One Last Drink at Guapa

By Saleem Haddad

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One Last Drink at Guapa:

I hover by the entrance, looking for him, when a waiter dressed in a sharp suit comes up to me. “Can I help you?”

“A table for one, please,” I say. He gives me a strange look, confusion transitioning toward disdain, but I repeat my request in English and he is more receptive. As he leads me down the hall I scan the tables for Taymour. Finally I see him, sitting in the center of one of the large tables. There are at least twenty others with him, his family, midway through the meal. Taymour is wearing a white shirt. Their waiter has just placed a large platter of barbecued meat on the table and the family digs in, unaware of the tall, pitiful figure watching them. Taymour carefully hangs an orange napkin from his collar and grabs a few pieces of shish taouk from the platter. An older woman (his mother, or perhaps an aunt?) leans over and puts a barbecued tomato on his plate. Taymour shakes his head and feigns anger, his mouth, those beautiful lips glistening with oil, mouthing “No, no,” but he does not make any attempt to remove the tomato from his plate.

“Are you coming?” the waiter asks impatiently, a few meters ahead.

“Yes, sorry.” I follow him to a table. I sit down and position my chair so that Taymour’s view of me is blocked by a marble pillar and the plastic branches of a fake tree. Regardless, the family is so consumed in their meal, laughing and talking and clinking glasses, that they would likely not notice me if I were to stand at the end of their long table like a lonely ghost.

“What do you want?” the waiter asks.

“An apple hookah and some Turkish coffee, medium, please.”

“That’s it?” he asks tiredly.

“Some baklawa, too.”

After the waiter leaves I return to watching Taymour. My view is restricted by a fat bald man sitting across from him, who moves his head too quickly and too often for me to settle into one position. Taymour is clean-shaven, his hair gelled and combed to one side. His shirt is stretched across his shoulders and arms. How I love getting lost in his arms. I thought seeing Taymour might make me feel better but it only makes me feel worse, because the Taymour sitting across the room from me is the Taymour that society wants, the one who is responsible and hardworking, the good citizen who would never disobey his family or the government. And I would never be invited to sit at the table with that Taymour, to meet his family and share a meal with them, laugh alongside them as I force a barbecued tomato onto his plate. I feel so far away from him, and to think only last night we had our arms around each other.

The waiter brings me my order. I inhale on the hookah and the smoke further obscures my face. I take out the photograph of Abdallah from my bag. His eyes stare back at me, challenging me to find him. In which prison cell in the city are these eyes locked away? There is sadness in those eyes, of a life that did not come easy. Or am I reading too much into his gaze, drawing out lives where they do not exist? I turn the photograph over and grab a pen from my bag. If I cannot say what I want to say to Taymour, if I cannot walk up to him and blurt it out, then I will write it by hand, so that at least he will know how I feel. I will record our history on the back of this photograph and it will stay with us. I’ll give him the picture of Ahmed and Um Abdallah’s son, with my words scrawled on the other side, and as he reads my words, his hands touching the same photograph I touched, the same photograph Um Abdallah and Ahmed touched, Taymour will recognize that we are worth fighting for, and we will all be connected somehow. As I begin to write, in tiny letters to fit it all in, Taymour’s table bursts into a roar of laughter, clinking glasses and cheering.

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