Some Everydays

Wadi’ah sat under the table, tying and untying her father’s shoelaces. He was speaking English, a language she knew the contours of and could recognize, but didn’t understand. She knew that he was talking to a sahafi from a radio program from America. He told her that talking to the sahafi might help, that he would tell the people in America that they needed help, to please help everyone who was struggling. He had made Wadi’ah promise to be quiet during the interview, and she’d promised.

And now she was under the table. Wadi’ah hadn’t expected was for the sahafi to be a woman, in jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt and short, graying, uncovered hair. The woman’s shoes were similar to Wadi’ah’s father’s. They were tennis shoes, grey with a blue stripe. One of the laces was untied.

Wadi’ah slid, as quietly as she could, across the dusty floor. Her mother wasn’t around to clean anymore. Her father said she wasn’t coming back anymore. He’d cried, and she’d cried too, but she still was certain, somehow, that he was wrong.

She lifted the woman’s white laces up off the floor. The woman’s leg was very, very still, and she said something in English that made Wadi’ah’s father laugh. Wadi’ah loved her father’s laugh because it was very loud, like a donkey braying. It made her nervous for a second now, though, because she thought that maybe he would look under the table and see that she was holding the woman’s laces, but he didn’t, so she tried to tie the woman’s shoelaces tightly but without the woman feeling it. When she finally managed the last bit of the knot without the whole thing falling apart, the woman’s leg twitched, and Wadi’ah scuttled back towards her father’s feet.

There was a bang. The door of the house had slammed open. It was Farouk. He was yelling, shouting, like he had so many times before. Wadi’ah lifted her arms up, almost on autopilot, and sure enough, her father swept her up from under the table, at once.

The shelling began in the street as he ran downstairs to the tiny cellar they had built under their house when all this began. Farouk pushed the sahafi woman in front of him and heaved the cellar door shut behind him. The woman whispered something and Farouk hissed, angry. Wadi’ah’s father slapped his wrist in the dark. Then he spoke in Wadi’ah’s ear, so softly that only she could hear it.

“You saved her life, you know. If you hadn’t tied her shoelace, she’d have fallen and never gotten in here. You’re a good girl, my Wadi’ah, you’re a good girl.”

“Will Ama come back to us now I’m good?” Wadi’ah asked.

Farouk hissed at them to be quiet again, and the sound of shelling and the stomps of soldiers grew closer. Wadi’ah knew she couldn’t ask any more questions now, so she hushed. She’d have plenty of time to ask about her mother again later.

 

Renewing My Passport

The government offices were located in an old building that radiated history rather than bureaucracy. The door was up a flight of worn stone steps, and a plaque beside it read “The Ministry of the Interior” in tired bronze letters. It wasn’t until people passed through the door that the present caught up with them.

Inside, beside a metal detector, a fashionably bald guard checked purses cursorily while scrutinizing every male who walked by, checking if they were rivals to his role as alpha in this place. Rows of metal seats were filled with couples with strollers; the solitary elderly staring straight ahead, watching replays of memories in their heads; teenagers nervously fondling their phones to mask their discomfort at being alone; and nondescript adults in whatever uniforms they wore to work every day, hoping to get business done during their lunch breaks.

Everybody who entered became less of a human being than they’d been outside. They were all reduced to ghosts of themselves, pale representations whose most important features were their date of birth, address and payment method. The clerks behind the counters slumped in their chairs, back problems manifesting around their torsos like poisonous vines, and repeated facts in dull, empty voices. They reached for forms mechanically, part of an assembly line that originated in a sub-clause, part b-one-point-two of some document written by some drone of something called the government.

If there is a hell, I imagine it would look something like this. I walked into the office armored with a book and a magazine, and prayed that it would be enough to keep me from becoming another zombie in this space of paper-shuffling monotony. An hour and a half later, I emerged, blinking, into the blistering heat of the August sun, prodding carefully at my soul to see if it was still intact.

The Later Bus – A Rantle

RANTLE: A newfangled word, invented by a slightly ignorant writer, RANTLE means a rant that is also a ramble, specifically of the kind that is told (or written) in story form.

“There’s only one seat left,” the bus driver warned me. I looked quickly at my watch. I had time to spare, but not enough to take the chance of waiting for the next bus. I climbed up the steep steps and give the bus driver a few bills.

“Two ways, please,” I asked politely. I’m always polite to bus drivers. So many people are mean to them – abrupt and impatient and assuming, and I hate that. I know what it’s like to service people in one capacity or another, and every job like that is made better by nice people.

I got the change from the driver, thanked him and took my ticket from the little machine that spit the little pieces of paper out. As always, I wasn’t sure if the ticket was stuck or if I simply wasn’t pulling hard enough. I tugged at the ticket for another few seconds and it gave way. I tucked it it my wallet for the return journey.

