Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Immigrant

Moussa bin Said lit his last cigarette for the day. This pack had to last him until tomorrow. He inhaled deeply and watched the match he carelessly flicked sputter briefly in a puddle from the afternoon rain.
Strange, he thought, the evening paper hadn't predicted any. The paper had even said, it was going to be a bright sunny day.
Well now that he thought of it, the papers had predicted an Algerian victory over Egypt in the African Cup in yesterday's game in Algiers. They'd got that wrong too.

The rain wasn't a bad thing at all he figured as he took another deep,satisfying drag. The sun was out now and the remnant barely cohesive film from the brief downpour made the leaves look greener and the Sacre Couer more ethereal than the usual 4PM light made it look.

He watched the Japanese tourists pass by, Nikons in hand, clicking everything in sight with accompaniments of exaggerated sighs. They were the easiest to peddle stuff to. All he had to do was thrust a replica Eiffel Tower into their faces, and say "2 Euros, Arigatho" in his gruff baritone with a slight furrow on his shaggy brow. This usually convinced them to buy one from him.
The Americans too were good bets. One of the paradoxes he never understood. The Germans were the most difficult, followed by the Chinese. He had trouble telling the Chinese from the Japanese when the first waves of Chinese started coming in to Paris in the early nineties. He'd learnt eventually.

He let this bunch go undisturbed though he had made half of what he usually did because of the rain. The old man who played his harp on Saturday evenings on the stairs was slowly making his way up among the evening throng coming up to watch the sun set over Paris and watch the world(yeah.... the world in the literal sense) stare into the evening sky.
He took a last deep drag and then with gentle deliberation exhaled ringlets of smoke into the evening sky. The butt joined the match without a sound and he watched it get gradually soggy.

He leaned on the railing, turning his back to the relentless horde on the courtyard on their way to the traditional photo op. He could hear Malouda trying his persuasion skills on one of the Japanese. He was new, just come into Paris from Abidjan.Just like he had all those years ago, as a fourteen year old. He and his mother.

His mother was now dead. One of the few regrets he had was that he had no photographs of her. He no longer could recall what memories of her were creations of his imagination and what memories were real. She called him Pasha. Emperor. He smiled and for a moment, he almost recalled her profile conjure itself in his minds eye with startling clarity before fading way into a maze of half formed images and words.

A voice behind him meekly said a feeble "Excuse me". Japanese, he smiled to himself as he turned to greet the owner of the voice. She was university student with a non descript bespectacled face and a slightly disheveled hairdo. "How much for the Tower?"
He smiled again. Picked one of the cheap replicas (Made in China) and gave it to the student with a look of genuine benevolence, which only time can bestow on the faces of old men, and said to her. "For you. I take nothing". The student looked confused. She slowly extracted a 5 Euro note and stood there.
Moussa, bent and packed the remaining towers into his cheap plastic bag whose zippers needed a replacement. He emptied his days earnings into his mother's camel leather pouch, his only inheritance. He got up,put on his cap and heaved the ring of trinket key chains onto his arm.
The student was still standing there with the tower in her right and the money in her left.

He turned and walked away down the stairs. He passed the harpist Jacques. They exchanged a nod and he stood there for a while listening to the sombre notes. He turned upwards. The student was still standing there. He smiled. She smiled.

Some days..are better than others, he thought. "What the hell..".. he lit another cigarette and headed down the hill to a place he called home, but was not quite one.

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