Sweep, crack, chew by Amina Hachemi
sardine leapt from the blue – glittering scales from glittering waters, and ahead lay the rocking glittering sides of boats; a Mediterranean port town. On a suburban hill sat a house. Whitewashed walls and wooden blue shutters overlooked the sun on sea below, growing brighter and busier as the day began. From the house emerged a man. A small beige turban topped his grey curls, and was matched by his brown striped jellaba coat. In one hand he held a stick and in the other a plastic chair. He sat slowly in front of the house, rheumatism painting frustration on his aged, tan face. He shouted something muffled to the open house door. A few minutes later, a young boy hurried out carrying a small wooden table and a bowl, which he placed before the man. Leaning back in his chair, the man closed his eyes for a moment and inhaled. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of rosary beads. His eyes staring vacantly towards the sea, he began to push the beads along their string while his lips moved in whispered recitation. The house was on a neighbourhood thoroughfare and as the morning progressed, many of the suburb’s inhabitants passed by, each one stopping to greet the man: some with a simple salutation of peace, others with a short anecdote, and the young ones with a reverent kiss of respect on his weather-worn forehead. He had, thus far, paid little attention to the bowl that lay in front of him, but after the majority of the morning’s passers-by had passed, he turned to it at last. Placing his rosary beads on the worn wooden surface of the table, he put his right hand into the bowl, swept his fingers through the contents and picked out a black, oval object – a sunflower seed. He raised it to his mouth and cracked it gently between his teeth before chewing on the contents and discarding the shell on the table next to the bowl. He then repeated this motion with another seed. And again and again, each time the same: sweep, crack, chew. As the call for the midday prayer floated through the salty air of the town, a middle-aged woman with his clear, blue eyes appeared in the house doorway. Gesturing inside, she held his arm firmly and helped him to stand up. He picked up his stick and shuffled into the house, leaving behind him a pile of empty seed shells and a half-empty bowl. The sun was intense at this time of day and after lunch the shutters of all the houses in the town were firmly shut for the afternoon siesta until teatime when the afternoon asr prayer call echoed gently in the snoozing inhabitants’ ears. Looking a little energised, the old man emerged once more from the house, this time on the arm of an adolescent boy who resembled the young boy of
56 ~ what the dickens?
the morning. Settling into his chair once more, the man reached into the bowl, picked out a seed and returned his gaze to the fishing boats below, jostling each other as their owners mended nets and sorted crates. Sweep, crack chew. His eyes grew soft at the sight of a young man scrubbing the decks of the smallest boat and his face appeared younger for a brief moment. Returning his attention to the present, his work-worn hands continued their occupation: sweep, crack, chew. A young girl stood in the doorway of the house, her face was stained from crying and a misplaced frown contorted her toddler features. The man stretched his free arm out and beckoned to her to come closer, kissing her affectionately on the forehead and wiping her face with a handkerchief. Two more girls appeared with a peace offering – a rubber doll with one leg – and they quickly became involved with their play as the man watched on. Sweep, crack, chew. The sun began to sink lower in the sky, throwing flaming reds and pinks across the clouds. The distinct silhouettes of young men diving off the jetty twirled on a backdrop of distant shadowy mountains across the sea and the houses were transformed with a new shade of sunlight from one moment to the next. Sweep, crack, chew. The children, who had begun to shout once again, were called inside and the old man smiled at their disappearing backs with a sigh. Sweep, crack, chew. A scruffy cat edged hesitantly towards him, eyeing the bowl optimistically. He watched it quietly, then halfheartedly shooed it away – “subb”. Sweep, crack, chew. An elderly man stopped by and they laughed together in wheezy coughs until the darkness had almost engulfed them. In the last quiet moments of twilight, the man inhaled the cool night breeze. Then, as the sun dipped beneath the horizon, it was accompanied by a final contemplative sweep, crack, chew. Shadows swept across the town, the sunset maghrib prayer call greeted the night and the man dropped the last shell on the table. The middleaged woman emerged from the house once more; he brushed the shells onto the dusty floor, rose to his feet and hobbled into the house. The chair, table and bowl were cleared and the door locked behind them. As the household grew quiet, a gust of air whispered by and swept the shells gently along the path and into the darkness, like the deep blue waves of the restless sea beyond. Amina Hachemi holds a BA from ParisSorbonne University and an MA in Translation, Writing and Cultural Difference from the University of Warwick. A passionate linguist, she enjoys exploring cultural experiences and perspectives through her writing and translation. ahachemi.weebly.com – Twitter: @ahach
Published on Jul 31, 2012
What the Dickens? Magazine A bi-monthly magazine for all creative folk focusing on literature and the arts. Issue 5: The Sunflower Edition...