Posted on: April 28, 2015
Cold months are the hardest for Muhammad. The winter always reminds him how far away he is from home. In the summer when it’s warm, he could almost forget how foreign this place is, but not really, not once he steps outside and meets with the empty streets with all the wrong sounds and smells.
Here they call him Mo.
That the origins of his name mattered to him was of little consequence. Here, people’s names were without meaning, chosen to set a certain image; to sound friendly or powerful. They were named after movie stars and television characters. Some were named for books, but not many; fewer were named for God and it wasn’t the same God that Muhammad was named for.
Muhammad misses the busy streets from home. He misses the noise, the people. Here there is too much empty space. He misses the food, the spice and the heat. Here everything tastes of salt and sugar. Most of all he misses the women. The women here smell all wrong, too sterile and floral -- something about those perfumes tickles his nose. He misses the cinnamon and butter smells of the girls back home. He dreams of them with chrysanthemums in their hair -- gentle, warm and enticing. Nothing like these twiggy creatures that giggle at his accent and make him blush, flaunting their long legs and pushed-up breasts. They take his discomfort as a compliment; it isn’t meant that way.
Muhammad trudges into the office and is met by Alice and her giggles.
“What are you wearing, Mo?”
“It’s cold out.”
“Yeah, so buy a real coat. You’ve got like seventeen sweaters on. You look like a hobo.”
Muhammad gave Alice a polite smile and tried to push past the reception desk.
“Mo, since you’re still bundled up will you do me a favour?” Alice draped herself over Muhammad’s arm, fluttering painted lashes over big blue eyes. She does this to him, she gets close and acts seductive when she has a favour to ask. Muhammad purses his lips. It bothers him that she thinks this is the way to get what she wants. He will do whatever she requests, regardless of her hands on him or her clingy clothing.
“I was supposed to pick up a pie. There’s a client coming in, and the boss asked for pie.”
“Yes, fine, just tell me where.”
Alice tucks the scribbled address into his hand and Muhammad wraps his scarf back around his face before venturing out into the cold.
“Ask for Susan.” Alice calls after him.
The bakery windows are covered in steam, blocking the view to the street. The occasional drip forms in the condensation and spills down the glass. The shelves are lined with sweet, puffy things, warm confections, golden brown from the oven. There is no one in sight, so Muhammad removes his gloves and rings the bell on the curved, marble counter. Its melodic tinkle is answered by a cheerful voice from the back room.
“Be right there.”
As she emerges, Muhammad forgets everything that had been wrong this cold winter morning. Her hair is like spun sugar, coiled tight on her head, her eyes are the warm soft brown of sticky dates and her skin is like toasted marzipan. The sweetness of this woman catches him off guard, and he stands stupidly, gazing at her while she waits for him to speak.
“Are you Mo?”
“Muhammad. My name is Muhammad.”
“Alice told me you were coming, Muhammad. I have your order all set.”
Her voice is a caress. His full name, his real name, falls so perfectly from her lips. For the first time in a long time he doesn’t feel alone.
“Thank you Susan.” He tries out the exotic sound of her name.
She passes him the neatly boxed pie and smiles. Her lips part to reveal slightly crooked teeth. She is sweetness and subtlety, she is everything he misses of the women from home.
“So is that everything?”
He knows he has to leave, but he lacks the strength to tear his eyes away, to move out the door and leave her in the warm cinnamon and butter scented air of the bakery.
“Actually I need some other things.”
Muhammad selects an assortment of buns and pastries, muffins and squares and watches as Susan’s soft, plump hands carefully wrap each one. She bags the packages for him, chatting the whole time about how best to enjoy the treats. When she is done and he can delay no longer, Muhammad moves towards the door and away from the woman he has so quickly and completely fallen for.
“Wait, you forgot your pie.” Susan leans close to tuck the pie safely on top of a bag of dinner rolls. He can smell her hair, like coconut and almonds, and despite his shaky nerves Muhammad finds himself asking her to join him for dinner.
“Sure,” she laughs, a perfect musical sound. “Meet me back here at six.”
When Muhammad returns at a quarter to six, he finds Susan ready. She has tried to tame her wild red mane, but it has resisted. Her lashes have been smeared with a coating of mascara that adds to the warmth of her eyes. Her comfortable baker’s clothes have been replaced with a simple yellow dress. She blushes when she sees him and grabs her coat from the hook by the wall.
All through dinner, Susan talks while Muhammad watches. She talks of her father from Scotland and her mother from Trinidad. She tells of childhood joys and woes and of all her hopes and fears. She speaks with her hands, and the movement is hypnotic. Muhammad thinks of the women back home. The coy dances of those familiar girls with their intricate hand gestures have nothing over the perfect opera that is Susan telling a story. Through dinner, she uses her musical voice and her dancing hands to weave her way deeper into his heart, and by dessert he is sure.
Outside in the cold, Muhammad overcomes his insecurities and wraps Susan’s hand in his own. She smiles at him and leans forward meeting his thin, hungry mouth with her sweet, warm lips. Muhammad looked down on the woman in his arms and pulling away he lets her name fall again from his lips.
Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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