|Susan dressed in a midriff length white blouse and a knee length black skirt. Wearing her long grey sweater, she looked and felt the part of a teacher. She drove the 45-minute route across Northwest Highway, an extended route from east to west through the city of Dallas. Afternoon clouds were gathering, so she had no need for the sunglasses she'd forgotten at home. She carried her cell phone in her purse, and had a small canvas bag for her teaching supplies. She was enthusiastic about the afternoon that lay ahead.
She pulled into the gated apartment complex and parked her old green Dodge against the far fence. Susan brushed her hair, put on red lipstick looking in her rear view mirror. She gathered her things together, and walked the pathway through the grounds to the apartment.
It was a long walk, but she sauntered, admiring the fine job the landscape crew was finishing, blowing globs of green blades from the sidewalk. The scent of fresh mown grass combined with the humidity, leaving Susan with an oppressive feeling as she rounded the corner of the long row of buildings.
Susan straightened the straps of her purse and tote bag over the shoulder of her big sweater, and knocked on the apartment door. She looked at her watch. It was exactly 1:00 pm. For once, she was on time.
There was no quick answer to her knock. Increasing clouds obliterated the warmth of the afternoon sun, and she shuddered. Shirking off an ominous feeling, she knocked again, and the door was finally opened by a large burly unshaven man.
Ahmed looked as if he had just awoken. He scratched his thick black hair, rubbed his eyes, and eventually invited Susan in with a wave of his arm. She entered, noticing that Ahmed was over six feet tall and definitely outweighed her. He looked gruff and angry, like he had some sort of chip on his shoulder. Susan thought she wouldn't want to run into him in a dark alley. She entered the apartment, and settled with her belongings in the black leather chair next to the leather sofa in the living room.
Ahmed was dressed in knee length shorts, wearing a beige casual shirt, with sandals on his feet. He sat upon the black leather sofa in front of a large ashtray containing the debris of several previously smoked cigarettes.
She began the English lesson with conversation. Osama, who had hired Susan as the teacher for his cousin was at work, and only the two of them were in the apartment. They had to speak English in order to communicate.
She told him to call her Susan, and he coached her in the correct pronunciation of his name.
"Is like you see the girl, you like, you say "Ah. . . " Say my name "Ah - med”.
Susan got the idea, wondering about the propriety of discussing sexual attraction as a means of explaining how to pronounce a name. Osama, had indicated Ahmed liked to go to nightclubs with his friends when he was in Dallas. She realized at that point that Ahmed wasn't going for popular dancing, or then again, maybe he was.
Practically nude women dancing in a bar is not an entertainment option he had in Saudi Arabia. Susan was a little shocked, because she thought his religious beliefs would deny him such activities. Certainly, Ahmed was referring to an exotic type of dancer, eliciting an "ah".
"You have been in the United States before?" she asked, changing the subject.
"United States, before”, she repeated more loudly to his empty eyes, no comprehension seemed to be taking place. Osama had told Susan that Ahmed knew some English. She was able to judge that indeed, he did have only basic English language skills. This would take coaching on her part, and active learning on his part.
"I take class at the college," he said, speaking hesitantly, translating word-by-word before he uttered the sounds.
"I not like sit in classroom and write papers. I just sit. I not learn that way," he said speaking slowly and with emphasis. Susan was having trouble understanding him through his thick Arabic accent. Ahmed did not have a very large English vocabulary. She would stick to the basics for the first day of class.
"What do you do for work?" Susan asked. Osama had given her a rough idea. He said his cousin's father was very wealthy, and that Ahmed was a spoiled child. Susan anticipated his response.
When he didn't respond, she asked him again, thinking it was going to be a long afternoon.
"My father, he makes biggest bullet proof glass company in the Middle East. Company make glass for cars and buildings."
"I can see why you'd probably have a lot of call for bullet proof glass in you part of the world. I'd never thought about that before." Susan tried to imagine how different his world must be. From cafes to taxis, Susan contemplated the necissity for defensive measures against suicide bombers in the Middle East.
"Let's talk for awhile, and then we can do some writing later. I will write the English word on one side, and you can write the word in your language on the other”, Susan explained, pulling a pack of index cards from her canvas tote bag. She readied a small stack of books, and paper and pens and pencils on the coffee table between them.
Susan used a pencil to write the word "book" on the index card, and handed it to Ahmed. He took the card and pencil, and very carefully from right to left, drew the markings that indicated "book" in his language. She was fascinated how he used the pencil to make some sections of the letters thicker than others. She set the card to the side.
"Tell me more about your job. Will you need to know how to do measurements in English for your job?" she asked.
He laughed when he finally understood what she was asking. "No, I have other people who do that part of the work." Ahmed's self-assured pride didn't need language to show through.
He explained that he began his day at home with his family. He, his wife, and three small children live in a house a few blocks from his work. He would sometimes eat breakfast with his family before he went to work. He would work in the office until lunchtime. The he would usually come home to eat and rest in the early afternoon, like a Mexican siesta. He would return to work in the mid afternoon, sometimes working until 7:00 in the evening. His favorite meal was meat with rice and gravy. She asked question after question. He communicated until she understood. He had a very thick accent. She was sure he could not understand a telephone conversation in English.
