Layla waited at the foot of the small cobblestone alley for the young couple to arrive. To pass the time, she tried to imagine what the young man and his wife were like. She told herself that they were probably newlyweds, and judging from their surname they were definitely not Arabs. She predicted that they were an adventurous couple, especially since they were seeking to make this old street their home.
Leaning against the wall, with her mobile in hand, she noticed that the world around her was quiet. All she could hear was the distant laughter of children resonating in the corner of her memory, and the howling of the wind brushing itself against buildings that speak of a present unfamiliarity.
She remembered a time when this cobblestone alley was her playground. It was the place where she watched Sami, the neighbor’s eldest son, in admiration. Of course he watched her too, but they both pretended not notice each other. It was also the canvas were many stories were painted by ladies’ sipping cups of Turkish coffee, and it was the place where men sat on their porches smoking sheesha after a long day of work. Today, that familiar scene has been replaced. The families that lived in this alley have moved. Some left this world all together, while others, like Layla, replaced their quaint houses with bigger, whiter villas , grass hedges, and tiled swimming pools. Now, this little walkway is home to younger unfamiliar faces. It is home for the artists, the musicians, the students, and maybe even the couple she was waiting for.
Interrupting her thoughts, a young man came up to her and asked “Layla?” she replied “Yes”. “I am Steven, we spoke last night on the phone about the house. This is my wife Kate”, he explained. Layla greeted them politely as she ushered them to the third house on the right-hand side of the alley.
Her predictions about the couple were spot on. Indeed, they were foreigners . They were young. Later she learned that he was a guitar instructor and his wife who was an English teacher. Steven told her that he was very excited about seeing the house. Kate confirmed that they chose to contact her as soon as they had learned that the house was up for sale. “We were looking for a house with character and judging from this house’s exterior and its charming potted garden, we figured that it must be oozing with personality on the inside.” said Kate.
After exchanging a few more pleasantries, Layla and the young couple walked to the house. After the three of them climbed the outdoor steps, Layla pulled a rusted key out of her purse, and she opened the dark brown oak wooden door. The door took them to a high ceilinged entrance which now smelled of years of neglect. She reached for the light switch, hoping that it still worked.
Fortunately, the switch did not fail her and indeed it worked, instantly transforming the room from a cave of darkness to a space bathed in a warm orange glow. Kate instantly expressed her admiration for the colorfully flowered tiles, sending Layla back to a sea of memories, and a time when she challenged herself to jump from one flower to the next as a little girl.
From the entry, another double door took them to a small dining room garnished with a wall of small windows that open to a view of the city’s downtown area. “I love those windows,” exclaimed Kate , “Look Steven, they are the kind that open with a lock and key onto the outside. They are not the kind you pull open. ” “The view is fantastic”, said Steven.
Then Steven asked “Can we have that crack in the wall fixed?” pointing to a distinct hole in the wall. Layla smiled when she saw that mark, as she remembered that it was caused by a little chemistry experiment done by her brother and his friend. “Of course we can fix it” she said, as she ushered the young couple into a tiny kitchen that was screaming for renovation.
The tiny kitchen had a tall glass cabinet in it, and that was all the storage space it had. It also had a large marble sink, rusted with age. For lighting it had a small white lantern, as there were no lights installed in it. It’s huge window, opened out onto the neighbor’s garden. When she was a child it was the garden belonging to Sami’s family, and she enjoyed watching them all while doing the dishes. Of Sami married and left the city, and his parents left the world. Her husband left the world too, and she wondered briefly if his wife was with him or if she had departed this earth as well.
Realizing that this train of thought was pointless not to mention melancholic, she said with some hesitation “I realize the kitchen needs renovation.” Steven smiled and said, “We don’t mind, we might even expand it.” Hearing those words, Layla was overcome by a sense of panic. She realized for the first time that the kitchen was no longer hers.
Suppressing her urge to cry, she said “let’s go to the bedrooms” leaving them room, followed by the young couple. The first room was a double bedroom that led to the second bedroom. “This arrangement where one bedroom opens on the other, will create a small issue with privacy” said Steven “But it adds to the character” Kate interrupted. “Of look here, the wall is a bright purple” said Kate sarcastically, Offended by her sarcasm, Layla instantly remembered how she and her friend Rasha painted the purple wall themselves.”We are definitely changing the color of that wall” said Steven. “My mother had a more firm reaction then that ” thought Layla to herself, as she remembered how she was grounded for a week for disobeying her mother’s strict instructions to keep the wall beige. Realizing that her offence was unjustified, Layla said, “Let me show you the rest of the house”
Flicking a set of lights on, Layla and the young couple walked through a long checker tiled corridor. The sound of their footsteps echoed as it bounced over high ceilings and a strange out of place arch. At the end of the corridor stood a solid wooden door. Standing in front of the doorway, Layla said, “Now I will show you my favorite part of the house”. She then opened the creaking door, and took them up a steep flight of stairs. At the top of the staircase stood a metal door. She opened it and instructed them to watch their heads. The three bowed to pass a narrow threshold that leads onto a large terrace. The terrace glowed with the orange and purple hues of a maturing sunset and the twinkling lights of a vibrant city preparing itself for a lively evening. Layla looked at the view below her, and she realized that selling this house meant that she would be selling a chunk of her memories with it.
She cringed at the thought of a wider kitchen, a wall that is no longer purple, and even a crack being fixed. She imagined a set of posh matching cabinets replacing the simple glass cupboard, and a terrace being replaced with more rooms, a colored floor replaced by marble, and a little window replaced by a larger one, These thoughts erupted volcanoes of emotion within her, as she remembered that it was on this terrace that she had her engagement party, and it was also in this very location that she learned to paint. She remembered that she studied for her tawjihi exams right in this spot, and she also received the news of her brother’s death here.
“We will take it, and we will change all what needs to be changed.” Steven said, but Layla looked at him with sheer determination and replied “I’m sorry the house is no longer for sale.”