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And So It Goes

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In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong

Dina’s heart had been kept under lock and key for as long as she could remember. A failed attempt at becoming a mother led to a failed marriage, which led to countless other relationships that never worked out, no matter how desperately she tried to save them. She had no plans to wed again. She swatted at the very concept of marriage like a petulant child with no care for matters such as with whom she would spend the rest of her life. She wasn't opposed to the idea of being with somebody for life, but the very thought of having to go through another wedding and being resigned to married life and all its sickly domesticity revolted her.

Years passed, and by the time she hit 40, Dina felt herself to be too undesirable for the hopping night life of the city. There was almost no one left for her in the tiny desert town of Beit Hatikva when she returned. Her parents had passed, and her friends had moved on. She grew into a habit of keeping mostly to herself, and often took advantage of the time she had to reflect.

After she had settled back into the home that had become a foreign concept for her, she realized how utterly alone she was. Was she alone because there was nobody who wanted her? Because she wasn't ready? Or was she longing for solitude? Upon her return, there was only Papi, who she hadn’t seen since she babysat him as a small boy. Upon inheriting the café, she vowed to keep him employed while she could, just so he could lay claim to the apartment on the second floor. Having him around kept her spirit light, though her heart was still heavy. As she began to pick up the pieces of her life, Dina found sanctuary in young Papi.

Tewfiq's own heart was still recovering from the loss of his wife and his son. He still couldn’t come up with a reason for why he chose to share the most private aspect of his life with a woman who only seemed interested in his music to be hospitable. Though he knew that it would do him no good to dwell on the past, he kept his emotions carefully guarded, especially around people who were strangers. Kind and generous though they had been, the residents of Beit Hatikva were still strangers. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, even Dina was a stranger, despite their many shared interests. Even when she was modestly dressed for work in worn jeans and a sweater with loose threads hanging from its ribbed hem, she seemed to hold some strange allure and had a smoky sense of regality surrounding her. They bonded over a similar fondness for the Omar Sharif movies and the classic Arabic music upon which his band was built. As the night grew longer, Tewfiq found sanctuary in his music.

To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along

Dina did not look back fondly upon her history with men - with anyone, really - outside the confines of her few friends and the younger population of the town that she had mentored. With her husband, there was often yelling as a cruel follow up to the initial hurling of accusations and insults. He had not been a good man, and her life was made unfathomably more difficult for having married him. Even so, it took nearly six years of suffering through his liquor-infused evenings of agony for her to come to her senses enough to want out.

Each one of the relationships she threw herself into following her divorce had been her feeble attempts at recovery, but every last one of them only plunged her further into depression. Eventually, she moved back to Beit Hatikva, ready to live out the rest of her years alone, simply waiting for the day the old scenery would change. Her first night back home, she prayed for nothing but hope, while musicians from the old records she had recently pulled from dusty boxes in her parents’ basement sang for Dina alone.

Tewfiq made his profession a priority after the passing of his family. He immersed himself in his work, and he made frequent attempts to get lost in his music. It was his healing process. When Dina asked him to sing, he closed off immediately, brushing off her request. But when she raised her arms and looked him in the eyes, her blue gaze piercing his soul, he obliged upon her wishes. His voice was low and tentative at first, but he soon gained strength and began to sing with more certainty. He was sure that the language was foreign to her, but he was letting himself feel true emotion for the first night in a long time. That night, Tewfiq sang for Dina alone.

I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense

Tewfiq was a conductor. He was the head of his orchestra, and his musicians depended on his guidance. He was no stranger to opening new doors for their music, so why did it feel so different to come up with a melody to describe the strange connection he felt with this town and its mysterious matriarch. He found new places and people to be beautiful and intriguing as immediately and as apparently as we find the sun to be warm or sugar sweet, and this town was no different.

Tewfiq played no instruments, so his voice was his only method of carrying a tune. Dina offered him a tentative smile, encouraging him as he began to sing. He sang of drinking and of loneliness, but his tone resonated with happiness and hope as well. Keeping his gaze on her, he began to intertwine the feeling of her eyes on him, carefully observing his movements, and how she seemed to glow in the moonlight when she heard his words. Reality seemed like such a distant and disappointing thought in comparison to the world which he and Dina were living in as the moment came where Tewfiq began to lose himself in the music.

