Chapter 3 - The Merchant (an excerpt from: The Square)

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The quartet wandered about through the side streets of the world’s largest bazaar, Khan il Khalili. Colored lanterns gleamed from every angle, and the tables and shelves were crowded with amulets, statues, and handmade wooden boxes. As the group rounded the corner, they came across a line of cafes.

“We must stop here,” Amr said, excitedly.

“What's this?” Grace asked.

“This coffee shop has been around for over 200 years,” Amr said. “Owned by the same family too. You can’t leave without trying it. It’s called El Fishwy.”

Grace and Gia happily agreed, and the group took their seats at an outdoor table. Moments later, an Egyptian man in his late forties came to greet them and take their orders. His name was Khalid, and he spoke no English. He was tall and lanky with a thick, black mustache and glasses. The hair around his head was cut short, and the center of his head was bald. He was all smiles and smelled of Egyptian spice and coffee. He wore a clean, striped button down shirt and brown slacks.

Khalid brought coffee in a beautiful, tall brass pot with a long, curved spout. He set out tiny white coffee cups trimmed in gold.

“Have you ever tried Arabian coffee before?” Omar asked.

“I have,” Grace said.

“I have not,” Gia said.

“You are in for a surprise,” Omar said, chuckling.

“Why? What do you mean?” Gia asked, eyes wide.

“It’s very, very strong,” Grace warned. Gia smiled and took the tiny cup between her thumb and index finger. She drew the cup close to her lips and took a small sip.

“Oh, whoa!” Gia exclaimed. “That will put hair on your chest!” The guys erupted in laughter.

“Why do you think all Arab men have hairy chests?” Omar asked.

“Oh, wait,” Gia said, glancing down at her own chest. “I think I see one coming up.”

“I can check for you,” Omar said, taking a casual sip from his coffee and winking. Amr gave him a twisted look.

“Maybe later,” Gia said, grinning.

“I will check anything for you,” Omar said, casually. “Just ask. I will not say no.”

“What’s so funny?” Ahmed said, strolling up to their table. Amr and Omar immediately lost their smiles.

“Who are you?” Gia asked, looking up at Ahmed.

“My name is Ahmed,” he replied, cooly. “And you?”

“Gia,” she said, extending her hand to shake his. He shook her hand and directed his attention to Grace.

“How are you, Grace?” he asked, ignoring Amr’s glare.

“I am well,” Grace replied, visibly happy to see him, much to Amr’s dismay. “And you?”

“I am much better,” Ahmed said smoothly. “Now that I am seeing you again.” Grace’s face flushed pink. “You are so beautiful.”

“What are you doing here?” Amr interrupted, clearly unamused.

Ahmed shifted his gaze from Grace over to Amr. “Shopping,” he said. “Now, I am thirsty.”

“You should join us,” Gia said. Ahmed smiled and pulled a chair over from another table. Omar and Amr sat up straight with their shoulders tight.

“You should leave,” Omar said, glaring at Ahmed.

“Omar!” Gia said. “Don’t be rude.”

“No,” Omar said. “He needs to leave. Now.”

“Why?” Grace asked.

“Because we do not want him here,” Amr said. Ahmed sat back in his seat casually.

“Why not?” Gia asked. “What is your problem?”

“I am not the one with a problem,” Amr said, angrily. “He has the problem. I do not want him sitting with us. Ahmed, leave.”

“You don’t have to leave, Ahmed,” Grace said, pouring him a cup of coffee. She handed it to him, and he smiled slightly.

“How are you liking Egypt so far?” Ahmed asked, taking a sip from his coffee.

“I love it,” Grace said, eyes bright. “It is more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.”

“You are more beautiful than I could have ever imagined,” Ahmed said, not taking his eyes off of her. Gia raised her eyebrows and looked from Grace to Ahmed to Amr and then back to Grace again. “I will go to Alexandria in a few days. You might consider joining me.”

“I don’t know what Amr has planned for us,” Grace said, looking questioningly at Amr. “We’re staying with him. I do not want to be rude.”

“They can come too,” Ahmed said. “If they want.” He did not bother to look anywhere other than at Grace. “You must see the sea. It is so beautiful. It is like the color of your eyes.”

“It’s getting pretty heavy over here,” Gia said, awkwardly. “I feel like I should move. Am I in the way?” Amr pursed his lips. Gia was sitting between Ahmed and Grace, while Omar and Amr sat on the other side of the table. Gia glanced at Omar. “There was a lamp I wanted to buy. Can you come with me?” Gia asked, looking at Omar and Amr.

“A lamp,” Omar repeated. “Like a big lamp?”

“I will show you when we get there,” Gia said, hinting that they should leave Ahmed and Grace alone to talk.

“What are you going to do with a lamp?” Amr asked, visibly perturbed. “How will you get it back to America?”

“I’ll think about that later,” Gia replied. “Right now, I just want to make an irrational decision and go buy a lamp.”

“Okay,” Omar said, standing up. “Yalla! We will go get your lamp.”

“Ahmed just got his coffee,” Gia said. “Someone should stay and keep him company.” She glanced at Grace.

“I will stay too then,” Amr said.

