Kareem (part 9 of 10)

Continued from Part 8

kareem 9

She instantly recognizes my voice.

“Kareem… Kareem…”, she turns around and sees me.

I walk towards her and hug her. I missed her smell.

“Happy birthday, mama”.

“Today’s my birthday?”, she asks.

“Yes. Didn’t you know? That’s why it’s such a nice weather outside. Because you hate the rain so much, don’t you?”

“Kifak? I missed you”, she tells me.

“I missed you too. Ana mnee7 mama. Meshta2lik ktir ktir”.

“How’s university? Kif AUB? You’re number one in the class, eh?”.

The nurse laughs. “Typical mother, isn’t she?”, she says.

“Sure is…”, I reply.

“It’s all great mama. Bisi misses you.”

“Bisi…”.

It takes her a second to remember her.

“Bisi…Bisi…habibti. Are you taking care of her?”.

“Yes, mama. Don’t worry about her”, I assure her.

I love how she’s remembering stuff. How she’s lucid.

Then she asks: “How’s your dad?”.

I look at the nurse. We’re both thinking the same thing. We lost her.

“Mama… dad’s gone. He’s been gone for ten years. Remember?”

She looks away… at the window. Confused. Then she remembers what she did when he died. To herself. To us.

“He’s gone. You’re right. I shot myself…but I didn’t die…”.

She looks at me. It all came back to her.

“I’m sorry”, she holds my hand.

“It’s okay. I’m alright”. I wipe the tears off her face and smile at her. “Now let’s eat some cake”.

On my way back home, I think of how my life would have been different.

What if my dad didn’t die when I was so young? What if my mother had coped with his death? What if I wasn’t forced to look after myself since I was a teenager? Would things have been different? But isn’t it such a waste of time wondering “what if”?

I feel empowered after the visit to my mother. People might not like my choices but they’re my choices. I did what I have to do to survive and I have no shame about it. I owe Joe the truth. But if he can’t understand why I am who I am… it’s not on me.

I call him for the 15th time. No reply.

I send him a message. “Please answer your phone. We need to talk. I’ll tell you everything”.

I call after 5 minutes. He picks up.

“Hi…”, I say.

He doesn’t answer.

“Kifak?”.

No answer. But I know he’s listening.

“Can you meet me at my place in an hour?”, I ask him.

I can hear him breathing on the phone.

He hangs up. I take his silence as a sign of confirmation.

I go and get ready for him to come.

I wait for three hours. He’s not showing up. Was I a fool to expect him to come?

Then I hear knocking on the door.

My heart drops… I run to the door and open it.

“Thank you for coming”, I say.

“I’ve been walking around the block for two hours. Trying to decide whether to go up or not”, he says.

“I’m glad you did”.

He enters and sits on the chair. The chair means I’m not off the hook yet.

I grab a chair and sit next to him.

I start off by saying: “There’s a reason why you haven’t met my mom and dad. When my dad died when I was a kid, my mom couldn’t take it. She tried to commit suicide. She didn’t die but in many ways she did”.

Joe leans closer to me.

I continue: “She wasn’t able to take care of me so I lived with my aunt for a couple of years. I was left with nothing. I was all I got. Well, I had Bisi, but she couldn’t exactly pay for med school”.

I point at things around the house. “This… my house… AUB… my bed… what I’m wearing… it was all possible because I do what I do. This is how I survive”.

“But…”, he says. “You lied to me this entire time”.

“I couldn’t let you in. Because if I let you in, I might have to change. And Joe… I can’t change. I’m working hard to be a doctor. That’s my dream”.

“But we can’t be together if you don’t quit this”, he asks.

“I can’t quit it now.”

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Read The Finale here.

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Kareem (part 5 of 10)

Continued from Part 4

kareem 5

You know that feeling when you’re really asleep, but you feel awake? Halfway between sleeping and waking? You feel paralyzed. And you’re begging for someone to kick you so you wake up cause you don’t have the strength to do it on your own. You try moving your mouth. Your lips. You scream on the inside. You want to wake up. But nothing you do seems to work.

That’s what’s happening to me right now.

I can feel it coming. It’s right on time. The nightmare I have every other week.

Blood on the kitchen floor. A gun in her hand. My 13 year old self screaming at the top of my lungs. Calling for help. Knocking on the neighbors’ doors so they can do something to help me. Leaving bloody footsteps behind me. Grabbing the phone with my shaky hands and calling dad. Only to realize that he’s dead.

That was the day I lost all my innocence. I went from 13 to 20 in a gunshot. Taking care of her. Being the parent. Until I could it no more. Until it was just too much.

