Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Caviar & Diamonds for Breakfast {4}

I woke up before my alarm. Seems like my biological clock has this instinct that my alarm is about to ring sometime soon. I check the time, 5:39AM. This means I can have a banana and go for a morning jog around the city. I changed into shorts and wore a hoodie on top, I braided my hair then took my camera – just in case I see something inspiring. I quickly had my banana then tied my shoelaces and warmed up. I mobilized my joints first then set off to a jog. I stopped by the dock where the gondolas were parked, the sun was shyly peeping through the clouds as the streaks made their way gradually to the surface of the water, sparkling like diamonds. I took a couple of snapshots here and there; I concentrated on the reflections mostly. I had to go back before it started raining, the clouds were a good indication that winter was right around the corner. I had this urge to paint, right here right now even if it rains. Actually if it rained, it would be so much better, I’d precisely be able to paint the reflections of anything, the reflection of the street lamp hitting a water puddle on the floor- oooooh I’d love that! I jogged back to my apartment. I stretched and did a few yoga moves, then headed straight to the shower. I got dressed in my uniform, had eggs and a cup of coffee then headed to work. I opened my umbrella because my prediction was in fact correct, not many people were walking on the streets of Venice. We didn’t set the tables outside due to the weather. Not many customers came. I hope they let me leave on time today so I can meet up with Young. I wonder where he is in weathers like this; does he have a place to live?
They gave me my coffee break way earlier than usual, I got out my sketchbook and sketched the buzz that I was getting from this environment and the way people moved when it rained. They took larger steps and at a faster pace so that they wont get wet from the rain. I had to get back, I hated being late.
Lo sma7ty? (Excuse me) Just as I was about to shut my sketchbook, this familiar phrase used back in Arabia thrilled me. I quickly looked up, hoping it was someone I knew. I miss my city so much, and its citizens! His expression barely changed when our eyes met, which is a rare thing. People tend to look surprised when they look at them, especially since one eye colour is different than the other.
Are you a street artist?
Do you sell your work?
No sir, but is there anything I can help you with?
I’m an entrepreneur, dedicated to the world of arts and craft that enjoys collecting masterpieces like yours.
Mashallah, that sounds exciting… Where was he heading? He seemed interested, I could tell from the way his eyes sparked. He was dedicated.
Indeed it is. You seem confused, I’ll start by introducing myself, I’m Mohammed AlFlani.
I’m Shamsa AlX. Nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you too, I’m organizing an event in March – during art season in Dubai and I’d like to have your work there, if you don’t mind.
But I don’t have many paintings and I can’t go back to Dubai during March.
Are you studying here?
Yes, I am.. But I’m planning on changing majors.
What are you majoring in at the moment?
Well, I didn’t start yet I need to learn the language first then when I am capable I’ll major in Fine Arts.
Take my advice Shamsa, you don’t need to major in Fine Arts, you’re highly capable of entering some other major. You have a god given talent, entering Fine Arts as a major is just a waste of time. Look, I don’t want to keep you waiting, here’s my card. If you’re willing to join me give me a call. It would be an honor to work with you.
Thank you.
Good luck.  
I stared down at the card for a while, lost in the depth of my thoughts. This is a turning point indeed; it could forever change my life. I have only a few months to work on a couple of paintings and display them but that will place so much pressure on me. I needed help, but it was my future that I was gambling with. I did not want to jeopardize it by picking the wrong decision, but deep down I felt like I should take the road to psychology and Mohammed clearly said it, I have the talent I shouldn’t waste my time studying something I already know. I’m currently in a time of great personal futuristic turmoil, where should I head to? I knew the right thing to do at the moment is call my mother and notify her, which I did. The conversation was short, straightforward yet intimate. We spoke for no more than 10 minutes, but we got straight to the point, resolved the conflict and ended it with peace. The decision is made. I quickly checked my watch I was running late, I had a minute left before the watch strikes 3:37. I excused myself from work and ran towards the meeting point, the rain droplets hitting my face and blurring the view. I made it in three minutes, I stood there waiting anticipating his arrival. My breathing was steady, the weather only got worse and darker.
I stood there for a while, I would check my watch every few minutes praying that he’d show up before 4. But he didn’t, and I was somehow certain that he wouldn’t show up today especially since I stood there for half an hour waiting. So I decided to change routes, head over to the Lombardi’s and discuss the situation. I had to notify them as soon as possible, then I had to contact the organization that is providing me with the scholarship. But I needed to talk to Young, I needed his input in this… Somehow everything he says is the perfect puzzle to these missing pieces. He is so knowledgeable, so wise when it comes to such situations.

