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Standing In The Silence

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He offers her his arm, but she does not take it

Dina is occupied with putting on her sweater, and she does not notice Tewfiq holding his arm out so she can wrap her hand around it. He does it automatically, without thinking, as they step outside her apartment, the automatic courtesy he would offer to any woman, the same way that he calls her Madame, unfailingly, even as she uses his first name.

He does not offer again, because they have already started walking, and now it would be an awkward gesture, one out of place.

As they talk, he realizes that Dina is not used to being treated with courtesy. She mentioned her ex husband earlier, and there was dulled anger in her voice that belaid an old hurt. At the restaurant, he sees her interaction with Sami, and he thinks that men have not treated her well at all.

Dina acts hard, callous to the world around her, but it is outside circumstances that have made her so. She covers her heart most of the time, but during their evening together she lets the veil slip a few times: when she talks about Umm Kulthum and Omar Sharif and her eyes light up with longing for the old black and white romantic world of Arab movies, when she dances to the music she chose from the ancient jukebox in the restaurant, when she watches him as he sings to her, drinking in the sounds of a language that she does not understand.

“You would have been a good mother,” he says at the end of their evening and he means it. Dina would have been, with her immense capacity for feeling, for the way that she reaches out to others, her generosity.

He saw the way that Dina offered them food and shelter, shouting down the protests of the other men at the cafe, insisting that the entire band would have some place to stay.

Such a soul. Tewfiq thinks that she is amazing.

“Say something Arabic,” Dina commands him. “Anything, just so I can hear the music,” and all his own language flies out of his head, and he ends up saying something about the weather.

He cannot make connections like she can, and as they walk back to her flat, he knows that he has upset her somehow. But he cannot think in what way, or how to broach the subject. Dina would deny it anyway, he feels certain.

So Tewfiq says nothing, as he said nothing to his wife after their son died. Then and now, he cannot think of the words, in Arabic or in English.

Dina is hurting and Tewfiq wants to help. He cannot. He goes to bed and leaves her alone, with Haled and wine and darkness, in an apartment with all the windows open because she cannot afford air conditioning.

He is a conductor and can call forth music from dozens of instruments just by waving his hands, but here he is powerless and he cannot bring any music forth into the silence.