Today is the day, and Belinda takes out the white dress she bought last week for this trip: a white jumpsuit with a square sailor's collar and trimmed with dark blue bias tape. She slowly brushes her auburn hair, gathers it delicately behind her head and holds it with a red scarf, the same colour as her new pair of shoes. By nine o'clock, she is ready to leave although Harold has written he will arrive only at noon.
Belinda takes mental inventory of the important things in her little suitcase, among them, the wooden frame with her and Harold's picture, the porcelain trinket box where she stores the golden bracelet Harold gave her for her sixteenth birthday, the little prayer book her mother gave her when she was six, and the rosary beads from her great grandmother.
She sits in the living room, taking in everything in it so she might remember it in the days to come. At noon, she stands by the door and anxiously awaits Harold's arrival. She feels thankful for the open field that stretches far beyond, as far as the road goes and she is able to see the few passing cars and trucks. She lets her mind wander to a long ago summer and imagines that Harold, all of his 15 years, pedals his bike to bring her flowers he has picked from his mother's garden. Belinda smiles at the thought. She continues to replay that scene in her mind.
At three o'clock, she waits by the phone. Harold is terribly late. He is never late, especially when he tells her he will pick her up at noon or whatever time it is he has to pick her up. At four-thirty, she hears a car pull up, but it was only the postwoman. She sits on the step outside on the porch and stares at the farthest end of the road that her eyes allowed her to see. The skies has changed colours from blue to the gray of the sunset to the velvet black of the night and yet Harold has not arrived. Then as the night shifts into the golden hues of dawn, she stands up, goes inside the house, terribly shaking from cold.
She goes upstairs to her room, opens the drawer of her vanity, takes out a letter that came two months ago and reads its contents again: "Belinda, my beloved, I shall come pick you up on November 30. I will arrive at noon. And we will live together at last in Bath."
Then she opens a telegram that came just the other day: "Harold Benstead died in a car accident." Belinda sits down on the edge of the bed, lets her tears roll down her cheeks.
The sign was too large to ignore. In large white letters with black background and an arrow pointing west at the bottom, the sign read: PARIS FAIRGROUNDS.
"Oh," Jean, my passenger, an elderly lady who was staying at the Telfer Place senior home, said. Her head followed the direction of the arrow.
We were stopped at the intersection of Grand River Street and Silver Street going into Telfer Place. She smiled and her eyes sparkled from a memory that suddenly appeared itself, and I felt so afraid to step on the gas long after the green light came on for fear I might run over it. The loud honking from the car behind us jolted the car as I stepped on the gas, and so did Jean's revery.
As I parked the car, she said, "I almost forgot about the Fairgrounds." She looked towards the street, as if she could see the Fairgrounds which was a few blocks down east.
"Would you like to go there, Jean?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said immediately, without hesitation, and the eyes once more sparkled.
I shifted the car to rear and drove back onto the road and followed the arrows. After two minutes we entered the Fairground's parking lot, near the red and white tents that were still deserted. The fair didn't open until late afternoon on weekdays.
"That's where I met him," Jean said, pointing to an old willow tree several metres away. Her hands, ravaged by time and arthritis, shook as she pointed.
"Would you like to tell me about Billy?" I asked.
"He was a painter. I passed by his tent and he asked me if he could paint me. I said yes, then we made love."
"Jean!" I said, "in the tent? Right then and there?"
Jean looked at me with a blank expression on her face. "Of course! Not everyone in the reign of Victoria was pure, you know. A lot of us did some disgraceful acts once in our lives, some more disgraceful than others. But that didn't mean we were sluts."
"I am shocked!" I said, smiling, and putting my palm over my chest.
"My husband Paul was more shocked when he found out our first child, your husband," she paused to point her finger at me, "was actually Billy's child. Of course, I didn't tell him right away."
"When did you tell him?"
"Just before he died," she said, matter-of-factly. "I suppose he had to know at some point." Then she motioned with her hand, "Let's go. I had enough of this fairground."
From the "Sounds of Silence" by Paul Simon from the Simon & Garfunkel Definitive Collection CD
"Hello, Darkness, my old friend."
Marcus stood just outside the tall mahogany doors, his head bowed, hair disheveled, coat hanging from his hunched shoulders. He shot a glance at Awel and she saw that his eyes were red from crying. She opened the door wider and stood aside to let him in. His steps were unhurried and as soon Awel had closed the doors, Marcus cupped his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking. Awel wrapped her arms around his waist and when he embraced her and buried his face in his thick black hair, he wailed like a small child. They had been that way for a long time before his crying subsided and she led him to her study. A small candle is lit in the middle of the room and he could make out the tall shelves filled with tomes that had never been touched for centuries.
