After she had put the children to bed she joined her mother who was lounging in the living-room. It has been a year since her father had died; yet, her mother has not been completely over mourning him. Mary-Rosette and her daughter have not had an ideal mother-child rapport since Dalia’s teenage years but after Georgio’s death, Rosette has become so depressed and vulnerable that she has been hospitalized twice. Here they are now, both abandoned by men for whom they cared. Dalia’s father decided the afterlife was better and left without saying goodbye while her husband decided another woman without pregnancy stretch marks was better and also did not care to bid farewell.
Dalia had a very busy day, was overworked and stressed. Processing claims, answering phone calls and calling clients and insurance companies was an all-day-non-stop operation. Today she did not have a chance to visit her regular spot on the 19th floor.Each time she stands close to the glass, and leans on the world down; her worries gain a less bothersome weight. Every time she gets up there, a glass and mirrors company truck with large billboards the trailer’s lateral sides that read : “JUMP!” pass by prompting her to take a plunge. Each time she does, she wonders what might have felt those who have actually jumped. This afternoon, she just found out she had not paid her elder child’s school tuition and she was short of money. She tried to strike a conversation with her mother but was rebuffed by her short answers and monotonous tone. She suddenly felt the need to breathe some fresh air. She told her mother that she had to leave and would be back in a few hours after she had trusted the kids in bed.
She was forced to pull over to the roadside, the thunderstorm and torrential rain almost reduced visibility to zero. A weather like this usually fills her with sadness. A powerful melancholic sensation thickened the air inside the vehicle. She got of the car and headed to the recreation park that was usually filled by long-distance commercial trucks. She stood by the high way under the rain in the deserted dark place till she got soaked while the music coming from the car joined the rain in an exotic symphony, imbued her senses, and she felt her feet tapping the impregnated land slightly, her waist joined in, then her hand and all her body embraced the water, the music and the peaceful surrounding night. On the way back she dropped by ‘Stop and Shop’ for some groceries and noticed the Blinking lights of the Palmer. It was a night club she once visited with her ex-husband.
“Antony” said the man as she introduced herself. “ How can I help you?” he inquired.
“I saw the add on the classifieds,” she said with an accent that sounded middleeastern.
“ What add?” he answered in a high tone raucous voice. A security officer came buy and stood with his hand on his gun and asked in a very authoritative tone while looking at the woman: “ Is there a problem Tony?”
“No!” answered Tony with the same nonchalant attitude. “I can handle it,” he added with a smile after he cleared his throat. Tony was the typically Italian guy that can be racially profiled Italian by a complete foreigner.
“ What can I do you for?” he asked laughingly as he was about to open the door to his office.
He ushered in the woman in and asked her to have a seat on the armchair while he sat behind the large desk that occupied a relatively large space in the room.
“ I am princess Rosalia!” she said. “ I want the belly-dancer’s job you have advertised. Do not mind my accent,” she continued. “I speak excellent English besides I am not going to be talking; I am going to be dancing; I took ballet lessons as a child; I know a lot about choreography and I am an excellent belly dancer; I promise you a spectacle that is worth-watching.”
“Before you go on let me tell you,” Tony interrupted. “ I hate to disappoint you dear, but we currently have no intention of hiring new talents,” he added and slightly hesitated as if intrigued.
Princess Rosalia sensed his hesitation and in a very confident way without losing the accent: “ I will come wearing my long outfit and niqab just like now but underneath I’ll be wearing the belly dancing suit.” She took off her outer long outfit and stood assuming a cat stance, she removed the pin and let her long hair fall loose; she turned around and had her body ripple as her hair was coming loose and faced him in the cat-stance position again.
“Create a mystery;” she challenged him. “ I’ll be having my own-dressing room. The rumors among the staff should go that I am a runway princess and that nobody should say a word for their job depends on it. None of the staff would address me. I would be escorted in and out and a security guard should be standing in front of my dressing room; nobody should try to uncover my identity, I’ll choose my own music and have it emailed in a folder to you or the musicians. I wouldn’t mind them improvise from time to time and don’t worry! I am not a serial killer and I am not an Arabian Princess ”
“ what are my gains?!” He interrupted assuming a different attitude as his business instincts got aroused.
“ I promise you a show that is a thousand night and a night worth, a full house, increased income and a good publicity; you can’t find a better dancer; I am a real artist with great business instincts,” she concluded.
“Hey what the hec; you are hired. I own gambling machines. Taking chances is my business. You better not disappoint me girl!” he laughed in his loud raucous voice. “ And …hey” He paused before he added in a meaningful tone: “ I would know if you were a serial killer or a princess.” She felt her confidence about to be shaken and she threw the long cloak-like outfit around her, rapidly fastened its flaps and bent her already covered head and asked in an accentuated accent: “ when am I gonna be expecting your call?”
