“The Agency”—a story by Natasha Tynes

2 July, 2023
A shrewd businesswoman runs a successful matchmaking agency in Amman that finds brides for male clients based on a virginity scale.


Natasha Tynes


Noor took meticulous notes on her laptop while her client Fadi described his ideal candidate. He was a first-generation Jordanian American with a 1950s mindset. He wanted his future wife to be educated but didn’t want her to work outside the house. Typical, thought Noor. He also wanted her to be between 20-25 years old, and he was unwilling to budge. Twenty-five was the absolute maximum he would accept. He preferred a blonde but was willing to compromise for a brunette.

Noor typed away in her office on the third floor of a high-rise building in Amman while her client talked and smoked what looked like a Cuban cigar. He leaned back on a black leather recliner chair and occasionally looked outside her office window as if lost in thought. Noor continued to take detailed notes on his future wife’s (or el arous as he called her) height, weight, family status, complexion, and what she had dubbed a “virginity level.” It was a scale she had created after five years in the business. It was her trademark. Some of her friends had even encouraged her to patent it.

Of course, every one of the candidates should be virgins. There was no question about that, but what really mattered was the level of virginity. There were those whom Noor categorized as “Pure Virgins,” who had lived with their parents all their life, had gone to an all-girls school, and had had almost zero interaction with the opposite sex, with the exception of their fathers and brothers. They had never held a man’s hand or were ever found alone behind closed doors with someone from the opposite sex. Then there were those who had experimented with men. A kiss here, a kiss there, and maybe a slight touching of body parts. Noor referred to them as “Quasi Virgins.” Finally, there were those who had kissed, touched, and more, who experimented with various sexual acts but refrained from the final act of submission. Anything but the intercourse. On Noor’s scale, those were called “Technical Virgins.”

Noor never dealt with those who were in fact non-virgins. Those were the rare minority, the pariahs on whom Noor didn’t want to take a chance. Dealing with them might have cost her the whole business, so she always rejected their cases. Just the other day, she read on CNN.com about an Iraqi man in Chicago who ran over his daughter because she had become too westernized. The last thing Noor wanted was for her clients to run over their wives because she had made the wrong choice.

She never shared her notes with her clients or asked them their preference regarding the virginity level. She knew better. Years of experience in the business had taught her to determine the level of virginity that her clients were seeking without asking them directly or even requiring them to fill out an application form. She quickly figured out that her client Fadi was looking for a Pure Virgin. A blonde, Pure Virgin. That was obviously hard to find since blondes were rare in Amman and were mostly either Quasi Virgins or Technical Virgins. However, Noor was willing to take on the challenge. She even considered charging him a “rush fee” since his requirements were tough and he was pressed for time.

Fadi had a list of unusual requests. In addition to his “Pure Virgin” he wanted the bride to speak two languages besides Arabic. English, of course, since she would live in America, and French. “It just sounds so feminine, and I’d love for my wife to speak it,” the client told Noor, who just nodded, smiled, and kept typing.

“I also want her to have a degree in something related to science, maybe pharmaceutical sciences. It’s just so perfect for a woman,” he said while puffing his cigar. “As I told you, I really don’t want her to work outside the house, but I want her to be educated so that she can pass her education on to my children.”

“I understand,” said Noor in a perfect American accent, which she had picked up during her graduate years at George Washington University. There was no need to embarrass her American-born client by testing his broken Arabic.

“Do you need anything else from me?” asked Fadi, preparing to leave.

“No, that’s it for now. What’s your deadline?” asked Noor.

“I’m leaving in three weeks, but I travel to Jordan often, so hopefully, we can work something out.”

“Okay, let’s try to find someone in three weeks,” Noor stood up and shook Fadi’s hand. She handed him her business card that said: Noor Tadros, CEO, Marriage Liaisons Inc. “We’ll start working on your case immediately, and you should hear back from us by the end of the day tomorrow,” she said smiling.

“Really, that fast?” he said, cocking his head.

