By: Christiane Demack
Armenia, c. 600 C.E.
I paced back and forth inside my chamber, stopping only to look out the window anxiously before resuming my restless pacing. The sun was setting, an orange glint on the castle walls. The great mountain, Mount Aragats, mocked me. It screamed at me, silently. You don’t matter, princess. Look at my mighty mountain chest, my fire spitting insides, my icy veil of snow giving you the cold shoulder; I was here long before your people existed and I don’t care about your worries now.
“Siranush,” my maid Hurik’s voice came from outside my chamber door. I opened the door and tried very hard to concentrate on what she was saying. The prince, Khosrow, was delayed. He sent a message. He still wanted to marry me. My heart sank.
“Siranush,” she whispered, even though no one was in the drafty corridor outside my door, “this also came for you.” She hurriedly put a stone chisel in my hand, and a bittersweet ache came over me. Hurik had known me since I was a little girl, and she could read me now.
“Siranush, you must have faith.” Hurik chided me. I hid the pricking at the back of my eyes from her by turning back to the mountain outside the window. It loomed large and uncaring.
I held the chisel in my hands tenderly, and then put it down on my bedside table. As if conscious of the dark clouds gathering within me, a light filled, gold spirit suddenly engulfed my chamber. It was only a moment, but I felt a gentle embrace wrap itself around me. It was not the first time Jesus breathed courage into me.
As the sky darkened, I fell asleep. My last conscious thought was neither of the prince who wanted to marry me, Khosrow, nor of the man to whom the stone chisel belonged. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand.
Farhad worked steadily, listening to the stone. He carved what it told him to carve, but sometimes his mind wandered. Had she received his chisel? Was she thinking of him?
When he finished this sculpture, he would ride to her, he decided. When he finished this sculpture, he would forget about the princess, he resolved. Khosrow was his prince; he didn’t dare be his rival. When he finished, he would go to her, no matter the cost. The indecision was tearing him apart. He chipped the sculpture.
Farhad decided to take a break from his work. As he stood back from the sculpture, he had the overwhelming feeling that the stone face he had carved was urging him to ride to Armenia. He prayed that God, Ahura Mazda, would guide him.
It was only a few months later that Farhad found himself with a chisel in hand once again, only this time he was carving the cold, uncaring Mount Aragats in Armenia. It was impossible. It was possible. Farhad would carve a tunnel through this mountain. Those had been Khosrow’s terms. If he could carve a tunnel through the mountain, he could marry his intended, Siranush. He saw her face in the hard mountain’s face, and his chisel carved it there as well.
He is here, at the side of that looming mountain. My love is here. He is cold, he is hungry, he hasn’t slept, he is alone out there where the wind howls…it is easy enough for the prince of Persia to send me jewels. I cry myself to sleep thinking of my love carving a tunnel through a mountain.
Hurik helps me, against her better judgment. I slip out one night and go unnoticed in servant’s clothing to the mountain where Farhad is working. I see he has carved my face into the stone. His embrace is as warm as Jesus was, engulfing me, his eyes are windows to the heaven within his soul. The moon shines bright above us, a silver crescent in the sky. I am sorry to leave him to his chisel and to the mountain, but I have to return to the castle before sunrise.
I have a few merciful days before the news reaches me. Farhad fell from the cliffs of Mount Aragats, just as Khosrow had wanted him to.
Germany; c. 2000 C.E.
Rain is pounding the windows in sleets. The International School of Stuttgart, in southern Germany, is full of empty classrooms for now, but her students are scattered throughout the city, as busy with the upcoming exams as with hidden stashes of weed and vodka.
It is Saturday afternoon, and I have a paper to write. The Dancing Girl’s margins are filled with sarcastic comments mocking the protagonist, and footnotes explain references to Islamic and Persian mythology. The cat is leaving paw-prints on Shah’s direct appeal to the reader to pray for him, and I just spilled coffee on my notes.
My laptop is open on Al Jazeera’s homepage on one browser and ZDFheute.de on another. I scan the headlines and see that the Arab Spring has spread to Syria, the location for the new mosque in Stuttgart still hasn’t been resolved.
I click onto my Facebook browser, and I lighten up a little. Tariq has sent me a message.
