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Lateef
Short story

By Nooneh
June 11, 2001
The Iranian

When the doorbell rang I sprang out of the shower, through the bedroom and down the stairway impatient to bring to a close the seconds that separated us. I loved the fact that he was early and he would watch me dress. He would be wearing a dark blue sweater. Dark blue would bring out the black in his eyes and the gray of his hair. He would be standing there, comfortable at my door, an air of confidence around him not because he feels in control but because he takes life as it comes. I saw him holding something in his hands. Not flowers, what was it? A box? I couldn't tell. I could smell his scent from the hallway but as I approached the door it was another scent irritating my nose and the shadow visible from behind the glass door was not that of the man I imagined but one that I had archived long ago.

Ever had one of those relationships you couldn't end? One of those lovers who refused to leave? One who held all the good times hostage and wanted the rest of your life as ransom? One who refused to believe you meant what you said, over and over again? Iraj was everything I ever dreamed of in a man. He was handsome, articulate, creative and seemed to care. Yes, seemed to. We worked on a project together and I decided I wanted him. It was that simple.

Before that time I had never made such a decision about anyone. Since then I have learned that perhaps it is not the best way of approaching a relationship. Initially, I just wanted him in the sack. Then I wanted him to want me. Then I wanted him to love me. And later I wanted him to want to marry me. By the time he wanted all of those things, I didn't want any of them, not with him at least, and hated who I had become in the process. Maybe we could have made it had I been more forthright, less accommodating, less fearful of the outcome. The outcome was ultimately what I had feared and the distance traveled was not much to brag about. It was as if I had been going in circles for years debating the same issues trying to resolve them all on my own.

Well, the news is that it takes two to tango. If the guy isn't involved in making it happen, honey you ain't gonna make it happen on your own. By the time I realized I was sinking deeper and deeper in a vortex of my own making I had become such a mush in his hands that of course he didn't want to lose me. I was so... understanding, so encouraging. I gave and gave and gave and then I hated myself for it.

Why do we do that? Maybe it's from fear of abandonment. I lost my country when I was fourteen. My mother left us when I was five, or was I four? My father who claimed to love me more than life itself held me hostage to his love. Fear of abandonment? You bet. Iraj had much in common with my father. Men of ideas who feel misunderstood. No amount of support is enough, they want all of you. Men of ideas who can express abstract thoughts beautifully but never a word on personal issues. They keep their true feelings private. Hidden even to themselves perhaps. Because they feel the world is a much more important audience than any one person who claims to love them. I loved them both. And more importantly I wanted them to love me. Nothing satisfied more than their approval and nothing hurt more than its denial.

My father died five years ago. I separated from Iraj last year yet here he is, outside my door, demanding an audience. The funny thing was that in a way, I was happy to see him. After the usual polite introductions, updates and discussion of the latest world events, Iraj got down to the real reason for his visit. I can't say that he actually apologized for hurting me or forgetting me or stepping all over me but he did acknowledge some of his errors. I was moved. The tears welled up in my eyes and my voice got all husky as I tried to explain to him that I did care for him and that it would hurt me to see him with another but that there really was no basis for us getting back together.

In trying to criticize him for being all words and no action, I explained that some people would actually do something to prove they have changed. I regretted this as soon as the words escaped my mouth as I realized that I had just challenged him and he was the type of man who took challenges to heart. In trying to dissuade him I had in fact encouraged him. It's a problem I have which is just a part of my nature. In being an objective observer I forget that when posing a question to me, people are actually interested in my thoughts and feelings not the range of abstract possibilities.

Being a Libra gets me into trouble sometimes. I needed to get dressed and so Iraj was sent off merrily on his way. His last words were "I will prove it to you." The last nail in the coffin, so to say. I poured myself a glass of wine and lit a cigarette. I'm not a smoker but sometimes the motions bring out something in me that helps settle my mind. In a few minutes I would be picked up for a dinner date by a man who cares for me. Whom I care for, or at least am intrigued by. My glass of zinfandel was telling me stories of love and devotion. My cigarette reminded me of Iraj's bad habits and the music just played on. Where to go from here?

As I put a few dabs of perfume on the pulse points I search my body for dregs of longing for Iraj. None are identified. There is a feeling of slight satisfaction in seeing him want me. But also sadness in realizing my lack of desire for him. What was it that drew me to him and why is that not enough any more? My original plan was to wear white linen, sporty and cool. But now having had a couple of glasses of zinfandel I feel less airy. I reach out for my gray sleeveless top and black skirt. No stockings, it's too warm for that. And I like to feel the breeze between my legs. The lotion I use has glitter which enhances the effect of the silver jewelry on my bronzed skin. I put on the silver ring with a light green stone. It's the one and only ring I own. Wearing rings is a new thing for me. They never felt comfortable on my fingers until I met this one particular ring. We just clicked. And now I often wear it.

