When you grow up a certain kind of way, you learn to prize mundane-seeming things. Doors with handles, full bottles of pop, comfortable silences. Hezekiah has a lot of simple joys. After four years of not being able to see his friends without a committee-approved reason, being alone in an apartment with two of his favourite people should be a cause of satisfaction, not tension.
He tries not to dwell on the disconnect. Reality rarely lives up to expectation.
Zuhair has made it painfully obvious that he doesn’t approve of Hezekiah and Rima sleeping together. He hasn’t said anything directly to Hezekiah, but he doesn’t need to. It’s obvious from the way hostility radiates off him as he hunches at the far end of the couch, one leg hanging off the chaise extension. What’s even left to say when a guy’s best friend falls in bed with their mutual ex? The guilt alone keeps Hezekiah up at night.
He can’t put a name to the horror, rising like bile, when he realizes he’s betrayed Zuhair. Most of the time he avoids thinking about it.
Rima shifts on the other side of the couch, folding her legs beneath her and looking intently at her short, painted nails. It’s still weird seeing her without her hijab, her hair sawn off in an uneven bob around her ears.
In high school she was always getting manicures, elaborate swirls on tapering acrylic. They looked like claws, like she hoped to tear through the dour veil of modesty enshrouding her. It never worked; the ends were always blunted. Now she paints her own nails, limited to dollar store polish and the clippers in Hezekiah’s bathroom cabinet.
Orange and green. Three years ago she was neutrals and abayas, the picturesque Muslimah who died when she left the mosque and breathed only when the Qur’an was on her lips. That’s never been Rima—he knows, and Zuhair knows, and maybe everyone but her mother knew. Maybe Mrs. Elhajj knew more than anyone else, but didn’t want to accept that tightening the noose would never force her daughter into the compliance she demanded.
It’s a moot point now that she sleeps on Hezekiah’s dad’s couch and talks about changing her last name to Kahlo, “like Frida,” combing colourful fingers through her cropped hair and smiling wide like she knows the trick to getting forgiveness for unforgivable sins. Hezekiah crossed that bridge himself years ago, so it’s not a great way to explain his interest in Rima’s lips.
Zuhair once told him that he and Rima kissed only once the entire time they were dating. They were too young and distracted, he mused, clearly full of regret. ‘You were thirteen,’ Hezekiah had responded, because he didn’t know what else to say. He’d kissed Rima many times before she went away. Had they thought they’d see her again, they might not have shared this information so freely.
It’s too late now to take back confessions, tongues making words or making love, muffling gasps into his palm even though Hezekiah’s dad has never cared who he had in his room, boy or girl, because he’s nineteen and an adult and can love whoever he wants—it’s sinful either way, right?
“So,” says Rima, her golden brown irises narrowing as she zeroes in on the invisible sparks crackling between Hezekiah and Zuhair. “We could go see a movie.”
“No,” Zuhair says sourly, not even twitching, not even pretending to look at her.
Rima whistles through her teeth, annoyed, but doesn’t argue any further.
“I have DVDs here,” Hezekiah offers, like they both don’t know that. Like his hand wasn’t two inches away from Zuhair’s as they sat together on the couch, the screams and groans from The Walking Dead almost masking the sound of Rima’s unexpected phone call. He wishes he could look into Zuhair’s darker-than-dark eyes and see something other than resentment and jealousy, but Zuhair is the religious servant that Rima wouldn’t be and Hezekiah couldn’t be, more devout in his thrift store jeans and secondhand Nike sandals than a thousand years of holy relics could ever impart. Hezekiah’s rosary rots in a drawer somewhere, and Zuhair wouldn’t miss salāt al-jum’ah for the world.
Zuhair’s gaze slides away from Hezekiah’s, landing at the base of his overstuffed chair. “I don’t feel like watching anything,” he sulks. Unlike Rima, his speech is perfectly enunciated Standard English, more Canadian than elks and maple syrup, more Canadian than apologizing for something you didn’t even do—and Hezekiah would know. When they both turned eighteen they flew to New York City for a concert and someone yelled at Zuhair to go back to his own country, conjuring an image of Lebanon, of Rima swaddled up and far away, rather than Windsor, only a fifteen-minute bus trip from Detroit.
If Hezekiah was braver he would have said something, but his wrists were too thin and he trembled inside the bars of his rolling walker, and eventually the angry voice dissolved in the crowd and they moved forward in the line but Hezekiah never really moved forward. Nineteen years growing up in Canada apologizing for everything and Hezekiah still doesn’t know how to apologize for that any more than he knows how to apologize for kissing the girl his best friend never stopped loving.
Rima doesn’t like being in the middle. She never has. She won’t stay there for long, Hezekiah knows that for sure, but he doesn’t know what they’ll look like once the excision is complete, like both of them don’t already have scars on their hearts in the shape of her slim brown hands.