Spoilers: Problematic strips in FH
Summary: Padma falls in love, but that's when all his problems start.
Word Count: 3995
Date First Posted: 28-08-2003
Date Revised: 26-05-2011
Notes: Boy meets girl. Girl is out of boy's league. Boy does everything in his power to win girl anyway, as boy is a Maharassa and doesn't know when he's bitten off more than he can chew. If I remember correctly, in later FH strips, their story was changed slightly so that Padma and 'tari actually met when they were both in the US already. But initially, they met in her home country of Egypt, and emigrated to the US sometime before the birth of Fatima. This story takes place then. Somewhere in the wilds of the internet, there is a sequel to this written by Sandra called Stuck On You, though it could possibly be a friends-locked post on her LJ.
Feedback: always welcome, as is constructive criticism.
Also Archived At: LJ
The way he saw it, Padma Maharassa had two big problems.
One; he really wasn't all that much to look at. His physique was best described as scrawny. Tall but unnecessarily thin, thick black unruly hair that rested shaggily on his forehead. Padma's nose was aquiline, making it a prominent feature of his face. His clothes definitely weren't top drawer, possibly looking more at home on the racks of a thrift store.
That was not to say Padma was ugly, but he was rarely the kind of man women looked at twice. He wasn't in the habit of getting any attention from the fairer sex, even with his quirky Indian-accented-Arabic.
This made his second problem all that more serious; he had fallen in love with the most beautiful woman in the world.
Her name was Nefertari Theoris, she was a dancer, and she was without a doubt the most exquisite creature Padma had ever seen. He'd fallen the moment he'd seen her. How would it be possible for him to win such a woman?
Padma had spent the last two and a half weeks learning all that he could about Nefertari. From the manager of The Office -- the club Rafi had dragged him to -- he'd learnt she worked as a cage dancer there Tuesday through Thursday, and had her own act on stage at the Lotus and the Crocodile on Friday and Saturday nights.
Padma started by sending her a different flower each night that she worked for a week, in an attempt to discover what her favourite might be. Security at both clubs knew Rafi (of course), who had organised the delivery of a single flower by one of the backstage guards.
On Tuesday he sent her a rose with a pale gold ribbon wrapped around its stem. According to the guard, Nefertari took it graciously enough, but casually placed it at her tiny duchess table, along with a few others. Obviously, roses were annoyingly common to her.
On Wednesday, she was the recipient of a gerbera with the same pale gold ribbon. Her fingers delicately stroked the stem for a moment, before it joined the rose in a vase on her duchess. Thursday he sent an iris, green leaves bound in the same ribbon. This piqued more interest than the first two flowers. The girls she shared the dressing room with teased her about a new admirer.
Friday meant she changed clubs, working at the Lotus and the Crocodile. Instead of sharing a room with the rest of the dancers, she was afforded a little bit of privacy with her own room, since she had her own act. After her show on Friday, the security guard -- another associate of Rafi's -- presented her with a lily, Nefertari admired its rich colour and wondered who might know she changed clubs every Friday.
Padma struck gold on Saturday with his choice of a daffodil. He was told she had a very favourable response to the butter-yellow flower, fingers softly touching the delicate petals of the trumpet and looping through the ribbon-bow, a happy smile on her face.
Pleased at his success, Padma gave pause to think about what his next move would be. Obviously, he had to actually talk to her at some point. That would seem to be the next logical step.
Padma worked himself ragged. After the gigs he got to perform his magic, looking for a job and time spent perfecting his act, he had just enough time to attend whichever club she would be frequenting in the evening. Padma would stay until she left; go home to sleep for a few hours before starting the whole process again.
And in all that time he had never spoken a single word to her.
After her performances -- which at The Office could sometimes finish in the vicinity of 2am -- she generally left straight away. At least twice a week, though, she would mingle in the club afterwards, talking to the girls and some of the staff. Padma mingled too, if one could call standing on the fringes of the room with a drink, willing himself to talk to her mingling.
