Tanzim Bey

Tanzim

 

Tanzim arrived just in time, the patrons clearing at Aziz Cuts. A man of average height, an addict’s build, thin, scrawny, masculine, Aziz was waiting behind the bar, playing with a microphone on his phone, easing it into the tablet. In and out, focused on the simple method, he had a chip in his tooth, a piece of plastic he was biting. Tanzim walked into the shop, pushing open the transparent glass door, the open sign on the door waving back and forth, the sound of the doors alarm letting everyone know another of their clients had arrived. He was known to be funny, strong, in control of his affairs, so it didn’t surprise Tanzim that the first thing he did, upon greeting him, was hold his phone to his face, like so, showing it to Tanzim, saying, “Come, see, come see, come look at this,” having drawn up a picture of a lamb, seated atop a zebra in a zoo, with a caption that Tanzim didn’t understand, something Arabic and fancy, words that he had to skip to know what to do, how to decode the message. Knowing it was his way of dealing with him, of dealing with strangers with whom he felt a sad bit uncomfortable, not having the real means to make it as friends, knowing there was something tangible to keep them parted, he was the first to inquire on the other’s health.

“How are you, old friend?”

“Great,” he said, but there was something Tanzim noticed, tangible in the room’s fluorescent glare, the beads from the backdoor room shaking as the barber Daroud stepped out from the curtain, a cigarette in his mouth, two stripes cut into his brow, a moustache he had for ten years been growing. He exchanged a smile with Tanzim, who he recognized, upon seeing him, though he couldn’t be certain.

“What do you say,” said Aziz, holding the tuft of hair from the side, combing the side of his client’s head. “I can cut it a little from the side, giving you a deeper cut, if you like, deeper than you usually do, I can tell. Who cut your hair last time? Its outrageous. Out of control.”

“I’m living in Metropol. Nobody knows how to cut my hair. They’re not used to hair this thick, even if is this long.”

“You have a high receding hairline. I know what we can do,” he said. “I can shave it a little off the sides, giving you something like an undercut,” he said, “what do you think?”

“Like last time,” he said back to him, hoping he would remember. He always hoped they remembered, and they always said they did, but they more often than not couldn’t figure out who he was, let alone remembering how to cut his hair.

“I’m looking for a one bedroom now,” he said, for me and my son. Its difficult, you know, to move, to live abroad. We came here illegally, like thieves in the night. My son is thirteen years old! I held him with my arm, leading him under some tracks. It was dark, so dark. Too dark for him, even at his age. I want him to be strong, to grow up to be a man. But what can you do? That was what my father always said, what obsessed him, beyond reciting our prayers, brushing our teeth. You have nice teeth by the way! Very clean and strong! I can tell, trust me. My father was obsessed with our teeth. He said to us, all along, every morning, ever night, come, come, come along, show me what you’re hiding! But in the end, I want my son to be strong. Still, becoming a man on the playground is one thing. During war, its another thing entirely!”

He disappeared for a second, his client watching him from the mirror, lunging backwards, one foot standing in its pivot spot, the other, leaping backwards to grab at the remote, changing the channel on the TV, Its hat alright, he asked, the others nodding along, grabbing his phone from the tabletop counter, pulling it forth to his eyes, returning to his clients side.

“This is my wife,” he said to him, pleased to be sharing something so dear. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she,” he said. “I really love her. My mother was against the marriage, saying she had too much blood on her side. Her brother was shot in the arm and neck, two weeks before we wed. He died on the spot. Her father was arrested twice, he’s since disappeared. Nobody knows where to. I’m sure he’s still alive. He s a wily son of a bitch. Very smart, strong. He knows how to get himself around. Here,” he said, pushing the phone right up against his eyes, “this is my daughter, on the left, and her cousin, my niece, on the right. They’re almost the same age! Just about. They used to play together all the time. You should do that by the way, just to make sure. Have children all at once, everyone in the family at the same time. How many are you?”

