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The International Writers Magazine: First Love: Fiction

My First Love
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra

I
was one of the best busboys in New York City. You might think the job of a busboy is a loser occupation, but it is not. I had learned a great deal about work ethics, business, and clinical psychology. I always worked hard and fast and tried to be as efficient as the Carnot engine.

I worked in an Irish restaurant-bar in Queens, New York, called Sly Fox. The owner had a big face, red hair, and looked like a Viking warrior; except for he had nice clothes and speaks American. He was always counting a big wad of money in his fat hands and he never looked up to see me, or even feel me around. Sometimes the cook, his name was Alexander, would send me to the basement to cut potatoes in wedges so that he would fry them and serve them with cheeseburgers.

I had black, curly hair, big white eyes, and I was skinny like a female model. The basement had no windows and only one exit. If fire started I would fry there. There was always this white light that shone on my head from above and there was no picture or whatsoever on the walls. The walls were white bricks and there was a walk-in freezer where fish, meat, and ice cream were stored. There was an old large beaten-up table in the middle of the floor where I would empty a sack of potatoes and slice them with a big, sharp knife, Alexander trained me on how to handle. I would bend my head down and cut potatoes, one after the other, thinking about my shaky future in America. One imagination would sometimes take me to a wonderful life, full of love, money, and nice cars. Another would take me to a world full of bums. I would get scared when I thought of myself cadging smoke or bumming out a buck from pedestrians. I was alone and my future depended on my wit. And I would just keep on cutting potatoes until I finish the whole bag. Sometimes a waitress would come down, smile at me, and open the walk-in freezer and go in to grab a frozen item to bring upstairs. All the waitresses were nice to me, because I worked hard and I was as a poor as a rag and I spoke with a heavy accent and rode a cheap blue bike. They all drove cars and lived in nice apartments and some had boyfriends and all. I was a lonesome dove, immigrant with no friends, except for a blond thief and two run down immigrants from Africa.

Terry Donaldson, a young waitress, always came to the basement to pick up an item or two and talk to me for a while. She was cute and had a sharp nose and dark blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. Whenever I saw her my pouch of testosterone grew in pressure. She was not that tall and not that short and she was very clean, especially her hair. For some reason, which I still don’t know now, I was never attracted to Irish-American girls, but I was always fond of the German-American ones instead. But this Terry somehow broke the rule. Terry came down to the basement more often than the other waitresses. She would come to the table and start talking to me and give me that terribly bright smile and I was too stupid to know that she liked me. I never knew that she liked me because I was as a poor as a rag and she was all settled down and had practically everything she needed. I found out that she liked me when one day I had to bus upstairs and one of the waitresses came near me and Terry was there and I told that waitress that she should be in Hollywood instead of working in Sly Fox, because she was as beautiful as a button. The waitress wagged a forefinger at me, smiling, and Terry heard what I had said and I thought that she would laugh at my remark but she scowled at me instead. That afternoon Terry didn’t come to the basement at all. And I was hoping that she would come and talk to me and be a good companion at least for a while. The next day she didn’t come either. I went to the cook and I explained to him what had happened.
The cook said, "She likes you, Sidi."
I said, "What?"
He said, "Yeah, she likes you, my friend."
I said, "Why, I am poor, how come she likes me?"
He said, "Only God knows the mind of women."
I said, "Wow," and I started thinking.

After I knew that Terry liked me I began to like her right away. It felt like I had this pipe full of liking and I opened the valve of that pipe and all the liking rushed out. My liking to Terry grew ten folds. When Terry came to the restaurant and put on her brown apron. I looked at her with different eyes and I felt my heart working inside my chest.
I went up to her and asked, "Can we meet for coffee or something?"
Her eyes lightened up and she said, "Sure," and when she said sure, I felt so happy. And she knew that.
"When," I said.
"After work," she said. "I can wait for you."

Terry was happy herself. I couldn’t believe why she didn’t have a boyfriend. She was a good looking Irish girl. And she was a good person too. I was a good person but my face was no match to hers. But again, beauty is a strange concept.

She waited for me like she had said, and when we got out of the restaurant, we walked a few yards under the trees and the cool afternoon sunlight came through the trees in patches and when we got to a street and were about to cross the street, Terry held my arm and I felt something frightfully interesting. Why I felt that feeling I do not know. And then I felt like Terry was mine and she belonged to me; she became my wife and we had two kids waiting for us to come home to cook dinner. The fact that she held my arm reassured me that she liked me. It gave me this wonderful feeling that life or Nature or God or what you believe in, had given us this so we can fall in love and procreate and continue the cycle of life.

We went where we were supposed to go, probably a coffee shop and we chatted for a while and we went our separate ways. When I got home I went to bed and lay on my back, smiling to the ceiling, my chest relaxed and very content. I stayed there for a while, smiling, and then I stood up and went to the mirror of the bathroom and smiled to myself. That night was one of my happiest nights in America. The next day came in as always. It was a good morning. It looked and felt like it had rained a little in the night and that made the air fresh and cool on that morning. I jumped on my bike and head for Sly Fox. When I got to Queens Boulevard I wanted to make a turn to go down a steep, a car came from behind and hit me. I fell off the bike and onto the hard concrete of the road. I was so skinny and there was no impulse against the road. No damage had occurred because the car had tried to stop before it hit my bike. Before I could suck in the shock of the accident, the driver looked down at me and he was scared green.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
I stood up and looked around me and looked for blood. No blood could be seen. No scratch at all, but the back wheel of the bike was twisted and there was no way I would use that bike to ride to work on that morning.
"How much did you pay for your bike?" the guy said.
"Eighty dollars," I said.

