The Wife's Job by Anna Halabi

Jeweller Waseem suggests his wife Nada helps him with the finances, and makes a propitious sale; by Anna Halabi.

The silence was deafening. Nada sighed and tapped her fingers on the dining room table. She examined her fingernails and frowned at the new coat of bright orange polish her neighbor had painted on them this morning. It was definitely not her color, she decided.

She glanced at her husband across from her and sighed again. He was fumbling with a gold necklace. His loupe was clamped to his old-fashioned aviator glasses.

Nada cleared her throat. "Who's that for?" she asked.

"What's for whom, Habibti?" mumbled Waseem under his breath. He turned the necklace in his fingers and examined it closely.

"Who's that necklace for?" said Nada, impatiently.

"What necklace, Habibti?" he asked. He squeezed the pliers in his hand and stuck his tongue out in concentration.

"The one you're holding in your hands!" yelled Nada.

Waseem jolted in his chair and looked up at his wife, his eyes wide in surprise. "You scared me, there, Habibti."

"You wouldn't give me a straight answer!" she exclaimed. "It's like that with you every evening. I sit here, bored out of my brains, watching you fixing jewelry or polishing gems or whatever you do just to avoid me."

She crossed her arms in front of her and pouted.

"I'm so sorry you feel that way. Please believe me! By Allah, I'm not avoiding you, Habibti," said Waseem.

"Then why aren't you so chatty at home like you are at the jewelry store? Flirting with the customers and gossiping with the neighbors," asked his wife.

"It's the way things are done in this business, ya Rohi," explained Waseem. "You of all people should know that. The ladies want to be wooed into buying the gold and the diamonds. She wants to hear a man say she's beautiful and that the red rubies compliment her creamy white skin. Isn't that how I got you to marry me?"

"Cut the nonsense and answer my question," demanded Nada. "Who is that necklace for?"

"For a customer," he answered.

"Which customer?" she asked.

"Um Bassel," he said. "The clasp is broken. She must have yanked it off her thick neck."

"And you're fixing it for free, I presume," she said reproachfully.

"She's a loyal customer," he said defensively.

"And you're a naïve businessman," she argued. "We're going to go broke if you keep doing customers favors like this."

"Don't worry, Habibti. We're doing fine, financially," said Waseem calmly. He got up, walked over to his wife, and started rubbing her shoulders. "Is something wrong? Did something happen today?" he asked.

"Akh, ya Waseem. I just feel like the world has been turned upside down, lately," she whined. "You know Um Rashid from downstairs? Her daughter is getting married next month. And instead of hiring me to make her wedding dress, she went to a tailor downtown. A man, for Allah's sake! What do men know about bridal fashion? They don't have an eye for detail like women do."

She shook her head and laid it in her hands in desperation.

"And to make things worse," she continued. "I had to find out from our neighbor Um Hani, that spiteful witch on the first floor!"

"I'm sorry to hear that, Habibti," said her husband. "I think it's great that you're earning your own money, but we really don't need the extra cash."

"I know. I know," she said. "It's just that I'm bored. I usually finish all the cleaning and cooking by the early afternoon and then I just sit around the house with nothing to do."

"I'll tell you what, Habibti," said Waseem. "Why don't you work with me, as my partner. You can be the bookkeeper and I will take care of the customers and the handicraft. Most of the money is in the safe here at home anyway. So, you can handle all the finances from this dining room table. You can call it your 'home office'. How about that?"

"Alright then, Habibi," she replied softly. "But only if you insist."

"I insist." He smiled and gave her a soft kiss on the forehead. "Now, come, get up. Let's go to the living room and make ourselves comfortable on the couch. I will make us a nice, hot cup of tea and we'll watch one of your melodramatic soap operas or a girly Arabic film on television," he suggested.



The next day, Waseem was looking out his store window, daydreaming, when he saw a mustached man peering in and admiring the alluring display of gold jewelry. He had a brown leather jacket draped over his shoulders and his right arm was in a sling.

The man entered the narrow store and greeted the owner. "Alsalamu alaikum," he said. "A beautiful selection you got there, Mu'alem."

"Thank you," said Waseem from behind the counter. "Can I maybe show you some of the pieces?"

"Yes, please," said the man. "That collier with the red ruby caught my eye. If you don't mind, could I take a closer look, please?"

"Ah, yes, the red ruby," said the jeweler. "It's actually part of a set. There's a pair of earrings and a bracelet that go with it."

He carefully relieved the black bust of the necklace and laid it out on the glass counter. Then he fetched the matching pieces from the showcase behind him and spread them out in front of his new customer.

"Mashallah! They're breathtaking," said the man. He held them up with his left hand and examined them closely. "I compliment your taste and talent."

"Thank you, Ustaz," said Waseem.

"Say, how much would the whole set cost?" asked the man.

"The whole set is worth ninety thousand," replied the jeweler, grinning.

