© 1999 by Loolwa Khazzoom. All rights reserved
I waltzed into the crowded Elat kosher market just two hours before doors closed for Passover. It had been years since I lived in Los Angeles or New York, and I had forgotten the feeling of being able to buy everything within my grasp. With the excitement of a child in a toy store, I walked around gaping at the aisles and aisles of shelves displaying "Kosher for Passover" products, stopping dead in my tracks when I saw ten brands of rice staring back at me. I grew up seeing gefilte fish, herring, chopped liver, and every other Ashkenazi food in Passover selections, but never ever the rice or beans my Mizrahi family was permitted to eat for the holiday. Tears welled in my eyes as Persian Jews swirled around me: I was on home turf.
I eagerly sized up the many options before me, trying to figure out the best menu for my two-day stint in a dorm room with a mini-refrigerator. As I zipped past the cucumbers on my way to the potato salad, I was struck by the beauty of a young man standing straight ahead of me. As always, I looked away.
Look at him! I commanded myself, slowing my stride. Just the past week, I had woken up and realized how utterly female-socialized (i.e. passive) I was in my sexuality, and I was determined to change.
So I looked.
He looked back at me, and we locked eyes for two seconds until I turned away, suddenly hot. What are you afraid of? I challenged myself. Look! I turned back to see Gorgeous Man still looking at me. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god...I held my gaze as long as I possibly could. Then I ran like hell to the refrigerated section.
Trying to stifle the beaming grin creeping onto my face, I was flushed and giddy. I felt exhilarated, proud of myself for crossing a new threshold. I thought about turning back and pursuing Gorgeous Man, but the move felt too wild, too unknown and weird. Feeling the possibility slip from my grasp, I convinced myself that Gorgeous Man was not really all that beautiful. Minutes later, on my way to the oranges, I passed him again.
Yes he was.
Impossible, I thought. Impossible to connect with this man when we're just shopping in a market. I busied myself with all the produce and managed to forget about him. But when I moved towards the check-out, I saw him standing in the lane closest to me. I can do this, I thought. I took a deep breath and marched over to stand in line behind him.
Footsteps away, an older woman with an overflowing cart swooped out of nowhere and took my spot. I stopped in my tracks. I looked at Gorgeous Man, looked back at the cart, scanned the other lanes, and made my way over to "12 Items or Less Express." It turned out to be a good spot. Gorgeous Man's back was to me, so I could drink in his body without being seen.
I never do that. I hate the way men gape at me, so I have been loathe to let my eyes caress a man's body without knowing for sure he would like it. But I was in experiment mode, trying out new sexual behavior, so I found myself looking up and down each inch of that yummy meat, drooling as he lifted his shirt and reached for the wallet in his back pocket. I can never have a man like that. I saw the words float across my brain, jolting me into consciousness about latent attitudes towards myself and my sexuality. Why not?! I challenged. Seconds later, Gorgeous Man turned and locked eyes with me again. We broke into smiles. He turned away.
I let myself keep looking. I was hot again, feeling as if I were standing on the edge of some delicious cliff. Gorgeous Man turned back. Again we locked eyes. Again he turned away. OK, I thought, stop being a stalker. Get your eyeballs off his bod. I turned my gaze to the magazine racks near him but watched him out of the corner of my eye. He began leaving with the older man next to him. Then he turned to look at me. I looked back, and we simultaneously waved goodbye.
I was stunned. Without saying a word, I actually had made a connection with a gorgeous man while shopping at a store. No pretense, no coverup, no make believe. Just raw, naked desire. I expressed mine; I met his. And viola! It worked! Yes, I was on my way to a new sexual reality.
When he reached the exit, Gorgeous Man turned around one last time. I lifted my hand to wave goodbye again. But he did not wave in return. "Are you coming out?" he motioned with his hand. "Yes," I nodded. "I'll go around the corner and come back to meet you in front," he gestured. I was stunned. And hot again. "Yes," I replied with my head. He left with the older man.
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god...I finished paying for my food and went to stand outside, suddenly nervous and unsure. I felt like an idiot just standing on the sidewalk. What if he didn't come. What if he drove by and laughed at me standing there waiting for him. I felt exposed. My inclination was to bolt to my car where I could resume my too-cool, I-don't-care familiar posture. But I knew what would happen if I ran away. I wanted to see what would happen if I didn't.
With my feet planted firmly in front of the store, I stretched the rest of my body to peer tentatively around the corner. Gorgeous Man was loading bags into the trunk of a car, eyes fixed on me. He motioned with his hands again, "Do you want to come here, or should I meet you there?" I felt flustered, my head spinning. I didn't know what was going on. I was afraid to stay in my spot, nervous to walk towards him. I crept carefully in his direction, staying across the street. The older man appeared to be his father. How can I pick up a guy who’s with his father?! I ambled forward, unsure. Gorgeous Man gestured toward me again, trying to figure out who was going where. Somehow we managed to meet in the middle of the block, on his side of the street, halfway to his car.
I stood in place as he slowly walked towards me. I felt as if I were in the climactic scene of a romance movie. Maybe he thinks he knows me, and he's going to think I'm a freak when he finds out he doesn't... "Hi," he said, reaching me. His eyes were even more beautiful close up. "What's your name?" This is for real! I thought. He knows we don't know each other! It was unmasked attraction in action. "Loolwa" I replied. "What's yours?" "Navid." We shook hands. "Are you Persian?" he asked in a thick accent. "No, Iraqi." "What city?" he continued. How nice! Nobody ever asks me that; people were too busy being stunned on how exotic I am. "Baghdad," I answered. "Jewish?" he asked. "Yes," I replied. Clearly, he was checking me out as a prospect. "And you?" I asked, certain of his reply. "Zoroastrian." What?! This was not part of the plan. Fifteen Persian Jews in each aisle of a kosher market, and I hit on the one Zoroastrian!
Religiously compatible or not, I asked Navid if he wanted to swap numbers and get together for a cup of coffee. We headed towards the car to grab a pen and paper. I said hello to his father as Navid got the pen. I felt a bit embarrassed, with no reasons or excuses for standing there other than my blatant desire for his son.
"Are you free tonight?" I asked as Navid gave me his number. He didn't understand the question and asked his father to translate. Oh, what the hell. "Yes," Navid replied, once he understood. "I'll call you later," I continued. I said goodbye to the two men, and left. Later that night, Navid told me that his father turned to him then and said, "What are you, stupid? You don't just say goodbye to a beautiful girl like that!" "Dad, chill out," Navid had replied, smiling and putting the groceries in his father's car.
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