“We’re three, and there’s seven, there’s four, and there’s five. You have beautiful children,” he said, after a pause. “Where are they now?”

“Stuck at the border in Samaran.”

“The border is closed.”

“It won’t be long.

“Will they come under cover?”

“I hope not! I’ve paid all of my salaries to bring them along, paying everything I have. Its not much, but still. I’m trying to keep things going on. If they have to, they will, but then why wait for so long? I want them to be official, so we can find a nice apartment, somewhere for us to live, to raise our kids. I love my wife, I really do. She’s the best cook in the universe, better than all. I hate the food in my life, when she’s not around. She used to work at a hotel, in the kitchen. She knows how to make everything, better than most. Kebbe bi la2teen, samak nuwar. Everything, everything, she’s the best. My brother lives in Durun, he has four wives. He’s looking for another two, I don’t know why. Why would he want any more? Its enough for me, one wife. I love her, of course, but still, when she starts to run her mouth. Maybe that what’s nice about having four wives. One every two nights, something like that. You have to restructure the week, you know, cant do everything right. No weekends, I guess, spend those alone! My brother is rich, he goes golfing all the time. He needs a day to himself, of course. His weeks consist of nine days, in total, one of those days off.”

Snip after snip, he could feel Aziz’s energy rise and fall, focusing on the little strands of hair he collected between his fingers before dissolving them into thin air, disappearing into the scattered mess on the floor. The sound of the music video on the television clashed with the sound of something playing on someone else’s phone, though Tanzim couldn’t check, to see or find out, what exactly all that sound was.

“Are you watching any of the games?”

“Not really,” came the reply, “not really, not so much. Why, why, is there anything on?”

“There are some good games. Very good play, if you ask me. My son knows all of their names, every player on the field. He can tell you which player is good at what. To be honest, he spends too much time behind the wall, you know what I mean? He plays this game, on the computer, pretending to manage a club. Do you know what I mean? Which game it is?”

“Of course,” Tanzim said, “of course, I used to play it all the time.”

“Really, how fun! Its good for him, then, I guess, it’s always good for him to have fun.

Tanzim felt a sudden vibration in his pocket, recognizing right away it was his phone, knowing that it was ingrained in its usual position, phone on the left, wallet in the back right pocket, and keys, some pens, anything extra in the front pocket on his right, the pocket on the back left of his pants the only pocket ever ignored, a system he introduced when he was ten years old, a system matched with permanence only matched by his ever tender balls. Feeling the first vibration, he waited for the second to discover whether it was a text, only, or an incoming call. Messages, he knew, only vibrated once, as to what he had specifically specified. If it were a call, he would have to wait until the third vibration, to ensure that the call had been deliberate, as most callers recognized within three rings that they had dialed the wrong number, so to avoid doing so it was common to avoid the phone altogether, and not to avoid, as some believe but has proven untrue, to avoid the dialing of a specific name, the dialing of a number saved as do not call or don’t answer. Such number saving could well do great good in the event of an incoming call, however, and so it was Tanzim’s final response, as he quickly posed the question to his hairdresser, Aziz, whether he could lift the draped apron over his arms and, tugging loosely, pull the vibrating member from his tightlipped pants. Had they more rapport, the two of them, he would not have had to rely on words or commonly used phrases of thanks and praise to embarrass the moment to half, to pull the apron off his body, to get at the words.

“Did you fast, this past Holy Month?”

“I didn’t,” Tanzim shamefully answered, to the detriment of their growing friendship, a camaraderie based more on likeness than on what kept them apart, naturally, those habits, traditions, they did not share, those concerns that were theirs and theirs alone, alienating the other from basic facets of the other’s life. “Actually,” he continued, “my family are mystics, I was born into their tribe, we believe in the Three Sacred Rites, nothing more. We don’t celebrate the Holy Month, but we celebrate the Feast of the Herd and the Feast of Ills, as we’ve done most of our lives.”