He explained that life in his country was exactly like life in the United States. He circled his city on an atlas she had, Duba in the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia on the Red Sea. People go to the beach just like in the United States.
She questioned, without receiving an understandable explanation, how the woman could go to the beach if they had to wear a veil in public. He answered her other questions about his life.
I meet my wife by other people," he responded when Susan asked people get to know each other in order to marry. Because boys and girls do not attend the same schools, Susan realized her concept of an American teenage date would be something with which he probably wasn't familiar.
They talked of many things. She was beginning to understand his heavy accent more easily. She comprehended most of what he said. She repeated and explained as they spoke. She understood him to say he had an apartment in Italy. As time passed she felt a bit more comfortable around him.
She asked him to read, and handed him a child's Bugs Bunny storybook. He took the book in his hands, opening it from what she considered the back. She watched intently and curiously as he turned several pages from the back of the book.
"Oh no." to open a book, I've got a lot of teaching to do," Susan thought to herself.
After watching him a few minutes she, asked how he liked the story.
"It doesn't make any sense!" he said with a puzzled look on his face.
Susan smiled and took the book from him. "In this country we begin the book from this side," Susan said. She knew some languages were written in the opposite direction from English, but this was her first experience in seeing a book begun from what she considered the back.
Susan explained she had given him a children's book about the Thanksgiving tradition. She realized she had presented him with a doubly difficult task. He didn't understand the words or the concept.
In explaining the word "creep”, used in the story, Susan got down on the floor on her hands and knees and acted out the meaning of the word.
"Do you work at the night club?" he asked. "You have picture on you like girl in night club."
In crawling about on the floor, Susan's white midriff blouse parted from the waistband of her skirt, exposing a tattoo on her back. Her face flushed red in embarrassment at his question. She got up from the floor, straightening her skirt.
She tried to explain that her tattoo had nothing to do with dancing in a strip club. The tattoo and the strip club were two totally different, unrelated things. She was uncomfortable with the topic, and suggested they study in another manner.
Susan asked Ahmed to turn on the television, and for a short while they watched an afternoon news telecast. She could tell he had no understanding of what was being said in English on the television. He was used to news, and all communication, as it was in his country. When Susan asked if he understood what was being said, Ahmed said no, and turned off the television at her suggestion. He played a cassette with music from his country. She was used to popular American music, and the sounds were unusual to her, leaving her with an eerie feeling.
They had been working a few hours on language study, so Susan suggested they take a break. Ahmed stood up and stretched, almost reaching the ceiling. He picked up the ashtray they had both been filling during the lesson. Every time he lit a cigarette, she lit one. He returned from the kitchen with a plate of food.
"This is a small meal. We eat dates from the trees in my country." He set the plate on the coffee table. Susan enjoyed the taste of the exotic fruit, only having eaten it in small bits in a homemade candy her aunt had made on special occasions. He served hot tea with the dates. The delicate little cups and saucers looked even more fragile in his large hands.
"Would you like to smoke tobacco from my country?" he asked.
"I like to smoke. Why not?" she said. What do you call this tobacco?" She had smoked pot in college, and anticipated getting high like in the old days. Only in passing did she think of her position of responsibility. They had been studying a for three hours straight
"Is called shesha in my country. We smoke this with family and friends." He explained smoking shesha was an accepted recreational activity in his country. "I bring it from my country in suitcase." He went in to the kitchen, carrying back a small aluminum foil package in a box of crackers. He took out a matchbox size cube of smoking material.
He picked up the hookah from where it sat by the fireplace. It was beautifully shiny, the glass parts etched in gold, and about two feet tall. He placed it on the coffee table between them.
He said, "You smoke like cigarette. Keep smoke inside.” He demonstrated, putting his lighter to the bowl of the pipe, inhaling, then exhaling smoke into the air.
The clouds of the early afternoon had turned stormy. The room, which had been filled with daylight earlier, had grown dark as well as smoky. Thunder rumbled from far away.
He handed her the mouthpiece of the hookah from which she was to smoke. The air had an unusual fragrance, like nothing she had ever smelled before. She inhaled from the mouthpiece, and watched the orange glow from the mound of tobacco loaded in the bowl as she inhaled. She exhaled and passed the long tube contraption back to Ahmed.
"No, you smoke more”, he indicated that she should take more than one puff. She did. Then he did, handing the piece back to her.
She had begun to feel the effects. She felt as if she had relaxed, melted into a puddle of existence. The world was a beautiful and wondrous thing to experience from her comfortable and pleasant position on the couch. Colors seemed brighter. She sat transfixed by the sound of the rain hitting the windows as gusts of wind and rain continued from the strong thunderstorm. They did not speak.
Thunder filled her ears like a zealous decree from Zeus on Mount Olympus. She was mesmerized by the sounds of the rain hitting the sliding glass door. They continued smoking, but Susan dropped out about halfway through the smoking session. He continued smoking until nothing remained in the pipe.
