In this scene from The Syrian, Nadia encounters Hassan Jaafar for the first time in fifteen years. As head of Syrian Intelligence, he ordered her husband disappeared.
Nadia asked Samir to stop the car alongside the highway. They were just outside Chtaura. She needed a few minutes to compose herself before she arrived at the Park Hotel where she would sit face to face with the man responsible for her husband’s disappearance. She took comfort in Samir’s calm presence. He had been a part of her life since childhood. He was her father’s chauffeur and confidant, and oftentimes hers, always conversing in his most comfortable language, Arabic. Samir’s physical stance was a measure of comfort in her anxiety about what would happen next. He was close to six feet and looked like a body builder, although Nadia knew he had never lifted a weight in his life.
A thick hedge of pine trees obscured the entrance to the hotel. Only a small placard gave away its name, making it an otherwise ideal romantic hideaway. As Samir steered the car in the parking lot, Nadia saw Hassan Jaafar on the veranda talking to another man. Jaafar stood when he saw her car approach. Towering over the other man, he shook hands and said goodbye.
He was still as Nadia remembered—an imposing presence, the ubiquitous sunglasses, the perfect manners, the well-tailored suit and silk tie, the crisp dress shirt. A man so frightfully powerful yet…Yet what, Nadia? Yet so physically attractive that, on several occasions, you overlooked his unscrupulous behavior and allowed him to take you in his arms? Yes, I remember.
Nadia walked across the gravel driveway, concentrating on her gait, in open-toed high heels she attempted to appear sure-footed and confident rather than the jittery, heart-pounding wimp who cringed inside her. Panting and dry mouthed, she climbed the three stone steps to the wide, open terrace. She tried to control her breathing before she reached the round metal table where Hassan Jaafar insolently watched her approach.
“What a pleasure, Nadia,” he said as he stood, removing his sunglasses. “Please, have a seat.” He pulled out her chair.
He’s still wearing the same cologne, she thought. Givenchy pour Hommes. Yes, I remember that, too.
“I’ve ordered pastry and tea.”
“Thank you.” Nadia studied her one-time suitor whom she hadn’t seen in fifteen years. Still strikingly handsome with olive skin and Semitic nose, Nadia guessed he must now be in his mid-fifties. His once-dark moustache now matched his full head of fading salt-and-pepper hair. His brows and coal-black eyes, once inquisitive and lively, were now more penetrating at least that was how it felt to Nadia as she endured his inspection and waited for him to speak.
“Where shall I begin after so many years? First, allow me to congratulate you on your new position at the U.N.”
“How did you know?”
Eyebrows raised, he stared incredulously, “Nadia…”
“Yes, yes, of course.” For a moment she had forgotten that he was the Mokhabarat.
The waiter arrived with the tray. “I’ll serve Madame,” said Jaafar. “That will be all. Thank you.”
She recognized the pastry and looked up. Her eyes met his “Yes, I remembered,” he said, “Chocolate-filled croissants, your favorite.”
She watched as he poured the tea, careful not to fill the cups to the brim, then skillfully placed hers beside her right hand. He took a knife and fork and cut into the pastry. This time, as he placed the plate in front of her, he ran his finger down her hand. She looked up, surprised that she hadn’t flinched, and amazed at the unexpected thrill his touch gave her.
They stared at each other a long time until finally Jaafar spoke.
“You’re as beautiful as I remembered, Nadia. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve thought of you. I tried to contact you after…”
“After you disappeared my husband? Yes, I know. That’s the reason I left Lebanon.”
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