HEY Char, how are you? …I am feeling very tingly today…electric, in fact…I don’t quite believe this is true. Especially after everything that has happened…what has it been, five years…?! Since I left? Since I saw you? I don’t really know how I feel right now…but I want to see you again, I feel like I need to see you again, if nothing else, and I have in fact finally gotten a visa, that was impossible for so long, and a place at Stuttgart University, in Graphic Design…I have also gotten an appointment with the art people in Berlin on the seventeenth of July…they want my work for their exhibition of fine arts…which I am really very happy about. I am flying into Frankfurt on Monday, and will take the train up to Stuttgart…I really can’t believe I might actually see you again.
When I first moved here, Tariq was fourteen and I was eleven. We met on the train to school, between Charlottenplatz and Degerloch. I was staring out the window, twirling a pen over a blank sheet of paper absent-mindedly, and he sat down across from me. That same year he bought me a book for my twelfth birthday; Nizami’s Layla Majnun. That July, Tariq moved back home to Lahore, Pakistan unexpectedly. I still remember that last time I saw him, walking out the school gates, my chest clenching with foreboding.
He always used to call me Char, even when everyone else called me Charlotte. When I was new and too shy to make friends, he would come find me hiding under a tree in the schoolyard. He would talk to me. He would listen to me miss Canada, where I had lived until my German mother wanted to come back here.
The doorbell rings. It’s Sven. Mama has gone to the dance studio. The cat has recovered. The coffee stained notes have dried. Sven drops his keys on the kitchen table and strokes the cat before looking at me.
“Hey.” He sits down next to my papers, smiling. He reaches for a cup and pours some coffee and milk into it. The cat wastes very little time in curling up on his lap, and he laughs when he sees my essay title. “Urdu literature?”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me.” He strokes the cat, the cat leans into him and purrs.
“What’s your essay on?” I ask him.
“Greek literature. Plato. Us wandering around looking for our other half.” He glances at me. “I haven’t done a lot of research yet.”
I’m wondering what he’s thinking. Usually I can tell, more or less.
“Tariq is coming in from Frankfurt Monday evening.”
He stops stroking the cat for half a second. Then his eyes wander out the window and into the trees.
My hands feel restless, so I get up and move to the kitchen counter. Sven loves eggs the way they’re made in his native England, and I’m starting to feel hungry, so I give my hands something to do. Sven starts stroking the cat again. He takes a sip of his coffee, then scans the headlines on my laptop.
The eggs fry, spit and sizzle. I wash some berries from the garden. Sven looks up and smiles faintly. I move a stack of my notes and books out of the food’s and the cat’s reach before setting down two plates. There is a vase of wildflowers on the table. My phone beeps. It’s a text message from Amira; she wants to meet. Sven peers at the number and then pretends he hasn’t.
We eat for a bit, then Sven picks up The Dancing Girl and opens it up to the first page. I can tell he is slightly startled by Shah’s direct tone and passionate desperation. He reads the blurb, and then puts the thin paperback back down. He is appreciative of the simple breakfast.
“I miss Durban today.”
“Yeah. Not Cape Town. Glad we only lived there for a bit. But I miss Durban.”
Sven’s mother worked for the United Nations, and he had lived in South Africa before moving to Germany.
“When are you going back?”
“I don’t know. My grades aren’t great, so nothing planned anytime soon. Too many crazy adventures high on vodka to study, eh.” He said wryly.
“You’ll never be a lawyer with that attitude.”
“You know, you’re quite sexy, for a nerd.”
When we finish eating, Sven picks up our plates and washes them at the sink. I text Amira back that I’ll meet her in an hour at the train station. I find some shoes, money, a jacket and car keys, but Sven offers to drive.
They said the skies would be overcast today, but I can see patches of sunlight in some places of the sky. I love the way Sven’s driving, smooth and wordless. He checks no one’s coming from the left, I peer to the right.
Sven turns on the radio and I’m lost in a song playing gold behind my eyes. The commercial break hurts. And so does the newsreel.
Sven pulls up and doesn’t bother cutting off the engine. I smile at him and leave, watch him drive out just a little faster than he came in. He knows I’m scared of high speeds. I watch the space his car just occupied a second longer than someone who knows where they’re going would. A train whistles and I rush towards the ticket counter.
