The sheik stood in the doorway looking out into the night, his handsome profile limned in shadow and moonlight.
He continued his song, "Whom do you lead on rapture’s roadway far, before you agonize them in farewell? Oh, pale dispensers of my joy and pains, holding the doors of Heaven and Hell. How the hot blood rushes wildly though the veins beneath your touch until you waved farewell…" His voice faded away and off into the night
I wondered what it was that had taken him away with such great reluctance and even more, what weighed so heavily on him. He turned and found me watching him, and his expression instantly softened. He came to me with his noiseless tread, drawing my hands together and to his breast. "Pale hands, pink tipped," he sang, raising my fingers to his lips.
I tore them away. "You do know English!" I accused.
"Just because I parrot an English song?" he replied in French and then laughed. "It means nothing. I heard a Spanish boy singing in Carmen once who did not know a word of French.
He learned it just as I learn your English song."
The lie was unconvincing. There was too much heart in it to be merely parroting the words.
"It was you who sang outside the hotel in Biskra that night?" It was more statement than question. "And was it you who stole into my bedroom like a thief and put blank cartridges in my revolver?"
"One is mad sometimes when the moon is high." His arm stole around me, drawing me close. He raised my chin to look into my eyes. "Do you think I would have allowed anybody else to go to your room when I meant you for myself?" His warm lips brushed first over my knuckles and then my mouth. "Come with me," he whispered, his eyes passionate and devouring.
Was I dreaming this gentleness? This soft persuasion? Perhaps I was just giddy from the strain? Whatever the reason, I let myself forget the relationship that bound me to him.
Much later in the story…
"It is not my wish," I replied. "But we cannot go on like this any longer. I cannot live like this! I will never give you the blind submission you want. I will never lie as a dog at your feet! I refuse to be a mindless slave to you. You can no more command my obedience than I can command your love. I will never give you one without the other, and you will never admit that you care for me," I broke off in a whisper.
With a pang, I noted a telltale twitch in his jaw, but it remained clamped shut. Nevertheless, for the first time, I saw self-doubt in his eyes and something else I didn't recognize. After a protracted silence, he gripped both of my shoulders and backed me slowly toward the bed. I gazed up into his eyes. "No, Ahmed. It is finished for me. Never again will I—"
To my surprise, he pressed a finger to my mouth…and then his lips met my forehead. "Sleep, ma belle." He stroked the backs of his fingers gently over my cheek. "All will be different in the morning."
Hours later I drifted off to sleep to the final verse of the Kashmiri Love Song in a familiar and haunting baritone, "Pale hands, pink tipped, like lotus buds on those cool waters where we used to dwell… I would rather have felt you round my throat, crushing out life, than waving me farewell."