"Tell me what happened, dear." Her raspy voice soothed his pains, and he let go of a big sigh.
"She left me, Awel. She left me." He started crying again and Awel patted his shoulders.
"I know, dear, I know she left. We both knew it was bound to happen."
"I loved her, Awel. She was the only one for me."
Pain shot through Awel's heart. When was he going to learn that he never belonged to Riella? That he, Marcus, belonged to her and her world. He always called her Darkness because she always wore black, everything about her was black. She was most alive at night, like the bats that lived around her villa.
"Marcus, you belong here. You belong to me," said Awel, she placed a hand on her chest then pointed to her heart. "I think it's about time you accept your destiny."
-- o0o --
(note: i started writing this the last time Daily Writing Practice blog had a CD prompt, but i don't quite know what to do with it. it looks like a vampire story, but i know nothing about vampire stories and i refuse to read anything vampire as my vivid imagination goes to sleep with me and i get nightmares otherwise.)
Esyllt stood face to face with the woman. She towered above her and yet the woman showed no fear of her. Esyllt noticed her beautiful hands lightly caressing her son’s shoulders.
“My name is Heledd. I’m Tegid’s mother,” Heledd said extending one hand to Esyllt. Esyllt felt a genuine enthusiasm in her voice, but she kept her hands crossed over her chest. Esyllt always had ambivalent feelings about the friendly humans.
“I’m Esyllt. I’m the Vice-Commander for the province,” she finally said in a plain voice. Then, motioning her head slightly towards the winged albino boy, she said in a friendlier tone, “This one’s switched at birth?”
“Noooh!” Heledd said as she stooped down and put both arms around the boy, then kissed him on his forehead. “He’s mine.”
“But...” Esyllt hesitated. “I see nobody else in this household with wings or feathers.”
“No. No one in both my and Ynyr’s families have bird DNA, as far as we know.” Heledd messed the Tegid’s hair and told him, “Tegid, dear, go get our visitor something to drink.”
Tegid quietly obeyed his mother but before entering the house, he looked back at Esyllt and smiled. Esyllt smiled back.
“Please sit down, Esyllt,” Heledd said as she motioned Esyllt to one of the wrought iron chairs. She sat herself on one opposite Esyllt. Esyllt only nodded, curiously trying to understand Tegid’s situation. Heledd’s face became serious. “I was violated by two Dromorants and I became pregnant,” she said, almost in a whisper. “Fortunately for me, my husband Ynyr loves me enough to accept everything that’s part of me. And Tegid is part of me.”
How romantic! Esyllt thought, but instead she said, “I’m sorry, Heledd. I mean, about the Dormorants. But how come you didn’t auction him off, or...” She stopped when she saw Tegid coming out of the house.
Tegid handed her a bottle of carbonated water. “Thanks, Tegid,” she said. She patted the boy's head and felt the delicate softness of his snow-white hair.
“Do you know how to fly? Can you teach me how to use my wings?” Tegid asked.
“Tegid, Esyllt is our visitor,” his mother said.
“No, Tegid, I can’t fly. We ptesauronts are too heavy to fly and our brains are not fit for aerodynamics unlike real birds.”
“Oh," Tegid said, disappointment obvious in his voice and face. "What do we do with our wings then?”
Esyllt stretch her mouth in an attempt to smile. “I guess, be beautiful.”
Her heart ached. It felt like disappointing her own son.
rummaging through my things, i found an old notebook (from the early 70's) with the very corny poems i wrote for a lost love . by "corny" i mean they're too much of a cliché. let me share it here then:
WHERE YOUR MEMORY DWELLS
a certain thing keeps bothering me the flame of your love has gone the warmth that once loomed around was replaced by cold unkind.
the tears i occasionally shed like water ceased your fire the fears i always had now in my life had stayed.
in simple verses i now write the memories of a forgotten love where once your memory dwells in the silent home of my heart.
the smile i once saw in you have taken me far below to where you once confessed your feelings when you said you loved me so.
in simple words you had me uttered the words i always knew but never in my life had i said only when i met you.
the place where once we sat before a dim candle light where our eyes did really meet and our hearts beat fast.
the park we (once) twice strolled where different stories were told where the rain once fell on us and brought your arms around me close.