Had they more rapport, he could very elegantly, swiftly, by a slight gesture of the arm, loosening of his intended shoulder, turning his head just barely away from Aziz’s snipping hands, he could, within a matter of seconds, possibly to meet the fourth or latest fifth vibration, wrestle himself free to answer the call.

Instead, he had to cut Aziz short, just as he was about to snip at the fringe, holding what looked like an ottoman’s loose leaf tail in his hands, preparing it for the shreds.

“Can I check my phone,” he quietly asked, the fear in his voice short and abrupt, the quiet of the room unsettled. They all turned his way, not to do or say much, but to avoid the feeling they knew they would have, a feeling of curiosity followed by regret, for not following the story on.

“Of course,” Aziz said, a tad bit annoyed, having had to just stub his cigarette out. He could have taken three puffs, if anything.

“I think someone is calling, one second,” Tanzim said, “let me check my phone.”

He let the veil fall to the side, pulling the phone from his pocket.

“Its rang five times”, Tanzim said, tugging at his skinny jeans, to force the phone out. “A serious caller rings between seven or eight times,” he added, to no interest from the rest. But it came as comfort to him, barring some catastrophic misunderstanding, nobody would require five, or at the maximum, taking into account a lazy lenience with which they all lived their lives, coming more into effect on sunnier mornings, or the day after an emerging triumph, a Cup Final berth, or an electoral victory of some equally disappointing sort, he would need no more than six. “Hmm,” Tanzim said, reading the alarm. It was a call! To expect the phone answered in less than seven rings, Tanzim thought, that’s an outrageous invasion of private space.

“I’m going to use wax on your ears, do you want it on your nose as well, under your eyes?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“How about here,” he said, pulling a tweezer up against the side of his mouth. “You have an ingrown hair, I can tell!”

“No, really, that’s totally fine.”

He massaged his hair, running his hands through his hair, the tips of his fingers pulsing against his skull, pressing with his thumb and forefinger, pressing incoherently down. The feeling was nice and the sensation strong. He ran his hands down the length of his neck, stopping at his shoulders, pressing on the pressure points between the arms, running one hand down his spine, the other, holding his neck forth, pressing with two fingers, one strain of muscle on either side. The blow dryer turned on. The sound quieted the channels stream of live music videos that no one cared to know. The client on the chair beside him lit a smoke, the first few puffs blowing straight into his eyes. There was a lengthy silence in the room, all of the chatter quieting down, waiting for the blow dryer to erode.

“Do you want me to apply some gel,” he asked?

“No, no, that’s fine.”

“Some wax, or something of the sort?”

“No, no, really, that’s totally fine.”

