Chapter 2, Neighbors

Yara jumped out of her bed, frightened by the sound of hard knocks on her door. She rushed to the door and opened it to find Nadia standing in front of her with two Starbucks Coffee takeout cups in her hand.

“Good morning” said Nadia with a huge smile and handed Yara a cup.

“What are you doing here?” Yara stared at her with her eyes half closed.

“I came to see you!”

“It’s only 10 in the morning!” Yara took a sip and walked back to bed.

“How come you’re still asleep? I thought you’d be at the studio but I didn’t see your car there” said Nadia while walking to Yara’s bed and sitting on the edge.

“I stayed up late! Mum and her never ending drama!”

“Anything new? I didn’t see her when I came in”

“Tamara disappeared for two days and she had no idea!”

“No way!! Did you find her?”

“After going insane? Yes! She was in her friend’s house in Amwaj and she didn’t bother telling us. Of course my mother wouldn’t have noticed if I haven’t and she blamed me for being careless!”

“Wow. This is bad.”

“Try telling her that!” said Yara sarcastically.

“Does she know you’re traveling?”

“Yeah but I don’t think that it’s going to happen. I can’t leave them right now.”

“What are you going to do then? You really needed that photo shoot”

“I don’t know. I need to come up with another plan. I’m really running out of photos to sell.”

“Get dressed and let’s go somewhere nice, have breakfast & talk about this.” Said Nadia excitedly.

“I can’t! I have to be at the studio and I’m already late.”

“What am I going to do then? I have a personal trainer at 2:00 and plenty of free time till then!”

“Find yourself a job” said Yara as she got up and headed to the bathroom.

**

The front door was locked and the lights were off. Yara took a closer peak through the glass front door to see if Santosh, the Indian guy who helped her in the studio, was there. But the only thing she saw was her reflection. She knocked but there was no answer. And just when she was about to call him, he opened the door.

“There you are! Why are the lights off?” asked Yara as she walked in.

“There is no electricity Madame”

“Is it the whole block or just us?”

“Madame, they cut it off because we didn’t pay the bill yet”.

Yara bit on her lips. “Oh, I see. You can go then, Santosh. There is nothing that you can do. I will take care of that” she said while trying hard to hide her embarrassment.

Yara took a deep breath, put her hands on her waist and walked to the few photos and paintings that were left on the wall. That wall was always full of framed pictures that she shot around the world and simple art pieces that she bought from different countries. She took slow steps and sat on top of her vintage wooden desk. She took off her trademark black-framed glasses, picked up an elastic band and tied her short brown hair in a ponytail while taking an overall look at the studio. It was dark, and the only source of light was the sunrays that were coming through the glass door. That reminded her of the very first day when her father gave her this place to establish her own gallery. It was a grocery store that her grandfather used to own. Once he passed away, her father didn’t have the time nor the will to run it and he ended up closing the business down. Yara’s mother insisted that the place must be sold or rented. But Yara’s father, who believed in his daughter’s talent in photography and appreciated her eyes for art, didn’t listen to his wife and gave Yara the place and all the support she needed to start it up. Since then, she had put all her energy and power to make this place a dream come true. She traveled around the world, took random pictures and portraits in Florence, Cairo, Cappadocia, South of France, Japan and several beaches in the Far East. She bought paintings from Camden Market in London and Van Gogh’s postcard collection from MOMA and the Guggenheim in New York. Her passion had no geographical borders and no cultural boundary limits.

The death of her father changed everything. Her strong and controlling mother suddenly turned to a depressed and helpless person. That left Yara with no choice but to be the caretaker of the family. She had to spend her own money to pay for bills and groceries. What made it even worse are the debts that her father left. They had to spend a major amount of the will to pay off those debts and that was the main reason behind her mother’s depression.

Yara’s Tod’s shoes were swinging front and back across each other as her legs were dangling off the desk. She thought of her mother’s usual words: “This business of yours will not feed us. Go find yourself a real job”.  But she simply couldn’t let this place die or replace her passion with a job that will lock her up in a cubicle all day. She had to think of another way to save her business and her family.

She rested her hands on the desk and threw her head back. Paris will not happen not only because she had to be around her family, but also because she had to spend the amount that she saved up for a trip to cover other expenses, starting from the electricity bill. She yawned and stretched both arms up in the air when she suddenly heard the door of the studio open. She turned her head right in a quick move to find a manly figure by the door. She jumped on her feet and stood still.

“Hello” said the man.

“Hi” said Yara in embarrassment.

“I’m sorry, bad timing?”

“No, not at all! Excuse the darkness, we have a problem with electricity”

“If you like I can call one of my staff to fix it. Oh I’m Fahad by the way” he said as he approached her and shook her hand.

His broad shoulders were the first thing she noticed the moment he walked in. When he approached closer, she noticed his almost bald head, hooked nose and goatee.

