Ramatu opens the door for Harry and he sees her: her eyes, her body, her soul; that is the moment he begins to love her. He doesn’t know anything about the kind of love that can last a lifetime, though it is what is being born inside him. What he knows are the kinds of breasts that have the perfect curve to them, and he is thinking to himself that Ramatu has such breasts, right there beneath her hijab. She leads him into the house and serves him cake and lemon tea, and in the moment he takes the moist chunk of cake that she made herself into his mouth, he decides that, Muslim or not, she is going to be his wife.
When Ramatu’s father comes in and walks across the room, Harry stands and greets the older man with a dignified respect. Their eyes meet and her father looks into Harry’s eyes and searches his entire being, and when the moment passes, Harry knows he has a lot of work to do. But it is this moment, shared with Ramatu’s father, that makes him aware of moments, because it is the moment he can look back on and say, that was the moment. After that, he begins to keep count of them, the moments. His mind is typically an index of information, both trivial and useful. He remembers the biology lesson that taught him about red blood cells, so that he can now immediately spot the link between Epoetin and high blood pressure. He remembers reading that there is a lush little island somewhere in the Pacific that is fertilised solely by the droppings of birds in migration. Now he decides that he must slow down moments, savour them, and remember them.
He begins to practice. Parking the car on the side of the highway and climbing out to look at a bleeding sunset. Holding Ramatu’s hand and forcing his mind to zero in on its unearthly softness. Eating a mouthful of chocolate with Ramatu in front of him and freezing the moment so that he can teach his mind to forever associate the taste of chocolate with the sensation of looking into her eyes.
One moment they are walking along a lakeshore and he is memorising the feeling of sand between his toes, while explaining to Ramatu how ocean currents are like life; you do not swim against them. Another moment he is nursing a bruised patience while Ramatu sits in the car beside him, examining the contours of his anger with her questions, soothing him with her voice. His answers, curt at first, gradually extend into ribbons of self-examination, and he wonders how it is possible for someone you love to make what felt so wrong only minutes ago seem alright.
There is a moment he lies on the sofa and watches her pray in her long prayer gown. She bows and rises and bows and rises, finally ending the prayer by looking right first, then left. Her soft, lush lips moving the whole time in silent supplication. He rejoices that their love for each other is conquering the boundaries of their respective faiths, that a Bible and a Koran can be one and the same in their eyes.
When the moment comes to undress her for the first time, to see and touch those magnificent breasts he has long dreamed about, he has become overly sensitive. Moments have become so important to him, so he hesitates. The idea of taking her now, in secret, seems unclean and unworthy of her. It would be similar to buying roasted chicken on the roadside and starting to eat it with one hand on the steering wheel, instead of waiting till you get home. So he leaves her clothes on and contents himself with feeling the soft mounds through the layers of fabric. He begins to count the moments even more desperately. He will do this until their wedding day. Waking up the next morning, marking the moment he consciously breathes in for the first time, holding the air in his lungs. Driving to work in the padded solitude of his car, listening to the muted purr of the engine, meditating on this privilege that protects him from the noise and the smoke outside. Sitting in his chair at the office, looking at Ramatu’s picture, and dedicating each heartbeat to her. He reminds himself that he is doing this every day until he marries her. Every day. Counting the moments.
He doesn’t last two weeks before he slips her hijab over her head slowly, untangling her left earring which hooks on a seam. He is aware of being inside the moment. There is a lump in his throat, and a screaming voice in his head, telling him to stop. But he calmly tells the voice that he has the moment under control. The moment swells and swells like a wave, and when it finally breaks, he is lying down on his side, looking into her eyes that have become utterly softened by their lovemaking. It becomes their new language. One moment in the middle of penetrating her, he thinks how penetrating her isn’t enough. He imagines using a scalpel to gently cut her open so he can climb inside and swim through her body, know the curves of her veins and the warm pulse of her blood. The only way to love somebody is to get under their skin.
Then there is the moment she uses the words that cut him forever. She is asleep beside him, and her presence is a soft song playing in the room. She opens her eyes and looks at him, and because he has schooled himself in moments, and because he knows all the weathers of her eyes, he senses the moment is pregnant with bad news. She tells him that her father will not allow her to marry him, that she cannot marry an infidel, that she must not dishonour the family.
This is a moment Harry wants to undo, along with all possibilities of it. He doesn’t ask her whether her father will change his mind, or about her brother Muktar who married a Christian girl and now has two children, or whether she would forsake her whole family in order to be with him. He asks her how long she has known this. The answer is in the way she holds his gaze and doesn’t look away and doesn’t say anything as her eyes brim with tears. After all this time, they still don’t summon the taste of chocolate to his brain.
As Harry drives Ramatu home, she asks to buy some fruit for her father. He parks the car and waits for her. Watching her as she crosses the street, he thinks of how her hijab is an irony that constantly fails to conceal her full, brimming figure, how he has always found her the more desirable because of it. It begins to rain. Fat drops of rain that fall on the windscreen, breaking into a thousand more drops. He forgets Ramatu and thinks of the raindrops as moments. The happening of a moment is the splashing of a raindrop on the ground, or against the glass, and there are seven billion moments splashing at that moment, or whatever the latest count is, seven billion beautiful moments. He stops there.