Road out of Damascus

Short Story published by Crab Orchard Review (Vol. 22) (2018)

The problem with telling entrepreneurs that anything is possible is that they conclude that their mobile app for tracking cat moods could land them on the Athens Stock Exchange. So, even though I’m an investor, I avoid the pitches at this startup conference and instead study the photos of sailboats lining the sun-drenched yacht club walls. It’s all good until my heart kicks into high gear when I glimpse the keynote speaker on the agenda: a dark face with almond eyes looking sideways. I’m the one who took that picture and brushed away the scar under his full lips. I scan the room, then collapse in a wooden chair by the stage with my café frappé, whipping my head around like hunted prey whenever there’s movement. 


During the panels, I check the pitches in my inbox from scientists in Thessaloniki and Crete. I contract my rejection and torpedo a swath of emails. Efficiency is critical; they multiply like fundamentalists if I don’t pick them off snappy. A lot of the startups are in energy, and I like science, but looking for investments is like house-hunting; I may say I want a white villa on Mykonos, but then fall in love with a modern refurb in Kolonaki. When I was a video-game entrepreneur, before defecting to the dark side, I looked at shrapnel and saw possibility: what could I build from that. Now, removed from the creative process, all I see is risk, so I shoot down ideas like a sniper in one of my games: fast and furious, boom boom boom.  


My spotting of an email from Aliki, a gallery owner, dissolves all the shards scraping at my peace. Since selling my startup, Javelin, I’ve poured my creative energy into taking photos of the immigration crisis. Greece had its own problems before a million refugees washed ashore, but what can we do; you don’t turn away from a drowning child. Nevertheless, I choose to depict the lighter, everyday moments: families sleeping on the beach, eating at the bakery or playing in the park. Aliki hasn’t committed yet, but neither has she rejected me like all the other galleries.


I need quiet, so I put my laptop in my backpack, which is already weighted with my camera and papers. I lug it outside, where a big guy in a suit—rookie mistake—corners me to pitch his startup. I wish it were as easy to delete a conversation in person as it is in email. Before even explaining his business, he says he’ll exit with a sale in a few years for 10x, like it’s easy, anyone can do it. This joker has no clue how much grit he needs. He’d be an easy mark in Javelin.


“I’m not interested,” I say. Clear and concise. It’s not that I enjoy snuffing the flame of these entrepreneurs’ egos, but euthanasia is often best. Kinder to kill than to let them suffer. Building a technology startup is hard enough, even outside Greece. He’ll need more than that smile and his little man bun. He exits my space, which is likely the only exit he’ll ever see. 


Liberated at last, I sit on dry dirt under an olive tree facing the Aegean to read Aliki’s email, but it’s not pages of analysis like her last one. “Thank you” is the red flag, the cigarette before the execution. She’s mastered brevity, so in just three lines knocking my pictures for being emotionally removed, it’s all over. Thank you but no thank you. I bare my soul to the universe, which shrugs, “Not quite.” My personal currency nose-dives like the old Drachma. I need a plan, but there’s no planning after you hit the wall at the end of a flat world. Game over. I should stick with investing, where I have the puppet-king’s power to be doing the rejecting.


A heavy gust of air blows hair into my mouth. My life, I see now, has been a series of turndowns. After Athens Polytechnic denied me, I slunk to the Technical University of Crete. But who knew that a degree in Engineering wasn’t enough to land a management position? So I returned to Athens to start up Javelin. 


Before I heave my body up to leave, Yesoph appears, black t-shirt draped over his swimmer’s chest. Three diamond studs in his ear provide an offset to his testosterone. His goatee is new—I thought he hated facial hair—and I wish my body didn’t react, but I can’t keep from smacking my lips to check they’re still goopy with gloss. While I was the one to disengage last Spring, I’ve been on the lookout for him around every corner, as if he might be riding his motorcycle past my apartment on Lycabettus, lurking at the outdoor indie movie theater, or checking out his shoulders in the mirror at our favorite bookstore in Syntagma Square. He’s holding an espresso, which they don’t serve at this conference, but he always gets what he wants, whether it’s women opening doors or traffic lights turning green. 