Talking to the Lombardi’s was much harder than anticipated. Mrs. Lombardi ended up crying, she was not prepared to let me go, which was extremely cute and emotional for the two of us. It wasn’t like I was travelling in an hour; I was to spend 2 more days with them before going back to Dubai. Although it was raining, the Lombardi’s did not hesitate to take me out to dinner out of town (in Vicenzia- we spent more than an hour in the car to get there!). During the ride, they spoke mostly in Italian and Pietro did some of the translation for me. But I was so distracted, he was conquering my thoughts and I couldn’t snap out of it. Where was he? Why couldn’t he show up? Is he all right? I really hope so…

 You okay? He whispered, his face was so close to mine, his pupil dilating, his eyebrows raised with concern.
Yes I smiled; I tried to secrete my feelings. His facial expression didn’t change, but he just nodded and fixed his posture.
Dinner took longer than usual, every second felt like an hour of torture. I know I sound ridiculously dramatic, and somehow as someone who does not appreciate his or her surroundings. But for a second, put yourself in my shoes, have some empathy… I am the kind of person who gets easily attached to things and places. But not so easily attached to people, and when I do so, I cannot reverse my feelings or detach myself. I attached myself to our neighbor’s son who handed me the art kit and never got the chance to get over him, we’re talking 10 years later. People move on, I don’t. And I have the same feelings, perhaps stronger, towards Young. Perhaps its because I see some kind of link between the two but I cannot seem to connect the dots yet. I concealed my feelings, almost dressing myself in a costume that reflected the opposite of my feelings deep down. Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful time, in fact I did not expect the night to end this way.

Once we reached Venice, the Lombardis parked their car and we made our way back to my apartment by foot. It did not stop pouring and the temperature had dropped a few degrees. As soon as I unlocked the door to my apartment and we said our goodbyes, I entered and waited for them to leave so I can look for Young because that’s what my heart was telling me. There’s no harm in trying, and if you never try you’ll never know. I waited 20 minutes then got my umbrella and camera and headed out. It was 1:14AM. Not the best time to be walking in the streets of Venice, on your own. Push your fears aside, I told myself and I kept on searching. He ought to be here, somewhere… But I didn’t find him; the streets had a ghostly feeling. The rain had calmed down and I was nowhere near to walking back to my apartment. If you were superstitious, and believed in black cats and the bad luck they bring then you would probably hate your life if you were walking beside me. These yellow eyes just stared right through me, like a porcelain doll but meowing in a slow long way.
It was probably 8 degrees, I looked at the time; 1:43AM. The espresso I had earlier kept me fueled up. I prayed that I’d bump into him at this time, but that’s not possible. I went back to my apartment at 1:49AM. I pulled out my sketchbook and kept on doodling. The sun was starting to rise, I couldn’t sleep at all so I had a shower and headed out with my sketchbook and camera. The streets were still wet so I couldn’t sit and sketch so instead I took pictures.
I was lost in the beauty of the scenery, trying to capture every moment at its best. Shamsa? I jumped, dropping my camera on the floor. Sorry… I didn’t mean to frighten you… He said while picking up the camera.
Young! To my utter surprise, I embraced his presence with a tight hug; I didn’t want to let go of him. Was I imaging? Thankfully, I wasn’t and it was him! You have no idea how much you affect me… I was searching for you almost all day and night yesterday. But there’s a reason why I was looking for you… I need to tell you something…

Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Caviar & Diamonds for Breakfast {3}

This post is dedicated to anonymous! We didn't want to keep you waiting, hope you like it <3 

