Saturday came with sudden swiftness. Only three things stood out that week, first my time with Mrs. Chung, during which she shared her cares and I mine. We came away mutually strengthened. Mrs. Chung was truly a ferocious fighter and a powerful prayer warrior. But she needed people with her and I was glad to be one of her “allies”, as she called it. She was both pleased and perturbed by my employing Jasmine and warned me to guard my heart.
“It was a God-moment,” I protested.
“Maybe,” she replied. “But the Enemy is pragmatic. If he can use Jasmine to make you fall, he will. He’ll do whatever it takes. Be on your guard.” She smiled. “I will pray for you all day Saturday, young man. You are like my son: just starting out, brave and brash. Don’t let the Devil drag you down.” I smiled at that. The end result of the conversation was me placing a phone call to my Dad and telling him about Saturday, too. He actually sounded pleased when I talked with him about it, not at all worried about me not doing the right thing; and that strengthened my resolve to be a gentleman toward Jasmine and to be above reproach.
The third thing was the visit to “flock”. It was a great time and I was surprised to see Jasmine there that evening. Karin later told me that this was the first time Jasmine had been back since she’d left for her last semester of college and I wondered why that would be. Maybe Karin was right: Anton and Jasmine had met in college and he’d begun exerting a bad influence on here there. Well, it was speculation, I told myself, and speculation is unhealthy: it’s like trying to find symbolism in pictures where it doesn’t exist. It wastes energy and divides people, much like what my first-year photography prof kept doing in looking for hidden meanings in our photos.
I pulled up to the Maliks’ house early on Saturday morning and found my hands trembling. It’s just a job, I told myself, but it oddly felt more like I was picking Jasmine up for a date. I decided I needed to center myself and so bowed my head and prayed.
“Dear God,” I said out loud. “I want to do this right. I want to help Jasmine, but I’m afraid my feelings are going to get in the way. Protect me from myself and protect her from me. Help me to keep my mouth shut when it should be and to say only what you want me to. And help me to be a good friend first and foremost.” I sighed heavily. “God, I want her to shine, again. Please, just let that happen and I’ll be content.” I knew that the last line was not strictly true, but that was my chief motive, for crying out loud. I’d rejected the others over and over again and did so once more. Then I climbed out of the car.
The door opened as I walked up and Mr. Malik was there, obviously waiting for me.
“Good morning,” he said gravely.
“Good morning, Mr. Malik,” I replied. “I hope this is okay with you.” He looked me up and down sternly.
“Bring Jasmine back at the end of the day like you’ve promised, and we’ll see,” he said first, then added, “What are you going to pay her?” I named the price I’d decided on, which was fifteen percent of what the happy couple was paying me. His eyebrows went up.
“So much?” he asked.
“Photography can be very lucrative, Mr. Malik,” I explained. “It wouldn’t be fair to my employee if I made good money and didn’t pay her well, too.” He pursed his lips.
“You make a good point,” he said, then turned into the house, said something in another language and Jasmine appeared. She was wearing a dark, conservative pantsuit over a white blouse with her hair neatly pinned up and a minimal amount of makeup. Very professional-looking, I thought. That was good, because it took the entire date-feel out of the situation.
“Hey, Sam,” she said. “Do I need to take anything?”
“No, I’ve got it all,” I replied, then turned to her father. “We should be back this evening: it’s an all-day event and we’ll have to clean up when everything’s done.”
“Just be home before curfew,” Mr. Malik said to his daughter and she replied in that other language, kissed him on the cheek and walked out to the car. I shook his hand, too, and for a moment thought there was a twinkle in those dark-gray eyes. But if there was, he masked it instantly.
“What language were you speaking?” I asked Jasmine as we drove off.
“That? Oh, Arabic,” she said. “My parents were both born in Lebanon. They moved here right after getting married when Baba came to get his masters.”
“Really?” I said. “I had no idea.”
“Well, we didn’t really hang out much in high school,” she pointed out.
“That’s true,” I replied. We made small talk as we drove to the venue, a beautiful lake about forty miles from town. She told me about studying social sciences at a major university to the north. I told her about learning photography. It turned out that she liked art, too, and was a decent illustrator.
“But I never could figure out how to use a camera,” she lamented. I asked what she thought she would do with her degree and she said she didn’t know.
“I kind of did it, because it was the only thing that remotely interested me there.” She shrugged. “I enjoyed the research and figuring out what people were thinking, but I don’t know how to make a career of that. I don’t really like the academic atmosphere. It’s too closed-minded.”
“Really?” I exclaimed. “How so?”
“My social-sci professors were insistent that their view was the only right one,” she explained. “Here we’re told in one way that we’re supposed to research and come up with new ideas and conclusions, but when we really do, we’re shot down.” She huffed. “A couple other girls and I did a project on how Arab Christian women view themselves. The prof didn’t like the results, because they didn’t support her very radically feministic viewpoint. We were only given a B- grade, even though our advisor, who was in poly-sci, thought it was a very good effort and was worth at least an A. It was a research paper after all.” She glowered at that, then muttered, “I still haven’t forgiven her for that.” Insight struck me in that moment: this was where Jasmine had begun to lose her glow!
