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Coffee: The Color of Their Lives

Posted by Prosy Delacruz

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Coffee: The Color of Their Lives
(Café: La couleur de leurs vies)

This story is fictionalized and may imitate the lives of folks I met and while the emotions are true, the entire story is a product of my imagination.

“ Life can give you strength. Strength can come from facing the storms of life, from knowing loss, feeling sadness and heartache, from falling into the depths of grief. “ Joseph Marshall III

Bleessa Valha.

Sarbi stood by the old coffee pot, lingering. Too old that the plastic hinge is off on one side. “It is okay”, he insists to justify why we have not discarded it: “ We use it to let hot water through the beans. Why buy another? “ Words to validate his actions, and before could soothe me. But, his explanation sounded shallow, much like the pad scouring off the brown bits off the frying pan. It annoyed me that such mundane tasks of filter, grinds, then switch on the coffee maker to start brewing was too much for this smart man to do. He lingers.

Daily, he brews coffee, pours it into a shared cup, a gesture which prepares us for a good day ahead to either bike, trail walk or a morning movie at eleven, with one more couple, besides us, laughing in the audience.

Not today. I had drifted from him. He could not stand my laughter. His smell disgusts me.

Not today, when I am burying my precious son, Antoine. Not today, as it means the end of a relationship. Maybe another.

My name is Bleessa Valha. I am 70 years old. I am short, shorter than my husband, Sarbi. I have curly hair. When I dress up to go to the market, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I put on tent dresses. They swing with the winds as I walk. I like that. And a necklace, a glass blown piece with browns and blues remind me of the earth and the sky, but also of my grandparents who gave it to me.

When the sky is intense blue in Provence, and the winds are mild, it makes for the best days to bike or hike the trails.

But not today, not even the wild mild winds nor the blue skies can cheer me up.

I used to have photos of my grandparents on my walls, as they were the ones who cared for me until I got to the university. Grandmama and grandpapa taught me how to plant vegetables: green beans in one row, tomatoes resting on sticks, so their fruits stay above the ground, then radishes in another. But, nothing tops what I learned in fattening up ducks. Grandmama would say: “ Hold out the duck’s mouth, put the funnel in until it reaches the neck.” She then shoveled corn grains into the funnel, until its neck bulged. We repeated the process until in weeks, the duck is plump, like a balloon full of air.

At first, I felt scared for the duck, one I fondly called Celia, she chased me and I chased her around the yard, until grandma hollered, time for lunch. I asked her if that was torturing the duck. “ No, it contributes to making a french delicacy and they are part of our tradition.

I share this freely with my students, those who take cooking classes, some from: Abu Dhabi, England, Greece, Philippines, Canada and America. To few, I have shared that my two children died too early. Antoine was 27 when he left a note. “ All my love to you Mom and Dad. Signed, Antoine joined his Maker! “

Andre, at 26, died a year after. He had aneurysm. He kept on saying, “ Mom, my head is about to burst. " Sarbi and I rushed him to the hospital. Sarbi’s foot pressed on the pedal, skipped one gear, first to the third, speeding more than usual, that he sideswiped the mirror of another. He miscalculated.

Bleessa on Sarbi.

Miscalculations are beyond Sarbi. He meticulously does his research, consults with his experts, mulls the issue in his head for months, that we spend hours on dialogue, hours of what ifs, a sounding board for one another. Even philosophies, like what is good for our nation, what leader we should have, why we doubly cared for this President, why we believe too many wars and not enough peace. Sometimes, I share my vision: to be peace-builders, to be a source of joy, to allow myself to step out of my own world to care for another, to cook, to bake, to arrange flowers, and lately, my new passion is to write short stories. For Sarbi, it is revolution in Algiers, to keep the French out for good.

We take walks, sometimes we linger at the rotunda fountains. Interesting piece of sculpture: the Justice, Agriculture and Fine Arts, triangulated together at Cours Mirabeau, what the pioneers envisioned their city to be, a host to literary arts. Sarbi would make me slow down: Look sweetie, do you see how they carved his nose, his eyes, and his mouth, do you see who that might resemble, perhaps Cupid? I actually slowed down, read the insignia and towards the direction across was a Paul Cezanne sculpture, short, with a hat, 1839-1906.