It was difficult to get close to her without being noticed. Of course he wanted to be noticed by her, but not in a creepy way. He didn't want to spook her, just talk, but it seemed almost impossible to get close enough to say a word. He often ended up just hovering in a quiet place near the door, or at the bar, just staring dopily at her.
One night, lurking somewhere close to the door, he got his big break. Padma was watching her lovingly again, when she kissed the girl she was talking to on the cheek, slung a small purse strap over her shoulder and headed for the door. She was looking in his very direction, nae, directly at him!
Padma stared, jaw moving but no sound coming out. Nefertari was still at least half the room away from him, she could have been looking anywhere. And yet, she walked towards him, her hips swinging slightly with each step. Padma blinked, and then blinked again. She would be within breathing distance in a few moments.
As she got closer, it became obvious she was heading for the door that Padma was lingering around. His heart sunk a little, knowing she had not been looking at him, but he was about to be as close to her as he'd ever been before; even if it was just to say she was walking past him.
It was then that her eyes drifted from the door and looked at him. At. Him. The line of her mouth turned up and she gave him a small, courteous smile. Those luscious lips parted, and as she walked past him she looked him in the eye and said:
It took a frantic moment of coaxing his vocal cords into agreement that Padma returned his stunning and well-rehearsed reply:
Nefertari slowed down and looked at him oddly. Padma internally winced. But after that delightful warm-up, his throat was finally ready to co-operate.
I mean 'hi'." He cleared his throat. "Hi."
It sounded more like a croak, but she still acknowledged it with a slight widening of her smile. Her eyes glittered in the light above the exit.
Padma watched her leave, dumbstruck, before slapping his palm over his face, well and truly flattening his hair. The young man peeked through his fingers in annoyed frustration that he'd let the moment pass.
It took another moment for the fact to sink in that he'd actually spoken to the woman of his dreams. Sure, it was five words... one was unintelligible, and two were the same word repeated, but he'd done it!
It was a step in the right direction, at least.
The next day, Padma and Rafi were discussing what to do next.
"You need to get closer," Rafi insisted, "nothing gives more opportunities for interaction than working in the same place."
Padma nodded his head in agreement. "Ok... but how do I make that happen?"
Rafi picked up the telephone receiver, sunglasses sliding down his nose, making him look like a twelve year old boy about to make a crank call. "Always trust in Rafi, my brother," he said as he punched in the number for the Lotus and the Crocodile.
Padma grinned at his friend. "Should I be worried you know the number by heart?"
Rafi just wiggled his eyebrows as the phone rang. Having connections and knowing people paid off, because within a minute or two he was put onto the manager, Mahir el Haddad.
"What do you want, Rafi?" Mahir mumbled around his cigar.
"Mahir! How is business?"
"As good as it ever is. What do you want?"
"Pssh, settle down, Mahir," Rafi stretched out his name to give it three syllables. "Don't start with me when I have something good for you."
"Oh?" Mahir sounded curious. Some of Rafi's proposals had been outrageously idiotic, yet they were countered with some risky but excellent ideas. It was this balance that piqued Mahir's interest. "I'm listening."
Rafi leant forward confidentially, a gesture he might use if he were talking to Mahir in person, to convince him of his words. "Only a highly professional and very entertaining magic act."
"Magic act?" Mahir did not sound impressed. "I don't cater to children's parties." The manager paused, sucking his cigar thoughtfully. "What's the name of the performer?"
"Padma Maharassa," Rafi said and winked at Padma confidently.
"Padma Maharassa, eh? Ah, an exotic foreigner. Is she any good?"
Rafi faltered for a moment. "I think it's safe to say Padma's talent speaks for itself," he said smoothly.
"Hmm, I suppose a magic act might be good to break up some of the dances... with an adult gearing, of course."
"Of course. The club's got to expand," Rafi agreed.
Mahir was silent for a few moments, thinking. "Alright," he finally acquiesced. "I'll book Maharassa for Wednesday."
"Actually, the act is so in demand, the only two nights that are left available are Friday or Saturday."
