Tarik frees pins from her hair with one hand while the other kneads her shoulder. He watches the tendons in her neck tighten.
Naima peels off her eyelashes. ‘It was a good night, yes?’
‘Everyone said so.’
‘Your family liked it?’
Tarik moves to the window. The lights of Beirut wink up at him. He imagines the young men and women dancing in the nightclubs below.
‘Are there boats like that in Australia?’ Naima asks, pointing to a picture of sailboats on the wall.
‘More in Sydney, probably, than in Melbourne.’
‘Will we go to Sydney?’
He turns back to face the window, to Beirut and her diamante lights. ‘Would you like to go to Sydney?’
‘Then we will go to Sydney.’
The train of Naima’s dress brushes the back of his feet as she makes her way to the en suite. The bathroom door is frosted glass and Tarik watches his wife through its milky haze. His heart hammers in his chest. When he opens the door Naima is sitting on the toilet seat, in a cloud of tulle, her head buried in her childlike hands. He finds her fingers in the stiff white net and gently coaxes her to her feet. He spins her around – just as he was taught to do for their wedding waltz – and releases the buttons from their tight silk loops. For a precious moment, Naima can breathe again. But then she feels Tarik’s hands on the small of her spine.
‘Room service’, the waiter announces before wheeling a clothed table into the suite.
Naima exchanges her wedding dress for a bathrobe. Tarik turns on the TV. There are bushfires burning in Australia. A reporter interviews a man on the embers of his cattle farm.
‘When we go to Melbourne,’ Tarik says, ‘we’ll drive down to St Kilda beach and eat fish and chips by the water.’
On the television, trees with no leaves stretch up towards a smoky, cloudless sky.
‘And what else?’
‘We’ll go back to the beach with our children, a little boy who looks like me, and a little girl who looks like you, and we’ll build sandcastles next to the ocean.’
He feels her smile beside him.
‘And one day when I have more money than I know what to do with, I’ll buy you a big white sailboat.’
‘Like the sailboat in the picture on the wall?’
‘Like the sailboat in the picture on the wall. Except bigger and better and with your name printed in curly letters on the front.’
‘In English or Arabic?’
‘In English and Arabic.’
Naima slides her fingers into her husband’s fleshy palm. Tarik smiles. He presses his lips into the crown of her sweet-smelling head.