“Have you signed up yet?”
Karim has asked me this three days straight. His eyebrows raising just above the monitor, forcing his forehead into rippled sand dunes.
“Not yet. Tomorrow for sure.” I don’t sound convincing.
The sand dunes ripple deeper.
I calculated that over half my work day is spent talking to Karim’s forehead. On my first day, when he enquired about my previous role, I panicked. Should I get up, walk round to his cubicle and do the normal get-to-know-him chit-chat? The shyness in me took over; red-faced, I froze. Following his lead, we talk this way every day. He is the only one I talk to.
In my second month he showed up late. I remember he had never been late before. Above the monitor I caught sight of a bulging bruise, a cut, just below his hairline. His usually just-been-cut symmetrical hair had been sculpted to hang more loosely over to one side. More wax had been used that day.
I spent the whole morning trying to squeeze my concerns into conversation. Not too dramatic, not too judgy – just right. He beat me to the punch. Rich had finally gone, he informed me. He’d been brave, forced him out, packed up his things. He was looking forward to a fresh start.
The bruise eventually faded along with my concerns. It took weeks to heal. Morphing daily between reds, plums and jaundiced greens. Hair symmetry returned. His youthful beachy forehead returned too but the sand dunes were deeper now.
“Over 60% of women who take the class successfully defended themselves – I’ll email the link.”
I’m more a thinker than a doer but people like Karim never understand that. So full of confidence, no qualms about meeting new people, new situations. For introverts ‘the new’ can result in panic mode, the sweats, heart palpitation, anxiety. Bookish people in gyms are like…
“I’m not sure it’s the right class for me,” I suggest, trying to sound rational.
“Sign up girl. We need this. The world’s gone to shit. We gotta get our Lara Croft thing on.”
He’s right. Living in a city can be intense, random, and scary. Dawn till dusk used to be the safe hours. I open the website. Toned men and women in coordinated Lycra stare me down from inside a futuristic gym, telling me, “Danger is lurking; protect your rights; learn to fight!” I close the browser. I’ll sign up tomorrow.
Months go by and Karim has stopped mentioning the class. There is gossip of a ‘Mike’, sporadic giggles after every phone buzz, raising his hairline into a smile. I’m delighted. He’s clearly forgotten the class and I can breathe a sigh of relief.
9:07 Karim is late.
9:12 The familiar slurping of his coffee makes me look up. His head is lower than normal, turned away. He’s wearing the same shirt as yesterday. A total fashion faux pas by his standards.
“Dirty stop out.”
He doesn’t laugh, turns to face his monitor. The left side of his head is purple, raised and badly covered up with concealer. He doesn’t say a word all morning.
On his way back from a third toilet mirror visit, I stand up and make my announcement.
“I’ve signed us up. I don’t want one word about my gym kit. One bitchy comment and you’re on your own.”
He smiles. His eyes are a gorgeous egg shell blue, and a little watery. I never knew they were blue.
In friendship, sometimes you just have to take the lead.
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