In front of the elevator Mr. Skeptic looked up to locate the button to press. With astonishment, he saw Maria standing at the door waiting for him.
“What she wants from me now?” Mr. Skeptic asked himself.
He diverted his look in search of the button. He pressed it and entered the elevator as soon as it stopped at his feet. Two tall men in neatly ironed suits with briefcases in hand arrived in the elevator with Maria and Mr. Skeptic. As soon as the machine started to go down, Maria asked Mr. Skeptic what had passed between the lawyers in her firm and him.
“You claimed you knew everything,” he growled while still looking at the floor, “Now you are asking me what has happened? Someone has to answer me what has really happened.”
“I have written to the Law Society to get the answer,” he resumed, “If it doesn’t work, I will go to the media in search of an answer. And if they do not work, I will write a novel about it. Rely on my words. You can not lie to me about myself.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I wasn’t there so I don’t know what really has happened.”
“Several times you claimed you knew everything,” Mr. Skeptic said, “And therefore I will not tell you what has happened.”
Within minutes they were out of the courthouse. The men disappeared; and Mr. Skeptic started walking to the bus station in front of a shopping center in downtown area while Maria was following him and asking the same question without receiving proper answers. Mr. Skeptic understood Maria was headed to her office in the high-rise building where more than a year before in a gloomy day like that day he had walked to with Nelly to meet Mr. Douglass. So, he was trying to buy enough time until they separated at the intersection. Was it possible not to utter a word before they went their different ways?
“It is strange,” Maria said. “He is wonderful lawyer. Everyone is happy with him.”
Mr. Skeptic looked at her in a side way.
“I am not interested in adjectives and adverbs especially when they accompany compliments. I give them away for free,” he said in a bitter tone, “I see you are a wonderful lady too. You showed me many wonders in the past few hours.”
“I am sorry,” she said, “I was just doing my job.”
“I know, I know,” Mr. Skeptic said, “You are a paid person who has come to justify what is not justifiable. You showed some of your skills as well. I really believe that you are a wonderful lawyer while still a student-at-law.”
“But, I really don’t understand what went wrong,” Maria asked, “His clients are very happy and you are very unhappy.”
“My friend,” unable to keep his feelings hidden, Mr. Skeptic answered with a sigh, “The games that you and your lawyers are playing I stopped playing when I became twenty years of age,” he went on without looking at her.
Maria looked at Mr. Skeptic with a strange look.
“So, I am telling you that you can not extract extra information from me by these double games,” he went on, “And I am telling only a tiny part of the fact. First of all, I am not telling you what went wrong in order you clearly understand that you are not such a smart person to fool an old wolf like me. Second, you just do not claim twenty-eight thousand dollars without any base in the law. And third, you personally, the lawyer you are representing, and your firm sold me for the cheap amount of seventeen hundred dollars of which you saw five hundred dollars was flawed. You got nothing for me because you were greedy and tried to blackmail me. But, I got everything within five days. Yes, five days. Can you see the difference? You had all the power to bring me to this court and you did not want to bring the other party to the court in order to recover my belongings. When I asked you to release my documents and I was paying you, you intentionally denied those to me in order to hurt my family and the whole case. An honest person would have told me these are the work I have done for you, this is the money you owe me, and go to hell after your business. The bottom line is that you were not interested in justice at all. You were interested in your bank account. So, you could not be trusted any more. And, I made you to bring me to this court.”
Maria attentively listened to Mr. Skeptic’s unpleasant words without uttering a single word. Besides having been trained to be a big mouth at the time of claim, she had been trained to be all ears when it came to trying to squeeze an answer from a reluctant person. Possibly, she was thinking about the strange creature she was walking with. Possibly, Mr. Skeptic’s rude and crude logic was too strong to withstand. Or, the appearance of the tall building left no time for her to respond.
“Have a nice day Mr. Skeptic,” Maria said and turned left towards her office in the law firm.
“You too,” Mr. Skeptic said without looking at her, “You too.”
Mr. Skeptic turned right towards the bus stop. It was still cold. The wind was blowing. Clouds were still hanging in the air. A heavy burden had been taken off his shoulders. A feeling like light-heartedness was with him. It did not taste like a sweet victory. It did not taste like victory at all. Victory did not taste sweet for him in many years. It was sadness mixed with detest: an attachment to something void like eternity: something like a round ball that did not recognize one specific direction. At anytime and anywhere it was directed towards all directions.
Mr. Skeptic lit a cigarette and slowly dragged the intoxicating smoke in his lungs. He passed the small park filled with bare gray trees. A few evergreen trees were scattered in the park as well. He passed them all in silence, only hearing the snow under his shoes. He neared the shopping center and reached the bus stop in front of the mall.
“My god,” he told himself, “I have not seen this place for years and yet I am a resident of this city.
It was in that very bus stop in a very cold winter night of 1992 when he embraced shivering Nelly who was in her leather mini-skirt and high-heeled leather boots. He hid her under his warm winter coat to protect her form cold while waiting for the next bus to approach. She took a deep breath and tied her hands around his waist and stopped shivering. The bus approached; they boarded to their apartment on Riverside Drive: strangers in the environment they lived.
Nine years had passed that night. They had two growing children who had filled their life with activities and playfulness. Everything had changed. His strength had dwindled. His hair had grown grayer. His nerves were more sensitive; his patience eroded.
“Sobhan Allah,” he told himself, “Everything is decaying except face of Allah. Kollo Sha’on Hallek Ella Vaj ho hoo.”