“Yes. We’re efficient. We’ll present you with five options. This should give you enough time to meet them and decide who’s the most suitable.”

He ran his fingers through his black hair. “Great. Thank you very much, Noor. How do I pay?”

“Just stop by the receptionist’s office on your way out and make your down payment,” she said, pointing to the room next to her office. “We take credit or cash. No checks, please. You pay the rest when you sign the marriage certificate. Have a good day, Mr. Fadi.”

“You too, Noor,” he said, extending his hand again. “Burberry, correct?”

“Excuse me?” she asked, shaking her head.

“Your perfume?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I’ve always liked it.”

“Then I’ll make sure to find you a wife who wears Burberry,” she said, smiling as she let go of his hand.

Noor went back to her desk and opened a new Excel sheet. She saved it as “Fadi Ibrahim — Pure Virgin” and typed down his preferences. She looked at her database and spent two hours trying to find the best ten matches for him. She had a total of 540 names saved in her system, but she focused her attention on the Pure Virgins category, where there were 196. The manual search was tedious, and Noor was looking forward to the fall when the software company she had hired was supposed to finish the digital search program she had hired them to create. She was making enough money and had enough clients that it was a good time to use a more advanced system instead of the old-fashioned Excel sheet.

After she finished, she emailed the document to her assistant Lobna and then walked to her office.

“I just sent you ten options. Take a look and give me five.”

“Why only five?” asked Lobna.

“He’s picky.”

“I don’t blame him. He’s gorgeous,” said Lobna.

“Seriously?” Noor said, raising her eyebrows.

He was tall with salt and pepper hair, light green eyes, and an olive complexion. She wondered if he had been married before and if he was trying the traditional route after failing the first time. She had a lot of those clients. Always looking for a second chance. A redemption. To correct their previous failed marital decisions by finding a homeland bride. Many of them picked the first one to legalize their status, get their Green Card, and maybe, just maybe, give this marriage to an American a chance. The majority failed and came running to her to find the one, the traditional one, the good one, the one the West had not tarnished.

“Did you even look at him? He looks like Jon Hamm.”


“You know, Jon Hamm, the American actor from Mad Men.”

Noor raised her eyebrows. “Oh, please! Can you get to work now?”

Beautiful eyes, seductive. Too bad he is so backward, traditional, controlling. Misery is what awaits his future wife.

“Okay. Shall I ask Afaf to make some calls as a backup?”

“Let’s see if he likes our choices first, then move to Afaf. He’s leaving in three weeks, so I want you to make this your top priority. Understood?”

“That’s really fast,” she said, a look of concern on her face. “Will we be able to find him a wife in three weeks?”

“Yeah, it’s doable. My cousin found his wife in a week before he headed back to Chicago. This Fadi guy comes here often, so we can ask for more time, but I want to impress him by finding him a wife soon. Anyway, I have to head home early today to pack for tomorrow’s trip.”

“Yeah, right. Good luck. Who are you meeting with there?”

“Some rich Arab American who was too lazy to come here and offered to pay all my expenses to meet him in Washington.”

“That’s pretty generous.”

Noor shrugged. “I guess. I really miss DC. I haven’t been there since grad school.”



Noor’s direct flight from Amman to DC was uneventful. On the plane, she mostly read and watched movies. She had expected some scrutiny at Dulles Airport, but the border patrol agent let her go with no questions asked. She wondered if the cross that she had around her neck had eased her entry to what she perceived as a Christian land.

The DC meeting was more than what Noor could have asked for. Not only did her client sign the contract, but he also offered to be her business partner if she ever decided to open a branch in the US.

“All we need is some extra funding, and we’ll make it happen,” said Rami, a middle-aged divorced man with a grey goatee and black hair. His first marriage to an American lady had collapsed after 15 years, and now he was going the traditional route. “Heck, we can open more than one branch. We can choose the best three locations where Arabs live. Let me see: Detroit, Anaheim, and maybe someplace in New Jersey. What do you think?”

“Great idea, but not sure I can get enough cash flow to start this.”

