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Al Nadaha

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Chapter 1


Heartbreak. It was strange that I could describe it as the music of a great orchestra.

At times, it would be quiet, allowing me to function; to comprehend what really happened. At other times, the violins would play, and it would be consuming sadness that deadened my mind. Then, it would rise to a crescendo, making the anger go beyond overwhelming as it boiled as hot as lava deep down in my system.

And unfortunately, my brain was in charge of conducting that orchestra by replaying over and over again all the signs I had missed and all the memories I desperately wanted to forget. It all felt as if my brain had one sole intention—causing me absolute misery...

Letting out an exasperated sigh, I shifted in my uncomfortable seat and took another look at the clock on the wall.

Barely ten minutes have passed since I arrived here. And well, I was already longing to go back home and crawl under the covers. It was the first time I had walked out of home since it all happened, and everything seemed to agitate me. The ticking of the clock on the wall, the sound of laughter, and the chatters of energetic people.

But in fact, I was bothered by the idea of other people being so happy and full of sunshine, remembering that this was me only a few days ago. Right before I found out that the person I trusted most and loved more than anything was a pathetic bastard who was cheating on me with my best friend.

When I saw them together, I felt that I was emotionally bankrupt—all empty and hollow. But then that emptiness turned into pain as if someone were stabbing me with sharp daggers repeatedly in the chest. Then, that pain became hatred, and that hatred turned into overwhelming anger.

I was angry at him, at the she-devil I once called a friend, and at myself more than anything. I was angry that I loved and trusted him. That I didn’t see it coming from miles away. That I failed to look beneath his mask of lies that hid the reality of his disgusting character. That I allowed him to hurt me. And that he made me feel so weak and fragile.

But the saying was true, after all; ‘the worst thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.’

“Layla... Layla!”

The secretary’s voice brought me back to my surroundings. It took me a while before I finally looked up at her.

She let out a little laugh. “You must have been busy, thinking about a new story. The whole floor heard me calling your name while you were in another universe.”

I forced out a smile. “Yeah, something like that.”

“The chief is ready to see you, and I believe there’s good news waiting for you,” she said, a huge grin decorating her face.

However, her positive attitude really got on my nerves.

“I hope so,” I muttered before I sped to the chief’s office, not feeling the need to prolong my conversation with her more than that.

Walking into his modernly furnished office, I saw him sitting behind his large desk, focusing his eyes on a file in his hand.

He was in his late fifties, yet age had been really merciful on him. He only had a few grey hairs that I thought he wasn’t dying on purpose as they added more style to his jet-black hair. His brown skin lacked any kind of wrinkles. But by looking into his deep, dark-brown eyes, you could certainly see the many years of invaluable life experience.

Putting on a forced smile, I finally announced my presence. “Good evening, sir.”

His eyes lit up when they met my face, and he looked at me with a huge smile that showed his perfect, white teeth.

Apparently, I was the only one who was dark and gloomy around here.

“Here’s my brilliant writer,” he exclaimed. “Layla, I have to admit that I was truly impressed when I read the last two stories. They are brilliant! The readers are going to go crazy when they read them. But two stories in one week, that’s a first.”

“Well, I had lots of free time lately,” I gave him a vague reply. It was true, though. I barely left my room in the past week.

“I hope this happens more often,” he said with a huge smile, and I rolled my eyes internally.

“But seriously, I don’t understand why you’re refusing to be a full-time writer.” The smile was all gone as he gave me a disapproved look.

This topic had always been a repeated, old debate between us.

He sighed before he continued. “I told you before that there will always be a place reserved just for you in this magazine. And the readers already love you. You even have your own fans who only get the magazine for the section you write in.”

“And sir, I told you before that I’m currently working on receiving my master’s degree, and leaving my job won’t really be of any help to me.” I tried to reason up with him. But actually, I was starting to really consider his offer as there was a constant reminder in my head that my temporary leave would be over soon. And I would have to go back to work where the piece of garbage recycled into a human who happened to be my ex-fiancé also worked.

“Master’s or doctorate or whatever. Those titles are worthless in our country, dear.” He waved his hands to make a point. “But listen, you’re truly gifted as a writer, and maybe we will be reading one of your published books in no time. I’m offering you a real opportunity here,” he insisted, focusing his intense gaze on me.

“I understand, sir, and I really appreciate it. I promise you that I will give the offer another thought.” I let out a soft sigh and decided to change the subject quickly by getting to the main point. “Now, why did you want to see me today?”

He clasped his hands and looked at me, his dark eyes sparkling. “I wanted to talk to you about a story idea. I know I don’t usually interfere with what you write about, but I really think this’s going to be good.”

I gave him my full interest as I felt a tiny part within me was finally getting excited over something in what seemed like forever.

“Well... I want you to write a story or an article about something that has to do with our culture. Maybe an old myth or something from the folklore.” He paused and seemed to be in deep thought, then I watched as his face lit up. “What about Al Nadaha?”

“Al Nadaha?” I twitched up an eyebrow.

“Yeah, that old myth about the beautiful woman who lurks on the banks of the Nile, waiting for unlucky men.”

“Yeah, I know what Al Nadaha is. My grandmother used to tell me a lot of stories about her. But it’s not a new topic. I believe it was the center of lots of famous writings.”

