I'd only known this beautiful woman a short time, but the pain I'd seen in her eyes affected me so strongly. She had tried to conceal it from me, but it was impossible for her to hide any of her feelings. She wore happiness as perfectly, as regally, as a queen wore her crown and when that happiness disappeared, if only for a moment, it was plainly visible. The melancholy that replaced it was so out of place in her. Luckily it seemed that my appearance dissolved some of the sadness and my only desire now was to keep it that way.
"I've been waiting too." I smiled, "I thought my work day would never end."
"There are times, aren't there, when one needs time to stand still and yet other times when we wish it would rush on? Today I have been torn between the two." When she looked at me, her dark eyes reflected the complexity of the emotions she was experiencing when I had entered the store."But come, let me make some coffee and we'll sit and talk in comfort."
I had a sudden urge to take her into my arms as if that would protect her from whatever she feared."Fatina," I nearly pleaded, "Don't go to any trouble. Sit with me now and talk."
"Bassem, trouble is paying the taxes or scrubbing the kitchen floor. Making coffee for a nice gentleman is no trouble at all." This time her luminous smile returned and all at once I felt my entire body relax again. "Please, as you had wished to earlier, have a look around the store. Once the coffee is ready, we'll talk."
I looked at her, feeling uncertain about leaving her but she nodded encouragingly. A great desire to please her, mixed with my curiosity about the place, brought me to the bookshelves in the back.The entire back wall of the store, from floor to ceiling, was filled with books. I squinted to see what sort of subject matter the books at the top held but the small print of the titles eluded me. I passed my fingers along the spines of those at my height. Some of the books were very, very old. Many were leather-bound. I took one from the shelf and handled it carefully. The leather was embossed with gold script and inside the delicate and time-worn pages made a delightful, crisp sound as I turned them. The scent of ink and old paper filled my airways leaving me with a giddy feeling. It was a collection of ancient poetry, and was, by far, the most beautiful copy of the Mu'allaqat I had ever seen. The words were written in superb calligraphy and nearly leaped off of the page. It was a true work of art in many forms of the word.
Fascinated, I sat down in one of the chairs and began reading with a certain crazed lust for such rare beauty. I hadn't read the poems since highschool and back then they held little interest for me. But in this format where such attention to detail had been applied page after page, I couldn't help but be drawn into them.
"Ah, the Mu'allaqat." Fatina's smooth voice startled me. "That is one of several prized possessions of my father's collection. This particular copy is nearly 500 years old."
I gasped and suddenly felt sheepish. "Oh! I shouldn't have my fingers all over the pages then!"
"Bassem." She handed me my coffee and sat in the chair next to me. "If the book were always on the shelf, deemed too delicate to read, what would be the purpose of having it? I was thrilled to see you enjoying what I have also found immeasurably beautiful. Your appreciation of the collection is rare among those who have seen it."
"Oh. Well, I really haven't any knowledge about rare books or great works of literature."
"But you appreciate it and that is the first step to true knowledge. Now you will read the poems again, which I'll bet you haven't since highschool. With some age and wisdom under your belt, you'll have a better understanding of them. This will lead to deeper appreciation and knowledge."
I leaned toward her, captivated by her sincerity. Her eyes danced with conviction and excitement. "Do you really think I'm that wise?" I smiled mischievously.
"Well, you're here aren't you?" She smiled back with equal playfulness.
"Indeed I am. Pure brilliance on my part." I was suddenly lost in her eyes and unable to look away. Everything else around us seemed very remote. I reached my hand to her face and held it, stroking her cheek with my thumb. Her skin was so soft I could have lingered there forever. My thumb moved slowly across her lips. They were fleshy and velvet - so inviting.
"Bassem..." She started.
I pulled my hand away suddenly afraid that my actions were inappropriate. "I'm sorry..."
"Bassem..." She took my hand in hers.
I was flustered now. "It was wrong of me..."
"Bassem, just kiss me." She blurted, immediately putting a stop to my babbling.
I moved in so close, I could feel her breath on my skin. "Yes?"
"Yes." She breathed.
When our lips met, time was finally on our side.