He ran his fingers through his goatee. “I can put in some funds, but you really only need one more investor. Just keep looking for someone.”

After the meeting, Noor took the Red Line to meet her good friend Amir downtown. As she settled in her seat on the train, she noticed the familiar maroon carpet, although a bit more run down, with more stains and a more pungent moldy smell than five years ago.

There was something else.

What’s with the yelling kids on the metro? When did having children become so trendy in the US? Kids, kids everywhere.

Noor started thinking of the marathon, the procreation marathon that women had to be part of to fit in. She was taught that that particular race usually ended when women reached menopause. In some cases, the end of that marathon can signal the end of life, especially as the word menopause in Arabic, Sin Al Ya’s, translated into “the age of despair.” While on the train, she realized that the age of despair is not totally Eastern but universal. She looked at a woman across from her on the train. She was seated next to a child eating Cheerios from a blue plastic container. The woman was reading him a book as he listened intently. The book had the title Ten Little Fingers. The woman had black circles under her eyes, as if she hadn’t slept in years.

Women, all women, Eastern or Western, were running their own marathons. They all wanted to reach their life goal, to get to the age of despair armed with a kid or two to prove they had made the journey with dignity. At 33, Noor realized that she had maybe seven years or so before she would reach the age of despair. Was she ready to face it with no children by her side, no husband to go home to? Was she that empowered that the idea of perpetual loneliness didn’t bother her?

She sighed. She looked again at the woman on the train with the Cheerio-eating child and thought that someday she might want to read to her own child. When? How? She didn’t know. All she knew was that time was running fast.

When Noor reached her metro stop, she bumped into a stroller on her way out, but hurried away.

Her friend Amir had picked the meeting place: Kostas Books in Dupont Circle.

“So, are you still running this marriage agency thing?” he asked as soon as they got seated on the patio sniffing the air of that unusually crisp summer day.

“Yes, of course. I’d have told you if I changed jobs. Can we order food before you start harassing me?” said Noor, flipping the menu.

“Come on, don’t be sensitive. I really find what you do fascinating. Are you still doing that scale thing? The virginity scale thing?” He smiled, showing the dimples on his cheek.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s the secret of our success.”

“So let’s see. You’re, hmm … technical? You haven’t moved up the scale yet, have you? Or you would have told me, right?”

“Shut up. People can hear us, you know.”

“Do you think anyone here cares? It’s only in the Middle East where people care about this shit,” he said, his skinny left leg bouncing up and down.

“I wish you could stop being so bitter about where you come from. People make choices, you know?” she said.

He snickered. “Choices? Do you think it was your choice to remain quote-unquote technical?”

“It’s really none of your damn business.”

“Wasn’t this why Mark left you? Because you insisted on wanting to bleed on your wedding night like all the good girls in Amman?”

She raised her eyebrows. “Really, you think that’s what happened? Mark didn’t leave me because I didn’t sleep with him. I dumped him because he was a loser. He dropped out of college to be a full-time musician?” said Noor shaking her head. “What’s up your ass today, anyway?”

A 20-something waiter approached their table. They both asked for the house red.

“What’s wrong, habibi? What happened to you since I last saw you?” she asked.

Amir went silent and focused his attention on the street. It was the end of the workday in DC, and people were heading home. The younger ones stopped by bars and restaurants to wind down, while the rest commuted back to the suburbs to pick up their kids from summer camps, make dinner, and fall asleep watching reality TV.

“It’s my dad. He has cancer.”

Noor thought of Amir’s father, the owner of various food factories in Jordan. Larger than life, patriarch to seven children. Would cancer really get him?

“Oh no. I’m so sorry,” she said.

“It’s testicular cancer, so there’s hope.

“I hear King Hussein Cancer Center is doing amazing work. Cancer research has progressed.”

“I know. Doctors think he’ll make a full recovery. But that’s not all of it,” he said, sipping the wine the waiter had just brought. “He keeps telling me about dying and stuff and wants to see me married before he dies.”

Noor sighed. “He doesn’t know, does he?”