"Oh, that's more than I have on me," said the man. "To be honest, I was only planning on buying a small gift for my wife. It's her birthday today."

"Alf mabrook," congratulated the jeweler. "I can put them aside for you if you want to come back and pick them up later."

"No, that won't be possible," said the man. "Quite frankly, I have to get back to the office. I have meetings all afternoon. And I'm only half as productive at the moment."

He chuckled and pointed at the cast on his right arm.

"Alright then. No worries," said Waseem. He chuckled nervously. "How much do you have on you? I'm sure we'll find a piece to suit your wallet."

"I have forty thousand in cash," answered the man, patting his jacket pocket.

"That's great! Take the earrings and the bracelet for forty thousand," said Waseem, eager to make a sale. "And come back for the necklace tomorrow. Then you'll have some presents for the years to come."

"Hmm," pondered the man. He pursed his lips and combed his mustache with his chubby fingers. Waseem awkwardly shifted from one leg to the other.

"I have a better idea," he said. "Why don't I send my driver to get another fifty thousand and I'll buy the entire set today."

"That's a wonderful idea!" exclaimed the jeweler joyously.

"Take out a pen and a piece of paper, will you. I need to write a note to my wife," ordered the man.

Waseem obeyed. "Tfadal," he said and handed him the paper pad and a green ballpoint pen.

"I meant you will have to write the note for me," said the man. "I broke my arm playing tennis last week. It hurts when I try to move it."

"Of course," said Waseem. He held the pen ready to jot down a message.

"Write down the following. My dearest wife, please give the man carrying this letter fifty thousand Liras from our home safe. Your loving husband," the man dictated.

"Your loving husband," murmured Waseem as he wrote the note. He then tore the sheet off the pad and handed it to his customer. "Here you go."

"Wonderful! I'll go give it to my driver," said the man and waved at the uniformed young man outside standing on the sidewalk next to a black Mercedes.

The driver came in and his boss instructed him to pick up the cash and return immediately.

"We live around the corner from here. He'll be back in a few minutes," said the customer.

"Really? So do I. We're neighbors then," exclaimed Waseem. "Although I have to admit, I don't remember seeing you around this neighborhood before."

"Yes, well, we only moved here last month, and I am at the office most of the time," explained the man. He cleared his throat and stood in the doorsill, staring out at the street, and bringing the conversation to a halt.

The hands of the clock on the wall moved slowly under the large calligraphy of a Qur'an verse etched in gold on a green glass platter.

Waseem hummed a tune while the two men stared at the bustling traffic outside, awaiting the return of the driver.



That evening, Waseem came home singing a love song at the top of his lungs. His wife greeted him at the door, smiling at her husband's good mood.

"Did you have a good day, Habibi?" she asked.

"The best!" replied Waseem. "I finally sold that ruby set this morning. You know the one with the collier with the ruby pendant, a matching tennis bracelet, and the hideous chandelier earrings?"

"Yes, I remember you working on them at home," said Nada. "Not even a Bedouin would wear something that ugly."

"Yes, well. It was a custom-made set for a customer who never picked it up," said Waseem, feeling slightly insulted. "Anyway, after that the day just kept getting better. I had one generous customer after the next. I sold more today than I did all last month."

"Alf mabrook," said Nada. She took the wad of cash from her husband and stowed it in the safe. "Say, what did you need the fifty thousand for?"

"What fifty thousand?" asked Waseem.

"The fifty thousand you sent for with that messenger," she explained. "You gave him a handwritten note asking me for the cash from the safe."

"What are you talking about?" he hollered. "Oh, no! He didn't. Did he? Oh, that brazen bastard!"

7 comments:

  1. Well done! I was waiting for a twist but didn’t see that one coming. A fun read.

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  2. A good read with a lovely little twist at the end. I enjoyed it.

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  3. A charming and engaging story, "The Wife's Job" by Anna Halabi. Sweet and tasty like a piece of baklava, though like the pastry, you are left with a craving for more. Halabi has a light touch. My heart, however, went out to the unlucky Waseem. His tale reminded me of the phrase, "No good deed goes unpunished." It is an encouraging note that Halabi has two books through Amazon, "Syrian Brides" and "Syrian Wives. A third, if I'm not mistaken: "Diary of a Syrian Globetrotter." Kudos!

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  4. Waseem certainly was gullible. The con artist must have known Waseem had the money in a safe and that Nada was the new bookkeeper and Waseem's wife. It would be intriguing to read about a police investigation into the case, in a second episode. Well, now his wife will have to work, they are going to need the extra cash.

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  5. I think the con artists got lucky on this one...makes you wonder how often Nada receives handwritten notes from her husband requesting large sums of money...

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  6. Great premise and plot. Excellent dialogue and use of language. The ending came a bit abruptly for me. I would have liked to have had more of a commentary, or resolution, between Waseem and Nada.

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