Yesoph was an ocular surgeon before he became a serial entrepreneur—or, rather, a “cereal” entrepreneur: snap, crackle and pop to get the party started, before the boredom sets in. He’s perfectly cast for this role, with his nose for novelty. His olive eyes, only partially open, miss nothing. Earbuds drip out of the front pocket of his jeans, which are too expensive to show a label, paid for by his surgical device startup in Syria that he sold back when there was opportunity, before the civil war. The scar below his lip came from jumping out of the dinghy after crossing over from Turkey to Greece. 


The resilience that flared in his bright eyes like a superpower inspired me to start my immigration portfolio, and he became my muse. While we ate langoustines under the trees after that first shoot, he pointed out the fishing net billowing under the morphing colors of the sea, the beauty of its flowing, erotic motion driven by the laws of science. Yesoph’s technical skills and his small stash of cash were enough for him to build a new business and a new life here in Athens. Two startups later, he’s made a name for himself, but that’s all been here in Greece, and I still have no idea who he was in Damascus.


“Ariana...” The particular way he rolls his r’s gives away his Arabic accent when he speaks Greek. 


His voice is lower than you’d expect from a man his size. He’s not exactly short, but he seems taller from far away. It’s all part of this package designed to fit women. He’s the one man I don’t stand on tippy-toes to kiss. A few people pass by to compliment him on the keynote speech, which I missed while I was reading my rejection. He squats in front of me, shading his eyes from the sun. His belly looks a little thicker, still all muscle. Far behind him, refugee children scream and run around a dirt patch by the sea. I button my shirt to hide my necklace, a circular pendant of blue glass with a painted eye—a talisman to counter the deadly rays sent out by certain people through their eyes. 


He tells me about his painting and his latest startup which is taking off, but that isn’t what’s bothering me. What’s eating at me—what’s been gnawing at my serenity for months—is our lack of closure. I’ve been waiting for this, considered and reconsidered my words, but now I don’t know what to say. I want to feel anger, and I’d be justified, but I can’t find it in the familiar smell of the sea from his early morning swim.


“You’re not eating well,” he says. He never misses the nuance in my skin—shiny spots, pallor, splotches, or rosacea—which reminds me that I am seen.


You seem to be eating fine,” I say.


I look in my backpack, presumably for lip gloss, but really to buy myself a moment. Inside is the brown envelope, stuffed full and slightly crushed from the months it’s been in there, waiting for light, waiting for flight…waiting for my clarity and strength, which keep calling out, “Coming…just a sec, almost there!”


“I have the papers,” I say, to test my own reaction as much as his. 


His eyes flash sadness, but he’s not one for remorse; he says everything happens for a reason. Funny concept from a guy who had to flee his homeland. 


“Send them to the lawyer,” he says, turning away. 


“Like this is my fault.”


His breath quickens at my response, which is its own little gift. It’s not that I couldn’t use his calm, but I’d gladly give up mine to explode his. 


“You’re the one who brought lawyers into our relationship, so tell me what you want,” he says.


“This isn’t about money. Your Syrian pounds are as worthless to me as your hand-crafted Bosendorfer.” He doesn’t even play piano, but he needs to live among beautiful objects. 


The conference organizer interrupts to steer us toward the cocktail cruise. I close my backpack, stand up and brush the dirt off my legs, pleased that I wore this short dress. Yesoph and I walk side by side to the dock, behind the others who are just extras in our play. Our proximity spews a cocktail of chemicals in my brain—comfort, danger, and desire in equal measure, shaken with ice. I never knew my body was capable of such betrayal. 


We walk along the shore, where a blue-domed church is protected by a parapet, which reminds me of the haiku that I wrote for our wedding, the only haiku I ever wrote. (It was his idea.)


You, My Water

My wall breaks strong spears.

But through the cracks in the stones,

Warm rainwater flows.


