Disbelieving in God is sufficient. Believing in God is insufficient. It requires an extra mile: living God. And even that is not sufficient.
Being a Christian is not enough. One needs to believe in the veracity of all things. Not just the sun, for instance, but it’s setting, it’s rising, it’s permanence, it’s mortality. Finite joys like sex, wine and loving are not enough: a Christian must seek the infinite. Augustine of Hippo said that God made our hearts and so our hearts shall remain restless until they rest in Him.
Leah has been living like a good Christian ever since her First Communion. She has lived like a good Westerner too, that was how she was able to meet Firas in the first place. She was an energetic centre-of-gravity. Wherever she went – university, work, parties – crowds were drawn to her. And being drunk, loved, high, dancing; these were all wondrous pleasures. But insufficient. We return to this. She was a child made in God’s image. It was not enough to be a child. She had to be close to the perfection that conceived her.
Joan of Arc was a warrior as well as a martyr. A dichotomy made possible by the fact that religions are man-made. Leah was a bon vivant and a conservative Catholic. The two are possible because religion is malleable. Religions are man-made. Men are malleable. Joan of Arc died for what she believed in, be it right or not. Leah frequently defended priests, extolled mild, virtuous homophobia, and argued for closer church-state relations. All of this did not make her a hypocrite. Joan of Arc was deluded, stubborn, possibly only a metaphor: but no one can deny her conviction. Nay, her faith!
Then, why did Leah feel like such a hypocrite, when she had her irredeemable one-night stand with Firas?
Firas could not do otherwise but have a one-night stand with Leah. Firas was half-Syrian the other half vaguely Maltese. His father Muslim his mother Catholic: what would Mendel’s laws of heredity predict would be Firas’ faith? Hybrids are never exact intermediates of their parental forms. If a two parents are going to pass on trait Aa, the child might inherit A or 2A or a or 2Aa. What Firas inherited was a spiritual secularism. Unbelief.
Most believers, especially those of a monotheistic God are atheists in an important way: Christians are atheists about Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Thor, Zeus and so on. Atheists merely go one step further. This small leap of un-faith requires a certain personality: something of a matador, perhaps. It requires a mind to say that the universe does not exist for me, I exist because of it. A modest arrogance. Unbelievers are more cats than dogs: cats are not the loyal servants of their masters, but independent organisms that wisely manipulate, cajole and tease. And if you’re inclined to be feline, a bullfighter and modestly arrogant: you would not say no to a one-night stand with a beautiful twenty-four-year-old that flirts with you in a nightclub.
Human courtship has evolved faster than the rest of our anatomy. Contraceptives changed everything. Women are no longer shackled to their animal cycles. For the first time in the history of life, a female of a species need not be so choosy or careful; she can be as promiscuous as the male. Leah was a non-hypocritical believer in contraceptives. Yes the church forbade them. But if they allowed her to indulge in one of her passions, are they not helping her closer to God? When she saw Firas drinking with his two best friends at the bar of her girlfriends’ regular club, she didn’t think or ask questions: she merely looked inside her handbag, “Condom, check, let’s go.”
When Firas saw her coming up to him, he began displaying – this, at least, has not changed over millions of years. He was a well-built twenty-six-year-old, devoted himself to gyms and athletics whilst juggling a burgeoning real estate career. The 21st century offers males various opportunities to become iconic males. Yet still, so few manage it. So many of them forget the subtle values of manhood. He necked his vodka as she came near. She looked at him and brushed past him, ordering a jack-coke, leaning over the bar, her enhanced cleavage rising like a dawn-bound sun, her ass also rising, glowering, tight.
Stood next to her, cheek by jowl, he offered to buy her the drink. They looked at each other. Both their eyes were arrogant. Firas’ modestly so, Leah’s full of lustful, I-am-sexier-than-thou. In Exodus there is talk about selling your youngest daughter into slavery: Leah was her father’s youngest, and she was taking the selling into her hands. In Islam there is much talk of polygamy: Firas, who was already kind of seeing another woman, took polygamy into his own remit.
