The Introduction

We imagine that all romantic stories will have a sigh-worthy romantic beginning. But beginnings are when the heart awakens, when the soul remembers. A presence stills and emerges from the shadows of time.

His first memory was when she introduced herself in the class. 

Introduction is a ritual. A cumbersome ritual. How does one reduce the tapestry of one’s entire existence, the colors, and the many weaves into a single palatable thread?

An introduction that reduces you.

In a class of diverse cultures, the struggle is tougher. How to stand out in a crowd that is already preset as unique? In the heterogeneity of belonging, somewhere we are reduced as homogenous beings. The same. The same.

Zehen blanked out. Till Madeeha spoke. A Jordanian-American. A woman traveling and living in multiple worlds. Like him.

She was simply clad in hipster jeans and a nice blouse, hair layered, teamed around her shoulders. Zehen looked at her again. The fact she wore no hijab made him curious.

Her face had a sense of ephemeral beauty, a transient look — exquisite and plain at the same time. Like sand dunes shaped by the wind, now here and now there. He knew that if he turned away and returned to that face, something imperceptibly would have changed. If he looked at her long enough, he thought, maybe he could catch that slight shift in her radiance.

Her eyes were water. He imagined her in hijab, eyes pouring under the veil. They must look like a mirage of an oasis in the desert. In the initial days, he worried her eyes had become permanently moist from some memory, some ghosts from the past. And yet, every time he looked closer, her eyes were steady and still like a cold heavy desert night.

Maybe those eyes had seen violence. Violence that numbs the soul. Now perhaps only the head worked, coolly, calmly extricating whatever remained of pain. Or maybe she was trained to keep her heart in check. So while the eyes stayed steady, perhaps the heart pounded its own lament.

He wanted to know her.

She walked like any other American, the same straight spine, the same swag, the same self-assurance. Like any other young woman. She carried no air of the places she had been. As if she was an ordinary everyday graduate of an American university here for further studies. Her words left no trace of where she had been. Just silence remained. A certain reserve.

He remembered how badly he wanted to know if she had noticed him. 

It is difficult to guess women. They can avert gaze, freeze their body, monotone their voice, and yet, behind the veils of nonchalance, think only of you.

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