••• The International Writers Magazine: Short Stories from the Middle-East
Service and other stories
The old Mercedes service unloads five passengers sitting on its worn out leather seats. It is dusk on a mild spring day. Basman street is as usual crowded with people - shop owners, shoppers, workers and pedestrians. An Arabic coffee salesman tries to persuade Tariq who had just come down from the service car, to buy a cup. But Tariq impatiently declines.
With quickstep, Tariq strolls down the meandering downhill of Basman street, which leads to the great Husseini mosque. Though springtime, relatively thick clouds cover the sky.
Tariq is a schoolteacher of early middle age. Although customary for a man at his age to be married with a family he chose to remain a bachelor. His fear of economic hardship, given the low salary he collects from the public school which employs him, propelled him to choose remaining single. He incessantly thinks of finding a spouse though resisting taking the necessary steps.
Tariq’s parents, originally from the Palestinian hamlet of Um Al-Fahm, both died in the lapsing decade: his mother of a cancer illness, his father of a car accident. His father worked as a janitor of a building entirely occupied by a private company involved in agricultural investments. He struggled to make ends meet while succeeding in educating his five sons and daughters, initially in governmental schools and subsequently in university colleges. His more prosperous brother assisted Azmi, Tariq’s father, in remitting the dues of university tuitions.
Tariq is both educated and an intellectual. He reads voraciously on topics as diverse as psychology, philosophy and religion. Likewise, he regularly attends cultural events, art exhibitions and lectures offered in the Amman metropolis. Thought and intellectual pursuit is for him a refuge from his unfulfilled professional, emotional and academic aspirations. Moreover, it is a retreat from a sense of solitude, which had accompanied him since his early childhood.
Reaching the final phase of King Talal street he enters a small souvenirs and antiques shop. Alongside the middle-aged shopkeeper who is seated while smoking a hubble-bubble a young seemingly European woman stands examining an old object engraved in ivy and pearl.
'How much?' she asks the shop owner.
‘Bas’ forty Dinars, he answers.
Suddenly she turns her thin and elegant figure around and looks Tariq up and down.
'Can you show me the Roman amphitheater', she asks Tariq.
Stunned by the question, he nods in agreement.
Betty is a thirty year old woman employed by a computer company in Ireland. Of middle class background, unmarried and with a passion for travel she has a love-hate relationship with the east. Her father, presently retired, worked in the British foreign service and was several times posted in Middle Eastern countries.
'Do you like the Middle East?' Tariq asks as they begin walking towards the amphitheater.
'I do, I do, it’s a lovely area of the world. But I hope it can enjoy more peace and progress', she says diplomatically while looking down on the cobbled pavement.
'We have to cross the street towards Saqf Al-Seil. The amphitheater is about ten to fifteen minutes away from here', he says.
'I don’t mind walking', Betty says with an elegant English accent.
'Have you visited Jordan in the past', Tariq asks.
'No, never, she answers. This is actually my first time here', she continues.
Buses, cars and taxis crowd the streets. Loud horns could be heard from all directions. People cross the street without observing pedestrian crossings.
Presently in the Hashimiya courtyard Betty looks with amazement at the Roman amphitheater.
'It’s a stunning sight', she spoke murmuring and almost ignoring the presence of Tariq.
She added: 'This is our great heritage… a fabulous monument that celebrates the achievements of our ancestors. The architecture is unbelievable… It’s a wonder that it has endured for about two thousand years'.
Tariq is slightly annoyed that the monument entirely gripped Betty’s attention.
'Do you wish for us to have a meal together', he asks while his face slightly flushed.
'I am sorry Tariq, but my plane to Europe takes off three to four hours from now. I have to get to my hotel immediately', she says in a deliberate voice.
Tariq got himself on a service taxi heading for Jebel Hussein. Many thoughts crowded his mind as he tried to recollect the events of the previous hour.
Robert quickly extinguished the half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray as the taxi stopped in front of a tall building with a marble coated façade. He had arrived at the exact time of his doctor’s appointment: 6 p.m.
Reaching the third floor in an elegant, quiet elevator Robert took a couple of steps and saw Doctor Reynold’s clinic. A handsome copper placard with the doctor’s name hung next to the rose wood door. Ringing the bell Robert walked into the clinic and headed towards the secretary sitting in a chair of brown leather.
'Your name sir?', she asked while twitching her manicured long fingers.
