Sad Drunks Don't Fight Back
Despite the disastrous ending to the tea party, life went on as usual. The guests dissolved, leaving a wasteland of dirty plates and empty tea cups for Fatima to wash and put away. She cleaned the house until it was spotless, bathed her mother and put her to bed, and managed to reserve just enough time for her nightly call with Grace. It was a ritual for Fatima. Grace was always the last person she would speak with at the end of the night, and she was dying to hear the details of her best friend’s matchmaking fiasco.
“No way! Shut up! He said that?”
Grace’s face inched closer to the screen. Her faint blond lashes blinked furiously at the camera. They were still clumpy with hot water from her recent shower and stood out like pale little spider legs.
On the other side of the screen, Fatima was busy twisting her hair into a towel. “You heard me. Who does he think he is? Telling me that I don’t know my own worth. If you ask me, he’s the one that doesn’t know his own worth. People who throw away their bodies and hearts so recklessly have no respect for themselves.”
Grace’s jaw fell unhinged. Steam from her bathroom clouded her face on the screen, but it was clear that Fatima had succeeded in offending her. “Hey! Are you forgetting who you’re talking to just now? I was the biggest slut of our high school! I fucked the entire soccer team within a season.”
“But that’s different!” Fatima planted herself in front of her vanity and began going through her skin care routine. Patting the toner into her skin, she said, “You were simply seeking carnal pleasure. He, on the other hand, has the unfortunate folly of falling in love with any living thing he sticks his dick in. He’s emotionally weak.”
“Fatima! I think you’re judging him too fast. Don’t you think it’s kind of impressive that he’s been the first to stand up to you? He could have pissed himself and cried like that other guy.”
Fatima’s finger lingered on the pump of her skin serum. With her chin tilted up, her eyes flit across the ceiling as she tried to recall a distant memory. “Hold on...are you talking about number twelve?”
Grace pulled an oversized t-shirt over her head (Fatima assumed the shirt belonged to Joshua) and watched as her wet hair trickled droplets of water which sank into the fabric of her shirt and slid down the rails of her wheelchair. When she finished, she held the phone closer to her face, so Fatima could see the faint lines connecting her brows. Grace had a serious case of Resting Nice Face (RNF), which was why she had to try extra hard when she needed people to listen.
“That’s part of the problem, Babe. You’re the only person I know who refers to people by numbers.”
Fatima grinned despite herself. “Like he deserves a name? I found out the guy was molesting his little cousin.”
“Oh shit…” Grace leaned back in her chair, her green eyes murky in deep contemplation. “I forgot about that. Wow, I can’t believe your family tried to set you up with a child molester.”
“My family’s so desperate that I won’t be surprised if they set me up with a serial killer.”
Fatima ended her routine with a few pumps of moisturizer and rubbed it into her face. It left her complexion dewy and radiant, glistening like pearls. Fatima liked pearls but not for the same reason most people did. She liked pearls for their morbidity. They were born out of pain, created by an oyster’s desperate desire to protect itself from an alien object that tore into its flesh like a invasive shard of shrapnel.
Pearls were a result of a coping mechanism, Fatima thought as she lightly caressed her cheek. And what did that get them? They were inevitably pried open by greedy hands and had their guts slashed to snatch the very thing they had sought to protect themselves from.
Fatima suddenly became grateful for the nervous but hopeful interruption that was Grace’s voice. The last thing Fatima needed was to be alone with her thoughts.
“Samir’s not a serial killer, right?”
“No,” Fatima said definitively. “Believe me, I checked.”
“Is he cute?”
“Eh.” Fatima collapsed into her bed, sprawling her limbs far apart starfish style. A strange thought entered her head, and she wished that love was as simple as starfish. If she felt lonely, she could just chop one limb off and create another person to keep her company.
It didn’t take long for the idea to disintegrate within her mind. Even Fatima knew that the world could not handle two Fatima Saids. For all she knew, the world was already struggling to contain one.
No longer able to control her excitement and unruly curiosity, Grace wheeled herself to her laptop and began frantically punching in letters on her keyboard. She clicked away. Her eyes sprinted across the area of her screen, and the limited view of her friend aroused Fatima’s suspicions.
“What are you doing?”
“Stalking your mystery man’s socials.” Grace’s falsified casualness failed to conceal her girlish energy, and she giggled despite her friend’s protest.
“Grace. No!” Heat warmed Fatima’s ears, zapping her muscles numb.
“Too late!” Grace’s green eyes lit up with a victorious glow. Fatima groaned in exasperation because she knew Grace’s disposition too well. Once Grace was worked up in a frenzy, she would not stop, would not rest, until she had fully satiated her ravenous curiosity. It only took Grace ten minutes to find out everything she needed to know about Samir Mustafic. And once she did, there was nothing stopping her from unleashing pandora’s box.
