“You eat with your hands?” I asked, surprised that Nayla would risk getting her fingers messy in what appeared to be an upscale restaurant.
“You don’t?” she smiled at me, her American accent brimming with confidence.
“No, I mean, I do. My roommate Yousef told me Americans prefer utensils.” I had almost called him my husband.
Nayla threw her right arm over the back of her chair. She finished chewing and stared at me as I sat there, trying to appear as proper and sophisticated as I knew how to.
“What do you prefer?” she asked pointedly.
I examined my plate. The reddish, delicate biryani lingered closely to the spicy murgh masala. If I was sitting in the privacy of my own home, I would have turned my fingers into mixers, combined the delicious contents in front of me, and eaten voraciously.
“I prefer niwalas.”
In response, Nayla spooned more biryani onto her own plate, mixed it with the masala already there, and continued using her fingers to feed herself.
“Me too,” she said, after swallowing her bite of food.
It had been well over an hour, yet I still wasn’t sure if this was a date. My curiosity finally beat out the anxiety of an unwanted answer, and I decided to begin investigating.
“So, do you have a boyfriend?” I asked sloppily.
“Nope,” she said matter-of-factly. “What about you? Do you have someone?”
Someone. What an interesting word choice. I tucked my loose hair behind my ear. “I do not.”
“What kind of person are you looking for,” she asked, leaning in toward me.
I paused. She had set me up with the perfect opportunity to share the secret only Yousef knew. Show some guts Aadila.
“I want her to be someone I have a connection with,” I answered, trying my hardest to both keep my voice steady and maintain eye contact.
I saw the surprise enter Nayla’s eyes. “I thought it would take you a little longer to share that with me.”
“I’ve been waiting a long time to share it with someone.”
She raised her wine glass. “Let’s cheers to that.” Her smile reached every part of her face.
When I got home, Yousef was sprawled on the living room recliner. His eyes leaped up from the television toward me. I knew he was eagerly awaiting a detailed account of my evening.
“Wow, you look like a typical sitcom husband,” I began.
“We would be the most atypical sitcom couple ever,” he retorted, switching his show off. “Okay, sit down and tell me about your dinner. Did you find out whether or not she’s interested in you?”
I seated myself on the couch next to him. “I’m terrified.”
“Of what?” He placed his hand on my knee.
“Before, I had only known that I liked women. I never pursued it. I never tried to get their attention or develop an intimate relationship with any of them. This time, I’m making it real. I’m acting on my feelings.”
“Yes. You are making it real. Now you can. You get to have this,” he urged me.
“But Yousef, we’re just lying to everyone. You’re gay. I’m gay. Our marriage is a sham. What happens next? What if nothing works out? What if somebody finds out?” I heard myself falling into a spiral of horrible hypotheticals and buried my face in my hands.
Wordlessly, Yousef walked to the kitchen. Moments later, he returned with two cups of chai. He handed me one.
“Aadila,” he said, his voice an anchor of calmness, “Our marriage may be a sham, but our partnership is both solid and real. No matter what happens next, that won’t change.”
With teary eyes, I looked at him. “You’re right.”
“I know. I’m always right.” He tilted his face upward dramatically.
I sipped the hot chai, letting its warmth fill my body.
“Wait!” he exclaimed. “You never answered my question. Does Nayla like you?”
I stared at my hands. My mind drifted to the recent memory of her reaching for my fingers as we left the restaurant. We had come together naturally, and we remained close for the few blocks back to my apartment.
At the gate, Nayla had pulled me in. Her skin smelled like jasmine.
“I want to kiss you,” she whispered.
I leaned toward her, and as our lips touched, I let myself be a different woman- the one standing in a public street, intertwined with another woman, succumbing to the taste of attraction.
Yousef nudged my shoulder, bringing me back to our living room. “Well?”
“She likes me,” I responded.