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Authors: Emily Danby

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Cinnamon (14 page)

BOOK: Cinnamon
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‘Are you afraid, my little sparrow?' Nazek queried, starting to cackle again.

Hanan made no comment. Caroline and Fatima were a world away, staring into each other's eyes. As she observed the women, they drew closer together, their lips not quite touching, but no more than a hair's width apart. This was a strange place, she thought. Even though Hanan had accompanied Nazek on many evenings, at this one she really felt she was in another world. Perhaps it was because she was so taken with Aliyah, or because she had noticed Nazek trying to get close to another woman. Or maybe it was the giant candles that Nazek had placed on all four sides of the room, lit in three-tiered spirals. Nazek had taken to collecting candles from all over the world and paid great sums of money for them. Disliking the feel of electric lighting in the evenings, instead she dotted candles throughout every metre of her desert mansion. Yet that evening, she lit only a few, wanting forms to be obscured, to stop the walls from turning to peering eyes. Portraits by great painters, which hung on the walls, were driven to distraction in Nazek's possession, having to sit with her those long hours as she drank her coffee and stared at them admiringly. Even though she loved her expensive paintings and the great ivory sculptures dotted about the corners of the house, Nazek chose to cloak them all in shadow.

Despite the low light, Hanan could still make out a new chaise longue in Nazek's collection. The elongated seat, a yellowish red colour, came close to the side of a bed. Its legs were plated with ivory, the fabric was striped gold and silver and the back of the seat was curved like a violin. On one end was a long supporting arm while the other was open, like a royal carriage.

Hanan pictured Aliyah stretched out on the seat before her. The vision sent a shudder running through her body. She was sure she felt sadder than before, daydreaming of Aliyah. When she noticed her favourite white roses, Hanan realised what great trouble Nazek had gone to for her. There were white carnations, white irises, damask roses, lilies and jasmine too, all white. But none were of any use in attracting Hanan's attention, or in winning the heart she had left at home with Aliyah. Hanan was suffocating with desire for her servant. She began moving drunkenly, peering about her. If only she could keep still. Yet she knew her body wouldn't lie to her; she wasn't the woman she had once been.

Hanan was barely aware of what was happening around her. She wanted to fly far away, to find out, as she spun around laughing with her eyes closed, who would still be there when she got dizzy. What would be left? Aliyah's fingers? Nazek's lips?

Her head seemed a tiny dot sinking far away in an ocean, having separated from her body. Like a drowning person, she was dreaming of reaching the lowest ring of the whirlpool. If it hadn't been for Nazek, who ran to catch her, Hanan's head would have hit the floor. Nazek dragged her to the chaise longue and held her tightly to her chest, patting her cheeks gently.

‘Hanan, my darling,' she whispered.

Hanan was unable to hear her and Nazek had the unbearable feeling that she was slipping away. As Caroline turned on the lights, they saw Hanan's pale face peering at Nazek, whose infatuation was quite apparent, expressed clearly in the icy way she had greeted her. Nazek found herself unable in that moment to give Hanan any sort of guidance. It wasn't the first time that a lover had abandoned her. Some had wanted to marry; others only stayed with her a night or two, simply to keep her happy. Some would even end up as regular guests. But Hanan was of another sort; she had given her body out of desire, not for some other benefit. This Nazek knew, and she valued Hanan for it. Her attachment grew stronger until she began to organise her whole life around the finer points of Hanan's desires.

Nazek took hold of Hanan's fingers and started to rub them. She took off Hanan's shoes and lifted her legs, lying her down. Placing Hanan's head in her lap, she sat teary-eyed as she gently stroked her forehead and examined the lines of pain appearing in her expression. Caroline and Fatima stood observing, affected by the scene. Suddenly Caroline burst into tears.

‘What a miserable state we're all in,' she stuttered, pouring herself another glass, which she left aside. The magic of the evening had gone for good.

‘I'm scared,' Fatima said, biting her nails as her eyes darted about her as though she were looking out for a murderer. Caroline put her arms around Fatima's shoulders and stole a kiss, to which Fatima made no response. Her eyes were fixed on Hanan, who had started to stir. Nazek had placed an arm around Hanan to help her to sit up and when Hanan slowly opened her eyes, she breathed a sigh of relief. She was on her way back from another world, and felt as though not a single moment of her life already passed bore any relation to her now. She gazed at Nazek, searching for a familiar face, as Caroline wasted no time in asking what had happened.

Nazek clapped her hands.

‘Let's have some coffee.' Hanan nodded in agreement and Nazek got up to make the coffee since, as usual, the servants had left before the evening had begun. Fatima and Caroline began to whisper once more, their voices rising and falling. With her hands clutching Fatima's face, Caroline spoke.

‘I promise that won't happen to you. I won't let you come to any harm. Whatever happens now will quickly be over. Marry him. I know what you have to go through every time they see you with me. Marry him; I'll be happy with whatever happens. I'll be by your side.'

‘Do you really mean it?'

‘Absolutely. We'll still see each other. Just promise you'll stay with me. We can keep it all secret, trust me.'

The scent of coffee filled the room, stirring Hanan from her drowsiness. Caroline and Fatima were deeply absorbed in their kiss, as though each were trying to fuse with the other. Quietly, they retreated to the next-door bedroom. Hanan remained silent as she sipped her coffee, Nazek watching her attentively.

‘Do you feel better?'

Hanan nodded as Nazek lit her a cigarette. The silence was heavy. Even the noises coming from the bedroom were barely audible. They weren't the sounds of desire, more those of a dying animal. The unsettling sound, which was accompanied by soft cries, made Hanan begin to tremble once more. She asked Nazek to take her up to the second floor. Nazek took Hanan by the hand and led her to the staircase like a lost child. Slowly, they ascended, Nazek turning every few steps to give her a furtive kiss, on the lips, on the neck, over her eyes. Hanan laughed and bit Nazek in return, responding to her affection without much feeling. Perhaps what she had heard of Caroline and Fatima's conversation had made her jealous. Nazek was eager to satisfy her own burning desires; there was a certain violence in her caresses, a force which betrayed her own feeling that she couldn't hold on to Hanan.

