” it’s… a snail shell! ” replied Khalil,
lifting it to the sky as an athlete would a trophy- shards of innocence and naivety delicately falling among his guilt stained words..
Ghazala gasped, hesitantly smiling, her eyes illuminated as he lowered it again and wrapped it in her hands- finding a shell at this altitude was virtually unheard of..
it’s contours reminded her of grandmother’s knuckles– of how they perched unblemished, above neglected, work-worn fingers, blissfully oblivious to the suffering beneath..
potters and craftsmen would travel for days to bring them back..
it was cold to touch, she giggled as she would when crossing the stream barefoot at the start of spring..
It felt strangely familiar in her soft grip .. and she looked at Khalil in a new way, a way that he had always hoped would become familiar.
Given their scarcity her father would never let his shell out of his sight or possession ..
sometimes, usually in the winter while the gardens and fields slept, Ghazala would accompany Abdullah on journeys down into the towns – two mules laden with baskets of freshly fired pottery trudging along beside them..
She would watch through tired eyes as he would stay awake slowly polishing asymmetric bowls long into the night, and then- as covertly as he had drawn the shell he would conceal it and tell her to sleep; which she would, eventually.
Snail shells were to ceramicists what salt was to cooks, Abdullah’s was vital to his trade- form preceded function in the towns and villages beneath and an uneven, earthy bowl had no place in a proper kitchen.. he never understood how such a seemingly mundane tool- a mere vehicle for superior craftsmanship- could hold so much worth to a child and his excessive, yet justified protectiveness of his shell only served to cement and elevate it’s near mythical status in Ghazala’s mind..
She had always longed for a shell of her own and Khalil had always longed for Ghazala.. he had made myth reality, for her.
They walked back into the village together; timid hopes cautiously rising as the summer sun reluctantly set.. auras interlocked, she kissed him on the cheek and whispered goodnight to him as he turned, still facing her, to walk home.
Abdullah was a simple man- monochromatically so..
When he returned later that night, exhausted and deflated, with hungry mules and packed baskets of unsold pottery from the towns below- it was only natural to assume that the shell lying on Ghazala’s pillow, lightly tangled in her moonlit hair, was in fact his. It was only natural to punish her..
Her tears softened the impact of his assumptions, making her eyes glisten like distant constellations as her face gradually adopted the hues of the cold starry sky above.
Across the village the roar of unseasonal thunder briefly woke Khalil – it was as if pots were being shattered against the ground he thought to himself, yawning..
He could have told him that he saw it fall
or he could keep it and see her eyes brighten..
[this is a short story i wrote for a book a friend is working on.. she sent around images she’d collected from a museum in Oxford and asked people to write something inspired by the image they’d received. My photo was of a snail shell recovered from an archeological dig in Algeria- snail shells were used to polish pottery .. .. i think i’d quite like to convert the story into a short film some day]
[the painting is something i did last year.. “crumpled woman”- acrylic on paper]