“soon,’’ He answered in his initial nonchalant tone and loud raucous voice.
Once she got in her car, her knees started shaking and her heart pounded very hard. She totally hypnotized the guy. Years of rehearsals have finally yielded their fruit. Yet, he sounded more intrigued than anything else. Her mother was still lying on the couch while the voice on T.V news team was commenting on the heavy traffic. The two women exchanged a few words and Dalia went up to her room after she had asked her mother if she needed help with anything.
“I have my legs. I can get up and get water if I want to. Don’t worry about me!” after she was about to get in her room, she heard her mother’s weak voice: “ Dalia, a Tony called he said he wanted to see you tomorrow.”
“Did he say what time he wanted me?” she launched but she did not hear her mother answer. She understood he did not tell. She knew another sleepless night was ahead: “Sleep is always difficult when one is about to start a new career!”
The next day after she had dropped one of the kids at kindergarten and the elder one at the elementary school that was a few blocks ahead, she called one of her aunts and asked her to keep her mother company because she seemed more depressed than usual. Her aunt reminded her that the therapist suggested that she took a trip and that some of her friends were going on a cruise to Europe and North Africa; the trip was quite cheap and it was a good idea to have her on that trip. Dalia promised her aunt to think about it. Spending money would not be a good idea at the moment unless her mother got enthusiastic enough to pay for the trip.
Dalia got a call from Tony that same day. He wanted her to show up at the Palmer’s that evening. He did not let her know that she was scheduled for that night; yet, he wanted her to be in the dancing outfit in which he had seen her the previous week. It was very soon, she thought. It’s true she was surprised by her own performance ; yet, she felt herself filled with apprehension. On the way home, she saw a male that looked like her ex-husband. She continued staring at the back of the passing by silhouette. A policeman tapped on her window, drawing her from her reverie, she apologized and drove by. Her aunt welcomed her jovially announcing that Dalia’s mom finally agreed to join her group on a trip to Europe and Africa. Her mother appeared to be in a good mood for the first time after months. She felt relieved to see her mother getting over her grief. Once in her room, she started immediately changing her clothes. Tony wanted to meet with her at seven o’clock and she knows how the traffic can be very heavy on weekdays. She was thankful that she was able to convince one of her colleagues to exchange with her the shopping half-day granted to each of them for the holiday season; hers was in two weeks.
Tony greeted her with the same enthusiastic and raucous voice. There were three men in his office. “This is princess Rosalia,” he threw in the air as he let her in. “Lindel is my lawyer, he is a very thorough man and he is gonna make sure you understand the terms of the contract,” he said and continued as he sensed her anxiety: “ the contract is a simple safety measure, it protects me and protects you.” He stopped and looked at the man he called Lindel and the other man whose name he had not mentioned yet; then continued: “ the contract is a one that we call at will, Lindel will explain that to you, did you bring your id with you?”
She felt very anxious and her confidence shook. She then answered in a calm tone she gathered with all her strength. “ Now , now Tony, I think we have discussed my terms. I cannot give you any ids and I cannot sign your contract using my real name for reasons I prefer not to disclose and I thought you understood that then.”
“ I reckon I did dear, and in that case and for that particular reason, I have Lindel here and I have Chubby here. Chubby is here to give you Princess Rosalia’s id and this is to protect me. I have interests to protect after all.”
He saw her growing concern; he laughed out loud and tapped her on the shoulder as if she were one of his pals: “ Now dear, you want a mystery, a thrill and money, I want the money and I wanna protect my buttocks if you know what I mean,” he added in his confident loud voice while laughing.
“ Deal,” she said.
