This Sea Is Surely Not My Home
Nadia fumbles with the brass skeleton key. Eventually she opens the door to the Fish Market. Her first job in this new country and she is proud of the trust that has been placed in her. She flips the lights and rows and rows and rows of bright ceramic aquatic creatures line glass shelves, octopi with long, curled legs hang from ocean blue walls. Nadia adjusts her felt beret, takes a rag, and begins gently dusting each work of art.
When Fabrizio arrives he is smiling and asks "Everything in place?"
"In place," Nadia answers, with her slow, shy smile, standing straighter now. A flush comes over her broad features and her eyes shine a bit, as Fabrizio takes the soft skin of her cheek between his thumb and forefinger. She can smell the nicotine. She takes in a quick breath, closes her eyes for just a millisecond. Fabrizio is aware of his affect, lets it settle for a bit.
The small bell on the door rings and some tourists come in. A tall, thin woman with a wide-brimmed hat clutches the arm of a much older man. 'The kind with money,' Fabrizio thinks, pulling himself up to his full height which is not very high. He gives them a warm, accented "Hallo!"
The woman turns toward Fabrizio. It bothers him that he cannot see her eyes. Her companion sniffs loudly. The woman leans down and he whispers something in her ear. She begins to laugh in a loud, braying way, her large teeth bared, comically.
Nadia stands with the rag behind her back. She is watching Fabrizio. Inshallah, she prays, they will buy something.
The couple shake their heads, still laughing, a bit in their own world. Nadia feels a shame fill her up in a vulnerable place. As they leave the woman turns sharply to glance at Fabrizio, who stares at the top of her ridiculous hat since he cannot see her eyes. She spins her head around, facing forward and the brim of her hat knocks a ceramic piece from the shelf. They step over the threshold, onto the narrow street. Fabrizio lacks the language to say what is obvious: that they have broken something valuable and must pay.
They are gone now, though. Another opportunity missed.
Nadia picks up shards of the ochre colored starfish, carefully textured by Fabrizio's own hands. She lays them gently in the palm of her hand. Her nose burns and she feels the weight of trying to hold back what she feels.
"It's okay, it's okay," Fabrizio says, flicking a tear from beneath her eye with his thumb.
He is standing so close to her now, but she feels like she has gone on a journey alone. She wants to teach him the Arabic word for star, a lovely word, she thinks, but her mouth will not let her say it.
"Say," he encourages.
She does not speak.
She cradles what is left from Fabrizio's little work of art: five arms broken from their center. He picks them carefully from her soft palms. Drops them, piece by piece in the shoebox he keeps under the counter for such occasions.
is an academic librarian on faculty at Arcadia University in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She is the author of four chapbooks. She maintains a blog on Social Justice, Immigration and Migration at www.sempresicilia.wordpress.com