Even through tears, she would not relax her stare, as if she could not for one moment trust him, that he might, in the absence of her watchfulness, devour her at the first sign of weakness. Though her arms slackened, her shoulders did not relax and her mind remained firm in its wariness as she took in his features: the thick brown curls that dove from his forehead to meet his dark eyes, his thin nose, the dimpled divots in his cheeks, his full lips, cleft chin. But she appreciated none of his handsome looks, for all she saw when she looked at him, all she reprised of his being was that he was one of them. A man. He could never be trusted.
And yet when she felt his own stare burn through her, she slowly felt herself falling, down, down off the wall of mistrust upon which she had protectively perched herself in the years prior. She looked into this man’s dark eyes, darker than the strong, rich tea she drank each morning, eyes that seemed deep with understanding and humility, and she felt her defense begin to break. She had not seen eyes like these in a man before. Her vision of him blurred at the edges as the tears came. She raised her hands to her face, unable to watch him walk away in disgust. But to her surprise, he did not. She felt him move closer.
“Please,” he said, “Let me help you.” She could hear some akin to desperation in his voice. It confused her. She looked to him again.
But then another voice drowned it all out, immediately and completely. Deep, raspy, rough. And angry.
“Saamiya!” Bodhi’s voice. And she knew at once that she had been found; her weakness had betrayed her. She knew now she would not just break, but completely collapse. She wished herself dead. It was not the first time she had made the wish that day. Someday she knew Bodhi would be the grantor of her wish. He only needed time, and time was all she had to give him.
“So glad to have found you.” His voice and demeanor changed once he got to the doctor’s side, more conciliatory but still rife with insincerity. “That must have been quite a fall you took. Adiana told me you had come here.” He laughed, but his laugh contained no humor, not even irony. In fact, it contained no emotion at all.
Her hands dropped from her face, and she looked at him in disbelief, although he would not be able to tell, her eyes so black and blue and swollen. His graying hair hung in greasy clumps, a mop too big for his tiny head. His eyes had no sparkle, no life, they just grazed over her with potent disgust that she could feel coat her like slick oil. He did not look at the doctor, though he performed this act just for him.
Did he actually believe that this doctor, educated in medicine and probably the ways of the world, working in this clinic, would believe that she had fallen and that a simple tumble could account for her multiple injuries? She almost laughed. His self-love was always large enough to convince himself of the truth in all that he said, and his ego expansive enough to believe that no man would dare contradict him. But she did not laugh, knowing that he had no social or moral benchmark to keep him from striking her. Again.
“So doctor,” he finally turned to Aadel, who had been standing close enough to her that she could feel his presence, a warmth she could not name for she barely recognized it. He turned from her, his body a boundary between her and the burly man who spoke with such condescension it made her skin prickle. For a moment, she let herself believe he could protect her.
“What can you do for this clumsy wife of mine?” Again Bodhi laughed, and again, no emotion accompanied it. He continued with his show. She knew it, he knew it ,but worse of all, this doctor with the kind eyes would soon know it. She would not weather his pity.
Aadel turned to her, and she could see the surprise in his eyes, for Bodhi looked all of his 50 years, and then some, and at just 22, though she looked older than that, she resembled more his daughter than his wife. And though his look was brief, and the startled expression in his eyes gone before he turned back to her husband, she felt shame wash over her like icy water, and the warmth that she had felt, emanating from this kind-eyed man, could warm her no more. How quickly all was lost.
“We need to get some x-rays,” he said, and kicked the brake by the gurney’s wheels, moving toward its head to push Saamiya to another area and away from this man. She felt surprise, as he had not even taken her history, had not laid a hand on her to examine her injuries.
“Is that necessary? She just looks bruised up to me,” Bodhi said, taking a step toward Saamiya. She could not help but wince as he moved into her space. She cursed herself for giving him the pleasure her fear naturally granted. But she was too tired to pretend now, as she had earlier in the day during their fight. Her refusal to defy him made him beat her all the more viciously. But it was worth it. He could defeat her body, even rule over it at times, but he could not reign in her spirit. Usually.
“She told me about the fall, down the steps,” Aadel said. She looked straight ahead, no emotion creeping into her face. But inside, her heart expanded, and the warmth returned. He was lying for her. She couldn’t be sure, she did not trust any man, even one with warm eyes, deep as pools of the purest springs she remembered from childhood, but she thought he truly was defending her. He might actually be on her side.
“She needs to have an x-ray to make sure she does not have a skull fracture.” He stared directly at Bodhi, never looking away from his small eyes, shaded by bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows. Her husband’s apathetic smile never faltered, but his eyes darkened, and for a moment, she feared for this brave, young doctor. She felt a sudden desire to protect him.
“I’m OK, really doctor,” she said, her voice stronger, more firm in its desire to spare him Bodhi’s temper.
“Let me be the doctor,” he said to her with a cold firmness she felt instinctively he used for Bodhi’s benefit rather than hers. The doctor had the intelligence to recognize that the two men needed to be on the same side in order for him to get his way, and the only way to ensure this was to establish with Bodhi that he, too, could boss her around with impunity. She was, after all, just a woman.
To Bodhi, he said, “Let’s just make sure her head is still on tightly,” with a laugh that implied they were on the same team.
For a moment, Saamiya feared she had been mistaken about the doctor’s good nature, and that he was in fact a compatriot from Bodhi’s world. But then she noticed Aadel’s white knuckles on the gurney’s side bar, the clench in his jaw that hadn’t been there before, a darkness in his eyes that had evolved since she had first held his innocent stare firmly in her own.
He was encapsulated with fury, anger with nowhere to go but down deep within, trapped and fueled by Bodhi, yet stifled because of him. How well she knew this feeling, horrible and helpless. It was a mantle she wore daily, watching her words, her expressions, the very way she carried herself, wore her hair, chose her clothes. And always, the fury burned, from inside but never out, and now she saw the very same burn inside this young doctor, who had lied for her, debased himself to Bodhi’s level for her. She had never felt less alone.
And she started to feel something else burn down deep besides anger. And while she couldn’t yet name it, for it, too was new to her, she would someday recognize it as the first embers of hope.
“Very well then,” Bodhi said, stepping away from the doctor, away from Saamiya.
As they travelled down the hallway, lined with unpainted cinder-block walls, fluorescent lights flickering from the ceiling above, Saamiya felt, for the very first time in as long as she could remember, the broad expanse of clear, breathable air offered by freedom.
- My Burgeoning, Unnamed Novel in Scattered Form: Chapter One (seriouslywritingwoman.wordpress.com)