the church where rests your world far away from my own i had once aimed to see you there but price was there and took control.
the prayer(s) you offered me which only fools could realize and which wisemen and i never believed your kind of world and paradise.
these things i always knew had known and will always know and on the days ahead i will recall that once i loved you so.
in simple verses i have now written our love that you had forgotten and in my heart i have kept your love and your memory forever dwells, forever remains.
that's exactly how i wrote it, in small letters, no caps (channeling my inner e.e. cummings, maybe). and apparently i wrote it on september 2, 1972 at 10:30 p.m. i do not understand entirely what i meant in my poem - especially the fourth stanza - not to mention i think i broke all the rules for writing poems, structure-wise or whatever. but, oh, boy, i wrote poems then. and long ones, too! how i sustained it for that long is hard for me to fathom. now i can only manage a haiku or two, and i need prompts to do them.
i know at the time, i was so in love with this boy, Benjamin, and i can categorically say he, too, was deeply in love with me. he was the measuring stick for the next boyfriend, and the next, etc. (not that there were so many) and it always made me wonder, during quiet times and my mind drifts to that part of my young life, how it would have been had we belonged to the same religion, married and had a family.
and if there is such a thing as time travel, that is the one past i would gladly live again.
So now I know why she had been cold and distant the last several days. I thought she was just battling writer's block, that dreaded, awful writer's block that had always caused me grief whenever she was writing something important. Not this time.
"James, I'm moving out" is all she wrote in her note.
The office Christmas party is well underway, some are already half-drunk, when Delores arrives.
“Finally, Delores, you came. Solo, yet again. What’s your excuse this time for not bringing your husband with you?” Mike, the Managing Partner, asks.
“We couldn’t find a babysitter, the little one has bronchitis,” Delores replies.
Mike rolls his eyes and clucks his tongue. “I think there is no husband. I think the pictures in your office are fake.”
Delores swoops a glass of champagne from the tray of a waiter passing by. How can she explain to Mike and the rest of the office that she is actually embarrassed for Carlo to accompany her to office events. Although he owns a lucrative business, he mostly does all the dirty work. Sometimes she’s pretty sure he even smells like his work that is why she demands he takes a bath every night before coming to bed. She imagines her co-workers reading his business cards and snorting as they walk away, just like she’s seen it happen so many times:
THE ANSEWER TO YOUR PROBLEMS: we clean your sewers, and we clean it good!
fedora hat black and white round-toed brogues cigarette in hand gray trench coat loosened tie gun in waist wristwatch doubles as camera pen that takes movies he's expensive he's a detective a private detective
Leilani spots him right away, sitting on the farthest side of the food court. His fedora hat tilts forward almost covering his eyes, the unlit cigarette loosely hangs from his lips but never falls, even when he talks on his cellphone. A boy sits on the tiled floor polishing his black and white Brogue shoes. He loosens his tie just slightly so and continues to leaf through his newspaper.
"The guy's a private detective," Leilani whispers to Diana who starts to turn her head to look. "Don't look! Don't look!"
"But why?" Diana asks.
"Because he might think we are looking at him or we are talking about him," Leilani says.
"But we are, aren't we?"
"Yes, but don't look. He has a gun tucked at his waist. I think he's following me,"
"What the..? Why would a detective follow you?"
"I think my husband suspects that I am seeing someone."
Diana turns her head and looks in the direction of the detective. Suddenly, she bursts out laughing, doubling over on her chair.
"Stop it, Diana!" Leilani hisses at her. "I told you to not look at him!|
"Oh, Leilani, are you and your husband role playing again?!"
Cristina turns green and she starts to smell like fish drying in the sun. Oliver and Olivia know this for sure because they had seen fishes being dried at the beach the last time they visited Grandma’s home by the sea. They take two steps back. They wonder if Mommy will actually leave them with this fish person.
She grins at the twins as she nods listening to Mrs. Duceppe's instructions. Mommy waves bye at them and gives them a flying kiss. They just look at each other then sat in front of the TV and continue watching Kid vs. Kat. They hear Mommy say “Not too near!” then the door closes. They elbow each other then simultaneously looked back at the babysitter on the plether sofa, half sitting half lying down.
“What you lookin’ at?” Cristina says, but the twins hear a menacing guttural sound. They turn to face the TV again, their hearts racing. Olivia, the bolder of the two, cups her hands on Oliver’s ear and whispers, “I love you. I can’t believe Mommy will let us die like this.”