I met Sarbi in the university. He was born in Talha, Algiers. He teaches economics at the University of Provence, while I translate literature from English to French. He was so handsome, at least for me. When he glanced at me, I thought his smile simply lit up for both of us. He has a way of listening to each word I say. Even if they were just mumbles of ehem, ehem, ehem. He understood me. He was helpful, whenever I asked for directions on how to get to a shop downtown, he knew where it was. Later, I found out, his third arm is a map.

I like that in Sarbi, knowledgeable, a master in fixing things around the house, except today. Not that old coffee maker, though, he can’t seem to turn it on.

He describes everything to me, even if not asked. He would say, “You see this coffee filter, you need to wet them first, then, allow the water to rise to the level of the grounds. Wait for the coffee grounds to meet the water, and let it do its work. “ He likes to serve our coffee black. At other times, he remembers and offers: Cream ? I hand over the cup, and he pours cream. “ Enough? “ and looks at me lovingly. I smile back.

Sarbi on Bleessa.

When I met Bleessa, her legs caught my eye. Her calves were well defined, the cyclist’s legs, with cute sandals. Their brown rhinestones matched her necklace, and reflected more, when her tent dress swayed as she walked towards the light. It was the way she walked which caught my attention. I like that in my woman, glamorous and sexy. Smart also! Robust in smarts, just like french roast coffee!

I waited close to hour 12. Not again. Maybe tomorrow. Next day, I was lucky. I walked up to her, as if I just arrived in the building, unplanned even.

“ Hey, Sarbi, are you lost, are you not teaching in the economics building or is it philosophy”? I liked philosophy as it gave me an opening to deconstruct the contradiction about our government, how we claim we are for peace, yet, we assist Americans in their wars.

One day, a European visited us, I think he was from Vienna, and this Austrian shared an interesting factoid, I call it factoid, as I had not researched it as true or not “1 of 3 Americans in Europe are in the military.” Staggering, don’t you think? , I asked.

“ No, I can believe that. When you think of 700 US military bases around the world, and some are in Europe, that seems accurate, considering military personnel, base suppliers, and those who give ancillary services, 1 out of 3 easily. “ Bleessa understood. I smiled at her. She winked back.

I teased Bleessa a lot because she jumps to conclusions too quickly. I regard it as an irresponsible way of thinking. My thinking process is methodical, level 1, level 2, level 3, consider the alternatives, antilevel 1, 2, 3. Then, a conclusion. I cannot handle feelings, instincts or intuitions, I am not even sure what they are. They sound ephemeral. Like mumbo jumbo.

She, on the other hand, forms impressions, too quickly for me to understand how. Could it be my cautious mind which undermines her intuitive abilities to know people? I am not really sure. I got too tired of arguing one day. I decided just for once, I can provide understanding, instead of giving a lecture on the linear way of thinking.

She told me “Eyes!“ “Eyes?” Incredulous, not wanting to give away my simmering impatience, I focused on her eyes. I saw sparkling brown eyes.

“Are you listening? ” she asked. “Take a look at their eyes, there is a certain sadness when folks have their grief buried within. Then, those who are unsure about who they are, their eyes evade yours. They hide their true selves, ashamed perhaps. Then, those with fearful eyes, about to cry, but could not, those are blocked emotionally. They have not felt in years, they rely on their thoughts, solely their mind, to make sense of the world. You feel their emotional distance, even if they are here, they are not. So, there are sad eyes, evasive eyes, afraid eyes, and distant eyes. “

“Hey, what kind of eyes do I have?” Mocking her, but she caught on, “Sarbi, listen for once with your heart.“

Sarbi vs. Bleessa.

I am furious. How am I supposed to react? My routine comments to Bleessa are: “Look, content first before form, if empty in content, stylish in form, that’s still empty. “

Not today, when I am burying my precious son, Antoine. Not today, as it means the end of a relationship. And maybe another.

Nothing Bleessa does matters to me anymore. In my rage, I blurted the unthinkable, punishing statements to inflict the most pain on her, equivalent to the degree of pain I feel.

