… The girl nodded and took out a selection of carousels with previously burnt candles from the shelves behind her. As the man approached her, she caught a subtle whiff of his expensive spiced cologne. He watched her nimble child’s hands light the candles and stand back expectantly. The delicate dancing flames were magnified in their reflection on a dark blue-green domed glass vase sitting on one side of the counter top, creating a soporific effect the girl had orchestrated and observed countless times before. The accompanying light reflection in her blue-grey eyes, however, was one she was not aware of, though its allure was not lost on her customers. The man leaned into the counter, ‘They are charming. I like them a great deal. But perhaps you could show me something else.’
‘Of course,’ the girl said as she instantly busied herself walking around the cramped shop, pointing out various trinkets and their appeal. The man followed with a temperate gait, listening to the girl chirrup out her sales patter, admiring her light steps around the shelves she knew so well. They finally came full circle to the counter, the man had shown no obvious buying signals for any of the objects she had shown him. She went back behind the counter wondering whether he was just another passing timewaster. She silently berated herself for falling for it, she was usually such a good judge of character, though the man’s affluent airs and his compelling otherness had clouded her reasoning. She was about to sit down when the man leaned into the counter again, ‘How about that little thing?’
‘I’m sorry?’ the girl asked confused.
The man raised his eyes above the girl’s head and followed with a point of a well-manicured index finger to a square portion of wall space in between the shelves behind her. She turned to look at a white porcelain bird perched inside a brass hoop of floral vines. ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she shook her head. ‘That’s not for sale. It’s just part of the shop decoration. I think it’s been here for years.’
The man flashed his pearly teeth as he smiled again, ‘I would very much like to see it please.’
The girl sighed almost inaudibly as she tiptoed to release the bird from its hook. As she did so the bird twittered as it moved back and forth on its hoop. The girl laughed, having not expected the sound, her unpainted mouth flew open just as a crinkle ruched her small nose. Her face was soft and bright as she looked up at the man.
He nodded, ‘I love it. I’ll take it.’
She explained again it was not for sale but the man insisted. Finally she said she would ask the shop owners in the evening and if they accepted, he could pick it up from them the following morning as she would not be working over the weekend. The man agreed, thanked her for her time and smiled warmly as he left the shop. As she saw his straight back get smaller as it navigated the cobble stones down the street, the girl took a moment to consider him, this man with his pomp and foreign cologne who smiled so handsomely at her. It was not the smile of the earnest young boys she had grown up with in Adelenou, there was an expansive self-assurance delivered with his smile that she had not been exposed to before. He seemed to be from some other place, some place much more enthralling than her little home by the sea. She took the time to reflect over his fine features and found herself feeling something akin to pride that he had shown her so much attention. She toyed with various gratifying fancies before checking herself, picking up her book and delving back into the world within its pages.
Every weekend during high season the beach at Adelenou heaved with bodies, resident and holidaymaking, all paying worship to the glorious sun and glittering waves creeping up the aurulent sand. The local girls of Adelenou were out on display, relishing the power they held over their captive audience encompassing the whole beach. They stroked their lissome limbs as they inspected insignificant grains of sand on their skin and readjusted their bathing suits to oust imaginary seaside debris. They flicked their long hair and took pleasure in languidly stretching their taut torsos as they settled themselves on the sinking hot sand. Older women, less limber, more corpulent, looked on with annoyance and not a little jealousy as they could feel their husbands’ ineffective attempts to conceal any physical response to the visual stimulus lying so dangerously close by. The men fought hard to not gobble up these girls with their eyes and the most wise amongst them feigned indifference and disinterest when prodded by their wives, uncomfortably turning to snooze on their paunches and muttering words to the effect of, ‘What girls my dear? Hmm? Oh yes, there. No I hadn’t noticed them before now.’
All the girls preened and posed except one. Our young girl of the gift shop didn’t feel she had the plushness of pout and litheness of limb to fully execute the show offered by her peers. Her fine hair, now waved by sea salt, didn’t bounce when she flicked it like the other girls and she didn’t possess the buxom curves to create much response from the audience of beach goers. Her lack of exhibition and unreserved ease in being part of the rhythmic sea and sand were a rare delectation for a certain sort of man. He admired her – her zigzagged body ensconced against a sun-lounger: heart-shaped face, sloped hipbones, longish feet – and took pleasure in the surprising inelegant beauty of her knees. He saw her laugh with full unpainted-mouthed, crinkle-nosed splendour, and decided he had to have her. Having won the bird in the brass hoop from the gift shop earlier that morning, old pearl-smiles decided he would win the girl too…
Copyright 2018 Joon Haque. All rights reserved