BY HIBAH SHABKHEZ
Copyright is held by the author.
SARA STOOD at the edge of the crowd, looking at the doll. Brunette curls, impossibly long lashes drooping over warm brown eyes, bright red frock with white lace at the throat and wrists: it was perfection. The doll. No one could fail to be fascinated by it. Yet here it was, propped up against old magazines and a cookbook, with a card around its neck, like a suspe —. She shook her head violently and inched her way closer, incredulous: the price on the card was four euros. Just four. Something to love, cheaper than pizza in a deal.
She wriggled her way to the front, groping for coins: 1 euro, 2, 2.50, 2.70, 3, 3.20 — she rattled the purse again, and a few more cents fell out. 3.36. She counted them twice, then went over her purse again. Well, perhaps 3.36 would suffice. It’s a flea market, she thought, not one of those chain stores. I can bargain.
“Bonjour!” she called out. “Three euros for the doll with the red frock!”
The man behind the table began to shake his head automatically, but the sight of her gave him pause. Maybe he was simply arrested by the idea of a grizzled woman in rags wanting to buy a doll.
“3.50!” He shouted back.
She shook her head, but the hope in her eyes was unmistakable. “3.36!”
“Thirty-six?!” This time he was frankly intrigued. “Why 36?”
Something gripped Sara’s throat in a vice. With all her heart she wanted to yell back: “Because that’s all I’ve got!”, and she could see in his face that he would give it to her if she said it. Instead she stood there, swallowing compulsively, feeling the heat flood her face.
“I’ll take it for — 4 euros, wasn’t it?” Sara didn’t need the sashaying fur coat or sunglasses to see that the woman in front of her was rich. “Do you have change for a 50?”
The man behind the table was looking at her with dawning understanding and mortification. Sara wanted to cover her ears and close her eyes and run away as fast as possible.
“Well? Do you? Have change?”
“Do you have change for a 50? I want to buy the doll!” The woman pushed her sunglasses up, her voice sharpening with annoyance. “I’ve asked you thrice already!”
“Sorry, Madame. The doll has been sold already.” The man gestured towards Sara. “To this lady. She has just pur —”. He recoiled before the fury in Sara’s eyes, baffled. Deep down she knew he had meant to be kind, in the clumsy way of the decent. Later on, she would remember him with a smile, and wish him well; but just then she could not help glaring at him quite viciously as he handed the doll to the rich woman.
“No. It has not been sold.” She forced the words out through gritted teeth and limped off, her crutch clanking on the pavement with each step.
Hibah Shabkhez is a writer of the half-yo literary tradition, an erratic language-learning enthusiast, and a happily eccentric blogger from Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has previously appeared in Rougarou, Backstory Journal, Porridge Magazine, Boats Against The Current, Samjoko Magazine, Five Minutes, and a number of other literary magazines. Studying life, languages, and literature from a comparative perspective across linguistic and cultural boundaries holds a particular fascination for her. Linktree: https://linktr.ee/HibahShabkhez