The driver started backing up from the pick-up spot so that he could leave. The central bus-station always feels like an airport in that way – the bus is just like the plane, taxiing to the takeoff point and then setting off from the station and into the city streets until it reaches the highway where it goes up to full speed.

I looked down the aisle and began to walk, looking for the promised seat that was supposed to be left. I though I saw it, but then realized that there was a small girl sitting next to the window. I continued on until I realized that the one seat was being occupied by someone’s extremely large bag. Darn. I should have waited for the next bus. I ended up sitting on the steps near the back door.

The bus was hot and stuffy, and so much the worse where I was sitting. I didn’t have a window or a vent, just a solid door in front of me, two small trashcans next to me and the step behind me that led up to the aisle. I was sweating within minutes. Not the most pleasant experience in the world, I’ll grant you. As I said, I should have waited for the next bus to come.

I took my mp3 player out of my bag and chose a suitably amusing, energetic and yet disturbing band to listen to while I played one of the stupid games on the player to pass the time. My choice must have been a good one since the ride seemed to be over relatively quickly, although my skirt kept sticking to my knees and I had to shift constantly to be comfortable on the hard steps.

Getting off the bus should have been a wonderful experience – emerging from the musty, dusty space into real air. But, as luck would have it, today has been much hotter and more humid than the weekend was, and so when I got off the bus first I felt as if I’d dunked myself into a fetid and stagnant pool of hot water. Within moments, I was sweating worse than ever.

Now I had a choice. Either I could wait for another bus to take me two stops – about half a mile if that – or I could walk the distance. Despite the heat and the humidity in the air that made me feel as if I were walking through soup, I decided to walk. I looked at my watch again as I pulled my book out. Too early – I should have waited for the next bus. There was nothing I could do about it anymore, though. So I opened my book and began to walk. As usual, I didn’t collide with anyone or anything, which is to the good, but I also had a hard time enjoying the short walk because of the sun falling on my exposed arms and heating my black skirt and tank top so much that it felt as if they were burning onto me permanently.

It took me barely ten minutes to reach my destination – early, as I’d thought. Much too early. I couldn’t find a bench that had trees shading it and took a walk up to a park and then back down to the street, searching for a good place to sit in vein. I realized I was thirsty, so I went into a well-conditioned super-market to buy a bottle of water. I often wish that there were public drinking fountains here, like there are in much of Italy. Then I wouldn’t have to pay for water that is almost the same as tap water, except that the industry that makes the bottles that hold it are ruining the environment. But I digress. I bought the water and wished I could stay in the supermarket and continue enjoying the cold air that was being pumped from somewhere unseen. I was on the verge of asking the clerk behind the counter if there was a place I could sit for a few minutes there, but then realized that the man would say that there wasn’t and would shoo me out. Instead of dealing with the humiliation and unpleasentness of that, I just payed and left.

I finally found a shady spot, took out my computer, and typed up my account of the last two hours. The moral of the story? Yes, I should have taken the later bus.

4. Claire [3]

The first thing that struck Claire as she entered the cool interior of Bill’s was the smell of bread. The bakery section was very near the door, and it made her realize just how ravenous she was. Her belly rumbled as she walked over the woman behind the counter of the bakery section. She stood and watched the woman for a moment; she was kneading dough. Claire was impressed. Can’t believe the neighborhood shop bakes its own bread, she thought. The smell was so good that she felt faint.

“Excuse me?” she spoke up, shyly.

“Yes, dear?” the woman behind the counter raised her head and smiled.

“How much is one of those rolls?”

“These? The whole-grain ones? They’re a buck each. Or a dozen for ten.”

“Okay, I’ll take a dozen please.”

The woman took her hands out of the dough and picked up a flat piece of cardboard which she deftly folded into a box. She then took the long metal tongs and took twelve of the warm rolls out of the glass display, put them into the box, closed it, and handed it to Claire.

“Thanks,” Claire smiled.

“Sure, sugar,” and she put her hands back into the dough in front of her and continued kneading fiercely.

Claire, having gotten a trolley, walked up and down the aisles of the store, getting the items her father had written down. She munched on one of the rolls as she walked, and found it delicious. It was so good that she promptly began another one upon finishing the first. It was hungry business, this grocery shopping. Still, she pondered, I like it. I like doing this alone. This is a good thing, Dad making us move here.