Dina studied the man seated on the bench beside her. Their night had quickly turned from a simple evening in a lovely diner to a complicated blend of… feelings in the pitiful excuse for a park. She explained to him the movements of the sea, the softness of the grass, the rush of wind on a cool day. The promised gems hidden in the park were blended among a stew of ordinary images of desert sky and dusty streets. She watched him, intrigued, as he ran through the motions of conducting the score for the concert set for the following evening. His movements fascinated her, and she longed to know the stories behind his words. He sung in a language unknown to her, but that did not matter. She felt honey in her ears, and she sighed as the melody coated her senses. She decided then that Tewfiq was the sea, and she was merely a grain of sand, prepared to be washed away. Dina closed her eyes, focusing solely on his voice, and began to lose herself in the music.

And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self-defense

"Dina," Tewfiq hesitated, unsure if he should continue. This confession would change the trajectory of their evening drastically. "My wife… she died because of me."

Dina closed her mouth abruptly. Her words from earlier in the day came flooding back to her, how she had mocked the naivety of youth as it pertained to their lives. She had said those things without knowing a shred of information about his life, or how her words would resonate within him. She knew what it felt like to have lost loved ones, but she had never experienced a love like Tewfiq had known with his wife. Dina couldn't find it in her heart to blame him for what happened, but she understood that he would not allow her to try convincing him otherwise. An uncomfortable silence had fallen between the pair, but she was unable to bring herself to continue their conversation. Dina felt a longing to comfort him, somehow. Somehow, only Dina hadn't the slightest idea how to approach Tewfiq. She hardly knew him at all, and there was something about that realization that pained her.

There was tension between them, but the kind of tension that was impossible to place or name with a single word. Her eyes fell on Tewfiq, who met her glance with worry in his eyes. She kept her eyes on him, intense and cool. She looked almost on the verge of saying something, but remained silent for fear of adding to the damage. Dina pushed any hopes for a positive outlook on what was left of the evening to the back of her mind and fell silent for the remainder of their walk home, thinking about what she had done.

Tewfiq regretted telling her almost as soon as the words left his mouth. He could see the pity flash across her eyes. He did not want her sympathy, but he desperately wanted her to understand that this "love" she had been talking about all evening would not come easily, especially if he were the one from whom she was seeking it. Her argument with Sami had shown him how tense she was about her past, and the last thing he wanted to do was become another disappointment in her life. No one spoke because neither knew what to say. Either Dina offered deft comfort, or Tewfiq opened up further. Both options were equally unappealing. Tewfiq knew she was hurting, but he understood that she didn’t realize how she had also torn open old wounds for him that night. When Dina had pushed him too far with the questions, he was no longer the man who had a heart full of music to share. He was suddenly retreating behind the wall he’d built up for himself and cowering beneath the shields because he was afraid to face the grief that still lingered. A long silence had fallen over the pair, yet Dina's imperious gaze didn't shift. He stared at the ground for the remainder of their walk home, thinking about what he had done.

And every time I’ve held a rose
It seems I only felt the thorns

Dina never had good fortune with men. Why should this time be any different? What led her to believe that Tewfiq wouldn’t just let her go, like all the lovers of her past. Each one prickled at the edge of her mind, threatening to break through her walls, but she guarded herself with such resolve that they all remained in their rightful places, tucked away in the dark confines of her heart. The memories left of any lost love were tainted with her tears.

Tewfiq hadn't loved anyone in years, not since his wife and son had passed, leaving him utterly alone. Their memories kept him going, not with the promise that he would one day discover a new love, but with the reminder that there would always be someone watching over him, loving from afar. The memories of his lost love were strengthened with his tears.

And so it goes, and so it goes
And so will you soon I suppose

Dina knew their time together was limited. The orchestra and its members would all be leaving in the morning for the illustrious city of Petah Tikvah. They all had busy lives they were returning to, and all she had was her café. It got quite lonely, but Dina didn't mind. Her work kept her busy on the weekends and she had plenty of time for herself in the evening each night. She had dreams, just like everyone else in the world, but she never got the strength to live them out once she returned to the tiny desert town. Her life, which in dreams was so beautiful, so poetic, vast, and filled with love, would turn out to be just like everyone else's: monotonous, sensible, stupid.

The strange thing that Tewfiq had noticed about Dina was that she was impossible to read. She had so many gates surrounding her mind that the only glimpse he had into her soul was through the music and the poetry in which she spoke about the scenery. Her appreciation for the seemingly mundane aspects of living in Beit Hatikva was transparent, but her eyes betrayed her— he could tell that she longed for something more. Tewfiq had quite enjoyed the tranquility of the small patch of land that was the town's park, but the stillness of the air had been jarred upon Sami's intrusion. Flustered, Dina had politely agreed to his request to return home. That's when Tewfiq had initially taken his misjudged leap of faith in sharing a bit of his history.

