After she had kiss kissed me on both cheeks, after she had exclaimed about my outfit, after she had asked about my haircut. That's when she got to the point:
So...are you ever going to finish that place of yours? she asked.
I hope so, I said, with a laugh that wasn't really a laugh.
It's taking you an awfully long time with the building, she said. It's been years, hasn't it? Is there some kind of problem? she asked, her voice trailing.
I looked away, and murmered something about money, something about exchange rates, something about construction issues.
Oh. You poor thing, she said. And I know you work so very, very hard. It must be so difficult for you, she said in a way that had nothing to do with sympathy. Nothing to do with sympathy at all.
She drummed her long finger nails on the counter then. She picked up her bag with its sleek tassels and put on her sunglasses, the diamante winking at the temples.
I always love seeing you, Maryam, she said. Let's have lunch sometime. And then without looking back, she walked out the door to her new car with its leather seats and to her driver with his pressed shirt. And they drove off.
And there I stood, wondering...
what had happened to all the oxygen in the room.