It is complicated to talk about such things, for you always have the sensation that you are following cliches, and you usually do. I believe we suffer because we have some thinking patterns which we use to adjust and make sense out of the reality, and we suffer when they do not serve their purpose very well and lack exactitude.
Our ego is also a construction, as weird as that sounds, and it takes a lot of awareness not to let it control you and cause distress, which sounds more easy than it is. Yet I am convinced that whenever we experience deep suffering, we have to turn our attention within again and find the answer, and also view it as a symptom that our life needs some balance and some changes, and that it is overall beneficial but not bad.
I feel like the vacuum inside me opens up and is about to grab my future in its clutches.
We move in a predetermined way, like a clockwork. Our motivations are limited by what you, humans, attributer to us; but what if I told you that we are not as different as you like to think and our existence is correlated? After all, the universe is inside you.
If you always need motivation to do something, then maybe you should question whether you are living an appropriate life.
The Fluid Mirror
From that time on, due to an increased amount of visual concentration required by the photography, life began to reveal different aspects which heretofore seemed hidden under a veil of distraction, although she had had glimpses of it before, and Amina discovered with more visceral acuity the unsuspected pleasures of observing the material world and its multifaceted manifestations, an activity which mitigated almost entirely the impact of John’s death. At times, she asked herself if she had a soul – that’s how good she felt, and the reply varied according to the circumstances: if she was in a happy mood, she did not have any trouble giving a positive answer, supposing that the grief shouldn’t be indefinite and that it might suck all the life out of her, and she, doubtless, did not want that, preferring to lead an existence teeming with energy and multiple activities, among which she would choose the most riveting, despite the fact that, as she learned soon enough, it was difficult to tell whether an experience was enjoyable unless actually trying it first hand.
Three months had passed, during which photography remained her main preoccupation, which brought her a great deal of pleasure and in which she was tremendously absorbed, not neglecting dancing, however, by the means of which she got closer to Fatima, with whom even Said, whose behaviour became more energetic and deprived of that forlorn look which Amina noted apprehensively on his face that night when he had driven her to Lily, stoked her to spend more time, to the effect that she obeyed with a sense of grateful happiness, thrilled to see that an intimate, personal desire coincided with the advice of a person whom she loved, and the contentment reached bigger proportions when thinking about the strange fact that, heretofore, she hadn’t been obliged to listen to her father’s suggestions, because he more or less satisfied whatever she wished, and now to be guided by him, although not in a fashion implying dutiful subordination, meant, to some extent, to expiate the errors of the past by making proof of being a good, sage girl, even in regards to someone who would not mind a rebellious response, let alone punish, and soon she recognized that merely following what her heart longed for didn’t count for a proper deed of repentance, the necessity of finding other ways to express kindness imposing itself inevitably. So she would try to pay attention to him in other ways: for example, by refusing to accept his proposal to buy her a new camera and fiddling more with the one of the iPhone, or, especially, by portraying him in a favourable light when being close to her mother.
Her Facebook page teemed with a multitude of shots, which she would organize in regular posts under which people would leave eulogistic comments regarding the magnificence of the vistas and, whenever she decided to also be in the frame, succumbing to the temptation of fishing for compliments, the winsomeness of the photographer, who replied diligently to all the compliments with smiling emojis or hug life gifs, depending on the particular remark. Usually, the majority of people behaved nicely, but, at the end of two months of posting, some began to write malignant, sleazy texts, like, “You shouldn’t do art,” “You should show us your pussy, not bridges,” or “I would like to fuck you from behind and come on your ass.” The threads were long enough, so she rarely stumbled upon these messages, although, whenever it happened, it was difficult not to get upset to some extent and become moody, trowing about how cruel the world could be and about how certain persons, who did not seem willing at least to be polite in view of her recent misfortune, lacked decency, let alone compassion, and eventually she arrived to the point when the tension was unbearable and found herself somewhat compelled to post far less selfies, the photographies being centered predominantly around the external world, to where she was incentivised to go and explore, regardless of the weather and the distance, Said, if the work permitted it, putting willingly his car at her disposal, then, as her mastery of the new hobby evolved thanks to this shift in focus, she changed the opinion concerning the unwelcoming, rude reactions, which, when the tempestuous emotions lost their intensity, she viewed as a lesson in humility, although under the impression of the moment answering harshly with a sense of hurt pride that they should go and fuck themselves, that they, who no doubt were virgins, would have to wait for the scientists to claim that the earth was flat to have a classy chick like her, after which she would invariably block their profile once and for all, without accepting apologies from those who, making another profile, sending emails or following her on Instagram, would ask for a second chance, second chance for what, motherfucker, you are a scumbag not worthy of my time if you insult me, motherfucker, and there is nothing that we could talk about, because there is no way I could be your girlfriend, not in a million years, be sure of that, yet Amina was capable to learn something from this and chanel the energy and the discomfort in the right direction, which introduced an aspect of selflessness in her life.
Meanwhile, the relationship with Lily flourished. Their meetings were more and more frequent and upbeat, the shared passion for photography bringing another level of closeness to their friendship. However, she was not able to accept the invitation to the New York International Center of Photography, where Amina had the intention to go for a long while.
“I’ll be busy. Perhaps another time.”
“That’s a shame. I’m going to miss you. My dad will also be there. I plan to bring my mom also.”
“Aren’t they separated?”
“They are, but I think that won’t do any harm to them. My dad would be glad, I think.” She hoped, to be precise.
“I wish him the best. To all of you, actually.”
“That’s so sweet for you to say.”
“Don’t bother. And have fun.”
She knew that one could not have it all and that the visit to the Center would be enriched by Lily’s presence, who was very knowledgeable and could provide a lot of insightful observations, but, perhaps, the situation represented an opportunity to spend time with her family and she, grateful, should make the most out of it, especially because Susan, to whom she did not speak too much during the recent events, being absorbed by the new hobby and therefore neglecting her childhood friend, who, whether at school or online, did her best to show consoling attention, which did have an evident, positive impact, for whose importance Amina couldn’t account immediately, and so the idea that came to her mind afterwards seemed infinitely more justifiable. “Mom, I think that Susan should come with us.”
“Oh,” Fatima replied, pleasantly surprised, “I haven’t seen her in ages. How is she?”
“She’s fine.” That’s what they were going to find out more thoroughly once there. But she could not confess that she did not know a lot about Susan’s life.”
“Is she married?”
“At least she has a boyfriend?”
“She does.” She knew that for certain, because she has seen them together several times, at the college, and they’ve spoken about such stuff often: the matters of love were a never-ending source of giggling and stress relief. “Also, I want to tell you that dad will be there too. How do you feel about that?”
“Awesome.” Amina studied fixedly her mother’s face, on which the traits of fatigue provoked by the prolonged effort required to keep the dancing school afloat, let alone to obtain and maintain success, for the realization of which Fatima had had to extend her working schedule, grew less accentuated now, granting her a rejuvenated appearance, to which those surrounding her were accustomed and loved, not the least of all her daughter, whose somewhat awe-struck reaction was nothing but endearingly amusing.
“Why are you asking?”
“I don’t know, it’s just...” She struggled vainly to find the words.
“You think that if we do not live together with your father I should avoid his presence?” inquired her mother, beaming, serene, welcoming.
“I don’t know...”
“I believe that you are a little bit confused,” uttered Fatima sounding imperceptibly more serious, still gentle.
“How are your kids doing? Do they behave?”
“What? Ah, they are fine. But they need to get punished now and then. Otherwise, they get nasty.”
“Do you punish them as you punished me?”
“What are you talking about? I did not punish you. Not enough at least. I didn't get the chance.”
“I should have punished you more though.”
“Because you are my real child and I love you.”
And she knew that her mother meant what she said, not only because of this recent, fakely rude confession, but also because of the fact that, on multiple occasions, her parents did communicate now and then, regardless of their quarrel, in order to alleviate her pain, although they did not go out all together yet, but just exchanged some courteous, supportive words, Fatima not hesitating to talk to Said, who gave some unsure signs that he would be interested in more, whilst Amina was preparing herself to pay another visit to her mother, who remained polite, but still distant towards her husband.
