Sunday, 20 July 2014

Stories from the Bar Marché - Karim

It was market day at the lively small town near the French Mediterranean coast. The tourists crowded round the market stalls looking for presents to take home or a pretty sundress, maybe they'd take the delicious Paella being cooked in vast pans back to their campsites and strings of garlic to hang in their kitchens to remind them of the warm sun during the Winter.

Laurent was writing the daily specials on a blackboard as Karim arrived: Omelette and Salade Niçoise and then Salted caramel ice cream the latest favourite.
The pungent smell of the spices from the stall next to the Bar Marché always took Karim back to his childhood.
 The tourists pointed to the colourful display trying to guess the names. Karim could tell them all with his eyes closed. The yellow saffron, the red pepper, the cardamom, cinnamon, each one brought before him a dish that his grandmother had made. He could see her now, crouched over the fire, stirring and testing until it tasted just right. Then she would wait for the clatter of the camel hoofs and the flapping of the tents and then she would carefully ladle her precious offerings onto the rough earthenware plates.
 He thought of his grandfather and of the tales he told him of the desert.

 'It is not what you are looking at, it is what you see,' the old man would say. 'To some, the desert is just sand, to others it is an everchanging sea of colours and moods. You must respect it. Then you will see its beauty.'

 He would take Karim to the wadi and they would lie down together looking at the stars and telling stories. Karim's favourite was of the princess who got lost in the desert and so the Sand King had thrown handfuls of diamonds into the sky so she could find her way. His grandfather taught him the names of all the stars and pointed to one that was to be Karim's special star, the brightest, to show him the way. 'Always look up at your star Karim' he would say. Apart from his grandparents Karim had no memories of his childhood. Just hiding behind his mother's robes and strong hands picking him up and then being in a strange land. When he met his wife Marika she said that was his heart protecting him so he was free to make a new life.

Laurent the waiter patted him on the shoulder and placed a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of him with a flourish and then added a freshly baked croissant. The two men smiled at each other, they never spoke much but a close observer would have noted the obvious affection between them. Karim was like a guardian angel for Laurent.
 Karim sipped his coffee and breathed deeply, his shoulders relaxing. Market day in Summer was his favourite time at Le Bar Marché. He felt you could tell so much about people from the way they behaved eating and drinking together. He was keenly aware of the dynamics between the couples, the families and the groups of friends. It was such an intimate moment. It was the families that interested him most. He loved to see the fathers enjoying the company of their wives and children, teaching them how to behave at the table, laughing and joking together.

Karim watched as the stallholder carefully measured out a selection of spices for a young blond woman eager to try out a new recipe. He thought of his wife and how she had struggled to reproduce the tastes and flavours of their homeland to keep their identity and remember their roots. Now she could find all she needed in the big supermarkets and local arab market. Sacks of rice and couscous, chick peas, dates and almonds. Restaurants had started serving their dishes and his wife's lamb and couscous was very popular at their own little cafè.
 
Karim caught sight of his daughter Yasmin, coming towards him, gracefully weaving her way through the crowds. He thought she looked like a dancer. A warm glow always came over him when he looked upon her lovely face. She always tried to meet him on market day, she knew where to find him and it was very near the hospital where she worked as a doctor. Laurent came out to greet her and Karim could see the gratitude on his face that glowed whenever he saw Yasmin.

'Hello papa, hello Laurent, what a beautiful day.' Yasmin took Laurent's hand and then bent to kiss her father.
'Oh that coffee smells so good, I feel better already. '

Karim and Laurent never talked about the day that Yasmin had been called to Laurent's house. She was in the ambulance team, a newly qualified doctor. She had shown a maturity beyond her years as she dealt with Laurent's drunken mother and violent father, she had taken Laurent and his brother aside and put her arms around them. She had taken charge of putting Laurent's parents in a clinic where they would be looked after, of asking the local priests to care for Laurent and his brother Jacques. It was too late for Laurent, the damage had been done, but Jacques blossomed and now worked as a dentist in Paris.

Karim thought of the day the teachers had told them that their daughter was very gifted and should try for a scholarship at the university. They hadn't really understood. It was their daughter who in her quiet gentle way had explained. And now here she was, sitting beside him and drawing admiring glances. They ordered their coffee and  sat in companionable silence. His daughter had married a fellow doctor and had a little boy called Nour, just like Karim's grandfather. Karim and Nour liked to lay on the ground together and watch the stars. Nour was more interested in the aeroplanes coming into land at the nearby airport and thought the story of the diamonds was funny. But he liked it when Karim showed him the special star and said 'if you keep looking at your star you will never lose your way'.


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