International Writers Magazine: First Love: Fiction
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra
one of the best busboys in New York City. You might think the
job of a busboy is a loser occupation, but it is not. I had learned
a great deal about work ethics, business, and clinical psychology.
I always worked hard and fast and tried to be as efficient as
the Carnot engine.
I worked in an Irish
restaurant-bar in Queens, New York, called Sly Fox. The owner had a
big face, red hair, and looked like a Viking warrior; except for he
had nice clothes and speaks American. He was always counting a big wad
of money in his fat hands and he never looked up to see me, or even
feel me around. Sometimes the cook, his name was Alexander, would send
me to the basement to cut potatoes in wedges so that he would fry them
and serve them with cheeseburgers.
I had black, curly hair, big white eyes, and I was skinny like a female
model. The basement had no windows and only one exit. If fire started
I would fry there. There was always this white light that shone on my
head from above and there was no picture or whatsoever on the walls.
The walls were white bricks and there was a walk-in freezer where fish,
meat, and ice cream were stored. There was an old large beaten-up table
in the middle of the floor where I would empty a sack of potatoes and
slice them with a big, sharp knife, Alexander trained me on how to handle.
I would bend my head down and cut potatoes, one after the other, thinking
about my shaky future in America. One imagination would sometimes take
me to a wonderful life, full of love, money, and nice cars. Another
would take me to a world full of bums. I would get scared when I thought
of myself cadging smoke or bumming out a buck from pedestrians. I was
alone and my future depended on my wit. And I would just keep on cutting
potatoes until I finish the whole bag. Sometimes a waitress would come
down, smile at me, and open the walk-in freezer and go in to grab a
frozen item to bring upstairs. All the waitresses were nice to me, because
I worked hard and I was as a poor as a rag and I spoke with a heavy
accent and rode a cheap blue bike. They all drove cars and lived in
nice apartments and some had boyfriends and all. I was a lonesome dove,
immigrant with no friends, except for a blond thief and two run down
immigrants from Africa.
Terry Donaldson, a young waitress, always came to the basement to pick
up an item or two and talk to me for a while. She was cute and had a
sharp nose and dark blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. Whenever I saw
her my pouch of testosterone grew in pressure. She was not that tall
and not that short and she was very clean, especially her hair. For
some reason, which I still dont know now, I was never attracted
to Irish-American girls, but I was always fond of the German-American
ones instead. But this Terry somehow broke the rule. Terry came down
to the basement more often than the other waitresses. She would come
to the table and start talking to me and give me that terribly bright
smile and I was too stupid to know that she liked me. I never knew that
she liked me because I was as a poor as a rag and she was all settled
down and had practically everything she needed. I found out that she
liked me when one day I had to bus upstairs and one of the waitresses
came near me and Terry was there and I told that waitress that she should
be in Hollywood instead of working in Sly Fox, because she was as beautiful
as a button. The waitress wagged a forefinger at me, smiling, and Terry
heard what I had said and I thought that she would laugh at my remark
but she scowled at me instead. That afternoon Terry didnt come
to the basement at all. And I was hoping that she would come and talk
to me and be a good companion at least for a while. The next day she
didnt come either. I went to the cook and I explained to him what
The cook said, "She likes you, Sidi."
I said, "What?"
He said, "Yeah, she likes you, my friend."
I said, "Why, I am poor, how come she likes me?"
He said, "Only God knows the mind of women."
I said, "Wow," and I started thinking.
After I knew that Terry liked me I began to like her right away. It
felt like I had this pipe full of liking and I opened the valve of that
pipe and all the liking rushed out. My liking to Terry grew ten folds.
When Terry came to the restaurant and put on her brown apron. I looked
at her with different eyes and I felt my heart working inside my chest.
I went up to her and asked, "Can we meet for coffee or something?"
Her eyes lightened up and she said, "Sure," and when she said
sure, I felt so happy. And she knew that.
