Fiction: The Man in the White Sandals

Sekka Editorial | United Arab Emirates | 14.07.2018

Emirati author Lolowa T.  shares with us an excerpt of her debut novella, ‘The Man in the White Sandals’, now available on Amazon. The novella follows the story of 25-year-old Fatima, who puts her life on hold in pursuit of her love interest. But a chance encounter on an elevator changes everything.

 

 

I was twenty-four when I fell in love with Omar again. “Falling in love” is an understatement. When I fell for Omar, everything around me fell as well: all my dreams and ambitions.

 

I remember the night he walked back into my life. He responded to my profile on a professional online network where I advertised my graphic designs. I had not heard from him since I was in middle school, and he wanted to interview me. He inquired about my graphic design skills. I was out with Dana the day he contacted me, in November of last year, and I screeched when I saw an email message from him. I could not believe my luck.

 

Dana snatched the phone from me and told me to ignore it.

 

“He’s known to be a player, Fatima. Plus, he’s interested in hiring you for business. Don’t get your hopes up and think he’s interested in something else.”

 

I did not pay attention to Dana. She had never liked him, ever since we were in school, and was overprotective.

 

Our emails turned into text messages. In his, he told me about his line of coffeehouses and restaurants, how he had two new concept coffeehouses in the works, and how he was looking to launch a new marketing campaign. He owned a number of franchises in town under his business group.

 

I was thrilled. Omar was two years older than I was, and I had always had a crush on him. He was the tallest kid in his grade, and had it all: looks, a good family, and money. Every year, his driver dropped him off at our private school in the latest car. He was every girl’s dream. We were not friends, but our physical education classes took place at the same time. We spoke casually once as kids. I remember that afternoon vividly because it was the day Latifa scolded me for speaking to him.

 

He was late for class, and I had a break. He bumped into me in the corridor and asked if he could borrow a pen. I nervously picked up my purple furry pencil case, opened it, and shoved four different pens to choose from in his face. He was taken aback and picked a blue one.

 

I watched him walk upstairs, past the wall covered with artwork of our school mascot, and to his class.

 

“What did he want?” Latifa glared at me.

 

She was in his class; the prettiest girl ever, with her golden sun-kissed skin, large eyes, and lashes that went on forever. Her glossy, perfectly curled chocolate hair rested on her shoulders. She twisted a lock around her manicured, thin fingers.

 

“Ah… Hello… He needed a pen,” I stuttered.

 

“No funny thoughts. You know we are destined for each other.”

 

She eyed me from top to bottom and walked to class. They did not end up together.

 

After he saw my professional profile, Omar met me in the executive meeting room of his golf club, as his company was moving to a new office building. He ordered a mountainous chocolate dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and insisted I try it. It was his favorite.

 

He was tall, tanned, and fit. He had jet-black hair that rested just below his ears and straight, pearly white teeth. He looked like a typical Arabian man with strong Bedouin features. He had not changed a lot since childhood. My feelings for him had not either.

 

That chocolate dessert was cold and a hard one to eat. I was extra careful when I sliced it sideways with my fork. In fact, I pressed so hard that some of the moist, dark chocolate flew from the bowl I held on to as though my life depended on it, and it landed on my lap and stained my abaya.

 

His head fell back as he laughed uncontrollably, and I never saw anything as beautiful. He laughed from his heart, while my face burned from embarrassment. In that moment, I was sure that I was in love with him.

 

We discussed middle school but he failed to remember me. I brought up the blue pen incident, but he apologized and said that he could not recall, that school was a blur to him, that he was busy with horse riding and golf after school. I even mentioned Latifa and asked if he had heard anything about her.

 

“Who’s that again?”

 

He did not recall.

 

We discussed business. He offered me a position as a marketing consultant. I would be a full-time employee and not a freelancer, as I had been for the three years since I had graduated college. He was looking for a fresh marketing direction for his business group.

 

“We’re not big yet, but I plan for it to be a big group of new concept coffee houses and innovative fashion boutiques that are a mix of art and fashion,” he said proudly.

 

He was impressed with my designs and wanted to incorporate my work into his marketing campaign. Along with his team, I would ensure his restaurants and cafés were well marketed.

 

“I know you would find this project exciting,” he said.

 

I said I would think about it and get back to him, that I had to write the final chapter of the novel I have been working on first. He said he would wait for my answer. I grabbed my laptop and a novel I had brought with me—to kill time in case he was late—and left the golf club.

 

I have two trunks at home filled with dusty books and more boxes in my closet filled with romance novels. My dad, the number-one enemy of dust, always urges me to donate them to the less fortunate. “They agitate your sinuses!” he says. But I simply refuse.

 

I associate every significant moment in my life with the book I had in my hand at the time. I was sixteen the first time I finished a novel on a plane. My family and I were returning home from a summer vacation in Malaysia, and my only brother—my twin, Khalid—was seated next to me. He hated that plane ride because I would not speak to him for the entire seven hours. I was focusing instead on my crime novel.

