He sat staring at his reflection in the mirror. It was an old bar, and the glass was original, so his face appeared cracked and fuzzy. The bartender came by and tried to strike up a conversation, but he looked away and made it clear he didn’t want to talk. He sat quietly for another minute, then turned and offered his girlfriend a cigarette.
“Did I ever tell you why I left school?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”
“I lost a hundred grand gambling one night in Monaco. They came after me for the money, so I had to leave England right away. My father still hasn’t forgiven me for not finishing my degree.”
“Is that how you ended up here?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “And I fucking hate it. I hate the people. I hate the culture. I hate everything about the U.S. I especially hate this ridiculous college town with all these annoying alternative types.”
“They annoy everyone,” she said with a laugh, “especially themselves.”
He fell silent again and sat staring at the old mirror.
“You have no idea what it means to hate—I mean to really hate,” he said.
She didn’t respond. Instead she pulled a small compact from her purse and began checking her face.
“Of course you don’t. How could you? Your people do it to themselves. Your parents could have worked hard and saved money, but instead they partied all the time and pissed everything away—hippies, artists, homosexuals, and oh my God, that mother of yours! And you—look at you, out drinking and smoking. You have no conception of suffering. Your people know nothing of pain.”
She held the compact in her hand and touched up her bright red lipstick while he continued on his tangent.
“Did I ever tell you about my grandfather?” he asked.
“Nope,” she said, putting away her makeup and closing her vintage bag with a snap.
“He was only a boy at the time of the genocide—maybe seven or eight. He had nine brothers and sisters. The Turks forced them all leave home and wander the countryside. My great grandfather died, along with seven of his children. In the end there was only my grandfather and my great aunt.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking down.
He was silent for a long time, then suddenly a huge smile appeared on his face.
“Did I ever tell you I bought you?” he said with a laugh.
She abruptly turned around on her stool. “What do you mean by that?”
“Remember when I picked out that funky old kilim from your dad’s crazy shop. He was only asking four hundred for it, but I wrote him a check for eight grand. Your dad just smiled and thanked me—he never said a damn thing.” He laughed again and motioned for the bartender.
“Bring us another round down here, Carl. And don’t be such a stranger—come on over and say hi every now and again.”
She turned her stool back around and faced the window.
“Oh don’t get mad. You were under age at the time—he could have had me thrown in jail. He needed the money anyway. You guys didn’t even have food at the time. If it wasn’t for me you’d still be living in that dumpy apartment, dressed in rags, and starving to death with all your step mothers and your half-brothers and sisters—hippies, artists, and homosexuals, and you, their pretty little vagabond princess. Hey, that’s funny! Vagabond princess, vagabond princess, ha ha ha!”
She sat staring out the window. It was raining and large drops of water were running down the plate glass. She tried to focus on her reflection but it was nothing but a blur.
She held her daughter’s hand tightly and dragged her through the crowded marketplace.
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down
London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady…
“For the last time, I’m begging you, please stop singing that song. And for God’s sake, who taught it to you in the first place?”
“Uncle Wali,” the little girl answered, struggling to keep up with her mother’s footsteps.
Usually her uncle walked her to school in the morning, but today he had something to do, and reluctantly left the job to her mother.
“Take her directly to the school building,” he said before leaving. “And be sure not to linger in the marketplace. Pass through quickly and stay away from crowded areas.”
“Uncle Wali is teaching me English so I can go to school when we move to England,” the girl explained.
“Well, Uncle Wali shouldn’t be filling your head with crazy ideas.”
As they walked by a vegetable stall an old woman, upset by the high price of onions began abusing a merchant in front of his customers.
“A thief, a shameless thief, stealing from his own people. God sees what you are doing. God will punish you!” she yelled.
Again her mother held her close and dragged her on. “And you should know better than to sing that song in the street—especially now,” she said.
Build them up with gold and silver, gold and silver, gold and silver
Build them up with gold and silver, my fair lady…
“You really are trying to push it with me today, aren’t you? Uncle Wali is not taking us anywhere. We’re staying right here.”
She continued pulling her daughter forward, moving quickly—past the tea stalls, past the smoke shops, past the booksellers.
“That’s not what Uncle Wali said. He told me as soon as he has enough money saved up, he’s going to take us both to England. He’s going to open a carpet shop and send me to school. He said in England I can be anything I want when I grow up. I want to be a veterinarian. They take care of animals. I love animals.”
Take the key and lock her up, lock her up, lock her up
Take the key and lock her up, my fair lady…
Suddenly her mother came to abrupt halt. “Please be quiet!” This time she shouted so loud, several people stopped and looked over. But she ignored their glances, grabbed her daughter’s hand, and moved on. The school building was just around the corner.
“Why don’t you like Uncle Wali, mommy?”
“I love Uncle Wali very much, you know that. I just don’t like him filling your head with crazy ideas. And that song! You know how I feel about that song.”
Up ahead at the corner, a motorbike sped past. The mother hesitated for a moment, then continued through the crowd.
London Bridge is falling down, falling down falling down
London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.