In fact, I had it on the night I met Lateef. He was drawn to it and recognized it as American-Indian. I was drawn to Lateef and recognized him as North African. Moroccan? No. Tunisian. We drank red wine at the opening party for the Arab Film Festival and I imagined how his muscular ass would feel in my hands. There are two areas I immediately evaluate in a man's body, his hands and his ass. I like both to be substantial. Big, strong, veiny hands and well formed, muscular ass. Lateef had both. He also had lovely black eyes and salt and pepper hair in addition to a sense of style and a very captivating voice. He spoke with just enough of French accent to render him sexy without being incomprehensible. We debated the merits and pitfalls of segregating art on the basis of ethnicity and ended up kissing in the alleyway behind the club where a couple of junkies were shooting up. I told Lateef that in Persian his name means soft and gentle and he told me that my name sounds like grapefruit. We agreed that individuals are not the sum total of the meanings of their names. There was more to him than just soft and gentle, and me? Bittersweet is only one description of a grapefruit.

I feel hot from the wine and the unexpected visit weighs heavily on my mind. The cool air is welcomed in as I open the balcony door and step outside. I feel obligated to be certain that there is no chance for Iraj and I. There was a time when I thought of him as a perfect life partner. There was a time when I saw us as an unbeatable team, a source of envy for all. There was a time... It sounds like the song in Les Miserables.

Another cigarrette, another sip. The moon is full and all I feel is happy to be out. Out catching the breeze and out of the relationship with Iraj. He is the owner type and I need to feel the breeze between my legs. The problem is I can't move on while he is dragging behind me. Why? Maybe I feel responsible. Maybe I need to see him off and gone. Back many months ago when I first had sex after breaking up with Iraj I felt like I was cheating on him. I felt like I was giving away his property. Me, myself, moi, my body, his property. How does that happen? Now I can't stand the thought of him touching me. There is a knock on the bedroom door. I turn back startled. There is Lateef standing in the doorway holding a brown paper-wrapped package in his hands. His eyes shine reflecting the deep blue color of his sweater in their vast blackness. I smile and walk towards him. He extends his arms in silence. I fit right in, his lips on my neck and his hands combing my hair back. I breathe in his smell. A cologne I don't recognize. His sniffling tells me he smells the cigarette on me.

- "The party has already begun?"

- "How did you get in?"

- "The door was open. Are you okay?"

- "Yes, why do you ask?"

- "You have this look in your eyes. This look that tells me you've been far away."

- "What's this?"

- "Oh, something I made for you."

- "Made?"

- "Yes. But I will give it to you later. Not now. Now, we go for dinner?"

- "How about a glass of wine first?"

My curiosity about the contents of the box is overshadowed by my thoughts of Iraj. Lateef senses the heaviness and breaks into song after the first sip, a mix of Arabic and French. I find myself laughing. He keeps moving about holding his wine glass in one hand, the brown box in the other and singing on top of his lungs. I fold on the floor embracing my knees both amused and appreciative. Lateef continues to sing addressing various objects around him. He moves about and turns and plays the instrument sounds and sings and entertains and finally ends on a high note at which point he collapses on the sofa chair across from me still holding the glass and the brown box. I applaud enthusiastically and reward him with multiple kisses. I feel elated. More than that, I feel cared for. How easy is that? Lateef finishes his wine approving of the quality. We go? Yes. The drive is quiet. Or rather I'm quiet while Lateef hums to the radio music in the background. No one I recognize.

I look at him. His angular profile reminds me of evil Arab characters in Disney cartoons. A distinguished profile with a very distinguished nose is how it would be characterized. The look I find adorable is characterized as evil by Disney. I like that. I run my fingers on his face. He continues to hum but his body is completely erect and aware. He doesn't even turn to me. I smile understanding that he is intrigued. I continue to gently explore his face and neck, his distinguished nose, his thick eyebrows... and then I stick my finger in his ear. He throws in a gentle ow! Turns to me questioningly and I laugh. He continues to hum louder now. I draw close to him and begin kissing his face and neck. He continues to hum. I run my hand over his crotch. His penis is quick to respond. My fingers unbutton his three-button sweater while my lips and teeth work on his right ear. The humming has gotten a bit deeper.