At the beginning of February, they found time to make an excursion to the New York International Center of Photography. The cold was very intense, but that could not ruin Amina’s experience, who was determined to enjoy herself at all cost and not to let any pessimistic thoughts cloud her mood. Said picked her and Susan from high school, where they had been waiting patiently, the hands in their pockets because the gloves did not offer enough protection from cold, sitting on a bench.
“Do you have any plans about what you’ll do when we finish high school?” asked Susan.
“I’ll go to university. Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do?”
“Yes, but what's exactly what you wanna do?”
“I’m interested in art. That’s what I am going to do. Become an artist.” The answer came with surprising certainty: At least she knew something.
“How about you?”
“I don't have a plan yet.”
“I guess I’ll figure something out eventually.” Amina, for a moment, scrutinized Susan’s confident, relaxed face on which she could detect but few signs of make-up, executed with an accuracy not at all reminiscent of the sloppiness out of which had emerged innumerable funny episodes during early childhood and with a striking moderation, as if, weirdly, not wanting to impress?
“You are pretty confident.”
“Am I, Amina?”
“Yes. You seem at least.”
“I guess I am. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I’m not an artistic person like you.” Hmm, the thought was interesting...
“I wouldn’t call myself an artist...”
“I think you are. By the way, what are you going to study: choreography or photography?”
“Not sure. Perhaps photography. I guess I lean more towards it.”
“I think you are both a terrific dancer and a promising photographer. At least from what I can say,” uttered Susan, quirky, adding, “but I am not an expert.” Indeed, she wasn’t, yet Amina could recall a lot of instances in the past when her friend had proven herself an admirer of dances, by the time when they were caught in a lot of activities together, still little, innocent girls, among whom, sadly, only one succeeded to preserve the childlike qualities, or was it just an illusion?
“I don’t know if I am good or not, or if I’ll ever be. Not at taking pictures, anyway. I’m not sure if I have a knack for it. But I still want to do it.” Perhaps she won't have another option if people find out about her porn experience, which was terrifyingly likely...
“You have, believe me. I noticed the way you watched the view that day when we went camping. You seemed enthralled.”
“Yeah, we had fun. I’ve met John at that time.”
Their mood went a little bit down, which was noticeable from the mutual lack of words and unwillingness to talk. Amina wouldn’t want to let the sorrow take hold of her in the same way it did sometimes, unexpectedly and harrowingly, reaching the edge of insanity, like when John was put in the ground, during that rainy day not long after his death, when a sizeable amount of people had gathered in the cemetery, unknown people among whom were John’s parents, two middle-aged persons, in whose appearance she had not been able to find anything unusual, which, even with the tragic circumstances, had felt a little bit disappointing, safe the fact that he, apparently, had inherited the winsome looks from his father, whereas she had always believed that she got her mother’s physical traits, although Said, whose witts one could recognize in his daughter, was also handsome, and so they were standing there, sheltered by the umbrellas, on which huge drops of water were falling like tears with a clockwork regularity, as a reminder of lost opportunities, and so, at some point, her hands began to shake, and soon she burst into tears, which came as a surprise even for her because her beloved had been already burried in the ground and she had taken it easily, not to mention for the rest of them, who were starting to give her concerned looks and would approach her eventually if not for Susan, who, repeating gently “It's ok, it's ok” had ushered her in the direction of a large oak, near which the water was not able to pierce through the leafs, allowing them to stay the hands unencumbered by any protective tool, and who now had the intent to do some encouraging, supportive gesture but was stopped by a car horn, forced to say instead, soothingly, “Hey, here is your father.”
“So are you girls ready?” They did not answer, but instead just got in the car, presently both cheerful and elated.
“You look dapper, mister Shammas,” Susan felt the need to say a compliment after a period of silence, during which they mainly contemplated the traffic and the city’s hectic activity, to which the fact that the snow was falling attributed a dreamlike quality, like in the movies about Christmas. “I think you are preparing yourself for a special occasion.”
“Well, isn’t this a special occasion?”
“Dad, I’m glad my interests are so important to you.”
“Could it be otherwise?” he said and Amina giggled, satisfied.
“You have a very loving father, you know?”
When they arrived at the entrance of the Museum, Fatima, who had claimed that she had some things to do, was already there, waiting, inspecting curiously the surroundings, although not taking the decision to enter, managing successfully not to get bored, which led Amina to the idea that her mother, whom she knew as a very active person, shared her propensity to watch and admire the world. Perhaps they were not so different, after all, and had a lot to discuss.
The women kissed diligently and took each other in the arms.
“Susan! How you’ve grown! I haven’t seen you in a while! You are so beautiful!” said Fatima admiringly and made a step back to have a better view.
“Thanks a lot, Miss Shammas! I'm glad to see you!”
“Me too. But we’ve spoken a few months ago. I'm glad that you and my daughter are close friends again.”
“Yes, we hang out more than we used to. But I still have a feeling that that’s not enough.”
“You didn’t tell me that! Why?” inquired Amina, who felt uncomfortable to remember the day when she had to lie about her whereabouts, both to her mother and to her best friend.
“Well, I’m embarrassed to say this...But I feel that you are still kind of distant.”
“That's because she is very preoccupied with her new hobby,” intervened Said in a low voice, “I’m sure she will make it up to you.”
“Yes, Susan, let’s just enjoy our time here. I invited you to have a good time. And I’m sure we’ll find something interesting.” She felt relieved and grateful to her father for having helped her without his knowing.
“I can’t wait!”
“She has to make it up to you,” said Fatima, “you covered her up that night. We still do not know where she was.”
“C’mon, mom,” retorted Amina, abashed, uncertain what to think of her mother’s tone, in which it was difficult now to spot if she was serious or merely joking, fearing the possibility that the “occasion”, as they’ve called it, might perhaps not evolve as perfectly as expected, although not terribly. “Do not bring that up now,” she added, hesitant. “Please.”
“Ok, I did not want to upset you. I’m sorry.”
Then Susan said, apparently not paying attention to the slight awkwardness of the moment, “Maybe we should enter and have fun? How’s that for a good plan?”
“It's a good plan,” uttered Said, relieved.
Soon, they entered the building with long, white-painted corridors on which the photos, by contrast, were very visible. The multitude of pieces had struck Amina. “Will I have the time to look at all this?” she trowed, promising herself to keep a state of intense concentration for as long as possible, which, as she noticed shortly afterwards, was difficult to accomplish, because the crowd in which they had almost to make their way at times was dense, buzzing, moving relentlessly without, apparently, caring about those around, although being civilized and mannered, and so creating an atmosphere similar to the one at the strip club, where she had not been for the past three months and, surprisingly, hadn’t really missed it, an aspect which struck her with a sense of surprised curiosity, concluding, “Oh my, how I’ve changed! It's mind-blowing...” Navigating amongst those people, she still managed to keep an eye on her parents, who would follow her and Susan at a short distance, usually being behind or alongside, giving the impression of getting along quite well, as normally a spouse and wife would do like they had done so many times in the past that now she would not fall for it, not again, despite the fact that Said, known as a more or less self-assured individual, displayed lately an awkward behaviour to which, weirdly enough, she presently also felt the urge to pay heed, even if it represented a distraction from the main purpose of coming there. “Hey guys, keep close to us, ok?” she would say whenever they would remain too much behind, to feel reassured, and her desire was habitually satisfied. The involuntary necessity of dividing her attention began to have a negative influence on her ability to absorb the imagery around, she understood immediately, deciding to limit the number of objects to which her attention was drawn. If her mother and dad only played a role, what difference did it make? She had been deceived before, remember? It made no matter if it were for an additional time. Also, she was not a saint either, so why complain? Perhaps she deserved to have a strange, cold family. “If you fuck in porn movies, that is what you get, isn’t it? God does not permit it, nor does society, and I must be grateful that I was not taught in the true spirit of religion. Or maybe I missed something important and deep? Maybe I wouldn’t have done it? But it felt good, I liked Mark, but did I love him? Did I? No, I loved John, and he is gone...I did not deserve to lose him, I am good and deserve better, fuck the rules, fuck society, I have pride and I am beautiful, the pain should not be without end, I must stop this, c’mon, I just have to be in the moment, the present is all that matters...” Indeed, but her eyes, without her knowing, filled instantly with tears, although the suffering was not furious as before, luckily, for which she realized that she had to thank those around, namely Susan, who kept faithfully close, from whom, squinting, she tried to hide her face, unwilling to impact negatively everyone else’s mood, and she eventually succeeded in soothing her turmoil, which took hold of her surreptitiously, since she was in a more or less calm state of mind ordinarily.