The train ride is pleasant and uneventful, but for the flashbacks that started invading me rather ruthlessly. Was this the compartment where Tariq sat down across from me? Charlottenplatz…Schlossplatz…Rossegar Strasse…one stop left. He used to come to me here, autumn mornings, spring mornings, Ramadan, Christmas, Eid…Stadtmitte. I get up, but the memories keep coming, because that bench is where we waited for that last train. That corner over there, by the CD and English bookshop, that’s where he bought me Wuthering Heights, and where he showed me Atonement. It’s where our hands met on the cover of the same.
Amira is smiling. The light catches the gold in her earrings. I hear her iPod vibrating Eminem. The PA system announces a train to Frankfurt delayed.
“Amira, I have to tell you something.” We go into one of the train station’s coffee shops. The man behind the counter is not smiling, he is stressed out, it is Saturday morning and a little crowded. When he writes our names down on plastic cups he mutates ‘Amira’ to ‘Amy’ and asks her if she is American. He shortens ‘Charlotte’ to ‘Lotte’. I cringe.
“Bitch! My name means princess in Arabic.”
“I don’t think he knows that.”
“Whatever…what’s up? What did you want to tell me?”
“Tariq says he’s coming back here Monday evening.”
I smile at the brown tables with odd phrases written in circles. Amira and I used to try to make sense of them. Outside the glass you can see people rushing for trains.
“Monday night? Here?”
“And he just says that at the end of the message.”
“Well, I’m really happy for you, dude. For real, didn’t think you guys would ever meet up.”
“Me neither. So how did it go with Andres?”
“I don’t know, dude. I’m not really feeling it.”
“He plays the guitar.”
“He dissed Eminem. And Tupac.”
“Uh…he’s good, I think…”
“Hey, do you wanna go see this movie?”
“I have to write a paper.”
“You can write it tonight.”
“You’re more inspired then anyway.”
Char…I was just listening to this song…our song. And it brought back so many memories, I feel like I have to send it to you again…after all that imagining we can actually have a conversation, face to face
I am at home, it’s dark, the cat is staring out the window, that song is playing. Songs are like time capsules. They catch feelings and freeze them in something more bothersome than amber and set a clock ticking; once it runs down the thing explodes when you least expect it, and there I am, yes, my cat and I are staring up at that moon, too, no eclipse in sight, no, yes, it’s the same moon that was shining then, yes, it’s the same moon in Pakistan, it’s the same moon in Canada, the same moon in Germany, in my head, in his heart on our tongues – waning, waxing, disappearing, reappearing, growing yellow round and shifting position…it comes and goes, that moon, the moon we wouldn’t leave alone, but you can never move on, because the moon keeps coming back, keeps waxing, and the music – time capsules keep exploding, softly, lethally, right before a math exam, right after a date with a guy I thought I liked, no, the fickle moon is too constant to release me.
I’m writing my paper. It’s just proving difficult because Shah’s one and only dies before he can get to her. I remind myself that the story happened a long time ago.
It is eleven o’clock at night, and I am feeling uneasy. Not because of the terror attacks in London that were on the news earlier. My skin is crawling and I want Tariq to make it stop. The doorbell rings. It’s Sven, a box of take-away pizza and lemon beer under his arm. He has an essay to write, too, and he says he can concentrate better with me. I take the beers away from him and put them in the fridge.
I work at a bakery on Sundays. Today, all the windows are crying. I’m looking at them and I’m not really understanding why, because the bread smells warm, and the coffee is grinding fine, and the grumpiest colleague I’ve ever had isn’t grumpy. But there they are, crying. Rain is streaking down the windowpanes. Tariq is coming in tomorrow night.
“Hallo?! Ich hätte heute noch gerne meine drei Brezeln.”
I burn my fingers on the Brezels. The woman is not happy with me. It’s nine-thirty and I haven’t really slept. Now she orders a coffee. I take her money, and as I do, her forefinger brushes the palm of my hand, and her eyes make a fierce kind of contact with mine. I try to smile, but then it happens. My eyes close, and I see things inside my eyelids that I don’t want to see.
The train. It’s the train. Don’t know which train. Empty tracks. Dusty, deserted. They don’t know. They don’t know anything. He’s on the tracks now, running. Why’s he on them? Why’s he doing that? Doesn’t he know that’s dangerous? Ausländer raus… Ausländer raus….Immigrants out…there’s a chant at the back of my head. It’s getting louder. Someone has a knife. I see fire. I smell smoke.