Ultimately the two barely spoke a word, Aziz entranced by his own vocation while Tanzim, suffering the paralysis of salient silence, endured a recurring wave of shame and guilt for not having the means to engage his hairdresser in conversation, a shame experienced all too often for him, who had earlier in the week experienced a similar condition with the plumber, who had come by the house to repair his shower, Tanzim standing awkwardly beside the frame of the door, wanting with every passing gust of wind that trailed into the room through the small sun roof in the bathroom ceiling, to engage the serviceman in some way, but ultimately, as he would that day and thereafter, coming up embarrassingly short. He stepped up to the counter to pay. As the young errand boy at the shop began his ritual cleaning, a cigarette in his mouth, his eyes absorbed on the mess around him, dodging foot traffic like the steer of a boat, weaving and wiping, as best can be imagined. He, whose real name was Rizk but who went by Raphael, who had gelled his hair into a spike, a tradition he called spiky, with a tiny bit of hair left to surround the fauxhawk, so as to make him look exactly seventeen years old, at any moment. He had torn skinny jeans, with at least thirteen perpendicular tears. He was always very kind to Tanzim, had even showered his hair once when Aziz was out and he had wanted to wash it before cutting, a rarity in fact, not only for Tanzim but the remainder of them, the patrons at Aziz Cuts. Tanzim had often forgotten his name. Moving, so, forward to wash his face at a nearby sink, refusing the invitation of a shower, for reasons unknown even to himself, Aziz moved to behind the utility desk, where appointments were made, changed the channels on the collective glass, the projection of the television, screening in the back, or sat back for a minute to enjoy the smoke, emerging from the sink with a wet head of hair, having dipped his head under the running faucet, wanting the cool spring to hollow like penetrating vines through the muggy earth of his head, Tanzim walked over to where Aziz sat, intending to pay. Aziz, polite, a believer in tradition, offered the usual gesture of thanks and endearing remorse, begging, albeit mootly, to accept the haircut on the house. Tanzim, knowing full well Raphael had no intention whatsoever of losing the bill, did not accept, smiling awkwardly and mumbling something in a strangely whispered voice, the memory of their conversation fresh in his mind, the base of his tongue conflicting with the intention of his running words, having forgotten what language the conversation required. Aziz must have been tired, from work, from his having eaten three sandwiches just that morning, two on one roll and one on two spreads, at least a pound of wheat and harley. Tired, as well, from having to put up some mood that did not remotely suit how he actually felt, because he didn’t offer Tanzim the gift of the haircut a second time, as was customarily required, or at the very least, expected, even by Tanzim, happy to forgo the second offering, if only to leave and get on with his day, not out of some ill bitten grudge, but really to get on with the rest of the scene, accepted the suggested amount, adding a little extra as tip, though he experienced momentary devastation as he realized, pulling the cash out of his pocket, that he didn’t have a five to hand over as tip, forcing him to make the uncomfortable decision, live and in the watcher’s face, of offering a full ten lira tip, or asking for five back. The entire debacle could have been avoided had Aziz not gifted Tanzim the shave, which he performed before the haircut, charging him only for the hair. Aziz, accepting the cash directly into the small collecting basket, stepped forward, out and away from the diamond corner of the bar that acted as a desk, to bid farewell to his customer, Tanzim, who had taken one step forward and two steps back, walking like an actor in a virtual world, stuck at unfamiliar boundaries. The errand boy passed beside him, preventing him from freeing himself from the tight space, sandwiched as he was between the diamond corner of the bar, acting as a desk, the emerging Aziz from behind the bar, met on an opposite end by the errand boy passing by, and the shoulder pads of the long leather sofa, that rested behind his knees, tempting him with innocent nudges, reminding him of its presence. Tanzim, tucked in his place, seeing Aziz stretch out his right hand to shake, was forced to raise his right shoulder to the height of his ears to accept the trailing hairdresser’s hand. Aziz’s left hand embraced Tanzim on the shoulder, leading him easily away from confused paralysis, to the transparent glass doors. He wiped the soles of his shoes on the welcome mat that appeared under his feet, likening it to a feeling of coming and going, something of a ritual sign, alleviating the stress he had acquired over the course of the cut. That was until the final goodbye, where Aziz, easing himself forward with an almost arrogant ease, leant over to partially embrace Tanzim, who would have been excused to mistake it for a hug, albeit it an awkward hug where the instigator hugs from behind one of the leading arms. Tanzim, forever confused, leant forward, hoping to kiss Aziz on the cheek, as was custom. Aziz, surprised, accepted the kiss gracefully, but as was custom, had continued with yet another kiss, and would have continued for another had Tanzim not stopped on the second, eliminating the possibility of the third, their faces like a portrait drawn, their noses touching like a Bedouin kiss. Tanzim picked Sarah up from under her house. He parked in the parking in front of the pharmacy, the valet gesturing for him to Leave. He stood his ground and it all went well in the end. Sarah was upstairs with Sabine. She had bought a gram of coke and was laying the final groundwork on a line. He called again. She had told him to miss call when he arrived downstairs. He told her he would do so before arriving to the building, when he got to the corner at Grove Street, where the old adult movie theatre had disappeared. Their faces turned to the vibrating phone on the table. It shook the tabletop glass as it whirled. Sabine took half her line.