The verse descended tranquility on his heart. He felt he belonged to the whole universe. His pulse was beating in an eternal harmony with the whole existence. He thought he was exemplified in the very core of everything. Those feelings were strangers to him for decades. Indeed, since he had become a sincere materialist fear and unease had filled his life. Was he going to regain that lost tranquility? Is there a moment of rest in this restless universe?
In the cloudy cold morning of Wednesday November 5, 2001 Mr. Skeptic drove to Chicken Pig Café number sixteen. It was quiet in the restaurant. The young cook was late. Mr. Skeptic was still dizzy from the previous day’s court appearance. He made his usual pot of coffee in the dining room and went back to the prep table before drinking the coffee. As he started cutting vegetables, the events of the past day started marching in his mind. The young woman’s face was with him all the time. He was so immersed in his thoughts, that he did not feel the absence of the young cook any more. It seemed the young woman was following minutes of his movements, constantly arguing with him.
Behind the woman’s young face, Mr. Skeptic saw a string of non-coherent claims that he could not make proper sense of. By no amount of contemplation he could locate the letter that Maria had claimed she had sent to them by registered mail. In that beautiful figure he saw two hands. With one hand Maria was slapping him on the face as hard as she could and with the other she was gently soothing his reddened cheek.
His teenage story of the first time encountering the secret police was coming back. While an officer was swearing and slapping them one by one as hard as he could, his colleague was trying to gain as much information as he could about their small Qor’anic circle.
“It is for your own good that we have to trouble ourselves and bring you here,” the officer was saying, “We are like your fathers. We don’t want you to go in a bad way. We have no intention to hurt you. Your dads never slap you for your own good?”
Mr. Skeptic needed to discover Maria in her entirety. Words were not enough. In the past decade of living in his new environment he had heard so many lies that, despite his sincere intentions, he had lost trust in those most valuable jewels of social life. Chicken Pig Café was the best example of the life he was living. So many lies he had heard from Mr. Russ and Edward that he rarely believed them any more. Now, he wanted to understand Maria through the letter that she claimed she had sent to them by registered mail. Instead of letting her to know about him, he wanted to know more about her. If he were able to recover the letter, he could contemplate on it and shed a light of understanding on it. Besides, the fate of his file which they had taken hostage was still of some concern. He wanted to hear whether they would release the file.
He decided to call Maria and find out about those matters, however while the dinning manager was cleaning the restaurant and was staying for the rest of the morning he did not intend to use the telephone. He did not want to hear an objection from the manager to accuse him of spending time on the phone. Neither he wanted to leak any information to the manager who was not on good terms with him. Hearing of an employee going to court for a dispute was a taboo that raised so many questions and suspicions in the house.
At three-thirty in the afternoon, Mr. Skeptic left Chicken Pig Café number sixteen for working in his second job at CPC number twenty-nine where he had consecutively worked in his past nine years. It took him half an hour of thoughtful driving to reach that work.
It was dead at work. A thick layer of mist had covered the front windows. Mr. skeptic barely saw the passing vehicles on the adjacent street.
After doing all preparations to start a steady supper, Mr. Skeptic drank a glass of dark coffee. At fifteen minutes past four o’clock in the evening he called the law firm asking the receptionist Maria’s full name and address as he had not memorized them. At the end, the receptionist connected him to Maria’s office. It appeared she did not expect him to call her.
“In the assessment officer’s office you told me you had sent me a letter,” Mr. Skeptic reminded Maria.
“Right,” she responded.
“You said you have sent it via registered mail, right?” he went on inquiring, “But; you never gave me the registration number that I could follow up with the matter.”
“I actually do not remember that I had registered that letter, but I have sent it to you,” Maria answered.
“Since you changed your words several times in about two hours,” he went on, “I wanted to really make sure that you have registered such a letter to me.”
“I am sorry if I have changed my words,” Maria answered in an articulate tone, “I really do not remember that.”
“I do not intend to create headaches for you,” Mr. Skeptic said, “I just wanted to get that registration number that I could follow up with the post.”
“Do you want a copy of that letter?” She inquired.
“Right now I am paying over one hundred thirty dollars for the letter that you claimed you have sent to me and I don’t have such a letter,” Mr. Skeptic went on.
“I would have claimed that money anyway Mr. Skeptic,” Maria responded, “because I spent that money for the court procedure.”
“I am fully responsible for what the court has assigned,” Mr. Skeptic said, “I want a copy of that letter.”
“Sure, I will send you a copy. I don’t understand why your letter should be lost.”
“I believe for the same reason that you registered it and now you say you did not registered it,” Mr. Skeptic responded.
“And about your receipts,” Maria added, “I have asked the accounting office to send them to you as soon as they cash your checks. Perhaps, one week after.”
“I give you one month,” he responded.
“One month,” Maria exclaimed happily.
“Yes, one full month. And what about our file?” Mr. Skeptic asked, “Are you going to unconditionally release them after I pay my account in full?”
“I can’t say anything about that,” Maria answered, “That goes beyond my authority, however, I can ask Mr. Douglass to phone you. Can I have your phone number please?”
“No, no, no,” Mr. Skeptic replied, “Neither Mr. Douglass nor Mr. Smith can call me. Their words are not reliable. If they truly want to contact me, they can write to me and I promise I will write back to them.”
“I will ask him about your file anyway,” Maria said.
“And I thank you very much.”