The church is about the size of a photo booth, barely bigger than the postbox beside it. I’ve already signed the papers in my backpack, and the envelope is labelled. The appearance of the mailbox is a sign that I should send it, but then again “should” is one of those words that should be banished.

 

We follow the crowd to the dock and onto the sailboat. Yesoph leads me inside and hands me a sweet cocktail, a token of feigned optimism for our shattered economy. I can’t guzzle it fast enough. The conference sponsor, a billionaire ship owner, thanks Yesoph for his keynote about the impact of the immigration crisis on the economy. 


We sample grilled octopus, which sits heavy in my stomach, and then find a corner out of the bright lights. When electric guitars and drum-thumping fill the air, he winces. He’d rather be strumming bouzouki, which he learned for our wedding. 


“How does a person walk away from what we had? Hm?” he asks. Yesoph’s voice is soft, like his eyes, but it doesn’t subdue my agitation. 


The boat’s low ceiling holds in all the sweat and chatter of the conference attendees, cutting any flow of oxygen through the stale air hanging overhead. I bite my lip, unable to formulate a response because I obviously have no answers. All I did, three quarters and four investments ago, was walk my body away. The rest remains in suspended animation. 


Then I remember Aliki’s email, and because the thought of rejection cuts to my core, I blurt out, “I just got another brush-off.”


I don’t tell people about my rejections because the sheer volume is the shame I carry with me. But I trust Yesoph to tend to this secret, caress it and hand it back to me wrapped up in shiny paper with a silk bow, as a gift to my self-image. Yesoph is unique that way; he doesn’t judge. He tilts his head and gazes at me. Only after a hundred photographs over those first three days did I see through the spark in his dark green eyes to the compassion beneath.


“So this one gallery in all the world isn’t going to represent your photography. Does that mean those pictures don’t exist?”


“Maybe I should drop the dream so it stops dropping me,” I say. 


“Did you expect this to be easy?” 


He knows how to do this, how to make me see the world through his eyes. It’s a beautiful form of manipulation that I accept with gratitude. I look up at him. I ache and I smile. 


He hands me his bag of Turkish figs, a staple when we used to go out spearfishing for octopus. I pick through his cache to find a fig that’s squishy, and I hear the tiny seeds break as I chew through the skin into the sweet flesh. It tastes like ouzo, exploring remote villages, waiting on the boat for the branzino to bite, and sandy sex in hidden coastal nooks. When we were together, we admired the art of life: scraps of marble in the sea, abandoned fishing boats, or the leathery old man on a donkey with a cigarette hanging out under his moustache. The sugar perks me up.


Yesoph has well-defined lips, darker than pink. I feel a pull to move in closer, which is more than physical. He knows my inner workings, and he accepts me. He understands why I value a single viewer of my photographs more than a thousand paying Javelin gamers. I reach for another fig, if only to keep my mouth from making a mistake, but this one isn’t soft. The inside is darker and the seeds are harder. It doesn’t taste fresh, so I flush it down with another drink. The sails deflect the air to propel us forward, up and down, front then back. 


“I’m sorry,” I whisper. I should’ve said it months ago, but I was afraid to lose control of the situation. “It was harsh to run out like that, but I thought a clean break would be easier.”


I figured some things are best left unsaid, especially when they make no sense, when they’re internally inconsistent. My logic, which is my bedrock and pride, chose to pick up and skip town. So I did the same, without taking into account his ongoing presence in my consciousness.


“I never loved her,” he explains. 


“That’s not the issue,” I say, trying not to raise my voice.


“Our parents set it up. She wasn’t my choice. I never knew what it was to fall in love until you and I had our first fight.” When he was teaching Syrian children Greek, I insisted on taking photos, over his objections that it negated the charity of his act. “I love you, Ariana. I chose to be with you.”


“You chose to marry me without telling me you were still married to someone in Syria.”