"When," I said.
"After work," she said. "I can wait for you."
Terry was happy herself. I couldnt believe why she didnt
have a boyfriend. She was a good looking Irish girl. And she was a good
person too. I was a good person but my face was no match to hers. But
again, beauty is a strange concept.
She waited for me like she had said, and when we got out of the restaurant,
we walked a few yards under the trees and the cool afternoon sunlight
came through the trees in patches and when we got to a street and were
about to cross the street, Terry held my arm and I felt something frightfully
interesting. Why I felt that feeling I do not know. And then I felt
like Terry was mine and she belonged to me; she became my wife and we
had two kids waiting for us to come home to cook dinner. The fact that
she held my arm reassured me that she liked me. It gave me this wonderful
feeling that life or Nature or God or what you believe in, had given
us this so we can fall in love and procreate and continue the cycle
We went where we were supposed to go, probably a coffee shop and we
chatted for a while and we went our separate ways. When I got home I
went to bed and lay on my back, smiling to the ceiling, my chest relaxed
and very content. I stayed there for a while, smiling, and then I stood
up and went to the mirror of the bathroom and smiled to myself. That
night was one of my happiest nights in America. The next day came in
as always. It was a good morning. It looked and felt like it had rained
a little in the night and that made the air fresh and cool on that morning.
I jumped on my bike and head for Sly Fox. When I got to Queens Boulevard
I wanted to make a turn to go down a steep, a car came from behind and
hit me. I fell off the bike and onto the hard concrete of the road.
I was so skinny and there was no impulse against the road. No damage
had occurred because the car had tried to stop before it hit my bike.
Before I could suck in the shock of the accident, the driver looked
down at me and he was scared green.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
I stood up and looked around me and looked for blood. No blood could
be seen. No scratch at all, but the back wheel of the bike was twisted
and there was no way I would use that bike to ride to work on that morning.
"How much did you pay for your bike?" the guy said.
"Eighty dollars," I said.
The guy pulled his wallet from behind him and looked inside for a moment
and produced four twenty-dollar bills. I looked at them and quickly
thought of fixing the bike for twenty bucks, saving me sixty dollars,
so I took the bills from him and shoved them in my front jean pocket.
Saving money was pivotal for me in those days. I was alone in America
and if I became broke or lost or sick that would be the end of me. I
knew the power of money. Money changes some women into whores, and men
no less no more. Money turns preachers into pigs and religion into gigs.
Money put the innocent in jail and the guilty out on bail. Money turns
churches into caves and white people into slaves. Money turns our heart
away from love and the skin of our hands into gloves. Money put bread
on the table and our deeds under the table. Poverty suck, money fucks,
and the gods dont give a fuck. I was mad as hell about money.
I was saving it like crazy. I put my money in a shoe box under the bed
and when I came home from work I would pull out the shoe box and add
the tip from that day to the pile of money and count them again. I would
stack the dollar bills together, the five-dollar bills, the ten, the
twenty, and the hundred. I had tons of dollar bills and a few hundred-dollar
bills. When the guy who hit me was talking to me, I was thinking about
how high my twenty-dollar bill would stack up. I was obsessed of stacking
up money. The guy offered to drive me to work, but I said no, because
I was afraid he would change his mind and take his money back. I put
my bike on my shoulder and walked down the hilly road heading for Sly
When I got there I ran down to the basement and grabbed myself a sack
of potatoes and emptied it in the sink and poured cold water on it for
washing. I moved the potatoes to the table and start cutting them, thinking
about Terry and the accident. Terry occupied my thoughts more than the
accident. I believed that if she knew that I like her she would like
me more, so I decided to tell her about how I felt. I was waiting impatiently
for her to come downstairs so I could tell her that I loved her.
Time had passed slowly and finally she came down with that majestic
smile of hers.
"Hello, Sidi," she said with a big smile on her face.
"Hello, Terry," I said.