That she loved the mystery, the money and the thrill was a truth; she came to discover herself that in the following weeks and months . The adrenaline effect was greater than that of the most dedicated gambler. Being escorted in and out her dressing room and the casino by those strong men, was a highly thrilling experience. Many times she had to choke her laughter inside her throat as she heard her ‘body guards’ talking about her or about other things or people. The guards always waited for her at the back entrance and walked her out through the same tiny door. Forty minutes once a week , was a performance that gained her a review in a local magazine and T.V and changed her life. An incident had her almost question her work at the Palmer’s. Tony calmed her suspicions immediately. The morning news mentioned her briefly as a runway Arabian princess. Tony told her in the meeting she had with him: “ My understanding that Shelby one of the shmucks I hired to handle advertisement and press releases got pretty smart and thought it would be a nice publicity to have the public know we have an Arabian princess belly dancing for the palmer’s,” he raised his voice and rolled his eyes in exacerbation and continued in an even higher tone: “ So much for a smart boy, and I have hired so many of them based on Lindel’ s advice,”
Lindel, who was also there, raised a shy hand in an attempt to interrupt Tony as he saw his culminating anger but Tony suddenly regained his complete composure and turned towards Dalia in a calm and real concerned voice: “ Now dear, don’t you worry. I got it under control. The channel talked about it only once in the morning. I caught it right on time. I always watch the morning news. A handsome envelope did its work. It was not bad that they mentioned you cause that’s what we want, don’t we? Now here is what happened dear, I don’t wanna alarm you but you knew I would know all about you when you came to me; a guy from one of them Arabian embassies came to me and asked. I showed him your picture and let him watch a video that traced one of your routine days,” He stopped and looked. She remained speechless. All the mystery has gone. After a few second she asked: “ what did he say?”
“Who?” asked Tony
“ The Arabian guy?” She asked in an accentless English
“Is the princess a good dancer at least? They have a sense of humor” he laughed aloud
She smiled to herself and said : “ It’s a universal thing I suppose?”
He laughed even louder and added: “ Thata girl?”
The guards continued however to act as if they really think she was a real Arabian princess. “ Good actors,” she thought. Nobody wanted to stop the mystery and of course the gains. Until one night as she was in the middle of her performance a guy that she had been noticing for quite a while stood in the middle of the big spectacle room and pointed a gun and yelled a few words: “ Allakba…Shammutte…” and started shooting the lights.
She felt her neck stiff and could not move her arm. She tried to get up she could not. The cold cement seemed to have glued itself to her numb leg. The place was in complete darkness. She forced herself to get up. The rough walls reminded her the rough night she had. She touched her hurting face and could barely open her mouth from the pain. Her legs gave off and she landed on the bare cold cemented wall. The door suddenly opened on a short man who has his head covered and a tall big blond woman who did not care to cover her head. The woman who had a subtle German accent started in an assaultive tone: “This is my husband he does not speak English and you do not want to speak Arabic; yesterday when you were unconscious you were mumbling things in English so I assume you understand English.”
The short guy once again burst in the angry voice she heard the last night but she was unable to figure out a word of his. “He thinks bitches like you ruin the reputation of the Arabs.” Almost yelled the woman maintaining eye contact with Dalia then continued to simultaneously translate her husband’s angry words in a hostile tone. “ A princess!! Hareem! Dancing in a cabaret! And the bastards did not even care! now they are selling our women to whomever pays more! My country, the holy lands are belly-dancing for Billies, Tonies and Mickies;” The angry woman translated while the short man was almost having foam on the corners of his mouth and making awkward dancing movement in what Dalia understood an attempt to mimic her belly dancing. He suddenly yelled in what sounded English” Breencess, Breencess!!”
He stopped and started weeping and got out while the woman’s tone got angrier and said: “ I don’t know what got in your head, but you dishonored a whole nation, that is what that man has just said” She uttered the last words in softer and sad tone. The anger, the pain and the fear were enough to render Dalia to silence. The Brothers from the holy lands believe she really was a princess of theirs was all she understood from the big blond woman. They said they would take her to be beheaded over there for treason and dishonoring the throne.
She might have dozed off long in the middle of the angry woman’s speech; she later opened her eyes at the sound of roaring engines. She tried to move her limbs but was squeezed with an excruciating pain and hissed off moaning shrieks of agony through her swollen lips and broken jaws. The voices got louder, more threatening and closer and more distinct. Male voices together with the blonde woman’s and another female voice weighed the already thick air. She screamed in pain as the women grabbed her by the armpit and seated her. The voices did not make sense and they become louder and loaded with doom. She strained her senses to try and figure out the distant English voices from a T.V or a Radio set in the background. They were talking about the Palmer’s terrorist attack that occurred a week ago. She was unable to understand that it has been a week. She might have been asleep all this time. She heard the unmistakable voice of Tony launching “ no comment!” in answer to: “ Do you think it has anything to do with Princess Rosalia?” The menacing voices became silent for a few seconds than thundered in chaotic arguments. Her ears became clogged with air she knew the engine was a small plane’s. Her orbital contours felt swollen and her mouth dry and hard to open.
A strong hand held her still in a squatting-like position as she was about to faint. Cold sweat covered her forehead as she could not release the painful sound that tore her being. Her shoulder got numb in the strong man’s hand who said in a very clear and accent-free English:
“We called the royal family and they said they had nothing to do with you and that you are not princess Alia. Since we do not know what the Hareem look like and we know that princess Alia was in America and that she actually ran away. The guards in the Palmer’s told us the whole story.”