She brought her items to one of the unoccupied cashiers, marveling again at the possibility of there not being a line at a store – this would never happen in New York – and paid. The bag-packer was quick and efficient and looked like he was about eighteen years old. Claire eyed him as she thanked him, and thought that the lock of hair flopping into his eye was simply adorable. Her good mood was ruined, however, when she glanced at a big neighborhood noticeboard that was by the exit door. She saw various posters and fliers on it, but the one that seemed to bring a dark cloud over her was a big poster for a pep-rally that had taken place a few nights ago for the local high-school’s football team.

School, she scowled. I do NOT want to start a new school.

Spam [Part III]

Part I

Part II

A few hours later, Ladonna was bending down and sticking her head in the oven. The cake wasn’t ready yet, so she pulled her head out of the hot space and breathed deeply. She loved the smell of food being made – especially when she was the one who was preparing it and it was coming out so well. She also knew that most days she hated to cook, but she was conveniently suppressing that fact because today it was fun and because she had to do it for her friends and because it was distracting her from the strange events of the day.

She wiped the perspiration from her face and turned to the stove to stir one of the many pots that were bubbling away. The radio perched above the sink was tuned to one of the many random stations that she was still discovering. It was a good station, and the music was a nice mix of silly 80s pop songs and silly but enjoyable modern rock music. Ladonna registered the song that was just starting, and smiled to herself. She’d always loved “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell and she sang along as the opening lyrics blared fuzzily out of the not-so-good speakers. She needed a new radio.

A strange buzzing sounded somewhere around the kitchen, followed by piercing electronic noises that were supposed to form some sort of tune. Ladonna searched frantically for her cell phone, the thing that was making that obnoxious racket, and found it lying under “Baking Miracle Cakes! A Guide for Amateurs.” She looked at the screen, saw the name “KATE” flashing on it, and flipped the phone open.

“Katie!” she squealed.

“Hey, Babes, why aren’t you answering us?” Kate’s voice was drowned out by others yelling behind her. “Shut up, guys! I can’t here her. Ladonna?”

“Wait, you’re downstairs already? I didn’t hear the buzzer!” Ladonna dashed to the front door to her apartment, lifted the intercom phone and pushed the button marked with a little key symbol. “I’m on the second floor!”

“Thanks, Babes!” Kate hung up.

Ladonna ran to her bathroom to check that her hair wasn’t too disorganized and that she didn’t have anything stuck in her teeth. Having ascertained that she looked passable, she marched back to the door and flung it open just as Kate had lifted her fist to knock. Ladonna was bombarded with shouts of “Happy birthday!”, hugs, kisses, bags that crinkled pleasantly with the hint of gifts and all-around love and friendship.

There, she thought to herself as she smiled at everyone and motioned to the rack beside the doorway so they could throw their coats over it. Everything’s normal, my friends are here, and nothing weird whatsoever will happen tonight.

Ladonna relaxed then, and prepared herself for an evening of fun, laughter, food and drink, not suspecting at all that her strange day wasn’t quite over yet.

Little Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about children’s books. When you’re a child, the books you remember most are the ones that you’ve either read with your parents over and over again, or else they’re the ones that tell about everyday events, things you can relate to. For instance, I remember this book I read again and again as a girl, a book with three whole chapters! I felt so proud of myself, reading a book with chapters – it was a book about a little girl going to school; how her lessons are harder and how she plays hopscotch with her friend and how she makes friends with a boy who’s always picking on her.

I’ve been wondering though, how you go about writing a children’s book. They’re often so simple on the surface, so rudimentary and easy to read and sometimes even so mundane – and yet, the good ones are enchanting. You never forget the books you’ve read as a child. But how does a writer go about writing a children’s book that could be published? How do you write a children’s book that’s good enough to be something you charge for and isn’t just a story that you tell your own kids?

It can’t be as easy as it would seem, writing a children’s book.

Time Flies When… What?

Some days seem to rush past in a whirl. Mostly, days like that are full of action, of activities, of something fun and exciting that slips through your fingers, hardly giving you a chance to appreciate it. Days that pass quickly usually fit neatly into the pattern of “time flies when you’re having fun.” Usually, the days that are like this are days that you wish you could lengthen, days that you don’t want to finish, days where you go to bed at night with a bitter-sweet sadness of parting.

Some days, though, pass quickly for no reason at all. Those are the weird ones. They’re days of routine, of everything being normal, or mostly normal. Days where you wake up, tired, and go to work as always, days where there’s nothing new, nothing to anticipate, nothing to look forward to particularly. Just normal, everyday sort of days. When a day like that passes quickly, you just feel a bit bewildered by it, not really sure what was different about today that made it so quick.

I had a day like that today. It was odd, but there is something rather nice to knowing that you passed the day only half-aware of the passing of time and that you find yourself ready, at the end of the odd day, to curl up into bed and sleep as deeply as you can.