By Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh - http://stephaniecavanaugh.com
Kasim sat on a bench, as he waited for his friend to arrive. It was crowded today and he was grateful to find a comfortable spot in the shade. He was wearing a salmon colored short-sleeved polo and he could feel the light dampness of sweat forming on his back collar. It was May in Baghdad and the sun was ablaze, 105 degrees, with scattered clouds. In front of him loomed the clock tower of Qishla. He admired the restoration work of the structure. Now its base and carved doorways were strong, supporting diamond patterned cutouts in the stone, leading up to the beautiful clock, its hands reading 1:06 in the afternoon. The arched windows carved into the stone of the tower above it were finished with a black weathervane. It all stood much prouder than it had before.
Behind him, past a row of palm trees and fresh landscaping, flowed the muddy Tigris, where men and women walked along the beautiful stone path. Black lamps on brick pillars connected wrought iron fencing with golden tipped spikes, leading the way along the river. Kasim often walked this path in the cool of the evening, smoking Camel cigarettes and thinking about life, the lamps lighting his way.
He heard his phone ring and pulled it from his jeans pocket. It was his friend. “Mustafa, ayna inta?” He could hear someone’s muffled talking in the background. “Habibi, I’m running late. I was on Rashid Street when my uncle called and wanted me to meet him. I’m just down the road at the Wazzar Mosque. I’ll be there in an hour inshallah.” He hung up. Mustafa was always late and Kasim knew an hour meant two, so he decided to walk over to Shahbandar for a hookah while he waited.
The corner cafe was teeming with life and mint-apple scented smoke. The roaring sounds of conversation blended into something inaudible but comforting, hanging in the air like it’s own unique symphony. Kasim found a seat on the narrow wooden bench near the window fan, overlooking the crowd-clogged street and the fruit stand across it. He liked this cafe because it was different. It moved away from the typical cafe crowds of men playing backgammon and talking politics. Shahbandar was filled with artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and even women, drinking tea and smoking hookah over long conversations about the newest emerging directors, scientific breakthroughs, works of art, music, and film.
Kasim admired the walls, each one adorned nearly floor to ceiling with old framed photographs from every corner of Iraq’s history, all except the era of Saddam and the U.S. invasion. Kasim knew the old man who ran the cafe, and he understood why. He had suffered so much during these times. To Kasim’s right, the old black and white photos seemed out of place with the new, intricate golden frames that enclosed them. Past the wall, in the right corner, a man in a pink vest began walking towards Kasim, carrying the tall double-apple hookah he’d ordered.
He took a few hard inhales on the hookah pipe, getting the charcoal hot and the sticky tobacco smoking. On the fourth try, he exhaled a billowing cloud of sweet smoke, and he began to feel relaxed. Above him, hanging from the ceiling, was a wooden birdcage. Inside it, the grey, long-tailed bird was chatting away at no one in particular, and it blended with the noises of the crowd beautifully. Kasim text Mustafa to meet him there and sat back, leaning his head against the glass of the window, relaxing his gaze.
After a moment, he returned to his hookah, and looked to the doorway. A small group entered, they were young, in their twenties, three men and two women, scanning the cafe for a place to sit. One of the women, spilling over with laughter at what the taller of the men had said, stood with her back towards Kasim, but he recognized the scarf immediately. It was a deep plum with elegant rose gold stitching all around the edges, forming a tiny flower pattern. It was the scarf he’d given her for their anniversary. He stiffened in a panic and a rage. What was she doing here and who were these people she was with?!
About the Author:
Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh - Hi, I'm Stephanie ... pleasure to become virtually acquainted. Please note the views and opinions communicated here are my own and not representative of any particular group or organization.
Interests, ever-evolving: Photography, painting, art, science, medicine, astronomy, yoga, travel, the world, culture, language, education, women's rights, human rights, making the world a kinder, more beautiful place.