A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)
“Being away from you consumes me…” With these words she began her letter to him. Her mind took her back to their moments together, his breath lighting up her senses and her mind, interrupting the flow of her words. Unable to continue writing, she placed her pen on the table and tried to busy herself with making a cup of coffee. She added more Harazi coffee, famous for its high quality, and a lot of sugar to soothe her nerves. Before the coffee boiled, she added milk then poured it into her cup, enjoying every sip. The smell of coffee took her back to the coffee shop in the old city, where they drank coffee with milk together from the same cup.
On that day, they had entered old Sana’a from Bab al-Yaman and strolled through its alleys. They heard vendors promoting their wares – traditional women’s clothes, silverware, cosmetics – inviting passersby to visit their shop and examine their goods. They walked together through the crowd, his eyes guarding her from passersby, frowning when a man got too close. They reached Samsarat al-Nuhas (copper caravanserai) and went in, enchanted by the beauty of its architecture, which dates back to the Mamluk era, with its arched stone columns and high sun-lit windows. They entered a silver shop where she chose a ring, as the seller explained to them that the pattern was named Badihi, after the Jewish sculptor. They climbed to the last level in Samsarat, from where they could admire the splendor of the architecture in Sana’a and the minarets of its mosques. The feeling of awe and sanctity made them forget their own presence. In one of the corners, she told him about the history of Sana’a as he stared at her, then planted a quick kiss on her lips and hugged her. The sound of footsteps on the stairs sobered them and they left, carrying the moment with them.
They reached Suq al-Milh (salt market), which contains several sub-markets: Suq al-Fidda (silver market), Suq al-Fitla (wool market), Suq al-Hubub (grain market), Suq al-Janabi (dagger market), Suq al-Mukassarat (nuts market), Suq al-Bazz (clothes market), and many others. In Suq al-Luqma (food market), the enticing smell of kebabs brought them closer to the gas stoves with tea and coffee jugs and fried kebabs. There were also charcoal stoves where kebabs were swirling, men sweating profusely as they worked hard, a peddler’s cart, and a man who invited them up to the families’ section of a restaurant.
He ordered several kebab skewers and two cups of coffee with milk. She fed him kebab pieces with her hand,
and he held the coffee cup for her to drink, the sound of their racing heartbeats covered by the noise from the market. They continued strolling like a couple of tourists, taking pictures of Sana’a landmarks as they walked by. They stopped to ask a copper vendor about pitchers, vases and other copperware. As their enchanting tour continued, they were left breathless by the beautiful architecture of the historical houses. A young girl looked out of a window with two wooden flaps, topped by an arc of stained glass. They passed by the Tahla mosque with its big dome and arched door, taking refuge from the sun on a bench.
At the end of their tour the couple took pictures inside an orchard then continued to walk. She skipped in front of him like a child, holding his arm every once in a while. An old woman smiled at them and wished them well, and he gave her a coin.
When they reached Sa’ila, they climbed its hanging stone bridge and watched the cars go by underneath as the houses of the old city bid them farewell and invited them to visit again.
“I will be back soon…”It is what he wrote every time she sent him a letter asking him when he would return, prompting her to ask herself, “When is soon?”
She turned on the TV and watched a report about the US landing in al-Baidah province, causing the death of many children and demolishing seven houses. She turned off the TV and went to Facebook, browsing through the profile pages of some friends. They were still talking about the incident and posting pictures of the victims. She felt nauseous, and her heart ached. She closed Facebook and held her pen again, but felt no inspiration to write.
She touched her neck with the tips of her fingers and felt the remnants of a scar. She worried about what had happened to her that morning. This was the first time she felt afraid of her partial memory loss. She was tense and had a splitting headache.
She did not know what had happened to her when she got off the bus. She only knew that when she reached the coffee shop, she ran to the toilet to wash her sweaty face and empty her bladder.
When she had looked at her reflection in the mirror, she felt terrified by the traces of a painless bite and felt a pleasant tingling in her lower lip. She was scared of this woman in the mirror and couldn’t believe this was her. Who bit her?
She went back to the table and searched for her wallet in her purse. She was shocked to see that nothing was missing. Although she tried hard to remember what had happened to her in the bus, her memory failed her. She asked herself, “Did I pay the bus driver? If I didn’t, how did he let me get off?”
Her memory was blank, and her heart was filled with fear at the thought that already she was getting Alzheimer’s, at such an early age.
She felt disgust at the smell of perfume emanating from her veil and tried to remember where she had first encountered it. Suddenly, she closed her eyes and remembered the shadow of the man who sat next to her on the bus.
Intesar Alserri, a writer from Yemen.