about the inner dimensions of his parent’s relationship. All she knew was that his father had passed away a few years ago. It was a topic that had always been skirted around as she occasionally shared details on the traditional but warm relationship that her parents had.
“So, I started reading up on Islam. I wanted to understand why our religion told her to do that, and then I realized that it was all bullshit,” Shakit continued. “I realized that Islam doesn’t preach this shit. Islam is used as weapon of control, and that the answer was simpler, that my father was just a tyrant. I watched my grandfather after that and realized that my father’s father was a tyrant. That my mom was being ruled over in her own house like my grandmother had been.”
Zeena looked up at Shakit and tears at the edges of his eyes. Her heart felt as though it had been punched as she saw the one she loved crying across the table from her.
“When he died, 2 years ago, I felt a sense of relief, Zeena. I felt like the tyranny of my father had died with him and that everyone in my house could finally breathe. I felt relief that we were free. Isn’t that awful? I felt relief that my father passed away.”
She wanted to pull the pain, the shame out of him and cut it up into pieces so she could bury it in the ground, far away from the both of them.
“I realized as an 18 year old, Zeena, that all of the things that my mother and father were, they had learned how to be those things from their parents. All of this bullshit about the man being the provider or the head of the house and the mother being the sacrificial lamb, that’s bullshit. It’s all learned from generations, and its cultural bullshit. It’s not religion, its cultural shit. My mother never had any sort of claim over her own body or her life.”
“Jaan, I had no idea. I’m so sorry,” she said as she felt tears coming down her cheeks.
“I will never do that to you, Zeena. I will never be a tyrant,” he said through his own tears. “I will let you work, let you pursue your dreams and your desires. Let you write to your heart’s content, let you make important decisions for the both of us.”
With these words, Zeena stood up and walked over to the other side of the table where Shakit was sitting. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.
As she did this, the moment and the busy restaurant hit her. The immediate self-consciousness and heedlessness of a public display of affection felt sharp in her chest. She looked around to make sure that no Muslims were near them, and she walked towards the other side of the table to sit down across from her crying “friend,” as she referred to him with most people. Kathy, her best friend from high school, was the only one that knew that her and Shakit were together.
Zeena looked down and realized that her salmon benedict was still untouched in front of her. She looked at Shakit’s plate, and it looked like he had licked it clean. She picked up her fork and began eating her food as Shakit composed himself. He wiped away his tears, and Zeena saw that the hollandaise sauce had soaked into the bread after having sat there for so long. She cut a bite for herself and realized that she liked the moistness. It made it easier to chew.
“Shakit, our parents fucked us up,” Zeena said. “I mean, look at your parents and their dynamic. My parents weren’t as bad but they never even talked to me about sex or relationships or anything. It was always just swept under the rug as if I’m supposed to be pretend it doesn’t exist, as if wanting love or feeling lust is something to be ashamed of.”
“It’s not,” he said with a smile.
Underneath the table, he rubbed his leg against Zeena’s. She smiled and moved her foot along his leg. She felt his dense and thick calves against her toes and remembered him in his muscle shirt while playing basketball for the collegiate intermural teams. His arms were exposed and his body glistened with sweat.
The lower part of her body was throbbing, and she knew that there was nothing more natural than what her body was telling her. They were committed to one another. They loved one another. She was in control of her body. She wanted to share this with him. The decision felt easier than it had seemed moments before. Desire was nothing to be ashamed of.
She quickly consumed her benedict and remembered that her roommate was at home for the weekend. They could have the apartment to themselves if they wanted it. The two of them left the restaurant a few minutes later after Shakit paid for their dinner. He walked around the car to open her door.
“Oh stop, I don’t need you opening a door for me,” she said with a smirk. They got into his grey Hyundai Sonata and flipped through the radio stations.
“Where to next? There’s a great Dan Flavin exhibit at the Blanton that I’ve been wanting to check out,” Shakit said.
Zeena looked at his long, kind face and she remembered all the pain he had seen and been through. She looked at him and imagined the life they would carve out together as they grew old together. She looked at him and wondered how to do what came next.
“Why don’t we head to my apartment, Shak? Sheba is out of town all weekend. We’ll have it to ourselves…”
Shakit looked at her with wide eyes through his glasses.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course,” she said. She put her hand over his and wrapped his fingers into hers as it rested on the gear shifter. “I want to be with you. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”