At some point, she realized that they’d lost Said and Fatima, by which she wasn’t troubled though because they were having a rather good time last time she checked, so it wouldn’t hurt to leave them alone.
“Look, it's 2Pac,” said Susan, pointing at a picture representing the famous rapper on the wall, his face against a black background taken almost from the profile.
“Yeah,” answered Amina, who had to turn her head to contemplate the photo which she, being younger, had seen previously on the internet, and was struck by its masculine charm, wishing that she had had the inspiration to make some similar shots of John when he was still living...
“It’s cool, isn’t it?”
“Remember when we used to listen to his songs when we were little? You liked to dance and teach me how, but I was never so good as you.”
“You did well.”
“I miss those days. We were so close.”
“I don’t listen to 2Pac anymore.”
“Ha-ha. Me too. But...How about we spend more time together? Maybe you could show me how to handle the camera and such...”
“I am not an expert and do not have a very deep knowledge about...” Why was she a bitch and didn’t just say yes to someone who wanted to be around her, to an old chum?
“I’m not bothered. My understanding is less than yours.”
“You’re right,” Amina admitted.
“How about we try something now?”
“Nothing unusual...I'd like to pose besides 2Pac.”
“Ok, if you are obsessed with him.”
“I’m not obsessed with him. I told you I’m not listening to his music anymore,” said Susan seriously as she was taking the pose that she wanted, sitting at a slightly slanted angle, the fingers of the right hand showing a V, a broad smile on her lips contrasting with the previous, momentary mask of gravity.
“Ok, I get you.” It was understandable why one might admire too much 2Pac, who had a very curious facial expression betraying a mysterious masculine charm, making it obvious that he was a bad boy, a gangster and a singer, for whom, doubtless, a sizeable amount of girls might have fallen, whose charisma was perpetrated, faithful and motionless, yet inexplicably alive, by a miracle of science, which might be fun and exciting to be used in the future to capture more interesting and powerful men, not necessarily heartthrobs, of course, hm, this was a good idea, although now she had to focus on other things. She took her phone and opened the camera app. “Tilt your head upwards a little bit, don’t be afraid to look at me.”
“Ha-ha. I’m not afraid. Like that?”
“Yes. Now move closer to the centre and straighten your back.”
“More to the right,” Amina indicated with her hand whose fingers were outstretched in a fan-like motion.
“You talk like a photographer now,” Susan uttered with admiration, not holding anymore her position.
“Why do you say that?”
“Your gesture.” Susan directed her eyes to where Amina’s hand still floated in the air.
“This? Well, I just did not know a better way to...” She said and removed briskly a brin of hair which was obstructing her view, presuming that she had seen Lily doing that particular, archlike gesture, which she learned intuitively and did not hesitate to implement. Then the crowd grew thicker and louder, perhaps because of some group of tourists visiting the museum, and the space between them wasn’t free anymore, and she had to interrupt the improvized photosession, irritated and amused, thinking that the changes occur rapidly and she was not only welcoming them, but also expected more, because it felt good to wipe-out of her memory the past to which she had desperately clung for a while and whose sweetness appeared, retrospectively, cluttered with bitter, painstaking sorrow and harrowing regrets, all of which she realized she had to let go, with no illusion of faithfully retrieving or rediscovering it, yet convinced to pursue her new passion without abandoning the dance, next she became aware that pessimism weighed on her again, of which suddenly an opportunity, which she accepted happily, to be free emerged, for the gathering of people lost its density, among whom one still lingered nearby, awkward and shy, to whom she, having the vision occupied with Susan’s posture at whom she looked through the camera of the phone, told with courtesy to step away, without paying him too much heed, just as if talking to a shadowy silhouette, to the effect that he obeyed diligently, unsurprised by the demand, murmuring, “Sure, I did not notice you...”
“Do you like them?” asked Amina after a couple of shots scrolling through the recently obtained images, Susan beside her, their shoulders touching.
“Yes, of course.
“Don’t you have a favourite? You must have a favourite.”
“Should I? Why?”
“It seems natural.”
“It seems weird to me.”
“Ok, never mind.” What a sweet and tender comrade she had. It was a shame she lied to her...But could Susan understand? It would be wonderful, but unlikely...but was it so unlikely after all? Who could tell? Sometimes maybe one has to take the risk, how could she know for sure every time...It wouldn’t hurt to be honest now and then...
“Now that I think of it, I suppose I enjoy the most this photo,” said Susan, scrolling through the last pictures, picking, in the end, one in which she stood more casually, relaxed, although at first, this pose did not produce an exquisite impression, as it happened with those with which she had begun and in which she obviously tried to resemble the actresses and singers that she admired and watched or listened to, seeming instead utterly childish and quirkily aware of herself, having the intention of putting a finger in her mouth at any moment but for some enigmatic reason giving up in the last second, exactly when Amina intended to indicate her not to do that and remain calm, immobile.
“You remind me of the times when we were kids. You used to act the same.” Amina put slowly the phone in her purse.
“Really? I'm so glad.” Their shoulders, losing the contact for an instant during which they exchanged these words, pressed against each other in a tender movement, after which, giggling, they glanced at each other furtively but with a discernable flicker of mutually recognized affection. “But how exactly do I remind you?”
“I don’t know...” The question was surprisingly tough but it could not be left without an answer, a correct one, not an evasive lie. “Real. Natural.”
“Ok. I’ve heard somewhere that art should be genuine-“
“Let’s forget about art.”
“If you say so...”
“Although I might show my mother this 2Pac pic.”
“If you think that’s a good idea...”
“You don’t have the same opinion? C’mon, tell me...” She had been so appreciative, it would be a relief to hear some critique, “I do not deserve so much praise!”
“You do. And I wouldn’t say that it's necessarily a bad idea, it's just that Miss Shammas is a grown-up woman, she might not be fond of the same things as we are.” Susan had an abashed air, the tip of her fingers touching continually, then she stopped doing this, suddenly, but not violently, and put a smile on her face, on which an expression of a wise, obedient, chaste girl appeared more prominently, perhaps without her willing, and one could wonder if such a woman had ever sucked a dick with unabridged passion, the most probable answer being a negative one, which did not mean the absence of the ability to love, or did it?
“We shall see...” Amina bit her lip melancholically, thinking that they should have some fun, as long as they were there. “Listen,” she said, the eyes glowing with excitement, why shouldn’t we take some pictures together? It would be interesting.”
“Yeah. Why not?
"Ok, but we have to find someone to...” She sought for a while in the vicinity, without hoping that there would be a lot of people ready to help them, the visitors being pretty busy studying the art, meanwhile keeping their continuous motion, smiling or intent, and soon noticed, to her big surprise, a familiar person in the immediate right side of her field of vision, whom she recognised as Charlie, the photographer from the club, who, although she had not seen him in 3 months, she remembered having a visibly admirative attitude towards her, to say the least. Presently, he seemed almost as awkward as before, though not quite, because he gave the impression of just having lost a great deal of confidence, whereas before he always was behaving somewhat strangely, his mind clearly being in the clouds, a change which she instantly attributed to the unexpected meeting, to which direct preparation was obviously impossible but whose burst of emotions one can handle light-heartedly provided that they do not lack the experience in such delicate matters of love and sex, a field of expertise in which she knew she had the advantage, especially up against someone like him, who kept balancing from one leg to the other, and upon whose chest rested a Nikon professional camera, large and black, glittering, tempting, one that she dreamt of obtaining in the near future, waiting, according to Lily’s advice, until her skills would be honed enough to manipulate with purpose a sophisticated device, whose appearance reminded that its owner was a photographer, to the effect that his presence in the whereabouts made more sense presently. Amina recalled vaguely that he had made a lot of eulogistic, insightful comments in the threads of her posts but she couldn’t say for sure because they were too many eager to get noticed, let alone those whose nonsense it was excruciatingly difficult to stand and read.
