He wanted to speak but did not know what to say. The longer the silence lasted, the more reserved he felt. So he renounced this wish and remained mum. Scrutinizing her carefully, he found that she was looking out the window at the street, turning the back of her head toward him. He was certain that many eyes along the way would envy him this extraordinary beauty who affected him so deeply, and this idea delighted him beyond measure. If only the Hamdis family could see him sitting like this—especially Tahiya Hamdis. Then it occurred to him—after he felt reassured that Tahiya had kept his offense secret—that he should visit his mighty relative one day to introduce his bride, as was customary. This notion tempted his heart so much that it intoxicated him. She still had her head turned toward the street, and so he cast a hungry look at her supple body, passing from neck to shoulder and swelling breasts to slender waist and ending finally with her full thigh. He sighed from the bottom of his chest and observed privately how intense his hunger was and how his blood was boiling. When the taxi stopped in front of the Schleicher Building, he stepped out and then she descended, supported by his hand. They took the elevator and went into the apartment, trailed by the doorman who was carrying her valise. He showed her the way to the bedroom, which she entered, closing the door behind her. He stood there hesitantly and then retreated to a chair in the sitting room and collapsed.

At first he took offense at the closed door, which reminded him of the car door at the Pyramids. He quickly excused it in view of the awkwardness of the situation, although he could not escape his sarcastic nature’s bitterness. He told himself: Modesty like this would be more seemly for someone who actually was a virgin. Then, frowning, he wondered what his new life held in store for him: happiness or suffering? He did not hope she would consider him her spouse in the ordinary sense of the word, because he himself could not see her that way. He decided she would privately think of him as a pimp—just as he would secretly consider her a whore. Could a pimp and a whore find happiness together? This was what concerned him—no more and no less. He did not want his conjugal life to acquire any social significance, to produce healthy offspring, or to assume mutual respect. All he wanted was a mutuality of desire, a longing compatible with his, and a lust that mirrored his own. That way he would find satisfaction in a marriage that was a means rather than an end. He wanted love without jealousy as he visited her spring from time to time, without anxiety, thought, or concern, relying first and last on his daring soul, which had smashed all fetters and torn asunder all shackles. As he brooded, his eyes were on the closed door. Should he wait till it opened? If it remained closed, should he stay where he was till morning? He rose, approached the door, and rapped gently. When there was no sound or movement in response, he turned the knob and pushed the door open. He found the room virtually engulfed by darkness, except for a faint light coming from the direction of the balcony. So he realized that she was out there, collecting her thoughts. He went to her, walking softly. He saw her seated to one side, leaning her arm on the railing, looking down at the street. She made no motion in response to his arrival. So he paused, training his eyes on her by the porch lamp’s light, and then said, “You were right to come to the balcony. This is one of those hot July nights.”

She turned her head toward him and replied, after hesitating, “Yes, it’s a hot night.”

He was delighted that she had responded and took a chair, sitting near her. When he looked at her, the sight ravished him. Her extraordinarily desirable body set him aflame, and he reflected that he would enjoy this charming body that very night, indeed during the next hour, and felt crazy. This imminent reality intoxicated him as if he were discovering it the first time. No longer able to withstand the ardor of his gaze, she bowed her head. So he stretched out his hand to her chin, lifted her head toward him, and told her in a trembling voice, “Let me gaze at your beautiful face.”

Their eyes met for a moment. Filled with fervor, he said, warmly, “Our life has been united by a miracle. Before today, I never appreciated what a significant role chance plays in a person’s life. It has every right to mock our logic and all of existence’s norms. Perhaps you’re feeling forlorn, but you’ll survive thanks to your cleverness and education. Just as love can be a prelude to marriage, so marriage can be a prelude to love. A harmonious relationship is the result of souls that coalesce and hopes that unite. Isn’t that so?”

Her lips moved as though she had something to say but then froze in confusion. There was the hint of a smile on them. His fervor increased and he said, “You’ll discover what I mean and work to accomplish it. Let’s strive together to bring it to pass, and then we’ll see.…”

He told himself: Women can’t live without love; you’ve learned that truth from your reading. She’s no doubt in love, but who is the lucky fellow? He assumed that it had once been Ali Taha. He suspected it had been Qasim Bey next. It might simply be a love for wealth rather than for a person. On this reality his happiness depended. He might have been right when he told her, “Perhaps you’re feeling forlorn.” In fact she did feel forlorn, and he perceived that at first glance. Indeed, he realized that the sensitive and gracious thing would have been for him to spare her that night. He nixed this idea, however, convinced that the raging beast inside him would not accept any postponement or delay. He would be incapable of waiting, no matter what that cost him. Then he put aside his reflections as his natural boldness returned. “Let’s go in.”

He took her wrist gently and stood up. She rose obediently. Then he put his arm around her waist, and they went inside.

Cairo Modern