Thud! Jay felt pierced inside. The woman’s gaze had done that. As the first inklings of pain radiated from his throat and his eyes watered, he wondered at the pain. Her golden-brown eyes were still locked with his own as the rest of the world seemed to recede from his consciousness.
With a blink, the world jump-started again. She moved in through the door and past him, into the restaurant, carrying with her a whiff of her perfume. His thoughts were jumbled and for a second or two he struggled to pull his chain of thought together – caught in mid-sentence.
He’d been talking about a podcast he’d heard. That was it! He started again, “… sixty minutes. The reporters were near Jerusalem, interviewing some of the Palestinians about the manner in which the Israeli forces were treating them.”
Jay was seated opposite and to the right of the entrance to L’Aubergine. Gasser and Rania’s group of friends were sitting on the red couches just inside L’Aubergine, waiting for a table to free up. He’d joined them a few minutes ago for a quick drink before he headed off to a friend’s birthday.
Gasser had been bitching about the partition that had been recently removed by the management. Earlier it had protected the couches from the draft of air from the door’s opening and closing as more patrons entered. Now, everyone in their group looked up each time the door opened to let someone in, followed by a cold chilly draft.
Mary, recently arrived from Boston, was filling them in about her fellow students at Brandeis, who were in favor of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Jay’d responded with his story about the Sixty Minutes podcast, telling her that there was still some good reporting in the USA, when she walked in.
He closed his eyes briefly to concentrate and hold her image in his mind and freeze it. He had it now. Her eyes stared back at him, in the shock of mutual recognition and her fine brows rose gently to register her slight… was it amusement? Her long, almost elfin face held a slight frown, mouth slightly open, as if in a low whistle. Her almost silky straight hair was longer now, a mix of dark gold and black, reflecting the light from the lamps outside. And her long neck ended in a round-necked shimmering blouse of a dark material. She looked pale from the cold outside.
The ebb and flow of noise around him continued as the conversation moved from that topic to Jess, and Omar, who were debating if they wanted to order an Irish coffee or just go with Baileys. Gasser settled for a beer and so did his wife, Asma.
As Hany sipped his customary Heineken he regaled them with a joke about Process. “So this guy walks into butcher’s and asks for a chicken. The guy at the counter asks him, ‘Do you want it skinned or with feathers?’. Skinned replies the guy. ‘The floor above,” says the man at the counter. Climbing a floor the man asks the guy at the counter, ‘A skinned chicken, please’. The guy at the counter asks, ‘Chopped or whole?’. ‘Chopped’, replies our man. ‘The floor above’, is the reply. Proceeding to the floor above he orders a skinned, chopped chicken. ‘Marinated or just plain?’, asks the man behind the counter. ‘Marinated’, says our guy.’The floor above,’ comes the reply. So he proceeds up yet again and states, ‘I’d like a skinned, chopped, marinated chicken, please’. The man behind the counter laughs and replies, ‘Well, we don’t have any chicken, but what do you think of our process?’”
Jay laughed with the others. It was a common enough complaint, about the bureaucracy and madness that Egyptian officials sometimes personified. He felt a bit of the earlier tension in him dissolve. And felt surprised to note that he was feeling tense. He felt a sour taste in his mouth and felt suddenly restless. Excusing himself, he stood and walked into the restaurant heading for the restroom on the floor above. He was hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman again. He saw her on the table just opposite the stairs.
She noticed him too, and they exchanged glances as he muttered something under his breath. He tried to regain some of his cool as he tried to run up the stairs unhurriedly, feeling her gaze at his back.