We’re burnin’ up, we might as well be lovers on the sun!
Dancing, alone, in front of everyone, their two histories, geographies, momentarily came together, like two continents colliding only to come undone the next century. Leah’s friends watched her, gyrating, nearby. Firas’ friends watched on from the bar. She put her hands through his thick, sleek hair, he put his around her sucked-in back, their lips, both Semitic both Mediterranean, came together, then she took his hand and guided him away from the public arena. Into the private sphere. Away from the glass-house. Into the Ladies Toilets.
Outside, faint, whispering but pulsating: We’ll keep it moving until we make it to the other side and let’s enjoy the ride. We’re burnin’ up…
Some thirteen years after the one-night stand, Leah remembers telling her husband about a dream she had. Only as she voiced it to him did she realize it was about Faris and the Ladies Toilets. She saw a dark rider appear out of an urban landscape. He was dressed in a suit and tie. He climbed off his horse and with every step he took towards her, he began to strip. Underneath his suit he wore a Didashah, underneath that he wore a plain black robe, underneath that still he wore a tunic, underneath that yet again he wore another Didashah and finally, just as he came up to her, he had on a rug made of fox-fur. Now he stood before her, stripped but still clothed. He began to kiss her. But she didn’t feel him. She felt only the music in the wind: it was Haydn’s Creation. He put her hand on his sex. She didn’t feel it. She felt a vulture’s bald neck. Why won’t he strip, that’s all she wanted, then I can feel him, touch him. She awoke frustrated, lustful, less of a woman, craving a man.
In the Ladies Toilets, none of them stripped. They didn’t need to. But conception does not adhere to the rules of sensuality. Conception is biology. Primitive. Beyond us and our norms. Neither of them wanted it. But an un-named embryo had been constructed that night.
Leah found out about a month later. Faris was told a week after.
It has been said before that no woman gets an orgasm from cleaning.
The Y-Chromosome is a bestower of impulsivity and masks that cannot sustain their lies.
These are the premises Leah and Faris respectively considered when they met in St. Julians to discuss their futures. Both of them felt one thing in common: enslavement to the throw of the dice. None of them ever considered their own guilt. Leah: the only guilt we are responsible for is Original Sin. Faris: our instincts are not our own, we are selfish machines.
Leah: I can’t have this baby on my own. I’m single, just starting a new job and my family would not support me.
Faris: I’m not in a position to commit. I, I have a girlfriend.
Leah: Did you have her that night, as well?
Leah: I can’t do this on my own.
Faris: I’m willing to help you out, of course. But I can’t marry.
Leah: I didn’t ask you to.
Faris: But you want it.
Leah: I don’t want to marry a man I don’t know, no.
Faris: But it would be convenient?
Leah: It would be hell. Primitive.
Faris: It sounds like forced marriage, I know. He laughs.
Leah: Seriously, I don’t know where to turn.
Faris: What about your family? You can’t tell me they will throw you out, pregnant.
Leah: My father would. He said it to me when I was sixteen.
Faris: You’re not sixteen anymore.
Leah: It doesn’t matter. Either way, I can’t rely on them. I don’t know who I can rely on.
Faris: Don’t you have a boyfriend or someone?
Leah: I’m too busy to have a boyfriend.
Faris: Don’t keep it then. He says taking a sip from his black coffee.
Leah: What do you mean?
Faris: I mean get rid of it.
Leah: Funny. She laughs sarcastically, hiding her disgust.
Faris: I’m not joking.
Leah: Fuck off, there’s no way I’m having an abortion.
Faris: Why not, it’s the only solution. You don’t have to throw your life away because of one random mistake.
Leah: Don’t, don’t even mention it to me.
Faris: Why not?
Leah: Because it’s wrong.
Faris: It’s just a fetus! It’s no more alive than a dead ant.
Leah: It’s a living thing, it has a soul, it’s your fucking child.