“Aren’t you going to finish it,” Sarah asked.

“It’s super strong.”

“He’s downstairs.”

“Should we Leave it for later?”

“Can’t we bring it with us?”

“We have the rest.”

“Okay fine. Just Leave it here.”

“Will the cat get to it?”

“Put it in the cupboard.”

Lea was at the far end of the room, on her laptop.

“You should come with us,” Sarah said.

“I’ve got so much work to do.”

Indeed, she had a lot of work to do. Instead, she spent the afternoon watching videos of puppies scramming around their pop and cats meowing into the camera fold. Had she worked diligently that day, she could have gone out with them. But it was unlike her to go ten minutes without opening Narcis. Unlike any of them, really. She wasn’t even interested in anyone’s feed, just on who had commented and who had suddenly appeared, out of the misty blue, having disappeared from the online web altogether.

“Is it cold outside,” Sarah asked Sabine, who had just walked over from her house.

“No. It’s nice.”

“Do I need a jacket?”

“Bring it. You can Leave it in the car.”

“But what if we separate. Then I’ll need it later. I hate carrying it.”

“Just bring it.”

“Fine.”

They scrambled around the room, searching for their belongings. Sarah stuffing everything she could remember into her purse, a black Colder clutch, and Sabine stuffing everything into her Hobo jacket pockets, from where she could be sure everything was within reach, rarely, if ever, carrying a purse of her own, sometimes choosing not to and regretting it, for having to put up with so many fidgets and gadgets on her person, though her friends were fast to offer their space, carrying her most important belongings if they were going to the club.

“Do you have the joint?”

“Yeah. I think so. It’s in my bag. Wait.”

Sarah ran her fingers through the purse.

“Yeah. It’s there. Let’s go. Quick.”

They said their goodbyes, petting Lou and Carriage, the dog and cat, before stepping out the door, riding the elevator six floors, pushing open the steel gate and the heavy lifting bar, pressing the open button to the right of the lift, the click on the door ticking, emerging moments later in the porous dusk of night, Tanzim’s waiting face arguing his rights. They got in the car, Sarah in the front, Sabine in the back. Tanzim was hoping Sabine would sit next to him, even though he was much closer than Sarah. He had a thing for Sabine. Most everyone did. He pulled out from the parking spot, having to force his way between two cars, neither of whom were going to let him pass.

“What do you guys feel like listening to?”

“What do you have?”

“Here,” Tanzim said, passing Sarah his phone, “Check it.”

“Nice car,” Sabine said.

“It’s my brother’s.”

“What do you guys feel like?”

“Something upbeat,” Tanzim said.

“I’m trying to find…Have you heard the new Soloist album?”

“No. Is it good?”

“It’s amazing.”

“Stream it.”

“I think its blocked online. I can see if I have it on my phone.”

“Should we spark the joint,’ Sabine asked?

“Let’s get past the next checkpoint, then we’re good. Are you guys in a hurry? I can circle around for a while if you want.”

“No, I’m not in a rush.”

“Are we meeting anyone there?”

“A bunch of people. But nobody’s waiting.”

“By the way, I’m going to Nabi Saleh tomorrow, if you guys want to join.”

“No way. What for?”

“There’s a healer there, supposedly. She’s supposed to be really good.”

“What kind of healer,” Sabine asked?

“I’m not sure. Nothing physical. She just talks to you.”

“By the way. You should hide your shit. Where’d you put it?”

“It’s in my bra.”

“They’ll check it.”

“No they won’t. They never do.”

“I just drove through Saud. They have a woman there, to frisk.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck.”

They drove into the parking lot. He thought about Leaving it with the valet, but he found a parking spot open quite quickly. He pulled the car around to reverse into the spot, to make it easier to drive out later. The moment they stepped out of the car, a valet appeared behind a nearby vehicle. He expected them to fork up five pounds.

“But I parked it myself,” Tanzim said.

