Monday, June 05, 2006
He had a face that resembled time. Not a very old one, but a face with enough tear and wear to give it that withered leathery texture. A tall man in his early sixties, bent from years of leaning on a lonely balcony watching fleeting cars go by. There was an enigma of sort engulfing this solitary figure. Rumors ran rampart in the village. Oh, they would say that his wife had poured a can of kerosene over her head one hot summer night, and burned herself to death right in front of his eyes. They would also say that his son and two daughters had left the country since, never to be heard from again. It’s been confirmed that one of the daughters was living in Miami a few years back.
So the story goes. Children taught to stay away from his small unfenced garden. Young courting couples walking in the cool of early evenings, shifted to the other side of the road before getting too close to his house. Had he been on a stroll down the tree lined main road of the village, they would do an uncalled for 180 degree turn to save themselves the embarrassment of possible explanation, each to each.
I was a newcomer to the village. Driving to Tartous everyday, I had to pass by his house. I would drive underneath his low balcony, and would often spot him sitting on a low rickety chair all by himself. Sooner or later, our eyes were to meet, and that brief contact evolved over the weeks to a barely noticeable and mutual nod. When my family and I became more comfortable and settled down, we became a little more intimate with the village life. This is how over the course of two years, I fathomed from fragments of conversations why everyone avoided the lonely and tall man.
One Tuesday morning as I was heading to the city, and right at the northern brink of the village, I saw him standing there, hugging a large white plastic bag and waiting for the bus. He didn’t signal but I stopped. Hesitantly, he opened the door and climbed right in.
“Good morning”, he said, to which I replied with the same.
As the brisk daybreak wind hit our faces from windows, rolled-down halfway, an awkward silence ensued. Finally, I asked:
“Got something to do in Tartous?”
Deliberately and slowly, he opened the plastic bag, resting now on the floor of the car between his legs.
“Yeah, this old clock needs fixing”, he said at a snail's pace.
“I had it for years, many years… and, and it never missed a beat… until now that is… it just stopped last night at 5 minutes to eleven… I’m taking it to Tartous to have it fixed… I haven’t been to the city for over 4 months…”
The clock looked ancient.
“It’s a beautiful clock”, I ventured as sincerely as I could muster.
“It’s beautiful all right… It’s an original, French made… Look at this wood, nothing like what they make nowadays”, he proudly continued.
“Hey, say, do you know of any good place to have it fixed?”
“I know an Armenian guy who fixes watches and clocks, do you want me to drop you there?”
“I hate to bother you, but I’d appreciate it”, he said.
I made that final turn in the suq of Tartous and stopped right in front of the shop.
“Here we are, I think Harout is the guy’s name.”
“Thank you”, he said. “Hey listen”, he hesitated, “why don’t you come to my home for a cup of… coffee one day, we can sit on the balcony, the view is…?”
“I would love to”, I replied.
We looked straight at each other. His eyes were transparent pools of calm water, showing from deep inside the recesses of his soul that he was smiling. So was I.
P.S. I have learned that the man with the clock has passed away last year. God have mercy on his soul.