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J Grant

The Egyptian and the Saint

 He was “big man on campus” in high school. But that wasn’t her only attraction to him. He was darkly handsome, athletic and intelligent; co-captain of the football team, student body president and chair of the debate team. She was smart and intellectual, herself, but couldn’t compare to his talents. She was surprised when he even noticed her. She had always thought of herself as homely and rather uninteresting.
She was sitting alone on a bench behind the quad overlooking the small fishpond, reading “The Hare and the Haruspex”. The sun was bright so she was wearing her pink sunglasses, which she thought was a perfect match for her pink flip-flops and deep, red pedal- pushers. Carol King’s soothing voice was softly floating from her portable radio, “You’ve Got a Friend”. Suddenly, she was startled by the shadow cast over her book.
“Whatcha read’n?” He flashed his perfect white teeth and stood his most manly pose. He was carrying a large athletic bag over his shoulder.
“Oh it’s just a story about a rabbit and a sorcerer”, she said as she squinted and straightened her sunglasses to get a better look.
“Well, which one are you, the rabbit or the sorcerer?” he said.
“Well, I’m more the rabbit,” she smiled softly.
“In that case I’m asking you to go to the movies with me on Saturday”, he grinned.
“I can’t on Saturday. Mother is working and I have to watch my brother, but Sunday afternoon I’m free,” she quickly replied.
“Great. It’s a date then. I’ll pick you up at two thirty.” As he was walking away, she yelled,
“But you don’t know where I live. ”
“Sure I do!”, he said with a wink. This obviously wasn’t the first time he had noticed Bea.
That was the start of it – they became inseparable through the rest of high school. Rafa was so taken with Bea’s self-effacing, humble demeanor and conscientiousness that he often called her “Saint Bea”. Bea had complete admiration for Rafa. But her mother didn’t care for him, even if his parents were wealthy, his mother a doctor and his father a successful businessman. His family was Egyptian, emigrating from Cairo in the early sixties, settling in rural Montana, near the South Dakota border. The cold winters were new for them, but they enjoyed the new experiences of snow and winter sports. Rafa particularly enjoyed cross-country skiing. He was the second born and very close to his sister, Layla, three years older.
It wasn’t because he was Egyptian that Bea’s mother disliked him. She thought him to be arrogant, self-centered and reckless; he was impulsive and often reckless at times. He drove fast. Once when he and Bea were driving on a mountainous road, he almost killed them both, driving fast and loosing control of the car on a hairpin curve. Fortunately, neither was hurt badly; broken bones, cuts and scratches. Bea was almost afraid to ride with him after that. But she had fallen in love and was convinced he would be a successful scientist or research physician someday, that he would make significant contributions to the world. She valued his conscientious attitude toward the social underdog, even though he could be ruthless on the football field. She was always admonishing him to be more careful and less reckless. She had premonitions that something terrible would happen to him.
Rafa’s family was Muslim, but not very religious and did not attend mosque. Bea’s family was Catholic but they rarely attended church on a regular basis either. Rafa’s parents were always at odds with one another; the family climate was stormy and contentious. Rafa’s father, Ahmed, was a good-looking man in spite of his obesity. He was quick witted, his fast-paced speech was frequently emphasized with curse words. He was an autodidact, curious about many things and very knowledgeable about how international trade markets worked. His affection for Rafa was liberally demonstrated, “Rafa, my son, you are a rare person. You have intelligence far above the average. I have great expectations and plans for you in my business. Together we can build an empire.” Rafa’s respect for his father was so great he did not dare question his expectations that he would work with him in his business after graduation.
Ahmed enjoyed debate and winning arguments. He would ruthlessly tease Rafa’s mother, Akela, into debates about women’s roles. But she was strong also and could return his taunts as well as hurl her own criticisms toward him. They had not met before their marriage, which had been arranged by their parents. Akela’s father and Ahmed’s father were good friends and always thought the two would bring their families closer together. Ahmed and Akela were not a good match. They had different values. Akela was very conscientious; she became a physician at an early age and wanted to help others – a healer. Ahmed was self-centered and manipulative – a user.
“Akela your cooking is lacking in complimentary spices – only men know how to combine spices to make the food most delectable. I will show you which spices to use,” accused Ahmed. Akela replied with irritation, “Your spices are always too strong and overwhelm the palate. You could learn a lot by carefully paying attention to how women cook with subtlety.” And so it went; there was always contention. Even though their relationship was fraught with conflict, they did have in common their rebellious stance against the Muslim religion. This led to their immigration to the U.S. about a year after their marriage. This was, of course against their parents wishes. Rafa took the role of mediator between them, and was always trying to help them make peace with one another. He suffered from strong bouts of anxiety and depression as a result. He was fearful they would divorce.
Bea never knew her father; he left the family when she was a baby. Her mother told her he was “no good – a drug addict, not worth meeting”. Her mother worked very hard in a shoe factory and was always tired. She had a critical attitude about almost everything. Bea had very low self-esteem as a result of living with constant criticism, but her mother was a good provider for Bea and her brother, Craig. Craig was the product of an extra-marital affair, during the stormy relationship between Bea’s mother and father. He dropped out of high school at the same time Bea graduated and she had very little contact with him after he moved to New Orleans.
Because Rafa was the valedictorian at their graduation, he gave the commencement speech. Bea was moved to tears by his opening lines: “To love and to be loved in return is the greatest gift of all. There is much love here at Whitman High. Our wonderful principle has demonstrated how compassion tempers and guides fair discipline and respect for even the least of us. Our teachers are dedicated and demanding, and have guided us toward achieving our best. What is this but love? We, the students, love our principle and teachers in return and thank you for all you have given, including that greatest gift of all.”
Despite the many opportunities offered Rafa, he did not attend college because of his father’s expectation that he would work for him. Rafa could not refuse his father’s wishes. Bea stayed in town too, wanting to be near Rafa. She was disappointed that he didn’t go to college. “Rafa, you are too enmeshed with your family. You have so much potential. You could be a great scientist or a physician, like your mother.” But Rafa would not listen. He felt responsible for his parents and obligated to his father. So Bea took a job working as an assistant in a veterinarian’s office. She loved caring for the animals.
Rafa enjoyed working with his father. They imported mostly from Egypt, but had expanded to the Far East as well. They supplied dry good to many of the import businesses in the U.S. Rafa enjoyed the buying trips with his father and traveled to many of the Mid-Eastern countries. Even though they had always been close, they became even closer now. Rafa’s admiration for his father was deep, even though he knew he was not good with people and sometimes unethical.
One late night, when Rafa returned to the office to retrieve some sports equipment, he received a terrible blow. When he walked into his father’s office he found his father and the business secretary, Nailah on the sofa, scantly clad in a passionate embrace. He quickly closed the door and went outside to his car. He sat there a while, devastated. He knew his father had transacted some shady business deals, and he had often worried that his parents might split up, but this kind of betrayal to the family was completely unexpected. As he was getting into the car his father came out and sat beside him. He was contrite. Even though he cared little about others, he cared about Rafa and feared his rejection. He pleaded with Rafa not to tell Akela. Rafa agreed not to tell her on one condition – that Ahmed tell Akela himelf. Ahmed reluctantly agreed.
The next day Ahmed told Akela they needed to talk. “I have something very difficult to tell you, Akela. “What is it this time?” Akela had experienced many of Ahmed’s nefarious adventures. “Akela, I have been unfaithful. Rafa discovered my secret intimate involvement with Nailah last night.” Akela was crushed. “I promised him I would tell you so I am telling you.” Ahmed said without feeling. Being a very emotional and forthright woman, she immediately reacted with anger. She told Ahmed to leave them. “I have tolerated all kinds of disappointment and shame by you Ahmed, but this I will not tolerate.” Ahmed moved out. Akela divorced him a few months later.
“It’s your fault. Rafa,” Ahmed told him. “Your mother and I would still be married if you had not demanded I tell her about Nailah.” Rafa searched for forgiveness toward his father, but could not face him. He tried to continue working for him but there was so much pain and hurt he avoided him. He finally quit and took a job with a local pharmaceutical company. Ahmed eventually sold the store and returned to Cairo, leaving Rafa with overwhelming grief and guilt.
Akela became very depressed and completely bitter. Rafa tried to console her. He took her shopping, brought her flowers and even cooked for her at times, trying to cheer her up and appease his guilt. But his mother was too bitter and rejected all his efforts. Her confusion and anger was taken out on Rafa. She was confused and angry. She had always been jealous of Rafa’s closeness with his father. “It’s your fault I am divorced and alone. If you hadn’t forced Ahmed to tell me about the affair we would still be married. Rafa became so distraught and frustrated he moved in with Bea and her mother. They were all miserable.
