The next day Amir did his chores and errands with lacklustre efficiency, his attention elsewhere through it all. Thoughts swirled in his mind like debris caught up in a dust devil. He found himself looking at his watch more than he liked.
When at last it was time to make his way to the cafe he set out at a leisurely pace and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city as he went. It was a hot, sultry day and only those with business to attend to seemed inclined to venture out. He dropped the books off at the library, having gleaned everything from them he could. Having considered it all he was inclined to think it nonsense. If anything, it all reminded him of why he had come to renounce his faith. There was simply too much of the absurd for one with a logical mind, given over to reason so naturally.
So it was that he was left to wonder how he had begun to entertain the notion that this fascinating woman could be anything other than what she was. Yes, he had seen something out of the corner of his eye, but that could simply have been a trick of the light. And as to her manner of speech and her elusiveness, well, didn’t women employ these tactics to enhance their allure? Well, some did at any rate.
He had to wonder, then, if she was in fact flirting with him. They had met twice, and she had commanded him to meet her today. Surely it was leading to something. The thought made him quicken his pace. On an impulse he stopped at a vendor’s tent and bought a rose. When he got to the cafe he looked around only to see the place was nearly empty. He sat down at the same table they had sat at the previous times and looked at his watch. He was a couple of minutes early, he supposed, though she hadn’t really specified a time. He looked at the rose and wondered if he was doing the right thing. He signalled to the waiter for a drink and sat back to wait. Ten minutes went by and he was beginning to think it was going to be a disappointing afternoon. He turned his head to look out the window and then nearly jumped out of his chair when he turned back. She was sitting right across from him with the rose in her hand, smiling.
“For me,” she asked, a coy smile greeting him.
“Yes…I mean, well…I…”
He cursed himself inwardly for faltering. She continued to smile, clearly enjoying his discomfort.
“Thank you. I love roses. Such a thing of beauty.”
He wanted to say even as yourself, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to it. Instead he merely sat there and stared, feeling himself redden. He asked her what she wanted to drink to break the tension and then got up to get it rather than calling the waiter over. It was obvious, but it was all he could think to do to recover his composure.
When he returned she was gazing out the window. He put her drink in front of her and steeled himself to take control.
“So, here we are. You told me to meet you here and I came. Why don’t you tell me about yourself? I don’t even know your name.”
Her eyebrows were raised. He could see the wheels turning.
Zahira, he thought to himself. Luminous. Of course.
“Well, yes. Yes you are at that.”
She lowered her eyes demurely.
“I have something I want to ask you.”