The boy who called himself Majnūn (مجنون)

By Tariq Iqbal

Just Like A Torch, You Set The Soul Within Me Burning
I Must Go On, I’m On This Road Of No Returning

Majnun and Laila

“Has marriage ever crossed your mind?” I had asked her, mustering up as much perfunctoriness as I could muster, marshalling together all my wits to try and make the question sound as humdrum and unremarkable as, Do you like warm milk?

“No,” she was quick to respond, with a firmness that said I do not like the direction this conversation is heading so let us not go there please.

“I have a boyfriend, you know,” she said after a pause, looking at me. I got a faint notion that she was preemptively ring fencing herself into a protective enclave, before things got out of hand, trying to conjure up in my mind the image of marked territory, as of a grey wolf having walked around her in a circle, raising its hind leg and doing business at various points along the edge to stake claim, like in the National Geographic.

“We were studying in university together,” she continued.

That, finally, put a halt to my train of thought. I blanked out completely, and was aware that she was looking at me and noticing how stupid I felt and looked. I looked down at my hands, wondering what to say next. It never occurred to me to ask her about him, to ask if that was the case, why suffer me turning my world upside down?

Observing my hands, I was suddenly and inexplicably reminded of the imperceptible small scar at the back of her hand, and not knowing what else to say, and uncomfortably aware that I had a bizarre grin on my face as I remembered the scar, I asked her about it, how she got it.

“Oh that?” she said. “Mosquito bite. Here, and here, and here,” she pointed to her hand, foot, forehead, perhaps a bit surprised at this change of topic. He’s either reeling from the shock or too dumb to figure out what I’ve just said, she seemed to be thinking.

Despite the situation I was in, I mentally laughed at her matter-of-fact explanation to what had been my intrinsic curiosity bordering on the romantic.

That was the way she was. Guileless, down to earth. When I commented on her eyes, that I had not been able to draw them perfectly in the portrait I had done of her, she said without thinking, “Oh no, that was fine. One eye is bigger than the other.” Later, I would smile whenever I remembered the spontaneity and offhand candidness and casualness of her remark. Ingenuous she was. The genuine stuff.

The Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM)

The leading musical arts and culture centre in Oman is an imposing structure. All in white, the architectural splendour of the building “was influenced by the grand style of modern Omani palaces, and reflects their design features and circulation patterns. The front entrance is an expansive palm-treed piazza backed by five tall, arched entryways into a hall that forms the central focus of a colonnade designed to create a grand entrance.1

Built on the royal orders of Sultan Qaboos, beloved ruler of Oman for almost fifty years until his death in January 2020 is, “One of the most beautiful and technically advanced opera houses in the world, this multiform theatre can transform from an intimate 1,100 seat opera house into an 850-seat shoebox-style concert hall with the push of a button. The stunning venue is an elegant mix of traditional Arabic and contemporary design and was the first opera house on the Arab peninsula.

She had been excited when I asked her if she would like to come to the opera with me. She had never been to one, and expressed childlike delight at the prospect. “Yes,” she said, almost without thinking.

She had a childlike wonder about everything.

Once, I had gifted her Alice in Wonderland to read.

“I know it’s a children’s book,” I had said apologetically, “But I see Alice in you, a pretty little girl full of self-confidence.”

“I’m reading your Alice in the wonderland,” she wrote to me afterwards, wanting to humour me.

I had chuckled. This was going to require a lot more work than I had anticipated, I smiled to myself, downing a big slug of male chauvinism.

On the other hand, I pensively postulated, not burdened with the Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory nor the Hegelian Dialectic, she would have a great predilection for delighting in the ordinary, commonplace things in life, which was what mattered in the end, actually.

It was a win either way.

And that was the fascination of it all. Here was my very own Eliza Doolittle, the Audrey Hepburn to my Rex Harrison. My Fair Lady in person. What all I could do with her. I was rip-roaring to get started.

My Fair Lady

Only, she would not oblige.


A few weeks into our companionship, sitting by my side at the opera, getting initiated into the finery of the finest of the fine arts in my planned scheme of things, she informed me, with all the casualness at her command, “I have a boyfriend, you know.” It left me gasping for breath. But…but…but what about the Mona Lisa I had to paint???

She liked the boy, it seemed. And from the way she sat at the far edge of the sofa, beyond the reach of prying hands, and bolted for the ladies’ when I offered her some candy to munch, I could tell that she was somewhat uptight being there with me. Perhaps a sense of guilt towards the boy, or, worse, the late realization of a possible uncomfortable experience had put her in that sad state of disquiet. I was alarmed and sorry for her, but also amused. To be apprehended a predator was a badge of honour in itself.

To me, this was all great fun, educational even. She was fascinating. Unpredictable. Bewildering. Whimsical. Sharp on the instinct. Outrageously funny. Nonstop talkative in that charmingly accented voice of hers that was nothing short of heavenly. An entirely new species compared to the lifeless kind I was accustomed to. A breath of fresh air. I was mesmerized.

But being enamoured of her was just half the story, really. There was more. I could picture the buzz of eager chatter following my grand entrance to any Toronto party, the usual bash, with a beautiful young Arab bride on my arm, a veritable trophy. Heads would turn. I would be the envy of friends, an object of derision of their wives. I was greatly titillated at the prospect of creating a stir in the local social milieu and having gossip and innuendo do the rounds.

“Him??? You don’t say!!! He was such a withdrawn guy, who would’ve thought?”
“Just can’t darn trust the boys these days, I tell you.”
“Men will be men.”
“The m*#%!r f*$@!r has some nerve.”
“That lucky bas#@$d!”
“Better keep an eye on your man, darling, he’s the same age.”
“Will be good riddance, I can assure you.”
… and …
“She talks funny!”

And then I met him. The boyfriend.




Click here to read Part 2 of: The Boy Who Called Himself Majnun (مجنون)

Tariq Iqbal

Tariq Iqbal, aka Tony, is a retired banker who refuses to retire and is, therefore, a freelance consultant (aren’t we all) who advises banks on the profitability, or lack thereof, of their customers. He dabbles in writing, wears his heart on his sleeve, and is generally likeable, if he says so himself.

Click here to read more from Tariq Iqbal: California Dreamin’

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