From “Kissing All The Frogs" series*
Farimah was late to the wedding. By the time she showed up the Aghd was over and the guests at her friend Sima’s daughter’s wedding were drinking merrily in preparation for the dinner reception. She found Sima with the bride and handed her small package containing her present to the beautiful bride. Sima told her she looked exceptionally lovely tonight. Farimah appreciated the rare compliment from her fashion designer friend! The photographer was busy flashing pictures at the clusters of guests surrounding the bride and the groom. She joined in a pose with Sima and the newlyweds, flashing her smile at the photographer. She felt his gaze on her before her eyes could see him and her brain started a somersault of puzzlement and slow recognition. The photographer wasn’t done and the smile and the pose had to stay in place, but the heart leaping out of her throat and the unmistakable shake that had gripped her frame were hard to suppress. Oh My God, Oh My God, her mind was racing. What the hell is Arash doing here? Who brought him here? What were the chances of her running into her ex at what would have otherwise promised to be her home turf, surrounded by friends and neighbors and affiliations which made her presence at the gathering legitimate and Arash’s not?
It had been five whole years since the last time she had seen him. They had not talked on the phone and she had not returned the emails he had continually sent her over the years for birthdays, Christmases, New Years, and whatnot. She had tried so hard to erase him from her life and her memory, succeeding at last for the past two years. She was not prepared for this chance face-to-face, not by a long shot. From the corner of her eyes she watched him standing there, holding his cocktail glass—it must contain vodka on rocks. As they shifted poses and more people joined the photo arrangements, their eyes met and he lifted his glass and tilted it in her direction. She wanted to scream and run away.
She didn’t like it one bit that he started moving toward her and her group, stopping near her and saying “Salaam Farimah Khanoom.” How odd and hollow it sounded to be regarded so formally by a man she used to love, a man she had lived with for eight years, a man she had worshipped and left, a man who had given her so much joy and so much pain.
She whispered “Salaam,” forced a polite smile on her lips, and stood there, looking at Sima who all of a sudden noticed Arash, too, recognizing him from the pictures Farimah had shown her when they had first become friends four years ago. Sensing the uncomfortable silence of her friend, she approached Arash and introduced herself as mother of the bride, to which he said "I am the groom’s cousin, pesar daee, visiting from Florida." Sima maintained her composure and said “welcome to the party. It seems you know more people here than you had anticipated." She looked over at her friend whose face looked drained and pale, trying to find out through their eyes what would make her feel less uncomfortable, as only girlfriends know how to communicate. Farimah didn’t let this go on for long. She said "Sima Joon, I think people are waiting to be photographed with you,” and she turned and left the reception area, heading down the hall toward the ladies room. When the door closed behind her she stood there wondering whether she was going to throw up. No, she wasn’t. She was shaking and when she looked at herself in the mirror, she, too, saw the paleness in her face. What to do, she thought? Should she leave? Should she go around all night ignoring the larger than life presence of the man who had meant so much to her and who had caused her so much pain?
Farimah sat on the edge of the sofa in the lavish hotel’s ladies room, waiting to catch her breath before she could make a decision. It felt odd that five years ago, she would have given anything, anything, to come face to face with Arash, for a chance to talk to him, for a chance to heal the gaping wound that he had caused in her heart. She remembered all the nights she sat there, staring at the telephone, willing it to ring and for it to have Arash on the other side. She remembered sitting by herself in the little efficiency she had temporarily moved into, wishing to hear from him, to see him, and to hear him say that he was sorry, that he had been wrong, that she was the one he loved and no other, that he wanted her back. The call never came, and the brewing storm of realization and pain had eventually propelled her first into a state of paralysis and then into a restart, a new life, in a new town, with new friends and a new job. She had come full circle and face to face with the man who had once loved her like no other and who had also hurt and humiliated her, of all places in her new world. It mattered not that she had heard his relationship with his new woman had not lasted; for his loss of another woman meant nothing to her. She thought of all the times she had missed him, his eyes, his arms, every single line on his face, the way his hair grew on his temples, the way he breathed when he was sleeping peacefully next to her, sweaty and spent after their sweet lovemaking, the smell of his skin, the sound of his laughter, and the little endearing ways in which he walked and talked.
She also remembered the pain of the lies, the slow and final realization of betrayals, the awful sessions of sad and bitter words, the finality of the packed suitcase, the unsaid words, and the joyless days of ending and moving. She remembered all the emails she had sent which had never received any replies, all the phone messages which had been thrown into the dark sea of their separation and his freedom, all the silly “vibes of love” she had tried to send his way, and all the ways in which things had developed for her, seemingly not to exist for him anymore. She remembered her tears and how hollow her sobs sounded in her small room in a new town, missing him.
Farimah remembered picking up the pieces and moving on. She remembered how after a whole year, she had slowly started seeing other men, fighting how wretched it made her feel to have to introduce herself and provide information about herself, trying to “read” and “understand” and “know” the stranger sitting across from her at a restaurant, how silly and pointless and exhausting it had felt in the beginning. She remembered the first time she made love with another man after Arash, and how she couldn’t wait to be alone to sob and cry for how sad and empty she had felt after loveless sex. She thought of all that she had had to learn and to experience in search of herself without Arash. She saw her pale smile in the mirrored wall ahead, a sign of an important message her mind had yet not processed in the shock of seeing Arash. She had a life all her own now, it was complete, peaceful, and perfect, and the way she felt just may be a self-defense mechanism for fighting off an intruder who might threaten to do away with that peace.