During all this Bea, stood beside Rafa. She was always there for him, trying to console him. She encouraged him to let go of his role of trying to take care of his parents and to focus on himself and his success. She finally suggested they move away and get a new start together. Rafa agreed. They moved to Atlanta, Ga., where they had high school friends who had moved there from South Dakota just after graduation. They easily found work, Rafa with another pharmaceutical lab and Bea with a marketing firm. But Rafa carried his deep wounds and guilt and regret with him; he began using alcohol heavily, and drugs he pilfered from work. Bea tried to talk to him, but he was too wounded to hear anything encouraging. She pleaded for him to get professional help but he refused.
Bea came home from work one day and found a note:
“Dear Bea,
I know I have to make some changes in my life. You remember Tommy, my football buddy. I received a call from him today and he has suggested I come work with him. He is still in South Dakota and has a high-level job at NASA. He has found a position for me there. I plan to attend college. I don’t want you to go with me. I am not good for you and offer you nothing but pain. Love, Rafa.
Bea’s grief was almost unbearable. Rafa had been her life, her soul-mate, her true love. She grieved for days. She was always eager to hear from him, but he contacted her infrequently and when he did he was distant. She tried to convince him to come back, but he refused. “I am not good for you Bea, I am unstable and irresponsible and have caused great pain and suffering to those I love. I don’t think I can be a good partner with you.” He added, “I do miss you.” “I miss you too- terribly, please come home.” “I’m sorry I can’t right now, Bea. I have a job that is promising.” “Then I can come to you there, Rafa.” “No, Bea, I can’t be with anyone, I’m not worthy.” He hung up.
With great difficulty Bea managed herself at work. Her friends were supportive and tried to get her to take a close look at Rafa’s unstable behavior and how he had not been good for her. “Rafa has always had emotional problems. Even though he is very intelligent, he is very unstable. He has always struggled with depression and has been very reckless. Don’t you remember he almost killed you once?”
Thinking it was over between them, Bea dated other men, but couldn’t be serious about anyone else. She longed to be with Rafa.
After a few months, Rafa suddenly reappeared. Bea came home from work one day and found him sitting on the sofa in her small apartment reading the newspaper.
He was contrite. He said “Bea, I’m so sorry I ever left you. It was foolish of me, but I was so confused and distraught I couldn’t think straight. You have been my anchor for so many years. I realize now that I can never live without you. Please have me back.” Bea did not hesitate, “Of course I will take you back. I love you and always will.” She was happy to be reunited.
Then Rafa revealed a new plan. “My father has been in touch and has started a new dry goods business in Cairo. He also manages one of the fine hotels in Cairo. He wants me to come and manage the new business. I’m very excited. It is an opportunity to travel and experience Egypt. You would really like it there, I’m sure.” Bea was reluctant and knew his father well – his manipulative ways. She was also fearful of going to a country so far away – she had never traveled outside the U.S. But Rafa used all his charms and finally convinced her. She did not want to loose him again. She finally agreed but only on the condition that they get married. Rafa agreed and they had a quick civil wedding.
Once in Cairo, Bea and Rafa at first settled in with his father, but soon moved out due to his father’s unbearable behavior. He drank a lot and was a habitual womanizer, even making advances toward Bea.
Within their first year there, a boy, Naeem, was born. Rafa continued to manage the store for a while, but quit and took care of Naeem, after Bea landed a very prestigious, but demanding, position with a local Egyptian brokerage firm. The job paid so well it allowed Rafa to be the house-husband. Another boy, Akila, followed within the following year.
Rafa loved Naeem and Akila and was excellent at caring for them. Bea became so busy she had very little time for the family. They didn’t talk much. One day while shopping for dinner at the local market, Rafa met Mohammed, a man who changed his life. They were both attempting to take the same eggplant from the stall. “I’m sorry, you can have it,” Mohammed, quickly relented. “Oh no”, said Rafa, “It’s yours. I can find another.” They both laughed, then introduced themselves. As they talked, Rafa learned that Mohammed had studied in the U.S. and was now teaching the history of Islam at Cairo University. He had a very compelling aura about him. He seemed to like Rafa, so Rafa invited him to go with him and the boys to picnic in the park. Mohammed accepted. He was not married and living alone. They became close friends and began to spend a lot of time together.
“Rafa, you are a good man, but you are living the life of an infidel. I am concerned about your sons and their welfare,” Mohammed said to Rafa one day, while they were visiting the Cairo museum. Rafa told Mohammed about his parents and his difficult childhood as well as his involvement in their divorce. Mohammed was compassionate toward Rafa. “Your parents turned their backs on God and reared you in an atmosphere of conflict and discord. But you must now turn toward God for the sake of your sons. Without religious guidance they will live a life of unhappiness and turmoil as you did.”
These words struck fear in the heart of Rafa. He cared deeply about Naeem and Akila. He did not want them to live the tortured childhood he had experienced. He began religious training for the boys and began attended Mosque for prayers. He asked Bea to join him in prayers and attending the Mosque, but Bea refused. She had developed a very different life now. She was becoming her own person and beginning to realize her potential and worth. She began to realize her dissociated anger toward her mother’s harsh repression.
She thought it curious that Rafa was spending more and more time with Mohammed and attending prayers since he had grown up without any particular religious beliefs as she had. Rafa tried to talk to her about his fears of the boys growing up without religious direction and Mohammed’s cautionary beliefs. Bea was indifferent telling Rafa, “It’s fine with me that you are becoming more religious. I don’t think it can hurt the boys to have this training.” Rafa wanted Bea to consider becoming Muslim.
But Bea had changed too. She was enjoying her “new self”, being more assertive. She welcomed the accolades she began to receive at work. Becoming successful in the high-pressure secular world of finance had given her the confidence she had always lacked. She soon became the top broker for the company and was sought after for her adroit skills in promoting the products of many banks around the world. She did not want to assume the role of subservient Muslim wife.
Curious about Bea’s work, one day Rafa opened her mail, while she was napping. He was struck a severe blow! “Can we meet again for lunch at that little café near your office on Tuesday?,” read Christopher’s note. “Sure, that’s great! I look forward to seeing you again,” Bea had replied. Rafa’s panic thrust him into a rage! Without allowing her explanation, he immediately demanded that she move out. She was fearful of his rage. She moved in with Layla, who had also moved to Cairo and was working as an editor for an Egyptian newspaper. Layla was sympathetic and supportive to both Rafa and Bea. She acted as a mediator and was able to convince Rafa that nothing romantic had happened between Bea and Christopher – they had just been friends and Bea had helped him adjust to life in Cairo, after meeting him on a story he was covering about the difficulties banks were having with international trade.
After two weeks, Rafa eventually conceded and agreed to have Bea return, but with rigid requirements. He stipulated that he would take her back if she would wear the burka and participate in daily prayers. She contritely agreed to this, but secretly was not able to convince herself that she was a “believer”. She returned to live with him and the boys.
Her agreement lasted about a month. Even though she continued to participate in daily prayers (she, of course, could pray any way she chose in silent prayer,) she gradually began to discard the burka, at first while at work, then for a few hours at a time when she went shopping, then days at a time and finally discarded it altogether. Rafa tolerated this with anguish; he began to complain bitterly about her behavior: she dressed too seductively; she was too harsh and demanding; she had begun cursing; she lied about things; he even called her names, like “sociopath” and “psychopath”. Bea felt guilty but had become enough of her own person to stand up, argue back and defend her innocence. She knew she had been neglectful, but she cared about Rafa and the boys and she tried to make things work between them.
She tried to get him to accept her as an equal, a woman with power and intelligence. “I am a woman who has grown and is now very different from the girl you first met, sitting at the pond in pedal pushers, Rafa. You have become paranoid about my behavior; you’re afraid of being hurt; you have become insecure and are not using you’re good intelligence. I will not betray you, like your father did with your mother. But I have become my own person now and I cannot allow you to own me, or treat me like a piece of property. I love you but I will not tolerate your dictating to me how I should behave. You have to trust me.”
But, Rafa persisted in his insecurity and mistrust. He was always anxious, slept very little, and was constantly hostile toward Bea. Layla became concerned and talked to him, trying to convince him that he was becoming too rigid in his beliefs. Even his father could see that Rafa was coming apart at the seams and tried to intervene. They were all concerned that he was having a complete beak-down and tried to convince him to get professional help. But he refused. He became worse and worse. There were several months of severe tension and bickering between him and Bea.
Then Rafa went missing for several days. Bea had to enlist the help of Layla and a nanny to mind the boys. Everyone was concerned. Finally, Bea received a phone call at work one day: Rafa’s body had been recovered in the Nile. He apparently had been seen jumping off a bridge.
Bea was devastated. She knew Rafa had been struggling his whole life with his difficult childhood and his relationships with his parents. She also knew she had been an anchor for him. She felt so guilty about her neglect toward him and the boys, she herself turned to religion for solace. She could not accept the rigid rules of the Muslims, nor could she believe in the Christian idea that there is only one path to God. As she prayed to a Force she accepted without idols or dogma, she recalled her first encounter with Rafa, the story she was reading and what she had told him when they first met. She felt she had been more the evil force of a sorcerer than the gentle energy of a rabbit – an evil force that betrayed and destroyed him.

