"Thank you for the reminder. We shall behave."


“We have lost the art of public tenderness…we have forgotten how abjectly the body welcomes a formal touch.” ~ Anne Enright, The Gathering

We waited for the prayer break to end at a café in the mall's lobby. Souma and I. It was a happy place; saturated with gorgeous daylight and a third-worldly permission to smoke in pleasantly air-conditioned indoors.

Since waiting was the main event, between coffee and nicotine intakes I pressed my hands on Souma, partially because she welcomed it, but mostly as matter of habit for the socially awkward.

I remember basking in contentedness and borderline professionalism (as is one’s usual state of mind when in tune with another’s body). Both of us sitting upright, I pressed her arms, shoulders and back. I pressed and hugged her. And – if you must know – it was utterly consensual.

All within a ten-minutes span.

What followed reminded me how inexpressive a society was Saudi, and that our exchange was prone to misinterpretation. A veiled woman came to our table, saying, "You have been flagged by the security of the mall. I am here to warn you not to proceed in such manners."

We tried explaining the nature of our relationship (imagine the stutters) and the asexual nature of touch caught in their disapproving surveillance, to which the security lady nodded dismissively and repeated, "Your behavior was unacceptable."

Hence, like all well-intending citizens when confronted with authority, we offered our gratitude. "Thank you for the reminder. We shall behave."

And we meant it.

I lack the vocabulary, but if something so brief and tender (at least to Souma and I) could draw public attention, then it might have been something important too. Something that is amiss in Saudi's vocabulary of public social expression. Something that a lot of people, whether in Saudi or elsewhere, could go by their days more enjoyably had they experienced it more often.

And that something is surely worth protecting and reapplying whenever and with whomever consents it. If only for the honest gush of gratitude and certainty that fills us afterwards. Gratitude for reasserted beliefs, for the survival of old crafts in spite of the frowning public, for the old languages of affection that might have been lost in the distance between heart and formality and abstinence.

For reminders like that – reminders that fortify our words with action and our action with dedication – we will always be grateful.

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