"Ok. Friday at 11. If it's any good, there's the possibility for another spot on Saturday," Mahir sounded vaguely annoyed. "This had better be worth my time."
"You'll be amazed," Rafi promised, before he hung up and turned towards the nervous Padma.
"I've got the gig?" Padma asked hesitantly.
"You'd better take fifteen minutes out of staring at the woman like a lovesick sap on Friday night, because you've got to perform," Rafi crowed.
Padma's face lit up in a huge grin. Another step taken on the road to success.
Friday night rolled around fast. Padma still went to each club on her respective night to watch her, but as he did so, his thoughts were on the act on Friday. Would he see her backstage? How would he talk to her?
On Friday evening, Padma drove to the club, Rafi riding shotgun. Rafi wasn't one to pass up an opportunity to go to the Lotus and the Crocodile and have it double as moral support.
They arrived at 10.45pm, Padma's gear in tow. Mahir was waiting backstage, puffing on his cigar maniacally. He looked at both men. "Where's your magician?" Padma raised his hand hesitantly in response.
Mahir looked incredulously from Padma to Rafi and back to Padma again, before eventually setting a hard glare on Rafi. "You said--"
Rafi held his hands up in defense. "I booked you a magician. You filled in the blanks." Mahir snorted at him, his face looking characteristically shrewd in thought.
With a sigh and a smoke-ring, he pointed to the stage, where a beautiful girl was currently weaving and dancing sensuously. "You're on in ten, since there are no replacements. You have ten minutes to get the audience's attention. If you don't have it by then, I'm pulling the curtains on you."
Padma didn't look all that encouraged by his words, but he caught a glimpse of Nefertari on the other side of the stage, talking to a girl. With resolve, he nodded, and with a reassuring pat on the back from Rafi, he was ready to go.
Overall, Padma felt his show went quite well. The patrons seemed surprised at the act, but warmed to his easy comedy and simple but skillfully performed tricks. By the ten minute mark, Mahir did not pull the curtain down on him and let him reach the end of his set.
Padma came off-stage flushed with success. One of the stagehands quickly removed his belongings to let the next act take the floor. Mahir was waiting for him in the wings.
He puffed his cigar, which was like a pat on the back. "Not bad, Maharassa. I suppose we can use you tomorrow night as well."
Padma shook his hand. "Thank you Mr el Haddad," he said gratefully.
"Ah, call me Mahir," Mahir waved his hand dismissingly.
Rafi gave Padma a backslapping hug. "Good job, brother. Now let's go watch the rest of the show." He gestured to the audience. Padma nodded, relieved, glancing at the other side of the stage. Nefertari was there, not in her costume, but her elaborate stage makeup was on. She gave him a small smile he would have returned fully if Rafi hadn't dragged him away.
They sat near the back where there were a few seats. Rafi ordered them drinks and Padma waited to see Nefertari.
Around half an hour later, the lights dimmed, and Nefertari stepped onto the stage. She held a large and beautiful fan in each hand, made of ostrich feathers. The skin that was visible was brushed with gold, and her eyes were blackened and accentuated with kohl and sparkling gold eye shadow. It made the brilliant azul of her eyes visible from the back of the room.
Nefertari gave a long slow wink to the audience as she shook the feathers, making them quiver alluringly. A traditional Egyptian folk song piped through the speakers, and the woman began to move, brown hair cascading down her back. Tiny gold bells around her ankles and wrists tinkled and chimed, catching the light and sparkling.
She moved with a sinuous and beautiful grace, mesmerising the room like a snake charmer. Nefertari moved and twirled the fans artfully, flashing expanses of her beautiful gold-dusted skin, yet always somehow keeping her vital parts covered.
Padma was entranced. He watched her, hardly daring to blink lest he miss a moment. His mouth hung open slightly, fingers twisted in a napkin. He watched and lost more of his heart to her.
All too soon, her performance was over, she fluttered the fans beguilingly and struck a beautiful pose. The curtains fell in a hail of applause and whistles.
Rafi elbowed Padma out of his trance, clapping appreciatively. "I've got to admit, Maharassa, when you aim, you aim high." Padma just waved his hand absently.
