By Fatma Al Sibani
The grocery store was a few blocks away from her apartment. She drove her magma grey swift thinking of nothing but the two figures that had sprung before her at the store.
After she got into her apartment and finished stuffing the milk in the refrigerator, she gazed for some moments at the plastic bag in which she had carried the milk, her pulse beating madly in her ears, blocking out all sound.
After that, she sat on the floor trying to calm the overwhelming terror that had engulfed her. The nearest chair seemed too far off for a body that was shaking like a leaf.
“Did I just meet a talking elf and a magician, for real?”
She uttered these words slowly as if she wanted her ears to hear what her eyes had seen. When the panic ebbed from her, she managed to stand up and then slowly made her way to the sofa to grab her phone.
She scrolled her Whatsapp to Nadia’s chat: No no no not Nadia, but then what, she thought as she lay prostrate on the sofa. Then the images that she had just seen at the store came flashing back. A Bic lighter had floated past her eyes when she was there. And she was the only one around to witness it.
She grabbed her phone tight as she recalled this and scrolled to Nadia’s chat again, opened a new voice message, and uttered “Nadia, this is going to be a long one. I know you will not believe a word that I am saying here but, please, please, do! Because you have to!” She sent the voice-note and started another one, “I was out of milk and went to the grocery to get some. While I was checking the expiry date, I suddenly saw something swish right past my eyes. Like some little flying objects. To my amazement that was a flying/floating lighter passing right in front of my eyes!
A freaking flying lighter Nadia!
I didn’t freeze; despite the agitation and panic, I followed this flying freak of a lighter before I saw it turn to another section.
There was no one there save for a guy, wearing a pickle-colored dishdasha and white sandals. His hair was way long and all over his round glasses. If Gerry Beckley (*) knew where Al Noor grocery was I would have definitely said that this was him! He was flipping something in his hand while checking the shelves of canned foods. I stepped closer and acted as if I was looking for something. I sneaked a look to see what was in his hand and you will not believe it: he was holding the blamed lighter!
I freaked out and screamed at him: “What the hell is going on?! Did you just order a lighter to fly out to you?!”
Imagine me screaming to a stranger, Nadia. And the stunned look on his face further stumped me and I really hated myself at that moment.
The first thing he did after I yelled at him was to look behind him and then behind me. When he was sure that the coast was clear, he went, “Hey girl… look, I know this might be a bit difficult to absorb as it is not an everyday sight. But like the lighter, I also exist. So, I beg you not to scream or make a scene now because the situation is not to my advantage. I am sorry that you saw the flying lighter. That should not have happened but I was lazy to walk two rows to bring it. Well, I am not the best one of my race, but as compensation I am ready to take you to The Sahara and bring you to your place before dawn. My gear is ready to go.”
But then, his cocky speech was interrupted by a tiny voice coming from somewhere… We couldn’t place it at first, but it was somewhere near our feet. The magician also stopped and looked at me with confusion; his cockiness seemed to have suddenly evaporated. The tiny voice broke out again, this time it sounded a trifle squeaky: “Could you give me one can of pineapple please? And, in case you still can’t spot me, I am right here at your feet. I beg you not to scream, I am of no threat to you.”
At that point I was pretty sure this was one of my tricky dreams that I have been craving to have for so long: to meet some walking-talking elves and be friends with them or to bump into a weird lighter-floating magician and start a mad journey which I can then one day tell my grandchildren. But the magician broke into my reverie: “Where did you come from?” he demanded of the elf. “How come you exist in the first place, itsy-bitsy elf?”
Both, the magician and I summed up the little squeaky creature.
Its skin isn’t soft and sticky Nadia! It was rather dry and crepey! The elf smirked back, “See who talks about existence! I don’t make lighters fly to me at least! I get what I need in the most mundane way!
“And let me tell you, young man, I came all the way from the North Pole, walking and swimming when needed, not flying like what you are most likely to do. Now, whose chance to exist has boosted after this?”
The magician started laughing at the elf’s witty but wise repartee and said: “Well you are right, but my offer still stands for both you and the lady here. I can take you wherever you wish to go in minutes, and it will save you, not just money but, precious time.”
I handed the elf the canned pineapple. And, he immediately walked away rolling the can on the floor all the way to the automatic door, then without saying a word he vanished. I paid for my milk, added some for the ‘stolen’ canned pineapple and told the cashier it was for charity.
The magician put his solo lighter in the counter and the cashier asked for two hundred baisas without raising his head; he had been busy on his phone since I had entered the shop. The magician reached his hand in his dishdasha pocket and pulled out four coins of fifty baisas and a moving lobster, which he immediately shoved back. I backed off two steps and asked why a live lobster. “Dinner,” he mumbled. We walked to the door and when we stepped out he abruptly asked, “So, The Sahara?” I laughed, and after a short pause I said goodbye to him. When I was in my car, I saw him standing on the left of the grocery shop door. He was rubbing his hands in fast motion and then a spark lit up in his hand and expanded till it swallowed him whole. All that was left was a puff of smoke.”
She breathed in and out, deeply. She took a swig of water and continued with another voice note:
“A talking elf in fluffy trim Nadia! And a magician in a pickle-colored dishdasha! What is going on? I don’t understand! It is so messed up or is it me?”
Five minutes passed till her phone lighted up: a voice message from Nadia. She opened it:
“You’re so funny. It looks like you’ve been watching too many fantasy movies my friend! Or worse, you are secretly delving into our old collection of TV shows in Spacetoon, without me! Disloyalty in its best, I swear!” Nadia was laughing, “I’ll come sometime soon and I want a more detailed story.”
Another voice note appeared: “By the way, did you find milk? I was there half an hour ago and they were out of milk! I am totally fuming!”
She replied to Nadia with laughing emojis but added a cryptic message: “Yeah, there was!”
A faint hint of smile appeared on her face. She wrote another message “I think I took the last four. Come by sometime soon.”
I knew this, she sighed and murmured; there was no way to convince Nadia or anyone for that matter of the unusual experience she had.
What if it was Nadia who saw them and she had texted me, would I believe her? She grinned awkwardly, thinking that Nadia’s reaction was natural and expected.
It was already morning when she woke up with a ray of sunshine crossing the edge of her left eye. It took her some moments to remember what had happened last night and why she lay on the sofa and even missed out on her dinner, something which would normally never happen. She checked her phone: 11:30 am, Tuesday, June 2. A talkative elf, a magician! Eh, what was the world coming to?!
She boiled some milk and knew that college wasn’t a priority at that time. She placed the glass of the milk in the nightstand and grabbed the book she had been most engrossed in lately: Troll Mountain.
(*) Gerald Linford Beckley is an American singer, songwriter, and musician and a founding member of the band, America.
© Fatma Al Sibani
Synopsis: A slice of fantasy
Fatma Al Sibani’s short story, A Peculiar Day in the Grocery Store, is a strange and unusual experience of an anonymous protagonist, who, while visiting a supermarket for milk, witnesses a flying lighter, the handiwork of a young magician whom she immediately bumps into and later on they are both confronted by a self-assured talking elf. Although the post surreal experience leaves her shaking like a leaf, it also gives the reader a subtle glimpse into what could transpire to those who totally immerse themselves into fantasy fare.
“The overall conflict of the story hovers around the notion of after effect: how does reading fantasy helps in broadening the sense of imagination and doubles the excitement that is often missed out in the real life,” explains Fatma. And that is in evidence once the reader reaches the end of this imagery-ridden fantasy, which also reveals the quality of imagination of this young writer.