While it’s exotic for me to be here, intellectually
I know that the warship behind me is exotic, too –
an alien, not particularly welcome presence.
I’m a young man and I’m more interested in earthly
delights. An ancient tree called “The Tree of Life”
is in the area, and it’s said to mark the location of
the Garden of Eden. It seems too far away, so
I don’t go. Later I’ll regret this. I’ve always loved
trees; now I’m incredulous: I had traveled halfway
around the world to get to that point. The land is
ancient and there has been some dust on the way
into the market. There is a sprinkling of Europeans,
and I recognize European languages. There are
Russian women, and hearing Russian startles me
momentarily. There is a scattering of American
Sailors and Marines, and these are in knots of twos
and threes. Most of the Arab men are in long, loose-
flowing robes and headdresses cinched with thick
coiled black cord. Arab women – invariably, their
heads are covered – tend to be in pairs, with largely
dark full length robes. Some of the men are holding
hands; some of the women are holding hands.
The frank affection and regard draws me in.
I consider my last girlfriend and how long it has
been since I’ve held hands. I’m curious and don’t
intend disrespect. Accidentally my eyes meet a
woman’s eyes above a veil in an unguarded instant.
She spins away, and I’m left wondering if I had
imagined her exquisite eyes.
Everywhere we’ve been we’ve been warned
not to eat the street food. Food back on the ship
is safer; however, it’s known and utterly drab.
Now I crave some difference. The smell from
roasting meat on a rotisserie is mouth-watering.
The meat could be lamb, but I’m not certain.
The rotisserie is vertical, and the man smiles as he
shaves meat for his customers. He works rapidly
but efficiently with a sharp blade. When I step up
to his stand, his smile becomes guarded but he
sees me as customer. There’s no hostility here,
and curiosity is veiled. The air is pungent with
roasting meat, unknown spices and heat. I gesture
for an order of whatever that food is he’s making.
He shaves more meat into what looks like flat
bread. I pay him with heavy coins I received
at the money changer’s stall near the ship. He
hands me my meal. I step away, off to one side
and take a bite. The flat bread is thick and chewy,
and the meat is too hot but tender and delicious.
It’s heavenly. I tell him “This is delicious” and
then to reassure him, I add “This is very, very
good.” At my second statement – at this moment –
he smiles and looks at me. I add “Thank you.”
“Thank you,” he replies.
Andrew Shattuck McBride
April 12, 2012