An excerpt from LAILA by Fadi Zaghmout


                  He was rude when he crept up to me in the bathroom as I was brushing my teeth. He hugged me from behind, and, making sure I felt the bulge in his pants, he swept my hair from my shoulder, his lips ready to plant a kiss on my neck. He still wanted to impose his manhood on me as if his limited way of thinking could not accept the fact that I was repulsed by him. As if his ears were tuned deaf every time I said in no uncertain terms, ‘If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: I don’t want you!’

                  My entire body trembled the second I felt him close to me. My muscles tensed and my blood boiled. I tried to control myself and avoid any kind of overblown reaction, but he was shameless. He didn’t care. He was enjoying the burst of male hormones gushing through his veins, ready to act on the urge coursing through his body. I let him plant his kiss on me as I resisted an overwhelming desire to grab the perfume bottle in front of me and spray it in his eyes or to bite his arm, right on the cut I inflected on him the day before. He would have screamed in pain as he hurled a torrent of insults at me, or he would have probably slapped me or lunged at me, trying to hit and hurt me worse than I had hurt him. I would have responded in kind, slapping him back if he slapped me, clawing his face with my nails, or kicking him in the balls to teach him never to do that to me again.

                  But I was wise and acted fast. I ignored his erection pressed up against me. I finished brushing my teeth and put the toothbrush down. I took a sip of water, rinsed my mouth, spat the water out, and then quickly turned off the tap and quietly peeled myself away, leaving the bathroom as if nothing had happened. He followed me a minute later, a wicked smile on his face.

                  I realized that his mind refused to register that I was rejecting him, so he decided to think of my reaction as part of a game. A chase where he was the predator and I the prey. The idea of him as the predator gave him a sense of power, while my resistance translated in his mind as a chance to prove his dominance over me, an invitation to reassert his masculinity. He must have viewed it as fake resistance, the kind prevalent in Egyptian movies. A form of coquettish hard-to-get play used by women to entice men and turn them on. At the end of such a scenario, in his mind, after a few flirtatious moves and acts of fake modesty, I was bound to fall into his arms, surrender to his masculinity, capitulate to his virility.

                  I was a predator. I didn’t think much of the chase unless I was the one doing the chasing, the one breaking a man, reducing him to a meek lamb. Obedient, submissive. Under my control. I had to act firmly when Firas stealthily slunk up behind me as I stood in front of the mirror clasping my bra. I spun around and looked him straight in the eye. ‘What do you want?’

                  ‘Gosh! You’re so stubborn,’ he huffed, as if he didn’t expect my question, or was too embarrassed to come out and just say he wanted me.

                  ‘I’m the one who’s stubborn?’ I snapped, turning my back to him. I picked up my eyeliner and leaned forward, closer to the mirror.

                  ‘Yes. You. You’re so stubborn!’ He yelled at me.

                  ‘And so are you!’ I yelled back as I opened my eye wide to line it with kohl.

                  “Oh, come on. Let’s give it a try,’ he said suddenly, changing his tone, trying to win me over.

                  ‘We’ve tried plenty of times, Firas. You want something and I want something else,’ I replied, unmoved.

                  ‘See how stubborn you are? You insist on acting like the man in bed.’

                  I stopped doing my eyeliner and fixed a sharp gaze on him. ‘Fuck off!’ I said, before adding cynically, ‘Shouldn’t you first know what being a man really means?’

                  ‘Respect yourself and act like a lady!’ he yelled.

                  ‘Act like a lady?’ I almost fell to the floor laughing. ‘Yes, sir. Whatever you say, honey. If you say so, darling. I’ll respect my self and act like a lady, just like you want me to.’ I smoothed my long hair behind my ears and spun around to face him. I put my finger in my mouth, licking it and tilting my head as I gazed at him seductively, adopting the flirtatious Syrian accent of the women from Bab al-Hara. ‘Is this how you like it, babe? What can I do for you, my king, my universe?’

                  Dumbfounded, he watched me carry on with my playacting, making fun of him.

                  ‘I’m at your beck and call, love,’ I teased. I took two steps toward the bed and sat down gently, pouting like Haifa Wehbe in her “Boos El Wawa” music video. I pressed my knees together, lay my head on the pillow, and, running my fingers across my breasts, whispered seductively, ‘Come on then. Come and get it.’

                  But before he could make a move, I flicked the switch, changing my tone of voice and my body language.

                  ‘I know it’s how you want me to be,’ I said, standing up and adopting a serious tone. I raised my head to look him in the eye and added, ‘But I’m not like that and I will never be like that. Not for you and not for anyone else. Got it?’

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