By Joanna Galbraith
The street plunged headlong in an ankle-twisting maze of potholes and steep gradients. The Council—unable to do anything about the latter—had tried paving in the former, but they always returned. “Squatters’ rights,” they explained. “Cheap paving,” grumbled the locals.
The donkeys were gone, replaced by hurtling yellow taxis and incendiary gas trucks. A pizza place had opened and a couple of trendy cafes, hiding their kebab menus in a garden of lavish words: beds of lettuce, rich harvest tomatoes, even an oasis of labneh. There was a dry cleaner now, too, and a small supermarket with semi-retired fruit, two hairdressers, and a pet shop.
But there were still the traditional kebab houses: sweaty men in white caps—each one a cat supervising all the bins. The mosque on the corner, painted in baby blue, still had the same soft-voiced Muezzin, barely audible at first light. The air still tasted of fish and salt or salt and fish, no one could decide, and the men still gathered in clusters to smoke cigarettes while the young women wore their headscarves set more jauntily than that of their older sisters.
And the young man at number thirty-eight still stood on his father’s iron-wrung balcony. His mouth in a downturn, his eyes a little wet.
In some ways, the street would never change. Shops and people might come and go but its fabric stayed the same.
The eldest son stood arms folded while the middle one knelt down and checked his father’s pulse. The youngest son said nothing but sucked on his cigarette. A slightly strangled melody was drifting down a nearby street. The gas truck was unceremoniously making its rounds.
The oldest son nudged his father’s body with the edge of his trainers and stared at the dark trickle of blood running along his father’s temple. He glanced at the brass telescope still rocking across the floor, back and forth, back and forth. It must have hit him square on the head.
“Should never have been on the shelf in the first place,” he mumbled.
He had heard the thud from his room across the hall. The second son said he thought he’d heard shouting. Perhaps his father cussing as he fell to the floor. The youngest son said he’d heard nothing. He just sucked on his cigarette.
“We should call a doctor anyway.”
“What for? He’s dead. Besides, Doctor Ocar is expensive.”
“Well, he can’t be like this when Mama returns home. She’ll have a fit, and then we’ll have two dead.” No one could say which would elicit the bigger fit, the dead husband or the stained floorboards.
“Where can we put him?”
“Not on the bed. She has to sleep there later.”
No one liked this idea, especially the sofa, so in the end, they decided to prop him up on a rickety wooden chair that they could throw out afterward.
“When Mama comes in, we will take her straight to the kitchen. Sit her down and make some tea. Then we’ll tell her. Then she can see him.”
Mama wondered why her sons had suddenly become such attentive tea-makers. When they told her, she screamed. The whole street heard her. One of the hairdressers cut her client’s ear at the sound, causing another, even louder scream. Some of the neighbours thought it might be the end. It wasn’t the end, though. Only for old Bahatir, propped up on a chair. Death by telescope.
He was buried the same evening, and that night the Muezzin sang even more softly than before. The next day, though, the street was the same. Nothing had really changed. Shops and people might come and go but its fabric stayed the same.
Except perhaps for the young man at number thirty-eight, sucking on cigarettes. His eyes still seemed a little wet, but his mouth had a slight upturn.