Selma looks at the photograph she just found under one of the cushions. Her favorite place is the corner with the red ones. There are many others piled next to it, green, blue, yellow, brown, with vegetable or geometric designs. Many are printed with red tulips against a gold background. From the ceiling hang exactly seventy-seven colored lights. This place has the most colored lights she has ever seen, aside from the busy shops downtown. She stops here after work every day for a cup of fresh mint tea. At this hour, there are only three or four people, watching TV, each smoking shisha from a hookah, also the young couple who are always playing backgammon, and the waiter, who is lazily people-watching. No one's talking. Selma feels more relaxed here than at her own home.
The photograph is a snapshot of a young man riding a green bicycle. The image is faded. It must be quite old. The guy on the bike looks happy. He's laughing. You can see the elongated shadow of a woman in front of him. She must be the one taking the shot. Her shadow stretches like a trail from the laughing man to Selma's hand.
“Oh... How silly of me!” She has accidentally dropped some tea on the picture, and now the image is even more faded. She looks at it remorsefully.
“I'm so sorry.” A fair-skin woman, with short hair, had just entered the tea-house. Her smile resembles an open pomegranate. She seats down beside her with a surprising gesture of relief.
“Oh, I knew I had left it here!” She takes the picture that Selma was holding gently, and her smile lights up even more the red cushions’ corner. “ When I was very young, I lived with my father and my brother. My brother was sick. I had to take care of him. My father forced me to do it and my mother was dead. She could not say anything. The day I turned eighteen, I ran away from home. This man,” and she points at the guy riding the green bicycle, “he found me on the street in the middle of the night, half dead of hunger, cold and fear. He took me to his house and let me sleep in his bed, while he slept on the floor. One day he went out and did not return. Later that day a policeman came knocking on the door. I did not open it. I was afraid that my father had finally found me. I fled from that house full of colored lights and books. I ran until I reached the edge of town. I never returned. I never knew what happened to him. I just have this picture. I've been carrying it with me for seven years."
She holds the picture tightly with a happy-girl look. After a long while, she places it on the table and turns to Selma. She covers her hand with hers, warm hands, and looks straight into her eyes. This girl, this girl ... why does she seem so familiar? Why does she feel the heat rising to her cheeks?
Selma touches her face with her left hand and finds a strand of black long hair that has escaped from under her silk scarf. She tucks it back in but it falls again. She does not move her other hand, still resting, quiet and ashamed, in Nadia's hands.
Translated by Lina Strenio
Translated by Lina Strenio