Short Stories. The Tracksuit (Part 2) by Andrew McIntyre. Enjoy this fabulous story and have a nice weekend, Yareah friends.
The paler light reminded us that the winter sun was already on the wane. Another night wandering the streets, perhaps. But there was the hotel. A bed. The chance of sleep. The sea choppy in the distance, specks of white kicking up around the freighters. The sun’s rays slanted pale lemon gold light off the buildings, shadows gradually lengthening. The aura of fading day added to the desperation of those still trying to sell, they knew that to eat tonight they would have to succeed. Mohammed stalked back to his routine. Fewer merchants now, most having been there since the early morning, for the most part they had sold their gear, getting out while the going was good. I stood on the wall at the top of the alley in search of the police but none appeared.
For a long time I watched an old man meandering up the hill towards me, as he slowly followed his feet, shuffling, brown blue lips quivering around the last stub of a cigarette. The wind tousled my hair, colder all the time. Another freezing night clear to the stars. I slid off the wall and walked over to find out how things were going with the tracksuit. Mohammed was conversing with a younger Arab. The boy pale through lack of sleep, with a soft defeated face, passive and sensitive. No doubt he too was from Oran, one of the night train boys dressed in the usual dirty denims, smoking a cigarette, observing the tracksuit as though it were a curse. They turned to me as I arrived, the boy enquiring, Mohammed grinning. Mohammed stretched out his arm, catching my shoulder as I approached. He hugged me, and I ruffled his hair.
“Mon ami André, the Belgian sailor. This is Malik, also from Oran. Un ami.”
“Unn. Et toi?”
“Oui. Je boume!”
They resumed their analysis of the tracksuit in vociferous Arabic. The material lay bedraggled, dead on the wall, sickly green in the changing light. A man approached. He had very short hair, his face sunken and hard like a boxer. He had been observing us. He continued to watch intently. It seemed he was interested in the tracksuit. He wore a light black leather jacket implying status, his shoes were strong, made with black leather. He was older than most of the youths, probably in his late twenties. He was also local. We were on his turf. He was from east Algiers, and most of these kids were from Oran, the Casbah, and other towns of the Mediterranean littoral. He did not approve. No doubt he had a home because it was now clear that he was seriously contemplating purchasing the garment. Maybe he even had a job. He picked it up and studied it, smelling it, running it through his fingers to feel the texture. He spat, throwing away his cigarette. Mohammed watched him steadily, eyes narrowed, looking down over the broken ruin of his beaked nose.
“What do you want?” said Mohammed roughly.
“How much?” The man asked quietly. He smiled at Mohammed. Mohammed did not return the gesture.
“Too much. I’ll give you 10.” Clearing his throat noisily he spat again.
“16 or nothing and go to hell. I do not need you here.”
“Not worth it. Piece of trash. 10 Dinars for this or you starve. You need to eat. I can tell.”
They argued on. I decided to alleviate the tension.
“Ça te va bien. Très bien. C’est bon ça,” I announced, trying to keep the sale going.
The man turned, viewing me through squinting eyes, “Pour quoi tu parles français? Pour quoi tu ne parles pas l’arabe? Salaud.” Approaching me, he grabbed my lapels and pushed me backwards, “Who the fucking hell asked you anyway, eh? Why are you here?”
Fists clenched, staring into his eyes, I stood back. I waited for his move.
“Uh? Who the hell are you? Uh?” He frowned at me. Then he spat. “Tu veux savoir quelquechose, uh?” He stared.
I was ready to punch him a couple of times to force him backwards, try to kick him in the nuts if he wanted to come on again. He was smaller than me but he was fast and lithe. He would be carrying a knife.
“What the hell do you want you miserable washer of dogs?” I yelled. “You want trouble? Eh? What’s the fucking matter with you? I will piss up your rectum.”
He flinched warily, unused to this kind of reaction. The shouting and movement attracted a group of youngsters. They were waiting eagerly, watching from the sidelines. His green eyes betrayed movement as I shifted to one side ready to counter, but Mohammed stepped in. He angled between us hugging the man, moving him off, bullying him when he shoved back, calming him, dragging him away whispering, “Eh . . . eh . . . eh.”
The man tried to reach me, gabbling insults in French and Arabic, struggling to break free. Mohammed held him, talking in rapid hissing Arabic, keeping a firm grip. He glanced back listening carefully. Gradually his expression changed, then he was nodding. I had no idea what Mohammed was telling him. No doubt something about the Belgians. Mohammed patted him on the back as the man returned, smiling a little, his face still tense, virtually expressionless. I stood, studying his eyes, expecting something, ready for a trick, but he put out his hand and we shook on it.
He smiled, touching my shoulder, “Tu veux savoir quelquechose? Tu veux savoir quelquechose? Huh? Huh? Tu veux savoir quelquechose?” He paused, teeth bared, “Je t’invite à un café! My name is Mustapha.”
“Yes, no problem OK. Let’s leave it, uh? I’ll buy you one too. All right?”
Mohammed reached over moving me away, “Eh, eh, come on, André, let’s go, OK.”
The youngsters began to leave, muttering back to their business, disappointed at the lack of violence. Mustapha approached Mohammed resuming the deal. The negotiations quieter, less aggressive, Mohammed grabbing him, pushing him around. They sparred like boxers, whispering. Eager hectic babbling, scrutiny of the garment, explosive laughter. The slap of money onto palms, shaking hands, shoving each other around as though they were fighting. Chuckling. The deal confirmed, the tracksuit was sold.
“Au revoir mon ami.” Mustapha pointed at me laughing, “Je t’invite à un café, uh?”
He waved, striding down the alley out of the square, the tracksuit draped over one arm.
“Who the hell’s that? You know him?”
Mohammed smiled, “Oh, a little. Mustapha comes here sometimes, he’s local, but pas de problème.”
“Oui. Un peu. The knife, you know. He can fight. He was a welterweight.”
“Yes. I thought so. One must be careful.”
“Oui. C’est ça. Exactement. But no problem, anyway, eh? Tout s’arrange.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it. I owe you.”
Malik grinned, a cigarette between his lips, “You were worried there mon ami, eh?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “Un peu, oui. I don’t like being hassled. I would have fought him.”
Malik exhaled smoke, “That’s true. Everyone could see.”
“What did you tell him to lay off like that?”
Mohammed raised his arms, “Oh, nothing. Just you were un ami. Belgian, off a ship. A good man. Not a Frenchman. He hates the French. You’re OK if you’re Belgian. He was in France for a while. In Marseilles. He had a bad time. La police. And if he fought you, then he fights us, eh. Finally he didn’t want the trouble.”
“Ha. Marseilles? That explains it. Rough town.”
Mohammed spat, “Especially for the Arabs. I was there. Too much mafia. Extreme Right. Gendarmes. Too much violence. He got beaten up. He was in jail. He hates the French. He might even kill you if he thought you were French. Marseilles is a fucking slum worse than the Casbah.”
“Better be Belgian, uh?”
“Oui. Exactement. The French hate the Belgians, so everything’s all right, and the Belgians hate the French. Now we’re done anyway. We sold it. Let’s get out of here. I’m totally sick of this filthy fucking place. It’s getting cold again. Night will be here soon.”
“As you said, the night never ended.”
Mohammed patted my head, “Yes. You are getting the idea.”
**These stories form part of a longer section from Andrew unpublished novella, The Night Train to Blida, part one leading into part two.