'My name is Robert Daley', he answered nervously and instantly.
'Please take a seat. The doctor is almost ready to see you', she said while eyeing his clothes.
Taking a seat in front of the large desk of the balding middle-aged Doctor Reynold spoke in a low voice.
'I heard a lot about you and your work doctor. In particular, I heard that you undertake mucous removal medical procedures', Robert said, taking a deep breath after finishing his comment.
'Yes, yes… We specialize in providing our patients with an alternative to innate physiological.. em.. bodily functions', doctor Reynold said. 'We can do this through implanting synthetic apparatus; in other words, after implementing the procedure, you needn’t bother with handkerchiefs, running nose… or the symptoms of the common flue, or human grief…' the doctor said moving slightly in his chair..
'That’s fascinating', Robert said. He added with a cold smile: 'I’m almost persuaded, Dr Reynold'.
Encouraged, the doctor got up from his seat and took a few steps towards the examination bed, intently remarking: 'Life contains certain innate fundamentals in the arenas of body, mind, nature… Science is more and more allowing the practitioners of the digital age to modify those fundamentals in the human interest - and according to evolving human tastes…'
'But how can you relieve me of mucous?' Robert asked, slightly perplexed by the words of the doctor..
'It’s a simple, painless procedure', the doctor said. 'The gland that generates mucous will be surgically removed and an air purifying device - almost invisible - will be installed inside the nose. Basically, this digitally operated device will replace the function of mucous in filtering the air being inhaled'.
Walking back to his seat, the doctor added while moving his bushy eyebrows: 'a lithium battery will power the tiny device. You only need to recharge it once every two years'.
'Doctor. When can I have the operation?' Robert asked.
'Let’s say: Thursday next. Check in the Alternative Physiology Hospital at 8 a.m.'
Robert shook hands with Dr Reynold, bid the secretary farewell and headed for the elevator.
The sun shone brightly on a warm autumn day. In the downtown of the handsome city the streets were crowded with pedestrians, buses and cars. Docu had woken up early to gather his papers. He had the intention to spend a vacation with his wife and three little boys at a sea resort in a tiny west African country.
“I wish to travel with my family”, Docu told the bureaucrat with a sullen face and tall frame.
The room was smoke-filled, the walls painted with a pale yellow and throngs of people walked in and out of the space.
“You must take your papers to the end-zone department”, the bureaucrat said in quick impatient words.
“But end-zone department is three hours away from the metropolis”, he protested.
A fan hung from the ceiling generating ventilation, which alleviated the thick smoke screen. The loud conversation of two women was, though in the background, audible to all in the room.
Docu, distressed by the words of the bureaucrat, walked aimlessly in the corridors of the old building’s floor. He thought to himself: end-zone department is a long distance away, but if I were to catch an express bus I can get my papers processed before the end of the working day.
Taking a taxi to the bus station he luckily reached a bus seconds before its departure.
The journey was long and tiring. Children walked up and down the aisle while songs blared from the worn out speakers of the bus. The driver, fair and corpulent, showed skill in driving the huge vehicle on the thin zigzag road.
Docu slept at the final phase of the long drive. Awaking, he walked down the steps of the bus and he saw end-zone department in front of him.
“You are wasting your time and ours”, the middle-aged lady wearing a brown dress said. She continued, “end-zone department is where you get your papers processed for traveling to an East African resort, not a West African one”.
“So, what should I do now?” asked Docu with palpable irritation.
“You must travel back to the metropolis and get a paper titled 'direction alteration trek'. "After having it duly signed", she continued, "you must bring it back to end-zone department for approval. You see, this way you might just be able to travel to the West African resort instead of the East African resort”, she added.
“You know madam”, Docu said, “I have changed my mind about this trip”.
“If you mean not traveling then you will face a trip change penalty”, she retorted.
“What if I go to start-zone for a pardon?” Docu asked while shuffling his tired feet.
“You may do that, but a trip change penalty ticket will remain with you,” the woman said while impatiently arranging the papers on her wooden desk.
Docu sauntered around the plaza in front of end-zone department.
“I have no choice”, he thought to himself. “I must go to mid-zone for a travel redemption procedure”.
A bus appeared at a distance in the early afternoon. A gentle wind blew towards the eastern direction. Docu hopped on the bus for the return journey to the metropolis.
© Khaled Nusseibeh February 2018
ubada at ubada.net
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