I barely slept last night. All I could think about was him. Your mind does what your heart tells you to do, and mine was telling me to think about him. Nothing haunts me more than wanting to see him, his face... I went to work with Pietro this morning and he asked me about Young, I said that I no longer see him. I had to prove him that I don’t see him by not taking any coffee breaks. He believed me. A promise is a promise, no matter what you cannot break it.
I had to leave in five minutes to meet up with Young, as promised. It was 3:10, but I liked to be prompt and organized. It gives people a good impression about you. I served one more table before leaving; my shift for the day was over. I received the employee of the month award earlier today and I was so proud of myself. Can you believe it, a month has passed by already? Pick a job you love, and you’ll ace it. Being a waitress is so much fun, you can read people so easily and when you do the right thing it places a smile on their face. Putting a smile on someone’s face didn’t cost a thing, unless you count time as something valuable. Then you’re already investing your time into something precious, a smile. Notice how the word itself is heartwarming? Smile. It makes you smile, unconsciously.

I folded my apron quickly and placed it in my handbag. I ordered a mozzarella sandwich and frullato, Italian word for smoothie. I paid then made my way out, it was 3:14 at that time. I saw some street vendors as I walked past by; I bought a couple of shirts, a jacket and two shorts and a pant for Young. I chose the pants that had elastics bands on top, so I didn’t have to guess his size, its free size. I reached the Grand Canal at 3:36, almost jogging to reach there on time.
Young! I was so excited to see him, I almost hugged him. Almost. As honest as possible, I’m going to tell you this because we’ll, we’re friends and you already know so much about me. I want to hug him; I want to know what it feels like to be around him.
Somone’s excited!
Oh, you have no idea! I was highly anticipating for this time of the day to come. I felt like a child, like he was reviving my childhood again. And I missed it.
Me too.
Let’s go to our secret hideaway shall we?
Walking between the crowds, I got the frequent stare. Why would a girl like me be walking around with a guy like him? In their eyes a beggar. He dressed in the same clothes everyday. And I think I did the right choice by buying him some new clothes. We reached our place.
I got you something. I hope you like it. I handed him the bag of clothes. He opened the bag, took a brief look of what was inside and remained silent. He came closer, I wasn’t sure of what he was about to do.
He hugged me. Hugged me! I hugged him back tightly, inhaling his scent of cigarettes, leather and something else, which my nose couldn’t filter.
Thank you. He whispered. I could feel his fast heartbeats and unsteady breathing that meant that he liked what I got him.
You bring me happiness and joy. Thank you Young.
We sat down quietly. I gave him his sandwich and drink and he ate in silence. When you’re around someone you like, this silence becomes something extraordinary. It doesn’t bother you; it doesn’t urge you to say something just to fill this empty moment with something. Instead you sit there, listening to each others breathing, and occasionally hearts beating. And when you get these moments, embrace them, because they’re precious. He stretched his hand out and opened his palm, inviting me to place my hand on his. Opportunities like this don’t happen so often, and I took it without even having to think about it. His hands were rough, he had blisters, and his skin was dry. Is that the outcome of dehydration? I pulled out a water bottle and gave it to him.
Tell me more about yourself. I said while playing with his hand.
What do you want to know?
Anything? Everything? Your past, your present, your future? What you want, what you need. I want to know more about you, I want to know more about Young Bill. Open up to me…
Well my future is unpredictable. Having you around is currently filling my present. And my past? Its something I dread talking about. People expect you to be a saint, or some kind of angel. But I am no saint, and I am no fallen angel. I may even be that stranger your mother warned you about, am I right?
Doesn’t matter. We’re beyond that point. I paused. Now it’s just you and me. I whispered.
I keep asking myself this question, what is an ambitious person like you, doing in a place like this with someone like me? A low class citizen, current occupation beggar. If I were in places like India, they’d refer to me as the untouchables.
Why do you insist on belittling yourself? I see you as someone over and above that.
Aren’t you ashamed to be here with me?
Ashamed?! That’s a very harsh word to use to refer to yourself. What makes you think I’m ashamed?
