A Sketch of Truth by Annie Q. Syed


Zhanya learned that a man who truly wanted something—anything—would stop at nothing to get it. Nothing. The only reason such a man would stop is because he did not yet know how far he might go, or did not want that something badly enough.

Marcus was the conduit of this realization and what he wanted was to smell Zhanya’s skin and have her legs spiral around his. He met her at a bar in Lyons, Nebraska and the desire to run his fingers through her long, auburn hair resulted in a $400 dollar plane ticket across the country because she did not go back to his place the night she met him.

They gravitated towards one another from first sight and continued a ping-pong of candor which further developed their affinity:

I don’t have a job but got some gigs here and there. He was honest.

I am a marketing consultant for a small firm in Chicago but let me assure you they pay me nothing. She didn’t want to intimidate him.

I used to play baseball back in college but got thrown off the team when I got caught selling marijuana. You from here?

No, I am only visiting Nebraska for a cousin’s wedding. She didn’t notice she had already mentioned she worked in Chicago. You don’t look like the type who does long term relationships?

Yes, I have been in a long-term relationship before.

How long?

Six months.

She threw her head back and laughed and her auburn bangs danced on her forehead.

What? You don’t think six months qualifies?

But I do appreciate your honesty. And she did.

I don’t have a boyfriend right now, but still keep in touch with an old one. Doesn’t everyone hang on to at least one past lover?

I guess. He ignored his displeasure upon hearing her say that.

Would you like to dance?

Of course, but I ain’t so good though. He replied shyly—a sheepishness reserved for this question only.

She already felt attached to his honesty.

So why can’t you just come back to my place?

I don’t do that. I don’t know you.

What more do you need to know? You are beautiful and I like you and I think you like me too, no?

Yes but no.

Zhanya knew why Marcus wanted to visit—it was not to see Chicago, although it was his first time in the city—but she tried to pretend exploring a new city was a huge part of it.

Jule asked, “Why don’t you want to accept that you are worth the ticket?”

Zhanya replied matter-of-factly, “Yes, every hooker has a price. Apparently mine is $400. Should have just gone home with him that night. He was adorable and I did like him.”

Jule tried to sprinkle some humor, “Well, make him pay for the meals while he is visiting you.”

Zhanya did not laugh.

Jule stared at her friend’s deep heterochromic eyes, reflecting her quixotic nature, and just for a split moment felt pity instead of envy: although not many could resist her green eyes framed around the glow of her auburn hair, one saw much without understanding.

“Zhan, maybe the guy actually likes you. Has that occurred to you?”

Zhanya fumed. “You are so naïve.”

“Fine—even if he is just visiting to fuck you, he must really want to fuck YOU. He can have sex where he is. He wants you. For all the right and wrong reasons. What is wrong with that? Why can’t you just enjoy it for what it’s worth?”

Zhanya felt she no longer knew what was worth what anymore. Did $400 justify acting in spite of her misgivings?

She felt withdrawn from the moment she picked up Marcus at the airport. But after 24 hours of resisting his attentions and judging herself by passing judgments on him, she did enjoy being with him.  But only after she accepted him for who he was: an extremely attractive man with a weakness for princess-cut diamonds and Prada shades; someone who could charm his way through drywalls and beguile people who did not speak English. He enjoyed a joint, which he rolled himself with the delicacy reserved for a Japanese tea ceremony, and “Crown with cranberry” was his choice of alcoholic beverage. He was neither capable of acting nor thinking past the minute he was in, although he had packed in advance for the flight to visit her. He was amused and irritated by that. Whenever he surprised himself like that he had a good, hearty laugh about it. He was proud of the fact that at 25 he had never been in love: he had no intention of falling in love with any woman he dated or with whom he’d had casual sex. He filed this lack of emotion under “It-just-hasn’t-happened-yet.”

The first time he discovered that a woman would have him just as he was—a radical kisser not interested in learning how to please a woman in bed, having openly declared his lack of intent to be involved more than was required at night—caught him by surprise.

That truth shall set you free was an exhilarating discovery.  This breakthrough came when he was 19, after he finished fucking a girl named Louise. He did not intend having sex with her; it only went as far as it did because he was too smoked up to push her off him.

While he searched for a condom he let slip that he had recently learned he would be a father in the coming months.  He told Louise he could not recall the woman’s last name, and snickered at his own absurdity as he tried to push her aside. She took his deprecating laughter personally and slapped him hard across the face while he was still inside her. This made him laugh even harder: why did anyone lie? He felt translucent as air at this revelation: float anywhere at anytime through anything and anyone by telling the truth. Thereafter, telling the truth became his modus operandi. Men doing his kind of business transactions —some legally—respected the truth and it attracted women, even if they didn’t like the truth: Are you dating someone else? Yes. Are you only sleeping with me? No. Do you love me? I don’t know. Can you buy me that? No. Do you even like me? Maybe.

In a world where every one was pretending to be someone other than themselves or hiding who they truly were while shuffling through half-lies in every conversation, he felt like a rare commodity. Besides it kept things simple for him. He felt he was being fair by always telling the truth.

Meeting Zhanya threw the scales off balance. She too only told the truth but it was different. Unlike her, he had never explored being truthful to himself about anything, including a fact he ignored, that he did not think himself worthy of her.

Zhanya was not surprised to not hear from him again after the weekend was over.

“I don’t really care,” Zhanya lied to Jules two weeks later, “I knew he came just to have sex.”

Annie Q. Syed attained her B.A. from the University of Kansas in English Literature and International Studies and her Master’s in Secondary English Education from City College in New York where she was a NYC Department of Education teacher. She then went on to receive her J.D. from CUNY School of Law in New York and thereafter completed a clerkship for a judge. She remains an activist in projects involving human rights in the United States, Africa and Asia. She is working on finishing a manuscript titled Her Sizwe along with other writing projects. She calls New York City home although she lives a bicoastal, transcontinental life practising yoga as often as possible.