 

The mirror shone. The phone was still ringing. Hanan did not answer. Stroking her neck, she remembered the imprints Nazek's kisses had left that night and her sadness grew deeper, confirming her belief that the matter of her feelings had been decided in Aliyah's favour. She recalled the chaise longue which she had asked Nazek about, hoping that one day she might buy it for her lover. Hanan was angry with herself for expelling the girl.
What harm was there in her sucking an old crocodile's skin? Wasn't she still more faithful than Nazek, who had always insisted she be one of several girlfriends?

The heat of the sun was growing stronger and sweat mingled with the dust covering Aliyah's body as she heaved her bag along, limping like a wounded animal. The clammy moisture gathered over her forehead, beneath her clothes and on her scalp. After living in squalor the first half of her life, the second half she had spent in such comfort that the clammy feeling was unbearable to her now.

Those games in the bathtub gave Aliyah a joy like no other. Even when they became daily routine, none of the happiness was lost. She would rub her mistress's back and massage her whole body, discovering the beauty of her own dark complexion in contrast with the mistress's fairness, a sight which caught her attention as the water glistened over her skin and the steam opened her pores. Aliyah felt great pleasure in sensing her mistress's desires. Sometimes she dared to strip off and bathe first, filling the white bathtub with water, perfumed oils and dried rose petals, just as her mistress had taken to doing. As she studied her image in the bathroom mirror, she discovered that she had changed completely; Aliyah was no more. Once she had slipped into the tub and closed her eyes, the mistress would follow and their roles would be reversed; Hanan would massage her body as she contemplated her firm breasts, sketching lines on her thighs. Then she would dry her with a warm towel and lead her to her bed. Aliyah felt so safe there that the damage done by the horrors of nights in al-Raml was repaired. She began to feel she was never born there, that the mistress had fashioned her from the embryo of her desire.

Aliyah closed her eyes to the road and, rather than car fumes, she smelt cinnamon. The scent made her delirious – that same fragrance which had filled the air as her mistress's fingers took over her own and guided them. In complete innocence Aliyah's fingers drew the scent across Hanan's body. With her eyes closed, the fragrance led Hanan into a stupor. She sensed that her grip on the reins was lost; Aliyah had taken hold of her entirely, from the soles of her feet to the very top of her head. She seized hold of the girl's fingers, croaking at her to stop. Then, slumping, she looked into her eyes.

‘That's my girl,' she said to herself.

Aliyah took a deep breath; the excess of desire had brought her to the brink of suffocation. She should have found consolation in her recollections, but now she felt frightened. Frightened of the scent. Frightened of the touch of silk in a world that was no longer hers. She had to prepare herself to return to her former life, the one she thought she had left behind forever.

Expelled from her paradise, Aliyah wandered alone in space. She fondled the sharp knife concealed beneath her clothes. The first time her mistress had taken advantage of her this was that same knife she had immediately sought. She would strangle her, she thought, as the mistress towered above. She would bite her; she would tear her to shreds, just as she had the boys of al-Raml. Yet pleasure was more desirable than resistance. She couldn't resist those caresses, which made her feel something bubbling up inside her, turning her into an animal needing to bite.

Now she was capable of devouring men and women equally, with the same desire and strength, Aliyah thought. She had learnt it all! She muttered to herself, still walking along the road. She knew how to be patient in waiting for what she wanted. That was exactly what she had done until the mistress became the pawn of her desires and the master a slave to his servant's games. She had turned the grand house into her own palace where others could be made to move according to her will. Daytimes were of little importance; she could clean more or less as she fancied, since Hanan no longer held her to account for anything. But at night things were different. She no longer had use for her knife; all that she needed was a few new games to play with Hanan. Aliyah shivered at the thought of Hanan's caresses, having never forgotten the night she had held on to her, dangling her as she swung between her thighs. She stopped for a minute, placing her hand on her forehead as her vision became immersed in the endless road before her. For a second her sight went. Then she walked on once more, almost in a zigzag. She panted with exhaustion.

 

Aliyah didn't feel happy. She wasn't sad either. She felt nothing extraordinary, other than that it was the first time that any being had overwhelmed her with such love. She hadn't thought to question whether her actions were lawful or sinful. She had begun waiting for the evenings, when Hanan would silently call for her. The mistress's looks alone would tell her what was going to happen. Often she would start to caress Hanan without her showing the slightest interest, but as soon as she turned to meet her eyes, Aliyah would understand what she wanted. This was how it proceeded until one day when the mistress came back to the house late at night, whilst Aliyah was asleep. Hanan entered her room, whistling a sad tune. She woke Aliyah up, took her to her own room and had sex with her. The girl soon fell asleep, not to wake until morning when the cook knocked at the door. Hanan was startled to see Aliyah lying next to her as she heard the knocking on the door and noticed the sun exposing her naked body in scandalous detail. The cook waited behind the door until Hanan ordered her to leave. Hanan peered at the stunned expression on Aliyah's face, which turned a lemon colour when confronted with the mistress's terrifying look of rage.

Aliyah stood naked before Hanan. The mistress waved her hands wildly, cursing and swearing as she scrambled about the room in search of something to cover her body, all the while beating her aching head. Aliyah moved not an inch from her spot, but stood frozen, clueless as to what was happening. What had provoked her mistress's anger? What had she possibly done wrong? She had no idea, until the mistress screamed:

BOOK: Cinnamon
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