I go on break early and sit down with a glass of water, next to one of the crying windows, the fire in my mind receding slowly. I’m thinking about empty train tracks. I’m thinking the boy is probably Turkish, and I wonder if that woman is a Neo-Nazi. No. She isn’t interested in politics. She just wants someone to blame. I watch her from the window. She is walking down the street with her coffee and paper bag of Bretzels. A young woman wearing a veil is walking up the road in the opposite direction. I see the woman stop, stare, shout, gesticulate, and then slowly walk away. The young woman in the veil does not react.
A leaf, silver veins crisscrossing its green flesh, is slowly turning brown. The autumnal color begins by tinting the tip of the leaf, then spreading slowly, ruthlessly, all the way up the leaf’s silvery green netting, until the leaf is all brown. The leaf is moving, very slowly, crossing space and time, pressed ceaselessly by a giant bubble of air, expelling and excluding the leaf from its midst. Black seizes the tip of the leaf and devours it the way the brown did, and the leaf tumbles downward, past a dead cat, just as disintegration begins to follow black and brown. The leaf is disappearing, from tip to tip, it disappears, it has disappeared, a bee, yellow and black, buzzing, notices this as she is pressed out and away, over the branches of a tall tree, the bee is afraid, she has never been this high up before, she senses this is not natural, this swelling and exploding of air, she senses this because she was not present when Vesuvius swallowed Pompeii, nor was she present when Iceland spewed fire into the ocean, nor was she ever anywhere but in this Stuttgart car-park, which she would not call a Stuttgart car-park, in her colony of honey-bees, which she would not call anything at all, in one particular tree which she would certainly recognize but which is now brown and scorched and lacks even the poetry of being burnt golden to console her honey-tuned senses. The colony is scattered, but she does not know this, as the brown, then the black, then the disintegration devours her, too, for the air that was expelling her is now devouring her, and this she finds confusing. This honey bee does not care about the two casualties in the dark blue Mercedes Benz or the cyclist or the old man with the cane going to visit his wife at the Retirement Home, she does not know about the two children walking to school by the river by the car-park, now, the air screeching blind and random around her, she does not exist.
I wake up Monday mid-morning in a cold sweat, a horrible dream crawling through my mind. I trip down the stairs and turn on the television. I flip through the channels until I find local news. The reporter is standing by the Charlottenplaz car park. There is rubble all around him. The sign of the Red Cross is behind him. He is talking about a bomb. He uses the word terror. He says the attack has not been claimed.
The boy in the CD store at the station not far from the Charlottenplatz crosses my mind. The woman from the bakery darts across my mind’s eye.
Most of Monday passes me by. My hands tremble and I do not pay attention in class. I have forgotten the assignment I was so proud of. Amira calls me several times but I don’t hear the phone ring. I forget to feed the cat and only remember when she starts ‘singing’ for over an hour. I miss the train several times, and when I catch it, I realize I am riding in the wrong direction.
That night, I show up at the train station an hour late. I have showered and cleared my head, worn jasmine or lavender perfume, I can’t remember, jeans, sandals and silver earrings. I have driven the car and parked it underground; the fare is cheaper at night. I have walked up the stairs from the garage, frightened of every footstep that sounds remotely masculine, every ticking of every harmless, time-stealing clock.
I walk down the cavernous hall, down the marble steps. The train track from Frankfurt is empty, the benches deserted. My chest clenches. I see a lone figure halfway down the track. That was our bench.
I have imagined this too many times for anything from now on to seem remotely real or authentic. I don’t know if his green-gold-hazel eyes played light games with mine. I don’t know if everything around us disappeared. Or if his story-telling accent was rough and tender and that I could see it in the air in front of me clear as his light-dancing eyes. That his arms and hands were trembling and steady at the same time. That when he wrapped them around me I was in another world. It was surreal and it was blurred.
Close to an old tree, just like when he would come find me. This is Tariq’s old art studio, a small adjoining cabbage patch, pond and tree outside the back window and open backdoor. He has brought a hammock with him from Lahore. Maybe he has forgotten the grey skies. I can imagine the orange light and the dust and the muezzin I heard once through the phone. The church bells ring nine times though the morning of his little garden, and a gust of wind startles a little spider who was spinning his way between two giant cabbages. Maybe they are radishes.