But before she could spill the tea, she had to shriek upon stumbling upon Samir’s profile picture. Her overactive imagination instantly took over and Grace could have sworn she saw Samir wink at her through her computer screen. He had intelligent eyes that rivaled that of Joshua’s, her great love. They were cunning and wolfish and all consuming. It didn’t help that the lighting hit his face in all the right ways. The shadows only accentuated his high cheeks and the slanted curve of his mouth parted open just slightly to conceal a devilish tongue.
“Oh my god! You really didn’t do any justice for his looks.” Was all that Grace could fathom.
Fatima could only shrug. “Well...I never said he was monstrously hideous.”
Grace had to scroll past his profile picture if she wanted her mind to form coherent thoughts. The act was an antidote to her poison. The lustful fog from her mind cleared, freeing her to think. She got straight to work.
“Samir Mustafic. Born in 2000 on November 16. He’s a scorpio––”
“Of course he would be a scorpio…” Fatima sighed.
“––graduated from Sunset High.”
“Is allergic to bananas.” Fatima’s brows shot up with interest. “Was captain of his soccer team, won regionals, former salutatorian…”
Fatima sat up on her bed, knocking her covers to the ground. “Hm?”
Grace narrowed her eyes as she scrolled down the web page. She stopped on a post that featured Samir donned in graduation robes. Rope upon rope draped his neck, so much so that the colorful braids seemed to be crushing his vertebrae. Grace could barely see the white sole decorating his shoulders. She was so distracted by his garments that she failed to notice the woman, whom she assumed to be his mother, standing beside him. She only stood as tall as Samir’s shoulder and smiled so hard that it seemed like her cheeks were cramping.
“He graduated top two of his class and now he’s attending UCB with plans to pursue dentistry. This guy’s a genius!”
“Fatema Mernissi and Stephen Hawking were geniuses. Samir’s just accomplished.” Fatima folded her arms across her chest and huffed. She refused to be moved, and it wasn’t because she was stubborn. No. It’s because her life experience had trained her to distrust those who shined. Diamonds were just rocks with a price tag, and she believed that the same concept applied to people as well.
“I guarantee you. If you search hard enough, you’ll find out something you shouldn’t have seen.”
As usual, Fatima’s foreboding warning manifested itself into reality. As Grace scrolled past years’ worth of posts, she discovered a video of baby-faced Samir lying on a couch. He must have been at least thirteen at the time, telling from how often his voice cracked as he groaned. The young boy drifted in and out of consciousness as the person behind the camera zoomed in on Samir’s face. A hand slapped his cheek playfully as the voice behind it laughed.
See? THIS is why Muslims aren’t allowed to drink.
The video ended when Samir rolled off the couch to puke. Fatima stood in ominous silence on the other side.
“He was just a kid.” Grace said, jumping to Samir’s defense. Grace was always the kind of person to see the good in others, to look past faults. Despite their many years of friendship, Grace’s optimism and sympathy never rubbed off on Fatima. Once Fatima discovered someone’s flaw, it was all she could see. Samir’s mistake gave her one more reason to keep her heart closed to the world, and for that she felt relieved.
“You saw it yourself. He got his act together.”
Fatima was unmoved.
Grace dug hard and deep within the endless bounds of the internet. Some of it was classified information, but Grace learned a lot from Joshua. She learned how to cover her tracks. She found out that Samir was friends with all his exes and that he used to deal weed in high school. The secrets began to pile on each other and the girls realized that they were venturing into dangerous terrain. They needed to stop before they got lost.
They were saved by the bell or rather an incoming call on Grace’s phone. Without having to ask, Fatima already knew who it was.
“Tell Joshua I said ‘hi’.”
Grace stared at her friend for a long period because it was unlike Fatima to express any iota of concern for anyone else but Grace and her parents. As long as he was alive and treated Grace well, Fatima couldn’t care less. Something was wrong.
A loud crash sounded from Fatima’s kitchen, followed by shattering glass and a pathetic moan that haunted the halls. Fatima closed her eyes and breathed out a dreadful sigh. A part of her wanted to believe that if she closed her eyes long enough, the world would disappear. But then she remembered how much she hated cowards and that she had sworn to herself long ago that she would never run away from her own problems. Thus, she opened her eyes, welcoming her back to her grim reality.
“That’s my cue. I gotta go.”
“Fatima.” Grace pleaded.
Fatima waited for a follow-up. She waited for something, anything that Grace could say to make her feel better, but everything Grace wanted to say was lodged in her throat. Fatima could see it through the screen. A huge lump lied at the base of Grace’s throat and in it contained the burning acid that was truth.
Choke, a treacherous voice sneered in the back of Fatima’s mind. She crushed it.
“What are you waiting for?” Fatima said with a forced laugh. “Don’t leave your man hanging.”
“Your dad…” Grace’s voice turned hoarse.
“I’ll be fine.” Fatima said with a tenderness that pulverized her heart raw. “Sad drunks don’t fight back.”
Fatima hung up and spent the rest of the night sweeping up broken glass and watching over her dad. She did not sleep.