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Empathy

Riyadh 2007

Her eyes were tightly closed, a trickle of blood escaped from pursed lips and made a dripping pattern on the marble floor. I placed my hand on her back trying to ease the throbbing tension but in reality I knew it did little good.  Her tiny frame shook and there was nothing else to be done. There were no prescription tablets, ice packs or specialty foods, this was it. I held her hand and let her squeeze mine, but it was clear she was unable to absorb the unrelenting pounding.  In my desperation I crushed cubes of ice with a mallet and placed them in a cloth, softly holding them on her cheek and jaw. I watched the clock, waiting for seconds to tick away when another dose of tablets could be given. Her head rested against mine and she relaxed for a few moments and then drifted into a chaotic sleep.

The phone did not ring and no inquiries regarding the removal of her wisdom teeth were ever made. He was at the camp where he had worked for months, only returning on weekends. I told myself that he was busy and of course his mind was on our household and he would be calling soon. I was sure he would return a day early as he had numerous times for visits with friends and dinners.

The children played and laughed, free to move about without restriction. It was better this way and it was my job and duty to ease his stress. The phone rang and a wave of guilt washed over me for doubting his commitment to our family. He reminded me regularly that we were his top priority and he worked hard to provide and take care of us. I grabbed the receiver and eagerly answered with the customary greetings. There was a pause and then I heard my mother’s voice. “How is Saleeha”? She listened intently as I recounted our day; a ride provided by the man who owned the falafel shop, dropped off at the dentist for surgical removal of wisdom teeth, a few hours spent in the waiting area and a somewhat complicated procedure with local anesthesia that had been inadequate, followed by a return trip to the villa.  I asked her what else could be done for pain as no medication was provided. She gave some tips for reduction of swelling and let me know that she was there for support any time of day. My father’s unwavering voice added a level of comfort and he assured me that everything would turn out o.k.

Dinner, bedtime and clean up, the evening ended with pain, more bleeding and a desperation that had become normal. No call, no email and no hope that he might come home a day early to help with the situation. The kids were put to bed, more ice was crushed and I took my position on the single bed where I could keep watch overnight.

The next afternoon he walked through the door at the usual time. He smiled, greeting the little ones, laughing and swinging them in the air. I managed a grin knowing that happiness was always required. He watched Saleeha and laughed joyously stepping towards her. I knew it was finally time, he would embrace her, purchase ice cream and inquire about her surgery.  She stood looking gaunt and disheveled, pieces of her curly hair stuck in a sweaty matte on her forehead and tiny spots of blood about her mouth.

He told her she was fine and grabbed each cheek boldly pinching them between his thumb and finger in a back and forth motion. This was life and we should thank God and count our blessings.

 

 

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