(3,940 word count)
The Egyptian and the Saint

He was “big man on campus” in high school. But that wasn’t her only attraction to him. He was darkly handsome, athletic and intelligent; co-captain of the football team, student body president and chair of the debate team. She was smart and intellectual, herself, but couldn’t compare to his talents. She was surprised when he even noticed her. She had always thought of herself as homely and rather uninteresting.
She was sitting alone on a bench behind the quad overlooking the small fishpond, reading “The Hare and the Haruspex”. The sun was bright so she was wearing her pink sunglasses, which she thought was a perfect match for her pink flip-flops and deep, red pedal- pushers. Carol King’s soothing voice was softly floating from her portable radio, “You’ve Got a Friend”. Suddenly, she was startled by the shadow cast over her book.
“Whatcha read’n?” He flashed his perfect white teeth and stood his most manly pose. He was carrying a large athletic bag over his shoulder.
“Oh it’s just a story about a rabbit and a sorcerer”, she said as she squinted and straightened her sunglasses to get a better look.
“Well, which one are you, the rabbit or the sorcerer?” he said.
“Well, I’m more the rabbit,” she smiled softly.
“In that case I’m asking you to go to the movies with me on Saturday”, he grinned.
“I can’t on Saturday. Mother is working and I have to watch my brother, but Sunday afternoon I’m free,” she quickly replied.
“Great. It’s a date then. I’ll pick you up at two thirty.” As he was walking away, she yelled,
“But you don’t know where I live. ”
“Sure I do!”, he said with a wink. This obviously wasn’t the first time he had noticed Bea.
That was the start of it – they became inseparable through the rest of high school. Rafa was so taken with Bea’s self-effacing, humble demeanor and conscientiousness that he often called her “Saint Bea”. Bea had complete admiration for Rafa. But her mother didn’t care for him, even if his parents were wealthy, his mother a doctor and his father a successful businessman. His family was Egyptian, emigrating from Cairo in the early sixties, settling in rural Montana, near the South Dakota border. The cold winters were new for them, but they enjoyed the new experiences of snow and winter sports. Rafa particularly enjoyed cross-country skiing. He was the second born and very close to his sister, Layla, three years older.
It wasn’t because he was Egyptian that Bea’s mother disliked him. She thought him to be arrogant, self-centered and reckless; he was impulsive and often reckless at times. He drove fast. Once when he and Bea were driving on a mountainous road, he almost killed them both, driving fast and loosing control of the car on a hairpin curve. Fortunately, neither was hurt badly; broken bones, cuts and scratches. Bea was almost afraid to ride with him after that. But she had fallen in love and was convinced he would be a successful scientist or research physician someday, that he would make significant contributions to the world. She valued his conscientious attitude toward the social underdog, even though he could be ruthless on the football field. She was always admonishing him to be more careful and less reckless. She had premonitions that something terrible would happen to him.
Rafa’s family was Muslim, but not very religious and did not attend mosque. Bea’s family was Catholic but they rarely attended church on a regular basis either. Rafa’s parents were always at odds with one another; the family climate was stormy and contentious. Rafa’s father, Ahmed, was a good-looking man in spite of his obesity. He was quick witted, his fast-paced speech was frequently emphasized with curse words. He was an autodidact, curious about many things and very knowledgeable about how international trade markets worked. His affection for Rafa was liberally demonstrated, “Rafa, my son, you are a rare person. You have intelligence far above the average. I have great expectations and plans for you in my business. Together we can build an empire.” Rafa’s respect for his father was so great he did not dare question his expectations that he would work with him in his business after graduation.
Ahmed enjoyed debate and winning arguments. He would ruthlessly tease Rafa’s mother, Akela, into debates about women’s roles. But she was strong also and could return his taunts as well as hurl her own criticisms toward him. They had not met before their marriage, which had been arranged by their parents. Akela’s father and Ahmed’s father were good friends and always thought the two would bring their families closer together. Ahmed and Akela were not a good match. They had different values. Akela was very conscientious; she became a physician at an early age and wanted to help others – a healer. Ahmed was self-centered and manipulative – a user.
“Akela your cooking is lacking in complimentary spices – only men know how to combine spices to make the food most delectable. I will show you which spices to use,” accused Ahmed. Akela replied with irritation, “Your spices are always too strong and overwhelm the palate. You could learn a lot by carefully paying attention to how women cook with subtlety.” And so it went; there was always contention. Even though their relationship was fraught with conflict, they did have in common their rebellious stance against the Muslim religion. This led to their immigration to the U.S. about a year after their marriage. This was, of course against their parents wishes. Rafa took the role of mediator between them, and was always trying to help them make peace with one another. He suffered from strong bouts of anxiety and depression as a result. He was fearful they would divorce.
Bea never knew her father; he left the family when she was a baby. Her mother told her he was “no good – a drug addict, not worth meeting”. Her mother worked very hard in a shoe factory and was always tired. She had a critical attitude about almost everything. Bea had very low self-esteem as a result of living with constant criticism, but her mother was a good provider for Bea and her brother, Craig. Craig was the product of an extra-marital affair, during the stormy relationship between Bea’s mother and father. He dropped out of high school at the same time Bea graduated and she had very little contact with him after he moved to New Orleans.
Because Rafa was the valedictorian at their graduation, he gave the commencement speech. Bea was moved to tears by his opening lines: “To love and to be loved in return is the greatest gift of all. There is much love here at Whitman High. Our wonderful principle has demonstrated how compassion tempers and guides fair discipline and respect for even the least of us. Our teachers are dedicated and demanding, and have guided us toward achieving our best. What is this but love? We, the students, love our principle and teachers in return and thank you for all you have given, including that greatest gift of all.”
Despite the many opportunities offered Rafa, he did not attend college because of his father’s expectation that he would work for him. Rafa could not refuse his father’s wishes. Bea stayed in town too, wanting to be near Rafa. She was disappointed that he didn’t go to college. “Rafa, you are too enmeshed with your family. You have so much potential. You could be a great scientist or a physician, like your mother.” But Rafa would not listen. He felt responsible for his parents and obligated to his father. So Bea took a job working as an assistant in a veterinarian’s office. She loved caring for the animals.
Rafa enjoyed working with his father. They imported mostly from Egypt, but had expanded to the Far East as well. They supplied dry good to many of the import businesses in the U.S. Rafa enjoyed the buying trips with his father and traveled to many of the Mid-Eastern countries. Even though they had always been close, they became even closer now. Rafa’s admiration for his father was deep, even though he knew he was not good with people and sometimes unethical.
One late night, when Rafa returned to the office to retrieve some sports equipment, he received a terrible blow. When he walked into his father’s office he found his father and the business secretary, Nailah on the sofa, scantly clad in a passionate embrace. He quickly closed the door and went outside to his car. He sat there a while, devastated. He knew his father had transacted some shady business deals, and he had often worried that his parents might split up, but this kind of betrayal to the family was completely unexpected. As he was getting into the car his father came out and sat beside him. He was contrite. Even though he cared little about others, he cared about Rafa and feared his rejection. He pleaded with Rafa not to tell Akela. Rafa agreed not to tell her on one condition – that Ahmed tell Akela himelf. Ahmed reluctantly agreed.
The next day Ahmed told Akela they needed to talk. “I have something very difficult to tell you, Akela. “What is it this time?” Akela had experienced many of Ahmed’s nefarious adventures. “Akela, I have been unfaithful. Rafa discovered my secret intimate involvement with Nailah last night.” Akela was crushed. “I promised him I would tell you so I am telling you.” Ahmed said without feeling. Being a very emotional and forthright woman, she immediately reacted with anger. She told Ahmed to leave them. “I have tolerated all kinds of disappointment and shame by you Ahmed, but this I will not tolerate.” Ahmed moved out. Akela divorced him a few months later.
“It’s your fault. Rafa,” Ahmed told him. “Your mother and I would still be married if you had not demanded I tell her about Nailah.” Rafa searched for forgiveness toward his father, but could not face him. He tried to continue working for him but there was so much pain and hurt he avoided him. He finally quit and took a job with a local pharmaceutical company. Ahmed eventually sold the store and returned to Cairo, leaving Rafa with overwhelming grief and guilt.
Akela became very depressed and completely bitter. Rafa tried to console her. He took her shopping, brought her flowers and even cooked for her at times, trying to cheer her up and appease his guilt. But his mother was too bitter and rejected all his efforts. Her confusion and anger was taken out on Rafa. She was confused and angry. She had always been jealous of Rafa’s closeness with his father. “It’s your fault I am divorced and alone. If you hadn’t forced Ahmed to tell me about the affair we would still be married. Rafa became so distraught and frustrated he moved in with Bea and her mother. They were all miserable.
