Do you know why I always wake up every other morning at 8am even though I don’t have to start work until 3 in the afternoon? It’s because I like having the gym to myself. I monopolize it in the mornings. There might be a lot of uncertainties in my life, but if there is one thing I could definitely be sure about, it is that there would be no one in the gym except me at that specific time. No one would look at me, no one would pester me, and I won’t have any competition to the only cross fitness trainer that they have. So, imagine how appalled I was when I saw you there. With my trainer. At 8 in the freaking morning! Well, I could have said something but you were good looking.
You barely spoke english, and you don’t know any arabic word except for habibi. Usually, I would think that you’re stupid for coming to Egypt to build sites when you couldn’t speak anything else other than italian. Talking to you was so painful I kept fantasizing I would get struck by a lightning just so your little attempts at hitting on me could end already and I could go back to my training. But you were handsome and I let you get away with it. You had the most delicious, fudge brownie eyes and the longest eye lashes that curl up when you laughed. Your hair was long and had soft wavy twirls. You had this cute, tall nose that would crunch up when you’re thinking deeply of an english word. That happens every ten seconds by the way.
You puzzled me, Nicco. I don’t know how you managed to flirt with me in one hour without even speaking. I mean, you spoke, but it’s all gibberish. I might as well be talking to a toddler. I guess action does speak louder than words, ‘eh?
“I. Cairo day one only. Habibi. Tomorrow. Work go one year.” You said and I just stared at you like you were someone or something from Mars. A very good looking creature from Mars.
“Italy yesterday bye bye. Today hello Cairo. Work one year.” You said trying again.
“Oh. OK.” I said, hoping that I understood your message right.
I thought you were adorable trying so hard to make sense out of probably 50 english words that you know. I gave you A+ for the effort. And my number too. We spent the next few days talking on the phone. I wasn’t really sure you can consider what?, huh?, hmmm?, OK?, and repeat again an actual conversation, but that’s how we talked. Actually, we laughed more than we spoke. I think we laughed a lot because it was a lot easier to do. Two weeks later, I found myself already speaking in your language. And by your language, I didn’t mean italian!
“You dinner eat, habibi?” You asked.
“No dinner eat.” I answered.
“I you girlfriend me, habibi.” You said.
I didn’t say anything.
“Habibi, you sleep?”
“No,” I answered.
“I want you girlfriend me, habibi. You understand?”
“I no understand.” I lied.
“You girlfriend me, habibi. I boyfriend you. OK?”
“OK,” and that’s how we got official.
I have a boyfriend! I have a fucking italian boyfriend! I told my friends about you and they all scratched their heads.
* * *
“Why would you want to have a boyfriend like that?” They all sang in chorus. I think they were just jealous.
“Because he wants to be with me? And because he’s not Egyptian which means I can have a normal relationship?” I told them sourly because they weren’t being supportive.
“It’s not normal. You guys can’t even talk to each other.” They teased.
But they were wrong, Nicco. They were wrong. We’re normal and we were having a normal relationship. We would go to the gym together. We would have brunches together. We went out during weekends. We watched Dumb and Dumber dubbed in Italian and subtitled in english on your laptop. And we cuddled and kissed and tickled each other and laughed like any normal couples did. It was a normal thing to do–to laugh when you are being tickled! My friends were just being hyper judgmental.
* * *
On the way to a salsa party one evening, my best friend, Ashraf, asked me why I was doing this.
“Why am I doing what?” I asked him and shot him a deadly look.
“This. You and Nicco. Are you that desperate? You know it’s not going to work out.” Ashraf said sounding really convinced of his own theory.
“You said it’s going to work. I’m just following your advice.” I told him.
“What advice?!” He asked as he pushed the pedal brakes so hard it almost sent me flying out of the dashboard.