I don’t know… Do you regret the things you do?
Never. Things happen for a reason, you do things for a reason. But I never regret it.
I love your courage. I wish I had that in me.
You do, Young. All you have to do is believe in yourself. I believe in you, but what I don’t believe in is the state that you’ve put yourself into. Somehow we’re always being dragged back to the road of regrets, like a powerful force pulling back. But that doesn’t stop us from being who we want to be.
A moment of silence is a moment of thoughtful thinking. Something or someone broke him down, but he can’t glue himself back together. I felt like it was my job to gather these pieces and bring them back together in better circumstances than ever. 
Life is a labyrinth, you gotta find your way out. Or else you’re going to suffer, suffer in that pit hole of pain, agony and sorrow. He wasn’t so calm when he said that, he seemed angry.
All I ask for is a second chance.
A second chance?
Yeah, like a clean slate. You know? Where any problem that’s arisen from the past is forgotten, no one knows about you. A fresh clean start. I did things in the past that I didn’t want to do but I was somehow enforced in doing so. Its not like I had no choice, I did, but because of social pressure, peer pressure. Some people just want to destroy you…
I know what you mean. I’ve been there before.
How so?
These set of eyes; they made me become a different person to try to fit in. I’ve been a friend with the worst kind of people, just to feel that sense of belonging.
Exactly… Except I don’t have beautiful eyes like you… I wanted him to describe himself to me. I feel like nothing is stopping me from pulling that hoodie down, but I had to respect it. Maybe he’s trying to hide something away from me, I don’t know what it is but nothing can possibly repel this beautiful soul of his. The more I thought about it, his features, the more I fell for him.
We spoke a lot. He asked about my childhood and I told him the tale of a family that had a girl and two boys. Then he asked me the most interesting question.
What made you choose art? It’s a natural god given talent, but why, why not study something else?
You want to hear the short version of the story, or the long version?
Well if the longer one means we’ll spend more time together, then longer for sure. I instantly smiled.
Well… I was five at that time. Back in the days, our house was the only house in the neighborhood. When I was four, an extremely wealthy family built a house facing ours. They were very very verrrry wealthy, it was crazy. The things they had, no one in this world has ever seen. This wealthy Emirati family had two sons. You know as an Arab tradition, we usually send something over to our neighbors either as a welcoming gift or just so we can create a friendship. So my mother cooked a lot of food, she usually doesn’t cook this much because we’re a small family and we’re not the wealthiest people out there. We carried the dishes and walked to their house, the security that was sitting by the gate called the maids to help us with the dishes. He didn’t let us in, disappointed, we went back home. My brothers and I used to play outside in our bicycles; they used to drive motorbikes outside. I’m not sure if we were jealous or not, but I’m pretty sure we were amazed by what they had. We were literally drooling over the bikes ahahahahaha. So we eventually became friends and I used to hang out with them. When I was eight their elder son was 22, he used to study abroad (in the States) so whenever he came back he got me a gift. So, one day he got me this art kit, I remember it vividly. So clear like it was yesterday. It had 5 brushes, and the three primary colours: yellow, red and blue. He looked at me and said, these brushes are going to change your life. I never knew what he meant. But now I do. And there’s not a single second that passes by that I don’t thank him for this, I pray night and day that god would keep him safe and happy.
What happened to him?
That’s an unsolved mystery. Since that day, I never got to see him again. I never really got to thank him. I want him to see what he made me become, I want him to be proud of me. I… I miss him… I really do…
I’m sorry…
In life they tell you to move on, but I can never really move on, not if he’s in the picture… He’s out there somewhere I can feel it.
Never lose hope. He squeezed my hand. I won’t as long as you’re there by my side…
We spoke until we got tired. Until I began yawning, a sign of exhaustion, which was hours later.
Will I see you again tomorrow?
I don’t know…
Pass by this place at 3:45, the same time as you did today. If I don’t show up by 4, then know that I can’t make it.
Please try to come, know that I’ll be waiting for you.
I’ll try.
Good night. Take good care of yourself, Young Bill.
You too Shamsa.