“Hi,” they both said in a low voice, then silence reigned. Not after long, they got aware that Susan was there, so the introductions were made, hopefully just before things would have begun to feel awkward and inconsiderate towards Susan, in whose slightly closed eyes a polite curiosity was quite discernable.
“So what have you been doing lately?” Charlie asked, and his audacity struck Amina, who trowed, “He is just feeling confident because he is in his domain here. Amongst people of his craft. But why should I be bothered by that? I should definitely not.”
“A lot of things...” She wanted to say something more, but the thought that he represented a reminder of her days in the strip club paralyzed her will and ability to speak.
“I haven’t seen you since-“
“Yeah, it has been a long time,” she interrupted him, aware that her past might be revealed. “And I’ve been through a lot. You know, good things and bad things.” Surprisingly, she felt shy for a little while, then continued, lowering her gaze and using a merrier tone, “But I try to see the bright side of life,” she added, a fugitive, awkward smile fluttering on her face, though she soon regained confidence, convinced that being sure of herself helped with having an active eloquence. “I take pictures.”
“I’ve seen some of your pics on your Facebook page. You show promise, I think...Also, I'm sorry for your loss.”
“That’s ok. I’m glad you’ve appreciated my work. It means a lot to me. The opinion of an expert.”
“That is what I am telling her. She’s good, but she won’t believe me,” Susan said. “Now she has to.”
“I guess I have. But there is still a lot to learn. Am I right, Charlie?”
“Yes,” he admitted hesitantly, abruptly faltering and abashed, probably because he did not know what to do-Amina recognised and experienced a long-forgotten sensation of satisfaction procured only by the attention of men, especially those who were mesmerized by her beauty and charisma, like it happened when she was in the strip club, the memory of which has reemerged in her mind with surprising intensity, no doubt because of the encounter with him, who used to gaze at her longingly and with constant timidity, his eyes only sporadically revealing a concealed glimmer of painful and frustrating lust, whose signs she was even more capable of spotting, having gathered more experience since and being now willing to pay attention to him, though he, obviously, had learned to hide his desires, but only to a minimal degree, or, maybe, was it just her imagination and he only acted like usual? Hm, she thought, perhaps she had stayed single for too long, and the time arrived for a new boyfriend?
“Maybe you could give me some advice."
“I don’t know.” She had to say something so as not to let Charlie disclose the fact that she had been in the strip club, not to her best friend anyway.
“I could give you some advice now. But I’m not sure if they could be as insightful as I would want them to be.” He sounded genuinely eager to help, his voice trembling almost imperceptibly for a little instant, finding again his composure.
“I'm afraid we don't have time for that,” Susan intervened. “Her parents are coming back.”
“I should also be going. I’m actually leading a tourist group, so...”
“C’mon, Charlie. Are you sure you don’t want to meet my parents?” What was she thinking about? What if some truth slipped during the conversation? So why was she so inappropriately courteous? She shouldn't seek problems. “If you don’t want, I’m okay with that,” she continued, seeing that he felt uncomfortable and unwilling to prolong his abashment, thinking that, indeed, they barely knew each other, although she could present him as a friend, even if she would have to invent a background for him, and the lying would continue in highly stressing circumstances, having to hide the truth from more people than usual, namely when, lately, she kind of lost the habit. “It's weird for me to ask you such a thing, I guess.”
“That’s alright,” he retorted. ”I am just super busy right now.”
“We also have to go,” said Susan, looking somewhere on her left, squinting, paying no longer attention to Amina and Charlie, who just examined each other with silent curiosity. “Mister and Miss Shammas are coming back. I see them. There they are,” she pointed in their direction with the finger.
“Yes, I see them too. Well, we shall say goodbye?”
“Goodbye. I’ll text you if you don’t mind.”
“Sure. I’ll be glad to know your opinion about some things. I am often floundering and indecisive.”
“Always glad to help,” he answered politely, just like a knight would do in the old days. Perhaps he was a knight for not having brought up anything of the strip club stuff, though he couldn’t have known for sure that she intended to hide it, most probably guessing it. His opinion of her was always high for some reason, and she would wonder, in other circumstances, if she deserved it, yet not now, thinking that she had already atoned for her sins, even if she did not have the intention to, even if she did not want to, but it happened, and she was liberated through a casual, yet tormenting sacrifice, rendering her fit to be joyful and to love again.
They studied each other for a while, and one could feel a particular tension rising between them, not purely and overtly sexual, but subtle, and it seemed to Amina that she had the power to make the situation more erotically intense, and so she tilted downwards her head a little so as to look slightly up at him whom she made a slow, shy step towards, and on whose chest, so she moved her innocent gaze to meet his unsuspecting eyes, she noticed with surprise a cross, and said, “Didn’t know you were religious...”
“I wasn’t. But a lot of things happened in my life too. My mom died and I loved her so much,” he answered calmly and with resignment, coming close to her with moderated shyness.
“I see. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah. But life just goes on. I moved on.” That was true, she reflected, things cannot remain the same, they change, and a lot of times you have to act instead of staying idle.
“Mister and Miss Shammas are coming,” said Susan, pointing at her right.
“Where? Yeah, I see them now.”
“Goodbye, Amina,” uttered Charlie gently. “We'll keep in touch.”
“Yeah, we’ll keep in touch.”
“See you, Charlie. It has been a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure was on my side, Susan.”
He then left, smiling, inexplicably confused, not before shaking their hands, and Amina felt like she had offered him the hand with a theatrical gesture, just as if he was indeed a knight to whom she was eternally grateful for keeping a secret and saving her honour and pride, even if they didn’t have an accord about it. Now, the two girls didn’t seem to have much interest in exploring the gallery but just sat there and peered mischievously at each other without saying nothing, meanwhile the mass of people, one of whom would occasionally slide past them interrupting their exchange of looks, grew larger or diminished its proportions, and so they had to make an effort to stay close again, to preserve this bubble of intimacy whose hopeful comfort made it easier to believe that the future could contain brightness and felicity.
“Who's this guy, Amina?”
“Just someone I’ve met before John.”
“He seemed interested in you. Did you...”
“No, we were just friends.” They laughed for a while at the sleazy implications of the question.
“I don’t think that's going to last. Anyways, where did you meet? He seems very skilled with the camera. He knows something.”
“Yes, he has a knack for photography. At least for that,” she replied, pondering how much of the truth she should reveal, realizing that she was to come up with a lie ultimately, even though she would have preferred not to and escape this disingenuous net out of whose grasp she tried to break out since the death of John, and at times thought erroneously that she succeeded. “Ah, there are mom and dad,” she said suddenly and relieved, turning the head to the right, a large smile on her face, the big eyes opening widely and with a sort of amazement, thinking that she was happy now to see them so intimately close to each other, not knowing why because it didn’t matter anymore, it felt like, or at least she did not dare to hope, despite the sight of her parents marching their shoulders touching regularly like two restless wings, and the whole bodies approached similarly to the shapes of princes and princesses that she had seen in Disney movies, images according to which she was creating her dreams of joyful family. But these were her fantasies as a little girl. The reality, she knew, was different and often deceptive and disappointing, so she felt grateful that her mom, without knowing it, relieved her of a lot of pressure by asking them how things went, and Amina seized the opportunity to change the subject of the conversation by responding, “Yes, we had a lot of fun. How about you?”
“It was not bad,” Fatima said.