Nefertari was one of the last acts for the night. Within half an hour, the club had transformed from a staged performance and audience to a crowd of milling people drinking, smoking and laughing. Padma kept an eagle eye out for any sign of Nefertari.d
She did make an appearance very soon, in a simply cut but beautiful indigo dress, speaking to Mahir. For once Padma didn't see her, sitting at the bar as he was, his back to most of the crowd, sipping at a rum and coke and thinking.
Nefertari excused herself from Mahir's company and headed towards the bar. She saw a space at the crowded bar and moved towards it, leaning on the polished wood.
"Neat scotch for Mahir and white wine for me, thanks, Salih," she spoke to the bartender. Salih nodded and moved to get the drinks. Nefertari turned around to observe the people around her. She noticed Padma out of the corner of her eye. He seemed utterly engrossed in studying the bubbles in his drink.
Nefertari inclined her head towards him. "For someone whose show went well, you don't seem too happy."
Padma's head snapped around, his eyes wide. Nefertari pulled back quickly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," she apologised, moving back a small step.
Padma put his hands up. "No! I mean, it's ok. I was..." he gave a small self-deprecating smile, "I'm not unhappy."
The young man had never been so close to the object of his affection before. She was stunning from across the stage, or from the back of the room, but standing only two feet away from her left him breathless. Her smooth skin still glittered slightly from the gold flecks of the show. The dress hugged her body, showing off her beautiful shoulders and legs. Her eyes were still heavily lined in kohl, making them smoky, just highlighting the azure irises.
Padma realised he had been staring a little too long, and his mouth opened to speak and compensate. "You are a wonderful dancer," he blurted out.
Nefertari lowered her eyes at the compliment. "Thank you. I am grateful to do something I love so much."
Keep talking, Padma told himself, Don't let the conversation die. "You're dance tonight was very interesting, I haven't seen anything like it before."
"Go to clubs often, do you?" Her lips curled slightly at the corner in a tease.
"Yes. I mean no! I mean... my friend brings me all the time." Padma's cheeks began to go red.
Nefertari apparently decided to be merciful and not press any further, smoothly changing subjects. "Tonight's dance was a variation on an old slave dance. When the Egyptians conquered places like Nubia, they took native slaves and also treasures from their kingdom like ostriches. They brought their culture here and it merged with our own."
Padma nodded as she spoke. He listened to her melodic voice and nodded dumbly. Her red lips formed each word so perfectly, and they looked so soft...
"That's fascinating," he managed to answer. He sighed inwardly. Beautiful and smart. She was too perfect.
Out of the corner of his eye, Padma saw someone approach. It was a man older than himself, wearing a bad mustard-coloured suit. His mouth opened in a lecherous smile as he zeroed in on the dancer. Gracelessly, he inserted himself between Padma and Nefertari.
"Hey babe," he greeted, "you looked hot out there. What say you let me buy you a drink?"
Padma saw Nefertari roll her eyes. "No thank you," she answered politely, looking over the man's arm and at Padma, trying to ignore him by continuing the conversation. Padma opened his mouth to say something, but the person in his way moved to block him fully from Nefertari, and spoke again.
"Come on... You look lonely. I could make your night great..." He leant forward, invading her personal space.
Padma couldn't stand the sight of this other man drooling over her. It was infuriating and he was disgusted. That ape didn't appreciate Nefertari, couldn't appreciate her the way that he could, and didn't even try. But he felt helpless to help her. What could he do or say? The man was at least another head taller than him and about twice as broad. It was likely he'd be snapped in half in front of the woman he loved.
Before the man got too close, Nefertari held up her hand to stop him. "I could never go for a drink with someone who's blind and deaf. It would just be too hard."
"Eh?" The man was confused. Nefertari kindly filled him in.
"Well, you would have to be if you bought that suit. Also, you didn't hear me say 'no' to begin with," her voice was icy and tinged with false drama. "And you're dumb in all the ways you shouldn't be and not in the way you should." Nefertari folded her arms in a very closed stance. "Now I suggest if you have a problem with me saying no, you should speak to Mr el Haddad and pick yourself up a lifetime ban from the club."