During all this Bea, stood beside Rafa. She was always there for him, trying to console him. She encouraged him to let go of his role of trying to take care of his parents and to focus on himself and his success. She finally suggested they move away and get a new start together. Rafa agreed. They moved to Atlanta, Ga., where they had high school friends who had moved there from South Dakota just after graduation. They easily found work, Rafa with another pharmaceutical lab and Bea with a marketing firm. But Rafa carried his deep wounds and guilt and regret with him; he began using alcohol heavily, and drugs he pilfered from work. Bea tried to talk to him, but he was too wounded to hear anything encouraging. She pleaded for him to get professional help but he refused.
Bea came home from work one day and found a note:
“Dear Bea,
I know I have to make some changes in my life. You remember Tommy, my football buddy. I received a call from him today and he has suggested I come work with him. He is still in South Dakota and has a high-level job at NASA. He has found a position for me there. I plan to attend college. I don’t want you to go with me. I am not good for you and offer you nothing but pain. Love, Rafa.
Bea’s grief was almost unbearable. Rafa had been her life, her soul-mate, her true love. She grieved for days. She was always eager to hear from him, but he contacted her infrequently and when he did he was distant. She tried to convince him to come back, but he refused. “I am not good for you Bea, I am unstable and irresponsible and have caused great pain and suffering to those I love. I don’t think I can be a good partner with you.” He added, “I do miss you.” “I miss you too- terribly, please come home.” “I’m sorry I can’t right now, Bea. I have a job that is promising.” “Then I can come to you there, Rafa.” “No, Bea, I can’t be with anyone, I’m not worthy.” He hung up.
With great difficulty Bea managed herself at work. Her friends were supportive and tried to get her to take a close look at Rafa’s unstable behavior and how he had not been good for her. “Rafa has always had emotional problems. Even though he is very intelligent, he is very unstable. He has always struggled with depression and has been very reckless. Don’t you remember he almost killed you once?”
Thinking it was over between them, Bea dated other men, but couldn’t be serious about anyone else. She longed to be with Rafa.
After a few months, Rafa suddenly reappeared. Bea came home from work one day and found him sitting on the sofa in her small apartment reading the newspaper.
He was contrite. He said “Bea, I’m so sorry I ever left you. It was foolish of me, but I was so confused and distraught I couldn’t think straight. You have been my anchor for so many years. I realize now that I can never live without you. Please have me back.” Bea did not hesitate, “Of course I will take you back. I love you and always will.” She was happy to be reunited.
Then Rafa revealed a new plan. “My father has been in touch and has started a new dry goods business in Cairo. He also manages one of the fine hotels in Cairo. He wants me to come and manage the new business. I’m very excited. It is an opportunity to travel and experience Egypt. You would really like it there, I’m sure.” Bea was reluctant and knew his father well – his manipulative ways. She was also fearful of going to a country so far away – she had never traveled outside the U.S. But Rafa used all his charms and finally convinced her. She did not want to loose him again. She finally agreed but only on the condition that they get married. Rafa agreed and they had a quick civil wedding.
Once in Cairo, Bea and Rafa at first settled in with his father, but soon moved out due to his father’s unbearable behavior. He drank a lot and was a habitual womanizer, even making advances toward Bea.
Within their first year there, a boy, Naeem, was born. Rafa continued to manage the store for a while, but quit and took care of Naeem, after Bea landed a very prestigious, but demanding, position with a local Egyptian brokerage firm. The job paid so well it allowed Rafa to be the house-husband. Another boy, Akila, followed within the following year.
Rafa loved Naeem and Akila and was excellent at caring for them. Bea became so busy she had very little time for the family. They didn’t talk much. One day while shopping for dinner at the local market, Rafa met Mohammed, a man who changed his life. They were both attempting to take the same eggplant from the stall. “I’m sorry, you can have it,” Mohammed, quickly relented. “Oh no”, said Rafa, “It’s yours. I can find another.” They both laughed, then introduced themselves. As they talked, Rafa learned that Mohammed had studied in the U.S. and was now teaching the history of Islam at Cairo University. He had a very compelling aura about him. He seemed to like Rafa, so Rafa invited him to go with him and the boys to picnic in the park. Mohammed accepted. He was not married and living alone. They became close friends and began to spend a lot of time together.
“Rafa, you are a good man, but you are living the life of an infidel. I am concerned about your sons and their welfare,” Mohammed said to Rafa one day, while they were visiting the Cairo museum. Rafa told Mohammed about his parents and his difficult childhood as well as his involvement in their divorce. Mohammed was compassionate toward Rafa. “Your parents turned their backs on God and reared you in an atmosphere of conflict and discord. But you must now turn toward God for the sake of your sons. Without religious guidance they will live a life of unhappiness and turmoil as you did.”
These words struck fear in the heart of Rafa. He cared deeply about Naeem and Akila. He did not want them to live the tortured childhood he had experienced. He began religious training for the boys and began attended Mosque for prayers. He asked Bea to join him in prayers and attending the Mosque, but Bea refused. She had developed a very different life now. She was becoming her own person and beginning to realize her potential and worth. She began to realize her dissociated anger toward her mother’s harsh repression.
She thought it curious that Rafa was spending more and more time with Mohammed and attending prayers since he had grown up without any particular religious beliefs as she had. Rafa tried to talk to her about his fears of the boys growing up without religious direction and Mohammed’s cautionary beliefs. Bea was indifferent telling Rafa, “It’s fine with me that you are becoming more religious. I don’t think it can hurt the boys to have this training.” Rafa wanted Bea to consider becoming Muslim.
But Bea had changed too. She was enjoying her “new self”, being more assertive. She welcomed the accolades she began to receive at work. Becoming successful in the high-pressure secular world of finance had given her the confidence she had always lacked. She soon became the top broker for the company and was sought after for her adroit skills in promoting the products of many banks around the world. She did not want to assume the role of subservient Muslim wife.
Curious about Bea’s work, one day Rafa opened her mail, while she was napping. He was struck a severe blow! “Can we meet again for lunch at that little café near your office on Tuesday?,” read Christopher’s note. “Sure, that’s great! I look forward to seeing you again,” Bea had replied. Rafa’s panic thrust him into a rage! Without allowing her explanation, he immediately demanded that she move out. She was fearful of his rage. She moved in with Layla, who had also moved to Cairo and was working as an editor for an Egyptian newspaper. Layla was sympathetic and supportive to both Rafa and Bea. She acted as a mediator and was able to convince Rafa that nothing romantic had happened between Bea and Christopher – they had just been friends and Bea had helped him adjust to life in Cairo, after meeting him on a story he was covering about the difficulties banks were having with international trade.
After two weeks, Rafa eventually conceded and agreed to have Bea return, but with rigid requirements. He stipulated that he would take her back if she would wear the burka and participate in daily prayers. She contritely agreed to this, but secretly was not able to convince herself that she was a “believer”. She returned to live with him and the boys.
Her agreement lasted about a month. Even though she continued to participate in daily prayers (she, of course, could pray any way she chose in silent prayer,) she gradually began to discard the burka, at first while at work, then for a few hours at a time when she went shopping, then days at a time and finally discarded it altogether. Rafa tolerated this with anguish; he began to complain bitterly about her behavior: she dressed too seductively; she was too harsh and demanding; she had begun cursing; she lied about things; he even called her names, like “sociopath” and “psychopath”. Bea felt guilty but had become enough of her own person to stand up, argue back and defend her innocence. She knew she had been neglectful, but she cared about Rafa and the boys and she tried to make things work between them.
She tried to get him to accept her as an equal, a woman with power and intelligence. “I am a woman who has grown and is now very different from the girl you first met, sitting at the pond in pedal pushers, Rafa. You have become paranoid about my behavior; you’re afraid of being hurt; you have become insecure and are not using you’re good intelligence. I will not betray you, like your father did with your mother. But I have become my own person now and I cannot allow you to own me, or treat me like a piece of property. I love you but I will not tolerate your dictating to me how I should behave. You have to trust me.”
But, Rafa persisted in his insecurity and mistrust. He was always anxious, slept very little, and was constantly hostile toward Bea. Layla became concerned and talked to him, trying to convince him that he was becoming too rigid in his beliefs. Even his father could see that Rafa was coming apart at the seams and tried to intervene. They were all concerned that he was having a complete beak-down and tried to convince him to get professional help. But he refused. He became worse and worse. There were several months of severe tension and bickering between him and Bea.
Then Rafa went missing for several days. Bea had to enlist the help of Layla and a nanny to mind the boys. Everyone was concerned. Finally, Bea received a phone call at work one day: Rafa’s body had been recovered in the Nile. He apparently had been seen jumping off a bridge.
Bea was devastated. She knew Rafa had been struggling his whole life with his difficult childhood and his relationships with his parents. She also knew she had been an anchor for him. She felt so guilty about her neglect toward him and the boys, she herself turned to religion for solace. She could not accept the rigid rules of the Muslims, nor could she believe in the Christian idea that there is only one path to God. As she prayed to a Force she accepted without idols or dogma, she recalled her first encounter with Rafa, the story she was reading and what she had told him when they first met. She felt she had been more the evil force of a sorcerer than the gentle energy of a rabbit – an evil force that betrayed and destroyed him.

