Just a quick trip to the store and I would be back in a jiffy. Humming, I pranced down the flights of stairs and onto the street that baked in the warm March sun.
“Peace be upon you,” I greeted the storekeeper.
“And upon you.”
A woman was in front of me at the counter. She turned to me with an intrusive stare. “Is she English?” she addressed the storekeeper.
“No, I’m American.” I answered for myself and then looked away to avoid further questions.
Some North African women could smell evasion. They went around, rooting out people who dared to hide anything from them. Her eyebrows lifted. “You speak Arabic?”
“Yes. I live here.”
“How much do you pay for rent?”
Really? All I need is two eggs. I bit back a smart reply that would probably be effective. It would also probably be rude. So I cleared my throat and tried to dance around the question. “I live with two other girls.”
The storekeeper was smirking. I could feel it more than I saw it. But despite our months of trust-building and extraordinary civility, he refused to come to my rescue. Then again, maybe I had rescued him.
The woman hung on like an un-oiled tick. “But how much do you pay?”
Aspirated, I gave her an amount.
She gasped. “What? All of you pay that together?”
A gusty sigh escaped before I could stop it. “Noooo. Each of us pays that amount.” I had yet to acquire the linguistic ability to defend myself and my private information around women like her.
“Oh.” She glanced at the ceiling as she did some quick math. “That’s not very much.”
Glad you think so. Now, could you please finish?
When she had vanished, carrying with her the essence of satisfied control, I stepped up the counter, deflated. “Eggs.”
“How many?” The store keeper was still smirking.