We had a spring back home. We call it Allah’s Eye. I have never visited it but they say once you take a sip you fly to lands never visited. I first heard about it from my grandma Haz. She was our radio show that turned itself on the sun sinking behind our trees. As her very antique voice resonated in our candle-lit room, we saw and heard springs that made swishing sounds and drew beautiful rainbows along every wood in our ceiling; bubbles popped in our heads as her skillful gentle soft hands stroked our scalps. We competed to alternatively lay our heads on her knees or coiled ourselves in blankets very close. The clashing sounds of swords emitted lightning and thunderstorms as the horses’ hooves folded lands, people and streams. The villains’ laughter were chased away by grandma’s reassuring hands while the heroes courage filled our chests. We heard and felt the lamenting voices of the orphans, the whipping insults of step-mothers and step-fathers, we thanked god we had our own parents and we devised plans to mess up the plotting conspiracies of the jealous Sultan’s wives, mistresses and witches against his innocent young beloved wife while he was on hunting trips. As grandma Haz voice gradually faded, and we heard her unmistakable voice gradually becoming distant drawing curtains on a story and ushering us to those magical wonderlands with springs that never dried and trees that remained ever green, we wove our own stories across the night.
As we grew older, the stories emanating from the radio set replaced grandma’s while written fables, stories, and even novels filled our free time when we were done with homework. Some of these, we had to hide under our pillows or blankets from our parents such as romantic stories or the ones from one thousand nights and a night because our parents considered them age inappropriate.
I soon started to write my own stories. I transcribed my daydreams and added colors to them; meticulously chose words that highlighted the nuances and shades of my worlds and had them open on multi-horizons. The colors on the Big Screen had me addicted to its worlds and my writing no matter how concise interwove different worlds that I projected on the big screen and jumped in without ever disregarding grandma’s tales as they have proven their worth across the years.
I felt proud as I read my grandchild’s words that I discovered by chance in one of the drawers of my desk. My grandchild has never lived in the countryside, but she has certainly heard stories from me about the countryside and grandma’s stories. I wondered how she knew about my dreams. It has been years since I have been to a movie theater. I have not held a pen in my hand for over a year also. I looked at my husband who has been out of work for a while and was engaged in reading a newspaper. “I no longer exist to that man,” I repeated to myself. sat closer and asked him a question about a job he had discussed with me; his eyebrows remained arched on the newspaper in interest. I raised the volume of The T.V. but did not get any reaction from him either. The phone rang, my daughter asked me to pick her up and told me that her brother had called ; he was moving with his wife and child abroad. I got angry at her for asking me to pick her up at her friend’s and also because my elder son was not on the phone so would get angry at him. Making such a decision without even consulting with me, was more than my poor heart could bear. As a mother, I should feel this way. Indeed, I felt betrayed. I did not even get out to the store without letting everyone in the house know. “Did you hear that?” I asked my husband who was still not aware that one of his children was going abroad, another was staying out late, two others have not even bothered to call, while the other is locking himself in the room after he had dropped out of college while still in the second semester because he was not sure that was what he had wanted to do.
“Soon all of them will decide to go on with their lives while I have frozen mine to help them make theirs,” she thought. Her eyes followed blankly the gestures of the heroine of a movie presented on T.V as she threw coins in slow motion in the transparent waters of The Trevi Roman Fountain. She remembered how her coin shone across the transparent waters of a spring that had waters similar to aqua virgo in a different land. She wondered what wish she had made after the coin had hit the marble floor on the fountain. Her husband dozed off with the newspaper in hand. She looked at the large laundry bags with clothes stacked in them, sighed and felt her lungs expand with an inexplicable melancholy. The dryer broke and she had to take all those bags to The Laundromat since she was unable to afford to pay for the pick-up. Exhaustion crept on her and she hungered for rest. So, she tried to wake up her husband to assign him the chores, he snored in response. She angrily grabbed the car keys that were sitting on the coffee table. She avoided looking at herself in the mirror while in the bathroom. It was drizzling. Yet, she did not wear a coat. She set an alarm clock and placed it close to her husband’s head and left a note on the coffee table : “Pick-up Rozzie at her friend’s.”