“There are some interesting things here. We’ve had fun as you say. I don’t know if we’ve had a lot of fun, but...” Said chimed in with a tender and patient tone. “At least I liked it,” he added looking with a controlled love at his wife around whose midriff he put his hand with a not sleazy nor daring, but simply confident gesture, reassured that he was not doing nothing wrong, it seemed, nor premature, and who pretended not to notice or not to mind his sign of attention. Hm, she was in a mood for love, she was not so cold and distant after all, perhaps a more intimate conversation might not be totally out of place...who knows?
“Ha-ha, you are very funny, mister Shammas. And ironical.”
“I am, Susan, I am. I don't know why though. Maybe because I am in a good mood.”
“You are in a good mood? I am glad to hear that.”
“Yes, my husband is giggling today. He has unexplained mood changes. But that shall pass sooner or later, I suppose.”
“C’mon, darling, don’t be so cruel,” Said said with care and jesting.
“Ok, ok. I was just joking.”
“We are also in a good mood,” continued Susan. “But the difference is that I know why.”
“Really? You’ve made me curious,” inquired Fatima smiling.
“Love might have this effect.”
“Indeed? You are young and always fall in love. It's understandable.”
“Love is not only for the young, mom.”
“Yes, of course.”
“How about we take a little bit more time, my girls, to hang around together? There are still surprises remaining.”
“Yes, mom, could we? By the way, I have something to share with you.”
Indeed, she had the intention to show her mother the picture of 2pac, in hope that the latter could vibe with her, as she used to say, and admire what represented a monument of manhood and beauty.
“And what is it that you want to show me?” Her voice sounded profoundly interested and meeker than previously, which, of course, should be viewed as a good sign, mainly because there was a subtle, but persistent and more convincing note of love in it, as Fatima tilted imperceptibly her head to the right and downwards to look intently at Amina, a move that required to liberate her left hand from Said’s, who had decided to remember their days of youth, it seemed, and to march having the fingers intertwined with his wife, and who was presently surprised of the gentle rupture, and began to observe his daughter, his hand hanging purposelessly, awkwardly, as if searching for a place to rest and failing at it, yet refusing to acknowledge it and to break the charm of the moment.
“You’ve stirred my curiosity too. What is it?” he said smiling.
“You shall see,” answered Amina triumphantly, aware that they were almost there, where she would be able to share her tastes with her mother, who would maybe like it... She’ll like something finally, she had to...
“You know, it is not something appealing to your generation,” Susan chimed in, making a doubtful face, “but we certainly enjoy it.”
“You are going to spoil it,” said Amina with playful reproach.
“Ok, I’m sorry. Gonna keep my mouth shut.”
“Go on, Susan, speak your mind.”
“No, miss Shammas, I really want you to have a surprise.”
“Then why are you so apprehensive?”
“I am not, I just... I don’t know.”
“C’mon girls, lets see what this is all about. I’m excited, I must confess,” intervened Said conciliatorily.
“We shall see,” said Fatima reluctantly.
“Have a little faith, darling. What could possibly go wrong?” Now Said winked at the two friends, which was a gesture that he would not use pretty often, being someone more rigid who got relaxed and at ease solely in the presence of a person whose energy flowed in an unabridged way, near whom it felt particularly pleasant and comforting to remain, a thought that came to Amina more clearly than ever, although she had been suspecting it since she began to grow, and presently this conclusion aroused in her such questions like, “Is this why he loves me so much? Because I am more amenable than my mother?”, still grateful for her father’s participance and support thanks to which she managed not to loose the confidence and be in rather a good mood, which, if she was to be influenced by her mother’s fitful temper, would not be the case, quite the contrary actually, and it would be a shame to become grumpy and unsatisfied when she, perhaps inexplicably, had so many hopes for this moment, even though the idea that this prospect might have been somewhat foolish was slowly nourished by her mind.
When they were nearly there, Amina did not feel so confident anymore, despite the subtle efforts that Said has made to encourage her. 2Pac’s face seemed suddenly devoid of its queer charm. Perhaps she lacked inspiration when taking this decision that had appeared undoubtedly the right thing to do.
“What is it that you want me to see?” her mother said, looking quizzically around.
“Nothing extremely interesting. I don't think that you will enjoy it.”
“We did not come here for nothing, I presume,” Fatima uttered slightly more gently and with a note of encouragement.
“Show us what you like. We are not so old-fashioned, we might enjoy it too,” Said chimed in, beaming, always optimistic, and Amina was sure that he meant his words, so, realizing that there was no other way around it, all having arrived at the place, she said, “Here it is. This is what I wanted to show you,” pointing at the rapper’s picture with her finger, thinking, “So here I stand now. Here we are now. I would be glad to impress her but...”, confusely aware of becoming anxious and vulnerable, although sure that tears she won’t spill no matter what, and resisting to the silly temptation of joining awkwardly her pointing fingers, as she had seen acting anime characters wanting to express uneasiness, directing her gaze to her mother to study her reactions, whose face, in the beginning, was a study in indifference and who, not after long, began to observe the object of art almost squinting, which, doubtless, was a proof that she manifested some interest, and that at least was something, and whose husband decided, perhaps, that it would be better to express his opinions, and so said, with tender appreciation but not exceeding enthusiasm, “I’m not an art connaisseur, unfortunately. But I think that I can safely say that he has an interesting kind of masculinity. I was not a fan of his music as a little kid but I kind of learned to enjoy it because Amina used to listen to it frequently. I don't know what she does now since she is a big girl and I do not come in her room so often-“
“She is a big girl now, and she should be more mature.” Her mother sounded stern and unimpressed.
“Of course,” he continued slightly encumbered, “but that does not mean that she should not have fun.”
“No one has said that she should become a nun.”
“No, but she's free to enjoy what she likes.”
“Well, I do not see what is the fuss about this picture. There is nothing special about it. I expected more.”
“Alright mom, I see that his photo is not your thing and that's ok.” Why would she argue now? It would be pointless even to try, though the disappointment, that she did not try to hide, stang.
“Then,” said Susan conciliatory, “we should see what you enjoyed, Miss Shammas. I bet there’s something.”
“No, I’m tired. I just want to go home.”
“Ok. I’ve had a good time,” uttered Said, sighing. “But, overall,” he added with a forced, but benevolent smile, looking firstly at his wife with tenderness, then at both girls, who recently got closer together, shoulders touching continuously, just as if they had the scared intention of becoming one body, like two baby birds abruptly estranged from their nests into the wilds, “it is good that we’ve come here together. I’m satisfied and would like to repeat the experience,” he ended, searching the gaze of Amina, from whom he, maybe, expected a word of approval, and whose spirits were too low to give him what he wished, not at that moment, at least, and so he fixed his eyes on Susan, who beamed embarrassed and took imperceptibly her friend's hand, whose gaze she, apparently, intended to catch and it seemed that she succeeded, for a moment, just to turn her head, on which the lips formed now a timid but sincere smile, towards Said.
“I totally agree with you, Mister,” she said, putting with a loose gesture a lock of hair on the back of the ear. “And I think we all enjoyed ourselves. Am I right?”
“Haha. I’m glad to hear that. And, by the way, you can stop calling me Mister. You are a grown-up girl, and I’m not so old. I told you before.”
“I’m afraid I cannot do that.”
“I understand. You are an educated girl.”
“An educated girl who still is a 2Pac fan.”