(3,940 word count)
The Egyptian and the Saint

He was “big man on campus” in high school. But that wasn’t her only attraction to him. He was darkly handsome, athletic and intelligent; co-captain of the football team, student body president and chair of the debate team. She was smart and intellectual, herself, but couldn’t compare to his talents. She was surprised when he even noticed her. She had always thought of herself as homely and rather uninteresting.
She was sitting alone on a bench behind the quad overlooking the small fishpond, reading “The Hare and the Haruspex”. The sun was bright so she was wearing her pink sunglasses, which she thought was a perfect match for her pink flip-flops and deep, red pedal- pushers. Carol King’s soothing voice was softly floating from her portable radio, “You’ve Got a Friend”. Suddenly, she was startled by the shadow cast over her book.
“Whatcha read’n?” He flashed his perfect white teeth and stood his most manly pose. He was carrying a large athletic bag over his shoulder.
“Oh it’s just a story about a rabbit and a sorcerer”, she said as she squinted and straightened her sunglasses to get a better look.
“Well, which one are you, the rabbit or the sorcerer?” he said.
“Well, I’m more the rabbit,” she smiled softly.
“In that case I’m asking you to go to the movies with me on Saturday”, he grinned.
“I can’t on Saturday. Mother is working and I have to watch my brother, but Sunday afternoon I’m free,” she quickly replied.
“Great. It’s a date then. I’ll pick you up at two thirty.” As he was walking away, she yelled,
“But you don’t know where I live. ”
“Sure I do!”, he said with a wink. This obviously wasn’t the first time he had noticed Bea.
That was the start of it – they became inseparable through the rest of high school. Rafa was so taken with Bea’s self-effacing, humble demeanor and conscientiousness that he often called her “Saint Bea”. Bea had complete admiration for Rafa. But her mother didn’t care for him, even if his parents were wealthy, his mother a doctor and his father a successful businessman. His family was Egyptian, emigrating from Cairo in the early sixties, settling in rural Montana, near the South Dakota border. The cold winters were new for them, but they enjoyed the new experiences of snow and winter sports. Rafa particularly enjoyed cross-country skiing. He was the second born and very close to his sister, Layla, three years older.
It wasn’t because he was Egyptian that Bea’s mother disliked him. She thought him to be arrogant, self-centered and reckless; he was impulsive and often reckless at times. He drove fast. Once when he and Bea were driving on a mountainous road, he almost killed them both, driving fast and loosing control of the car on a hairpin curve. Fortunately, neither was hurt badly; broken bones, cuts and scratches. Bea was almost afraid to ride with him after that. But she had fallen in love and was convinced he would be a successful scientist or research physician someday, that he would make significant contributions to the world. She valued his conscientious attitude toward the social underdog, even though he could be ruthless on the football field. She was always admonishing him to be more careful and less reckless. She had premonitions that something terrible would happen to him.
Rafa’s family was Muslim, but not very religious and did not attend mosque. Bea’s family was Catholic but they rarely attended church on a regular basis either. Rafa’s parents were always at odds with one another; the family climate was stormy and contentious. Rafa’s father, Ahmed, was a good-looking man in spite of his obesity. He was quick witted, his fast-paced speech was frequently emphasized with curse words. He was an autodidact, curious about many things and very knowledgeable about how international trade markets worked. His affection for Rafa was liberally demonstrated, “Rafa, my son, you are a rare person. You have intelligence far above the average. I have great expectations and plans for you in my business. Together we can build an empire.” Rafa’s respect for his father was so great he did not dare question his expectations that he would work with him in his business after graduation.
Ahmed enjoyed debate and winning arguments. He would ruthlessly tease Rafa’s mother, Akela, into debates about women’s roles. But she was strong also and could return his taunts as well as hurl her own criticisms toward him. They had not met before their marriage, which had been arranged by their parents. Akela’s father and Ahmed’s father were good friends and always thought the two would bring their families closer together. Ahmed and Akela were not a good match. They had different values. Akela was very conscientious; she became a physician at an early age and wanted to help others – a healer. Ahmed was self-centered and manipulative – a user.
“Akela your cooking is lacking in complimentary spices – only men know how to combine spices to make the food most delectable. I will show you which spices to use,” accused Ahmed. Akela replied with irritation, “Your spices are always too strong and overwhelm the palate. You could learn a lot by carefully paying attention to how women cook with subtlety.” And so it went; there was always contention. Even though their relationship was fraught with conflict, they did have in common their rebellious stance against the Muslim religion. This led to their immigration to the U.S. about a year after their marriage. This was, of course against their parents wishes. Rafa took the role of mediator between them, and was always trying to help them make peace with one another. He suffered from strong bouts of anxiety and depression as a result. He was fearful they would divorce.
Bea never knew her father; he left the family when she was a baby. Her mother told her he was “no good – a drug addict, not worth meeting”. Her mother worked very hard in a shoe factory and was always tired. She had a critical attitude about almost everything. Bea had very low self-esteem as a result of living with constant criticism, but her mother was a good provider for Bea and her brother, Craig. Craig was the product of an extra-marital affair, during the stormy relationship between Bea’s mother and father. He dropped out of high school at the same time Bea graduated and she had very little contact with him after he moved to New Orleans.
Because Rafa was the valedictorian at their graduation, he gave the commencement speech. Bea was moved to tears by his opening lines: “To love and to be loved in return is the greatest gift of all. There is much love here at Whitman High. Our wonderful principle has demonstrated how compassion tempers and guides fair discipline and respect for even the least of us. Our teachers are dedicated and demanding, and have guided us toward achieving our best. What is this but love? We, the students, love our principle and teachers in return and thank you for all you have given, including that greatest gift of all.”
Despite the many opportunities offered Rafa, he did not attend college because of his father’s expectation that he would work for him. Rafa could not refuse his father’s wishes. Bea stayed in town too, wanting to be near Rafa. She was disappointed that he didn’t go to college. “Rafa, you are too enmeshed with your family. You have so much potential. You could be a great scientist or a physician, like your mother.” But Rafa would not listen. He felt responsible for his parents and obligated to his father. So Bea took a job working as an assistant in a veterinarian’s office. She loved caring for the animals.
Rafa enjoyed working with his father. They imported mostly from Egypt, but had expanded to the Far East as well. They supplied dry good to many of the import businesses in the U.S. Rafa enjoyed the buying trips with his father and traveled to many of the Mid-Eastern countries. Even though they had always been close, they became even closer now. Rafa’s admiration for his father was deep, even though he knew he was not good with people and sometimes unethical.
One late night, when Rafa returned to the office to retrieve some sports equipment, he received a terrible blow. When he walked into his father’s office he found his father and the business secretary, Nailah on the sofa, scantly clad in a passionate embrace. He quickly closed the door and went outside to his car. He sat there a while, devastated. He knew his father had transacted some shady business deals, and he had often worried that his parents might split up, but this kind of betrayal to the family was completely unexpected. As he was getting into the car his father came out and sat beside him. He was contrite. Even though he cared little about others, he cared about Rafa and feared his rejection. He pleaded with Rafa not to tell Akela. Rafa agreed not to tell her on one condition – that Ahmed tell Akela himelf. Ahmed reluctantly agreed.
The next day Ahmed told Akela they needed to talk. “I have something very difficult to tell you, Akela. “What is it this time?” Akela had experienced many of Ahmed’s nefarious adventures. “Akela, I have been unfaithful. Rafa discovered my secret intimate involvement with Nailah last night.” Akela was crushed. “I promised him I would tell you so I am telling you.” Ahmed said without feeling. Being a very emotional and forthright woman, she immediately reacted with anger. She told Ahmed to leave them. “I have tolerated all kinds of disappointment and shame by you Ahmed, but this I will not tolerate.” Ahmed moved out. Akela divorced him a few months later.
“It’s your fault. Rafa,” Ahmed told him. “Your mother and I would still be married if you had not demanded I tell her about Nailah.” Rafa searched for forgiveness toward his father, but could not face him. He tried to continue working for him but there was so much pain and hurt he avoided him. He finally quit and took a job with a local pharmaceutical company. Ahmed eventually sold the store and returned to Cairo, leaving Rafa with overwhelming grief and guilt.
Akela became very depressed and completely bitter. Rafa tried to console her. He took her shopping, brought her flowers and even cooked for her at times, trying to cheer her up and appease his guilt. But his mother was too bitter and rejected all his efforts. Her confusion and anger was taken out on Rafa. She was confused and angry. She had always been jealous of Rafa’s closeness with his father. “It’s your fault I am divorced and alone. If you hadn’t forced Ahmed to tell me about the affair we would still be married. Rafa became so distraught and frustrated he moved in with Bea and her mother. They were all miserable.