Looking around, I see Tariq has already spread out his pastels, paints, canvases, super glue, scissors, a half-finished sculpture, camera, Gouache paints, and many other things I cannot distinguish in the dim light of this small, cobwebbed room. He is renting it. I am lying on a mattress on the floor, and the old kitchen counter is behind me. I notice that Tariq is doing something at the counter, something to do with glasses clinking together softly, and the soft hissing of a steaming kettle. Tariq sees I am awake, smiles, and sits down on the messed up, cover-strewn mattress. He hands me a glass of milky black tea.
“I can finally make you tea.” I notice he has poured himself coffee into a mug.
The door to the cabbage patch, or radish patch, is open. The willow tree’s arms can almost reach us when wind blows the right way. I remember us climbing that tree, when I was thirteen. Then, Tariq didn’t live here, he just worked on his art here. I stare out at the tree, by the brick wall, and Tariq stares, too. I set the cup down next to a crack on the floor. A spider is still fighting with random gusts of wind. Maybe it’s the same spider. I lie down, still tired, and now I am staring at the ceiling, where another spider is navigating its way between cracks. There is a whole landscape in that ceiling. The spider’s eight legs – or rather seven and a half – are dodging gorges in the dark, and then weaving a solitary, cold-blooded and slow way across a plateau of even ceiling. Now comes another gorge, but the spider has spun a part of its web, it is hanging upside down now, independent of the cracks and gorges, hanging by a fragile, saliva-spun string. I am wondering if he will fall down, onto my face, or neck, or breastbone, or hair.
I notice that Tariq has not noticed the spider. He has been looking at me, quietly. He lies down beside me, he doesn’t touch me, and I am tingling. I close my eyes, and I watch a melody play its way out of my memory. A distant melody, somewhere deep inside me, old enough to be an echo from another life.
A phone rings. I don’t want to move and I don’t want to open my eyes, but the ringing has something insistent about it, something urgent, something chilling…it is also screeching, it is breaking our spider-spun silence into shards of sharp-edged glass. I fumble for my ancient, indestructible Nokia and press the green image of a phone under the screen. It’s Amira.
“Fuck, homie, I don’t know why you even have a phone. I left you like six messages.”
“It’s on the internet. They’ve taken something out of the Qur’an and I’m telling you they’ve fucked it up like shit.”
“Totally out of context. It’s in Arabic, Turkish, English and German. You can read it, but dude, my blood pressure is so fucking high right now -”
“Who are you talking about?”
“The terrorists! It’s this new group, at least that’s what it seems like, they’ve claimed the attack on the car-park…”
“Are they planning anything else?”
“It sounds like it. Anyway, if you live in fear, they’ve won, so yeah, but I just wanted to talk to you.”
“I have to go. Talk to you later.”
She hangs up abruptly. I’m guessing her parents wanted her to come to dinner. I look at Tariq, and I can see he’s heard what Amira has said. There is sadness in his eyes. I can see he isn’t scared.
The next morning on the way to school, I turn on the radio in the car. Amira’s words are repeated back to me in German, and then Stuttgart 21 is discussed, for about the forty-seventh time. Should they build an underground extension to the train station, should they not? It was too late now, anyway, they are saying…but what a target that would be, an even larger train station, what a target that would be, they speculate…I am glad to arrive at school.
Mr. Wood, a Londoner who has taught literature here for ten years, has just started class. He is kind and awkward, musical notes crisscrossing his tie, glasses on his nose. I set my Dancing Girl paper down on his desk. He nods absentmindedly. The class is small and just now oblivious to newsreels. We are concentrating on Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. We are looking specifically at the ring parable, where the old king has a special ring, but he can’t decide to whom of his three sons to give it. He has a copy of each made, so each son has a ring of their beloved father; one ring for Judaism, one for Christianity, and one for Islam, all three from one heavenly Father.
After class, I am feeling much more relaxed, much more centered. I like walking through the school grounds; it’s very green here. I sit down somewhere. Maybe I need to stop thinking about everything.
I am startled. It’s Sven.
“Hey.” I smile. He sits down and drops his bag next to him. He must have skipped class. I don’t know why, but I don’t want to see Sven right now. This is a very disconcerting sensation. It’s not like I can hide anything from Sven. He stands up again.