They all but Fatima, who seemed to have been regained her composure, yet remained silent and absent, laughed, without caring that the visitors had to stumble upon them now and then, unaware that more time than they would have dared to imagine had passed, after which Amina woke up like after a dream full of eclectic emotions and among whose events, having been told innumerable times by her father that morals were not set in stone, found herself confused and incapable to distinguish what had gone bad and what wrong, unsure if she wanted to or could make the separation from the two opposites or just to let things be, neutral and cold, although she felt inexplicably happy in the end, a sentiment better to be tamed in order to avoid a disappointment. But she did not fear much, for she sensed a great deal of supportive energy, though she wouldn’t entrust herself utterly to anyone, not yet at least, perhaps later...Later when? When her mother would approve her tastes and actions. She would find her daughter’s misadventures despicable, no doubt, if she failed to enjoy a sexy picture... And perhaps 2Pac did not have any particular charm for a mature woman? Still, she could have shown her attitude in a calmer way, though she knew how harsh her mother could be...especially when she was tired...and she did appear weary, almost exhausted, even though they only walked and chatted and she had a far more lively demeanour when they had arrived at the Museum. Obviously, the months of hard work had had their toll on her; and Amina realized that she should belate her judgment and hesitate to be saddened by Fatima’s deeds, who had been supportive and tender when John died and from whom it would be sacrilegious to expect a flawless behaviour, and whose staunching decisions of living autonomously arouse admiration; if she could be like her one day...But that was less and less possible, she trowed, and perhaps childish...It hurt to admit it, yet she was different, sordid and, at times, incoherent..., although she now understood perfectly that they couldn’t think of something better than leaving, and left herself to be ushered by Susan towards the exit, who imperceptibly began to hold her hand tighter, without clutching, carefully as if trying to embrace a butterfly, and asked later on in the car, using a lowered voice, "How are you holding up?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” said Amina meeting her friend’s gently persistent gaze, and beamed, unsure how to react, aware that she was not entitled to be too grim, though all did not go as she would have wanted to, but did it ever go that way? She should grow up. And how much should she endure to learn that life was not a fairy tale? “I’m glad we went out.”
The road back home lead first to the Shammas apartment, where they were supposed to leave Fatima, who, the eyes reddening a little bit and hazy, still gave signs of needing some more rest, from where they agreed to drive Susan back to her place immediately, not after a quick stop at their apartment in Brooklyn.
“Should I help you, darling?” asked Said whose wife stumbled on her feet and whom he diligently tried to help to get out of the car, without however managing to arrive close to her early enough, and she was already almost out, apparently eager to rest, the long, unusually dishevelled, fluttering in the wind hair, through which she began with a gesture full of restless awkwardness to pass her hand. “Come closer, Amina”, he added. “You could be of use to your mother.”
“Of course, father,” came the reply. Was she going to be alright? In any case, she had to act fast, just as if a little girl stood in front of her, innocent and fragile, to whom mommy should rush and take care of...
“I’m fine!” Fatima’s voice came off as startlingly brisk. How should her daughter act so as not to disturb but rather please because she intended to be wiser and a good girl, having a lewd and difficult to tame nature, doubtless, but was it healthy to try to stop a tornado? No, one should be forgiven and accepted.
“But...Perhaps I can help...”
“You can't...I’m fine, really. C’mon, give me a hug. You too, Susan. And I’m sorry if I ruined your day...”
“It’s okay, Miss Shammas. You are so sweet that you almost made me cry.”
“Haha! Don’t be silly!”
“I feel the same, mom. I want you to be okay.”
“Come in my arms. Let me give you a hug. To both of you.”
“How about me?” Said asked.
“I am afraid you won’t fit under my arms.”
“I can wait.”
“Don’t fret dad, that is how she is.”
“I’m used to it. And I love her.”
“How weird life is sometimes,” Amina trowed in her mother’s arms, “happiness and deception can follow one after the other really fast, and it is impossible to cling to the best moments. But I would like to...”, and the next thing she knew was that Susan also shared the same place, pressed together against her mother’s chest under which, it seemed, the heart was beating with reassuring regularity. “Mom looks better now. I’m glad. I'd like to stay here forever” under her wings, untouchable and unencumbered, even if her loved one had died, yet she would refuse to pointlessly cry now, no, she did not have to do it, it would be cruel towards all these people close to her, who, doubtless, would support her, and to whom she would confess almost everything, almost – because she knew that there were some aspects of the existence which, regardless of the temptation or the dire need to open up your soul or the possibility that maybe they deserved more honesty, it was always wiser to remain silent about, wasn’t it?
“Now I should go, I need some rest. You should too.”
“Yes, it’s getting late. Susan’s parents will begin to worry.”
“I texted them that I might be late. They are not easily scared.”
“That is because they trust you, Susan,” said Fatima gently. “It means a lot to a parent to know that their kid behaves.” Was this a subtle scolding? No, better leave it this way, overthinking would needlessly destroy her inner balance, mainly because she could not estimate for sure the exact situation and often tried not to.
“Perhaps you are right. Trust is very valuable. I also cherish it, in me and others," said Susan.
“I like the way you think.”
“That’s what I wanted to point out too. You have a good friend,” interfered Said. She did indeed, and perhaps it would be a good idea to make the acquaintances with Lily, who always manifested a vivid interest in all that concerned Amina; perhaps they could learn the art of photography all three? What an exciting prospect!
“I really need some rest,” Fatima repeated in a maternal tone. “You have fun,” she sighed, then smiled with a little bit more energy, retreating her arms slowly and stopping the embracement, “You can pass the night with Susan if that is what you want.”
“It would be awesome, mom!,” said Amina happily, yet pondering, “She is tired” like a broken swan in whose moves grace and easiness could still be perceived and admired, especially by a trained gaze.
“Yes, like in the old days,” approved Susan giddily.
“It's strange to see young people praise the old days,” Said jested.
“They are cherishing their childhood memories.”
“I know, I know.” He sighed and got away from the hood of the car, on which he leaned dreamily, almost sitting, moving his gaze from one conversationalist to another, to whom he listened intently and squinting imperceptibly his eyes in which his daughter could distinguish the same expression of care and attention which he often used to admire her choreographical improvisations with, who at the moment grew instantly aware of how she may be ignored him and how he was acting kind of low-key. “Should I help you to go up?” he inquired obliged.
“I insist.” His tone grew suddenly commanding, though not aggressive, still uncharacteristically unflexible, so the wife had to obey, perhaps too tired to protest vehemently, having enough energy however to walk on her feet with elegance and pride, Said’s assistance being more a symbol than a substance, his hand touching imperceptibly at times Fatima’s body, supporting it like a flapping butterfly landing on the body of a young ballet dancer to whom, in his vibrating ecstasy, the rest of the universe seems indifferent, futile and devoid of beauty. “I’ll be back in one minute,” he said and began to usher his wife into the residence.
“Take your time. My parents are not impatient. They are willing to wait for me, I’ve told them where I am, so...”
“I think I’m done for today, so he’ll be back soon," said Fatima. "All I want is some rest.”
“And you shall have it. Dad will take care of you.” So they finally disappeared into the tall building, leaving the two girls alone outside, where it was getting cold.
“I've never seen your mother so exhausted,” said Susan, scrubbing her hands. ”It's getting cold.”
“Yeah,” answered Amina, blinking uncomfortably her eyelashes in which a snowflake had landed, obstructing her view. “Fuck! mascara is going to melt,” she thought, “my face will be a mess.” “I must look like a witch,” she uttered, sensing how her mascara was trickling down forming black streams that made her eyes even darker, details of which she became aware using the car’s left side mirror.
“You look gorgeous. Don’t be silly.” Now their faces were both reflected in the same window because Amina had to tilt her head to the left slightly to free some space for her friend, whose appearance excited a burst of laughter in both of them. It felt good to be with her, reunited like in the old times, the old times that were probably forever lost or to which the access was denied for the most part.
“Hop in,” she voiced squinting after the lights of a passing-by automobile got reflected by the mirror as in an attempt of blinding her.
“Yeah, it’s freezing either way.”
“Haha! Don’t tell me.”
The inside of the car felt like a shelter or a metallic and masculine womb in whose belly it always felt good to dwell. Amina occupied the front seat and Susan sat beside her, the head leaning towards left and gracefully beaming, both of them closing their eyes a little and stretching. “Happiness is a weird thing, it comes when I expect it the least. I never thought I would be happy again after John died. But now I am. Did I really love him? That’s the question. It's weird.” That was what she thought.
“What are you thinking about, Amina? I do not want to pry...I'm just curious.”
“It’s ok. Nothing in particular. I just admire the view. I don’t know, I just feel relaxed. I know it sounds strange.”