Look, Ashraf is my best friend. He knows everything, like everything. Like, basically, everything written in this book. And everything that is not written in this book. He’s my shrink. At least that’s how I refer to him. And he is also the most pragmatic, realistic person I ever know. He calculates the success rate of any relationship based on statistics, and he is usually 92% accurate (based on a pretty patronizing percentage that he gave to himself.) On his last calculation, he said that my success rate to a happy relationship is 64% higher if I date foreign men than egyptian men. Same background, same field of experience, same concept of relationship, you know, the works! And I just followed his advice. Nicco is cute, he’s Italian, he’s an expat like me, and he’s here in Cairo and he likes me! Check! Check! Check! Nicco fits the category!
“Jennifer, your success rate at happiness in dating foreign men is 64% higher if and only if he speaks english!” He said really slowly hoping that doing so would make the numbers sink in to me.
“OK. So what is my success rate with Nicco now?” I asked, and Ashraf does his mental math for what seemed like forever.
He looked at me straight in the eye and said with a voice full of conviction, “3.1416%.”
“That’s unfair! You just gave me the equivalent of pi!”
“Seriously, why are you doing this? You know it’s not going to work out.”
“I don’t know that, Ash Ash. If it works out then khalas! I’m happy, and if it doesn’t work out, khalas! It’s an experience. Dating a guy who I barely understood? It sounds like a love-conquers-all kind of story. Very romantic. It could be a material for my next novel, who knows?”
* * *
It was a long weekend which meant you and I were finally going to have sex. God, I waited for this moment. We sucked at communicating. My idea of a perfect day is sushi followed by quality watermelon flavored shisha. Your idea of a perfect day? Watching football Italia. I read Yann Martel and John Green. You subscribed to For Men magazine. I love Al Pacino movies. You love Will Smith movies dubbed in italian. I love dancing salsa, you have two left feet. I grew up watching The Simpsons, then South Park, then Futurama. You think the most brilliant show on TV is Sponge Bob dubbed in italian. My idea of a simple dinner is a kofta wrap or felafel sandwich at the least. Your idea of simple dinner? Chipsy. Or microwavable popcorn. Fine, so we liked different things. So, we’re two completely different people, but opposites attract, hence the idiom, right? We balance each other. Yeah! That’s what we do! We might suck at everything else, but man, we will have great sex! Hardcore, tiring, over-extended hot, sizzling sex!
But it was the most silent sex I ever had in my life. No headboards were broken. There was no screaming, no moaning. Nothing. Our hardcore, tiring, over-extended hot, sizzling sex lasted two minutes, Nicco. Two. Fucking. Minutes.
Total radio silence.
* * *
As much as I hate to admit this, Ash Ash was right. Nicco and I had 3.1416% chance. Maybe even less. Our relationship ended not because we sucked at everything together. Obviously, it was a big part of the equation, but all of those factors can be worked on if we tried. With a little practice, he could get better at speaking english. If I started taking a language course, I could learn italian in a few months. The sex? It’s something that we can improve through time, or do I just sound like someone who is highly optimistic? What is difficult to work on, however, is trust and honesty. A few days after we had sex, Nicco sent me an sms that was meant to be for someone else.
“Marwa habibi. U girfren me. I boyfren u. OK? mwah mwah <3”
And that was it. It was a weird break up period. Usually, after a relationship ended, I would have to stock my freezer with at least three gallons of ice cream to last my mourning period of at least five days. I wouldn’t be getting out of bed for days and I would just be crying, either on my bed or on the bathroom floor. Well, sometimes the kitchen floor works too. I usually obsess on my exes too, like I follow them virtually more than an FBI agent could. But with Nicco, in particular, there was no need to cry or mourn, or move on. It was as if nothing happened, and I wasn’t being in denial about it.
Maybe deep down I did know that it wasn’t going to work out. Maybe it was because all I really cared about is being part of a normal relationship. It didn’t matter who I was going to be with. As long as it was normal, as long as I felt wanted, and that the feelings were reciprocated, it was fine. Truth is, I was in love with the idea of falling in love more than the actual person involved. I love love more than I loved Nicco. But at least now I know that the next time I would fall in love, it would be for the right reason. It would be because I fell head over heels for that person and not just the idea of that person. With everything that had gone wrong with Nicco, I was right about two things: 1.) he is an experience, and certainly 2.) a good material to write about. But the best thing about that break up? I got my gym time back!