In Iran, Asad was charming, but in America, he is graceless. Shirin remembers a time when they were teenagers, crouched behind a building in Tehran, his arm draped around her shoulder. He was smoking, exhaling away from her face. She was thinking "Doostet daaram." She was thinking "I love you."
Asad is asleep in the rocking chair, though every few minutes he uses his toes to propel the rocker into a lazy, squeaking arc. Shirin hates the squeaking and debates waking him up just to make him stop. She doesn't.
Sundays are always the same, and she is determined to stay awake on the couch. Her children are with her mother in a smaller apartment across town, and she wonders if she should pick them up early. At least it would give her something to do.
"Asad?" she whispers because she still has not decided whether or not she wants him to wake up.
"Asad, do you still love me?"
Asad opens his eyes, looks at her, nods, and falls back to sleep. There is no reason to answer questions like those. His toes touch the carpet, the rocking chair moans.
Shirin is not a stupid woman. In Iran, as a child, she excelled at many things. She threw the farthest ball, read the longest books, used the biggest words, and solved the longest algebraic equations. Asad did not know any of this. By the time he met her, she was lithe and lean, hair shining brilliantly in the glow of a high Tehran sun. She spoke little of her childhood because he never asked. He loved her for who she was at seventeen, not who she was at seven. That is what she told herself. At seventeen, she had kind eyes, big eyes, eyes that begged Asad to take her away, and so he did.
Asad's eyes are closing like moth wings, flickering, popping open, drifting down again until he catches himself and adjusts his position.
"Asad, will you do Asr with me?" she asks.
"What, do you think you are the adhan, now Shirin?" He does not look up.
"Oh, don't be this way."
Shirin knew that Asad didn't do his prayers anymore. The truth was, she didn't either. Five times a day for two years, they'd go into separate rooms and shut the door, but neither of them washed their faces, neither of them got to their knees to whisper Allahu Akbar. What was so great about a god that left her hopeless?
"Come on, Asad. It's time."
Asad lifts himself from the chair, exhaling through his nose at the doorway. He turns to her.
"I prefer to be alone while I pray," he says.
"We cannot always afford what we prefer." Shirin brushes past him into their tiny bedroom.
Last week, when he had come out after Fajir and was gone for the afternoon, Shirin made the bed and found a Hustler on the floor. She lifted its wrinkled edges with the tips of her fingers. She spread it out on the comforter. She ran her hand over the colored, glossy pages and she stared into the gaping vaginas of white women with hairless bodies and mouths contorted in pleasure. She flipped through its pages. A dominatrix, a cheerleader, a nurse with high heels and high breasts, they stared back at her. They looked at her with lilting, bedroom eyes and told her, "You are too old."
Shirin sits now on the edge of the bed to watch her husband pray. He raises his hands to his face and mumbles Allahu Akbar. Shirin closes her eyes. When he kneels, she lays back on the bed. Bismil laahir Rahmaahir raheem. Asad's voice rises and falls and reminds her of melting chocolate, of rich coffee, of deep water. Maaliki yawmid deen, he says. She closes her eyes. Eh'denas siraatal mustageem. She spreads her legs like the girls in Hustler.
Asad, with his back to her, with his eyes closed, with his heart open to Allah, does not see his wife run her fingers up her leg. He does not see his wife remove her shirt and her skirt. He does not see her open her eyes to watch him, but he hears the rustling of her limbs on his sheets, and he exhales, loudly, through his nose.
When he is finished he stands and, still facing southeast, he rubs his hands over his face. It is not until he hears Shirin's heavy breathing that he turns. Shirin opens her eyes and watches him watching her.
A car drives by, the whish of the tires the only noise for a very long moment.
"What?" she asks, "Isn't this what you usually do during prayers?"
Asad doesn't move.
"Oh, Asad," she says. An exhale.
She stops and sits up, puts her arms out to him. He is unsure, but moves toward her. He sits beside her on the bed.
"Asad. Delam barat tang," she says.
She waits for him to tell her that he misses her too. In this pause, an airplane flies low outside. It is deafening, and neither can tell if it is coming or going.
Copyright © J. M. Patrick 2008.