Amir leaned back in his chair. “Of course not!”

“That’s tough,” she said, twirling her wine, staring at the glass. “What are you gonna do?”

He let out a big sigh. “My work permit was canceled after I was laid off, and I don’t have a choice but to go back.”

“To Amman?” she said, raising her eyebrows.

“Where else? You know this means I have to get married.”

“Geez! Maybe you should tell your dad?”

“Are you crazy? What do you want me to tell him? That I screw men? Now, that would kill him.”

Noor thought about Amir’s previous boyfriend, Alfonso, the love of his life. Tall, dark, and gorgeous. They met at the gym and became inseparable. She thought about how happy Amir had been when he was around him, which made her envious. She wanted a love like that. Alfonso eventually went back to Sao Paolo after his visa had expired.

“So what now?”

He shrugged. “Nothing. I don’t have a choice.”

She held his hand. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay. Now you need to find me a wife. How much do you charge?”

“For you, I’ll do it pro bono,” said Noor, smiling.

“Make sure to get me a Pure Virgin.”

“Of course. I know better.” she chuckled.

“I have a better idea. Why don’t you and I get married? This way, we will pursue our love lives while making society happy. What do you think? Win-win?”

“Funny! Now Let’s order some crab cakes.”



Noor’s flight back to Amman felt longer than usual. She passed the time by catching up on 33 recommendations that needed classification. Most of the recommendations were unsolicited. People called her office nonstop to drop in the names of their sisters, daughters, cousins, and nieces who were about to miss the infamous marriage train and needed urgent help before they hit 30, that dreadful age when women’s body parts start falling apart, and their eggs begin to shrink and rot.

Noor’s main task was to look at the recommendations usually entered by her receptionist, Afaf, who took the calls. Noor was the brainpower of the agency, the one who did the most crucial part of the process: the classification. Afterward, she would pass her recommendations to Lobna, who would set up appointments and handle the logistics. It was a smooth workflow that Noor came up with as soon as she started her own business. The seed funding for her agency came from her father, who gave her financial support as soon as she got her MBA, and right after, she pitched her idea to him. “It’s a good business model,” her dad agreed. “First of its kind. Highly needed in this town.” Matchmaking had always been done by word of mouth in Amman. A professional agency with a nine-to-five staff had never existed in the city. It was a novelty, a shrewd business idea that her dad was all over. “Glad to see all the money I spent on your MBA didn’t go to waste,” he said as he handed her first big check.

Going through the recommendations and classifying them took her six hours. There were 20 Pures, 5 Quasis, and 8 Technicals. The Technicals are gaining momentum, thought Noor as she drifted to sleep. Good for them.

When Noor returned to the office the next day, Lobna was doing her usual annoying giggle on the phone. It’s that Ahmad guy again! Ahmad would be the least of Noor’s problems that day. As soon as Noor got settled in her office, Lobna was quick to tell her about “the problem,” which involved their client Fadi. He was unhappy with choice number three, who admitted to him on their fourth date that she had had a boyfriend in college. Fadi had appeared in the office, yelled at Lobna, and demanded a refund.

When Noor heard the news, she wanted to chop Lobna’s head off along with her boyfriend’s testicles. She wanted to rip both of their body parts and feed them to all the tail-less, stray cats in Amman.

“How did that happen? I gave you 10 choices to pick from. What went wrong?”

“Well, one of them turned out to be a Quasi. We had her in the system as a Pure. It wasn’t my fault!”

“Are you sure this is what happened? I’ve never made any classification mistake before. Are you sure you didn’t give him the wrong candidate by mistake?”

“I’m sure. I used the list you gave me,” said Lobna looking annoyed.

“I don’t even know how you can focus on anything when you’re always on the phone with that Ahmad guy.” She sighed. “Let me handle this disaster. And by the way, I don’t want you to make personal calls during work hours. Understood? You call your boyfriend or whoever after hours.”

“But what if there was an emergency?”

“We’ll handle it then.”

“Fine,” said Lobna, marching back to her office.