“That doesn’t matter,” the valet said. “This is our parking. It’s paid parking.”

Reluctant to spend twenty minutes of his time arguing with someone who had little to lose and everything to gain, Tanzim relented and paid the parking fee, knowing he would triumph in the end, unless Tanzim resorted to dirtier tactics, insulting him and threatening his life, which he didn’t feel like doing, the effects of the joint calming his nerves, steadying his surging adrenaline, causing him to feel at once anxious and at calm, harboring the anger inside him. Sarah and Sabine had already stepped up to the line. Sarah was feeling shaky. She didn’t coke too often. Not like Sabine. When she did it, she did one or two lines, at most. They had already railed three, one at home, while waiting, and one the moment Tanzim arrived. They had also taken a bump after crossing the checkpoint, knowing they would probably have a lengthy wait outside the club upon arriving. Tanzim didn’t feel like going to the club. He hated going clubbing without guest list. But it wasn’t the sort of club they knew much about. They didn’t know the owners either. The patrons were all dressed up. It was different than they were used to. More bohemian, less chic. But Sabine wanted to see a friend inside, who was visiting with a large group from out of town. And the dj was supposed to be decent, only for the night. The residents played off a commonly agreed tab of songs, all of them chart hits and table poppers. The line looked like it would take at least two hours. There were a couple hundred people, waiting in line. To see them waiting was astounding in itself. The guest line was even longer, and the VIP entrance even longer than that. The club itself fit four thousand people, with a private arena on the roof for guests. Tanzim had been there once, for a wedding party for one of his childhood friends, who he rarely hung out with and never got to see, their choosing to go different paths in life, doing different things, but he promised he would join them that night to celebrate the occasion. Sabine had gone at Least twice a month for the last three years, while Sarah had never been.

“Do we have a table,” Tanzim asked Sabine?

“I can check. But I don’t think so.”

“It won’t make much difference anyway.”

They stood behind a group of five.

