Ahmed was deeply engulfed in a book. He was enjoying the first printed edition of a vintage book. He loved to collect antiques and then sell them so other people can have the pleasure equally. Old is Gold, and they truly believed its preciousness. Similarly there is nothing like first love.
Sara entered the antique shop. He went to the entrance to receive her.
“A donut for you.”
“Like always, thanks”
Antique furniture and there conversations were a routine. Ahmed excitedly showed Sara the new addition to hBedis collection.
“I got this book for just $10. They were throwing this valuable piece into trash. A 50s original. See! This is a first edition print. It is a personally signed copy.”
“Very interesting. Great addition to be exact.”
“So how was the day at the shop?”
“The usual plain donuts, sugarcoated people.”
“That isn’t that boring!”
“Just stand there for some hours and you’ll know”
“Did you make any new sketches?”
“The ones which are for the university projects.”
“I would love to see them.”
“Btw when you are doing a portrait of mine?”
“Monkeys are so not flattering to paint.”
“Ali loved my paintings.”
“Yes he used to tell about you and your art, before we met.”
“I am so glad I met you through Ali. You have proved to be a good friend.”
“Okay I got to go. Thesis will soon be at doors. I want everything related to research to wind up soon.”
“Then see you tomorrow.”
Sitting barefoot on a concrete bench in the park, Sara was killing the time by reading a book on Art History when Ahmed arrived there. Actually she was waiting for her. Ahmed came, sat and showed her an antique music box. An exquisite wooden piano shaped showpiece which played music when you rotate its key like a toy.
“A 1920s craft, has a little scratch but still a very stunning piece. It plays music.”
Sara brings the piece close to her ear, listen to the music, smiles, the music pauses, she pats the piece and it starts again followed by her chuckles.
“Do you like it?”
“Yes it is so lovely.”
“It is for you.”
“You must be kidding.”
“Where is my donut?”
“How can I forget!”
The continued there talk with the walk in the garden. Lying on the grass side by side, they saw the blushing sky before sunset and relaxed.
“I was passing by your shop so thought to visit you.”
Ahmed answering from the back of the counter which was a Victorian table made up of dark wood.
“Why didn’t you visit once this week?”
“I told you I have my thesis.”
“Oh I totally forgot. How is it going?”
“Two words, hectic and troublesome. I hope it turns out well.”
“I have to go now.”
“Oh yes, good luck!”
“Wait… forgot to give you the item for which I came.”
“Yes and the snaps of the picnic. I felt you would like to see them so I thought of dropping them as I was visiting the nearby place.”
“I am in a hurry, bye.”
Sitting on a rocking chair, she excitedly said, “I got my dream job.”
Ahmed dusting and setting the objects, “Great. Is it the same about which we discussed? How?”
“Yes not the same job but of the same nature. They liked my thesis and they offered me the work.”
“So where’s the treat?”
“Would you like to go out for the coffee?”
It was winter and they were on the cold streets. Chilly winds embracing their faces while their bodies were covered with fur jackets. New York City is always busy with people from diverse origins and cultures. These people kept on passing through crowded streets daily, running with their busy lives. On the other hand, these two sensitive souls took time to stop and have the human experience.
“Winters are so romantic.”
“Yes. Ali and I used to go for coffees and movies in such weather.”
“Ali loved coffee.”
“And I love movies.”
“Yes I know but he hated romantic movies. He would get bored.”
He continued slowly “… bored whenever you people were in cinema.”
Both stopped talking. Ali was the connecting link between them. He advanced their conversations but at the same time his memories made them awkward and suffocated. The coffee house was now in their vicinity and kept on walking on the foot path crushing the dried leaves. The sound of the leaves filled the gaps of silence.
“Remember I met you for first time at this coffee house.”
“Yes it was my birthday.”
“And Ali forgot the cake at my house…”
Waiter interrupted, “Sir, what would you like to have?”
“One Mocha Latte… and?”
“Make it two!”
“Ahmed, anything else?”
“Slice of Cake?”
“Two Dark Chocolate slices please.”
Ali was gone, the dessert came in and there interests became the topic of discussion instead. On another table, a group of teens were playing Truth or Dare. During the game, a girl asked the boy sitting opposite to him Truth or Dare. He selected Truth. The question was about confession. Ahmed heard the question and felt uneasy.
“Are you done?”
“Then can we live?”
“As you wish.”
Maya: “Your aunt called yesterday.”
Sara: “You know what to say. By the way, what are you doing?”
Maya: “I was fed up the way this apartment looks. I need a change so thought of painting the walls. But where are you going? To meet the same guy, Ahmed?”
“I mean why? When Ali...”
“So what? Can’t he be my friend?”
“Okay he is your friend but what about your old friends. You haven’t hanged out with us for quite some time. You are always with that Ahmed. Najiya and Salma were also saying the same the other day. Isn’t it going a little far?!”
“I am going.”
Maya shouted, “Hello, listen I am not doing this paint job alone.”
Ahmed was watching ‘The Antiques Roadshow’ on BBC world when someone knocked at his apartment door. He unlocked the door to open it.
“Sara, what a pleasant surprise!”
Putting the bouquet aside, “Thanks, but how do you know my birthday?”
Sara answered hesitantly, “Ali had told me before.”
A soft “Oh okay” reply followed.
“Let me order something. What would you like?”
“Anything will do.”
“No. This birthday treat is for you so you decide.”
They ate, talked and drank but no alcohol.
After the dinner, Sara asked for the coffee.
“… but I myself will make it. Where is the kitchen?”
Ahmed lit the cigarette. He couldn’t control himself anymore. He has to let it out.
“One for you and one for me.”
Sara saw the ash and the ashtray, “You smoke? You didn’t tell me.”
Ahmed was silent.
“I don’t like this.”
“I wanted to tell you something from some days.”
“It was Ali’s birthday. We were here.”
“You had gone to Pakistan to visit your aunt’s home.”
“Ali’s Death was not an accident, nor a suicide.”
“You were not here. He was missing you terribly. You probably didn’t meet here for a week because both of you had an argument. We were just celebrating. I had some cocaine with me. I made some lines. I was high. I ridiculed him. I called him coward. I forced him to do it. He was in stress, he couldn’t take it more. He did couple of lines and he liked it. When I was leaving, he asked me to leave the rest because he liked it”
He spoke it all in a rush with long pauses. Now Sara was silent. Ali was his fiancé. He was no more and so now she wasn’t closer to anyone other than Ahmed and that because of Ali. She didn’t expect a friend to betray him.
“But when I left he was alright. I thought he wouldn’t go overboard.”
“It was an over-dose.”
Sara stood with anger on her face and tears in her eyes. She left the apartment.
Sara kept on seeing that wooden piano music box. She couldn’t sleep.
It was wee hours of dawn. She decided she had to go. When she was packing her bags, Maya asked her what she is doing.
“I am leaving for Houston. Here is the rent for the month. You will get a tenant soon so don’t worry.”
“What about your job?”
“I don’t know. Aunt Tehmina keeps on calling me to come there. I couldn’t refuse anymore.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Why are you so upset?”
Sara fell on the bed and started crying. She told everything to Maya.
“Here is your donut.”
“Thanks, how was the day?”
They talked and talked more about everything, including Ali.