A Stain of Myrrh
Her fingers felt wet and strange passing over the stiff rice and slimy chicken in the community bowl that everyone shared in front of her. Her hand was burning as the hot fare seethed into her palm until she quickly propelled the food into her waiting mouth. Her knees began to ache as they bore the weight of her body pressing in on them in an Indian style position on the floor. And her ears filled with sounds of Arabic being flung around the room like exhalated hiccups aimed at no one in particular. She was a foreigner in her own living room. She thought about using her standard, "Guys, English Please!" interrupt, but today she simply relished the sounds and movements around her, treating it like dinner music, sounds that she could play her own thoughts and eat her own corner portion of the dinner bowl to.
"Eat, C´mon!" begged one of the coffee-colored, western-dressed Arabs as he motioned with his hand toward her still tall heap of rice. She ate her portion at a snail´s pace compared to the rest of the circle of diners, all male, all typically famished despite lunch only hours ago. "What kind of meat is this exactly?" she wondered aloud. Her question brought about the group´s common debate over meat types. "Sheep," one piped. "No, lamb!" another said. "Goat," another corrected. All debatable depending on what word was being tied to what imagery and what Arabic tied to what English, the common and confusing plight for all involved. No matter, she thought, and used her right hand to skillfully fork a bite-sized chunk of meat, freshly ripped from the small rib cage in the center of the platter, placed lovingly on top of her rice pile by the sweet smelling Arab next to her. "Shokrun," she said. "English, Please!" he jokingly and sarcastically responded. "Ok, thank you" she agreed with a flirty tease.
The taste of the rice with meat leaked flavor, flavors that were once unfamiliar to her. Cumin, Cardamom, Baharat, and Aniseed. Once only names she found in her bible or in passing as she perused recipes. Little did she know that the spice trade in ancient Arabia was only minorly reflected in the food on her pallet at current. Little did she know that as far as is East truly is from West, somehow at that moment in her life, that moment on the floor in front of a Bedouin meal, those spheres connected. Like electricity finding its circular path and finally igniting, there was a spark of something spectacular happening. And then his left hand touched her back, "Are you done?" "Yes, it was latheeth (delicious), darling, thank you," she said. "C´mon," he said as they both stretched one leg at a time in an attempt to lift themselves out of the chair-styled sitting position they pretzeled themselves into, leaving the others to ravage the remains of food.
Standing there with him at the kitchen sink, she watched the parcels of rice and sauce-colored water wash off their hands and then slip down the porcelain drain. Her hands competed with his for the slim stream of warm water while bumping them into the pile of dirty pots and then bumping into his. Whether it was the first time or not she didn´t know, but suddenly the contrast of their skin color was vibrant. Her cream colored hands with pink undertones, bluish veins and red nails against his cinnamon colored skin, darkened cuticles and smooth black hair creeping down from above knuckles and edging up from his wrist. His hands looked baked by a desert sun, while hers seemed softened by a culture full of wax and fat. She could see thousands of years behind them there at the sink, yet here they were, bloodlines ending up together in a place not so likely.
After she dried her hands, she made her way up the stairs that led to her bedroom, feeling contentedly full and surprisingly sleepy. It was a hot summer evening, one where the open windows blew their curtains inside and upward, leaving the bedroom looking a bit like a commercial for cologne. Along with the curtains came the sounds from the outside evening; the whir of cars with an occasional rev, random streetwalkers chattering their voices to a mumble, and a distant bird somewhere attempting to put a soundtrack to the night. She settled down on her bed that had remained disheveled since morning and she lay her head on a beckoning pillow. With a deep breath and her eyes approaching a close, she heard the television in the corner flick on and soon felt a strong hand caress her thigh. "Uhebbek" he told her. "I love you, too," she whispered back. And his hand began to reach toward places on her body that he knew well. In the background, the television droned the voice of monotonous newscasters.
As his lips touched her neck, the quiet of the room supplied the cackle of the television an opportunity for resonance. "At least 15 people died and more than 40 were wounded Tuesday night when a suicide bomber targeted a group of demonstrators..." Slowly, her hand passed over his chest to feel the warmth of his being and the softness of his hair, her cheek pressed against his. "A resolution calling on the President to announce an exit strategy from Iraq was introduced Thursday..." He let his fingers slide over her belly where the indent lay between breast and hip, and he locked his leg with hers. "The city has remained on orange alert since the color-coded warning system was established in the wake of the terrorist attacks..." Then she pressed in against him to feel his strength in the softest of ways and he pressed right back into her. "In a rally against America today, many of the citizens held banners reading ‘Death to America’..." And she sighed a low sigh of happiness, and he whispered a word of love, "You are my life." "And you are mine," she replied. "According to one of the suicide bombers´ family member, he did it for God, for Jihad..."
Afterward, though his eyelids pulled ever downward, his nicotine appetite pulled more heavily still. He moved slowly out of bed and lagged out of the room to satisfy his nag, and she remained there watching the curtains billow in and flow out. Her thoughts churned about in her head thinking on all things current until the process weaved its way around to the previous day. She thought about the animated facial flinch a co-worker gave her in response to the fact that the love of her life was not only Middle Eastern, but also Muslim. How amusing, she thought, if only she could get a snapshot of people´s immediate reactions and then create an album. She´d call it, "America on Arabia." She´d need another entirely different photo album for the Christians´ responses (those from her old church). That one would be entitled "Christians on Muslims." No narrative words, just pictures - that would be enough. She thought about the Mrs. bin Laden jokes and the hurtful judgments to hell. Her mind lay twisted in that bed as it had been for a long time now.
At times, the thoughts of possibilities that harried her were too endless to count, possibilities that discovered an intricate, sometimes fatal end. Will she exit her life in a foreign land? If so, will they chide him for marrying beneath himself? Will her three fatal flaws be found out: Christian, Female, and woe, American? Will they..…….and then he returned, and like a sensor light in opposite, the What ifs shut off. Her mind regained its unity and her vision focused on a figure, a dark man in a dark room, color undefined. His form was like her form, his bones liker hers, all in the same places attached through the same joint structure. In that light, she saw no difference between the shadow of a dark man from the desert or a light man from the plains. In that light, he too saw no difference between a woman shed of an Abaya cloak for him alone or a Western woman bare-skinned, unashamed to be seen in the light of day.
As he crawled back under her warm sheet, his skin greeted hers. She let her fingertips lightly and widely brush his back, from the top of his shoulder to the small of his spine, keeping in time with the rhythmic sweep of her arm. Up and down, swaying to the beat of curtains until her fingers met friction, slowing their easy glide; something sticky, almost wet and cool on his skin, a residue now reassuringly familiar. It was the oil of myrrh and the gel of aloe that he faithfully applied to his skin after washing and before bed. If she checked, it would be under his arms too. Often times, this residue lingered on pillows and bed sheets leaving the sweetest of smells and fondest of nighttime memories. How aromatic they are, she thought. Bringing with them the scents from the south Arabian ancient spice trade, scents that have lasted centuries.
A simple scent. It can stir up anything from a memory to a stomach flu. It can leave a stain on the mind, the heart, even on a cloth, like the mystical Shroud of Turin. That Shroud, covered in similar oils, bled a facial print of a man they thought was Jesus. She wondered how different Myrrh would smell if mixed with blood or another man´s sweat. She wondered if those Iraqi mothers she spoke to on the phone now had that very scent stained on their own hearts. Would her face also leave a stain? A stain on an Abaya cloak, a stain on his heart, a stain on the nations at sword, and a stain on a memory. Her face was buried in his neck where it was warm, where his breath was loud. This, she decided, was where she belonged.