Farimah stood up and looked at herself in the mirror, fixing her makeup and doing a final check on her evening dress. She was ready to step out. She wasn’t surprised to see Arash locating her and walking over to her within minutes.
“Is this seat taken?”
“No. It isn’t.”
“Are you here by yourself or do you have a date?”
“I’m here by myself.”
“So, he couldn’t make it?”
Leave it to Arash to try a roundabout way for finding out whether she was in a relationship or not. Well, she wasn’t going to make this easy for him. “There is no he with me tonight!” she said, smiling into his face. How many thousands of times had she kissed that face? Arash was trying to hide his chagrin at her reply. He was never a good poker face and she could always read his emotions so well through his face. He didn’t like that answer. He said “I have tried so hard to make contact with you over the past couple of years, but you never replied to my emails. I got your phone number through mutual friends, but you never returned my calls, either.” Farimah sipped her wine and asked “Why were you trying to reach me?” Arash looked uncomfortable and ill at ease with answering that question without receiving some kind of reassurance first. None were coming his way. He said “Well, we did have so much between us, a whole life! I thought we could try staying friends and keeping in touch.” Farimah searched long and hard in her heart. All of a sudden she realized she had no anger, no pain, and no ill feelings for this man. She was surprised, asking herself “when did I stop being angry at him?” She said “Yes, we did, and it was beautiful, bold, and exciting, our life together. But it ended. For whatever reason, it did. I won’t hold you solely responsible for your affair. It won’t be fair. You must have been looking for something that may have been missing in our life together. I did think that we had it all, but we obviously didn’t.” Arash tried to say something, but stopped. He looked around, nursing his drink. He changed course and said “You look absolutely beautiful, even more beautiful than before.” Farimah felt a small laughter ripple through her heart and escape her lips. How bizarre that a man she had loved so much was approaching her like a stranger would, with a cliché! She was too kind to say anything, observing that he had aged more than five years and his hair had gone gray and his facial lines and wrinkles had gone way deeper and longer. She simply said “Thank you.”
Arash asked “So, did you miss me?” Farimah said “Only everyday for a long time, until I stopped.” Arash seemed puzzled with the brutal honesty, but at the same time he seemed motivated by its familiarity. Farimah had always been extremely honest with him about her feelings and thoughts. He said “I understand you don’t miss me anymore. But I have wondered about you and what my life would have been like if I had held on to you. I do miss you and our life together.” Farimah wasn’t sure what to make of this announcement! What was Arash saying? She said “We can’t live our lives wondering about 'could have' and 'should have.' We have to live with the lives that we have.” Arash obviously didn’t like how this conversation was going. He asked suddenly, "Would you like to dance?” Farimah thought for a moment before she agreed.
As they started the slow dance, the familiarity of Arash’s hands on her back, the smell of his cologne and his skin, and the warmth of his breath on her cheek brought back a flood of memories, making her feel a rush of familiar excitement, until Arash tried to pull her into a closer embrace, but she resisted it. He whispered in her ear “This feels so good, you in my arms.” Farimah chuckled and said “Enjoy it while it lasts, buster!”
As soon as the dance was over, they returned to their table. Arash said “I’m in town for a couple of days. Say, how about if you give me a tour of your town?” Farimah said “I’ll be busy over the coming days. You can hire a tour guide.” Arash tried again “Do you think we can have dinner one night?” Farimah’s mind flashed back to all those years ago when she had first met Arash, who wouldn’t give up and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She said at last “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Arash. We are done. We once had something and it has been over for a long time. We have both moved on. If you were looking for a friendship, now you have it. There is no need to make anything more out of it.” Arash said: “But look at us. We have both tried living our separate lives for five years, and here we both are, unattached and available.” Farimah said: “Yes, we may both be unattached but that doesn’t mean that both of us are available. I know for a fact that I am no longer available to you. There once was a revolving door, Arash, you could and you did pass through it several times. That door doesn’t exist anymore. It won’t re-appear with your charm like it did before, for I have let you go. I let you go after you let me go. We are done. There is a whole other world out there for me past you, and there is a whole other world for you past me. We are adult enough not to retry something that became awful and painful in the end. Though I have forgiven you, I cannot forget the pain you were capable of inflicting on me. I don’t want to remind you of the things you did, there’s no point of it here and now. But you should know that I know about it and having gone all the way to the end with someone, there is no more magic, there is nothing for me to look forward to, nothing. I didn’t give you up easily Arash, I couldn’t. Until I met you, I had loved no other man as I did you. I had never felt as complete as when I was with you. My crash as a result, was monumental! It was too hard and too far and too painful. I could never try that one again.” Arash tried one last time, saying “Will you give me another chance for the next couple of days? I can show you that I have changed. You can see the changes yourself. Maybe you will start liking me again, like you used to do.” Farimah shook her head and said “Arash, it didn’t work out the first time and it won’t work again this time. I won’t do it. I can’t.”
Resigned, Arash said “But will you at least return my calls and my emails now?” Farimah said “Yes, I will” having no intention of doing so. When she got into her car, she removed her bangles and watch, dropped them into her bag, and rubbed the almost identical scars on her wrists, puzzled all of a sudden, because for the first time in five years, they were no longer throbbing.
* Names, places, and other identifying attributes of this series' characters are made-up and a work of fiction. The relationship and the dilemma at the heart of each story is true and that's all that is true.
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