The rain stopped but the air felt moist and a thick fog filled the atmosphere. She walked with steady slow steps aimlessly along the streets until she got to a dead end. She stopped for a while in front of the only open door that projected some light into the bad-lit alley, hesitated for a while, then let herself in. The place was dim and empty apart from the attending staff. She pulled a chair and sat. She soon found out the place was a pub when she requested a soft drink.
It has been ages since he has walked in streets like these. It just felt good to walk in this misty evening climate. The streets were deserted and he embraced his solitary walk in a phantom-like city with gratitude. He parked the car on Broadway Main Ave. He did not bother to feed the meter and let his steps drift in the branching streets till he came face to face with a pub locked in a dead end street and decided to have a drink or two. He chose a seat facing the pub’s door without missing the activity behind the counter. A woman came in and approached a seat in the middle in a shuffling gait, she pulled a chair that made a screeching noise and threw herself on it. Her hair was tied in a loose bun and looked disheveled. She wore a large grey T. Shirt and bleached jeans. He followed her interaction with the waitress who launched in a sharp tone: “we do not serve it.” He watched her gazing at the coffee cup in front of her, caressing the rim and focusing her eyes on its content as if trying to decipher the coffee stains.
He kept observing her for a lengthy moment and thought: A very typical middle-age American housewife, married; four children; a retired husband; fed-up; argued with the husband or the kids; “gotta have some fresh air” and ended up in this bad-lit dead-locked pub; her favorite drink is not served here, so she got a coffee instead. He smiled to himself satisfied with the outcome of his predicting game.
He beckoned awkwardly to the waitress who seemed to be in a very bad mood and took time answering. He smiled intrigued with the whole situation and kept his hand up like a child in an elementary class. A few moments later, the waitress yelled: “ How can I help yea?” His face flushed as he could not yell back. To his relief, her colleague approached. “ two martinis, one on that table,” he pointed to the woman’s. “ lemon on mine, olives on hers,” he added. He followed the slow movement of the waitress behind the counter. He almost got engaged in another guessing game about the waitress affect when the bartender placed the drink on the woman’s table. He gazed at the olives in her glass who gained funny shape in the darkness as he raised his glass in her direction and drew a big smile saying: “ Here is to two strangers in a strange bar in a strange gloomy night” He laughed loudly in a voice that sounded funny while the woman threw a furtive mysterious look in his direction, bent over her glass, grabbed the olives on the pick and threw them one after the other in her mouth, she poured the content of the glass in one gulp and made a disgusted face. He laughed aloud and approached her table. “ I assume martini’s not your favorite either,” he said as he seated himself on the opposite chair. “ No,” she said. The expression on her face was an impassive now. She did not look annoyed and she did not seem welcoming either
“ Jack,” he said
“ Anabelle,” she answered.
Something in the way she said her name had him believe it was not her real name. Maybe because these types of names give the impression they are not real and they certainly are not. He wondered when he had ever met an Anabelle in real life. “ Never!” he shook his head. The way the word came out of her mouth sounded not to click with her complexion and the way she was dressed and groomed. “ Rose, would fit,” he thought; a typical American housewife; “ Possibly Italian,” he heard himself launch loudly. She issued a short loud laugh. “ No, I get that a lot,” she paused then added: “ let’s say Mediterranean.”
“ My Anabelle wants the mysterious and discrete experience,” he meditated while continuing to read her features. Their conversation veered to talking about the nasty weather, the deserted bar, the austere design, the angry waitress who seemed to have become even more resentful as she saw the two perfect stranger birds flock together and already having fun. The waitress dropped carelessly the glass of water he asked while asking her colleague in a sharp tone to rush and answer “the damn phone.” A few drops spilled on the table. “ Not a good day to argue with a waitress, long hours in an almost empty bar buried in this dead end, a kid or two at an in-law’s , a relative’s or a babysitter’s that is calling her at this very moment to ask her to come and “get her damn kids” because she was not going cancel her night out for any reason and certainly not because some “bitch was having fun at a bar and piling them wages and tips and paying her a few bucks for them devils.” He laughed at the thought and wanted to have the Anabelle join in but an expression on her face stopped him. She was looking at his face with big eyes whose look seemed to pierce his skull. “ Was she also engaged in a devinette about him?’ and he wondered what it might be that she was thinking of him and what fantasies could he possibly trigger in an Anabelle like her.