“When it was dark, you always carried the sun in your hand for me.”

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Caviar & Diamonds for Breakfast {2}

I woke up before the alarm by almost half an hour. Last night I was drained by all the work I had, I had to cover up Pietro’s shift that placed so much pressure on me. I came back home and slept on an empty stomach, and now I’m awake with enough hours of sleep but my stomach won’t stop growling. I brushed my teeth and prepared myself some breakfast, the usual scrabbled eggs and a cup of cold milk. Nothing too exotic, something affordable and won’t keep me famished until lunch. I showered, tied my hair up into a high ponytail, and then wore my ‘uniform’. I sound so sophisticated but I’m basically a bar tender, well a waitress but part time bar tender too. I loved work, it’s been three weeks and my serving pleases everyone. I’ve been getting tips but I keep splitting the earnings in half, the tips go to the restaurant and half of the earnings go to the Lombardi’s for being super extra sweet with me.
During the lunch break I went to sit outside, the same usual spot. I found the stranger dressed up in the same clothes. Its been three weeks and he’s dressed up in the same exact clothes. So I got him a bowl of lasagna and a bottle of water.
Hello, how are you?
I’m good, thank you. How have you been?
Coping is the right term to describe myself right now. Something squeezed my heart.  
I got a little something for you. Buon appetito!
I handed him the lasagna and water. He turned his head to the side, but he made no eye contact. I couldn’t see his features.
You’re so down to earth, thank you so much. I’ll be forever in you debt.
Can I ask you something? It’s a bit personal…
Yeah sure. He said while gobbling down his lasagna. This tastes so good!
Do you have a place to stay? Suddenly he stopped eating. And I wasn’t sure of what he was about to say. Maybe I’m too fast, but I urgently wanted to help him.
I’m sorry… That’s none of my business, I honestly didn’t mean anything. I just want to help…
I know you do… And I highly appreciate it. I don’t mind you asking me questions but I don’t think I’m ready. When the time is right. Did I just crush his dignity by asking him this question, most probably? But his response was so calm and reassuring, it was like he somehow knew we were going to form a bond. A bond strong enough to let our guards down, let the words float around without judging.
What’s your name, madam? Mother told me not to talk to strangers. But what if strangers made you feel better? He’s the only exception.
Shamsa… What’s yours?
You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen Shamsa. I love how when I sit on your right side it’s a shade of earthy brown with a speck of hazel, and when I’m on your left its sapphire blue. Its like you’re two completely different people but in one. You’re unique. I blushed, instantly. When was he able to catch a glimpse of what I look like?
Thank you. I have to go now…
No, thank you for this. It was nice talking to you. That was such a heartwarming comment.
I went back in, and suddenly I felt lighter. Like it was easier to do things, like something was lifted off. Could a simple compliment from a complete stranger change the way I feel? Maybe he sees something in me… Or maybe its because I helped him. With every pace I pound, a question would pop up. I need to see him again, I have to its not a choice it’s a command. He needs help, and I can offer him that help.

I kept on meeting him, not on an on-going basis. But he would frequently appear and when he did I took my break. We would talk, he spoke so little and I gave him the time he needed to open up. I didn’t tempt on pulling out the information from him directly. Pietro noticed the change in my mood when I came back to the restaurant, I felt like I was fueled up with energy and somehow pumped up with happiness. He observed us from afar. It was getting late and my shift for the day was over, so Pietro and I went out for gelato.
Who’s this guy you see?
What guy?
The beggar you take food to.
He’s not a beggar.
Then what you call someone who looks like that? A businessman?
Pietro! That’s so mean of you… He’s someone who needs help.
If he need help why he not go to the government and look for a job? Why he come to you?
I don’t know, maybe he’s scared?
Whatever is going on between you and him, I don’t like. You cannot trust someone you just met. And trust cannot happen when you know nothing about him and he knows about you.
He knows nothing about me.
He knows where you work. He knows how you look. What does he look like?
I don’t know…
What’s his name?
He won’t tell me.
Oddio! He laughed. He placed an arm around my shoulders and continued laughing. Carino! Listen Shamsa, next time you see him. Tell him what’s your name? Or else I report him to the polizia. Beggars don’t walk around the streets of Venice. I swallowed hard, I never saw him so serious. His sudden change from laughing to a poker face meant one thing, he’s serious. I knew where this was coming from, I knew he was responsible of me but I am responsible of myself. I do whatever pleases me. But him interfering made me feel safer yet bad. I felt like I backstabbed the stranger for a second. What goes on between us is confidential. We went back home and I went back to my sketchbook. I tried sketching his features by just listening to his voice, which was impossible.

