A short story I wrote for the Sea of Words literary contest organized by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, IEMED (iemed.org). I was chosen as one of the 15 finalists who attended the award-giving ceremony in Barcelona in October 2014. My fellow writers/finalists were all amazing people, as were the organizers from the IEMED. I am truly happy for having met all of them, it was a unique experience!
The topic of the contest was ‘Young People Combating Hate Speech Online’. This is my story:
* * *
A Summer Morning
He opened his eyes, stopped the alarm and smiled.
It was a few minutes before six, a perfect Monday morning. The summer heat had not yet started turning the air into a still furnace. The terrible early heat wave in the past few days had made him wish he could quit his job and spend his days lying in the shades of the trees in the nearby park. Or, better still, dipping into the sea.
These were all meaningless thoughts because he had a great job and no intention of leaving. It was just that in the early Monday morning he liked to imagine a different Tuesday morning for himself, even if it was just for the fun of it.
This particular morning, however, he imagined something else.
He turned on the coffee machine, opened the window and let his eyes wander around. The neighbourhood was still asleep save for a few gulls that flew hopelessly in the greyish morning and for a middle-aged woman who was meticulously scrubbing a spot on the windshield of her retro Mini Cooper.
He looked outside but he didn’t pay any particular attention to either the gulls or the woman. He was thinking about what he should wear today. Not that he was vain. OK, maybe he was. Just a little. Especially when he was planning to talk to the pretty girl from the flower shop.
He had first seen her about two weeks ago. She was apparently new to the shop because he would have noticed her if she had been there long.
The flower shop was just next to the coffee place where he always went on his way to work. He ordered his black coffee, sometimes also bought a newspaper and then started his short 20-minutes walk to his office.
That morning, two weeks ago, on leaving the coffee place, he noticed a big pile of small coniferous trees in boxes. They had apparently just been unloaded in front of the flower shop and between the green needles of the trees there was the most unusually charming face he had ever seen.
He couldn’t see what she was doing, he could only see the deep brown eyes, so dark that for a second he was scared of them. Then, as he watched them, they started to look more magnetic and less scary, warmer and smiling. When he realized she was actually smiling at him, he panicked. It was a foolish thing to do, especially for a grown man, and yet he panicked so much that he hurried away, almost spilling his coffee on his perfectly ironed pale green shirt.
In the days that followed he saw her almost every morning, but didn’t have the courage to go and speak to her. Sometimes she would see him, too, and smile with that smile that looked like a metaphor for the beginning of summer. Sometimes she was busy moving huge vases with flowers and she didn’t even see him. On those mornings, he went to work particularly grumpy.
The idea that he should go and talk to her formed in his mind slowly during those two dreamy weeks. That Monday morning, he was determined to overcome his childishness and to finally meet her.
But it was still so early and the coffee machine made such comforting hissing sounds that he went back to bed, lied down and smiled again, looking at the ceiling. Then he got up, reached for his laptop and turned it on.
It was not a habit he was proud of. Yet, it was almost impossible for him to get up without turning his laptop on in the first ten minutes in which he was awake.
He scrolled mindlessly through the headlines, checked his email and heard the coffee machine turn off.
One of the headlines caught his attention. It read something like ‘Eternal invaders.’ It was from a nationalist paper and it was an article on the Ottoman past of the country. It said that Bulgaria had the problems it had today because of the five centuries of Ottoman rule. It also accused present-day Turks living in Bulgaria for silently colonizing the country by having too many children, especially compared to ethnic Bulgarians.
He read the text, went to the coffee machine, poured some coffee for himself and went back to bed with the cup. The aroma tickled his nostrils as he read the article again.
It was a subject that had always been interesting for him. He knew his views were a little extreme, yet he didn’t believe he had a reason to challenge them. For a moment he hesitated, then he logged into the social network.
He shared the article mechanically, and wrote under it, ‘I don’t know why we continue to put up with Turkish people. We should just try and make them leave our country and leave us alone.’
He hit ‘Post’, reached for his coffee and drunk a large hot gulp. He was about to get up again and make some breakfast when the laptop made a jingling sound. Someone had commented on his comment.
“People could be different and still exist together.”, said the commenter who called himself – or herself – Samira.
He squinted his eyes, wondering if he should engage in this. He looked at the clock. He had some time.
‘Says who? What is that name of yours, anyway? Are you Turkish?’
No reply came for a few minutes. Then, ‘No. I am Bulgarian, same as you.’
‘Oh, really? Why do you have such a name, then, Samira?’
‘My name is Arabic. I am a Muslim.’
‘So, you are not Bulgarian.’
‘I am. Not all Bulgarians are Christians. Not all Muslims are Turkish.’
‘Religion and ethnicity aren’t the same thing.’
‘Right. Says someone who perhaps wears a burka.’
He waited for an answer to his last remark but no one was there. Yet, he waited. He couldn’t say if he was afraid he had gone too far or if he just had the aggression of someone who sees themselves as winners.
He waited almost until he was late. He refreshed the page, waited for his unknown opponent to say something, and finally closed his laptop and hurriedly dressed himself. His stomach started to hurt as he hadn’t found the time to eat breakfast. He didn’t compare the two shirts that he wanted to compare so that he could choose what to wear for his big talk to the flower girl. He even felt that his excitement had somewhat dwindled due to that annoying conversation with that person who had called themselves ‘Samira’ but was perhaps a big hairy old man who didn’t have anything better to do than write stupidities online.
He looked at himself in the mirror. His cheeks were red and his hair was disorderly. He ran his fingers through his hair and left with a sulky face.
The heat was almost in full swing even though it was still early. The sun had started scorching and he quickly started to look for a way to walk under the few trees in the street.
He wondered if he should get the girl a flower but decided that it was a bit pretentious to give flowers to a girl who works at a flower shop.
When he saw her, he lost his words again for a minute, but he managed to work up the courage to go to her and say, ‘Hi. I’m Ivan. I… do you want to have coffee sometime?’
She smiled with the familiar yet new smile of someone you have seen a lot but not spoken to and she put down the huge cactus she was holding.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Yes, I’d love to.’
Her smile continued to melt all over her face like ice cream forgotten in the sun. He realized he was also smiling and feeling just a little like a fool because his smile seemed to reach his ears. In the hot summery haze that wrapped him he hardly heard her when she continued:
‘My name is Samira.’