So far, all the information she had about him was that his name was a Jack. His real full name was Jackobson J.R. Doyles. He was a mixture of a few Anglosaxon bloods from both maternal and paternal sides. He promised himself to keep the conversation hang in the mundane parameters. He wondered how the night would end up and to what extent his spontaneity would depart him from his usual comfort zones and break the boredom of his daily routine. He was not the person who would put his guards off and act spontaneously. He tried to dig in his mind for a moment when he acted without calculating the outcome or when he had ever drifted from parameters that he had drawn as a safe routine. As a child he got picked up and dropped off from school or activities by the school bus, parents or walked with the same nerdy herd that was as cautious as himself. There was not one single moment in his whole life that was marked with some kind of grandiose zeal or radical departures from rigid norms he set for himself. Those norms never actually failed him: He graduated from college, never got fired and had always had friends who were as cautious as himself. As he evaluated his activity for the night, he became a bit apprehensive and feared panic. Walking aimlessly in this part of the city was enough departure from the norms; approaching a perfect female stranger in a pub was already the most extravagant move he had ever attempted; inviting her for a walk was miles beyond his cautious parameters.
True, the life case scenario he has about this woman inspires him some kind of trust. Yet, he never knows what this woman might turn out to be; she is the perfect stranger Anabelle. So far, The night has not announced itself bad, his companion revealed herself to be quite a jokester. He enjoyed the way she laughed and the way she leaned on him and patted his hand repeating:” God bless you for the funny guy you are” as she laughed at the jokes she was herself telling as if he were a kid of hers. He is already thirty nine; she does not seem to be fifty. She actually seemed ageless when she laughed. Finally, the waitress has had it, she approached and launched in a concealed sarcastic tone that was intended to be friendly as if trying to apologize for her earlier behavior: “Sorry, love birds, the boss says we are closing early tonight!”
His hand held hers as they approached the exit of the alley. They continued roaming in the dim lit streets under the now drizzling rain. The Huntington lights seemed very tempting, they both stopped and looked and then he said: “ let’s go back” and she answered: “ It’s time we did!”
“ Have a good night,” Jack said and left. He looked back a few times as she was trying to start a car she found out was not hers. She decided to walk home. The familiar smell of food, and coffee mixed with the stale air and a heavy silence combined to make an overwhelming old thick aura welcomed her in. It was eleven thirty in the evening. Her husband was sleeping in the same sofa while the kids were locked up in their rooms. She spotted the note still hanging where she had left it. She threw the car keys on the very same coffee table, removed her boots and threw her exhausted weight at the feet of her husband’s. “Ma,” launched one of her kids “Rozzie said she was spending the night at her friend’s since you did not go to pick her up.”
“The car broke down, honey!” she answered. “you can use your scooter to pick her up first thing tomorrow.” She added. She grabbed the remote and started flipping channels such as her habit when she suddenly heard: “Ladies, and gentlemen that was our most recent update on Tiananmen Square Spring Protest in China. The Eleven News and this is Jackobson J.R. Doyles.” said the familiar voice of the perfect stranger with a big smile and winked at her.
She laughed very loud in excitement and wondered what would her friends or family say if she ever shared her encounter with Jack. Jackobson J.R. Doyles has become her expected every night guest. The News at Eleven was the date. Her house smelt better, felt cleaner and her look also started to change. Her husband shared her snacks in the beautiful candle-lit and well-scented living-room in front of the T.V set and surprised her many times in the kitchen repeating: “That was the Eleven News and this is Jackobson J.R. Doyles,” then winks at her; they laugh heartily and even kiss or sometimes end up share a bed together.
Written by Jamila Ouriour