I never knew Yesoph’s family or friends, whether he really did go to med school at Damascus University, or anything about the middle class town where he claims he grew up. I had no context for him, so I simply invented the pieces that were missing. Finding the marriage certificate folded at the bottom of the wooden box holding his acrylic paints shook all my assumptions and rocked the foundation of my world. So I wrote him a note and I left. I realized the life we’d built was a façade—a picture formed by lit electrons on a computer screen with nothing behind it. Who knows what other secrets he’d kept from me? I couldn’t triangulate my perceptions with those of someone else who knew him. Perhaps he was an escaped criminal. I had no way to know. 


“I told her it was over when I left,” he says. “The rest is just paperwork. I’m not going back. This is my home now. Syria is five years and a thousand miles in my past.”


“All you had to do was tell me. I don’t get it. You’re not stupid and you’re not insensitive. I can’t figure out why you would’ve done this. Was it ‘screw you’ to her or to me?”


“It was nothing like that. The essence of marriage is love, not a piece of paper. You’re totally missing the point,” he says.


“Why couldn’t you tell me the truth?”


“I was living the truth,” he says.


“What truth? You never talk about your home, your family or your trip over here. How many times did you fall in love along the way? I mean, it’s a long road from Damascus, right?”


I hold a pole to steady myself, wondering if my question was too cruel or not cruel enough. His lie of omission is a simple deal-breaker like any other. No need to over-analyze it, and nothing to be gained by trying to rationalize ways around it. It’s like lamenting the color of my eyes. No point. It just is.


Yesoph’s face falls. He’s gazing at my chest, a boyish understatement which never attracts any interest from the world, but my necklace has popped out from under my shirt. My blue eyes, a rarity in Greece, can unintentionally bestow a curse, so the evil eye medallion had been his gift of protection for the baby we tried to conceive.


“You loved me the day before you found the paper,” he says.


“I did.”


“You either love me or you don’t,” he says.


“My feelings, like you, aren’t trustworthy. They’re often wrong.”


“Wrong or fickle?” he asks. 


If this relationship can be measured by the blood his fingernails gouge through my skin, then we still have something. He’s made the accusation before, but this time I’m prepared. 


“Fickle is clouds from a steamship floating this way and that, not a boat pulling away with engines full throttle while it’s still anchored to the sea floor.”


“I love you, Ariana. I think about you every hour, every day,” he says.


“Fine line between love and OCD.” 


Outside the window, the sun is setting over the water. It’s the same sun we used to watch from our boat on Lesbos. I try to breathe, but it’s disjointed. 


“You’re spinning,” he whispers. And it’s true; I am.


The boat careens up and to the right, throwing me into Yesoph’s chest, but I need to get out of here, escape these people and the noise. I weave through the bodies to the door that leads up the stairs, away from the smell of fried cheese and sausage. When the boat tips, I reach to the railing to catch myself. 


Up on the deck, the night air is cool, propelling drops of salty water onto my face. The only sound is the wind and the waves. I take a breath. Yesoph has followed me, and when I rub my arms, he takes off his jacket to put it around my shoulders.


We’re heading nearly straight into the wind, away from the dots of light on the mainland, so my hair flies all over my face. 


“Why are you doing this?” he asks, as though I hold all the cards. 


I don’t respond.


“So that’s it, eh?” he asks. “It must be nice to be able to recover so quickly. I’d like that.”


“I never claimed my emotions match my actions.”


“That’s not an honest way to live, is it?” he asks, like this sin of mine compares to his. “You’ll regret this.” That’s my worry. It’s the same sinking feeling I have every time I hang up with the bank after transferring funds into a new startup. “Did you tell your parents?” he asks. 


Mom was so thrilled to finally have a son—and Eastern Orthodox at that—that she invited him to church. He went every week. Crafty move on his part.


“Of course I told them.”


“That wasn’t your secret to share,” he says, round lips tightened. “Effie’s a mother to me.”


But she’s my mother, the source of my heart-shaped hair line and ankles too thick for my frame. Her unconditional love belongs to me and, forced to choose, she’ll turn away from him. He looks down at the ground, pondering something. It’s part of his mystery, all those unspoken thoughts. But a wrapped box can reveal anything: a new, state-of-the-art camera or a Molotov cocktail.


