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Gayyash Al 'Aatifa

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Garage Noon (Farargy el Sa3ada)

Having finished my downtown errand, I returned to the garage and found the old attendant standing by a large blue barrel a few meters inside the entrance. He looked up at me, squinting, the glare of his peculiarly white skin and his silver hair lending intensity to an otherwise blank expression. He was nearly albino, and through his low unbuttoned collar I saw the flushed redness of his chest and wondered if pressing my thumb against it would leave such a brilliant white stamp as it did on my father's when I was a child. The old man stared, following my walk by turning his head, his hands having paused their plucking of the steaming slaughtered chicken slumped over the barrel's edge.

He said nothing as I approached so I greeted him and said that I was leaving. The chicken fell to the bottom of the barrel with a thud and the man's hands fell to his sides before he turned to follow me deeper into the garage, still silent except for the gravelly scrape of his slippers against the concrete floor. I, too, walked in silence, wondering what to think about chicken.

Seated in my car I rolled down the window while the old man stood with his back hunched towards me and his eyes following my hands as they searched my wallet for exact change. By the time I realised I was short on small bills, the smell of chicken and the man's raggedy galabeyya had fully occupied my lungs. He had not yet said a word but his breathing was loud and I could swear I felt his scent in my eye.

I looked up and told him I only had a five. He made a small private grunt and reached into his galabeyya, pulling a wad of money from a vest pocket that, given the peculiar shrug of his shoulder, seemed unusually close to his armpit.

I now watched his old hands sort through crumpled single notes. Girthy, shaky hands, they looked soft, as if they'd been soaked, and were covered to the wrists in small wet feathers. His galabeyya was like that of a baladi butcher's, blood-speckled at the belly but less so, for his operation, clandestine as it likey was, involved the shedding of much less blood.

"One," he said, as he reached forward with a pound note. I took it, noticing a feather on his thumbnail, half of it still fluffy and voluminous--defiant, as if saluting its slain chicken's honour. I kept my palm open and the man said "two," handing over another crumpled note before he returned the money-wad to his body and took a slow intuitive step back.

I started the engine and said thank you. The old man raised his arm in the direction of the garage exit, mumbled something and walked off, dragging his feet as he had on the way over. I held my change in cupped hands and examined the notes and now with everything silent and still I easily imagined the notes breathing. They were warm, moist and covered in feathers, quivering with my pulse. I thought of the blue barrel and wondered how many chickens he slaughtered each day.


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