Like a baby he started drifting off when he heard him call his name from the adjoining bedroom. "Not again," he thought. "Doesn't he ever give up?" "What Mouktar?" He hesitated and then replied "If you sleep with me, I'll tell you a story." This was new. Never in their time together had he expressed any interest in stories. He'd never even seen him open a book outside of the L.L. Bean catalog. He hesitated long enough that he knew his resolve was weakening. He knew he hated sleeping alone and it was an obvious ploy, but "fuck it!" He thought, "this should be good."
He padded into his room and slipped under the covers he held open for him. His arm immediately assumed it's customary position around his waist. He waited. He murmured softly,content and ready to drift off happily into sleep.
"Oh no, you don't Mokhtar. "You promised me a story and if I don't get it, I'm leaving." That brought him back from the edge. He felt his body tense. Again, he waited. "You don't know any stories, do you?" It was obvious to him that he hadn't even thought the possibility of actually telling a story, but he wasn't about to let it go. "Well?"
He knew he was desperate to come up with something but he wasn't about to put him out of his misery.
"Okay, that's it, I'm going back to my own bed."
"No, wait! I know. I'll tell you the story my mother used to tell me when I couldn't sleep."
As long as he'd known him, Mokhtar had never spoken of his memories of his childhood in Iraq. His history seems to have begun with his arrival in Baghdad at 18.
And so he began his story, a cautionary tale about an old monk who late in life decided to leave his hamlet and travel on foot throughout the country side. There were frequent pauses.... He knew he was struggling, sometimes to remember, sometimes to figure out how to translate the story into English.
He listened to him, but it wasn't the story that held his interest. It was the cadence and the sweetness and sometimes sadness in his voice as he revisited another time and place. He thought at then that for both of them the story became a metaphor for how much they had given up, although neither of them recognized it at the time.
He studied his face in the dark, a face he knew intimately and yet he felt as if he was seeing it for the first time. He smiled and he noticed.
"Nothing, I'm just happy. Go on with your story".
"I can't. I can't remember how it ends. Are you disappointed?"
It's been nearly six years since he has seen Alex, and while most of their history together has faded, that for him was the defining moment of their time in Eden. He never loved him more than he did at that moment...
And no Mokhtar, he was not disappointed.