When he walked into the condo again at 5:45 that evening, Sam found Emma sobbing on the couch.
“What’s wrong?!” he asked in alarm, running to her. “What happened?!”
“Sam! What if this isn’t a stomach flu? What if I’m pregnant?” she moaned the question, looking at him with pleading eyes.
He stared at her, his mind too muddled to take it all in. “You can’t be!” he finally said. “You’re taking care of that, right? So it won’t happen?”
“Well, yes,” she agreed, with tears still streaming down her face. “I’m on birth control, but it’s not 100% effective. And . . . “she looked at him sheepishly, “You know how you have to take a pill every single day at roughly the same time and never miss one?”
“No . . .” said Sam, who had no idea how the birth control pill worked.
“Well you do,” answered Emma, annoyed that he didn’t know this basic information. “And I’m not used to taking a pill every single day, and I think I might have forgotten one . . . or two . . . while we were in the Bahamas.”
“Well, surely missing a couple pills couldn’t make that much of a difference,” reasoned Sam.
“It could,” said Emma miserably. She opened her laptop to show him her recent Google search on birth control pills and the likelihood of pregnancy if any pills were missed. Sam skimmed the document and his face fell.
“Come on!” he said bracingly, to comfort himself as much as Emma. “Let’s not jump to conclusions! You probably just have a stomach flu. No one gets pregnant this quickly! We’ve only been married. . what. . two and a half months?”
“They can, and do,” she answered bleakly. “I just have a feeling I’m pregnant. I just know it, somehow. And, Sam . . . it’s NOT what I want!” She dissolved into tears again.
Sam patted her back distractedly as his mind raced. Could this be true? It would certainly throw all their plans off. As Emma had said, they were still quite young and had so much they wanted to accomplish and enjoy. One thing was for sure: a child would mean the end to the honeymoon phase.
“Marry you?” repeated Emma, blankly, as if she didn’t understand the words at all. She was so caught off guard by Sam’s spontaneous question that she looked completely bewildered.
“Well, not right away, of course,” explained Sam, rapidly. “I mean, we still need to get to know each other. And I know I need to prove myself to your parents . . . and to you. But I just want you to know that if we spend any more time together from now on, it’s because I intend to marry you someday. If you want to, of course.”
Emma continued to stare at him with a blank and unbelieving expression. Her mouth was even hanging open a little. Sam didn’t have any experience with marriage proposals, but he felt pretty sure that shocked silence wasn’t a good sign.
“Now Sam, let me get to the point,” interrupted Hal. “I’ve met lots of people all over the world, including lots of Muslims . . . in Morocco, Saudi, Dubai, and Indonesia. Now, I know a little about Islam, but not a whole lot. But let me tell you a story that really makes me wonder about Muslim men’s beliefs. In Morocco, where we lived for two years, I had two neighbors, Nabil and Ridwan. Nabil was the nicest guy you’d ever meet. He always stopped by our house to offer us some sweets that his wife had baked, or to make some repairs to our house, or to smile and play with little Emma. I saw how he treated his wife and kids, and he was a great dad, always laughing and playing. He was kind to his wife, as far as I could see, and she was a happy, cheerful woman. But then there was Ridwan. I’ve never seen such a bully. His poor wife worked — and acted — and dressed — like a slave. She cleaned and cooked from dawn to dusk while he played checkers and drank tea and yelled. And he beat her. We heard her screams. That poor woman was scared of her own shadow because of that monster. He beat his teen-aged daughter, too, when he caught her outside without her headscarf. I finally confronted him, and he said it was his right as a Muslim man. Can you believe it? He said it was his job to teach them the right way to be Muslim, and that women had to obey the men in their lives. So I know, Sam, that there are two kinds of Muslim men, and, to be totally honest, I really need to know what kind you are.”
“Have a brewski?” asked a tall, young redhead whom Sam did not recognize. His name tag identified him as “Justin.” He held a bottle of beer out to Sam.
“Uh, no thanks,” said Sam.
“No, no, no,” insisted Justin. “You gotta have a beer. Trust me, man. Team building exercises are a lot more bearable if you have a buzz on. Come on, um. . . Abdul-Samad.” He had squinted like Alejandro had done, trying to read the doctored name tag.
“Really, I don’t want one,” protested Sam, waving away the bottle that Justin was trying to press into his hand.
“Are you an alcoholic or something?” asked Justin with interest. “My uncle’s an alcoholic and he won’t drink. Look, sorry dude. If you’re an alcoholic, you don’t have to take it.”
“I’m not an alcoholic,” whispered Sam, exasperated.
Colleagues who were standing nearby had begun to listen to the conversation with amused interest. Sam could feel his olive-toned face reddening. It was easier to take the beer. He would just hold it, like all the men around him. Hold it, like a prop in a play. It would make him fit in. He wouldn’t drink it, of course.