When Noor called Fadi, he asked to see her immediately. He told her he wanted to meet her at a coffee shop in West Amman to go over things. Noor grabbed her notes and agreed to meet him in an hour. When she saw him, he was wearing a black suit with a black tie. Who the hell is he mourning? His sense of humor? He was sipping a cappuccino and reading the Jordan Times.

When he saw Noor, he smiled, stood up, and shook her hand. She tried to apologize for the mistake, but he had a different reaction than she had expected. He put his left hand on hers and said: “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” Noor immediately pulled her hand away. “We’ll refund you the down payment. We’ll even offer you a 10% percent discount if you decide to use our services again.”

Fadi continued to smile and nod his head. “I’m not here for business, Noor. I’m here for you. I want to get to know you better.”

Noor’s immediate thought was to pack her stuff, say her goodbyes, and then pour the cappuccino in his lap, right on his manhood. Instead, she reminded herself how important her business was to her sanity. “Excuse me? I don’t think so. I’m definitely not your type.”

“I know, but I think you and I will have a great future together.”

“I need to go now. Have a nice day.”

“I see a great life for us. I know you’re a career woman. I’ve already thought about this. I can help you start the same business in the US. Even when our children are born, I won’t mind you working from home. You’ll be able to telecommute. Everyone does that over there.”

“Mr. Fadi, I don’t think I’m your type. I need to get back to the office now. Please make sure to get in touch with Lobna to get your down payment back.”

“Noor, think about it. I’ll make you happy,” he pleaded. “You know I like blondes, but I will give that up for you. I think your long dark hair is very attractive. I’m willing to compromise on many levels to make you happy.”

She sighed. “Okay. There is no better way to say this, but here you go. I’ve had a boyfriend or two. I’m not who you think I am.”

“Oh, I see,” he said. “Let me think about it.”

“There is no need to think about anything. I don’t see a future for us. Now I really need to go.”

Noor grabbed her purse and headed back to her car.

Is this who I’m going to end up with after thirty? A controlling man who wants to lock up his wife?

Did I fast all these years to break my fast with an onion, just like the Arabic saying?

After their coffee shop meeting, Noor thought Fadi was gone from her life for good. She thought admitting her past experiences to someone looking for the Virgin Mary was the best deterrent she could ever think of. She was mistaken. Fadi called Noor the next day and kept calling twice a week. She picked up occasionally and asked him politely to stop calling her, but that didn’t work. Flowers were delivered to her office every day at 9:00 am for 10 days straight until she finally told him that she didn’t want to hear from him ever again, that she had put all of his flowers in the dumpster, and that her neighborhood stray cats were probably eating them by now. It was the first time she was ever rude to any of her clients, but she had had enough.

“You’re funny. That’s another reason I like you,” Fadi said over the phone.

“I also deleted your contact info from my phone and used your cards as coasters for my afternoon teas,” said Noor, then hung up and rushed to meet her friend Maysoon for lunch at Romero’s. Maysoon had called earlier, and Noor sensed a looming disaster when she heard her voice.



“Screw you, Noor,” said Maysoon as soon as she saw her.

“Good evening to you too. What’s the matter?”

“Screw you and your damn business,” she said while the waiter walked them to their usual table.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’ll tell you what’s the matter. I received a call from your office. Apparently, I’ve been recommended to a client, and he wanted to see me.”

“What? Impossible. You’re not on the list.”

“I am. Your assistant called me to tell me the good news.”

“That damn Lobna! I don’t know where she got your name from. I screen all the names before we put them in the system. Don’t worry about this; it’s a mistake. I’ll remove your name. She should know who to exclude from the list.”

“So, what do I qualify under? Technical Virgin? Is that where I am now?”

“Come on, Maysoon. Don’t worry about it. You shouldn’t be on the list at all. We all know this is not how you want to get married. My business serves a specific clientele, the nouveau riche. You know it was a mistake.”

“Let me tell you something. I’m no longer a Technical Virgin if that’s what you have me under. I would qualify as a pariah. Isn’t that what you call us?”

