When Jack woke up, something felt different. He ran his palms over his face and felt a beard against the soft skin of his palms. Jack opened his eyes and realized his palms were not his own. They looked different, his skin was different. He let his gaze wander away from his hands to the room he was in, and realized this is not the room where he fell asleep.
A day earlier…
Jack lifted his eyes from his phone to see his friend Rafik waving him from near the entrance to the supermarket. Jack smiled and started packing his computer and notepad into his backpack.
He loved sitting in these tables right underneath his house. Who knew that a 12 story house can have a supermarket, coffee shop, ice cream shop, a bank and a pharmacy at the floor level. But his parents, with whom he lived, planned this out all along. They wanted to grow old in this house and they knew the area would develop to accommodate the new people that came to live in this building.
Jack started walking towards Rafik and saw that he had brand new shoes. Those Blundstone he was scouring the web to find. They were not the typical black or dark brown shoes. They were lighter with a yellowish sole.
“Hey man, how are you doing?” Jack said and spread his arms to an embrace.
“Alhamdulillah,” Rafik said with his deep Arab-accented voice and accepted the hug. “How are you today, My Jewish friend?” Rafik asked. He liked to tease Jack about their peculiar friendship.
The first time they met, was when Jack came to buy beer for the weekend one day. Rafik was the cashier. There was something in the air when their eyes met. It wasn’t the same as Jack felt with women. It wasn’t sexual. Jack felt that Rafik might be his soul-mate. Or maybe, just maybe, more than that.
In the following weeks, it turned out his suspicion was justified as he would meet Rafik’s gaze even if they didn’t see each other. They would simply lock eyes.
The friendship continued to grow and now, many months later, they felt like brothers. Jack knew he could tell Rafik anything. Rafik never acted as he felt otherwise but it was something Jack never felt the need to ask.
Rafik was holding a few croissants. Jack often told him he needs to work on the belly. Rafik often rebuked he was no better.
“I’m okay,” Jack answered after they broke the embrace. “Are you on a break?”
“Yes, I haven’t eaten anything today. Want one?”
“Sure. At least if we’re getting fat, we’ll be fat together, right?”
They laughed and Rafik offered the bag. Jack took one and they sat on the horizontal steel pole of the street.
Jack asked before he would forget, “Where did you buy the shoes?”
“I was at the Kfar on the weekend. They sold them there.”
“I’ve been searching for those forever! I love the color!”
“Really? I bought them because I wanted the color like yours and they didn’t have it.”
“what size are you?”
Jack felt amused. “Me too!”
He was wondering whether he could get Rafik to buy him an extra pair.
“Hey, the next time you’re in the Kfar, can you buy me those shoes too and I’ll pay?”
“But you won’t be there to try them on. Do you want to buy blindly?”
“Well, no. But when can we do?”
Rafik lowered his gaze to his feet and then looked at Jack’s feet.
“Do you want to-”
“No, I won’t let you wear my shoes. It’s…weird. Don’t you think so?” Jack said.
Rafik had an amused expression on his face. Jack knew what it meant.
Jack returned home with brand new Blundstone shoes. He couldn’t fathom how Rafik convinced him to take his shoes and give him his. They agreed to exchange for one day. Jack felt strange. Like the thought of wearing Rafik’s shoes changed him somehow.
He tried not to think about it as he went to take a shower and get ready for bed.
When Jack woke up, something felt different. He ran his palms over his face and felt a beard against the soft skin of his palms. Jack opened his eyes and realized his palms were not his own. They looked different. He let his gaze wander away from his hands to the room he was in, and realized this is not the room where he fell asleep.
The phone rang. It was the normal iPhone jingle but the phone had a different case. The number that appeared on screen was apparently saved in the contacts but Jack didn’t know who Adina was. He didn’t remember saving her number.
“Rafik, where are you? It’s already 9.30. You were supposed to be here at 7.30!”
“Rafik?” Jack asked and felt confused. His voice was always very deep when he woke up but not like this.
“Rafik, are you drunk? Did you go out last night? Do you need a medical day?”
“No, I-” He paused as his gaze locked on a mirror hung up near the door to his room.
“Nevermind, just get here there are lots of customers today.” she hung up.