 

The night I met Omar and was sure of my feelings, I was reading a short novel by an up-and-coming writer from Kuwait.

 

I do not know what made me fall in love with Omar. He was serious, yet easily distracted. But I had a hunch that his harsh manner was a façade to cover up a sensitive soul. I believed in my hunch and tried to convince Dana of it as well.

                                                                                                    

“I’m sure a girl broke his heart once. He loved her dearly. When he gets over it, you will see how nice he is. That serious persona is just a mask,” I said dreamily.

 

“Oh, please!” Dana would say. “Some people are born nice. Others are mean. Omar is mean. Didn’t you hear about poor Sarah who went to school with us? He told her that he’d marry her after high school, and then changed his number after he came back from summer vacation. He had a fear of commitment, he told her—through one of his friends, not even to her face. Stop believing those books you read.”

 

A week after I met him, when I was writing the final few pages of my novel and deciding whether I should pursue the job opportunity, I was reading a self-help book on how to be desirable. The book encouraged me to confess my feelings. It said that some men wait for the woman to make the first move.

 

I did not know how to do that. I could not go up to him and tell him how I felt. I would scare him off. As much as I tried to plan what to say, I had nothing in mind when I met him next.

 

We met at the same golf club where we had first talked. I lied and said I needed to know more about his business, which was the only excuse I could come up with to see him again. My heart paced, and my palms were wet. I ordered food to buy more time and to slow down my pulse.

 

“Do you believe in fate, Omar?” I summoned the courage to ask.

 

He looked like he was taken aback. He fiddled with a French fry before he looked up at me.

 

“I feel comfortable around you, Fatima. I think we would be good colleagues.”

 

Ouch! I thought at the time. Then, Relax, relax, Fatima. You obviously caught him off guard. He might be shy. You make the first move. Men love a go-getter. That’s what the author said!

 

“I know we only met again recently, but I think… I mean… I believe there’s some sort of…” I blurted, covering my mouth the moment I did.

 

His eyes widened, but he maintained his calm. He chewed on his fry, and I felt like he was peeking into my soul with his large black eyes. My eyes told him a tale about how I had a childhood love within me that had never died. It confessed the happiness that overtook my body when we were sitting across from each other. I wished he would lower his gaze so I could inhale. I do not know if his eyesight was strong enough to see through me.

 

Omar wiped the salt off his fingertips with the white napkin on his lap. He looked to his right at the wet, recently watered golf course before he smiled at me warmly. He loves me too. I can’t believe it.

 

“You’re a nice girl, Fatima. I think you will be a good addition to our team. But I’m a busy man and my personal life is not a top priority right now. I guess your feelings are confused. We share a similar vision and maybe that made you get carried away. I’m sure that’s what you meant.”

 

He spoke calmly and slowly, as if explaining how one plus one equals two to a five-year-old.

 

I felt insulted, ashamed, and stupid and wished that the earth itself would divide and bury me in it at once. I wished I could run to my house and hide underneath the staircase, the way I had as a child when I had a bad day at school. I excused myself and left, faking a headache, and said I would get back to him about the job soon.

 

I cried for three days and annoyed Dana for a week, replaying the humiliating conversation. I would analyze his emails and calls and convince myself that he did share my feelings, that he must have been attracted to me deep inside the first time he saw my profile on the professional network, and when he found out that we went to the same school, because I had written it in my profile, he brought up the whole job role as a cover-up.

 

I knew what I had to do. I was not going to give up. He needed time to get to know me better, to see that I was right for him.

 

I was reading a book on body language the week I decided to call Omar about the job, and I had finished writing my novel. I did not want to lose him. I faked an upbeat tone, hoping that my almost-confession had not ruined my chances with him.

 

He answered the phone after the first ring. Good sign, I thought.

 

“Hey! Good news. I accept your offer,” I said in a jolly tone.

 

He coughed.

 

“Are you okay?” I was concerned.

 

“Yeah, yeah… There’s just too much dust in the new office.”

 

I heard the sound of an electric drill in the background.

 

“Oh, okay… Well, I’m not sure you heard me, but—”

 

“Yeah, I did,” he said, interrupting me. “That’s good, though I didn’t think you’d want it. I mean, you seemed upset when we last met, and I thought you wouldn’t want the job.”

 

“I had meant to say that we would make good colleagues, and that fate brought us together, but you beat me to it, and then I had that headache,” I bit my tongue and lied. “I hope you didn’t take what I said in the wrong way.” I let out a fake laugh.

 

He was silent.

 

“Well, when do I start?” I asked with extra cheerfulness infused in my tone.

 

“How about January? A good start to the year!”

 

Follow this link to read more: https://amzn.to/2NNCHaG .

 

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