When we turn 45 degrees, the sails flop around until they catch the wind from the other side. He wipes the bench dry with his sleeve so we can sit. I forgot to eat lunch, so I reach into the bag for another fig. I squeeze the fig between my finger and thumb to soften it before taking a bite. It’s not satisfying, but I finish it anyway. Yesoph sits with his arms widespread on the back of the bench like we’re out sunbathing. The boat tips to the left as it catches a wave, which makes me hold my stomach.


He knows I get seasick, so he starts singing Nami Nami, a Syrian lullaby that he sang when I was anxious about not getting pregnant, and again later whenever I was stressed for any reason. This song always carried significance to me, as one of his only keepsakes from his homeland. I still believe his story about his grandmother singing it to him as a child.


The lullaby reminds me of the baby we never had, which would’ve been a tangible product of our time together—an unbreakable connection. I’d always know his coordinates, I’d know when he got his thick hair trimmed, and every new dripping bathing suit. I’d be set apart from the girls on the beach who untie their towels and shake out their ponytails for him. 


Yesoph’s voice is deep and grainy, soulful and accurate. He sings with eyes closed, strumming the air with his fingers. The boat turns and sways side to side as if trying to throw us off. Keeping him just out of reach all these months, papers unsigned, has left me longing. So what—what’s the harm of his presence in my psyche? When a cloud passes, or life’s magic is missing, I shoot up an image of him lying in twisted sheets under the morning sun, eyes half-closed, and my spirit settles.


He reaches into my backpack and pulls out my camera. He’s the only one who’s ever photographed me, and he’s always careful about the lens perspective on what he charitably calls my Venus de Milo nose, a perfect—but not small—Pythagoras triangle. He’s never taken time to learn all the camera buttons, but he likes to play the Renaissance man. In fact, his painter’s eyes see things that I miss. Whenever I’m overwhelmed by his absence, I look through his photos and discover detail, like the out-of-focus girl in the corner of the frame with sad eyes on the boy who’s fallen off his bike.


As Yesoph removes the lens cover, I’m struck by his body language. He’s sitting back, legs apart, not touching any part of me. There’s no sexual urgency. How did I miss that? 


“Are you dating?” I ask, drawing away. 


He waits a beat before answering, then smirks.


“If that’s what you want to call it.” He snaps my picture. 


I appreciate his lack of filter. It’s a form of honesty, something I can hold onto. I smile for the camera.


“Good for you. Action is good.” I picture those shipwrecked girls on the beach, with their snarled, dark mangles on the root to thin frays of bleached blond at the bottom. I want the best for him, as long as it doesn’t allow others to see him as I do. I want his happiness, but of course I want mine more. “Nothing wrong with a little novelty. You’ll have much better stories for your therapist now.” 


Yesoph doesn’t react. I turn toward the lit houses on the shore which shrink as the night darkens. We’re moving forward, which is what I’ve wanted, but my stomach feels like a bag of crawling worms. Maybe I’m overthinking his lapse in judgment. His face softens when he sees my struggle, and he reaches out to me. I can’t help myself. His familiar fingers, intertwining with mine, are rough from the solvent he uses to wipe off his paints.


A little girl in a pink dress and flip flops tugs my arm to offer me a carnation. She’s wearing a crown of laurels in her curly black hair. I wonder where her parents are, or if she slipped onto this cruise alone. She has high cheekbones and sunken eyes, like the woman I’ve looked up on the internet, my husband’s wife. I wonder if this girl could be Yesoph’s daughter. It’s a crazy thought. They never had kids—well, so the story goes. 


The girl juts the flower toward Yesoph’s chest and says something in another language.


“I don’t speak Arabic,” Yesoph replies in Greek. She can’t tell that his Greek has an Arabic accent. She believes the lie which rolls so easily off his lips, and she walks away, dejected, as another wave swells and rocks the boat to the side. 


I disengage and stand up, but the swaying knocks me off my balance, and my pumps lose their grip. The chill of the splashing water does nothing to cool my burning body. I have to get off the boat, but there’s nowhere to go. I tell Yesoph I’m queasy and hand him his jacket, then grab my camera and backpack. 


