Sesame Seed: The Bruce Building.

by | Feb 11, 2024 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

That one she called The 70s.

It was two weeks before Tony heard from her again. His phone rang and her exquisite features graced its screen.

“Hello Princess. How are you? Are you settling in?” He tried not to sound too eager but his heart was racing. It vaulted a hurdle as her voice began but fell at the first fence when he heard her pleading tone.

“Can you help me please Azizam? It’s Basil. I think he’s dying,” she breathed, a tremor in her voice.

“I’m on my way,” Tony snapped, hanging up. He didn’t understand what she meant but he got the urgency in her intonation. Within  twenty minutes, his finger was selecting the numbers on the entry system of the Bruce Building, a shiver running through his entire body.

The fact that the call was about a dying herb was neither here nor there when she opened the door of flat 16. He stepped inside and took hold of her as if his life depended on it. She put up no resistance and melted into her usual place. They remained like that for several minutes in a silent conversation that said it all. Finally and reluctantly they mutually separated.

“My Basil plant is dying…”

***

Placing the pot on the tiny table in the centre of the living space, Tony looked around. The small area mimicked a hotel room one would find in one of the bigger chains. Double bed, wardrobe, small futon, and a chest of drawers. The only differences were the aforementioned table, with its two garish, yellow plastic chairs and a collection of small cupboards framing a fridge, and oven and topped by a single drainer sink and two-ring ceramic hob. There was a door to the ‘en-suite’, a cramped closet housing a sink, toilet, and shower cubicle.

As he surveyed the small enclave of self-sufficiency, a prison cell also sprung to mind. Then he took in the personal details, those which made this chamber home to his young friend. Amongst the photographs, books, and other tokens that she could tastefully cram into such a cramped space, there stood the centrepiece. Something that differentiated both the room and her from the hundreds of others in the block – her art.

This consisted of a large wooden easel, out of scale with the other contents, on which was placed a canvas. Shirine saw him looking at the painting, which was half finished, and smiled. In a second, her anxiety disappeared, to be replaced by a look of accomplished pride. This was her baby or at least one of them. “I love it, Princess, let me guess,” he said, closing his eyes; he felt like a child in a game. “It looks very spring-like. A garden or meadow perhaps?”

“Oh my God. Really?” She brought her hand to her mouth in shock. Picking up her phone, she scrolled through some posts on Instagram then triumphantly held it up to him, tilting her head back. “How on earth did you know? That’s the second one in succession.” Tony was beginning to enjoy this new game, having correctly surmised that her previous creation was from the era of punk. That one she called The 70s. When he read the current post on her phone, he was equally astonished. There, in the dialogue box below a photograph of this unfinished work, was the title. Spring in Newcastle.

“And before you ask, it’s yours. I insist,” she breathed, lowering her head to stare him straight in the eye. Tony felt his legs go and quickly pulled out one of the chairs. Slumping down, he put his head in his hands, closed his eyes again, and rubbed his face.

He was brought back to the present by her soft voice, a mixture of Middle East and Middle America. Her Netflix voice, he called it, to her mock annoyance.

“Would you like a tea Azizam?” Her address, Persian for dear, always made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. 

“Yes please Princess, that would be good”, he answered, his mouth watering in anticipation. She proceeded to make a pot of Earl Grey, adding a large spoon of Manuka honey and two leaves from an equally sorry-looking mint plant. The brew was magical and always reminded him of these visits. He’d made it at home a couple of times but it was never the same. While sipping the hot, sweet brew, Tony studied the teaspoon balanced on the rim of the honey jar, defying gravity. This was one of her many strange habits, along with obsessive hand washing and making him take his shoes off. So insistent she’d been about the latter, he’d bought a cheap pair of slippers. They stood near the door next to her small collection of footwear, including the giant DM’s. He’d once placed his backpack next to the shoes and was promptly scolded for putting it in “that dirty place”. The feet and shoes thing lost him initially, until she explained the cultural significance.

Finishing his tea, Tony got up to leave. 

“So soon? You’ve only just arrived!” The young woman said, sitting on the edge of the double bed that took up half the room. He nodded silently and she added in a resigned tone, “OK Azizam, don’t forget Basil.” He smiled inwardly at her pronunciation of the plant’s name, ‘a’ as in ache. “Tomato”, he uttered out of the blue. 

“Pardon? Tomato?” she enquired, using the dodgy ‘a’ again. 

Looking straight into those huge brown circles, like two identical cups of macchiato, Tony began to sing the song from the film, Shall We Dance. 

“You say either and I say either

You say neither and I say neither…” 

A look of puzzlement came over Shirine’s face, quickly replaced by a giant smile as he got to the line with tomato in it. Her cheeks lifted and the two dimples appeared just below her eyes like shy birds peeking from behind a bush. He’d only ever seen them once before in six months so rarely did she smile. Tony exchanged his slippers for shoes and picked up the plant pot. He made for the door and was stopped by a deliberate clearing of the throat from his young companion.

“And?” She said simply, holding out her arms.

“Oh, yes. Sorry. This is still new to me,” Tony responded, contemplating that it would always be so. Again, he took her in his arms, the ailing herb pinned between them like a couple with a stricken child. Her smell mingled with the plant’s pitiful aroma in a unique aural sensation. Tony was the first to break the hold, his heart aching.

“Goodbye Azizam. See you again soon.” The expression she gave him crushed his agonising core. A look which would become her trademark. 

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