Sabine had a friend she knew would be inside. He was always going to that sort of club. He was even going to open something himself, soon. She didn’t know exactly when, but he had told it to her at Least ten times, almost every time they met. They weren’t exactly friends. She wasn’t sure what they were. But she found him interesting. The only problem was he was different, totally different than her friends. They would think less of her, she thought. He wasn’t like them. Not like Tanzim. Tanzim was sweet, kind, caring, but at the end of the day, if he weren’t so polite, if he hadn’t had a nice upbringing, he’d just be another guy. He hadn’t done anything in his life, anything noteworthy. He wasn’t working, hadn’t ever held a job. She wasn’t even sure he was registered, though she knew that he was, certainly he must have been, to pass through checkpoints day and night, driving around in his brother’s car. She knew he liked her, she could tell. He always came by when she was over at Sarah’s. He was always joining them when they went out for a drink, to do something on their own, or to meet up with a group, he’d always end up joining somehow, saying he wanted to drop off a book but staying the whole night. Sarah was in love with him. Not in that way, not at all. She wanted him, sure, she wanted a lot of the guys they hung around with, and she got most of them. But it was more than that. She wanted him around. He made her feel safe, Sabine could tell. She wanted to feel safe, in those times. She considered letting him know she was outside. They didn’t know Rustom, they wouldn’t like him. He could definitely get her in if he was. He’d want to, as well. She didn’t want to trade her entire life to hang out with him, but why did it seem so dramatic? The thought of being seen with him, that must have been it. The thought of being associated with a group other than her own, other than her friends, who she felt comfortable with, who were like her in many ways and shared a lot of her tastes. But she had been feeling like something different for some time. All they ever did was the same. It never changed. They’d meet up at someone’s house, smoke a few joints until half the group passed on the night, and the rest would walk to the nearest bar and within two hours be totally drunk. That was their life. And every now and then a cool dj would show up in town and they would head over to the venue, take mdma and dance. Or, they would stay home and think about joining for the after party, if they knew where it was. Rustom was different. He wasn’t as rich as some of her friends. They weren’t rich themselves, but they might inherit something, if their parents ever croaked, if there were anything left to be had. But he wasn’t at all poor. He wasn’t even middle class, not anymore, not the way the middle class had become. His family were business owners, she that much. They had done well, but it was him, Rustom himself, who was doing more, who wanted to do more. She liked his enthusiasm. She liked the energy with which he commanded himself. He spoke about the future with hope, with yearning, to know what would come, to decide for it, decide on it, decide for himself, do for himself what had not been done for him growing up, what had not been secured for him, as it was for them, for Tanzim, for Sarah, for some of the other bunch. The energy came with drawbacks though. She’d only hung out with him and his friends twice, but both times he was beyond himself, acting out, like a child almost, trying so hard to impress everyone around. Every word was judged, every move calculated. She could understand why. His closest friends came from prominent families. They needed nothing and spoke of it less. They were known just by their names, by the deeds of their fathers, and those before them. They were rich in that way where they had read what was needed to be read yet without the air of an aristocratic intellectual mold. They were his opposites in that way. Rustom hadn’t been educated to that level. He had a degree in business management, so far as she knew. She had been told as much. By him, and he repeated it in several conversations to others as well. He was proud of his degree, but it meant nothing. A bachelor’s in business, who cares? But he had plans and was going to get it done. For whatever reason, she believed him. It would be more fitting to go in with him anyway. To be inside with him. She had wanted to dress up, to dress up more, but Sarah talked her out of it. But looking at all the girls in line, she felt that feeling of dread, knowing she had dressed down. It complicated matters, fearing that she wouldn’t get in. She seemed to look so much younger without heels, without make up, without doing her hair. When she needed it most, it would be beneficial. But for the time being, on that night, she wanted to get in, and to do so without making a scene, without having to grovel at the bouncer’s feet, bouncers who were so renowned there was even a blog depicting each and every one of their insults, known for their terse rejections, assessing the wanting patron before they’ve reached the front of the line. Some went so far as saying there were spies among them, judging their conversations, their habits, their principles, their moods. She checked to see if he was online. She opened BubuCum chat. He wasn’t their. She scrolled through her old messages, finding him. He hadn’t been online in two hours. He was probably inside. He told her he was going to watch a game, she remembered. He was first going to watch a game and then heading to the club with some friends. It was a friend’s birthday, so they would be a much larger group than usual, but they were always there, no matter what.

“Is there somewhere to pee,” Sarah asked?

“I don’t know,” Sabine answered.

“It’s super cold.”

“It is.”

“You think you can go inside,” Tanzim asked?

“I doubt it,” Sarah said.

“No, of course not,” Sabine said.

“Is there anyone else joining us,” Tanzim asked?

“I can’t get a hold of anyone,” Sarah answered. “Phones are blocked.”

“Too much traffic,” Tanzim said.

“You think something happened,” Sarah asked, ever the pessimist.

She was secretly hoping something would go down in the next twenty four hours. She didn’t feel like going to work on Monday. There hadn’t been a long weekend in three months, since the festive season. First there was Festival, then there was the assassination of Hafiz Karim, and then there was the second inundation of the year, that wreaked havoc on the streets and caused schools and public institutions to close, Leaving the private sector to decide for itself, most of the companies closing in order to protect their employees, even supermarkets and small grocers, who should have stayed open, in her opinion, to supply people throughout the storm. On top of that, there was the Day of Rising and then the Day of Rest, falling on two successive Mondays that season. But that was three months ago. She didn’t want something terrible to happen. Nobody needed to die. Well, someone could die. One of the politicians with blood on their hands, or a tribal Leader or something like that. They were all living on borrowed time. They made their own beds of corpses. Though she knew they wouldn’t be the ones to suffer. Something like the street protests in front of the National University earlier in the year. Though the sight of it was quite depressing, seeing enraged bands of youth channeling their courage for the oppressor’s design. It was pathetic, actually. But still, they’d gotten off work for four days. She’d taken that Friday off, turning it into a nine day holiday. It had served its purpose. It was best when they fell on Sunday nights, any sort of issue, extending the weekend was always better than cutting it short. That way it could be more enjoyed, having reduced the impending hours of doom, occurring while still in the grip of joy. If it happened during the week, it wouldn’t make sense to get hammered right away. She would take it more seriously, take it as a chance to do serious things she needed done, like laundry, all kinds of chores, errands she had put off for months, emails she’d been meaning to write. Work would have put her in that mindset, and she wouldn’t necessarily snap out of it so soon.