“What?” she said as her heart skipped a beat. “Yes.”


“A few weeks ago.”

“Who with?”

“None of your business.”

“Come on, Maysoon. I need to know.”

“Why, so that you can reclassify me in your lovely database? Oh, no, I forgot, pariahs don’t even make it to your precious list.”

“Cut it out, Maysoon. I told you it was a mistake. I’ll take care of it.”

Noor drove back to her office in a daze. While dodging Korean-made cars and cursing drivers, Noor thought of her friend.

Maysoon, of all people? How, when, and why? And how could she? How is she going to live with that, and who is going to marry her now? How did it feel the first time?

Noor couldn’t stop thinking about the moment when Maysoon finally gave in. Does she have any regret? How could Maysoon do it, and she couldn’t? Do you stop caring, as you get older?

Noor thought of Mark and how she had been so close to going ahead with it. She even bought her first lingerie that night. They had it all planned. They met at his studio in DC’s Adams Morgan quarter.

He had the place lit with candles and scented with burning incense. It was clear to Noor that Mark, who was not the romantic type, was putting extra effort into making it special. Noor had dated Mark because she was lonely, and he was available and interested. He was witty and well-read. She admired his love of historical mystery novels and French movies. She knew he would be just a fling, but what the hell? She was in DC, and she could do whatever she wanted. She called him one day and told him she was ready.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “You know women never forget their first time.”

“I’m very sure.”

That night Mark was trying hard to make it memorable, his moves were slow and cautious, as if he was doing it for the first time, but Noor couldn’t tolerate the initial pain and stopped him. It was not the physical pain but the mental pain that was agonizing her. “I really can’t do this. There’s too much at stake here.”

As she neared her office, Noor kept thinking of the best way to punish Lobna. She was going to cost her both her business and her friends. Yela’an abouha (May God curse her father.)

When she got back to the office, Lobna was on the phone. Bitch!

“Your mom called,” yelled Lobna from her office.

“I’ll call her, but first, we need to talk. Can you get off the phone and come to my office immediately?”

When Lobna came to Noor’s office, she expected her to be afraid, even shaking, at the possibility of losing her livelihood. Instead, Lobna had a look of defiance that Noor had never seen before. It seemed as if having this Ahmad guy in her life gave her enough self-confidence that enabled her to move mountains if she wished. Noor felt jealousy at that moment as she stumbled with words when she saw Lobna in her new state. The last thing she expected was a confident assistant instead of the submissive, meek 21-year-old she had hired right out of college. Lobna was from East Amman, a neighborhood for the less fortunate. She had a mediocre education, but she was in love, employed, and had her life mapped out for her. A husband, kids, a decent job, and a supportive family. How had this Lobna figured it out, and she hadn’t?

“You called my friend Maysoon. How the hell did she make it to the list? Didn’t I teach you to carefully scrutinize all the recommendations we get from West Amman and remove those who don’t qualify?” said Noor while seated in her leather chair, her elbows on the desk.

“Her aunt recommended her.”

“So what?”

“Her aunt kept nagging and said she would pay us double if we added her, so I did. I thought I was doing you a favor.”

“What? A favor? I didn’t hire you to make executive decisions. You just do what I say. You’ve been making a lot of mistakes lately, and that’s because you spend most of your time with this Ahmad guy. I’m giving you a warning. One more mistake, and you’re out.”

“A warning! That’s not fair. I work overtime and never get paid. I don’t get any raises or bonuses, and you’re firing me?”

“Your performance is slipping. This all started after you started going out with Ahmad.”

“Can you leave Ahmad out of this? You’re just jealous.”

“How dare you say that?” she said, banging on her desk.

“Of course you are. I have a man in my life. You don’t have anyone. All you have is your business and your chi chi girlfriends and gay men.”

“That’s it, Lobna. You have until the end of the day to pack your stuff and leave. I’ve had it with your shit.”

Lobna left Noor’s office, slamming the door behind her.