Jack couldn’t believe it. He was looking straight into Rafik’s eyes — but now they were his eyes.
“What the hell is happening?”
He realized that he spoke with Rafik’s voice but the intonation was his own. He didn’t have the lingering Arab accent that laced Rafik’s words.
Jack had so many questions flooding his mind. For some reason, something within had awakened and made him focus on one problem. One thing to solve, each time. flashes of memories moved through his mind like a river flowing with Rafik’s childhood in poverty. He learned how to deal with a lot of shit. This was weird and it let jack learn a lot about his friend Rafik in a way that felt too intrusive. He was actively reading Rafik’s mind. Could Rafik do the same? Is he even in Jack’s body? Jack couldn’t know for sure. He was just thinking that based on the shoes on the floor. His shoes.
He quickly saved his own number, which he realized he and Rafik never exchanged and logged into WhatsApp to see when his own phone was last seen. It was about midnight. So, Rafik either didn’t wake up yet to realize what happened, or he wasn’t in Jack’s body at all.
One problem at a time, he said to himself and started finding clothes to wear. Rafik was living in a University dorm and his room was small and packed. When Jack had finally figured out that Rafik’s underwear was in a separate drawer, he also realized he was going to touch and wear Rafik’s underwear. He was going to get to know Rafik’s body in a way he hadn’t considered before. He didn’t know what to feel. Someone banged at the door.
“Rafik, are you coming to shower? I have a lecture in one hour and you should already be at work.” someone said at the door in Arabic.
“Yes, I’m coming” Jack barely recognized the fact that he understood and spoke Arabic perfectly at that moment. Could he draw on that knowledge if he ever comes back to his own body? A third language would be great. Fourth if you count his on-going Japanese studies.
“Are you going to make me wait long?” the voice said.
Jack hesitantly opened the door and a muscular naked man opened the door the rest of the way, heading straight towards Jack, grabbing him and giving him a french kiss that Jack didn’t expect.
“Come on, I can’t wait forever.” the guy clearly didn’t recognize the enormous confusion on Jack, or rather Rafik’s face at that moment put his hand around Jack’s waist and lead him away to the bathroom.
Well, this is Rafik’s life, I guess. I’m finding out some interesting things about him today. Jack thought. Might as well learn from the experience.
When Jack came back from the bathroom after a long active shower, he was sore all over and confused. Did I like what just happened, or was it Rafik’s body that invoked the sensations of pleasure? He let that thought simmer slowly in his mind’s eye and automatically grabbed what he needed to get ready for work. Adina will be waiting to scoff him. He took the shoes last and put them on. The moment he finished putting the shoes on, everything went black.
Jack awoke in his own bed, in his own body. He realized that Rafik wasn’t up yet and only he experienced the body change as his body was still sleeping.
He called Rafik and waited.
“Hello?” Rafik said on the line. Jack knew he was confused.
“Hey, Rafik. Uh, Good morning!” he stammered. “ I need to tell you something.” He wanted to tell him he experienced his body and so much more. He knew Rafik on an intimate level now. He wanted to let him know everything.
“Yes? I’m listening”
“Can we meet?”
They met at the same place they traded the shoes yesterday. It seemed to jack like a different life now. In a way, it was a different life. He experienced becoming someone else. Rafik, in a way, had become a true soul-mate. there was no one in the world that Jack understood better, now. Rafik’s memories clung to him, especially the vivid ones. Experiencing pleasure in Rafik’s body somehow changed him. It was, in a way, a lot better than pleasure in his own body.
They traded the shoes back in silence and Jack felt Rafik’s eyes on him.
“You know, I awoke to so many new memories,” Rafik said and locked eyes with Jack as soon as his head jerked towards him. “I know what you did and I’m not angry. I don’t want it to be awkward between us.” He said and came closer to Jack who flashed a small smile. He reached out with his left hand and laced his fingers to Jack’s. Jack felt heat fill him and said, “You know, I really like your shoes, we should trade them more often.” they both laughed hysterically.
“Well, one thing at a time, Jack. Let’s begin with this first.” Rafik said after the laughter died out, and he leaned in to kiss him.
Dedicated with love to the LGBT community. Sending you all a big hug. Happy pride.