The winds have picked up these nights, gusts of air sweeping away slight clouds of marijuana smoke and remnants of unspoken thoughts, dissipating into the atmosphere. Welcome to the real word, a utopia interrupted, disregarded for and yet, suitable for the way Nabila feels when her heart shatters, the way Suhaj feels when his mind wanders, the way they both feel when they run into each other; disconcerted, almost embarrassed.
There was a point in her existence Nabila could say Suhaj was the most beautiful boy she had ever laid her eyes upon. Lush, curly, full head of hair. Neatly trimmed fingernails. Irises the shade of emeralds, sun-tinged skin and a smile fit for Crest commercials. His soul betrayed his beauty, one of malice, one of contempt, one of unadulterated insatisfaction.
Her trip to the light-casual-summer-y San Francisco wasn’t supposed to be this cathartic. Her lack of affinity for brown boys assisted her in nights like this, nights where she makes eye contact with one and her heart bursts into flames, engulfed in embers, beating so fast that the girl voted most-outspoken in high school couldn’t speak.
Every step Suhaj took that night, seamlessly gliding along the floor, the way his motion defined effortless, this preconceived notion that all brown boys were judgmental, were chauvinistic, were one-dimensional, grew less and less relevant. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But he took a step. And she took a step. And the moment the drink in her hand spilled, the moment her friends witnessed from afar, the moment Marcus from back home texted her phone, Suhaj already had her in the palm of his hands.
“Chill,” he says, the twinkle in his eyes genuinely misconstrued for empathy.
“I’m fine,” Nabila says, gathering herself — and the strength to look Suhaj in the eye.
“True,” he says and takes a sip of his Jameson whiskey, the scent so strong on his breath, “don’t tell me this is your first time at the rodeo.”
Cautiously, she emits a quiet laugh, careful not to let on too much.
“Why do you care?”
“Because I’m going to buy you another one.”
She witnesses his muscular arm extend in a straight line, the silver New Ricci watch gleaming under these lights, beckoning the tatted-up bartender who has clearly seen this boy before.
Nabila takes the drink and turns to leave.
“I didn’t catch your name,” Suhaj says, his voice lingering on desire, on the cusp of something more.
She considers lying. To the white boy in the back she’s Anjalie and to the international student from Brussels her friends tried to set her up with she’s Summer.
“Cool, I’m Suhaj, welcome to The Bay.”
She gives an inquisitive look, he smiles. He leans in close to her and she thinks of stepping back but the moment’s gone, his hand is on her back, his mouth is close to her ear, she can feel the warmth of his voice.
“Your watch is on EST.”
“How observant are we?”
Suhaj shrugs, takes a shot. The slight grimace on his face for that millisecond is a ray of light in a thunderstorm, a stolen glance at vulnerability. His hands, sand-brown and smooth, caress the side of the glass, little hairs benefiting from the lights’ angle. Nabila thinks he could be a hand model.
“I live in Atlanta and I’m just visiting some friends out here over winter break.”
Ignoring it, Suhaj continues, “Look, I’m going outside for a cigarette. Then I’m going to wait for this person I just met, Nabila, to join me outside so she can smoke one with me. And I never let people bum cigarettes off me. But she looks like she needs one, just to chill out a little bit. Cool?”
He leaves without saying anything, leaving his drink at the bar, fiddling around in his back pocket for a pack of Blue Camel Crushes.
He turns around and gets a good look at her.
“Do you have any weed?”
Suhaj watches with slight earnest as the blunt meets Nabila’s full, rosy lips. He’s thinking about all the things he’d like to do to her. He can’t remember the last time he slept with a woman of his own background. Why had he never approached them in the first place? His parents chalked it up to indifference, his older sister theorized an elaborate avoidance due to intimidation and his friends just wanted to know if those white girls had any friends. Yet, it seemed as if brown women all swooned after him, like moths and flame; he simply credited it to boredom or a ploy to get their parents off their back. Suhaj Mahdi, the one and only, Berkeley scholar, breathtakingly handsome, an amazing chef, an ideal candidate for marriage.
“Here,” Nabila says, passing the blunt, “thanks.”
“Hey, we don’t use that word around here,” Suhaj says before inhaling the blunt, holding it in his lungs while he looks around.
Exhaling, he continues, “that shit is for corporate brown nosing and people who really hate each other.”
She’s laughing. “So, you don’t say thank you ever?”
Suhaj kicks a rock into the distance and brings a hand to his chin, lightly rubbing the stubble.
“I don’t ask anyone to do shit for me, if they do it, they do it.”
“You’re something else,” she says. The streetlights allow a narrow shine into this alley, illuminating beer bottles and cans strewn on the ground along with stomped out joints.
“It’s getting late. Let me take you home.”
The torrential downpour, synchronizing with the old jazz playing in this taxi, is too good to be true. Is it true? Is it reality that she’s sitting next to this boy in this car in this city, and all she wants is to keep moving, to let moonlight dictate a night together, determine travel routes, establish hours?
Sitting next to each other in this taxi, so close, bound together inexplicably, something magical happens. But the heart blooms just to falter, the heart blossoms just to wither.
“How long are you here for?”
She doesn’t answer, she’s thinking about his lips pressed against hers, their tongues meshing, his hand on her ass.
“A month. I’m here for a month.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says and he briskly turns around and gets back into the cab. Nabila waits until she can no longer squint hard enough to spot the taxi driving away into the distance, a blip on the map, a person in the universe, a love in the future.
She stayed up all night, pondering an existence together, all thanks to a one glance, one blunt, one high.
Nabila ditched plans in order to meet this boy, to smoke hookah with him in places she would have never found on her own, to get high and watch matinees, to listen to music in his room, laugh at his thrown-off reaction when she mentioned vinyl, growing to enjoy the little things that made him him. Nights of lust, of laying side to side, face to face, under the covers, whispering to each other, exploring each other’s bodies. A month of magic, of falling in love, the whole process of really, truly getting to know somebody. Is there a greater shame?
“How many days until I get to wake up next to you?”
A spark of a lighter. A familiar laugh. A cloud of smoke.
It’s neither The Bay nor is it Atlanta. It’s Houston and it’s the summer time and it’s Nabila’s family friends’ son’s wedding. There he is, in his tailored suit, smoking a spliff and he looks like he’s just seen a ghost.
He’s worn, bags under his eyes, weed cigarette dangling from his slim fingers, his hair waved to the side. But the glimmer in her eyes still shines, the chills in her body still run.
“You never called me,” Nabila says.
His look changes, a regretful one; or is it endearment?
“It ran its course. What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know,” she says and she’s fighting the urge to not tear up. What’s the issue here? The number of boys she’s left behind, the innumerable times she exudes this cold front. What’s different?
“Maybe you’re asking for a lot.”
Nabila lifts her red traditional garment to join him on the grass and takes the spliff from him, takes a hit, stares into the forest, imagines a life bound to nature.
“All those movies our parents watch and we just want our love lives to be ordinary.”
Suhaj takes it back for the last hit and buries it into the grass, rubs his face with his hands.
“You of all people should never know ordinary.”
Mustafa Abubaker is a 20-year old student and writer living in Atlanta, Georgia.