“Not at all. One shall not live in sorrow all the time.” She wanted to agree with her more than anything but something still kept her from doing so, even if she felt serene and at ease.
“Hm. Perhaps you are right.”
“At least that is what I understand.”
“My mind is not clearer either.”
“I want to understand you. Most than anything.”
“My life is a dilemma even to me, so...”
“Yeah. Often you do not grasp what happens to you straight away. You have to wait.”
“That's true, haha. I couldn’t agree more.” They sat in silence for a few moments, enjoying the strangely beautiful view of the evening, and a deep feeling of comfort began, one might have said, to slowly dip into their bodies, in the same way as snow fell over the city and over the car, enveloping all with a mirror-like white crust which changed its form into water not after a long while, as a proof that nothing was permanent, things always flowed, and Amina realised once again the impossibility of retaining any jiffy of joy, let alone to prolong it willingly, regardless of the circumstances and how staunchly persistent one was, thinking, “All is ahead of me. And I just have to be patient and rely on my friends. I have friends, and I have parents...”, and this sudden realization made her recall the recent conclusion that Susan had made.
“I do not recall seeing my mother so exhausted either,” she began, putting her hands on the steering wheel after having used them with a relaxed gesture to clean a no longer existent stain of mascara from down her left eye. “She was...is so full of energy. I just hope she will be better.”
“I also hope so,” said Susan. “Anyway, you should ask me if you need anything. I’ll gladly help.”
“Of course, sis’.” They grabbed each other’s hands.
“I think your father is coming.”
“It's about time. I was wondering when he’ll show up...”
“I also believe they took their time...”
Said’s presence was signalled firstly by his shadow making the interior of the car darker at different places, like a statement that his personality belonged to the automobile with which they had already established a strong, enviable bond, and Amina could not help but notice how the tenebrous shape which was and simultaneously was not her father moved from the back towards the front of the car where it was redirected by a city light standing not far away from the driver’s door, a phenomenon possible because of the dim light of the car, one might conclude, and which represented an idea to be explored thoroughly in a future series of photos, although presently the camera of her phone stayed idle.
“Perhaps I should teach you to drive,” Said uttered smiling whilst Amina was opening the back door and went to sit there sliding past her father, who had to step aside a little.
“Perhaps. Dad, can you not close the door yet?”
“Why? I am freezing.”
“I want to take a picture of you as you stand.”
“Move to the right a little bit. No, that's too much. Yes,” she proclaimed satisfied after she gave him sufficient directions on the right position, her phone in hand, and made sure that her dad had his face fully illuminated and his body cast a large shadow inside the car, “that’s it.”
“Your mother would make fun of us,” he said just before the camera went on, appearing on screen with his mouth slightly open.
“Hold still please.”
“Ok.” They heard a snap.
“Now let’s get in the car. It’s cold here.”
“Is everything alright… Said?”
“You mean my wife, Susan? She's fine. But...” He stood with his hand on the car’s key, hesitating to ignite the engine, then sighed. “I hope she is ok. She is ok now, I think. But I don't like her weary look.”
“That's what I am afraid of too,” replied Susan worried, whom Amina regarded with a sense of increasing disquiet, pondering, “Here I am again thinking only about myself, never learning how to be truly loving… But then again I am human, why should I be too hard on myself?”
“Dad, do you believe there is something wrong with her?”
“I wouldn’t go that far. My opinion is that she needs some time to rest. But then again I am not a doctor.”
“Perhaps we should take her to a doctor?”
“My parents know a lot of good doctors. I’m sure they would be willing to help you find a good one. An excellent one even,” accentuated Susan, though you could not tell to whom she was addressing in particular, perhaps to both of them, as one should guess, then she regarded Susan with the same genteelness and added, whispering as if making a confession. “They found a good therapist for me when I was struggling with depression.”
“I did not know you…,” uttered Amina, surprised that something besides her mother’s health could preoccupy her elusive mind.
“Hm, there are a lot of things you do not know about me, sis’.”
“I think I don’t.”
“We have time to discover each other. Now you have to focus on your mother. We’ll discuss my... our teenage problems later.”
“You speak wise words, my girls. I find it hard to believe that a doctor’s intervention might be urgent-“
“Dad, maybe we should take her to a doctor. I’m worried.”
“I understand your concerns. I just don't want to alarm you.”
“There is no need for that.” She felt like letting her emotions go was the best and the most practical decision, regardless of how insufferable and rid of guilt they might manifest themselves.
“Your mother is stubborn. Haha! But you already know that, don’t you? Be that as it may, I might convince her to consult a doctor.”
“In the name of your love?” inquired Amina with a gentle, giggly tone, who almost said “your youth love”, which might have implied that her parents did not love each other any longer or that the intensity of the feeling has decreased, a thought whose veridicality had seemed painfully undeniable in the past and which she had no intention of nourishing even in a moment in which her pessimistic propensities, which, aware that an uninspired remark would have just risen the tension, she struggled valiantly to tame and were at their peak.
“Haha! You can say that.” He stretched his right hand backwards and pinched her cheek lovingly like he did when she was a little girl. “The fact is that I’m also worried. Maybe too worried… Yeah.” He paused and turned his gaze forward, his hand on the shifter on which it rested for a while, the fingers moving now and then with bursts of restlessness, then stopping unsurely. “Love is a multifaceted thing and very difficult to comprehend. That’s what I can say. When I was young, I felt like I loved your mother at the beginning, then my feelings became more confused…Love is not as exciting and full of joy as one thinks when one does not have experience.” He looked a little bit embarrassed at the two girls who kept listening intently, and the snow fell persistently in translucent flakes, forming a cover on the windshield, then added, sure of himself but not arrogant, “Life also can surprise you very often, and it disappoints you when you have high expectations. But it is amazing how beautiful it can be if you look at it directly, and you trust yourself and others.”
“You sound very wise, dad,” said Amina, surprised that Said, who often used to elaborate complicated speeches whenever talking to adults and who only began to address her in a more sophisticated, contemplative way, chose this particular moment to express his thoughts as if the occasion was special. Perhaps he felt concerned? His jittery attitude betrayed him. And she had mixed sentiments about this, being both happy that her father whose affection for Fatima she had doubted multiple times before, proved her wrong, and also concerned for her mother’s health. “I know you care for us.”
“Haha. Of course, I care, even if I do not show my emotions to everyone. But my way of doing it is often unusual. I might seem indifferent when I am just very relaxed. That's it.” “Hm”, thought Amina,” it seems like he is justifying himself. He should not.”
“I agree that it is important to take care of those we love,” said Susan, who didn't cease to listen to them intently. “Trust and affection are very important in a relationship. My parents taught me this and I try to live by their example.”
“That's true, Susan. Your parents taught you well. You are also very wise.”
“We are here for a long time already,” said Amina, her eyes fixed on the snow on the windshield through which it was difficult to see now. “Maybe we should go.”
“You're right. Your mom could worry if we stayed for too long. We will continue the discussion on our way there.”
“Yes, dad. We are going to continue this competition of wisdom later. Let’s go.”
Said turned on the windshield wiper, then uttered, smiling, “You are very much like your mother sometimes and I like it. I always wondered what kind of woman you would become. And I'm satisfied with the result,” he said.
“And you should. She is a very kind girl. I am thrilled to befriend her.”
“Susan, I think you are the sister I never had.” She did not know what exactly to say but she had to say something which was not false. “Let me take you in my arms.”
“Amina, do you want to seat on the front seat?”
“No, I'm ok.” They embraced each other awkwardly.
“Are you sure?”
The car started to move faster. Amina did not have the time to contemplate the world as she would do in normal circumstances, which came off as strange, for the speed was not crazy after all. And she seemed to use this respite to analyze her thoughts and emotions. Firstly, she noticed that she felt unhappy but not totally, whereas she should have been content, having a good friend beside her, though her mother’s health was not in the best of conditions, to which she wanted to attribute her unsatisfaction to a greater extent than she could at that moment, so, for fuck’s sake, what was it that troubled her, ha? And why did Susan have such a strong connection with her? And why couldn’t she be more open with her childhood friend, as if something was pulling her away and making her unable to do the final step towards an unabridged and pure intimacy? A grown-up person would have already accepted that candidness is for the kids, and she lost her virginity a long time ago, like the stupid girl she was.