“I’m going drinking with the guys tonight, but tomorrow’s Saturday, you should come round for breakfast.” He walks away slowly. His bag is clinking. I think he’s carrying a few bottles of vodka. A wind picks up. It’s cold.
Some time has passed. I have been doing a lot of exam revision. I have not had much time to think about bombs, or about Sven, or about Tariq. The cat has decided that she is angry with me. I can’t remember what I did to deserve this round of feline cold shoulders.
Now, it is Friday afternoon, and I find myself in Tariq’s old art studio again. On the table in the center of the room, Tariq has spread out his brainstorming sheets of colored paper. His handwriting is casual calligraphy; it puts ideas of darkness and turmoil into shapes. Here, on the table, the main theme is that of the seven deadly sins. Each word leads onto another word, until Tariq’s blue ink has spun a spider-web of potential images with a common theme.
Against the wall, right by the mattress and the kitchen counter, is propped something of pure light; it is Tariq’s version of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and it is bursting with the ocean and with Aphrodite. Behind me, not far from a window onto his cabbage patch, Tariq has laid a pink and gold inlaid book, a tenderly enticing blurb hand-written on the intricately patterned back. Further along that shelf stands an aluminum foil angel, black-haired and mascara tear-streaked, rising out of a Gothic novel, and on a small table supporting a lamp is spread out the papier-mâché figurines of a happy wedding, perfectly formed, only upon closer inspection they turn out to be corpses. I remember cautiously looking through Tariq’s art when I was twelve and thirteen, fascinated, getting lost in it, thrilled and inspired. Once he walked in when I was looking at something, and I dropped it guiltily, but he seemed happy, flattered, and I remember suddenly feeling very warm.
In a corner, a safe distance away from the kitchen sink and the coffee machine stands a low table with a computer on it. Earlier, Tariq showed me the page for the art exhibition on the Internet. His name was on the list of artists whose work would be displayed. That is the first time Tariq’s name has been used publicly in connection with art. This may finally be the start of something, his eyes were saying. I have never seen him so proud and so happy, so full of energy.
The sun has ventured out from behind the clouds and is bathing a floor-crack-spider in rather pale light as it streaks in through the window; the door to the cabbage patch has been closed.
Tariq moves towards me until he is standing behind me. He wraps his arms around me. He lays his hands flat on my stomach, rests his chin on my shoulder. His presses his lips onto my collarbone, neck – for a moment his face is in my hair, lost in tangles.
He turns me round to face him. He kisses me. Our lips lock into slow motion, fusing. His fingers run through strands of my hair, take out my earrings gently, and trace their way down the back of my neck, down my back. I notice that I am staring at the ceiling again, at the same spider as earlier, and that the mattress is melting beneath me, that Tariq is melting into me, somehow, I cannot imagine that he is still a separate entity…whatever clay Heathcliff’s soul is made of, mine is made of the same…Wuthering Heights is echoing through me. When they cut Qays, Layla bled…I must have screamed. I am in ecstasy. I want to be one and the same with this soul. I could die on this peak, in these arms, and never look back. I am immortal and the fire we are burning in is eternal, pure and pained, paradise.
Lying flat out on that mattress, naked, released, spent, still alive and mortal, my eyes are closed and the inside of my head is a gold mess of honey. I am still breathing hard by the time I open my eyes, and I look into Tariq’s light games.
A tear forms at the edge of my eye. He lets it roll onto the tip of his index finger, down into the palm of his hand. We watch it run down his lifeline, over his wrist, up his forearm, onto the mattress right before it meets the crook of his elbow. He lays down beside me, his eyes in mine. I can hear the drum beating in his chest, the rhythm of his blood coursing past my ears, the precious time caught there echoing the tear-wet line on the palm of his hand.
Tariq and I walk out of the train station and into the streets of downtown Stuttgart. There are mainly large clothing shops lining the main street, although further up there is a kind of castle, and a large square, hence named Schlossplatz, where the Christmas market is set up in December. Every now and then a large fountain rises up out of the cobblestones. Trees are scattered up and down the avenue. People walk up and down, some of them bearded, many of the shaven, some of them veiled, many of them bareheaded. A man tries to sell us roses. Some sparrows fight over an abandoned slice of raspberry and cream cake at an outdoor café.
We sit down at one of the outdoor tables. The tablecloth is a light shade of reddish pink. Umbrellas are up, but the sun is not beating down on us. A disinterested waitress takes our order, and she comes back a while later with coffee.
