NOTE: “The Story Of The Month” changes every month OR bi-monthly and might also have been featured in my collection DOWN INDEPENDENCE BOULEVARD published by MiddleRoad Publishers in 2017 and available on Amazon, or might be an Extract from my two novels RACING WITH THE RAIN and JUNTA.
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Down Independence Boulevard: and other stories
by Ken Puddicombe
December -The Touch Of Peace
Jan – The Interview
Feb – The Underground [2nd Prize Polaris Magazine]
Mar -Welcome To Punta Canada
APR – Return Of The Prodigal [from Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories]
MAY- No Thank You
JUNE – The Shoplifter
JULY/ AUGUST: The Last Straw [from Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories]
SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER: Relics In The Attic [from Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories]
NOVEMBER: The Day Queen Victoria Lost Her head
DECEMBER— The Touch Of Peace
THE TOUCH OF PEACE ©
Martha stepped into the corridor as Isaac pulled the door shut and inserted his key in the lock. She heard the squeak in the door of the apartment opposite. She turned around and saw the door ajar. Just a slight opening—narrow enough to maintain a semblance of secrecy, wide enough that she could see two eyes peering, staring, looking at them.
She’d seen those eyes before. They were attached to a small head, about three feet from the floor; deep, wide, brown eyes glowing in a dark apartment. She’d nodded the first time she’d seen them, smiled the second, said hello the third. There had never been a response. There was none now, as she did all three: nodded, smiled, and said, “Hello, how are you today?”
The eyes withdrew into the apartment and the door closed— a swift fluid movement, as if the person had been caught doing something that was haram.
Haram: she’d come across the word by accident one day as she was doing research on the Middle East, her curiosity piqued by her neighbours. Haram: Forbidden, and there was so much forbidden in the Middle East culture.
“Don’t know why you even bother, Martha,” Isaac said. “It’s a bloody waste of time. You’ll never get a response from any of them. I doubt if they even speak English.”
The whole apartment complex was filled with them. A virtual invasion over the last few weeks leading up to December, is what Isaac had said. She’d followed the story in the news: bombings in Baghdad, and sectarian violence following the withdrawal of the American forces. Canada had granted asylum to many refugees—Isaac got the impression they were all in his building.
Some of them had been interpreters for the Canadian armed forces. It must mean they had a fair command of English. She’d told this to Isaac one day and he’d shrugged, in his usual skeptical way.
“Oh, I don’t know Isaac, there must be a way of getting through. She looks so young and sweet. Can’t imagine she’s more than ten, or eleven.”
They were seen all over the building: in the laundry room fiddling around with washers and dryers; in the lobby as they read their foreign newspapers. Sometimes she didn’t have to see them to know they were there—she heard the Arabic music through the doors, smelled the unmistakable odour of the Middle East cuisine: the kebabs, the fried Falafel and the spiced Tabbouleh.
“If Canada had to take in refugees, why couldn’t they be from English speaking countries,” Isaac said. “And why couldn’t they at least know what it means to be a Christian.”
They were heading for the City Centre to stock up on groceries for Christmas.
She was bracing for the complaints she would have to endure. About how Isaac was sick and tired of encountering all of those statistical menwho always waited for the last moment to do their Christmas shopping, when his was lying wrapped under the tree in the living room.
They came back from morning mass. Isaac was sitting in his rocking chair, reading the newspaper, when she heard the knock on the door.
“Who the hell could it be,” Isaac said. The time when people came over on Christmas Day was long past. Two kids, one in far-off Australia, the other doing volunteer work in Guyana, friends either deceased or long moved to cottage country or warmer climes. And just where the hell is Guyana, anyhow, that she had to go all the way there?Martha had looked it up in the Atlas and found it: a former British colony, dwarfed between huge Venezuela and gigantic Brazil. And who lived there? Probably just another bunch of heathens looking to come to Canada.
Isaac opened the door. From the kitchen where she was seasoning the turkey, Martha saw the girl with the brown eyes; two large, hairy hands of a man were resting on her shoulder. Martha had only got brief glimpses of the man in the building. She heard that he worked shift at the hospital and was holding down another job at the local car wash. The mother was rarely outside.
“Yes, what can I do for you?” Isaac said.
“If I am permitted, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Faroq Ahmed. I am sorry to be of a nuisance to you, sir, but I am wondering, that is,” the man tapped the girl on her shoulder, “my daughter Sarah was wondering, if you would like to join us in the courtyard for celebrations tonight.”
“And what kind of celebrations might that be, that you would be having them in the courtyard, and at night?” Isaac said.
“It’s the feast of I du I Milad.”
Martha hurried over to the door. “We would love to,” she said. “Wouldn’t we, Isaac?”
Isaac shrugged and returned to his rocking chair.
The man smiled. He had a thick, black moustache, and when his lips parted to speak, they revealed a chiseled set of glimmering white ivory that would have been the envy of Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia.
“So, it start seven. We have snacks and a fire. Looking for you out, then.”
The little girl smiled and trailed behind her father as Martha closed the door.
“Why did you agree,’ Isaac said. “It sounds like another pagan rite. And of all nights, Christmas, we’re going to have to be there?”
“I du I Miladis the Day of the Birth of Christ, Isaac. They’re Christians, just like you and me.”
“The bonfire is part of their tradition. A child, presumably the little girl, will read the story of the nativity from the Arabic Bible. One of their bishops will bless the congregation; he will touch someone, that person will touch the next person, and so on. It’s called: The Touch Of Peace. I’m hoping you will be one of the people touched, Isaac.”