But if my silence made you leave
Then that would be my worst mistake

Tension still ran high between the pair when they arrived on Dina's doorstep that evening. They had both been shaken by the events of the evening, but Tewfiq remained silent as he nodded to Haled, who was already seated in the kitchen, apparently having waited up for them. Dina half-heartedly offered him more wine, but his polite refusal signaled the conclusion of their night. She tried and failed to fight back tears as Tewfiq retreated down the hall. She knew her attempts to get him to open up had brought forth memories of which he was not so fond, and she would never forgive herself if her words had hurt him so much that he wanted nothing to do with her. Another failed act of desperation for love—that's what he would become in her history. Dina’s whole life had been nothing but a failure. She remained alone in her kitchen with Haled, the outspoken trumpet player, silently seated in the darkness. She avoided his gaze, painfully aware of her dampened cheeks that she tried so desperately to hide when Tewfiq had turned from her for the second time that night.

Tewfiq sighed when the door had finally closed behind him, sealing himself away from the world at last. His modest suitcase lay nestled at the foot of the bed in Dina's guest room. He hung up his suit and sat down heavily on the bed. He had been traveling for much of the day, so it was no surprise that Tewfiq hadn't the energy to stay up. The evening had been long, and he drifted off only moments after his head had laid on the pillow. The last thought that went through his mind before he succumbed to sleep was the strange look in Dina's eyes that she tried so desperately to hide when he turned away from her for the second time that night.

So I will share this room with you
And you can have this heart to break

Haled noticed that Dina was visibly distraught upon the departure of his superior. and wondered briefly what had passed between the two of them over dinner. They had been gone much longer than the time required for a simple meal but, then again, so had he. The evening with Papi had been fun at first, but he had slipped into boredom when his new acquaintance left with his date. He could feel the exhilaration from earlier slowly fading from his aura, his shoulders beginning to sag as exhaustion started to set in. The mood in the room had shifted abruptly upon Tewfiq's departure, and Haled couldn't help but feel as though he had interrupted something by being in the room when they returned. Not expecting much of a response from other than maybe an amused glance, he voiced his signature compliment.

"You have beautiful eyes," he whispered. It was true—they were filled with swirling thoughts, but her eyes held some allure that he couldn't quite place. There was no better adjective.

When Haled's utterance infiltrated her mind, she snapped from her reminiscent haze with eyes glazed over with tears. Dina wasn't a crier, so she scolded herself, thinking she ought to stop appearing so pathetic in front of strangers. She might as well have had "woman on the verge of despair, desperate for love" written across her forehead in big, bold lettering. She looked at him with an incredulous stare, eyes still misty. When realization flitted across her face, she did the only thing she knew how to do when a man with seemingly genuine interests approached her. She pulled him down by the lapels of his suit and connected their lips. She couldn't find reason for why she did it, save for the fact that they were both lonely and disappointed individuals, but she found herself in Haled's arms that night. Despite every piece of her heart that was yearning for the man down the hall, she tucked her head closer into Haled's shoulder and drifted into an uncomfortable sleep, willing the morning never to come.

And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen

Tewfiq straightened his tie as he entered the hallway of Dina’s apartment the following morning. There was no sign of either Dina or the young trumpet player, and her door at the end of the hall remained closed, so he wandered out into the kitchen. The fresh smell of coffee greeted him, and he saw Dina leaning against the counter and cradling a steaming mug. Her hair was still down, cascading around her shoulders in a wild array of curls. The lamp cast a triangular gleam over her face as she nodded a cordial greeting in his direction.

“Coffee?” she asked quietly, remembering his polite refusal from yesterday.

“No, thank you.” The same reply as the day before.

Dina avoided his gaze. She busied herself in making a second cup of coffee for the young trumpet player as he emerged from the room at the end of the hall. She desperately hoped that Tewfiq wouldn't notice. If he did, he made no effort to acknowledge it. She wished they could stay in the soft light of her kitchen for the rest of eternity because she knew that, when she set foot outside her apartment, that would be the last glimpse she could catch of them before the bus arrived. She knew it was impossible to revel in the moment forever—she had a café to open in five minutes. She sighed and tied up her hair, finishing her preparations for what would likely be another uneventful day at work. The bus was scheduled to arrive in Beit Hatikva at 8:30. She wished for it never to show.

