Saturday, January 19, 2013

Too Late

At first I didn't understand why I felt uneasy around this lady. She was articulate, accomplished and reflected the image of a confident woman. I spent a couple of afternoons in her company on one of my trips out of town. We talked about world politics, books we've recently read and loved, family matters, different diets, dreams to be chased and hopefully realized. Through it all, a thread dangled in front of me, beckoning me to tug at it and see what secret weave it might unravel. A look in her eyes when she talked about her teenage son confused me. Not the twinkle of pride and love that I see in every woman's eyes I knew. But a sudden dimming of the soul, as if a switch turned off the lights inside her when she mentioned her son's name. A shadow passed quickly over her gaze, and then disappeared again.

I've met women who lost sons in wars, illnesses or car accidents. Some lost their sons to mean wives that kept them away for years. No matter what the reasons were, none of them had that strange hiccup of a look, an oddity so unique, I can't find the right word to describe it.

From then on, I paid more attention to the words she used, her body language, the nervous laugh she uttered when I asked specific questions. I repeatedly reached out to pull the end of that dangling thread, but held back. Every family has secrets. There was no need to chase hers, I convinced myself. The nagging feeling to find out why I felt uncomfortable with my new friend when she mentioned her son mushroomed inside me.  I kept it in check, hoping it was caused by my over active imagination.

On my last afternoon visit with her, she invited me over for coffee at her house. Though cautious, my curiosity triumphed and I eagerly obliged. With the aroma of rich coffee, and a wonderful slice of apple pie, I lounged lazily in her living room, chastising myself for my suspicions. This was a cozy house, a family home. Her other children roamed around with innocent vitality. Nothing seemed out of place. My friend joined me on the couch, relaxed and joyful.

I heard a rough voice behind me, a man clearing his throat.
My friend's face froze, that weird look returned to her eyes. The coffee cup in her hand shook.
Must be her husband, I reasoned, making an unexpected stop at the house in the middle of the day.
She jumped to her feet, coffee spilled on the cushions.
I turned my head and saw a young man towering over me behind the couch. His eyes fixed on his mother, ignoring me. She launched into a series of apologies. I couldn't understand why she was so flustered. My friend rushed to the kitchen, pulled out a plate from the fridge and put it in the microwave. So she apologized because she was late preparing his meal?
He didn't utter a word.
I rose to my feet to face him. And there it was, slapping me hard, gluing me to the floor. A look in this young man's eyes so severe, so strange. The only way I could describe it is to say his eyes were empty. As if looking into a doll's glass beady eyes. Lifeless. No emotion, threatening or otherwise.
I introduced myself, explained that I was the reason for his mother's tardiness, feeling silly for playing into this abnormal charade. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could. No, I needed to get out there before I witnessed something more awful. I saw it coming when he went to his mother's side, moving like a lion stalking his pray. He shoved her aside with his fist, took his plate and left. She kept her back to me, head bowed, hands rubbing her upper arm.

This woman was afraid of her own child. What a twisted world she lived in. I spent the remainder of my visit discussing ways to help her. She listened, nodded her head and then offered to drive me to my hotel. Helpless, I left, knowing she would not follow any of the suggestions I presented. Not until something tragic happened, to her or to someone else. Too late. Way too late.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.


Thank you for your comment. A moderator will post it once approved.