Jay by Hawra’a Khalfan

“I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you know?”

“Yes, go on…”

“Laa’- oh my god- I don’t know how to express this. I just woke up feeling like today something is going to change. I didn’t know what, though. It was one of those shuffle shuffle tap tap days, everything was normal, but I wasn’t. My brain wasn’t normal. One of the switches in my head was just turning fluorescent and pounding. You know? So when he yelled “Jassim, your orders are all wrong. What’s going on with you today, is everything okay with you?” That fluorescent switch erupted like Shiveluch on steroids. And I was just like yup – I’m done – that’s it. I’m fed up of all these broken promises to myself to leave this place. I’m fed up of all the maybe’s and the tomorrow’s. I want to feel free.  I want to let go of this shit! Abi atnafas! Every breath I’ve taken for the first twenty years of my life was pungent with the stench of regret and longing over all the time I wasted. Bas. That’s it. I’m peacing out of this bitch. Oo you know how good the Kuwaiti in me is at dramatic exits? Fa I tore off my apron and exhaled ‘FUCK. YOU. SALEH.’ I then flattened out my frustrated forehead, he’d love to be the reason my face is full of wrinkles in five years, wouldn’t he?” He smirked. ”Anyways, having imagined this moment a million times over I thought I’d have more to say than these three words. Bas somehow, and for some reason, they sufficed. I threw my apron on the ground and ran out. Ya’nee I don’t need the money from the job tech-ni-cally. Baba covers necessities, so I just got it so i’d be able to afford a laptop case, which I technically got. Months ago. So, it’s fine. I’m fine. I can live without new nice things for a while…”

Silence devoured the room whole and erupted within them. They were now lost within their colossal trains of reflection, which they both struggled to barricade and contain. After a deep minute, she finally prevailed to halt the silence and annihilate it. She anchored her pen back in its natural habitat between her fingertips.

“How do you feel now?”

“You know, this moment reminds me of one of my mother’s favorite stories about me as a kid. I dressed up in my sisters cinderella gown, and rushed to show my parents how pretty I looked in it, too. All I got as a response was a lecture on how it was ‘wrong’. Ya’nee I still don’t quite fully understand why it was wrong. I was like five, for fucks sake. I just wanted to be pretty.”

“Why does it remind you of that, exactly? What parallels can you find between both situations?”

“I don’t know, really, I just remember how I erupted then, and how I erupted today. I refused to speak to my parents for a week after that. I just wanted to be pretty! My mother painted her face and straightened her hair day and night. But when I mimicked her I was wrong! Of course I was met with the ‘you’re a man- you should be strong’, but I never comprehended that, either. My strength doesn’t have to be physical or emotional, what’s wrong with that ya’nee?”

He looked up examining the room, exhausted from all the gray he divulged. She didn’t respond, preferring to treat that question rhetorically. They sat in silence, mentally picking at his embers.

“So, you’re saying the only relationship you find between both experiences is your self expression?”

He nodded. She scribbled more attentively into her notepad, then looked up at him with a small smirk on her face.

“So, what now?” She asked.

“Now!” The question caught him off guard, causing a million thoughts to flood back into his mind. In reality, he hadn’t thought of ‘now’ at all. “Um, What now?” His hands automatically sought each other for solace. “I don’t know. I want to do something I’m good at. I’m good at writing, I think. You know they say every writer’s worst critic is him or herself. Wallah If i’m being really honest, I only applied for the waitressing gig because of baba, he refuses to pay for things he considers ‘luxuries’, whatever that means. I needed that Balenciaga laptop case, just like I needed the Bulgari sunglasses after that.” I paused. “I mean, we do live in a dessert! The sun is blinding. Does he want me to go blind! It’s not like I asked him for a private jet!” He immediately recognized that he was going to dig himself into another tantrum, so he interrupted himself by flattening down his ruffled forehead. “Wallah, at this rate, i’m going to get wrinkles faster than a homeless cokehead.” He smiled.

She studied his face, posture, hands and his face shape. He looked to her like someone who was once full of passion.

“You’re saying you don’t need to get another job?”

“No. I’m going to eventually need the money. But for now I’ll look. Maybe I can get some freelance work?” Having realized she was reading his body language, he was starting to get self conscious about his facial expressions and manually flattened his forehead again gently.

“You said you have a Bachelor of English Literature, and a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing?”

“If you want to be technical about it, yeah.”

“Have you tried to pursue being a teacher, or a writer?”

“Hellz no!” He burst. “Me, a teacher?”

She looked at him patiently waiting for an explanation.

He gulped a mouthful of air. “Okay, this is how I see it. I can’t teach just because I love the language. It’s not enough. I don’t love teaching. I just love literature. Ya’nee imagine what I’d do to the little fuckers they put me in charge of!” His eyes zoomed in on her zealous pen and notepad. “Look, I love the mystery behind it. I love figuring out what makes writers write. My dream is to find a physical entity within a writer that is the part in their brain that blends in all their experiences at that moment in their life and just create using it all.” He looked down at his hands, “just CRE-ATE! You know? And as for being a writer; let’s be realistic. Before the crash it was hard to make a living writing, and now it’s actually impossible. Even if I wanted to sell my soul to the devil and write for a newspaper, i’d be making more more money as a waiter.”

“So, is it about money or not? As a young adult today, where do you think this need for luxury comes from?”

“I think that’s an unfair question. Where does anybody’s need for luxury come from?” He started getting agitated. “I just needed those things. I didn’t spend that money on things I didn’t use. It’s just like things I needed.”

“That doesn’t answer the question. Why did you need a laptop case that you would only be able to afford after months of saving. Why not just a regular decently priced one?”

“For the quality, it is decently priced.”

She gave him a blank expression. She wondered how he can still give such a response.

“Inzain, there was this one kid who at school with me. His name was Mish’al. The only honest way to describe him is if you call him an ogre. He was rude, foul, smelly, and just weia’. Nobody wanted to be his friend. His idea of ‘joking’ with you was to wipe his snot on his hand and hunt you down, threatening to wipe it on you. He did it to me TWICE. Am-baih. I’m still tormented by him today. You can imagine that he had no friends, and he made up for that by eating his heart out during recess.” He giggled “Once we all signed a petition to get the school to kick him out, which led us all to get recess detention for a week. Fa anyway, I was in seventh grade at the time and faj’aa Mish’al shows up to school with a Nokia in his hand. That was a huge deal. Ya’nee the only people I knew with cellphones were Stacey Dash and my dad. You know? Suddenly, his eating habits were “cute” and his popularity boosted to the extent that people huddled around just to watch him play Snake. Suddenly, he had the ‘cool’ parents who let him bring his phone to school. Suddenly he was invited to everyone’s birthday party. Suddenly, I started seeing his face everywhere. And all he needed for that was a phone! So, before I knew it, I was begging baba for a phone. But by the time I got one it wasn’t good enough because there was this new thing called an iPod, which became the more exclusive thing to have. I just HAD to be the first to get one. And the cycle began. If you didn’t get nice things when they’re the thing to have, you basically don’t have a social life anymore.”

“You’re saying your need for things is directly related to your popularity. You still haven’t answered the question though- where do you think your need for luxury comes from?”

A puzzled look sculpted itself on his face. “I don’t know,” He whispered to himself.

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