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows

Tewfiq had trusted her with a piece of his heart that he hadn't shared with anyone else up to that night, and she had still managed to let it slip through her fingers. None of his bandmates knew the reason behind the deaths of his wife and children, and now she was the sole recipient of his story. He was afraid of her reaction, but she seemed to take it well—better than expected. When he left the town of Beit Hatikva, he would leave his secrets with Dina. He hoped that she would hold them close. His heart could always see what his eyes chose to ignore, and he felt a strange longing as he turned to leave.

Dina printed the name of the town neatly in English on a small piece of paper she had hastily torn from her notepad before she left to meet the band outside the café. Petah Tikva. That was where they needed to end up, and they had a long ride ahead of them. She quickly added in the small Hebrew symbols, though she knew they would mean nothing to Tewfiq, only to aid the bus driver.

"This is the place. Petah Tikva," she murmured, "with a P."

Tewfiq allowed himself to smile, remembering the pronunciation gaffe that had landed his orchestra in the middle of nowhere the day before. Dina gently pressed the folded note into his palm and matched his soft smile, the warmth of her eyes no longer brimmed with tears—only a tinge of regret. She lifted her hand in a half-hearted wave as Tewfiq followed the members of his orchestra to the bus.

So I would choose to be with you
That’s if the choice were mine to make

Dina had half a mind to ask him to stay, but she knew her efforts would be futile. The band had a concert halfway across the country that evening that none of the musicians could afford to miss, much less without their conductor. Dina couldn't bear to look at him, lest he become aware of how pained her expression was. She turned and walked back to Papi, who was waiting for her outside the café. She waited for his gaze to drop, knowing that would signify he had lost sight of Haled. She turned, comforted by the fact that she could not see them through the tinted windows. As she waved them good-bye, she tried not to let the sorrow show in her eyes. The tide had gone out on the sea, and it had taken the band with it. As the bus started down the dusty, now-leaving-nowhere, road, Dina quickly wiped away her tears and followed Papi back inside the café, knowing it was only a hopeful wish that she would ever see the band or Tewfiq again.

Tewfiq had half a mind to ask her to come with them, to attend their concert and see their music for real, but he knew he couldn’t. She had a life here, in the desert town of Beit Hatikva. She had a job, and citizens who saw her as the leader of their society. He couldn’t pull her away from her life like that. So, with her little piece of paper tucked safely in his sleeve, he boarded the bus with his orchestra. He did not look back upon the town as they began the dirt path back to modern civilization. He was certain if he took a second glance, he wouldn’t be able to remain on that bus for much longer. Tewfiq knew it would likely only be in his dreams that he could ever see that café or Dina again.

But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break

Tewfiq could not erase the little town of Beit Hatikva from his memory, no matter how hard he tried. Dina had waltzed into his heart, floating in on that jasmine-scented wind, and he could not manage to get her out. As he grew older and the days grew longer, the moment in time spent with Dina seemed like such a small part of his life, but one that he knew he would never forget.

Dina did not recover for a long time after the departure of the band, nor did Papi. There would be days when she would hear a soft knock on her door late at night and she would let him in, retrieving a bottle of red wine from the cupboard. They would sit on Dina's couch in silence, sipping from glasses worn with age. Occasionally Papi would muster up the courage to ask her how she was doing, but seldom did he get a response more elaborate than a shrug, followed by her draining the remainder of her glass.

She doesn't want to function like a woman on the edge of breaking down whenever she hears music, but that night lingers in her memory. No matter how hard she tries to suppress it, she can't erase Tewfiq or the band from her thoughts. Papi tells her that he can't stand to listen to Chet Baker anymore without breaking down over Haled, and Dina softly echoes his sentiments about hearing Uum Kulthum on the radio. She hasn't touched her record player in months. As much as she tries, her life would never return to its state of normalcy. The days were dragging by as they had done before the chance arrival of the police orchestra from Egypt, only now there was a void that she could not seem to fill.

From a wider perspective, this town was all Dina and Papi had ever known. An event like the band's visit was such a huge part of their lives, and one that they knew they would never forget.

Beit Hatikva was a tiny speck of dust in a vast desert. If the town ever saw visitors, once in a blue moon, Dina would offer to tell the story of the foreign band of musicians that touched the lives of everyone in the town.

"Once, not long ago, a group of musicians came from Egypt. You probably didn't hear about it. It wasn't very important."

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows.

fin.