It is so humid-hot that we’ve made a game of not touching each other — over a plate of buttered couscous, in the hand-off of a glowing cigarette under a cracked window. In the shower. In bed.
I let him trace the veins of my forearm with his fingers. I run mine through his sweat-wet hair. He walks his lips up my breast, curls over it with his mouth. I hold his neck. Soon, we are spit slick, rising and catching each other; we have broken the rules of the game.
When we are done touching, we lie on our backs, radiating, too hot to sleep. I pull the sheet over us and he kicks it off. He takes my hand. We watch the ceiling.
I ask, in Arabic, what he wants for his life and he sighs. “Manarft,” he says. I didn’t know.
In Moroccan Arabic, knowing and desire are expressed in the past tense, as if both are so ephemeral as to be gone before they are uttered. “I wanted couscous for dinner,” I’d said that afternoon, and he invited me over to share it. I didn’t know that this is what would follow.
I say I want happiness, love. l’Heb, I translate.
He is quiet. I roll onto my hip, the sheets cool where my body hasn’t been, and look at him: stress stretched taut over his collarbone. I touch him there.
“Tan bree-ick,” I whisper. I am wanting you.
When used in the present tense, wanting and knowing take on whole new meanings. To know another person, the curve of her breast, the knotted rope of his spine, is sex. To want him, in the continuous present, is love. I am wanting you: I love you.
He sits up. He grabs me by the shoulders and pulls me up with him. His hands are as hot and stern as branding irons.
“Tan bree-ick,” he says. “Love?”
I’ve never told a partner that I love them. I’ve wanted to try it out.
Suddenly, I am learning the words for wedding, marriage, pregnancy (Hebla). He just knew it!
Yes! He’s rubbing my thighs, friction, as if to keep me warm.
But it’s too hot. But I’m too naked. We are both trembling.
I wanted to try it out. I want to take it back.
“Tan bree-ick,” he declares. “Tan bree-ick, tan bree-ick, tan bree-ick!”
The morning muezzin sounds: a long, crackling cord that wedges into the blue pre-dawn. He rarely prays but from today everything will be different, he says. He must thank Allah.
Before he leaves me alone on the bed, he kisses my forehead.
“My wife,” he says.
We were playing a game. I didn’t know.