The guy pulled his wallet from behind him and looked inside for a moment and produced four twenty-dollar bills. I looked at them and quickly thought of fixing the bike for twenty bucks, saving me sixty dollars, so I took the bills from him and shoved them in my front jean pocket. Saving money was pivotal for me in those days. I was alone in America and if I became broke or lost or sick that would be the end of me. I knew the power of money. Money changes some women into whores, and men no less no more. Money turns preachers into pigs and religion into gigs. Money put the innocent in jail and the guilty out on bail. Money turns churches into caves and white people into slaves. Money turns our heart away from love and the skin of our hands into gloves. Money put bread on the table and our deeds under the table. Poverty suck, money fucks, and the gods don’t give a fuck. I was mad as hell about money. I was saving it like crazy. I put my money in a shoe box under the bed and when I came home from work I would pull out the shoe box and add the tip from that day to the pile of money and count them again. I would stack the dollar bills together, the five-dollar bills, the ten, the twenty, and the hundred. I had tons of dollar bills and a few hundred-dollar bills. When the guy who hit me was talking to me, I was thinking about how high my twenty-dollar bill would stack up. I was obsessed of stacking up money. The guy offered to drive me to work, but I said no, because I was afraid he would change his mind and take his money back. I put my bike on my shoulder and walked down the hilly road heading for Sly Fox.

When I got there I ran down to the basement and grabbed myself a sack of potatoes and emptied it in the sink and poured cold water on it for washing. I moved the potatoes to the table and start cutting them, thinking about Terry and the accident. Terry occupied my thoughts more than the accident. I believed that if she knew that I like her she would like me more, so I decided to tell her about how I felt. I was waiting impatiently for her to come downstairs so I could tell her that I loved her.
Time had passed slowly and finally she came down with that majestic smile of hers.
"Hello, Sidi," she said with a big smile on her face.
"Hello, Terry," I said.
She approached the table and looked at me as though I was her knight.
"How is school?" I said.
"I have a paper to write-10 pages"
"I love you, Terry."
There was a pause.
"That’s nice," Terry said and moved slightly away from the table.
"Should we meet after work, like we did yesterday?"
"Let me think about it," Terry said. "I will let you know."
"Okay," I said, pretending it didn’t hurt, but actually I was hurt.

Terry walked upstairs slowly, thinking. I made a mistake but I didn’t know I made it until I thought about it while cutting potatoes. I knew I had just messed up the little relationship we had just started. I told her I loved her even though I didn’t know her well. People don’t do these kinds of things. Terry was probably shocked. She never came downstairs to talk to me on that day. When her time of work ended, she just left. When my time came to leave I went upstairs looking for her and waited for a while hoping that she would change her mind and come back to see me.

I took the bus home and walked to the liquor store two blocks away and bought myself a six-pack of Knickerbocker beer. It was probably the cheapest beer in New York City at that time, if I could remember. You could buy six-pack for two dollars. I went to my sad, dark room and open up one bottle of my warm beer bottle and started drinking. I drank two bottles and emptied the other four in the sink. I was always afraid of becoming an alcoholic.
The next day, Terry came downstairs carrying her bike on her shoulders. She had a nice bike. Probably three times more expensive than mine. Mine was twisted in the back wheel and leaning against the far out wall next to a broom. Terry smiled at me, pushed down the kick stand with her right foot and moved her body to go upstairs.
"Terry," I called. "Are you mad at me?"
Terry became reserved and formal, and her lovely smile that she always displayed had disappeared.
"You don’t know me," she said.
"I know you."
"No, you don’t," and she ran upstairs.

I went back to my potatoes, thinking about what to do next. I said to myself, after work, she would come down to pick up her bike, but if I deflated her tire she would have to walk home and I could walk with her and talk to her and get her to change her mind. So I deflated her back tire and went back to my potatoes. When time to go home approached, she came down and I smiled to her like nothing had happened and she gave me this look which I can’t explain, but it looked like the we-are-through look. She picked up her bike and climbed up the stairs almost running. I waited some time for her to get to the outside of the restaurant and I followed her with my white apron still on.
"Can I walk you home?" I asked.
She turned around and faced me and said, "It won’t work out, Sidi."
"Why?"
"It just won’t work out." And from the look on her face, I knew that she made her final decision and closed her book on me. All that dream of me marrying her, having two kids with her, and the dog is running in the backyard had gone.

She kept on walking holding her bike beside her and I walked back to the restaurant, head down, and heart broken. I couldn’t continue on working. I was too hurt to work. I untied my apron and threw it on some empty boxes and walked up the stairs and went to the bus station. In the bus my chest started to squeeze. It was a feeling I don’t want anybody on this planet to have. It was a feeling of sadness, sorrow, and discontent, all piled up together in a sort of a combo sandwich. The only way for me to ease that pain was to cry, so I cried in the bus. The bus was almost empty.

When I got to my depressed room I couldn’t stay in it, so I walked down to my landlady who lived downstairs. She opened the door and saw my face and said, "Come on in, Sidi."
I walked in and she said, walking behind me, "What happened?"
"A girl hurt me," I said and when I looked at her, I saw that she couldn’t hide a smile. But I didn’t give shit and I kept on crying. Her daughter came out from her room and joined her mother into consoling me. Her daughter was one of the most beautiful women on the planet. She didn’t even know I existed, but when she saw me crying for a girl like that she become curious. She had many boyfriends though and they always came in nice cars to pick her up to go dancing. She was as sexy as ever. In fact she became a model later on.
After a few months, the daughter and I fell in love and she made me forget Terry.

Written in Starbucks
San Luis Obispo, California
© Sidi Benzahra June 2006
sbenzahr@calpoly.edu

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