They hear a menacing hiss this time. They hold hands and close their eyes tightly waiting for the strange babysitter to kill them or eat them. When nothing happens, they open their eyes and look behind them. Cristina fiddles furiously with her iPhone, and without looking at them, she says, “What, you look at me like I’m some kind of an alien or something. Do you think I'm an alien?” Before their very eyes, she turns all yellow, and two antennas sprout on each side of her head.
Eyes wide and bulging, they get up slowly and walk towards the dining area then around the kitchen; when they reach the stairs, they run, shouting, “Good night, Cristina alien!” They close the door shut when they reach their room, change into their pyjamas and tuck themselves to bed. They hurriedly say their prayers and promptly fall asleep.
At midnight, their mother arrives home and hands Cristina her $50.
“Ghee, Mrs. Duceppe, the twins are the best children I’ve ever babysat!”
She opens the menu, an old vinyl album cover of The Doors and the half image of Jim Morrison wearing skin-tight shiny leather pants surprises her while its other half hides behind the glued-on printed menu of deliciously described appetizers and salads. She turns over the page to look at the entrees and thinks the 'Sexy Vegetable' sounds ridiculously funny with its erotic description attributed to eggplants, zucchini and squash, giggling as she reads them. The steak sounds sinfully delicious with the crumbled feta cheese on top, the gorgonzola veal seemingly shouts 3,500 calories while her favourite risotto beckons her with fist-sized scallops and giant tiger shrimps in a creamy veloute that makes her stomach grumble. The waiter arrives with a glass of red wine and she casually hands back the menu: "Illicit Pizza, please."
The temperature dipped to minus 10 with a windchill of minus 25 the first time I stood at Victoria Park bridge above Highway 401, the Highway of Heroes, that Sunday afternoon in February. It had snowed the last two days and there was a fair bit that fell earlier in the day so the roadsides were white with snow. It was the first Sunday that a soldier's repatriation from the CFRB station was taking place. I had been wanting to pay tribute to the soldiers and watch a procession and that day was the first opportunity for me. Earlier in the day the body of a young soldier arrived at the station, and after a brief ceremony, the body would be transported to Toronto for final autopsy.
A number of people had already lined the whole length of the bridge when I arrived, but I found a space easily right in the middle. There were two police cars and an ambulance and cars parked where they normally would not have been allowed to. People brought their flags with them, large ones, and all I could manage was a teeny-weeny one that I got from the office a few years back. I thought I should get a larger one for the next "occasion" but on second thought I did not wish for a next one to occur. Cars travelling along the highway below honked their cars as they pass by, to acknowledge us at the bridge for waiting for the procession. Some of them would even wave at us. In return we waved our flags at them.
I had been standing on the snow on the bridge for more than an hour. Sometimes I tried to do a small dance routine just to keep my feet from freezing, even though I made it a point to wear double socks, the top one made of thick wool. As it got darker, the wind blew stronger and I started to shiver. People were nice to each other, an elderly man went to the neary Tim Horton's to get coffee. He offered me the second cup he had and I politely thanked him and explained I don't drink coffee.
We started talking and I found out his friend's son had been one of the casualties in Afghanistan in 2009 and these repatriations had started to have a special place in his life. He would make it a point to leave work and come here to pay tribute. Some people from as far away as Lake Erie came because they had friends or relatives and even sadder, family who had perished in the war, either in Iraq or in Afghanistan.
At some point, the traffic on the westbound lanes below thinned out. That was the sign that the procession was getting closer to where we are on its way to Toronto. It meant all ramps going in to the highway were blocked off to give free and fast access to the procession; for everyone's safety, cars were not allowed to stop on the side of the highway.
There was a long lull in traffic, then one police car passed, followed by another one, then more police cars. Then the hearse. The hearse itself is bound on all sides by the provincial police cars, as well as the limousines carrying the family of the dead soldier.
It is specially heart-rending when the dead soldier happens to be a young man, still a boy mostly, and is an only child, or one who has just a few more days to go through his or her tour of duty. Instead of his family and friends preparing for a big celebration for his return, they are making preparations for his funeral. On one occasion, a soldier was just a few days away and would get married. I specially get very emotional when the dead is a young soldier, in his or her prime, when he or she should be enjoying life. You kind of ask where is the justice in this world. But I feel proud for the soldiers.
