Monday, March 10, 2008
Where Everything Is Sold
Only Kamel knows his way entirely around his grocery store, which is small and dim.
He can find you 30-liter trashbags, or saffron, or tortillas,
or fresh mint,
or an extension cord.
If he doesn’t have a funnel to sell you, he’ll lend you one.
Everything is piled in so close together
you are worried:
if you pick up that can of tomatoes maybe the whole store will fall over.
Kamel’s answer to any request is “Ask me for the sun;
I’ll give you the moon, and the sun to go with it.” If he doesn’t have it today, it will be
arriving tomorrow. He will get the word out, too, that he has it for you.
His store is named Le Jardin d’Ulysse for Djerba’s first tourist,
and from time to time he disappears from the rue Vasco de Gama,
to the spare, spacious opposite of his grocery store.
He hasn’t eaten any lotuses, and Djerba is always bright in his mind,
and he will show it to you
if you know him well enough -
the flat expanse of the courtyard, the cool stone hallways,
the vast kitchen he built for his wife. In the pictures,
his children are never far.
Kamel, in a white robe, presides happily over them;
orange trees, grape vines, date palms and olive groves crowd around his big white house,
and his youngest son trails everywhere after him, adoringly.
Kamel’s children are his pride and joy.
Two or three weeks, at most, and he is back in the rue Vasco de Gama
in his dark sweater and wool fisherman’s cap,
standing in the doorway of his store beside a wealth
of fruit and vegetables.
He has returned to the other people who need him,
to his emporium
of cat food and milk on Sunday evening,
of beer and gumdrops after the other stores have closed.
Kamel likes to talk but will not tell you much: he loves the scent of jasmine, pistachio ice cream, the voice of Oum Kalthoum; in the morning, he drinks his coffee with a drop of orange flower water.
But one night, François (remember him?) calls to tell us Kamel has an urgent message.
“You’re late,” he says, when we walk into the store. He hands us a covered terra cotta dish. “Get out,” he tells us amiably. “Eat it before it’s cold.” And he sends us back to our apartment with a little taste of home.