What turns me on about fooling around with people while they are driving? The easy answer is it's dangerous, or that I'm in control... In this particular instant, however, all I want is for him to pull over and undress me. Right there by the side of the road I want to make love to him because for the first time since I separated from Iraj I feel sexually, mentally and emotionally excited by someone whose sense of humor and lightness matches my own. And whose sense of adventure I believe I can match.

I must have been too enraptured as I did not notice the detour and now I am happy to report that the car has in fact stopped by the side of the road and that the fooling around has taken on a more dual nature. This is not a man who enjoys passive amusement. Or at least not for long. I am being caressed by hands who recognize and exude passion. Our lips meet and our breasts become one. Beast with two backs is what I recall from Othello. He skillfully lowers the back of my car seat and moves on top of me. Straps lowered, skirt raised, pants down and deep blue sweater off. This is no high school make out. Those veiny hands seem to know exactly where to touch and I find myself at once gasping for air and enjoying the weight of his erection.

It's been more than fifteen years since the last time I had sex in a car. There is something quite pleasant about it. Specially if the car is not conspicuously parked in the deserted lot of a suburban mall. Lateef is lifting my body and moving us to the back seat. Our tops are off, his pants and shoes are left by the front seat. The larger space gives us time for a breather. I catch his eyes staring at me. Talk to me, I say. He laughs and says no way! Tell me about your childhood, I ask while getting on top of him. He looks at me in disbelief. The hair on his chest is a bit coarser and curlier than other men I've been with. There is always comparison. Don't believe anyone who denies it. He folds his arms behind his head and watches me ride him as he tells me about his past. He left Tunisia when he was five, grew up in Paris where he lived with his extended family of sixteen, went to University of Michigan to study -- I'll have to catch up later.

Right now my sweat-covered body is way too engulfed in the immediate task at hand to pay attention to the cerebral information being delivered to it. Lateef's hands are squeezing my sides and caressing my buttocks in a uniform circular motion. I grab on to his shoulders and ask him to get on top which at this moment is my preferred position. He continues to talk but now it's some discourse on land reforms. What is he saying? The rights of the peasants over ride the need for increased production. I ask about his position on genetically altered agricultural products as I position myself for an optimal orgasmic experience. He breaks into laughter as he yells there are multiple sides to the issue. I ask about specific examples, tomato... His lips close mine on the word rice. My mind goes blank as I feel my body expanding. Opening up like that vaginal flower in Pink Floyd's The Wall. I am the universe and Lateef a burning star. The taste of his mouth is intoxicating and the fierceness of his body exhilarating. Our arms are interlocked above our heads. He is kissing my eyes, or maybe sucking out my eyeballs, whatever it is, it is driving me crazy.

He stops. A frozen moment in time. His eyes staring into mine. In the depth of that blackness I see my own reflection, captive like: naked, arms tied above, hair going wild. I wonder how his reflection looks in my eyes. Can he see the joy he is giving me? My impulse is to say I love you. What I really mean is I love you for loving me at this moment and giving me such joy. I have learned not to say I love you the first time I have sex with a man. For better or worse.

Lateef asks: How do you feel? I say, "Good. Very good." He smiles and lets go of my hands. He lifts my middle closer to his and begins the most "lateef" grind I've ever experienced in my life. It is as if he is shaping a hot glass vase with his hips. I'm at a loss how exactly to describe his movement except to say in wonderment that it would be a shame for him not to teach his art to other men. Being a woman of multiple orgasms I welcome all the new sensations, close my eyes and let my head drop back which is not something I do very often during lovemaking because it reminds me of all the goofy sex scenes they show in Hollywood films. Lateef now has one hand holding up my head while the fingers of the other hand play with my lips in between his kisses.

That's it. This is the time I get really crazy. I grab on to his ass and move him in and out with an energy foreign to me in all other aspects of my life. He lets out a loud sigh and throws his head back like they never show a man do in Hollywood movies. Then I feel the weight of his eyes on me. I open mine and sure enough he is right there with eyes wide open like a black hole that invites you to transcend time. I slow down, he picks up the pace, I feel like we've been at it for hours but I can't stop, we move like waves on the ocean shore. I close my eyes and embrace Lateef who has just at this moment come and whose body is now covering mine like mercury.

I'm thinking we will probably be very late for our dinner reservation. Less than two hours ago I was listening to another man's proposal for marriage. Make no mistake, when an ex-boyfriend wants to get back together it's not to just live together. He wants the whole nine yards. He wants you to bear his children. There was a time when I thought maybe I don't want to get married and have kids. That maybe I'm too much of a career woman. But I do want all of that stuff. I just don't want it with anyone I've been with so far, including Iraj. There is something wonderful about a man who searches your eyes for answers. A man who doesn't feel obligated to come up with all the answers.