I have a young cousin who is right now in Kabul on a tour of duty for the US Army; a nephew, barely in his twenties who is on his way to battle, is with the US Navy; a niece, and another nephew, both of whom I have not yet met and hope to someday, are also in the military service. I have two older cousins and an uncle who are now considered retired veterans. I say a prayer for them every time. I thank God for sparing them every time I hear about a soldier dying in the wars. I know that one of these days, I would have to do something, perhaps join in petitioning the government to treat our soldiers and veterans more decently, with better benefits for them and their families.
I have never experienced war, except what I read in the newspapers. I consider myself lucky and hope that in the future none of us would experience it. But we can only hope. We can only, in the words of John Lennon, imagine.
I had seen her just the day before - a day of pale blue skies and summer breezes. She sat on a white wicker chair propped underneath a huge multi-coloured beach umbrella in the middle of their grassy lawn. She wore large dark sunglasses, the kind where all you see was your own reflection and you'd never know if her eyes were closed or if she's looking at you. She placed two large adobe bricks beside her where she'd put down her book whenever she sipped at her large glass of iced tea, the breeze making a wisp of her dark curly hair fall on her face. She wore a white summer dress with tiny red polka dots with wide straps and low neckline and when she bent you could see her breasts.
Her husband (or, as people whispered about sometimes, her paramour, for they believed she wasn't married to him) came out from the house, holding a bottle of Miller Lite, walked the length of the lawn slowly saying something I couldn't make out before going back and sat on the grass in front of her. She lowered her large sunglasses and peered at him and put them back on, grabbing her book and putting it really close to her face. He yanked the book away from her hand and threw it against the white picket fence, hitting the coral red pansies. They yelled at each other and from where I sat in my kitchen I heard her scream, "I hate you! I hate you!"
I saw him storm back inside their bungalow while she sat on her chair, her face buried in her hands, her shoulders shaking. She grabbed the glass of iced tea and threw it at the door where her husband disappeared to, wiped her face with the hem of her white dress and walked to the fence to retrieve her book.
It was a total shock then, especially to me, to learn that she had died just this morning when she stepped in the path of a speeding delivery truck right in front of their house.
High in the mountains, covered with snow, they found Aleena. There was no mistaking the high cheek bones, the thick long lashes, the luscious lips and the mole on her right chin, just below the lower lip, as tiny as one of the beads of the pearl strand she wore around her neck the day she went missing. The most beautiful girl in the village, the smartest girl in class, her future held so much promise. And she was in love, with André, her handsome friend and future husband. Their plan was she would go to the capital and study to become a teacher, and she would come back to the village, she and André would build a school and she would teach the little children, perhaps including her and André’s own.
Aleena’s disappearance was a mystery to everyone. So unlikely for a conscientious girl with grand ambitions, they said. Some thought she ran away with another man. Wasn’t there a strange man from the next town around that time who had once seen Aleena and he could not take his eyes off her, and she couldn't take her eyes off him, too? The police said he killed Aleena, he said so in his written statement, which he later recanted because he cannot tell them where her body was. Still he stayed in prison for many years before he was released, old and diseased.
André grieved for a long time but eventually left the village. Now, he, too, was an old man.
Thirty-five years ago, Aleena vanished just like that, a girl of eighteen looking ahead to a wonderful life that everyone in the village had wished for her. And as suddenly as she vanished, now unexpectedly they found her body. She looked like she was asleep, a smile frozen in her lips. Because time had frozen her perfectly, even the dagger buried in her heart, the one with the hand-carved handle. The one with André’s name on it.
Lenore contemplates the irony of her new life as she sits in her tiny apartment with one table and one chair, one plate and set of mismatched cutlery, one glass, one mug for her coffee. She has stopped crying a long time ago, yet occasionally she finds herself yearning for the old life - the many friends she had, the numerous places she travelled to, the lavish parties which sometimes she hosted and sometimes she graced with her presence; the endless shopping. Oh, the money that just kept pouring in. Didn't everyone love her then? Oh to be young and beautiful. To be the most sought-after star.
But after the fire, everything changed.
She remembers herself standing on the ledge outside the window of her 12th floor apartment, the fire raging inside, the thick smoke billowing out. She was left with only two choices: to burn inside, or to jump, either to death or to safety. She chose to jump, the bare tree right below would break her fall. In the instant between ledge and tree, a thought occurred to her: she was up high on the 12th floor, she's been living the high life, literally and figuratively. And now, she's falling back to the ground, where her feet should've been. The bare branches ravaged her face, her beauty is gone in an instant. Falling back is hard, the reality even harder.
