It was exactly the third time that Ahmed had set foot on the girls’ apartment and probably the first one that he had ventured to close the door behind him. Normally he would wait at the threshold and only dare to step inside if he saw some of Sandra’s colleagues loafing around in the dusty living room. That way, it felt like there were witnesses to give evidence for him; he had never ever done anything shameful or disrespectful, even thought he had thought about it uncountable times.
Bloody company’s regulations, he thought. Not even Mohammed, who had been dating Anna forever, had ever had the balls to go beyond Anna’s bedroom’s door, let alone himself, who had worked at the company for less than three months. Mind you, now, everything was different.
“Sandra, you can’t just say you have to think about it!”
“Shush! There might be someone in the flat, Ahmed!” Sandra reprimanded him, taking her forefinger to her lips. She sneaked in every bedroom to make sure they were alone. “This is no one’s business. Gosh, I need some privacy! For God’s sake, I’m 34!”
“There’s no one. Anna and María are on a tour and Justine must be still at the office.”
“Just wanted to make sure,” she added with as sigh as she collapsed on the sofa and stared at the noisy fan in the ceiling. “Fuck, Ahmed, I’d kill for a glass of wine right now.”
“You should stop drinking, you know?” He started to lecture Sandra on her hateful habits. “Ya-ani, you drink too much…”
“Ok, can it, will you, Ahmed? I’m not in the mood for this right now.”
He took a deep breath to try and calm down and sat next to her on the sofa. He was not used to women taking to him that way, except for his mother, of course, so, sometimes he found it hard to control the impulse of shouting at her or even worse… Sometimes he wondered whether she had ever realized that he was one feet taller and probably twice as heavy. Most likely she had, and that was something he loved –and also hated- about her.
“You know this changed everything, right?” he asked her, holding her hand tenderly.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you heard them. The company’s closing down, so you won’t be able to live here anymore.”
“I can look for another place,” she answered noncommittally. “Anna will move in with me.”
“Anna’s getting married to Mohammed in two months, Sandra.” He lowered his gaze in shame. Mohamed, his colleague and probably best friend, had broken the news to him that very same morning and had asked him to keep it a secret for a while.
“Wait, what?” Sandra removed her hand from his grip and looked at him expectantly.
“He told me this morning, but please don’t tell anything to Anna. He asked me not to tell anyone…”
“I can’t believe she didn’t tell me…”
“Well, they have a commitment now…”
“I don’t care,” she interrupted him. “I don’t care what she does, she’s not my mother. Plus, I can rent a place myself.”
“Really, and how are you gonna pay for it? Cairo is expensive.”
“I’ll find a job, that’s not a big issue…”
“It’s actually a big issue, Sandra,” he interrupted her. “You’re American. You know in Egypt you cannot work in the tourism sector if you’re not Egyptian.”
“I can do other things, you see?” She answered somehow offended looking at him in the eye. “I have a degree.”
“Do you honestly believe you can use your degree in Visual Arts in a country like this? Walahi, are you crazy or what?” Ahmed stood up and started pacing up the down the living room. He could feel sweat drops falling down his forehead and lower back. Why on earth didn’t they install an A/C device instead of that rusty fan in the living room? “Sandra…” he started.
“I cannot do this now, Ahmed,” she looked at him imploringly.
“Well, I’m sorry but you have to,” he snapped. His look was hard and all the kindness in those big brown eyes had vanished completely. “I cannot go on living like this. My family… my friends… they all talk about us. They all talk about you! Those things you do, like, going down to that expat bar and drink beer and dance and go crazy every time you finish a tour…. That has to stop, that is…” He run his fingers through his curly mane of black hair and stood still staring at her in the eye. “You have to decide Sandra: either you stay with me the proper way and marry me or…” he stopped and lowered his gaze. “Or you go home.