He reaches toward me, but I know his cure is my poison, so I put my hand up, fingers tingling, to keep him from speaking or following me, and I grope my way around the boat to the railing which is covered with a film of water. The boat sways in simple harmonic motion, up and down, and the noise of the splashing takes on its cadence. My fingers are clammy and my stomach tightens. I resist the impulse to heave, but my will isn’t as strong as my body, which starts convulsing to extract the figs. The people standing beside me move away as I lean over the side of the boat and let it all out into the water below until my stomach is void.


Cold and wet, I count the minutes until we reach land. I stare at the shore to keep from seeing Yesoph. When we dock, I rush to the plank to get onto firm ground. The girl in the pink dress flees past and runs off by herself like a Javelin guerilla through the disarray of taxis maneuvering around the pedestrians. As I pat my backpack to be sure the papers haven’t fallen out, the big guy with the man bun catches me. 


“Hi again,” he says, jacket and tie in his arms. 


Relieved to find refuge from Yesoph, I nod and half-smile. I strain my neck to look up at him, which seems incongruous with our power dynamics. A group passes us, and one of the men turns back—it’s Yesoph, who shrugs at me like it’s my turn. He hangs back a step before turning the corner. I’d run up and grab his rough hand if that weren’t a little like chugging one last shot of whiskey on the bus to rehab.


The entrepreneur and I weave through the crowd and the trucks, while the earth moves under my feet. My legs are still shaky, and I know the feeling won’t right itself until morning. The tiny street has been constricted by cars parked on both sides, half up on the white-tiled sidewalk. I look to the end for the postbox, but I can’t see it behind a three-wheeled mini-truck.


“You were a gaming pioneer,” the entrepreneur says, ducking under the branch of an olive tree. “Why’d you sell out?” 


It takes me a moment to bring my mind to the topic of Javelin. 


“I was burned out.” I wrap my long black hair into a loose bun. 


Maybe we shouldn’t have sold the business. I was somebody, and now what am I? The weight of the papers is hurting my shoulder, so I sling my backpack to the left. I think about Aliki’s email which was constructive and kind, but it was still a rejection. She said my images lack emotion. The question is whether I’m lacking the technical skills to transmit feeling or whether my life experience is simply shallow. 


Man-bun lights up when he explains his technology, like he’s talking about a girl he just met—something about tracking messages. His eyes are the color of the water in Lesbos. His startup is risky and all he has is an alpha prototype. I prepare an explanation for why I won’t invest, but I try to think of words to soften the message. 


I remember now that he’s emailed me several times. I want to reward him for his tenacity, so instead of walking away, I articulate the problems with his business model. He listens and takes notes. 


“Everything takes a lot longer than you think,” I say. “We had to rework the pitch, over and over. Our first sales took a year to close. It was scary; we really needed the cash.”


As we walk under the street lamps, I can’t help but eye the approaching mailbox on the corner, beside the domed church.


“Why didn’t you raise more money?” he asks.


“We got turned down by every VC in Boston, New York and San Francisco. There was no funding here in Athens back then. We almost went under, but we trudged through until we found a speckle of light.”


I run my hand over the jasmine which billows over an iron fence, then smell the sweetness on my palm.


“Maybe the failures don’t matter so much if the journey’s fun,” he says. “It’s hard, but I love it.”


And I love photography: creating beauty from a blank sheet. Even as we’re walking, I can’t help but think of new ideas for my portfolio. The church bell rings. It’s like the closing clang at the end of a round in Javelin, when the winning gunshot is replayed and frozen on the screen to the sound of the bell’s resonance tapering off, just before the game restarts.


“Any advice?” he asks, which is code for asking if I want to invest.


“Stick with it. We never gave up when people said our product was crappy.”


The immigrants in my photographs would never give up either. Maybe I could get the Javelin developers—bored and underutilized since the acquisition—to design a website for my pictures so I’d have a better shot at landing a gallery. My drive for audience is visceral. An act of creation only has value if it’s experienced; the power to move another person requires another person. 


