This is an ongoing, ever-evolving piece of fiction. There’s a list of “episodes” at the bottom of the post if you’d like to start at the beginning. If you want to read my non-fiction, check out my book Becoming Tasoni.
Jane’s head is buzzing from all the shouting. She braces herself, takes a deep breath, and yells, “ONE. MORE. TIME!”
The second graders giggle and close their eyes and screech at the top of their lungs, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart!”
“And lean NOT on your own understanding!”
“Excellent! Let’s stand to pray!”
Jane spots Abouna passing the door to the classroom, she motions to her fellow servant, and steps quickly into the hall.
“Abouna! I’m glad I caught you.”
“Jane, habibti, how is Sunday school today?”
“It’s great, Abouna, thank God. If you have a little bit of time, can we sit and talk before the Servants Meeting? Privately?”
“Of course, Jane. Please come find me when you’re finished here.”
Jane ducks back into the classroom. As they stand to pray with the kids, her stomach clenches. Her heart beats a little faster. Is she really going to do this? Is she really going to tell Abouna about Shane?
You’re not ready for that yet, a voice whispers in her ear. Best to make up something about one of the children instead.
I could do that, Jane thinks, I could just tell him how good Little Marina was today. I’m not ready. The relationship isn’t serious enough yet. What was I thinking?
As the children file out of the class, one of them laughs and says to the others, “Hey! What was our verse again?!”
His friends turn and shout, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart! And lean not on your own understanding!”
Servants in other classes, who aren’t quite finished yet, poke their heads out and give them a look.
Jane mouths her apology to them, as the children burst into giggles again and run off.
She heads to the restroom, and there, as she washes the glitter from today’s craft off her hands, she can barely make eye contact with herself.
I have to tell him, Jane thinks. I can’t keep hiding like this. I’m not a little girl anymore. I can do the grown-up thing.
Her heart says, You can trust him.
Abouna is sitting in the first pew discussing something quietly with two members of the church board. Jane walks up and stands awkwardly to the side, trying to catch his eye.
“Ahh, Jane. Ba3d iznokom,” he excuses himself and motions Jane towards the back pews.
They sit and, at first, Jane can’t get any words out.
“How are you, Jane? How are mama and baba?”
At the mention of her parents, she loses all semblance of courage.
“We’re all fine. I just wanted to tell you what a great job Little Marina is doing in class now.”
“Oh I am glad! So she is adjusting ok?”
“Yes, thank God”
“And what else is going on in your life, Jane?”
“Umm” Is that high pitched squeak her own voice?
Abouna’s patient smile fills Jane with confusion. On one hand, she loves sitting with him and learning from him. He’s known her since she was a little girl, and his presence warms her heart. On the other hand, she is about to tell him something that might very well threaten her reputation in his eyes. This thing with Shane is different. She is crossing all kinds of lines. Though she loves Abouna, she cares for her own happiness.
What if he shames you? The voice whispers, Or worse… what if he makes you end it?
“Everything’s fine. Thank God. Work is going well. You know, we’ll have to start talking about our summer camp plans soon.” Jane stumbles over the words a little, but maybe he didn’t notice. She holds her breath, tries to steady her hands, and waits.
“I see,” Abouna says in his most neutral tone. “Well, good Jane. God bless you. Yes, we’ll talk about the camp soon.”
She squints at him, but his face is still and unreadable. Maybe she’d gotten away after all.
As she walks over to join the others at the meeting, she can’t stop herself from shivering a little. If the talk with Abouna went as planned, why is she feeling so nauseous?
That evening, as they do every Sunday evening after church, Jane and John go to their parents’ house for dinner.
John arrives home first with mom in his passenger seat, to let Fluffy outside.
A few minutes later, John hears dad’s key at the front door.
“Hey! Let me help you!” John grabs a couple of the grocery bags from his father’s hands and brings them inside.
“There’s more in the car,” his dad says huffing a little.
John treks out to the car to pull the rest of the bags out and shut the trunk. Then he follows his father into the kitchen.
“Did you remember the parsley?” His mother asked his father.
“I got parsley, but I couldn’t remember which kind you wanted.”
“Flat-leaf. The Italian one. It’s always flat-leaf.”
“Okay, I don’t know. Maybe?” His father walks into the living room and turns on the game.
His mother shakes her head, smiling at John, and they start to unpack the bags and put things in the pantry.
The front door opens. Jane has arrived, though a little late, having stayed after for the servants meeting. She tosses her phone and wallet in the basket in the entryway and slips out of her heels.
“Hi baba!” She kisses her father on the cheek. “How’s the game?”
“Oh, this new coach will be the death of me!”
Jane shoos John out of the kitchen saying, “Go set the table,” and kisses her mother. She puts out of her mind Shane and her guilt about the conversation with Abouna, and throws herself into cooking. She stands with her mom over the stovetop frying the rice, laughing at her stories about the church tante drama, and humming along to a little Abdel Halim Hafez.
Just as the table is ready, dad takes an important sounding phone call, so they sit and wait for him to finish. First, he paces the living room. Then he opens the front door and stands outside for privacy. Jane and her mother exchange a concerned frown.
They hear him shut the door and say his goodbyes to the person on the other end.
“Ya baba the food is ready!” her mother calls.
“Yes, yes,” he says distractedly.
When he finally comes to the table, they are all so hungry and the food so appetizing they forget to pray first.
As he sticks his fork into his second plate of stuffed grape leaves, Jane’s father speaks up in a low, tense voice.
“Who is Shane?”
Jane shoots John a sharp look. He glances from her to dad and shakes his head subtly, baffled.
“And why, Jane, is he sending you a kiss?”
Wide-eyed, John looked from dad to Jane, her knife and fork now frozen above the plate.
Wafting from the kitchen come the first few notes of “Zalamoh.”
(to be continued)
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