She approached the table and looked at me as though I was her knight.
"How is school?" I said.
"I have a paper to write-10 pages"
"I love you, Terry."
There was a pause.
"Thats nice," Terry said and moved slightly away from
"Should we meet after work, like we did yesterday?"
"Let me think about it," Terry said. "I will let you
"Okay," I said, pretending it didnt hurt, but actually
I was hurt.
Terry walked upstairs slowly, thinking. I made a mistake but I didnt
know I made it until I thought about it while cutting potatoes. I knew
I had just messed up the little relationship we had just started. I
told her I loved her even though I didnt know her well. People
dont do these kinds of things. Terry was probably shocked. She
never came downstairs to talk to me on that day. When her time of work
ended, she just left. When my time came to leave I went upstairs looking
for her and waited for a while hoping that she would change her mind
and come back to see me.
I took the bus home and walked to the liquor store two blocks away and
bought myself a six-pack of Knickerbocker beer. It was probably the
cheapest beer in New York City at that time, if I could remember. You
could buy six-pack for two dollars. I went to my sad, dark room and
open up one bottle of my warm beer bottle and started drinking. I drank
two bottles and emptied the other four in the sink. I was always afraid
of becoming an alcoholic.
The next day, Terry came downstairs carrying her bike on her shoulders.
She had a nice bike. Probably three times more expensive than mine.
Mine was twisted in the back wheel and leaning against the far out wall
next to a broom. Terry smiled at me, pushed down the kick stand with
her right foot and moved her body to go upstairs.
"Terry," I called. "Are you mad at me?"
Terry became reserved and formal, and her lovely smile that she always
displayed had disappeared.
"You dont know me," she said.
"I know you."
"No, you dont," and she ran upstairs.
I went back to my potatoes, thinking about what to do next. I said to
myself, after work, she would come down to pick up her bike, but if
I deflated her tire she would have to walk home and I could walk with
her and talk to her and get her to change her mind. So I deflated her
back tire and went back to my potatoes. When time to go home approached,
she came down and I smiled to her like nothing had happened and she
gave me this look which I cant explain, but it looked like the
we-are-through look. She picked up her bike and climbed up the stairs
almost running. I waited some time for her to get to the outside of
the restaurant and I followed her with my white apron still on.
"Can I walk you home?" I asked.
She turned around and faced me and said, "It wont work out,
"It just wont work out." And from the look on her face,
I knew that she made her final decision and closed her book on me. All
that dream of me marrying her, having two kids with her, and the dog
is running in the backyard had gone.
She kept on walking holding her bike beside her and I walked back to
the restaurant, head down, and heart broken. I couldnt continue
on working. I was too hurt to work. I untied my apron and threw it on
some empty boxes and walked up the stairs and went to the bus station.
In the bus my chest started to squeeze. It was a feeling I dont
want anybody on this planet to have. It was a feeling of sadness, sorrow,
and discontent, all piled up together in a sort of a combo sandwich.
The only way for me to ease that pain was to cry, so I cried in the
bus. The bus was almost empty.
When I got to my depressed room I couldnt stay in it, so I walked
down to my landlady who lived downstairs. She opened the door and saw
my face and said, "Come on in, Sidi."
I walked in and she said, walking behind me, "What happened?"
"A girl hurt me," I said and when I looked at her, I saw that
she couldnt hide a smile. But I didnt give shit and I kept
on crying. Her daughter came out from her room and joined her mother
into consoling me. Her daughter was one of the most beautiful women
on the planet. She didnt even know I existed, but when she saw
me crying for a girl like that she become curious. She had many boyfriends
though and they always came in nice cars to pick her up to go dancing.
She was as sexy as ever. In fact she became a model later on.
After a few months, the daughter and I fell in love and she made me
Written in Starbucks
San Luis Obispo, California
© Sidi Benzahra June 2006
A Way to lose your Coat
fiction in Dreamscapes
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