Man-bun smiles. He’s fearless. He could be the next great CEO. He’s exuding hope. I remember that feeling and I want it back. We talk over strategy and my stomach starts to settle.


“It must be nice to be you,” he says. It’s a funny joke after the ride I’ve just been through.


“Better to be you. You’re making it happen. Customers are going to be consuming your product; you’re creating something from nothing. You’re the one with the power here. It’s all on you.”


We pass an apartment building made of lemon-colored concrete. A Greek flag flaps in the wind, blue stripes rippling like waves of the Mediterranean, which adds weight to my words, as if he owes it to our homeland to build a business and create jobs. I could never abandon my country the way Yesoph did. Startups are just taking off here in Athens; we have work to do. 


We approach the tiny white church with candles flickering through the windows. I stop and open my backpack for my camera, which I see is bending the papers. I pull out the manila envelope and check the address. I’m not the kind of person who waits for things, especially intangibles like “resolution” which have no delivery date. I turn to the post box and open the little door before reaching in with the envelope. All that’s left is for Yesoph to sign his sloppy scrawl. I might not see him again for months, and his life will proceed without me. But the color of the sea won’t change. 


Gravity has its way, and the envelope slips out of my fingers, hitting the bottom with a thunk. This isn’t counter fire, it’s surrender. 


As I pull up my backpack, which is lighter now, the smell from corn grilling on a street cart reminds me that my stomach is empty, but the vendor is nowhere to be seen. 


“Can we chat over coffee next week?” Man-bun asks. 


First I need to get to my computer to sift through galleries and find five new names. I lean toward the stand and sniff the smoke, so he picks up a cob of corn and hands it to me, leaving 5 Euros on the cart. The oozing kernels are crunchy, full of salt and butter. 


“Yes to the coffee?” he asks.


His doggedness is delightful. That vitality reminds me of Yesoph tasting a sea urchin that he’d caught by the lagoon of the uninhabited island near our home, insisting I try it. I glance back at the postbox. Zambeta’s crooning over bouzouki starts blaring from a bar.


“Show me how your product works,” I say.


He downloads the app onto my phone. 


“Just input a phone number—but you also need to know the phone’s password. The app will transmit all their messages to you: whatever’s on the phone plus anything that comes in while the app is open.”


Without thinking of other options, I input Yesoph’s phone number and password, which was the date we met. I wonder when he’ll fall in love again and remarry. Even then, he’ll still occupy beachfront property in my psyche.


My eyes are transfixed on the app, waiting for it to deliver on its promise, until I hear a rant from a woman in a headscarf. All but her eyes are hidden, so for a flash of a second she looks like one of the masked warriors in Javelin. She’s scolding a little girl—the girl in the pink dress, whose crown is crooked now, its leaves half-broken. I don’t need to speak Arabic to understand the fear of loss in the woman’s aching eyes. 


I hand Man-bun my phone. “Delete the app.”


“Don’t you want to see?” he asks.


“Delete it. I’ll introduce you to an expert in the space.”


I drop my backpack and start rummaging. It’s a lost feeling, not a lost object or person, which would indicate a different place and method to find it back. I pull out my camera.


The woman grabs the girl’s hand to pull her in, and then slaps her face. The girl cries out, and soon blood is running out of her nose. She lifts her hands to stop the flow. Her recessed eyes look up at the woman in dismay. The mother, redeemed by her evident shock and guilt, kneels on the ground as the weight of her anger lifts, and she removes her headscarf to wipe her daughter’s nose. She wraps the child in her arms and rubs her hair as she consoles her with small words. I’ll never forget the time Mom explained that she always loved me, even when she was angry, and it took me a while as a child to understand that. The mother kisses the girl’s cheek, but I wait to focus the lens until I catch the girl’s face, blood-stained and shiny, reflecting neither anger nor remorse, but simply relief from her mother’s embrace. I push the button, and that’s when I feel my power.