“I met Anton soon after that,” she continued. “He was supportive and intervened on our behalf, but my prof still wouldn’t give us a better grade and it affected all of our GPA’s making one of my friends miss Magna Cum Laude by one percentage point.” She gritted her teeth. “But Anton was so helpful and so friendly. We started hanging out.” She looked over at me. “He even called Baba to ask permission if we could date!” She shook her head. “It takes a lot to win Baba’s approval. He’s really old-school when it comes to dating and he’s said that he won’t allow me to marry anyone whom he doesn’t approve of.” I didn’t really have an issue with that one, because my parents were similarly strict. “Anyway, it was nice to have a boy-friend….” Her voice trailed off.
“Was nice?” I wondered out loud. Jasmine didn’t answer that one, but rather stared out the window glumly, so I changed the topic, trying to get her mind off Anton, but he sat in the back seat invisibly for the rest of the drive, and it wasn’t until we topped the ridge to descend to the lake that Jasmine stirred from her reverie.
“Oh, wow!” she exclaimed, taking in the blazing blue surrounded by gorgeous greens of various hues. The light was just perfect and a cloud had moved over the sun so beams of light played on the beauty below. I pulled over, got the DSLR out and shot several frames to test the lighting and to record this glorious moment. Then we descended to the lakeside where the wedding would take place.
The rest of the day was really busy. Jasmine did a great job from the get-go. She showed excellent skills in helping me and the other photographers schedule where we would be for what part of the wedding, as well as making a couple suggestions regarding location that really enhanced the results for all of us. She was humble and helpful and willing to do most anything, from holding the bride’s dress in the right way, to entertaining the flower girl and ring bearer, neither of whom could have been more than four years old.
I had my glasses off more than half the time, because without them I get a clearer view through the viewfinder. Thankfully Jasmine was not too distracting to me. The groom was a hulking monster, drooling over his fangs, and the bride a bloated beast that was the equal of her prospective husband, though through the viewfinder he was exceptionally handsome and she a stunning vision in a revealing dress. Once more I was struck with the disparity between the physical and spiritual realities. Even so, it was a very nice, very romantic wedding, despite a raunchy speech by the best man and a really sloshed maid of honor.
Thankfully, the happy couple climbed into the limo by late afternoon, allowing us to depart sooner than I’d expected, our responsibilities being taken care of. The wedding planner reminded me that the remainder of my fee would be given upon receipt of the photos, which I promised would be ready by Wednesday next. We then departed happily, pausing at the top of the hill to look down on the lake again and catch a few more snapshots of the lake in a different light.
“You know,” I said to Jasmine, “it’s amazing how where the light falls changes how you see things. You see that grove over there?” I pointed to a cluster of deciduous trees across the lake. “That was invisible in the morning light, because the afternoon light brings out that delicate gold tint of the leaves.”
“Hm,” Jasmine replied, watching the westering rays.
“And when it gets to be dusk, the trees will all become one giant gray mass and the lake will become a mirror of the sunset. You can see individual wavelets on the water then, even from up here.”
“Yeah, and from here you would never be able to tell the mess that was left behind by the wedding party,” she observed. I nodded. She turned to me then.
“Thank you for this, Sam. I really needed it. I really needed a friend.”
“You’re welcome, Jasmine. Any time.” And I meant it. We climbed into the car and drove off, silent for a long time. Then when Jasmine spoke it took me by surprise.
“What you said about light is true about people, too, isn’t it?” I hadn’t even thought that far ahead.
“I suppose you’re right,” I hedged, her not knowing that I could see more than anyone else in that regard.
“It’s like with Anton,” she mused. “At college he was one way, but when he came here and joined our church he changed.” I wanted to prompt her to continue, but something held me back. Jasmine was silent for a moment then continued, “He was so much more secure at college and was actually quite nice. Except he always wanted me to wear those other clothes and more make-up and keep my hair down.” She shook her head. “Since he came here, he’s become so possessive, so controlling. It’s like he’s afraid to let me be out of his sight.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see her glance over at me. “I don’t even know if I love him anymore.” She paused for a long moment, then said, “But Baba approves of him.” And she sighed.
“Is that so important?” I heard myself asking.
“Why, yes!” she exclaimed. “I’ve waited so long to find a man that my father approves of. I never dated in high school and I so want to get married!” She smacked her hand over her mouth when she said that, realizing she’d told that to a guy.
“But aren’t you supposed to approve of him, too?” I asked instead. I glanced over to see her staring at me, open-mouthed. I thought about what Mrs. Chung had told me about marriage and wondered whether Jasmine should hear it. I sent a prayer up for wisdom and as no urge to speak came, I remained silent then.
“You’re right,” she mumbled, getting ahold of herself. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Then she turned and looked out the window for the rest of the trip, obviously mulling over that.
We pulled up in front of her house and I reached over the seat to get an envelope from my camera bag.
“Thanks for coming, Jasmine,” I said, handing it to her. “You really were a big help today. You made our job a whole lot easier and I think your suggestions made the pictures better, too.” She both blushed and brightened at that, accepting the envelope.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Your pay,” I said.
“Oh.” She hesitated. “You gave me something much better than money, Sam,” she said then. “Thank you.” She leaned in slightly as if she wanted something more then opened the door and ducked out of the car. I opened my door and stood up to make sure that she’d entered the house safely and saw Mr. Malik in the entrance. I nodded at him and he nodded back at me and I left, feeling both fulfilled and wanting more. That last movement before she exited the car: had Jasmine wanted to kiss me?