“I know, but that was a long time ago. People are starting to forget about those old stories in the age of technology. They don’t care about the folklore or the culture or anything. I believe that we should remind them of that by bringing the famous story of Al Nadaha back. Old people would feel nostalgic reading about her, and the new generation would have the opportunity to know about the story that used to terrorize their elders.” He smiled, apparently very pleased with his idea. “I remember when my mother used to tell me about her and I would die from the inside every time I came close to the river.”

I actually started to think that this was not a bad idea. “I guess we can make that work.”

“You can also try to merge her with today’s world. Anyway, I won’t tell you what to do, Layla. I’m sure it’s going to be great.” He grinned.

To my surprise, a genuine smile crept through my lips. Writing always had a unique way of making me feel better, and I was already excited about diving into the mysteries of Al Nadaha.

Cursing under my breath, I pressed on my car’s horn again.

I was on my way home after I finished my meeting with Kamal Fahmy, the chief editor of the magazine I worked for as a part-time writer. And now, I was stuck in a never-ending line of traffic.

My thoughts couldn’t be free of a certain someone. Just remembering him made my stomach swirl and drove me sick.

Hating him was like a snake eating its own tail. It was futile, yet I couldn’t stop myself.

A lot of people told me that this feeling would pass with time. That I would forget all about him and about how he broke my heart when I find the right person. But, it was indeed, easier said than done.

He was a despicable bastard, and my hate toward him and the back-stabbing snake he cheated on me with kept going round and round. The scar in my heart kept bleeding, and it wasn’t showing any signs of healing anytime soon.

Letting out a deep sigh, I looked at myself in the rear mirror. Huge, dark circles—which I didn’t even bother to hide with makeup—made my light-brown eyes look ten shades darker. My shoulder-length brown hair was unkempt and looked all over the place too.

Why was I doing this to myself!

Before my mind got the chance to spiral into a dark place, the traffic finally went lighter. Breathing a sigh of relief, I sped away, hurrying to the comfort of my own home.

Twenty minutes later, I finally reached the apartment.

My mother was sitting on the couch, her full concentration placed on the TV. She was watching her favorite soap opera, which she never felt bored of rewatching over and over again.

Walking over on my tiptoes, I suddenly placed a kiss on her cheek.

She jumped and muttered a few words that I couldn’t understand. I laughed at her reaction.

She smiled softly as she looked at me, revealing her dimples, and her hazel eyes lit up. “I’m so glad that you finally walked out of your room and saw the sun for the first time in what seemed like forever.”

I scrunched up my nose. “Come on, Lubna. Do you really think this’s a good time for a lecture?”

She sighed, tucking a lock of her ear-length, dark-brown hair behind her ear. “Honey, I’m worried about you. I know you need your time to move on, but you can’t stop living your life because of that fool.”

“I know, Mom, and don’t worry about me. I will be returning to work after this weekend.” I tried to reassure her. “However, Kamal Fahmy has offered me a full-time job at the magazine again. I’m really considering it.” I intended for it to be sarcastic, even though, deep down I was honestly thinking about accepting his offer.

“Layla, we talked about this before. You’re working in one of the most renowned pharmaceutical and healthcare companies in the country. And you will be receiving your master’s degree soon.”

Well, she didn’t really take it as sarcasm. Maybe I wasn’t that convincing after all.

“Besides, you’re already making progress in developing that breakthrough medicine that would help cancer patients. Do you want to let everything go down the drain because of Karim?” She moved her hands in frustration.

“No, Mom, I won’t be giving any of that up. I know how much this means to you and how much it meant to Dad.” I looked at his framed picture on the table. How I wish he was here so I could bury my face in his shoulders, knowing that nothing and no one could ever hurt me when he was near.

“And does it mean anything to you?” my mother asked, narrowing her eyes at me.

“Of course, it does, it’s just...” I paused, not knowing what to say. “I don’t know if I can handle seeing his face ever again without smashing it. Do you want to see your daughter in jail?” I joked, trying to lighten up the mood. I didn’t want her to carry one more of my burdens.

“Layla, this’s not the end of the world, love. This’s simply how life works. And because you came face to face with a very bad example, that doesn’t mean that everyone is the same.” She looked at my father’s picture and smiled. “Your father is the most obvious proof. He was a great man and husband.”

“Mom, don’t worry. I won’t hate or disdain the whole male population. I’m just angry and I need my time to heal,” I said, putting my hand on hers as a matter of reassurance. Then I decided to change the subject. “Oh, guess what? Kamal Fahmy asked me to write about Al Nadaha.”

“Really?” She frowned. “That woman was the ultimate nightmare for us back at the time.”

I chuckled. “Why were you scared of her? I thought she only called for men.”

“Still! Thinking of her used to send chills down my spine,” she admitted, then her face lit up. “Do you know who knows a lot about Al Nadaha?”

“Yeah.” I smiled. “I really miss her.”

“It has been quite some time since we last visited her. Besides, the atmosphere of the countryside is soothing. I think it will be good for both of us.”

Finding the idea pretty appealing, I nodded with a smile. I really missed my grandmother. Plus, she was probably the most living person who could help me get to know more about Al Nadaha. And well, a change of air wasn’t really a bad idea, after all...

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