Why I have never felt attracted to women is still to this day a mystery to me. I started buying psychology books when it first became an issue in order to try and figure out what was wrong with me that I didn’t fit into the definition of a proper man. After seeing that they weren’t helping me with my condition, I went to a physician, only to discover that I was already beyond recovery.
The house where I live, which is the same one I grew up in, lies in the Jezmatiyeh souq, which is one of the several markets of the old Damascene Al Midan neighborhood. Among the many places serving local cuisine on the busy street the window of my room faces, the two most famous ones are the restaurant called Abi al-Kheir and the patisserie Abou Arab Haidar.
Today I turn fifty, but I am not celebrating it. I haven’t done anything special for my birthday in the last fifteen years, since the day I saw Hala for the very last time. She was the sister of my friend Hazem and brought me a box of sweets from Abou Arab with a small apple branch full of blossoms as decoration on top. I had become her English teacher after my friend had asked me to help her out with the language, which she needed to complete her studies in medicine at university. We used to have fun together. We always wound up spending half the time browsing magazines, gossiping and listening to music over a cup of coffee. In exchange for the English lessons, she redecorated my place and fetched me something to eat every now and then.
In the two years she spent coming to visit me on a regular basis, we developed a strong friendship, the type of friendship that, between a man and a woman, usually leads to marriage. I, however, didn’t want to give her false hope and was thus careful to display my affection for her as a friend and in a way that she wouldn’t misinterpret. The last time I saw her was after her graduation from university. She came to say goodbye. I recall her sitting in front of me while trying to strike up an earnest conversation.
“So, now that you have turned thirty-seven, don’t you reckon it’s time that you thought about getting married?”
Before I had time to offer an answer, she noted, “I, for once, believe that you would make a wonderful husband!”
I smiled and said, “You know, I wouldn’t want to marry anyone but you.”
“Then, how come you are still single? Are you scared to take the plunge?”
“No, it’s not that. Let’s just say that I am not built for the life within that specific institution.”
“Do you mean it?”
“Unfortunately, I do.”
That was the last time we spoke. I think she left the house hurt, maybe because she felt rejected or perhaps because she felt that I didn’t trust her to handle the truth. Through her brother, with whom I had kept in touch, I found out years later that she had landed a job at a private clinic, had married and started a family.
Suddenly, the bell rang. I went to open the door and, much to my surprise, saw her standing on the other side next to her brother. It was as if I had conjured them up with my recollection of the past!
“She is the one who insisted we came over to pay you a visit. Happy birthday, buddy!” said my friend Hazem while stepping inside the house. We followed him down the corridor. She was holding a beautiful rose and looked stunning, even prettier than I remembered. She opened a kitchen cupboard looking for a place to leave the birthday cake that they had brought with them and found the place where I hid my medication. She began to examine the bottles minutely, and soon, tears were trickling down her cheeks. Then, she shot a look at me that told me she understood.
Written by Muhammad Salem Salimah.