Faris: It will never be my child. It won’t be yours either. Don’t you think children should be raised in love?
Leah: I would love it all the same.
Faris: I would too. But neither of us are ready for it.
Leah: Why should it suffer for our mistake?
Faris: Why should we suffer for our mistakes! It was a mistake, get over it, I don’t regret it, it was a great night. We were careless, that’s the only mistake. Otherwise we did what adults do. Why should we be punished for that? Would you convict a man of homicide if he kills a doll?
Leah: Contemplative. We can’t get away from it scot-free.
Faris: Look, I will not be a part of the child’s life, I’m sure you and your family would want it that way. So why should I get away with it scot-free, alone, while you suffer? Isn’t it better that we both get off and none of us suffers?
Leah: What about the child’s suffering!
Faris: What suffering? It will suffer as much as dirt suffers. Come on!
Leah came away from that conversation haunted. As she drove home from St. Julians she kept on replaying the night in her head. Whose fault was it, really? Who seduced who? She seduced him, naturally, alright. But he went along with it. He bought her the drink. And when dancing: didn’t she make the sexual moves? But it was him that grabbed and groped. But I took his hand, I lead him to the bathroom. Yes, but, lest we forget: it was him that came inside me!
But she was actually considering it: Sanskrit texts advice women on how to perform abortions (sitting over a pot of stewed onions), the Maori did it by using drugs, in Theaetetus Plato praises a midwife’s ability to perform the deed, the herb sirphium was driven to extinction by the Greeks (they used it for abortion and as a contraceptive), and where the Stoics correct about the fetus being a plant up until the moment of birth?
She wanted to talk to her mother about it. She wanted to talk to Faris even more. But she knew where he stood. She needed objectivity, mystery, surprise. But she needed a definite answer from an indefinable source.
That night, as Faris made love to his Polish girlfriend who he loved because she made him look good publicly, he thought of abortion; which, naturally, made his love-making meek and half-hearted. Being human is not reason enough to live, is it? We cull animals when their populations get too high. We put horses to sleep when they break a leg performing our sports. And when we murder, we hate the murderer far more than we pity the victim. Is a fetus a member of the Homo sapiens species? What defines humanity: language, conscience, sentience, rationality, creativity. Does a fetus have any of that? The poor girl, what she’s going to be straddled with!
When he came he felt each drop emerging as if it was a stampede of tiny little half-hims forever escaping his body, his history.
Faris and Leah met a few more times. Leah did not scold him for mentioning abortion this time. But when she got home she scolded herself. The next time they met Faris didn’t mention it. The following meeting Faris didn’t mention it but Leah did. Is it expensive? Is it traumatic? Did he know anyone.
Faris: I would be with you every step of the way.
Just then, Leah felt, for the first time in her life, safe, on the receiving end of an empathetic gesture. She was used to being charitable. Giving, helping, donating: but it was all invisible donations, she never saw her beneficiaries. Now, she was one. It felt delicious, addictive; and it came from an unbeliever. How could she be made to feel so divine by what her religion would term a heretic? Did she call him a heretic? She did, in fact. But she felt sorry for him for having thought of it that way. So, to make amends, to right the wrong, to be Christian towards him, she accepted his advice.
A week later they were in Sicily.
Dilation and Evacuation is the method the doctor opted for. They gave her a local anesthetic. They dilated her cervix. They inserted laminaria sticks to enlarge the opening of the cervix. Then, passing a cannula into the uterus and using a pump sucked out the fetus, then the doctor used a curette to scrape the lining of the uterus and the vacuum is used once more to remove infectious fetal body remains. The doctor then examined the fetus to ensure it was wholly removed.
Disbelieving in God is sufficient. Faris returned to his Polish girlfriend, rattled, broke, but relieved. Believing in God is insufficient: Leah went the extra mile, going to confession every day, living as hermetically as she could, having self-induced nightmares every night, and married a devout Catholic to help make amends.