January 17, 2006
Over the tall mountains of a dry country, and down into one of its many valleys, is a city full of commotion. The roads are windy and people cross the streets in dozens. A bazaar, encompassing the length of five city blocks, is at the center. Fruit stands. Shoe shiners. Rug weavers. And a man selling oil for cars, all within ten steps of each other.
One shop keeper stands on a crate behind his fruit. His hands wave above the crowd, reaching through heat and words for money held out. He watches as a woman in black chador brushes a hand over ripening fruit. She cries out: Four for the cherries! And is cut short by another, slightly older woman: How much for apples? The shop keeper hands a box of peaches and a melon to a waiting man and begins to rearrange the apples, all the while looking closely at those who stop to touch, pinch and examine his fruit. Six for the cherries and three for the apples, he yells.
The bazaar is full. Woman in black shawls, in manteaus and pink scarves, in teetering heels, all squish and bump and wrestle for spots. A thick haze of mosquitoes invites shoppers into various shaded entrances. Fish for sale. Armless, hoovless goats. The sounds of morning and the scent of flesh on display.
One woman is done for the day, shuffling along, she uses her teeth to keep ahold of her chador. Hands occupied by bags bulging with potatoes and onions, cilantro and dried flowers. A child in sandals scurries along side, weaving in and out, hoping over cracks, and keeping steady his basket of eggs and rice. Across the street, a man tucks the body of a feathery, headless chicken under his arm. His butcher waits, wet knife limp in hand, speckled red skin dripping with sweat. His muscles twitch as the freshly dead chicken gives an unexpected kick. Feathers ruffle. A free hand searches pockets for money due.
On streets running perpendicular, the sounds are quieter. Cars inch their way against the current of shoppers exiting for home. An old yellow Peugeot is cursed by a woman who is forced to squeeze against a wall, she pulls closer her bag of rice and wrapped greens. The Peugeot's yellow paint is thin, chipping, and, in regions, reveals hints of the original red. One headlight is cracked and the other oddly shines. It reflects the morning light, steaming, like the one good eye that is left to wander.
The Peugeot stops by the fruit stand. The frame rocks slightly as the man inside shifts his weight. Windows are closed and the man squints to see thru the dust fogged glass of the passenger seat.
The women at the stand still scream out their prices. Bangles tumble down arms, hands slip, and wisps of hair escape, as more bodies crowd around to examine the fruit. A young boy, tangled behind the curves of his mother's chador, peaks out. Taking advantage of the commotion above him, he reaches a thin arm out towards the basket of figs. He hesitates, midway, taking time to be certain no one has seen. The man in the Peugeot catches his gaze, stalling the boys yearning movement. His hand withdraws.
The shop keeper howls, his face turning red: Woman! Your son is stealing from me! He makes an attempt to grab at the folds into which the boy has disappeared. The mother takes a quick step back. The shop keeper quivers and wobbles on his wooden crate, struggling to keep balance.
Inside the yellow Peugeot, the heavy set man returns attention to his work. He makes an effort to adjust the rear view mirror. Sweat accumulates and rolls down the sides of his thick neck. His breath is laborious and with every inhalation the old leather car seats crackle. The sounds of bazaar life recede. All he hears is the rhythmic: Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. His own heart, counting down minutes to a certain death. His hands shake slightly as he adjusts the heavy belt -- strapped beneath his shirt. Pinching at his skin.
He closes his eyes to pray. He thinks of those he loves. He thinks of his son. He prays for courage. And to his relief, strength -- in the form of a flushing red anger -- returns.
One more look in the mirror and he opens the door. Slowly, letting the heat of the interior escape into the morning. The car shudders as he slips out -- leaving behind the rusting metal frame, and thinning yellow paint, that had momentarily housed him.