“Yara.” She said while shaking his hand.

“I’m the owner of the café next door”

“Oh really? I’ve been a loyal customer since I started this studio”

“That’s great to hear. So you own this place!”

“Yup, but how come I’ve never seen you around? I’m between here and the cafe almost every day!”

“I’ve been out of town. I started the business two years ago and got an opportunity to do my MBA in Boston at the same time so I rented it. The rent agreement ended a couple of days ago and I’m back to business.”

“Wow. That’s great!”

“Thanks. I was curious to see this place so I thought of passing by”

“It’s usually livelier with lights, music, and more photos and pieces of course” she said shyly.

Fahad walked closer to the main wall were all the pictures were hung. He then posed in front of a big photo in the center of the wall. She noticed how this photo stole his attention as he folded his arms and observed it.

“Wow” he finally said.

“You like her?” asked Yara smiling.

“I love her! She’s my favorite singer. You took this picture yourself?” he turned to Yara.

“Yeah, that was during her concert here in Bahrain a couple of years ago. I had to beg for a photography permit”

“Impressive! You’re talented.”

“I think it’s more about her charisma and character and not my talent”

“Well, all those facts are making this photo a piece of art. Is it for sale? I’m trying to bring life back to the café and this could be a great start!”

“Actually it’s more of an exhibited piece. It’s been on this wall for two years. But if you like it this much I can make you an exact copy” she offered.

“That would be great! Thank you very much” he said excited.

“You’re most welcome”

“Alright Yara it was a pleasure meeting you but I should get going now. Please pass by for a cup of coffee anytime. We’re neighbors!” said Fahad while walking out.

“I’ll see you around” she said with a warm smile.

**

Nadia was jogging on the treadmill at the gym when her personal trainer walked up to her: “You’re gaining weight girl!”

“I KNOW” said Nadia while taking her breath.

“Run faster. You’re being lazy!”

“Been spending a lot of time on my sofa eating junk and watching TV”

“You’re young and beautiful. Go out and have fun!” she snapped!

“My friends work all day and my husband is out of town all week and he’s only here on weekends”

“Oh that must be tough. But it’s not an excuse to gain weight. Run faster!” she said again in a motivational tone and walked away.

Nadia’s phone rang at the same time. “Yes Yara” she said gasping for breath.

“You know that Majida Al-Roumi framed photo that’s been hanging in the studio for a while?”

“The one I always make fun of? What’s with it?”

“Someone is actually very interested in it!” said Yara in excitement.

“Oh no, who’s that cheesy person?”

“It’s the owner of the café next door. He passed by today”

“Is he cute? How old is he?” asked Nadia curiously.

“I’m talking about the photo and not the guy! You know me, I didn’t pay attention.”

“I know that tone Yara. You checked him out and you’re trying to hide it. TELL ME MORE”

Chapter 1. Coffee

This story was written (and also takes place) in 2010. It’s a total of 22 chapters and it’s been without a title for 8 years! I hope it adds joy to your Thursdays.. Enjoy..

                                                                       Chapter 1                                                                         Coffee

The low sound of chatter was echoing around the place, adding a rhythm to the jazz music that was softly playing. Ring tones and chat notifications were heard from one corner to the other.  The guy behind the counter was screaming numbers and calling for customers to pick up their orders. His navy blue uniform was stained with tiny drops of coffee. This place was known for its rich coffee aroma that had the ability to pull anyone who’s passing by, with no intention to have coffee, to come in. And the atmosphere was never complete without the girl with the black-framed eyeglasses who sat in the corner almost every evening with a book.

Her head was buried in her book when she heard the noise of high heels knocking on the wooden floor. Without looking up, she knew who it was.

“Yara! Enough reading” said the girl and pulled the book! “Jane Austin? Who’s that? Anyway..”. she placed the book on the table “look at me! Notice something different?”

“Oh let me guess..you dyed your hair..AGAIN” said Yara sarcastically. “Next time you think of closing a book, remember to use this thing!” she held up a book mark.

“Hello ladies” said a feminine third voice.

“Nadiaaaaaa, here you are! Save me from your boring friend.” Said Dalal fixing her freshly dyed hair.

“What’s it about this time?” Asked Nadia as she sat down, trying to hold a laugh.

“Jane Austin” Said Yara shaking her head.

“Honestly Nadia do you know who Jane Austin is?” asked Dalal with a disgusted look on her face.

“Yes, and I like your hair” Said Nadia sweetly.

“Thank you very much” said Dalal and stared at Yara, “See?? Now this is someone who appreciates beauty. And she’s getting a free coffee for that” she got up and headed to the counter.

“What’s going on? You only read Jane Austin when you’re down”.

“Nothing.” Said Yara with an absent mind.

