Palace Guards

Vito and Mario lit cigarettes with Mario’s plastic lighter. Mario lit his own first and then handed the lighter to Vito. Vito clicked the lighter several times before the flame caught, even though it wasn’t windy. Vito stared into the blue fire at the base of the flame as he lit his own cigarette.

Vito and Mario were on a break. They were sitting on a large chunk of marble that had fallen long ago from some ancient Roman building and had probably been part of several buildings over the centuries. It was in a sheltered area around the corner from the central square where the Vito and Mario posed for photos in their Roman uniforms.

It was a good place for a smoke – close to the square but separated from the bulk of the tourist traffic. Vito considered that, aside from the lighter, the scene may have looked quite similar in 300 AD, assuming ancient Romans had smoked cigarettes. Had they? Vito wasn’t sure.

Mario and Vito weren’t friends. Quite the reverse. They’d worked together for several months, as guards at The Palace. Each had developed a distinct distaste for the other, right from the start. And it had gotten worse over time.

They’d both started working as palace guards on the same day. They’d begun their first shift in a small locker room off the square. There’d been two other young men in the room as well, more seasoned guards that would train Mario and Vito for their first few shifts.

As they’d removed their shirts to change into uniforms, Mario had made an indiscreet comment about Vito’s physique. About the small roll of flab around Vito’s waist, just above the band of his underwear. The other two guards had laughed.

Vito was very sensitive about his body. He’d been chubby as a child, and had been teased about it. He’d worked hard to slim down as he grew into adulthood. He ran and worked out regularly. But he could never seem to get rid of that last bit of flab around his waist – the last vestige of his childhood chubbiness. It wasn’t even visible when Vito was fully clothed. But Mario had pointed it out. In public.

Now Vito stared into the blue fire at the base of the flame of Mario’s lighter and thought how he would hate Mario forever.

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The Rose Peddler

Every summer, Zoja sold flowers to the diners at the restaurants along Skadarska Street. The diners sitting outside were mostly tourists and often spoke no Serbian. But Zoja only needed to communicate the price for a flower, and that wasn’t difficult.

Zoja sold pink roses, rather than the deep red roses typically sold by other street peddlers. That difference, along with her advanced age, sometimes gave Zoja an edge over her competition. But that wasn’t the reason Zoja’s roses were pink. Zoja’s roses were pink because of Igor.

Zoja and Igor had been married one spring long ago, right after Zoja turned 21. Igor wasn’t wealthy. Igor wasn’t handsome. But Igor was thoughtful and kind, and had loved Zoja very much. Igor called Zoja his Laughing Pink Rose because her delicate complexion turned pink whenever she laughed. And she’d laughed often with Igor. Igor had brought Zoja one pink rose every single day of their marriage. That fall, Igor was killed in an accident at the factory where he worked.

Zoja married again a few years after Igor’s accident. This second husband was wealthy. He was handsome. But he wasn’t thoughtful or kind. And he never laughed with Zoja the way Igor had. Or brought her pink roses. He hadn’t brought her any flowers at all.

Zoja spent over 50 years with this man before he’d died and left his wealth to her. Zoja wasn’t sorry about this man’s death. She rarely thought about him at all. But Zoja thought often about her one happy summer with Igor.

And now, every summer, Zoja sold flowers to the diners at the restaurants along Skadarska Street. Not for money, but to remember Igor and his laughter and his pink roses.

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In Poor Taste

Gwen and Will sat down at an outside table in a pleasant looking restaurant near the corner.  It was a bit noisy along the street, but the temperature was so pleasant it would be a shame not to take advantage.  The chaos of Marrakech pulsed by in rhythm with the traffic signal.  Cars, bicycles, donkeys, motorbikes and pedestrians in a jumbled mass, all jockeying for position.

It was cool in the shade of the restaurant canopy.  A dignified waiter in a crisp white coat immediately brought them menus and took their drink order.  Gwen was relieved to see that menus were available in French as well as Arabic.  An opportunity to practice!

Gwen decided on a menu item she thought she remembered having enjoyed in Paris some years before.  She ordered in French, and reinforced her choice by pointing at the item on the menu.  The waiter nodded confidently.  Will, despite Gwen’s prodding to live a little and be more open to new things, ordered a small omelette.  Plain, sans fromage.

When the food came out, Gwen was a bit confused.  Instead of the crepe dish she’d been expecting, she was being served a soup of some kind.  With some sort of oil and spice on a plate beside it.  But the waiter had already stepped away before she recovered her wits, and she was uncomfortably hungry, so Gwen decided to give the soup a try.

First, Gwen dipped her finger in the oil and put the finger in her mouth.  She made a face.  She did the same with the spice.  Another face.  Finally, she scooped up a big spoonful of soup and gave it a try.

“This is the most terrible thing I’ve ever eaten!” Gwen made the pronouncement just as Will was about to take his first bite of omelette.

“Would you like to try some?” she asked politely.

When the waiter returned to their table, he noticed Gwen munching happily on a small omelette.  Sans fromage.  He noticed the bowl of soup, oil and spices on the edge of the table near Will.  He noticed Will didn’t look happy.

“Puis-je?” asked the waiter.  He pointed at the soup.

Will nodded, thinking the waiter was asking to take the uneaten item away.

Instead, the waiter poured the oil into the center of the soup.  He added a healthy amount of the spice to the center of the oil.  He added salt and pepper from the table.  Then he stirred it all together and placed it in front of Will.

Will looked at Gwen finishing the last bite of his omelette.  He felt his stomach growl.  He picked up his spoon and tried a spoonful of soup.  Then he tried another.  It wasn’t long before the bowl was empty.

Gwen looked over at the empty bowl.   

“Aren’t you glad I convinced you to try something new?”  She smiled brightly at Will.  “You need to live a little and be more open to new things!”

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The Waiter with Blue Eyes

Eliza and her mother lunched at a small cafe with a few tables clustered under a canopy along the street. They sipped prosecco as they chatted over salads. The waiter brought them complementary espressos with their bill.

“Didn’t our waiter have beautiful blue eyes?” Eliza’s mother commented.

“I didn’t notice,” Eliza responded.

“What beautiful blue eyes!” Eliza thought. “How sad I’ll never see him again.”

“What a pretty girl!” thought the shy waiter. “How sad I’ll never see her again.”

Eliza’s mother smiled and waved at the waiter as they left. But Eliza didn’t notice. She was looking down at her phone, booking a lunch reservation for the following day.

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