He didn’t show up the next day. Or the day after, or two days after that. I was getting worried, maybe something happened to him. Maybe the police caught him; maybe he was starving and stole something. I hated the fact that I knew nothing about him. I left work early today. I had to find him. Venice was big but not too big. He’s somewhere here and I am going to find him. I walked around looking for that tattered old parka, but I saw none. Why am I so attached to someone I know I won’t see again…? I found him by the Grand Canal; it was almost impossible to find him between the rush of people and his parka that looked camouflaged. He stood so close to the water, too close that it scared me.
Sir! I ran up to him.
What are you doing here?
I need to talk to you.
I don’t know, let’s just talk. Lift some weight off of our shoulders.
Why are you doing this?
I don’t know… But I want to know more about you
Like a job interview?
Something like that. So, are you in or out?
In. I thanked god for his reply. I felt a rush of adrenaline, my body was buzzing with excitement.
Great! But before we begin we need to get some gelato.
He laughed. It was intoxicatingly electrifying.
He waited outside while I was ordering for the two of us. We walked past the crowd and sat down at some quiet place. There weren’t many people that passed by this area, it was so peaceful.
I need to tell you something. But before I do so, I need you to promise me one thing. Promise me that you’ll never leave.
I promise that I will never leave and never let you go. But whatever we discuss, it remains between us.
I promise you, it’s confidential. But first, what’s your name?
They call me Young Bill.
So do I just call you Young?
Yeah, why not?
And from there we picked up the pace from where we left off last time. Funny how the more he spoke the more I saw a resemblance. How we’re sitting by the riverbanks, he spoke about his life. A drowning person who can no longer tread water and I was the fisher who caught him with a rod. And that’s when it hit me, the fact that he needed help and my instinct was right. I felt like I betrayed my feelings but more importantly I betrayed him.

What did you major in, in university?
Oh, I still didn’t decide. I came here to study Fine Arts but I thought its best if I learn the language first.
Want to hear some advice from a complete stranger?
Sure. Why not I laughed
Fine Arts is a hobbie. You should be studying something else. You can be an artist but work at a totally different sector.
What do you have in mind?
What makes you think that I should be a psychologist?
The way you speak. The way you don’t judge people based on who they are, you’re way past that. You enter their souls. You’re helping me out, trust me if I went seeking help in some other place they’d spit at my face. No one cares about us, the ones who come from the lowest part of society. They treat us like dirt, they fear that we’ll do something to them. The always see us with this look, filled with disgust, sympathy and fright. On occasions you get those who throw a penny at you. But you’re not like that, you’re much much more than that. Out of this world.
I didn’t know what to say. How was I supposed to react to something like that?
I love the idea.
You don’t sound so enthusiastic. You don’t believe me?
No. No! I do, trust me I do. It’s just that there are so many factors stopping me from becoming a psychologist. I’m not mentally or ‘psychologically’ prepared for this.
What’s stopping you?
Everything. I can’t just change majors! It’s like changing life itself, changing the path I’m dedicated towards. And besides, I can’t afford paying to some posh university that teaches psychology. I’m here on a scholarship. And my parents are depending on me.
We spoke for god knows how much or how long. It was getting dark and we had to get going. I got up, my legs were entirely numb. It felt good to talk until your throat was dry and your legs were numb.
We should do this frequently.
You need to show up more frequently.
Meet me here tomorrow, at 3:45.
See you then. Take good care of yourself.
You too.

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”