What Is Best
“You haven’t given us your answer,” the stranger said,
Quentin was standing on the narrow walk, between piles of past snows. “I haven’t,” he agreed.
“You said one night. You needed one night.” Farah was dressed for the cold but trembling. How long had she been waiting on the front porch, imagining his arrival? “It’s been three days.”
“Will you do this?” she had to know.
He put on a nervous smile.
“This isn’t funny,” she warned.
Her Brit-Latin was impeccable. The accent was thin, making the voice more intriguing.
“It’s not funny,” he agreed.
The butter-colored scarf covered her mouth and proud nose, and those sad dark and very red eyes looked teary.
“It’s a lot to ask,” he reminded her.
She didn’t speak.
Climbing concrete stairs, Quentin unlocked the front door and led her inside. Stomping off snow, he asked, “Where’s Vinnie?”
“At home, worrying.” Farah unwrapped the scarf. Her face was rough and flushed. She watched Quentin’s face, yet managed to avoid his eyes.
“Let’s talk,” he said. “Just us.”
She nodded but wouldn’t climb the stairs with him.
“Come on,” he insisted.
She followed, slowly.
Quentin held the narrow apartment door and then offered to take her coat, watching her sit on his old brown sofa, her coat still on and buttoned. He threw off his winter gear and sat on the lumpy reading chair, facing her.
“I want to help,” he began.
The rabbit fur in front of her mouth was wagging back and forth. His guest was attempting to clear her head with oxygen. “Vinnie claims you’re a noble person.”
Praise wormed its way inside him. Yet Quentin said nothing, and the silence worried both of them. She stared at all of him, trying to piece together his character from a lover’s opinions and her own few glimpses. Then into that regal Persian face came an expression of resigned horror, and as if she had known him forever, she said, “But you’re an honorable person. And that’s the problem.”
Quentin waited silently.
“Two other people know what’s best,” said Farah. “But that isn’t reason enough to believe us. Am I right about that, Quentin? My wishes don’t matter. Vinnie’s opinion has no weight. There’s a correct decision here, but it lives outside us. And it lives outside you too.”
He wasn’t breathing.
“You can’t decide what to do but you’re actively building a list, I’m guessing. The good and the bad, each in a tidy column, and when you have enough data, you can comfortably decipher what is best. Yes?”
“I want what’s right,” he agreed.
“Oh, I understand. Everyone wishes to make the wise decision.” The voice was flat, chilled. “If I’m forced to leave, there is no decision. I'll return home. I won’t fight the rules and I’ll take up a life that I don’t desire, and the person you see...well, she dies. And to be honest, I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. Life will surprise us. It does. Against all expectations, Persia might prove joyous and loving. Or maybe I’ll suffer a miserable existence, but my pain will serve a greater function. That is a possibility. Yes? A very noble, very Christian sensibility.”
Suddenly Quentin was breathing hard.
“Except I solemnly believe something else,” she continued. “On this day, my desire is to live in this country of women with my good friends. And that’s why I’m asking for your signature on several pieces of paper, and later, several brief meetings with overworked bureaucrats who have no stake in my life, or in yours."
A lump of snow was midway between them, melting into the green carpet.
“If I could, I’d give you money for your troubles. But my family considers me a heretic, and as it is, I can barely afford my tuition.”
“I don’t want your money,” he said.
“What do you want?” And then her hands lifted, and with her face tight and pale, she unfastened the highest button of her coat.
That expression was awful, and he said, “Don’t do that."
The hands dropped. “That refusal sounded a little more certain. Am I right?”
“So let’s return to the topic of money,” she continued. “We know someone blessed with a rather wealthy mother. So for your trouble and pain...a little gift of appreciation, yes…?”