Beautiful day today and I set about to walk along the Danforth and took pictures of the fall colours around the parks. People must think I was nuts for taking so many pictures of leaves scattered on the ground.
Having heard earlier on TV that there was going to be a "Remembrance Day" parade downtown at ten o'clock, I took the subway then bus to the Moss Park Armory. However, maybe I heard it wrong because there was no parade anywhere. But walking around the block I certainly got a good exercise.
When finally I decided to head back home, I noticed the spire of an old church protruding like a sore thumb amidst modern structures, hydropoles, Thai restaurant signs, among others, so I took a picture. It is quite distinctive with its greenish colour and as I approached, I thought about its place along this street with its clubs (including one strip club for sure) and the hookers that ply around it in the evening.
While waiting to cross the street, I saw that a few vines still clung to its walls, the red shades contrasting against the slate colours of the brick walls. I must have been so intent in my admiration of this very simple sight that when I walked right in front, a well-dressed woman holding a bunch of "flyers" asked me as she handed me a flyer, "Would you like to join our service today?"
Rather amused and surprised, I took the flyer, looked at her face and without hesitation I replied, "Sure, why not?" I looked around and asked, "What time is the service?"
"Eleven," she replied. I raised my coat sleeve to check my watch; the lady did the same. "Well, look at that, you are just in time!"
Indeed, I was. I headed for the huge entrance door but lingered outside, taking pictures of the red vine and saw that there were little berries growing on the stems. Initially, I thought I'd just leave when the lady wasn't looking. But I stood right in front of the door for a few seconds before I finally decided to go in because it really felt like I was being pulled in.
There were only very few people. The pews were in a semi-circular arrangement with the pastor and choir conductor on a raised dais. The choir was fantastic! They had a screen where the lyrics of the hymns were shown. The hymns all came back to me. The last time I attended a service like that was back in the old country. And the pastor delivered an excellent sermon on the subject "We belong to Christ" with reference to Romans 14:1-10. The pastor read the scriptures along with the congregation.
There was a point in the service where some of the members of the congregation started clapping their hands to the beat of one of the hymns. At the end of the song, the pastor said, "To those who are here for the first time, we'd like you to know that we are allowed to clap when we sing."
I enjoyed that spontaneous random worship. I might go there for Christmas service.
She eyes the man wearing a black baseball cap sitting at the end of the bar through the smoke of her cigarette. He has barely touched his drink, a beer that he has asked be served in a glass. Quite peculiar, she thinks. She tries to smile at him but he doesn't see her, his eyes fixed at the large TV monitor on the wall.
When finally she finishes her cigarette, she fishes out another stick from her purse. She waits for the men near her to come up and offer to light her cigarette, but she notices that none of them are smoking, despite the bar being a smoking bar. She opens her purse again and searches for her matchbook. Not there.
She hears the click of a lighter and suddenly there's the small flame of a lighter in front of her. Instinctively, she leans forward with her cigarette between her lips, its tip glows to a bright red as she sucks the other end and as she blows smoke, her eyes follow the trail of lighter then hand then arm then...it's him. She smiles. She looks at his lighter again, a Widowmaker Zippo, with what she thought was the image of an orchid etched on its face, but she looks again and she realizes it's a woman's flower. She looks at him with a raised eyebrow, but the corners of her mouth reveal amusement.
"I got it from e-bay," he says, winks and tips his black baseball cap at her then walks back to his seat at the end of the bar.
I fall asleep with the balcony door open, the warm monsoon air changing to a cool breeze. In my dream I see a horse's feet slowly approaching. In reality, someone is riding a horse around the large yard of the compound of my apartment building. I wake up and see the shadow of the horse and its rider, someone wearing a turban and a cape. An intruder?
The dawn is just breaking. It is only five in the morning. I get up, put on my robe and pinned my hair up. I stand on the side of the balcony door not wanting to show myself to the horse rider. He wears a white dishdasha and a satiny jade green overcoat, the polished khanja in his waist glistening from the balcony lights, and his head is wrapped in a white turban. There is an unmistakable grace in the way he sits on his horse, a beautiful Arabian whose skin glistened like the khanja. He turns around as if looking for something, or someone.
"Your Excellency, sir." I part the flimsy curtain and step out onto the balcony. "Good morning."
He turns around, masking the surprise with a smile, then nods. "Assalam alaikum." Although he is smiling, you can see the seriousness in his eyes.
"Waalaikum assalam," I say back, mentally chastising myself for forgetting the Arab greeting. For good measure, I curtsy, the best one I an muster, to make up for calling him "Your Excellency" as suddenly I am unsure if that is how I have to address the ruler of the country.
