Sunday, September 15, 2013

Obsidian Night

The first note was passed in secret in the fifth aisle at the Allah Reigns Supreme shopping mart along Prince Abdullah-Aziz Highway behind the Bing Gar compound.  Stuck between two peanut butter jars beside tins of sardines, boxes of cake mix, bags of rice, crates of soda bottles and all the other non-perishable foods that survive for years on the Saudi shelves, the note was simply scribbled in pencil across lined paper reading:  “Hello, is anyone there?”
 It took six months for a reply.  Saudi sand storms and job changes, King Abdulla had back surgery and the Kingdom held its breath.   The embassy party in Riyadh when Flintstone crashed the Ferrari  into the camel.  The St. Patrick's night in Bahrain, driving drunk through Saudi checkpoints, the guards smelling booze and waving them through.   Then one day it appeared scrawled in blue ink on yellow parchment:  “Hello yourself.  I am here too.”
 The correspondence that followed moved at a snail’s pace over the next several weeks.
-          I am Anthony
-         I am Obsidian Night.
-         What is your real name?
-         I cannot say.
-         Can Not?  Or Will Not?
-         My name is not safe
-         Your name is ‘Not Safe’?  (this was quickly replaced by:  “Obsidian Night is a beautiful name”)  Are you in danger?
-         Yes.   Are you a good man?
-         No, what is good ?
-         Are you an honorable man?
-         No,  what is honorable?
 For one whole week there was no reply.  Then:
-         You must marry me.  Will you marry me?
 The answer was written in black ink with all capital letters.  –YES!

 They arranged to meet.  Obsidian Night left exact instructions.  Anthony was to bathe and dress in a suit and tie, use talcum for odor and shave closely the tip of his beard.  He was to arrive after evening selah prayers at precisely six p.m.  upon the same aisle where the first note was laid.  He was to pretend to shop, adding items to his basket and wait for her to arrive.  
 Anthony followed her instructions implicitly, over compensating with oil to press down his hair and arriving at the Allah Reigns Supreme grocery mart too early while the shutters were pulled and locked and the men scowled and slipped off their shoes and entered the mosques for evening Selah.
 All night he seemed to wait.   Past the kepsa dinners laid out  upon newspaper on the dingy sticky floor.  Past the lights in the cellphone store going dim.  Then finally, a stroke of luck.  One by one a group of nurses in white burqas arrived.  One after another like strange floating vanilla cones descending from the hospital bus.  Little brown faces seeing through eye hole slits.  Darting eyes.  Careful eyes.  Cautious eyes.  Heading to the bakery to smell the day old offering.  Tapping eggs on the warm wood bench.  Always traveling in twos and threes these little vanilla cones moving in silence through the store.
 Anthony waited, averting his glares, feeling desperate.  Feeling that hungry bottomless yearning ache a man feels when he is doing what he is born to do but knows it is somehow wrong.  One by one they pass and his eyes fell to the floor.  Stare too deeply and the woman could be questioned, beaten, condemned.  She could be stoned or worse.  He tried to stay calm but the excitement overcame him and all at once he noticed he was surrounded.  The women in white burqas had suddenly surrounded him, passing by him in silent whispers.  Astonishing.  Dizzying.  He felt something touch him, was it a cane.  Then rapidly, as quickly as it had happened they were gone.  Hurrying through the check stands with their plastic bags of groceries, back onto the bus, tearing away in a cloud of sand and dust.  
Anthony in his suit and tie and freshly oiled hair and talcumed skin had never felt such lonesome disappointment.  He sat down upon the curb while the septic trucks rolled by and the lights of the Prince Abdullah-Aziz Highway glistened on the walls of the Allah Reigns Supreme grocery store and vanished down the faraway road leading into darkness.  What was he thinking?  How foolish this moment made him feel.  Truly, how foolish his whole life had been.  Jamming fists into his pockets, he let out a long sigh in the humid Saudi night.  It was then he felt it.  She had been there.  Reaching a hand out from his left jacket pocket, a note etched in small crumpled ribbon reading:  “What kind of a nickname is Mad Dog?”

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