She listened to the unusual sounds of the music of the Middle East, which played over and over automatically. The music was of comfort to him.
She, on the other hand, felt as if she were the one in a foreign country. After looking out on trees bending with the gusts of wind and rain for some time, Susan closed her eyes. The image of a big brown Teddy Bear wanting to be hugged came into her head. She felt encompassed by a feeling of self-aware acceptance. Everything felt right and good. Her perception of Ahmed changed. In her mind he was no longer the large burly man with excessive dark body hair from Saudi Arabia. She felt completely comfortable and at ease.
She really knew nothing about this man, except that he was married and considerably younger than she was.
Realizing that the "shesha" had altered her perception, she tried to clear her head, and began rolling her head in circles, and rubbing her neck, as she so often did.
"You like I give massage?” Ahmed asked, breaking the silence.
"No, it's just that my neck and back get cramped sometimes”, Susan said, rubbing her lower back as she sat on the sofa.
"Here, I give you massage," and Ahmed placed his large hands on her shoulders, using his thumbs to rub the base of her neck.
He was reaching toward her back in a somewhat awkward manner, sitting next to Susan on the sofa. His hands felt good on the muscles of her neck, which had tightened in her neck during the afternoon. She stretched, and her back popped.
"You come into bedroom. I give you massage," Ahmed said.
"No," Susan said. "I don't think so."
He stood and took her by the hand. "Come. You lay on bed. I give you good massage” Ahmed encouraged her.
"No.” Her voice was but a whisper. His will was her will after smoking the shesha. She rose, took his hand, and followed him into the bedroom. She stretched out on the double size bed so that he could massage her back.
His large hands massaged her neck, across her back, and soon her bare skin under the back of her blouse. For a moment she enjoyed the pleasure of his touch.
"What about your wife?" she asked loudly, moving so that his hands were no longer under her blouse. His weight lay across her body. She attempted to turn over and to escape from under him.
"My wife is not here," his hand still under her blouse. Despite smoking the shesha, Susan recognized right from wrong in her drugged stupor, and anticipated the massage as a prelude to sex. She was not prepared, or interested, in having sex with him.
"I don't want to do this. This isn't right." Susan wriggled to get lose of his control. He was undaunted.
"I just give you massage," Ahmed stated with finality.
"No! Stop! I'm an American woman. You can't just have your way with me." Her voice got louder. She repeated, screaming as loudly as she could, "I'm an American woman!" She struggled until she got up off the bed. He lay in the bed, with a perplexed look on his face. She stomped out of the bedroom, slipped her shoes on, and began to put on her big gray sweater.
Ahmed entered into the living room. He understood nothing that she said, but he could tell she was being loud and animated about something. The look on his face told of his confusion.
"I'm an American woman!” Susan shouted again.
Ahmed didn't comprehend that anything was wrong, and attempted to get her to stay. She grabbed her purse, and left the apartment, slamming the door behind her.
She ran the path she had followed earlier, jumping into puddles, and brushing through wet drooping foliage along the way. She hurried through the rainstorm, getting cold and very wet in the process.
When she arrived at her car, she fumbled for the correct key, and was totally drenched. Nevertheless, she was finally locked into the safety of her own automobile. Darkness had fallen since the arrival of the thunderstorm. She sat in her car and cried, feeling the terror from which she had just escaped. Soon, the windshield fogged up from the heat of her body.
She wiped her eyes, started the car and the defroster, and drove through the apartment's security gate and on to the street. Susan drove through the rain soaked streets, still crying.
She realized she was still under the effects of the shesha, and finally determined she was absolutely lost, and in the dark. She pulled to the side of the road and began looking for her map of the Dallas metroplex. She knew she had been an hour from home when she left the apartment. Now, she was wet, cold, high, and lost in a thunderstorm. The flashes of lightening were less frequent, the worst of the storm having already passed. She was fearful of what would happen next. Paranoia is one of the effects that sometimes happen to smokers of hashish, and she was truly frightened.
Since the sun had set, she had no idea which direction she should drive in order to get home. She had pulled to the side of the road in the middle of a construction zone, and realized puddles could be deep holes that could cause serious car trouble. She searched in her purse for her cell phone, but found a city map in the back seat of her car before she found her phone. She turned on the car's interior light, taking several minutes to figure out where she was, and which direction she had to go to get home. Susan dried her face with a tissue, and preceded in what she hoped was the right direction.
The brightly colored neon lights of the strip bar section of Northwest Highway were a welcome sight after being totally lost. She finally knew where she was.
The rain had let up, but several of the streets were still flooded. During the hour drive home, she regained her composure. When she arrived home, she changed out of her wet clothes and crawled into the comfort of her bed, but found no sleep.
"What am I going to do?” Susan asked herself, tossing and turning in her own bed. I quit my job at the clinic. I quit school. What am I going to do?"
Susan fell asleep thinking of giving up her morally superior attitude, succumbing to Ahmed's will, and becoming a regular part of his every day life. Maybe she should just give in, and partake in the pleasurable experience of shesha, and whatever else Ahmed wanted to share. He had a lot of money. If she kept her scruples, she would have none.