By Jokha Alharthi
They were in Paradise: palm trees, velvety grass and baskets of fruit. The magnificent sea extended forever, a vast panorama mounted just for their eyes. Young women wore traditional costumes dotted with small flowers, their energetic smiles never flagging. She had an intense urge, for a brief moment, to touch the cheek of the girl with very pale skin, running her finger along it to see whether it was as delicately soft as it was translucent. But she was in Paradise; how could she possibly hope for any more delicacies than already surrounded her here?
He wasn’t looking at the sea; he was gazing at her. He kept on repeating it. My love…my love…
Getting here had been strenuous, exhausting—the route that had led to these words of his, uttered in Paradise. Her soul had paid dearly to reach this destination. This moment. And the moment had to prove worthwhile.
He fed her a slice of papaya. She savoured the sharp sweetness of it. The tip of his finger lingered in her mouth. She couldn’t help wondering whether he behaved this way with his wife.
In a cheerful voice, she asked, ‘Are we going to ride one of those jet skis?’
He gurgled, ‘We’ll do whatever you want to do.’
No one had ever said that to her before. Wonderingly, she repeated the sentence to herself. We’ll do whatever you want to do. As a child, her favourite game had been playing on the seesaw. She would sit down on one end, her sister on the other, and then she would try to balance their weights perfectly until they were both suspended in mid-air. In various shapes and forms, she had gone on playing this game all of her life. When there was no one there to provide the ballast on the other end of the seesaw, she made someone up and balanced their weight against hers in her head.
He took her by the hand, ready to walk along the sand. He told her about the island’s history, as he had read it in the tourist brochure. She was having some trouble balancing this moment—this impossible-to-happen moment that was now real—against the hard bargaining she had waged with her soul to arrive at this impossible moment that was now. And it was Paradise—that place for which all believers must strive their utmost, to remain on the path to attaining it. She had thought her faith in it—in its promise of happiness—was enough. Surely, this fully justified the debt one had to pay to get there. Still, her mind would not stop playing that game of seesaw. The two balance-pans of the scale: the hard work that this ultimate goal demanded went into one pan, and the moment with him, alone, on the seashore, went into the other.
They rode the jet ski. They got soaked, and when she saw the water.
Translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth.
This short story is part of The Power of Words Issue. To read this story in its entirety digitally click here to buy a digital copy of the issue.
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