As the waiter shuffled outside to smoke, the harbour wafted into the café on a salty breeze: the acrid aroma of seaweed, fish and diesel, the clanking of rigging on masts, the screech of a seagull, the distant thump of a motorboat. Then the door closed us off in our cool, isolated world.
I stirred my coffee and watched patterns swirl in the froth.
“Why did you bring me here?” she asked, her voice trembling.
“We can be alone.”
I reached across the table and covered her hand with mine. She flinched.
“You asked to talk to me,” I said. “So why won’t you?”
Biting her lip, she looked furtively at the clock over the serving hatch. She didn’t have long. Teary, olive eyes reflected her inner turmoil. I almost felt sorry for her.
“Leave him or stay with him, I’ll support you.”
“I can’t do it,” she blurted. “He’ll kill me. He trusts me – this would destroy him.”
I squeezed her wrist. “You have to be strong. For everyone’s sake.”
She grimaced and pulled her hand away.
Another glance at the clock. Her angular features were elegant if not classically attractive. She caught me looking at her. Misreading my motives, she blushed and readjusted her headscarf.
We sat in silence. My teaspoon turned a hippo into a hare. She fiddled with the sugar bowl. I sipped my coffee; it was strong, pungent, gritty.
My patience expired first. “Nousha, say what you came here to say.”
She shook her head, a lock of auburn hair escaping confinement. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
I stood up abruptly, my chair scraping on the floor. “Then we’re done. I have to get back to the airport.”
She grabbed my hand. Fear was in her eyes now. I was wrong: she was beautiful.
I said, “Dr Farahani, get a hold of yourself.” I stooped over her, our faces almost touching. “Finish your holiday. Go back to your laboratory. Help your boss build the centrifuges. He won’t know we’ve met: he’ll still trust you.”
“You knew?” She was incredulous.
“When he’s finally enriching uranium, contact me and we can talk properly.”
“You knew all along!”
“Don’t be naïve. What do you think I do at the embassy - process visas? I’m a researcher too - of sorts.”
The door burst open. Curtains billowed; napkins flew off tables. The waiter hurried towards the kitchen. A furtive look, a shake of the head. My stomach knotted.
“We have to go,” I said, shrugging on my coat. “Leave the back way. Rahim will show you.” Then I was moving outside into bright sunlight.
I collided with two men coming in. They wore fishermen’s clothes, yet their hands were smooth and uncalloused. I stalled them; blustering, belabouring my apology. It should have given her enough time. They barged past and the door slammed. There was nothing else I could do.
I turned up my collar and strode briskly along the quay towards my waiting driver.
I never saw her again.
PJ is a British writer who lives near Geneva in Switzerland with his wife and Parson Russell Terrier. As a scientist working for an international organization, he spends most of his time writing emails, reports and technical papers. However, he has always had a passion for creative writing and uses his evenings and weekends to break free from the constraints at work to let his mind and his prose wander unhindered wherever they want to go. PJ has had several short stories published, as well as non-fiction newspaper and magazine articles.
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