It is Sunday evening and my phone buzzes with the message I’ve been waiting for all day.
Hey! You’re back!
I curse myself for being so eager as I type. Sounding so eager. I hardly know this man.
Missed me, did you?
I side-eye my fiancé, Hasan, who stares unblinkingly at the TV, oblivious to everything but the football game going on there. Oblivious to me.
Not even a bit
My heart squeezes in a combination of excitement and fear as I type.
TU for the photo. You look lovely in your pink hijab
I flush with pleasure at the lie. I am a horrible person, I think, looking at Hasan, again.
Now who’s a liar?
I’m not lying. You look lovely. And sad.
What made you sad in that photo, Zarine?
I was not sad.
You have a lovely smile. You should smile more
How would you know? You don’t know what my smile looks like
I want to make you smile
I look at Hasan again, engrossed in his NFL world. As usual, I’m left to entertain myself on a Sunday—the only day we have in our schedules to be together. Get to know each other.
Will you smile for me?
I was already. Thank heavens he couldn’t see me.
Through the phone?
I can make you smile, you know
I bite my lip to keep from grinning. Shoot Hasan another look.
Oh, yeah? How will you do that?
A picture of a bushel of puppies appears on the screen. The male pups have bowties on. The females have pink ribbons on. Adorable!
I made you smile, didn’t I?
TU for smiling for me
I stop smiling. What was I doing? Why was my heart racing?
Hasan stirs beside me.
I have to go
Dream of me, sweet Zarine
The next evening.
The message had come an hour ago. Shit.
I’m free now. Was having dinner with my family
I stare at the screen for several covetous minutes. No reply. Not even those thinking dots.
Guess you’re busy
I have to stop this madness. It can’t go anywhere.
The next day.
Hey! Was out with work buddies last night
At work now
Will ping you at lunch tomorrow
The next afternoon at lunch.
I’m hoping to get lucky today
I snatch my phone up from where it lay on my work desk.
There you are. Finally caught you 🙂
How have you been?
Busy like you
I take a deep breath. My sister has seen Tom’s texts.
I can’t do this anymore
Exchange messages. I’m getting married in six months
You can’t chat with a friend because you’re getting married?
I close my eyes, briefly. Then, I type and I try to stitch the broken pieces of me together.
You’re not a friend. We met on a fanfic site two weeks ago. That’s not friendship
Maybe not yet. But, we’re trying to build one, right?
I shake my head at the screen, wishing for the impossible.
Am I wrong?
I can’t. Please understand. I’m getting married
Six months is a long way away
It doesn’t matter when or how long away. I…
I shouldn’t engage with him anymore. I should end this—whatever it is—now. My peace of mind, my freedom is at stake. If Hasan or my father find out … My sister has warned me of this—of wanting something I am never going to have.
I have to go. I don’t have time for this
No time to make friends? Or …
Not enough time to adjust to the idea of marriage?
I gasp, shocked by what he’s written. Implied. Understood.
Don’t presume to know my mind
I’m not. I’m trying to know YOU
Allah. Oh, crap. I take a deep, deep breath.
It made no sense. This connection. His … interest.
Why not? We enjoy chatting, don’t we? About books and life. It’s harmless, Zarine.
Is it? It doesn’t seem harmless. Doesn’t feel harmless
I feel like I can write anything to him. Be honest like I never have before.
What does it feel like?
Like cheating, I think to myself.
I don’t know
Freeing. I feel free when we chat.
Do you think about our chats? Do you think about me?
See? That’s inappropriate. And don’t change the subject
This has to stop!
I don’t want to argue with you. I’d rather flirt 😉
You can’t write such things. Or wink at me
Why not? It’s the truth. And we do it so well. Flirting
A fire ignites in my belly. Races toward my face.
I’m going now. Goodbye
Yet, I linger. My fingers hover over the tiny phone keyboard for several minutes.
You can’t leave, can you?
I should not reply. I should not.
How do you know I’m still here?
I know YOU
Tears prick my eyes and I have no idea why.
This is stupid
It’s actually amazing. You feel it too
How is this happening? We don’t even know each other
I’m trying to rectify that. I want to know you, Zarine. I want you to know me
I’m getting married
I sound like a broken record.
In six months. I’m asking you to chat with me now
For what purpose?
Does there have to be a purpose?
Not everything has a purpose. Or even needs one
I’m attracted to Tom, the philosopher.
What is YOUR purpose?
Flirting with you 😉
I laugh, my emotions a roller coaster.
That’s your current occupation. Not your purpose in life
Why are you laughing?
You make me laugh
No one’s ever said that to me
I slap a hand over my mouth, regretting that reveal immediately. Plus, it’s a lie. I make my sisters laugh.
Not even your betrothed?
Allah, no. Nothing about Hasan and I is laughable.
And, who says betrothed in 2020?
I really have to go. Goodbye
I switch off my phone to avoid more temptation, but not fast enough to hide his reply.
I’ll chat with you tomorrow. Dream of me, sweet Zarine.
That’s it. We are done, I vow. This flirtation with Tom ends today.
The next afternoon.
I ignore the text. I sit on my hands so I don’t type a reply.
If you have time, I really need someone to chat with today. I’ve had a rough day
My heart squeezes painfully. And before I know it, I’m typing.
What happened? What’s wrong?
I’m overjoyed that you’re still speaking to me
I narrow my eyes.
If this is a ploy to get me to talk, I won’t stand for it.
Everything is a ploy in the game of life. We agreed on that
It’s not a ploy, Zarine
Impatiently, I wait for him to tell me about his day. His troubles.
You’re worrying me. What happened, Tom?
I can get used to it. YOU, worrying about ME
Allah! Back to flirting! You’re impossible
You make everything okay
Be serious. What’s the matter?
Distract me from it. Please
I inhale noisily, understanding his words, their meaning. Understanding him.
I forward a joke my aunt sent me. Something about husbands and wives and rolling pins.
LOL. Don’t know why I’m laughing. It was not that funny
Have you any naughty ones?
I roll my eyes.
Grow up, child
Are you sure you’re 26 and not 79?
Are you sure you’re 26 and not 15?
Did you dream of me?
I laugh, despite his ego.
SMH. What is it with you and dreams?
They are the only real thing. The windows of our true selves
Deep. Not sure I believe it, though
Confession. I’m an insomniac. I don’t dream at all. Thus, I crave other people’s dreams
He doesn’t dream? How awful.
I don’t know what to say except sorry
Don’t be. It is what it is
Tell me the truth. Did you dream of me?
No. I’m a deep sleeper
🙁 I’m crushed
I laugh again, despite myself. Despite the forbidden, the dangerous. Despite Hasan.
I don’t dream of you
Don’t rub it in
I daydream about you
Allah, what am I doing? I have to stop this.
Tom doesn’t reply. No smart-alecky emojis or cocky flirting against my confession.
He says nothing.
Have I gone too far?
Tom? Are you still there?
Will you meet me, Zarine?