We are pleased to debut a brand new writer with us today! Asma AlKetbi shares with us a short story as her first peice on the Untitled Chapters website
Raj enters the coffee shop very slowly. He bows a little at the entrance even though the door is high and he is of average height. He stands in line, takes off his black flat cap revealing a shiny baldhead. He holds his cap with both hands right above his tiny belly, he isn’t fat but he isn’t exactly fit either. He gives a tiny bow of his head and an apologetic look to a woman who smiles at him on her way out with her coffee order to go.
Raj isn’t a very confident man, but he is happy with himself and with the little life he has with his little family. He owns a small stationary shop in a secluded building. It’s not much and its quite boring, but it pays the bills. And he is happy with that. But his wife isn’t. So he’s here to meet Hussam for a business opportunity.
He places his order and finds a seat by the window. He takes off his jacket and folds it neatly at the back of the chair. He sits and straightens his blue shirt and black pants, his hands sweaty a little bit.
“Hi Raj!” Hussam says as he enters the coffee shop, waving at him.
“Uh, hi..” Raj replies inaudibly.
“I’ll just place my order then join you”
Raj then takes out his cell phone, just to have something to do instead of awkwardly sitting there. Hussam makes his way towards Raj and he’s already talking even though he’s far away from the table.
“How are ya friend? Sorry I’m late you know I’ve been on a vacation and my sleeping pattern is still messed up. I haven’t been on a place far away, just took a vacation in the country at a resort up in Ras Al Khaima. Beautiful place. You need to do this from time to time you know, break the routine and go somewhere nice. So I’m not jet lagged or anything I’m just used to waking up late now! Ha!” he laughs at himself and puts his hands up as if he’s surrendering.
Raj smiles, and gives a shy bow.
“Have you ever been to that resort? It’s the only big one up in RAK” Hussam continues. “It’s a really nice place, mind you if your children are older they might not like it though. But my daughter did, she is 5 years old. How old is your daughter?” he leans back on the chair and puts his arm around it, his yellow shirt stretching a little bit. For the first time since he entered he looks straight at Raj, like he finally acknowledges he’s there. He crosses his legs and his shiny brown loafers appear from under the low coffee table sitting between them. He is a little chubby but he still manages to be attractive for his age of 42. He has olive skin and hazel eyes that seem green under strong light, something uncharacteristic of an Arab man.
“She is 5 years old as well” said Raj.
“My daughter is 5 and she loved it.” Continued Hussam. “So you really should go and try it. We got an executive suite because of course it’s not just me and my wife. It me and my wife, my daughter and the nanny of course. We cannot goanywhere without the nanny.” He emphasizes on the word anywhere. “She really looks after my daughter and relieves us from the worry. You know? We had fun with our friends; we booked a kind of group holiday. And it will be very boring and tiring if we didn’t have a maid to take care of our daughter.”
The waiter arrived with their drinks. Raj felt relieved for maybe now they can talk about business. Raj wasn’t comfortable with Hussam’s way of talking. He knew Hussam wasn’t trying to be arrogant and show off that he CAN have a good time. But Raj felt that he wasn’t as good as him because he couldn’t afford to get a nanny, let alone afford a holiday at a prestigious resort!
“Americano?” she said.
“For me” says Husam.
Raj smiles at the waitress and thanks her.
Hussam ignores the waiter and says to Raj, “drinking any other type of coffee isn’t coffee. Black coffee is the only way to enjoy this. No matter what! Everything else isn’t coffee it’s just a drink. Cafe latte, cappuccino and all these things. They are never real coffee. For me ONLY this is coffee.”
Raj awkwardly stirs his hot chocolate. Hussam takes a sip of his drink, and Raj thinks this is a good time to open up a conversation about work. But Hussam’s phone rings and he picks it up immediately.
“Hello. Oh yes yes I forgot about that. Send him and email to confirm. No no no you must wait for a reply from him and then I will see what we’ll do. No I don’t want you to handle this just send the emails and let me know. Ok bye.” He puts his phone on the table and looks at Raj and smiles, “work huh? It never leaves you alone. I don’t know what they will do without me. I do everything there. Even now you see it is my day off and they are still calling me for advice. Of course it’s very annoying. But I cannot trust them at the same time. Some people you have to be on top of their heads all the time, making sure they do things right. Or they will bring everything down.” He sighs. “Anyways we were talking about what? Oh yes, my vacation. You know…” his phone rings again. And he picks it up. “Hi. Yes that is what I said! Do not let them go to the client on their own, I need to know the reply then I will go with them.”
Raj gets lost in his own world. He zones out of the conversation Hussam is having on the phone. He thinks of his wife and daughter. How beautiful his wife will look in a bathing suit relaxing under the sun in an extravagant resort. His daughter doesn’t know how to swim, but he will teach her in that private swimming pool. It will be a time to remember, sometime in their life they will always cherish. If only he could afford it. Maybe we’ll go to the beach when the weather is sunny again. Suddenly Hussam shakes him from his daydreaming.
“Buddy I have to go now,” he says to Raj with one hand covering the mouth of his phone, “something came up at work and I need to deal with it. It was lovely seeing you again, stay in touch.” And just like that he got up, put the phone back to his ear and mumbled loudly as he exited the coffee shop. Raj attempting to stand and shake his hand as he left, but Hussam was already gone.
Raj sat back in his seat. Started at Hussam’s still steaming Americano. His back arched a little bit. He then looked at his hot chocolate, picked it up and took a sip. He loved this drink because he made it for his daughter all the time, it was their little thing. His wife cooked all the other meals, but hot chocolate and bedtime stories was his thing with his daughter. His special time with her. Other than how he feels with most people around here, his daughter never makes him feel invisible. No matter how low his voice is she always listened and he listened back. She took her time and waited for his replies.
It is true that an Americano is a more “macho” thing to drink, in a region where “macho” has weird standards. But he doesn’t need it. He doesn’t need its extravagance and the caffeine that hits your head and makes you want to work 24 hours a day. His boring hot chocolate and his silly adorable daughter is enough. This is all he needs. He sips, looks up and smiles at the waitress as she brings him the bill.
Author: Asma AlKetbi