Tariq is looking at me. A sparrow, bold, grey, speckled flutters onto our table and hops as close as the cookie lying next to Tariq’s coffee, distracting him. The sparrow cocks his head and peers at Tariq. He jabs his beak into the cookie a few times. Another sparrow flutters onto the table, and the first flies away, dropping his crumb onto a cobble on the ground and pecking at it.
I am at home again, and the cat has forgiven me. She is all over me, and purring. Sven is in the kitchen, moving plates around. I am typing. I am looking for an Urdu poem that Tariq quoted before he left, last time…it went something like, your moon’s quality is light, and my only quality is love, and have I given it to you? I am looking through my thick anthology of Iqbal odes and I am not finding it.
Sven comes out of the kitchen and sits down on the couch next to me. He is flying to England quite soon to visit family, I can’t remember exactly when. He strokes the cat. She rubs her head against the palm of his hand and purrs. Soon she is on his lap instead of mine. Fickle feline. Sven turns on the television. The news hits the living room. There has been a knifing on the Schlossplatz. Tariq and I had walked through there yesterday. It was a neo-Nazi. He attacked a lawyer whose parents migrated to Germany from Turkey. The lawyer is currently in intensive care. The neo-Nazi was arrested.
I am at the train station on the way to school. I look around, irrationally hoping to see Tariq. I don’t. I do see Amira, from a distance. She is in the station Starbucks, by a window, next to a very large cup of something. She is listening to music and reading a magazine.
I join her there. It feels very good to see her. I register that Amira is telling me something about a Neo-Nazi cell threatening violence anonymously online.
Tariq is packing. He is wrapping up his art carefully for the exhibition in Berlin. I am watching him lay Venus, and her painted seashell, into cloth. Smoking and skeletal Cecilia is laid onto this layer of cloth. The darkness inside the rose petals is laid next to a papier-mâché corpse bride.
The coffee I am drinking tastes rough and bitter. The only light coming into the studio is streaking in through the back window and the open back door, but that light is grey. An eerie silence fills the studio. Tariq is working steadily. He is withdrawn, in a dark mood. Maybe he wants to be alone. I do not want to leave. Something makes me uneasy. The threats of violence. The hateful Nazi posts. The knifing. The car bomb. I don’t want Tariq on a train, especially not to a big political center like Berlin. That’s where it happens. Don’t think that way.
I rinse out my cup in the sink. I don’t want to live in this state of fear. Terror seeps into everything. It contaminates everything. Amira said they’ve won if you’re scared. I am afraid. This kind of dying is too random.
The morning is faint and tapping on my window. The sun is playing tricks with shadows in the garden. I clean the kitchen. I remember that I still have a paper on the Ring parable to finish. I try to type. I write the same thing six times and wish I had math to do.
Sven rings the doorbell sometime in the afternoon. His mood is cheerful. I don’t know why. He lays two concert tickets down on the kitchen counter. He sits down and looks at me.
“You wearing that tonight?” He smiles through his glasses. I look down at myself. I realize that I’m wearing bright orange socks and a purple shirt over an ancient pair of jeans.
“Don’t you want to come?” Sven looks slightly hurt. I close my eyes. An overwhelming uneasiness comes over me.
“Yeah, I do. Its just that…I feel like something bad is going to happen. At the train station. And Tariq is there tonight.”
“You and your feelings. You’re such a Cassandra, always seeing Troy in flames long before there’s a need to. Come on, let’s hear some loud music, get hammered…if I have to go out, I want to go out with a bang…”
“Don’t say that…”
“It’s true! No use worrying about when who is going to detonate a bomb, which racist ass-hole is going to stab who. All we can do is live now.”
But I was already out the door. Something told me I needed to get to Tariq.
The train station is crowded. It’s dark outside.
Tariq’s face is set in stone. Hard stone, hard as a mountain, chiseled into the form of a woman’s face by the hands of a loving sculptor. His focus shifts and wanders across the platform. It meets mine.
I don’t know what happened around me. I don’t know what is happening right now. I don’t know if there is a bomb somewhere. I just know there is something very old our joined focus is tapping into, from opposite ends of this railway.
I have temporarily left this dimension. I am not certain as to the outcome of this particular story. Either way, stories don’t really end. It’s you who stops reading.