California Dreamin’ (PART 1)
by Tariq Iqbal
PART 1 of 2
- Someday, Somewhere, You Said Hello
- And Walked Into My Life
“Hello neighbor,” she had greeted him.
He was startled and a little perplexed as he looked up from his desk.
This was not the first time she had said hello. Once, she had slid across from her cubicle, and, with a captivating smile, said, “Hi. I always wonder what you do sitting quietly at your computer all day.”
He was reading the online edition of The Globe and Mail.
Flustered, and somewhat embarrassed, he quickly did an Alt-Tab to show her that there was actually a process running in the background and he was merely whiling away the time waiting for it to finish. But he managed only a mumble, and was not sure if he had quite redeemed his standing.
“I hear you are from Canada,” she had continued on this, the second, occasion. “I went to school in California, so we are practically neighbours.”
He noticed the way she had rolled her ‘r’ when she said California, as an Arab was wont to do.
He lit up. “California. I’ve been there. Went to university in Nevada. Would often go up to Lake Tahoe, the California side. Beautiful place.”
“Oh yes. I’ve been to Tahoe myself. Played the slots at Harrah’s,” she laughed.
“And I used to love visiting San Francisco,” he said.
“Went to the Berkeley campus once,” he remembered. “As I was walking about enjoying the ambience, I heard someone shout, ‘My big, heavy balustrades!’ and there was a commotion. A crowd had started to gather around two men having an argument. I joined them out of curiosity. One of the two, a professor, had just published a book, and having an altercation over its contents out in the open was his way of promoting it. The other man came up to him, within an inch of his face, and, lifting his spectacles as if to take a closer look, declared, ‘Interesting specimen of a beast.”
She squealed with laughter.
“They had staged the whole thing. That was Berkeley for you. No inhibitions. Lovely place.”
“I know. Never went to the campus, but I used to visit the area around it. Had some great restaurants and food,” she recalled.
“Halal of course,” he had a teasing smile.
She smiled, “For the first couple of years.”
Then, with a sudden, faraway look in his eyes, he remembered, “I was in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve 1985.”
“Oh wow. I wasn’t even born then,” she said in awe.
“Danced the slow-dance for the first time in my life. With Mabel,” still that faraway look. “I put my left hand at her back and held up my right to hold hers. She had to correct me. It was the other way around.”
They both laughed.
“I realized afterwards that men always focus on only the woman in the movies, and so, when called upon to perform all of a sudden, I unthinkingly assumed the woman’s posture.”
She wanted to know more.
“Mabel was at the New Year’s Eve party with her boyfriend. The idiot had gone on a drinking binge and left her all alone and abandoned. To spite him, she asked me to dance with her. Who the hell was I to refuse?”
They laughed again.
“I often wondered what became of Mabel and her boyfriend. A pretty girl, and fiery, but with a quiet self-assurance. I cursed myself later for not having asked her for her phone number.”
They chatted about California. She missed it so much. They talked about what a thrill it was to drive along the coast down Highway 1, how cold it could get in the evenings under Golden Gate Bridge even in the summer, how amusing it was to see kids skating on Venice Beach in LA followed by their grandparents, also on skates … another squeal of laughter … and how you could walk around for hours and hours, aimlessly, basking in the charms of the tree-lined backstreets and gardens. You could fall in love at the drop of a hat. California did that to you.
The conversation turned to Oman, her country.
“How do you like Oman and its people?” she was curious to know.
“Awesome. Omanis are the friendliest people on earth,” he replied with conviction, forgetting for a minute that that accolade belonged to the Canadians.
She was a new hire, fresh out of university and full of the vitality and eagerness and nervousness that comes with being fresh out of university.
He had not noticed any of it. All he was aware of was that a pretty new hire had joined.
He was a temporary hire, an old hand, concentrating on completing his project and moving on to another job, another city, possibly somewhere far, far away. Prince Edward Island, away in the Canadian Maritimes? He had always wanted to go there. Perhaps that would be the next destination.