As I hold Lateef in my arms in this crammed, sticky space I feel no need to explain, no need to question, no need to elaborate on what just happened. There is a level of trust and understanding with this man that is rare. Maybe the fact that I know Lateef will be going back to France in a month changes the paradigms slightly. Maybe. Lateef rolls off to the side leaning on one arm and looks at me. I say hi. He says hello. I feel like thanking him but I'm not sure how he would take that. I enjoyed that, he says. Me too. He kisses me. I feel like I could do it all again but maybe I should eat dinner first. Hungry? He asks. I smile in agreement. He asks:

- "Maybe we should go to the restaurant just like this?"

- "Might as well, my clothes are all wrinkled."

- "Maybe we should have desert first."

On that note Lateef finds the brown box, opens it and presents it to me.

In there I see two beautiful red-ripe strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.You made these? I ask. He smiles proudly, yes. I can't help myself. I reach to take one as I declare "I love you."

I cried when Lateef left for Paris. Not in front of him, of course. We were all hugs and laughter in the airport. The good thing about the San Francisco airport is... I mean there are a lot of bad things about the San Francisco airport but there are some good things including, for example, the beautiful glass case displays. Even the flight delays were welcomed that day. We spent two and a half absolutely joyous hours together before we didn't say goodbye. "See you soon," I waved unable to utter the more appropriate parting note. He only smiled fearing any word that escaped his mouth would turn into a heart-wrenching scream. Four months later, a thousand phone calls not made and multitudes of letters not sent, I finally decide to go to Paris for a week. I was going crazy. The distance had turned into giant bags of hot coal I carried on my back every day leaving traces of the gray dust of loneliness behind me wherever I went. I didn't call him. Surprise and all. Always a bad idea. I've seen it fail in enough movies to have known better... but when you're in love, or in lust, you're propelled by forces stronger than memories of heartbreak scenes. I had his address but decided to call from Orly instead of just showing up at his door. Honestly, I was just too tired for public transportation and was hoping to get a ride. Lateef picked up the phone.

- "Aloew?"

- "Bonjour! C'est moi."

- "Qui? It's you! Is it you? Mon dieu."

- "Yes. Are you happy to hear my voice?"

- "I'm shocked. And yes, happy. It's been..."

- "Four months."

- "And three days."

- "Can you pick me up from the airport?"

- "Of course. I will fly to you and you fly to me. This is a great surprise, I didn't expect..."

- "I did."

- "What?"

- "Fly to you."

- "..."

- "Lateef? I've come to climb to the top of the Arc De Triumph, remember? Will you bring your guitar?"

- "You have come... You have? Here in Paris?"

- "Yes, I'm at the Orly airport."

- "..."

- "Are you busy? It's okay. I can take the metro. I'll just go to a hotel. I'm actually here for work and thought maybe we could see each other. If you had time... and wanted tom that is. If not, don't worry about it, it's okay. I know my way around in Paris. Oh, don't worry about me, I should have called from the U.S. I'm sorry I never called."

- "I left you messages."

- "I know."

- "You..."

- "I'm sorry. I wasn't sure... "

- "Once from San Francisco."

- "What?"

- "I left a message when I was in San Francisco last month."

- "You were? You did? But you didn't..."

- "You can still stay with us if you want. It's no problem. There are many people here but you will be comfortable sharing the guest room. I think."

- "I can? Oh, good. The guest room? Who else is there?"

- "Oh, you know family... friends..."

- "Oh, good..."

- "They're here for the wedding tomorrow."

- "Oh, I love weddings. This is great timing."

- "Yes, it is."

- "Who's getting married?"

- "Me."

- "Oh."

Paris looks beautiful from the top of the Arc de Triumph. I know that for a fact now. A long time ago I read somewhere: Act from love, not from fear. And somewhere else: Fear not what your country can do to you, but what you can do to yourself. Or something like that. Standing here amid the noise and the smoke I anticipate only one hundred years of solitude. A loneliness so grave it will bury me forever. Regrets, I have a few... I will sing when I'm seventy.

I never returned the phone calls of the man I loved, who loved me. Who needed to know I love him. Iraj would have just shown up and expected a royal treatment. Lateef left messages. Iraj has given up on "us" and moved on. Lateef has married another. I stand alone in Paris, the city of love, on top of the Arc de Triumph. Life is all about ironies.

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