إذا رأيت أنياب الليث بارزة فلا تظنن أن الليث يبتسم
When you see the lion’s canines prominently never think that the lion in smiling- Arabic proverb
He poured himself a glass of cold milk and went to sit at the round dining table at the end of the kitchen. As he drank the liquid, he could feel the cold travel from his mouth to his throat and as he swallowed, he could feel the coolness in a short section beyond his throat. He thought of how swallowing can be both voluntary and involuntary; voluntary when one pushes the food to the back of the mouth using his tongue and involuntary when beyond a certain point, the fate of the food is sealed and one cannot unswallow. As he contemplated his action of swallowing, he could not help but think of how his life had almost reached that point of no return and he was about to let another human being swallow his life. However, he managed to get hold of the reigns just in time. He shuddered when he thought of what might have unfolded a decade later if he had let life proceed the way it always had. As he stared at the book he had paused reading a few moments ago to get himself the refreshment, he thought of the incident that happened a few weeks ago.
After praying the fajr prayer, he decided to lie on the bed for just fifteen more minutes in hope that it would get rid of the exhaustion he felt from the previous day’s work. It never works, but he never learns. He jerked up startled to see the clock on the wall announcing that it was eight o’clock. His wife had already left for work and he felt guilty for not bidding her farewell. He knew that she must have been annoyed by his oversleeping so he decides that he’ll prepare her favourite dish in order to appease her. He made the bed and braced himself up for another day of mundane work. He brought out the broom to sweep the sitting room but he was shocked to find that a layer of dust had already started collecting on the furniture. It was just yesterday when he dusted the house thoroughly and it now seemed like yesterday’s work had gone to waste. He wiped each piece of furniture again lest someone came and said he could not even keep a house clean!
It was almost midday when he finished cleaning the house and it was now time to prepare food. He was glad that his wife came back home in the evening and that spared him from cooking twice a day. He called his dad to ask him for the recipe for his wife’s favourite meal. He knew it was complex and time-consuming to prepare but he was intent on surprising her today. After many questions and clarifications, he thanked his father and ended the call. His father had jokingly said that he was proud of the chef he was becoming. He smiled at this and thought of how he had never had to cook in his parents’ house. His father was the chef and whenever he needed help, his elder brothers rose to the occasion. As the last born, there was only one job that he was expected to do; study, and he did it well. It was during the last two months to his wedding that his parents and elder siblings tried to teach him the art of cooking that was a heritage of his family. It would be sad if he did not inherit the art and pass it on to his children. So in order to keep his family’s head high, he bore the burns and knife cuts patiently and tried to understand that when they said ‘ a little bit of oil ‘, they could mean anything from a tablespoonful to a cupful. And all these measurements could be made with a human eye.
He had just finished preparing the ingredients and was about to light the stove when he got his migraine aura. He always knew when a migraine was coming; he usually felt tingling in his fingers and sometimes he saw flashes of light too. He was annoyed that it had to come today when he was experimenting with a new dish. He cooked fast because he knew that the headache would start within an hour and he had to leave out some unnecessary steps. The food did not look as he had wanted it but he hoped it was palatable. When he tasted it, he was surprised to find that it was actually tasty. He thanked his Lord that his work did not go to waste as he took a painkiller and went to sleep the headache off. However, sleep would not come. He tossed and turned and each movement aggravated the pain on his right side of the head.
He heard her footsteps as she passed outside the bedroom window even before she rang the bell. He could tell her apart from a crowd in numerous ways, from her footsteps to her scent, from her laughter to her sigh. This was because he was so fond of her and he noticed all the tiny details about her. He could even tell it was his wife at the door by the way she rang the doorbell; she’d press the button, hold it for a second and release it followed by a second press of the button that was immediately released. He battled with the headache to go open the door, every movement causing a hammer to be hit on his right side of the head. The extra brightness attacked him as he opened the door and this caused him to wince. Seeing his wife, exhaustion on her face, he smiled at her as he greeted her and welcomed her home.
She asked what took him too long to open the door. She added that she could not stand lazy people who slept the whole day who could not do the simplest of things for those who toiled for their sake. He ignored her insinuations and asked about how her day was. As she changed from her work clothes, he went about setting the table. He had no appetite at all and all he wanted to do was to lie down but he set two plates on the table. Even if he could not eat, he would keep her company.
Their meal was filled with stories of how her back ached from hunching over a computer the whole day. She thought loudly that it would be a relief if she could find someone to massage her back. He listened and interjected where appropriate while his mind was trying to pinpoint the exact location on his head where his pain originated from in an attempt to distract his mind. His attention was brought back to the table by her change of tone and raised voice. She was complaining about the poor quality of the food. He glanced at her plate and found it to be nearly empty. She went on to complain about things he did last week and things he did not do last month. He was used to this and he usually kept his anger inside whenever she went beyond the limits in hope that he will be among the doers of good who swallow their anger and forgive people. But today, with every raise of her voice, the intensity of the hammer in his head increased and he could no longer bear it.
In a fit of rage he stood up, spilling his glass of juice in the process, and looked at his wife in the eyes and he uttered words he never thought he had the guts to.
“If there is no good that comes from me, you can return me to my mother’s house,” And he left the kitchen. At the door, he stopped and turned around to make his final remark, “but you will have to return the business my mother gave to you too.”
He knew that her livelihood depended on the business and if she was to give it up, it would take her a long time to get back to her feet. He did not really want to go back to his parents’ house but he was learning to use threats that his wife was a master at handing out.
The next day, his wife did not complain when she came back home and he had to admit that it felt weird. It was too quiet; he was used to the high pitched tirade. She even brought him a strawberry ice-cream saying that it was because she knew it was his favourite. His favourite flavour was vanilla but he did not bother to correct her.
A few days ago as he went shopping, he passed by a bookshop and he was filled with nostalgia as he remembered how all his life had been about reading. He could not remember the last time he held a book in his hands since he got married. He entered the shop and after ages of indecision, he checked out a book. The book was available in five languages but he chose the Arabic version because he felt it would challenge his mind a little bit more. But there was another reason that he was not aware of himself; his wife could not read Arabic and thus she would not be able to scrutinize the book to see whether it was fit for his consumption. It was about time he made the little decisions that concerned his life by himself.
He rinsed the glass in the sink and went back to the table to finish reading his book. For the first time, he noticed the juice stain on the carpet beneath the table from the outburst that happened a few weeks ago. The old Laith would have hurriedly found a soapy sponge to clean it up but now he decided it could wait until he finished the book. These days, he came first in the list of important things in his life and he never let people trample on him especially his wife. When she went beyond limits, he made her know that he would not tolerate it. It was about time he lived up to his name; lion. Whenever his wife wronged him, and he showed her his teeth, she would no longer assume that he was smiling at her. He had accepted that his life was limited to the walls of the house but it was his den and he would make it his best place on earth. His wife could order her workers around in her office all she wanted but the moment she entered the house she will have to learn to respect the one running the place!
Dedicated to those who under-appreciate others; most of us!
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