"You need not curtsy, you are not one of my subjects, madame." I can see that he is amused by my actions. "Only my subjects are expected to curtsy to me."
"Are you lost, sir?" I ask. "Oh, I'm sorry. You can't get lost in your own kingdom." I give him a big "Garfield" smile.
"I can't, now, can I?" he says and flashes another polite but guarded smile. "But since you ask, where is the house of the Minister of Interior?"
"It's the large house at the end of the street. It has the same fencing as this building. Would you like me to walk you to it? I can change my clothes in two minutes."
He smiles again, the perfect white teeth more visible now as I stand by the balcony's railings.
"It's okay. I should be able to find it myself." He clucks his tongue for the horse to start walking.
"I recognize you." He furrows his brows. "Do you work at the palace?"
"Yes, sir," I answer.
"Leslie, isn't it?"
I give a small laugh, surprise that he knows my name. He rarely sees the paid staff in the palace, much less the foreign workers. I work in the catering room of the palace.
I have been sitting here at the airport in Dubai for more than six hours and there is still no announcement as to when my Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong will leave. I, along with the several hundred passengers, were told that they are trying to fix the plane’s engine just to make sure there will be no problems when we fly. Great!
I go around the Duty Free Shops and buy an expensive Seiko watch, one with a thin rectangular face in gold casing and leather band. The face is black and blank apart from the gold hands and a small dot of gold for “12” and the Seiko logo on it. Three hundred American dollars, it cost me. I am looking at a Gucci wallet when I hear the announcement about my flight. I promptly give the wallet back to the Filipina saleslady and hurry to the Cathay Pacific counter to listen to the replay of the announcement. The end of the announcement says we will board in two hours.
I go to the washroom and freshen up, my toes barking from being squished inside my high heeled shoes since early this morning. When I go out the bathroom, I decide to take my shoes off and walk and wait around barefoot. I try to ignore the stares from the men by reading the newspapers and magazines I have gathered from my flight from Muscat to Dubai. A man comes up to me and asks if I am waiting for the same flight he is. He shows me his ticket and I tell him we are indeed on the same flight. He thanks me and I go back to the New Yorker magazine I am reading. He sits beside me, and I smell a wisp of aftershave, not at all offensive. When I close the magazine and about to shove it inside my carry-on, he speaks.
“Excuse me, I didn’t mean to be rude, but my name is Zachary Blakes.” He extends his hand at me and I shake his hand. He speaks good English but I note the slight accent that I could not yet figure out.
“Cynthia,” I say purposely not offering my last name.
"Are you going to Hong Kong, too, Cynthia?"
"Yes, but only to change plane. I am going to Manila."
"Ah, Manila!" he says with a big smile and nods his head. "I have Filipinos in my team. In fact they're over there, they're on the same flight. Nice men."
So since we are conversing, I ask: "What do you do around here?"
He's a mechanical engineer at Dubai's National Refinery. He is going to Hong Kong to do some shopping.
"But can I invite you to have some coffee with me while we talk?"
We go to one of the coffee shops, minding the announcements being broadcast. We talk for a good three hours, and by the time we finally hear the call for us to board our plane, one would think that Zach and I have known each other for a long time. He now hauls my carry-on luggage and I carry his jacket for him. We check our seats and find out he sits two rows in front of me and that the person sitting beside me is one of his "people" at the Refinery who is just glad to exchange seats with him so that we could sit together during the flight.
The flight is full and we are told we will be stopping in Bombay, as during the flight, one of the plane’s two engines goes dead. Zach and I are holding hands, his arms around me, and he whispers that should anything go wrong with the plane, we shall be together and that he will protect me whatever happens. Like if the plane just crashes anywhere in the mountains or in the Indian Ocean or wherever it is we are right now.
The plane makes it to Bombay safely and we are hauled to hotel shuttle buses for our overnight accommodation. The airline staff requests that while we can opt for a single room, can we please if at all possible find someone to partner with? A Filipina approaches me at the bus and tells me she does not know anybody in the flight and is afraid to stay alone in a hotel room, would I be so kind as to let her stay with me? I look at Zach, I see him about to shake his head to signal me to say no to the Filipina, but just as I am about to say no, a flight attendant approaches him, verified that he is indeed Zachary Blakes and tells him that the Refinery has made a special accommodation for him and he needs to check in at a special desk once we reach the hotel. I tell the Filipina she can stay with me.