“ Listen, you need to consider yourself solely responsible for Antoine’s death. “ Sarbi’s accusing tone, glaring eyes at Bleessa.

“ Sarbi, have you gone nuts? Two days ago, you and Antoine went fishing together. “ Furious, her face turned red.

“ Bleessa, I told Antoine he married a cold, self-interested woman. He agreed. ” She calmed down a bit, at least on that point, they agreed.

“ That should not push him to his grave, Sarbi. What did you tell him? “

“ Look, Bleessa, I said, he was on his own with his over-mortgaged house. His wife took out a half million dollar insurance, just in case. He came clean and spoke of his casual nightly trysts just to release tensions.

“Have you gone mad, Antoine? “ With so much contempt and judgment, I reacted “ You are just fucking out of your mind. Be real for once, Antoine! “

“ I thought since you and Antoine have a close connection that I don’t have, you would have known. “

“ Sarbi, know what?”

“ Bleessa, he is conflicted. He does not know what to do about his sexuality. He does not know what to do about his house. You should have known all these, as you are his mother. “

“ Sarbi, you are nuts! You are fu...ng nuts! “

“ But, admit it, you are conscientious mother, every detail you ask of your sons, you even know when they are sick or when they are in love. How can you miss this big one ? I want to know. “ Sarbi’s voice creeped up in volume.

“ Sarbi, there you go again with your default mode. You try to understand with your mind, and you cannot listen with your heart. “

Bleessa storms out. “You are one SoBMF!” Her volume mirrors his, skyrocketing hurtful words one, to the other. She slams the door.

Antoine had gone home. His wife left. She laid out the hotel bills on the table. She knows. He thought of his father’s contemptible tone: “ Do not come back to us until you figure this one out. Do you realize you may have ruined our family’s name, maybe even my academic standing? You are that selfish? “

Feeling more isolated, he reached out to Andre, his younger brother. He picked up his cell phone, scrolled down the contact names and dialed the number.

“ Hey Andre, can you come? “ They have been that close. Talking it out. Arriving at solutions.

“ No, Antoine. My head is throbbing. I thought of eating dinner but couldn’t. Painkillers worthless. Sorry, Andre, some other night. “

Antoine recalled the week: Dad’s contempt. Mom’s in the dark. I cannot fail her. Wife left. House now bank’s. Was I ever happy? Too much to make sense of: the affairs, the sham marriage, the house, the nightly escapes, the creditors. Bank called, the car’s theirs too.

No house, no car, no wife, no lover, no life. Bang, bang, bang, three bullet shots to Antoine’s head. Bleessa rereads the note: “ All my love to you Mom and Dad. Signed, Antoine joined his Maker! “

Bleessa on Sarbi.

Bleessa could not decide, the dark blue suit or the black A-line dress? And Sarbi, lately, more indifference.

“ How can Sarbi even think of being a pain during these times of loss? How can my husband be so juvenile? Antoine, answer me, you helped me understand your dad once. You used to say: ‘Mom, do your thing, hold your cooking classes, hold your spirit high, be your own joy.’ How did you forget to be your own joy, my son? “

At the church, Bleessa and Sarbi sat together, though hearts apart, the only way to assuage the pain of nearness. Until the priest blessed Antoine’s body and said, “God gave you life, my son, may you, Antoine now rest in God's bosom forever!”

Andre sat in silence, remembering: “I could have made time for him, even with that damn headache. I chose me, and now he is gone. ” He wish for his brother to be still here, at least to make sense of how their parents make each other miserable. If only they would stop hurting one another! Antoine, why now? Antoine, come back! I am sorry, I was not there for you. “

It was what the priest said that moved Sarbi, leaning to Bleessa, to hold her hands, and he whispered “ I am sorry he is gone. I am so soooorry. “ She glanced, tears streaming down both cheeks: “ Our precious Antoine is gone. Goodness, the sun rises each morning. It always does. Gray clouds may appear when the rain comes. But, the blue skies appear eventually. Antoine, why could you not have waited for the sunrise? Just a few more hours, and it would have been sunrise, Antoine! “

Sarbi took her hand into his. They went to the church basement, and drank coffee together, in one cup as before.


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