They finally arrived at Susan’s place, who lived in a small apartment and has invited them for a cup of tea.
“When is the last time you've been here?” she asked with a voice full of emotions.
“I don’t know. It's difficult to remember.”
“I never visited this place. I'm surprised to see that you live alone. Amina also wants to live by herself too, I think.”
“I like to be independent," uttered Susan. "Do you really want to live by yourself?”
Amina did not expect the question. How did her dad guess that she had the desire to rely only on her own? Hm, the fact that she had felt the urge to have numerous escapades not a long time ago might have contributed to form his opinion, which, now that she pondered a little bit, made her inexplicably sad, just as if she committed an act of betrayal during which she got caught, though the desire in itself was honourable, doubtless, and every parent would have felt proud. “This is my wish, she said. But…” Her phone emitted a lot of message notifications and interrupted her, so she pulled it out of the pocket and turned off the sound. “But I am not in a big rush.”
“You can live with me if you want.” Susan beamed with welcoming warmth whilst bringing the tray with the cups of hot tea in whose undulating steam the light danced intermittently, an image reflected dreamily in her eyes, as she sat there the legs crossed and the hands folded peacefully on the table in front of Amina, to whom the idea of taking a picture came naturally, thinking, “I have to capture this moment. It's going to be my best work. At least I hope so.”
“We'll talk about it when I decide to move. For now, let’s enjoy the moment. Stay still, I’ll photograph you.”
“C’mon,” said Susan blushing, which made her even more charming, “we better drink our tea when it's still hot.”
“We have time for that. It should not take long. That’s it,” said Amina looking at her phone, visibly satisfied with the results. “Here, you can see.”
“Wow, it's very beautiful. You are talented.”
“You made me curious!”, began Said, whom Susan had to pass the phone to. “You are a good model. You have something mysterious in you. Maybe you should collaborate in the future. What do you think?”
“I never dreamt of becoming a model. I am too shy.”
“You’ll feel more comfortable with me around you. It's cool to do things with friends.”
“I don’t know. I would gladly do things with you but I would not want to make it a profession. It seems very shallow to me.”
“Haha. I like your attitude. But let’s leave the future to the future, girls. And drink our tea.”
“It's a good idea, dad. Let’s leave the future to the future.” So they silently continued to drink their tea with small sips, only calmly smiling at each other now and then, a serene glimmer persisting in their eyes. “The moment is perfect, I wish it to last forever. Forever. This is all I want,” pondered Amina, feeling the liquid warming her throat.
“It’s getting late.” Said checked his watch.”Time flies fast sometimes.”
“We had a good time,” laughed Amina.
“Yes. But I wonder what Fatima is doing now.”
“Are you worried? She seemed exhausted when we left her.”
“I hope Ms Shammas is alright.”
“I think we…I should go. But you can stay here, Amina, if you want. It seems that you girls have a lot to talk about.”
“This is exactly what I wanted to ask you,” said Susan demurely and began to assemble the cups of tea on the tray, after they finished drinking. “You’ve read my mind, Mr Shammas. We could do a lot of things together.”
“Yes, I'd like to stay with you. But…” She felt inexplicably strange, happy, restless, and fretful, though the last emotion was the most powerful and its proportions grew larger the more she analyzed the situation, like a small, pleasant tray of light which burns if you look at it with the magnifying lens but not with the naked eye. “I would like to see my mother. And be with her.”
“Oh, I understand. I shouldn’t…” Susan seemed abashed.
“I could help my wife if there is something urgent. You could stay here. We wouldn’t mind it.”
“You should go. I was glad to have you here. I am excited about the whole day. And happy.”
“I'm also happy, my dear Susan.” Yes, all seemed flawless but she had to make a rational decision, although she would have hesitated if someone asked her what exactly rationality meant. However, she needed to cheer things up a little bit, aware also that her friend deserved more attention and trust. “By the way, I've met someone new. Her name is Lily and we get along pretty well. I consider her my mentor in photography. We should go out one of these days. The three of us.”
“I am glad that you have new friends. You are not as uncommunicative as I think of you sometimes.”
“Haha! I did not know that. What can I say? I'm a difficult teenager.”
“That will pass,” intervened Said. “You are already making progress. It happens to a lot of young people. I am not an exception… Life is a constant struggle, by the way. You think that a change will bring you happiness but you are wrong. Anyway, you do not always get what you want, and even when you succeed, you are not sure if it is worth it. But usually, you do not get all that you want...But I'm rambling...”
They were stepping towards the door, ready to leave, Susan ambling calmly behind them and smiling, then rushing ahead to solicitously open the door. “I die to know your friend too. You should make the acquaintances, Amina.”
“Of course, dad. I’ll invite her to have dinner with us. Mom will like her.”
“Good night,” said Susan gently, as if talking to kids. “I didn’t have guests in a long while.”
“Good night, take care of yourself.” The two girls kissed on the cheek and hugged each other, the door open.
“Good night, Ms Shammas. Let me kiss you too-”
“I'm not against it.”
“And remember, Amina, you can tell me everything is on your mind.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
End of chapter.
The title of the novel is The Fluid Mirror.
The genre is literary fiction/psychology.
Author Name: Eugene Petrashcu.
My project is a good fit because it explores some interesting and profound ideas.
The story revolves around a teenage girl, Amina, whose family has Arab origins and immigrated to New York where they have raised their daughter. Amina has a boisterous but also tender personality and does not like to abide by the rules. She is tempted to film a porn movie but then regrets it, although she recognizes that she has enjoyed it. She is promised that the video will not appear on a popular site, thus making her a big star, yet she has to live in constant apprehension that her parents could find out and be disappointed; her fret is constantly gaining proportions when she falls in love with a charismatic guy. Her main passion is dancing but, as the tension is growing, she realizes that she still has not found her true identity, her interests shift, and her worldview is evolving, aware that nothing is how it seems, especially her inner self.
The target audience is 18+ because there are a couple of explicit sex scenes. My readers have to be willing to accept a little challenge and make their way through some long sentences and stream of consciousness.
I am a thoughtful personality and I prefer to make of use introspection and a large vocabulary; I lean more towards a classical style.
Hobbies: reading, writing, watching movies, playing video games, seeing plays.
I was born in Moldova, an Eastern-European country, and am currently living in its capital, Chisinau.
Are you ready?
They call me Lightning. I strike hard and shine like a burning, devastating whip, and am fast and unpredictable. I can reach you wherever you are, regardless of the forms I take, which are two. One visible and one invisible, which is after your soul, not after your body, and does not care if the effect is lethal or not, and goes by the name of Love.
I sit here and receive all these different things which I like, even if they think that they are trash and disposable. I sit here and observe like a pure mirror, which people cannot be, though they dream of it relentlessly. If they knew what privileged position I am in, they would envy me very much. Luckily for them, I am just a piece of the environment that manages perfectly to blend in the universe, even if I am a limited human creation, not even a product of cutting edge technology.
But that does not really matter because the same vibrations are maintaining my core and are the reason of my existence. So stay tuned and open your heart, and maybe next time a butterfly lands on me I'll be able to use it as a mail delivery service and reach up to you, though you might even not know it when it happens. Maybe I did it already but you are trapped in your prison-like intellect of yours.
When I close my eyes, I see a lot of multicolored points and wonder if they are the atoms out of which our fading world is created and unremittingly maintained like a butterfly on the eyelashes of God and Devil.
When you begin a conversation with someone for whom you understand that you might feel love in the future, it is like building an illusion out of cards: you both want to create a dream that you hope will last as much as possible, fearing an earthquake or a powerful gust of wind.
One last time the black swan will open its wings
To hastily embrace the inward universe;
But remember that nothing is what it seems
And the mirror might be coherently reversed,
The reflection makes as well sense
When the butterfly's touch implacably stings.