“You know that you can’t hide anything from your life time best friend. Tell me.”

“Nothing new. It’s my mum”

“Adventures of Auntie Sajida. What did she do?” asked Nadia intrigued.

 “She’s been too depressed lately”

“But this was the case since your father passed away”

“Yes. But it’s getting worse with time. She’s not getting any better.”

“What makes you think that?” asked Nadia worried.

“She’s glued in front of the TV all the time. All she cares about are Samar and Muhanned from the dubbed Turkish Series she’s obsessed about. She yells when her tea is cold and threatens to leave the house when we run out of slice bread! That’s not normal!”

“Al-Ashq Al- Mamnoo’a? That is something that would attract her!” giggled Nadia. “But don’t be so worried. She’s the strongest woman I’ve ever met and she will find her way just like she always did”

“I hope so. Change the subject. Dalal is coming!”

“You won’t believe who just walked in!! Remember Osama?? The hunk in Accounting class?” said Dalal excitedly as she placed a tray on the table.

“You still get excited over those people? It’s been six years since we graduated from University!” said Yara.

“You stick to your Jane Austin! Nadia, OSAMA IS HERE!”

“Aaah, Osama. He was the only reason we attended Accounting” said Nadia in a dreamy tone.

“And the married woman speaks of her old crush” teased Yara, finally breaking her serious mood.

“He was every girl’s crush!!” said Nadia justifying herself.

“I can barely remember his face” said Yara squinting her eyes and discreetly looking around.

“He’s single by the way” said Dalal taking a sip of coffee.

“Single? He got married a long time ago! Remember?” said Nadia approaching her cup.

“It didn’t last for long” winked Dalal.

“Really? I didn’t know he was divorced!” said Nadia shocked.

“Well, he is divorced and you have lost your chance.” teased Yara.

“I’m going to search for his Twitter account tonight” said Dalal excited while Yara and Nadia laughed loudly.

“Please don’t stalk the guy” begged Nadia.

“Anyway. I’m planning a trip to Paris next month and I need a companion” said Yara.

“I’m so in” screamed Dalal excited.

“What about work? I thought that you ran out of leave days!” said Yara.

“I did. But unpaid leave is always an option” said Dalal with a huge smile.

“Nadia? Will you come?” asked Yara.

“Why Paris?” wondered Nadia.

“Photo shoot. What else!” said Yara.

“I’d love to. But I’ll have to check with Manaf first” said Nadia.

“Oh come on. Hubby can survive without you for few days. And he’ll be out of town anyway” said Dalal.

“Yeah, please talk to him. If I go alone with Dalool one of us will end up killing the other”

“Definitely!” confirmed Dalal.

“And you really need a getaway. Maybe you’ll get inspired and figure out what to do with your useless life” said Yara.

“Just because I quit my job doesn’t mean I’m useless” said Nadia offended.

“She’s married give her some credit” said Dalal.

“It’s not enough. You really need to do something before you end up as a Desperate Housewife.” Said Yara.

“Ok ok. I’ll talk to him tonight” said Nadia.

 

***

Yara reached her house to find her mother sitting in her usual spot, cross-legged on the sofa right in front of  TV. A tray with a floral cup and a pink thermos was placed on a small table next to her.

“Did you have dinner?” asked Yara as she passed by the living room. Her mother ignored the question. Nothing existed for her except for the Turkish episode that was loudly playing on TV. “I’m going to Paris” said Yara in a louder tone.
The mother let out a sarcastic laugh but didn’t comment.

“Mama, I’m talking.” Said Yara starting to lose her temper.

“And how will you pay for it? With the fortune that your dad had left for us?”

“I don’t need a fortune. I have to keep the studio running. I need good photos to sell!”

“This useless business of yours will shut down sooner or later. And the three of us will end up living on the streets!”

“Where is Tamara? I haven’t seen her since yesterday” asked Yara with rising concern as she noticed her sister’s absence. Her mother looked confused for a while, “I haven’t seen her either” she said.

Yara and Sajida started searching around the house looking for Tamara in panic. Her bed was made and nothing in her room showed any sign that she spent the night in the house. They kept on calling her on her mobile but it was off!

“Don’t you have any of her friends’ phone numbers?” asked Yara.

“No! Why would I!”

“What kind of a mother are you? You can be careless with me, I’m a grown up. But she’s still in middle school and she needs someone to look after her!” said Yara in frustration.

“And you are her big sister! You are responsible too!”

 

“Have you seen Tamara today?” asked Yara as she stormed into the kitchen looking for the maid.

“No. She didn’t come home since yesterday” answered the maid.

“And you didn’t bother to inform us?” screamed Sajida.

Yara’s mobile started ringing in the living room. The three of them rushed to it hoping that it was Tamara calling. “IT’S HER” screamed Yara and took the call “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU??”