Noor leaned back in her leather chair. Her hands were shaking, and she was feeling nauseous. She put her hands on her face and rubbed her eyes. I should have fired her ass a long time ago. She opened her eyes to see a yellow Post-It Note on her desk: “Call your mom. She says it’s urgent.” Noor dialed her parents’ home number. “What is it, Mom?” she said as soon as her mom picked up. No hellos or how are yous.

“Amir called.”

“Really? He must be in town.”

“He says he doesn’t have a cell phone.”

“I’ll call his parents’ house.” Noor could hear the sound of the TV in their family room blasting what sounded like an Egyptian drama.

“There’s something else,” her mom said.

She sighed. “What? I’m in a hurry.”

“Someone called Fadi asked to see your dad.”

“What? That guy is unbelievable. He never stops.”

“He seems like a nice guy.”

“Mama, don’t start this now. He’s not my type,” she said, her voice increasing in volume.

“Type? Come on, Noor. You’re 33. You shouldn’t think of types at your age. Do you ever want to have kids? It’s not like you have much time left.”

Noor bit her lip. “Here we go again with kids. I don’t wanna hear this.”

“Noor, listen to me.”

“I know what you’re going to say, that after 30, women are left with either a divorcé or a widower.”

“Glad you still remember.” Her mom chuckled.

“You know what? I’d rather be with a divorced man or a widower than be with this Fadi guy,” Noor shouted.

“You’re making a big mistake, Noor. You’ll regret this for the rest of your life. I’m your mother. I know these things. Do you want to end up a lonely spinster like your aunt Rula?”

“Bye, Mom.”

“Wait! Did you see today’s newspaper?”

“No! Why?”

“Look at the business section.”

“I don’t have time for this; what is it?”

“There’s an article about Fadi. He’s in Jordan to start a local office for Google. He’s rich and smart. He is even good looking. Can’t you see that? If you really want to start a business in the US, then he’ll be able to help you.”


Noor hung up, leaned back on her chair, and put her feet on her desk. She grabbed a pack of Marlboro Lights from her purse and lit a cigarette. She was not a smoker but always kept a pack in case of an emergency. No one was allowed to smoke at her office (except for wealthy clients). She hated the smell of smoke on her expensive leather furniture, but she was the boss and could do whatever she wanted.

Damn it! She sprung off her chair and approached the mirror with the golden frame on the wall across from her desk. There it was. Yet another grey hair. It’s because of that sharmouta Lobna.

Noor returned to her chair and looked outside her office window. Construction workers were putting the last touches on a new state-of-the-art highrise, across the street.

Skyscrapers were becoming trendy — Amman had high ambitions. The city’s new slogan splashed across the streets’ billboards: “The Sky is Not the Limit.”

Noor kept puffing away as she gathered her thoughts. She thought of Maysoon and how she had betrayed her. She never thought she would do this without discussing it with her first. How did Maysoon find the courage? She had no fear of retribution, which puzzled her. Noor considered her prospects and whether she was doomed to a life of virginity. She thought of Amir and his offer. Would marrying him liberate her? Would she be able to have affairs with whomever she desired while married to her gay best friend? Would she be as free and as happy as he suggested? Would they even have kids?

She let out a big sigh, put her feet down, and moved to the end of her office to where the trash can was. She rummaged through the receipts and tissue papers and found the card that came along with the flowers that Fadi had sent her this morning. She went back to her desk and let out a sigh. She dialed his number.

After all, she was still a virgin.


Natasha Tynes is a Jordanian-American author in Maryland and a regular contributor to publications, among them the Washington Post, Nature Magazine, Elle, and Esquire. Her short stories have appeared in Geometry, the Timberline Review, and Fjords. Her short story “Ustaz Ali” was a prize winner at the prestigious annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival in 2018. Tynes is the author of the speculative literary novel They Called Me Wyatt (Rare Bird Books, 2019). She hosts the podcast, Read and Write with Natasha, which features authors and publishers. She is a contributor to Stories from the Center of the World: New Middle East Fiction, edited by Jordan Elgrably (City Lights Books, 2024).


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