The short man interrupted in his very usual angry voice and his blond wife picked up the speech after he had stopped, consecutively translating both the words and anger: “ You dishonored the family and the people, we are going to make you an example so that nobody would even dare and stain our honor; the family refuted the news that a princess ran away but the brothers know that was only to save the face and because they think you no longer deserve being one of theirs” The short man’s voice rose higher and angrier while the pressure in Dalia’ head was pushing her eyes out of her head. The blonde woman raised her voice to match her husband’s: “they don’t want you; they gave you to us and we will give you the treatment we reserve for traitors!”
She heard her youngest daughter’s voice calling: “ Mom he is pushing me!” She attempted to stand up but went back to sleep. Her mother’s voice resonated in the house: “Georgy, Dalia is having a sleepover at her friend’s in South Boston can you take her there?”
The curtain opened on her father in the hospital’s bed: pale and weak. His large blue eyes occupied a great surface of his bony face. The curtain closed and reopened again. She was standing at his lifeless cold feet; she moved to the side of the bed and held his swollen lifeless cyanotic hands in hers. She palpated his radial pulse to detect any alive particles; the skin bleached and remained indented. She looked at his face and the curtain opened on the crowd while she was standing in her dancing outfit. As the music crowded the atmosphere her body started vibrating while she wore her most radiant smile. “She is going into shock!” Yelled the American guy.
The temperature was so high she felt she lost all waters inside her in this morning. The blond woman came in followed by her husband and the other two men. She could see them now clearly as the swelling around her eyes subsided. She could see her bruised body, the lacerations around her ankles and wrists. Her right shoulder must have been dislocated and she knew her right leg was broken from the excruciating pain she feels when she tries to bear on it. The group’s translator told her they were going to try her and that would give her a chance to apologize to the nation and ask god’s forgiveness before being executed. The women covered her head and covered her shoulders with the cloak -the one she wore on top of the belly dancing suit- while the English speaking man continued as if reading her rights: You will ask god forgiveness so that you might have chances to heaven no matter how minimal they seem; it is our responsibility to grant you a chance to utter Ashahada so that you would face Allah a Muslim; we know that the devil has stolen your tongue so that you would be resurrected among his, a non-Arab and non-Muslim; but you have our blood in your vein, you have the blood of the ones who protect Islam and Muslims and we are appealing to this blood in you to overcome the devil but as the Koran said: “ you do not guide whomever you like to the straight path; Allah guides whomever he chooses!” true are Allah almighty’ s words.” The man got interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone. He promised the caller to videotape the burial and he assured his caller that despite the Royal family’s refutation of the news , the brothers would not be losers. He has already passed a communique to CNN, French T.V. 5 and promised Al Jazeera the exclusivity of the execution video.
The dim light down in the chamber where she was frozen in a fetal posture ached her eyes and she experienced photosensitivity epilepsy seizures whenever the door opened. Her skin felt sticky , itchy and moist. The hot humid air weighed on her chest. This morning, the blond lady told her that Sheik decided she was to be lashed one hundred times for adultery. Although she now got used to the German woman’s accent, Dalia had difficulty understanding all her words mainly because of the fits of migraine and the woman’s high-pitched tone that exacerbated the pains. The woman usually leaves a piece of pita bread, little food and a small glass of water each time she checks on her. Dalia drank the water only. She has not been eating, since she has been held in this place. She has also stopped talking. She had retreated in a state of aloofness that is only disturbed by the excruciating migraines or the pains in the legs. She was drawn from her retreat by sudden bursts of anger of the ominous shadow standing in her face. She heard the woman yelling: “ You are married, aren’t you? Aren’t you some bitch? Princess, cheating on a prince? You know what ? that is why you are lashed today”
The sun felt so close that she felt she was melting and saw images of the god who burnt his wings flying near the sun. She heard herself cackling for the funny image. She saw her x- husband walking with his new blond wife and their very blue-eyed blond children. She saw a shadow of a mustache on the upper lip of the her husband she lifted her hand to touch it shaken with peals of laughter but the strong hand of the blond woman hit her hand down. On the desert, under the Saharian burning sun she felt her body, dry, cracked and browned as if an autumn leaf. All she saw was a man holding a whip and a crowd but nothing else was recorded. The roaring engines, the old birthday and wedding days’ recordings, her father trimming his big golden brown mustache and her first dog all played before her eyes and immersed her ear in an abysmal chaos. “Once there, we’ll drop her somewhere and I will notify her boss or the police,” she heard The American guy say.
By Jamila Ouriour