The souq was noisy and bustling. Sultry, sweltering, sun-stained women picked at gorging produce stands. Bananas. Mangoes. Guavas. Tomatoes. Potatoes. Zucchini.
It was her first time in a souq. She was a Foreigner. More like an interloper. An alien. As her image reflected in the people’s eyes told her. Confusion coupled with curiosity said their eyes. But she skipped to the beat of the bustle in the souq. She blended in as best she could. Their eyes followed her.
A bag of onions in one hand and a bag of tomatoes in the other. She balanced her scales like a seesaw. She wobbled through the streets teetering to this side then that. Women shoved passed the Foreigner. Nudging her into conical, knobby eggplants. Little shayal clamored to catch her bags.
These were little Carriers. Young boys tall and short, skinny and plump, ranging the various stages of boyhood. They worked in the souq. They picked fruits and vegetables, secured them in bags, placed them on their trolleys, and shuffled everything back to your house for a paltry sum. Little helpers, little elves working all day in the sun. Working and playing because for them, the two were interchangeable.
Poor miskeen little creatures she thought. Yes she would take one. The first to have caught her bags and her eye was a small prepubescent boy with a face caked in dirt. He had a red snub nose that sat squarely in the center of his baby face. His eyes. Emerald. Peeked through a forest of dark lashes. Yes. He would be her little Carrier.
The little Carrier took orders from the big Foreigner. He packed each plastic bag with its designated plant and stacked them high on his rusted steely trolley. He pushed his cart, weaving in and out unnoticed between legs of people. Like a mouse. Soon the mountain on his trolley towered over him. Another older Carrier took advantage. Kicked him in the gut and tried to commandeer his trolley. The boys struggled and wrestled as boys do.
“Stop it!” yelled the Foreigner in foreign Arabic. People stared with their ears. Both boys fell silent and straight, heads lowered in obeisance. Older Carrier gave little Carrier a residual pinch to the shoulder before scuttling away.
Little Carrier gathered an ample two week supply of fruits and vegetables. He finished, tying a sack of grapes and placing it atop the leaning tower of pisa. Yalla. Time to go. The Foreigner led her little Carrier down a narrow, winding street past tall, peeling buildings.
He lagged behind her tripping on the ends of his oversized pants. He labored under the weight of his trolley. Prodding and pushing, he pleaded with the produce. Don’t fall. She could see his exasperation float into the air like clouds above her head. Perhaps she should help him.
Why didn’t they push the trolley together in unison? It was much too cumbersome for a boy no older than six. He puffed out his chest and told her he was nine. He declined the help. Afraid she would reduce his pay.
She ignored his puerile pride and dispelled his fears. Let’s play a game. Let’s push the trolley together as fast as we can. Little Carrier forgot he was at work. Slid seamlessly into play. They pushed the bulky cart down the bumpy road, slowly gaining momentum. Faster and faster they ran, trolley first. Scarcely avoiding potholes. Taxis screamed their horns at them. They paid no mind. The wind lifted and rushed past their ears. The fruits and vegetables quivered inside their bags. Almost falling. Run. Run. Run. The Foreigner and her little Carrier ran. Onlookers cheered or shook their heads disapprovingly.
Suddenly stop. Back to reality. Her apartment building loomed overhead. The bawab stood puzzled by the entrance.
Little Carrier looked down at the ground expectantly. The Foreigner wanted to give him her wallet. Her entire purse. She wanted to give him her heart as a mother would her son. She wanted to clean him up and take him to school. Read him bedtime stories at night.
She reached into the cave of her bag and pulled out an appropriate sum. Then she added a little more. She instructed him to buy a coke. A bag of chipsy. Some helwayat.
He looked at her like she was stupid. A smile flashed across his face revealing two missing front teeth. He took the money. Sauntered down the road. Turned around the corner, trolley in tow.