During all this Bea, stood beside Rafa. She was always there for him, trying to console him. She encouraged him to let go of his role of trying to take care of his parents and to focus on himself and his success. She finally suggested they move away and get a new start together. Rafa agreed. They moved to Atlanta, Ga., where they had high school friends who had moved there from South Dakota just after graduation. They easily found work, Rafa with another pharmaceutical lab and Bea with a marketing firm. But Rafa carried his deep wounds and guilt and regret with him; he began using alcohol heavily, and drugs he pilfered from work. Bea tried to talk to him, but he was too wounded to hear anything encouraging. She pleaded for him to get professional help but he refused.
Bea came home from work one day and found a note:
“Dear Bea,
I know I have to make some changes in my life. You remember Tommy, my football buddy. I received a call from him today and he has suggested I come work with him. He is still in South Dakota and has a high-level job at NASA. He has found a position for me there. I plan to attend college. I don’t want you to go with me. I am not good for you and offer you nothing but pain. Love, Rafa.
Bea’s grief was almost unbearable. Rafa had been her life, her soul-mate, her true love. She grieved for days. She was always eager to hear from him, but he contacted her infrequently and when he did he was distant. She tried to convince him to come back, but he refused. “I am not good for you Bea, I am unstable and irresponsible and have caused great pain and suffering to those I love. I don’t think I can be a good partner with you.” He added, “I do miss you.” “I miss you too- terribly, please come home.” “I’m sorry I can’t right now, Bea. I have a job that is promising.” “Then I can come to you there, Rafa.” “No, Bea, I can’t be with anyone, I’m not worthy.” He hung up.
With great difficulty Bea managed herself at work. Her friends were supportive and tried to get her to take a close look at Rafa’s unstable behavior and how he had not been good for her. “Rafa has always had emotional problems. Even though he is very intelligent, he is very unstable. He has always struggled with depression and has been very reckless. Don’t you remember he almost killed you once?”
Thinking it was over between them, Bea dated other men, but couldn’t be serious about anyone else. She longed to be with Rafa.
After a few months, Rafa suddenly reappeared. Bea came home from work one day and found him sitting on the sofa in her small apartment reading the newspaper.
He was contrite. He said “Bea, I’m so sorry I ever left you. It was foolish of me, but I was so confused and distraught I couldn’t think straight. You have been my anchor for so many years. I realize now that I can never live without you. Please have me back.” Bea did not hesitate, “Of course I will take you back. I love you and always will.” She was happy to be reunited.
Then Rafa revealed a new plan. “My father has been in touch and has started a new dry goods business in Cairo. He also manages one of the fine hotels in Cairo. He wants me to come and manage the new business. I’m very excited. It is an opportunity to travel and experience Egypt. You would really like it there, I’m sure.” Bea was reluctant and knew his father well – his manipulative ways. She was also fearful of going to a country so far away – she had never traveled outside the U.S. But Rafa used all his charms and finally convinced her. She did not want to loose him again. She finally agreed but only on the condition that they get married. Rafa agreed and they had a quick civil wedding.
Once in Cairo, Bea and Rafa at first settled in with his father, but soon moved out due to his father’s unbearable behavior. He drank a lot and was a habitual womanizer, even making advances toward Bea.
Within their first year there, a boy, Naeem, was born. Rafa continued to manage the store for a while, but quit and took care of Naeem, after Bea landed a very prestigious, but demanding, position with a local Egyptian brokerage firm. The job paid so well it allowed Rafa to be the house-husband. Another boy, Akila, followed within the following year.
Rafa loved Naeem and Akila and was excellent at caring for them. Bea became so busy she had very little time for the family. They didn’t talk much. One day while shopping for dinner at the local market, Rafa met Mohammed, a man who changed his life. They were both attempting to take the same eggplant from the stall. “I’m sorry, you can have it,” Mohammed, quickly relented. “Oh no”, said Rafa, “It’s yours. I can find another.” They both laughed, then introduced themselves. As they talked, Rafa learned that Mohammed had studied in the U.S. and was now teaching the history of Islam at Cairo University. He had a very compelling aura about him. He seemed to like Rafa, so Rafa invited him to go with him and the boys to picnic in the park. Mohammed accepted. He was not married and living alone. They became close friends and began to spend a lot of time together.
“Rafa, you are a good man, but you are living the life of an infidel. I am concerned about your sons and their welfare,” Mohammed said to Rafa one day, while they were visiting the Cairo museum. Rafa told Mohammed about his parents and his difficult childhood as well as his involvement in their divorce. Mohammed was compassionate toward Rafa. “Your parents turned their backs on God and reared you in an atmosphere of conflict and discord. But you must now turn toward God for the sake of your sons. Without religious guidance they will live a life of unhappiness and turmoil as you did.”
These words struck fear in the heart of Rafa. He cared deeply about Naeem and Akila. He did not want them to live the tortured childhood he had experienced. He began religious training for the boys and began attended Mosque for prayers. He asked Bea to join him in prayers and attending the Mosque, but Bea refused. She had developed a very different life now. She was becoming her own person and beginning to realize her potential and worth. She began to realize her dissociated anger toward her mother’s harsh repression.
She thought it curious that Rafa was spending more and more time with Mohammed and attending prayers since he had grown up without any particular religious beliefs as she had. Rafa tried to talk to her about his fears of the boys growing up without religious direction and Mohammed’s cautionary beliefs. Bea was indifferent telling Rafa, “It’s fine with me that you are becoming more religious. I don’t think it can hurt the boys to have this training.” Rafa wanted Bea to consider becoming Muslim.
But Bea had changed too. She was enjoying her “new self”, being more assertive. She welcomed the accolades she began to receive at work. Becoming successful in the high-pressure secular world of finance had given her the confidence she had always lacked. She soon became the top broker for the company and was sought after for her adroit skills in promoting the products of many banks around the world. She did not want to assume the role of subservient Muslim wife.
Curious about Bea’s work, one day Rafa opened her mail, while she was napping. He was struck a severe blow! “Can we meet again for lunch at that little café near your office on Tuesday?,” read Christopher’s note. “Sure, that’s great! I look forward to seeing you again,” Bea had replied. Rafa’s panic thrust him into a rage! Without allowing her explanation, he immediately demanded that she move out. She was fearful of his rage. She moved in with Layla, who had also moved to Cairo and was working as an editor for an Egyptian newspaper. Layla was sympathetic and supportive to both Rafa and Bea. She acted as a mediator and was able to convince Rafa that nothing romantic had happened between Bea and Christopher – they had just been friends and Bea had helped him adjust to life in Cairo, after meeting him on a story he was covering about the difficulties banks were having with international trade.
After two weeks, Rafa eventually conceded and agreed to have Bea return, but with rigid requirements. He stipulated that he would take her back if she would wear the burka and participate in daily prayers. She contritely agreed to this, but secretly was not able to convince herself that she was a “believer”. She returned to live with him and the boys.
Her agreement lasted about a month. Even though she continued to participate in daily prayers (she, of course, could pray any way she chose in silent prayer,) she gradually began to discard the burka, at first while at work, then for a few hours at a time when she went shopping, then days at a time and finally discarded it altogether. Rafa tolerated this with anguish; he began to complain bitterly about her behavior: she dressed too seductively; she was too harsh and demanding; she had begun cursing; she lied about things; he even called her names, like “sociopath” and “psychopath”. Bea felt guilty but had become enough of her own person to stand up, argue back and defend her innocence. She knew she had been neglectful, but she cared about Rafa and the boys and she tried to make things work between them.
She tried to get him to accept her as an equal, a woman with power and intelligence. “I am a woman who has grown and is now very different from the girl you first met, sitting at the pond in pedal pushers, Rafa. You have become paranoid about my behavior; you’re afraid of being hurt; you have become insecure and are not using you’re good intelligence. I will not betray you, like your father did with your mother. But I have become my own person now and I cannot allow you to own me, or treat me like a piece of property. I love you but I will not tolerate your dictating to me how I should behave. You have to trust me.”
But, Rafa persisted in his insecurity and mistrust. He was always anxious, slept very little, and was constantly hostile toward Bea. Layla became concerned and talked to him, trying to convince him that he was becoming too rigid in his beliefs. Even his father could see that Rafa was coming apart at the seams and tried to intervene. They were all concerned that he was having a complete beak-down and tried to convince him to get professional help. But he refused. He became worse and worse. There were several months of severe tension and bickering between him and Bea.
Then Rafa went missing for several days. Bea had to enlist the help of Layla and a nanny to mind the boys. Everyone was concerned. Finally, Bea received a phone call at work one day: Rafa’s body had been recovered in the Nile. He apparently had been seen jumping off a bridge.
Bea was devastated. She knew Rafa had been struggling his whole life with his difficult childhood and his relationships with his parents. She also knew she had been an anchor for him. She felt so guilty about her neglect toward him and the boys, she herself turned to religion for solace. She could not accept the rigid rules of the Muslims, nor could she believe in the Christian idea that there is only one path to God. As she prayed to a Force she accepted without idols or dogma, she recalled her first encounter with Rafa, the story she was reading and what she had told him when they first met. She felt she had been more the evil force of a sorcerer than the gentle energy of a rabbit – an evil force that betrayed and destroyed him.