The man frowned at her as if she'd been speaking French. He backed away and shook his head, grumbling loudly about women who spoke too much. Nefertari closed her eyes and exhaled.
"Are you alright?" Padma asked softly.
The dancer breathed in an out once more before answering. "Yes. I'll be fine."
It seemed to Padma the whole exchange had left her sad. It was horrible, her being sad. He needed to say something to get her mind off it. Padma's fingers traced patterns through the condensation of his glass. "It was an amazing dance," he said. A thought occurred to him and his cheeks started to flame. Nefertari watched the blush grow.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I just wondered... it didn't look like you... uh... wore anything... behind the fans..." the rest disappeared in a mumble of embarrassment. He immediately wished to eat his words, hoping she wouldn't take offence. He never wanted to hear the tone in her voice she had reserved for the lummox who interrupted them.
She smiled knowingly. "Ah, you want to know whether I was naked behind the fans?" Padma couldn't answer, mortification froze his tongue. "My honour is kept intact by something similar to a flesh-coloured two piece bathing suit." She watched him flush even more. "Just so you know," she added with a touch of humour.
Padma gripped his glass and took a good gulp of his drink before turning back and giving her an embarrassed smile. "I'm sorry for--"
"Don't be," she replied, shrugging. "I get asked that all the time. Just not as... tactfully."
Padma looked at her again. Her eyes were two perfect blue pools of water, shimmering with moonlight. She smelled like incense and mystery. He noticed a stray strand of hair hanging in front of her face. It spoilt the perfect visage, and he couldn't help stepping forward with an intent expression on his face.
Nefertari seemed instantly wary when he reached out, but all he did was catch the ill-behaved hair between his long fingers and push it out of her face and tuck it gently behind her ear where it belonged. The tips of his finger skimmed the shell of her ear, and barely brushed her cheek when he pulled his arm back.
It was a harmless gesture, but now he stood a few inches away rather than a few feet. Nefertari put her hand up to her cheek where Padma's fingers had touched. The tips of his fingers had been soft. At that moment, Salih returned with the two drinks she ordered. Padma stepped back reflexively and Nefertari smiled at the bartender gratefully.
Padma began patting his coat and pants pockets as if searching for something. Nefertari watched him, slight surprise still etched on her features from the unexpected intimate moment.
"I uh... have something... if I can find it..." He seemed to rummage in his coat a little more before -- as if by magic -- he pulled a daffodil with a pale gold ribbon out of his sleeve with a small flourish and held it to her.
Nefertari stretched her hand out slowly and took the flower, recognising the ribbon immediately. She touched the petals and met Padma's dark eyes.
"You're my admirer," she stated.
Padma found he didn't have the ability to answer her with words, only allow his cheeks to redden once again. A moment of moving his jaw without sound and he was able to produce the sounds: "I-- uh. Yeh."
Nefertari smiled at him, then. Really smiled, so that the true smile lines at the corners of her eyes crinkled. She reached her hand out and brushed it against Padma's limp hand resting on the bar.
"Thank you for the beautiful flowers," she told him. Hesitating a quick glance out to the crowd, she saw Mahir looking increasingly impatient for his drink. Her hand left his and she picked up both drinks, still holding the daffodil. "I have to go."
Padma wanted to protest, but could think of nothing else to say at that moment to keep her there. Besides, his brain needed a rest from the intense stress of talking to her.
"I'll... I'll see you later!" he said as she began to walk away. Nefertari turned her shoulders, hair cascading behind her like a model in a shampoo advertisement and gave him another small smile, before continuing on her journey.
Padma sat back down and slumped on the stool in relief. He'd done it. He'd talked to her. And she hadn't told him to go away, or acted disinterested. She'd talked with him and smiled at him. Padma thought back to the two things he'd considered his biggest problems, then replayed every part of the conversation back in his head.
Suddenly, those two problems didn't seem so big anymore.