The drive to the hotel is tedious. Our bus is not air conditioned and the heat, even though it is already after sunset, made us all feel clammy and sticky. Children on the side of the road run after buses asking the passengers for money. There is a certain smell of filth in the air from animal excrements all over the road. Reaching the hotel where there is a slight feel of air conditioning became quite a relief.
I lose Zach once we reach the hotel. Registration for the rooms became chaotic when more buses full of passengers from another flight arrive. Leonora, the Filipina, follows me around and insists on talking to me in the dialect even though I continue to speak in English.
In the room, there is only one bed and a pull out sofa. I ask Leonora where she wants to sleep. She says it is up to me. I let her have the bed. The phone rings and I answer it. It is Zach. He would like us to go down and have our dinner. I tell him I will wash up first. I tell Leonora I will be having dinner downstairs and she should go, too. She wants to come with me. I give her the other key to the room. I tell her I have to dine with a friend. Zach knocks just as I am about to leave. He is holding a bottle of Port, wanting us to have an aperitif. I told him port is an after-dinner drink. Instead, he grabs and kisses me, his hand all over my back and buttocks. Leonora stands by the window watching us. I break away from Zach and it is then he notices Leonora, apologizes and looks at me inquiringly.
“Let’s go have dinner, then we discuss the port afterwards.” I grab his arm and we get out of the hotel room.
Do I believe in fate? Do I believe in karma? Zachary Blakes is not my type of man, he does not possess the sophistication that have been the characteristics of the men I have so far dated. He comes across as someone from the other side of the tracks but came into big money so he was able to switch sides. My mother once told me that class is not dependent on money or status in society. Zach has that non-elegance about him. But no matter he is good looking and I tell myself that if I will have a one-night stand with him, which at this time I am about ready to do, and I get pregnant, I probably would not regret it.
"My suite is large," he says over dinner. He looks at Leonora opposite us on the table. "Leonora can stay in your room and should be able to rest without interruption. So why don't you stay with me in my suite."
I am about to say "Yes," when Leonora interjects. "But I am afraid to stay alone in the room. I would like to stay with Ma'am Cynthia."
“Where have you been, Fool?” the Queen asks, visibly pissed that it has taken Fool the whole day to come back from running an errand. “You had better have a good reason for taking this long, or I’ll have your head cut off this very minute.” She wags an index finger in front of Fool’s face.
“Your Majesty, I am terribly sorry.” Fool’s tears roll down his cheeks, smudging the heavy makeup and runny snot makes his red foam nose to sag. “But, I got lost in the maze downstairs trying to find the Royal Burger Vendor."
"Get hold of yourself! For heaven's sakes, you're supposed to make me laugh, not make me pissed!" Queenie rolls her eyes and blows an errant wisp of hair, slumps on her golden throne and motions for her maid to massage her temple.
"Got lost in the maze, holy God! How did you get lost, tell me!" she demands, impatiently tapping her fingers on the arm of the throne.
"Well, Your Majesty, first, I saw Cook and he sent me to the market to get onions for your salad. Then I saw the Prince and he asked me to take his horse to the horsesmith. Then I saw the Bishop and he reminded me that I missed Church last Sunday and I explained to him that I was sick last Sunday so he made me attend a Special Service. Then I saw the Princess and she asked me to go and tell her lover who lives in next village to meet her at the stable." Fool stops to blow his nose and the red foam nose fell on the marbled steps of the platform going up to the Queen's throne. He was about to continue his story but Queen stops him.
"You obeyed those people of no importance and yet you made me wait for the one thing I asked you to do?" She snaps her fingers and two guards appear before her.
"Get this Fool out of my sight, and have him beheaded right away," she commands.
"Waaaaah!" Fool wails like a child whose ice cream has fallen off his cone. The guards carry him away.
"Can't I get a better performing jester than that one? All he does is wail all the time. He depresses me!"
"Them jesters are hard to come by these days, aren't they, m'lady?" the maid says. "Why, that's the third one this week you've had beheaded!"
"I would really have to resort to drastic measures to amuse meself!" Queenie lets herself slide off the throne onto the floor.
"And what is that, m'lady?"
"Get a television and watch soaps, I suppose!"
"Oh," maid gets excited. "You mean we're finally getting cable!"
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entries labeled "fiction" or "short stories" are just that: short story fiction; products of this writer's wild and warped imagination. any similarities to actual events, places, or people, dead or living, are purely coincidental.