(3,940 word count)
The Egyptian and the Saint

He was “big man on campus” in high school. But that wasn’t her only attraction to him. He was darkly handsome, athletic and intelligent; co-captain of the football team, student body president and chair of the debate team. She was smart and intellectual, herself, but couldn’t compare to his talents. She was surprised when he even noticed her. She had always thought of herself as homely and rather uninteresting.
She was sitting alone on a bench behind the quad overlooking the small fishpond, reading “The Hare and the Haruspex”. The sun was bright so she was wearing her pink sunglasses, which she thought was a perfect match for her pink flip-flops and deep, red pedal- pushers. Carol King’s soothing voice was softly floating from her portable radio, “You’ve Got a Friend”. Suddenly, she was startled by the shadow cast over her book.
“Whatcha read’n?” He flashed his perfect white teeth and stood his most manly pose. He was carrying a large athletic bag over his shoulder.
“Oh it’s just a story about a rabbit and a sorcerer”, she said as she squinted and straightened her sunglasses to get a better look.
“Well, which one are you, the rabbit or the sorcerer?” he said.
“Well, I’m more the rabbit,” she smiled softly.
“In that case I’m asking you to go to the movies with me on Saturday”, he grinned.
“I can’t on Saturday. Mother is working and I have to watch my brother, but Sunday afternoon I’m free,” she quickly replied.
“Great. It’s a date then. I’ll pick you up at two thirty.” As he was walking away, she yelled,
“But you don’t know where I live. ”
“Sure I do!”, he said with a wink. This obviously wasn’t the first time he had noticed Bea.
That was the start of it – they became inseparable through the rest of high school. Rafa was so taken with Bea’s self-effacing, humble demeanor and conscientiousness that he often called her “Saint Bea”. Bea had complete admiration for Rafa. But her mother didn’t care for him, even if his parents were wealthy, his mother a doctor and his father a successful businessman. His family was Egyptian, emigrating from Cairo in the early sixties, settling in rural Montana, near the South Dakota border. The cold winters were new for them, but they enjoyed the new experiences of snow and winter sports. Rafa particularly enjoyed cross-country skiing. He was the second born and very close to his sister, Layla, three years older.
It wasn’t because he was Egyptian that Bea’s mother disliked him. She thought him to be arrogant, self-centered and reckless; he was impulsive and often reckless at times. He drove fast. Once when he and Bea were driving on a mountainous road, he almost killed them both, driving fast and loosing control of the car on a hairpin curve. Fortunately, neither was hurt badly; broken bones, cuts and scratches. Bea was almost afraid to ride with him after that. But she had fallen in love and was convinced he would be a successful scientist or research physician someday, that he would make significant contributions to the world. She valued his conscientious attitude toward the social underdog, even though he could be ruthless on the football field. She was always admonishing him to be more careful and less reckless. She had premonitions that something terrible would happen to him.
Rafa’s family was Muslim, but not very religious and did not attend mosque. Bea’s family was Catholic but they rarely attended church on a regular basis either. Rafa’s parents were always at odds with one another; the family climate was stormy and contentious. Rafa’s father, Ahmed, was a good-looking man in spite of his obesity. He was quick witted, his fast-paced speech was frequently emphasized with curse words. He was an autodidact, curious about many things and very knowledgeable about how international trade markets worked. His affection for Rafa was liberally demonstrated, “Rafa, my son, you are a rare person. You have intelligence far above the average. I have great expectations and plans for you in my business. Together we can build an empire.” Rafa’s respect for his father was so great he did not dare question his expectations that he would work with him in his business after graduation.
Ahmed enjoyed debate and winning arguments. He would ruthlessly tease Rafa’s mother, Akela, into debates about women’s roles. But she was strong also and could return his taunts as well as hurl her own criticisms toward him. They had not met before their marriage, which had been arranged by their parents. Akela’s father and Ahmed’s father were good friends and always thought the two would bring their families closer together. Ahmed and Akela were not a good match. They had different values. Akela was very conscientious; she became a physician at an early age and wanted to help others – a healer. Ahmed was self-centered and manipulative – a user.
“Akela your cooking is lacking in complimentary spices – only men know how to combine spices to make the food most delectable. I will show you which spices to use,” accused Ahmed. Akela replied with irritation, “Your spices are always too strong and overwhelm the palate. You could learn a lot by carefully paying attention to how women cook with subtlety.” And so it went; there was always contention. Even though their relationship was fraught with conflict, they did have in common their rebellious stance against the Muslim religion. This led to their immigration to the U.S. about a year after their marriage. This was, of course against their parents wishes. Rafa took the role of mediator between them, and was always trying to help them make peace with one another. He suffered from strong bouts of anxiety and depression as a result. He was fearful they would divorce.
Bea never knew her father; he left the family when she was a baby. Her mother told her he was “no good – a drug addict, not worth meeting”. Her mother worked very hard in a shoe factory and was always tired. She had a critical attitude about almost everything. Bea had very low self-esteem as a result of living with constant criticism, but her mother was a good provider for Bea and her brother, Craig. Craig was the product of an extra-marital affair, during the stormy relationship between Bea’s mother and father. He dropped out of high school at the same time Bea graduated and she had very little contact with him after he moved to New Orleans.
Because Rafa was the valedictorian at their graduation, he gave the commencement speech. Bea was moved to tears by his opening lines: “To love and to be loved in return is the greatest gift of all. There is much love here at Whitman High. Our wonderful principle has demonstrated how compassion tempers and guides fair discipline and respect for even the least of us. Our teachers are dedicated and demanding, and have guided us toward achieving our best. What is this but love? We, the students, love our principle and teachers in return and thank you for all you have given, including that greatest gift of all.”
Despite the many opportunities offered Rafa, he did not attend college because of his father’s expectation that he would work for him. Rafa could not refuse his father’s wishes. Bea stayed in town too, wanting to be near Rafa. She was disappointed that he didn’t go to college. “Rafa, you are too enmeshed with your family. You have so much potential. You could be a great scientist or a physician, like your mother.” But Rafa would not listen. He felt responsible for his parents and obligated to his father. So Bea took a job working as an assistant in a veterinarian’s office. She loved caring for the animals.
Rafa enjoyed working with his father. They imported mostly from Egypt, but had expanded to the Far East as well. They supplied dry good to many of the import businesses in the U.S. Rafa enjoyed the buying trips with his father and traveled to many of the Mid-Eastern countries. Even though they had always been close, they became even closer now. Rafa’s admiration for his father was deep, even though he knew he was not good with people and sometimes unethical.
One late night, when Rafa returned to the office to retrieve some sports equipment, he received a terrible blow. When he walked into his father’s office he found his father and the business secretary, Nailah on the sofa, scantly clad in a passionate embrace. He quickly closed the door and went outside to his car. He sat there a while, devastated. He knew his father had transacted some shady business deals, and he had often worried that his parents might split up, but this kind of betrayal to the family was completely unexpected. As he was getting into the car his father came out and sat beside him. He was contrite. Even though he cared little about others, he cared about Rafa and feared his rejection. He pleaded with Rafa not to tell Akela. Rafa agreed not to tell her on one condition – that Ahmed tell Akela himelf. Ahmed reluctantly agreed.
The next day Ahmed told Akela they needed to talk. “I have something very difficult to tell you, Akela. “What is it this time?” Akela had experienced many of Ahmed’s nefarious adventures. “Akela, I have been unfaithful. Rafa discovered my secret intimate involvement with Nailah last night.” Akela was crushed. “I promised him I would tell you so I am telling you.” Ahmed said without feeling. Being a very emotional and forthright woman, she immediately reacted with anger. She told Ahmed to leave them. “I have tolerated all kinds of disappointment and shame by you Ahmed, but this I will not tolerate.” Ahmed moved out. Akela divorced him a few months later.
“It’s your fault. Rafa,” Ahmed told him. “Your mother and I would still be married if you had not demanded I tell her about Nailah.” Rafa searched for forgiveness toward his father, but could not face him. He tried to continue working for him but there was so much pain and hurt he avoided him. He finally quit and took a job with a local pharmaceutical company. Ahmed eventually sold the store and returned to Cairo, leaving Rafa with overwhelming grief and guilt.
Akela became very depressed and completely bitter. Rafa tried to console her. He took her shopping, brought her flowers and even cooked for her at times, trying to cheer her up and appease his guilt. But his mother was too bitter and rejected all his efforts. Her confusion and anger was taken out on Rafa. She was confused and angry. She had always been jealous of Rafa’s closeness with his father. “It’s your fault I am divorced and alone. If you hadn’t forced Ahmed to tell me about the affair we would still be married. Rafa became so distraught and frustrated he moved in with Bea and her mother. They were all miserable.