“I think I’m gonna go piss,” Tanzim said.

“Lucky,” Sarah said.

She watched him walk away. He was looking good. He had put on some weight, returning home. It happened to the best of them! Lucky for her she didn’t live with her parents anymore. She had, for some time, but they only spent a month or two in the city, spending most of their time away. Sabine checked her phone. Rustom was online. Without thinking twice she sent him a message. Within seconds it notified red, meaning he had read it, or at Least their conversation were opened and the message arrived. She had sent a smiley face, nothing more. Seeing as how he had read it, she sent him another, a wine glass with a question mark beside it. He wrote back, where are you? Why couldn’t he play along? She realized that was something else about him, something else that was different. He didn’t get her jokes, he didn’t get her rhythm. If she had sent a smiley to Tanzim, followed by a wine glass with a question mark, he would have responded with an emoticon as well, and they would have carried the conversation on for a whole day, maybe even a week, without uttering a single word. It could become like code between them, something that evolved as their friendship grew. But alas, their friendship would end, and with it, that excitement. At Least with Rustom, when it would end, there would be nothing left to disavow but the silence of things left unsaid, rather than the absence of rituals developed. She wrote back, thinking and deleting and editing it four times. She finally sent something simple.

I’m outside the club, she wrote, where are you?

I’m inside, he quickly answered. Are you in line?

She was embarrassed to admit she was in line, but she had no choice.

I am, she wrote.

She didn’t know what else to say so she left it at that, knowing it was a bit of a risk. It meant it was up to him, in a way, to solve her problem. If he didn’t want to help, it would be obvious he wasn’t interested, at Least not that evening. He might be interested in the greater scheme of things, in the long run, perhaps, but on that night, perhaps he had an old friend with him, an old flame, or an untouched pleasure he’d harbored for years, suddenly in his midst, entertaining him, for some reason, for what, he would have to amass some idea, probably along the lines of his emerging confidence, the roots of his empire amassing. If he didn’t respond, she would be left languishing in her pathetic state, among her friends, who hadn’t the vaguest idea how to get in to the club, a club they both hated and were only going to entertain her, and for less cavalier reasons to hear Goose Bubbles play their closing set, though the hours were swiftly waning, that hour was yet to pass, far from it, in fact, in their pathetic state having only stood outside for half an hour, no more than that.

He responded, thankfully.

I can come get you, he wrote. Are you alone?

Of course she wasn’t alone, what was he thinking? But she knew what he was doing. To ask if she was alone was a cryptic way of asking her if she could cut her friends loose, to come in alone, on his table, or his friend’s, with him. But she could never do that. In a way, she wanted to. She hadn’t known he would be there that evening, and had she known, she would’ve never asked them to join. But they were with her, she had to be with them. Otherwise, what? They would find her inside on a table of twenty, in suits and polo shirts, heels and cocktail dresses, drinking from three liter bottles of champagne. Straight out of the bottle, by the end of the night. She couldn’t shrug them off. She couldn’t shake them. Not like that. Not for that reason. They would think so much less of her. Though she felt it wasn’t at all the worst thing she could do. Not to the two of them, since they were such good friends. They might enjoy it. It might even be easier to get in, without having to care for the three of them. Though it was easier to get two girls in at once. Would they even want his help, if he offered it?

I’m with two friends, she wrote.