It’s weird. This nightmare I’m having is actually better than the crippling feeling I have right before it. It’s actually soothing. I’ve seen this nightmare so many times before that it feels normal. I know exactly what’s gonna happen. I’ve seen it all before. How can it be a nightmare if I’ve lived it before?

I can feel something on my leg. Must be Bisi. She can probably hear my meaningless mumblings and is trying to wake me up. It works. I wake up all sweaty, with my right leg cramped, and I look at her. She knows I’m in pain.

“Yep. Her again”.

Bisi was there that day. She probably saw more of it than I did. I wonder if she has nightmares about it too. Do animals dream anyway?

I take a sip of water from the cup I always keep next to my bed and realize it’s only 7 pm. Weird, it’s so dark outside. I was so tired after I came home from the HIV test that I slept all afternoon. Now I have to study and get some homework out of the way. That is if I can focus; Joe is still not replying to my messages and isn’t pickin up the phone. But I have to.

I take a hot long shower to refocus my energy.

As I dry myself, the door rings. It’s the electricity man coming to collect his bill.

“67,000 Liras”.

“Yalla, one second”.

I get my wallet and start lookin for money. Then my wallet falls on the floor. Also flying to the floor are three 500 lira coins and two condoms. The poor 60 year old bends over and helps me pick up my shit, only to realize they’re condoms.

I grab my wallet. “Here’s 70,000”.

“So you need 3,000 from me”, he replies.

“No need”. The man’s been through enough already. “Thank you”, I say.

He calls the elevator, wait for him to get in, then go back inside and wear some socks.

Then the door knocks again. Who could it be? Is it the electricity man wanting to borrow a condom?

I walk to the door and open it.

I wasn’t expecting him.

Joe.

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Read Part 6 here.

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Kareem (part 4 of 10)

Continued from Part 3

kareem 4

I hop into a cab at 8 in the morning and go back to my house.

I open the door and there’s Bisi. I bend down to the floor and carry her. Missed her smell.

“How was your night?”

No reply.

“Missed me?”. I give her a kiss.

No reply.

“Wli Kess emmik”.

She meows.

I give her another kiss and put her back down and make her breakfast.

Gotta take a long shower. He wasn’t that awful. But I just want his smell off of me. Smelling him reminds me of what I’ve done.

After I’m done showering, I hop in bed. I didn’t even have a proper breakfast. Not if you call the protein shake breakfast. Just want to sleep so I can fully focus when I study in the afternoon.

An hour into it, I hear my phone ring. But why would it? It’s on Silent. It’s a reminder: “Test at Skoun 2 pm”.

Fuckkkk, I totally forgot. Has it been a month already?

40 minutes later, I’m at Skoun, a Lebanese addiction center which also does free HIV tests.

I don’t have to wait a lot in the reception area. The guy who does the test knows I show up on time.

At exactly 2 pm, he enters the reception area and looks around for me.

“I’m here”. I get up and shake his hand.

“Kifak? Come inside”, he says.

I’ve done these tests so much I’ve memorized them. If you’re a beginner, he sits you down, explains about the HIV test, its accuracy, asks you questions about yourself and your sex life, does the test, then gives you the result. Well, I just want the last part, but still… he has to do all of the above.

He gets to the questions part.

“How old are you?”

“23”.

“What’s your field of study?”

“Medicine”.

“When was your last sexual encounter?”.

He’s gonna love this.

“Ummm… 5 hours ago”.

He looks at me. Smiles.

“Don’t worry… I washed my hands”.

He laughs. “It’s all good. In the past year, how many sexual partners have you had?”.

I know the real number. I have a black book. With the names, addresses and other important info if you know what I mean. So whatever the real number is, I divide it by four.

“Twenty five”, I reply.

“Okay”, he says. Poker face.

Wait, there’s also Joe.

“Six. Twenty six.”

“Okay.”

“Why do you want to do the test?”

Because I suck so many cocks and if I pass something on to my boyfriend, who hasn’t talked to me in over 72 hours, I might just die?

Instead I say: “Because if I’m positive, I’d wanna know.”

“Okay. Let’s do the test.”

I stand up.

He grabs my finger, pricks it with a needle, and drops my blood into the sample well.

We wait for 5 minutes… the longest 5 minutes of my life.

It never gets easier. You can always be safe. Put 5 condoms on the dick before sitting on it. You can be a virgin. A girl who’s never even kissed a guy before and still…they’d be the longest 5 minutes of your life.

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Read Part 5 here.

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