During all this Bea, stood beside Rafa. She was always there for him, trying to console him. She encouraged him to let go of his role of trying to take care of his parents and to focus on himself and his success. She finally suggested they move away and get a new start together. Rafa agreed. They moved to Atlanta, Ga., where they had high school friends who had moved there from South Dakota just after graduation. They easily found work, Rafa with another pharmaceutical lab and Bea with a marketing firm. But Rafa carried his deep wounds and guilt and regret with him; he began using alcohol heavily, and drugs he pilfered from work. Bea tried to talk to him, but he was too wounded to hear anything encouraging. She pleaded for him to get professional help but he refused.
Bea came home from work one day and found a note:
“Dear Bea,
I know I have to make some changes in my life. You remember Tommy, my football buddy. I received a call from him today and he has suggested I come work with him. He is still in South Dakota and has a high-level job at NASA. He has found a position for me there. I plan to attend college. I don’t want you to go with me. I am not good for you and offer you nothing but pain. Love, Rafa.
Bea’s grief was almost unbearable. Rafa had been her life, her soul-mate, her true love. She grieved for days. She was always eager to hear from him, but he contacted her infrequently and when he did he was distant. She tried to convince him to come back, but he refused. “I am not good for you Bea, I am unstable and irresponsible and have caused great pain and suffering to those I love. I don’t think I can be a good partner with you.” He added, “I do miss you.” “I miss you too- terribly, please come home.” “I’m sorry I can’t right now, Bea. I have a job that is promising.” “Then I can come to you there, Rafa.” “No, Bea, I can’t be with anyone, I’m not worthy.” He hung up.
With great difficulty Bea managed herself at work. Her friends were supportive and tried to get her to take a close look at Rafa’s unstable behavior and how he had not been good for her. “Rafa has always had emotional problems. Even though he is very intelligent, he is very unstable. He has always struggled with depression and has been very reckless. Don’t you remember he almost killed you once?”
Thinking it was over between them, Bea dated other men, but couldn’t be serious about anyone else. She longed to be with Rafa.
After a few months, Rafa suddenly reappeared. Bea came home from work one day and found him sitting on the sofa in her small apartment reading the newspaper.
He was contrite. He said “Bea, I’m so sorry I ever left you. It was foolish of me, but I was so confused and distraught I couldn’t think straight. You have been my anchor for so many years. I realize now that I can never live without you. Please have me back.” Bea did not hesitate, “Of course I will take you back. I love you and always will.” She was happy to be reunited.
Then Rafa revealed a new plan. “My father has been in touch and has started a new dry goods business in Cairo. He also manages one of the fine hotels in Cairo. He wants me to come and manage the new business. I’m very excited. It is an opportunity to travel and experience Egypt. You would really like it there, I’m sure.” Bea was reluctant and knew his father well – his manipulative ways. She was also fearful of going to a country so far away – she had never traveled outside the U.S. But Rafa used all his charms and finally convinced her. She did not want to loose him again. She finally agreed but only on the condition that they get married. Rafa agreed and they had a quick civil wedding.
Once in Cairo, Bea and Rafa at first settled in with his father, but soon moved out due to his father’s unbearable behavior. He drank a lot and was a habitual womanizer, even making advances toward Bea.
Within their first year there, a boy, Naeem, was born. Rafa continued to manage the store for a while, but quit and took care of Naeem, after Bea landed a very prestigious, but demanding, position with a local Egyptian brokerage firm. The job paid so well it allowed Rafa to be the house-husband. Another boy, Akila, followed within the following year.
Rafa loved Naeem and Akila and was excellent at caring for them. Bea became so busy she had very little time for the family. They didn’t talk much. One day while shopping for dinner at the local market, Rafa met Mohammed, a man who changed his life. They were both attempting to take the same eggplant from the stall. “I’m sorry, you can have it,” Mohammed, quickly relented. “Oh no”, said Rafa, “It’s yours. I can find another.” They both laughed, then introduced themselves. As they talked, Rafa learned that Mohammed had studied in the U.S. and was now teaching the history of Islam at Cairo University. He had a very compelling aura about him. He seemed to like Rafa, so Rafa invited him to go with him and the boys to picnic in the park. Mohammed accepted. He was not married and living alone. They became close friends and began to spend a lot of time together.
“Rafa, you are a good man, but you are living the life of an infidel. I am concerned about your sons and their welfare,” Mohammed said to Rafa one day, while they were visiting the Cairo museum. Rafa told Mohammed about his parents and his difficult childhood as well as his involvement in their divorce. Mohammed was compassionate toward Rafa. “Your parents turned their backs on God and reared you in an atmosphere of conflict and discord. But you must now turn toward God for the sake of your sons. Without religious guidance they will live a life of unhappiness and turmoil as you did.”
These words struck fear in the heart of Rafa. He cared deeply about Naeem and Akila. He did not want them to live the tortured childhood he had experienced. He began religious training for the boys and began attended Mosque for prayers. He asked Bea to join him in prayers and attending the Mosque, but Bea refused. She had developed a very different life now. She was becoming her own person and beginning to realize her potential and worth. She began to realize her dissociated anger toward her mother’s harsh repression.
She thought it curious that Rafa was spending more and more time with Mohammed and attending prayers since he had grown up without any particular religious beliefs as she had. Rafa tried to talk to her about his fears of the boys growing up without religious direction and Mohammed’s cautionary beliefs. Bea was indifferent telling Rafa, “It’s fine with me that you are becoming more religious. I don’t think it can hurt the boys to have this training.” Rafa wanted Bea to consider becoming Muslim.
But Bea had changed too. She was enjoying her “new self”, being more assertive. She welcomed the accolades she began to receive at work. Becoming successful in the high-pressure secular world of finance had given her the confidence she had always lacked. She soon became the top broker for the company and was sought after for her adroit skills in promoting the products of many banks around the world. She did not want to assume the role of subservient Muslim wife.
Curious about Bea’s work, one day Rafa opened her mail, while she was napping. He was struck a severe blow! “Can we meet again for lunch at that little café near your office on Tuesday?,” read Christopher’s note. “Sure, that’s great! I look forward to seeing you again,” Bea had replied. Rafa’s panic thrust him into a rage! Without allowing her explanation, he immediately demanded that she move out. She was fearful of his rage. She moved in with Layla, who had also moved to Cairo and was working as an editor for an Egyptian newspaper. Layla was sympathetic and supportive to both Rafa and Bea. She acted as a mediator and was able to convince Rafa that nothing romantic had happened between Bea and Christopher – they had just been friends and Bea had helped him adjust to life in Cairo, after meeting him on a story he was covering about the difficulties banks were having with international trade.
After two weeks, Rafa eventually conceded and agreed to have Bea return, but with rigid requirements. He stipulated that he would take her back if she would wear the burka and participate in daily prayers. She contritely agreed to this, but secretly was not able to convince herself that she was a “believer”. She returned to live with him and the boys.
Her agreement lasted about a month. Even though she continued to participate in daily prayers (she, of course, could pray any way she chose in silent prayer,) she gradually began to discard the burka, at first while at work, then for a few hours at a time when she went shopping, then days at a time and finally discarded it altogether. Rafa tolerated this with anguish; he began to complain bitterly about her behavior: she dressed too seductively; she was too harsh and demanding; she had begun cursing; she lied about things; he even called her names, like “sociopath” and “psychopath”. Bea felt guilty but had become enough of her own person to stand up, argue back and defend her innocence. She knew she had been neglectful, but she cared about Rafa and the boys and she tried to make things work between them.
She tried to get him to accept her as an equal, a woman with power and intelligence. “I am a woman who has grown and is now very different from the girl you first met, sitting at the pond in pedal pushers, Rafa. You have become paranoid about my behavior; you’re afraid of being hurt; you have become insecure and are not using you’re good intelligence. I will not betray you, like your father did with your mother. But I have become my own person now and I cannot allow you to own me, or treat me like a piece of property. I love you but I will not tolerate your dictating to me how I should behave. You have to trust me.”
But, Rafa persisted in his insecurity and mistrust. He was always anxious, slept very little, and was constantly hostile toward Bea. Layla became concerned and talked to him, trying to convince him that he was becoming too rigid in his beliefs. Even his father could see that Rafa was coming apart at the seams and tried to intervene. They were all concerned that he was having a complete beak-down and tried to convince him to get professional help. But he refused. He became worse and worse. There were several months of severe tension and bickering between him and Bea.
Then Rafa went missing for several days. Bea had to enlist the help of Layla and a nanny to mind the boys. Everyone was concerned. Finally, Bea received a phone call at work one day: Rafa’s body had been recovered in the Nile. He apparently had been seen jumping off a bridge.
Bea was devastated. She knew Rafa had been struggling his whole life with his difficult childhood and his relationships with his parents. She also knew she had been an anchor for him. She felt so guilty about her neglect toward him and the boys, she herself turned to religion for solace. She could not accept the rigid rules of the Muslims, nor could she believe in the Christian idea that there is only one path to God. As she prayed to a Force she accepted without idols or dogma, she recalled her first encounter with Rafa, the story she was reading and what she had told him when they first met. She felt she had been more the evil force of a sorcerer than the gentle energy of a rabbit – an evil force that betrayed and destroyed him.

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