“Sabah el kheir.” Her voice startled me. The shop had been here for centuries, or so it seemed. How it stayed in business no one ever really knew. We gossiped that the family was secretly wealthy, perhaps descendants of some powerful magistrate or rich merchant, or maybe they had some less than legitimate business on the side that allowed them to live comfortably while the store made no money for them at all. Until recently it had been an antiquated book store. Although I had never gone in, I'd heard rumours that it was dim and dusty and a generally unpleasant place to be. The old book dealer was rarely ever seen around town. No one really knew who he was. If it weren't for the sign over the store, Nader's Bookstore, no one would even have known his name.
“Sabah el nour.” The words barely escaped my lips. She was stunningly beautiful, bright...like a polished gemstone. Her smile radiated a love of life and of people. She could endear anyone within mere moments of meeting her...at least, she had me. She was placing baskets of cut flowers just outside the shop doors as I was passing by. At first, I was oblivious to the anomaly, but when she spoke to me, I suddenly became extremely conscious of the fact that everything had changed at this little corner of town.
“Would you like a flower for your wife? Or a girlfriend perhaps?” She handed me the most brilliant pink rose and nodded encouragingly for me to take it.
“Please. It's on the house.” She winked playfully.
Oh what a goddess! I needed to recover and quickly. “I've never seen this place looking so...attractive.”
“Thank you.” Her smile became even more luminous and I felt my knees weaken. “I've taken over the shop from my father - tried to give it a bit of a face lift, you know.” She glanced at the shop behind her. I, too, gave it a closer look. The windows were gleaming, not dingy as they had been previously. A bright new sign hung over the freshly painted door, “Nader's Flowers and Books”, accompanied by a warm “Welcome” placard just below.
“Indeed. You have succeeded quite nicely.” I found myself smiling back at her with an enthusiasm I hadn't felt in a long time. “So you are still selling the old books?”
“Well, Father's collection is exceptionally rare. I didn't have the heart to disperse them in an auction or something. I spent a lot of time categorizing them and reorganizing the store to display them nicely. I also wanted to make room for my flowers - have the books and flowers compliment one another or at least co-exist pleasantly.”
Now my curiosity was piqued. “Would you mind giving me a tour? I've never been in the shop.”
“Certainly. Come in!” She opened the door for me which I quickly took from her and insisted that she enter first. As she turned, her long hair swung with the movement of her body and threw a glorious scent in my direction. Her body was plump in the most exquisite way. Every curve was accentuated deliciously in her floral dress. I feasted on her with my eyes until she turned to speak to me again. “Well, what do you think?” She thrust her arm toward the new displays but I was unable to look at anything else but her with any attention.
“It is exquisite.”
She giggled at my response knowing full well that I wasn't talking about her shop. “Well, Mr...”
“Mr. Bassem,” she continued.
“No. Bassem, please, not mister.”
“Bassem.” She looked at me with direct delight, not bashfully as many women might. “Thank you. Perhaps you would like a coffee while you look around?”
“That's a nice touch.”
“I thought so.” She smiled again and then busied herself behind the counter with my coffee. I tore my attention away from her in order to look around with earnest. After all, if she had created the displays with her own hand, it would certainly reflect her mind. The books had mostly been moved to the back of the shop and surrounded a cozy reading nook. A comfortable set of chairs sat facing one another with a small table in between. On the table was a bowl with several vibrant, fuchsia flowers floating in water. It was a perfect centerpiece to unify the shop's merchandise - the flowers with the books. The front of the shop was dedicated to all kinds of cut flowers and an unusual assortment of handmade pottery vases and hand-blown glass ones. The walls and display furniture was very simple, but the way she had coordinated colour and texture brought an ethereal quality to her shop - a quality completely befitting of her.
I had a keen interest in the titles that might be on the book shelves but as I wandered toward them, I suddenly looked at my watch and discovered that I was already late for work. I quickly returned to the front and to her.
“Miss...”, I started.
“Fatina.” The sound of her name played like a song in my heart.
“Fatina.” I repeated softly. “I'm afraid I must be getting to work. Could I stop by again when time is more leisurely, maybe after lunch, for that coffee?”
“Oh certainly, Bassem. Of course.” She laughed happily. “I should have realized.”
“No, I am the one who lost track. Your...hospitality was very...distracting.” Now I smiled mischievously.
“Well, you're my very first visitor...”
“Customer.” I quickly corrected her and released a glorious bouquet of mixed flowers from their container. “Have you got a vase?”
She looked at me curiously. “Yes.” She took one that would be exactly the right size from underneath her counter and placed it on top.
“How much – including the vase?”
“Twenty dollars, please.” She smiled bashfully now. “Someone is a lucky woman.”
I paid her and placed the flowers in the vase. “You may need some water.” I smiled and exited the shop before she could respond. Out in the street my smile spread across my face from ear to ear. It would be a long day at work, but the reward at the end of it would make the waiting all worthwhile.
In my office the single pink rose adorned my desk and enchanted my soul.