“But I need your help,” Gia said, pleadingly. Amr hesitantly got up. Gia smiled and joined them, walking over to the nearby lighting vendor. Ahmed smiled at Grace. His smile rarely showed teeth. One side of his mouth turned upwards slightly. His eyes were the darkest shade of brown, almost black. Out of the three guys, he had the lightest skin color. His nose was wide and flat, and his lips were full. His jet black hair was incredibly curly, like a head full of tight ringlets that had been twisted into short dreadlocks.

“Do you like the drink?” Ahmed asked.

“Why does Amr hate you so much?” Grace asked, bluntly.

“I don’t know.”

“Come on now,” Grace said. “If we are going to be friends, we can’t start off lying to each other.”

“Maybe some woman left him for me at one point.”

“You stole his girlfriend?”

“I did not steal,” Ahmed said, calmly. “A woman is not a thing. She is free to make her own choices.”

“Did you know they were dating when you made your move?”

“Why do you ask so many personal questions?”

“Why do you avoid them?” she asked.

“Does it matter? It is in the past. We cannot change it. We can only make a better future.”

“Well, it obviously matters to Amr.”

“Maybe he is scared,” Ahmed said.

“Scared of what?”

“Scared that you will choose to be with me instead of him.” Grace stared at Ahmed for a moment before she decided to respond.

“What makes you think I will choose to be with either of you? I am just here visiting.”

“We shall see,” Ahmed said.

Gia, Omar, and Amr walked back over to the table. Omar and Amr were carrying an enormous bronze, hanging lamp with red glass panels and intricate square designs. Grace burst out laughing as soon as she saw it.

“What the hell are you going to do with that?” she asked.

“I am going to save it for when I finally buy a house,” Gia said, confidently.

“So, in about twenty more years,” Grace joked.

“Maybe sooner,” Gia replied. “Maybe I will find some rich Sugar Daddy who can build me a manor. That’s what I’ll do! I’ll hang this in my manor!”

“So, that’s what you want,” Omar said, giving Gia and sideways glance. “You want a rich man? What else do you want? A palace? A crown?”

“That would be a good start,” Gia said, batting her eyes at him.

Grace looked down the market street as she stood up to leave. She saw an old man selling t-shirts. He was screaming something in Arabic that she could not understand.

“Hey,” she said, grabbing the group’s attention. “What’s he saying?” They stopped and turned their attention to the old man.

“He is saying, ‘Down with Mubarak. Down with the Regime.’” Amr said, looking alert and tense.

“What does that mean?” Grace asked.

“Mubarak is our corrupt president,” Ahmed said, disdain in his voice.

“He should not be doing this here,” Omar said.

“Why not?” Gia asked.

“That is why,” Omar replied, nodding in the direction of six armed soldiers heading toward the old T-shirt vendor.

The old man screamed in their faces. One of the soldiers grabbed his arm and twisted it around, shoving him up against his own cart. The old man resisted and struggled against the soldier’s grip. A second soldier hit the man in the back of the head with a baton, knocking the old man unconscious. The first soldier straddled the unconscious man and cuffed hands behind his back. The old man’s face was pressed so firmly into the stone that it was a wonder all the bones in his skull were not crushed.

Two of the soldiers ripped down all of the apparel, shredding it in the process, while the rest stood guard. Their guns were ready to greet any other trouble makers. Ahmed, arms tense, stood up and took a step in their direction. Omar pulled him back by his arm, holding it firmly.

“No,” Omar said.

“Don’t touch me,” Ahmed said, jerking his arm free.

“What are you going to do? You can’t do anything,” Omar yelled, attempting to talk Ahmed out of doing something incredibly stupid.

“I will do something,” Ahmed said. “You watch.” He started off in the direction of the soldiers.

“Ahmed,” Grace yelled. He turned back to look her, her pleading eyes begging him not go through with what was going on in his head. His hesitation gave the soldiers plenty of time to move along, dragging the unconscious old man and all of his merchandise behind them. They threw him into the back of a military van, loaded up, and drove off. The crowd left behind was utterly shocked, but no one was brave enough to make the first move after what had just happened. No one, except Ahmed.

To be continued…

Title: The Square
Genre: Fiction
Age Range: 18-35
Total Word Count: 71,436
Written by Darby Riales
This is an excerpt from my novel about the 2011 Egyptian revolution. There is nothing like this on the market. 
Hook: Two American girls are caught in the middle of a revolution in Egypt.
Synopsis: Grace has wanted to visit Egypt since she was a little girl. Finally able to go with her best friend, Gia, the two are quickly whisked away in the enchantment of Cairo. Their joy is cut short when a revolution against the president breaks out across the country. Grace finds herself torn between her old friend and soldier, Amr, and the rebel she just met, Ahmed. 
Target audience: YA
Short Bio: Darby is a young, diverse writer originally from Arkansas. She has spent the last 4 years in Los Angeles, CA as a writer, producer, and model. She has two cats, Luna and Piper, who travel with her often. She has a large following on social media, particularly Instagram, and runs her own travel blog. 
Education: BA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Arkansas
Experience: Over 7 years of professional writing, former fiction judge for The Vortex Student Literature and Art Magazine, scriptwriting, novel writing, short stories
Personality: Free-thinking, animal loving, American pinup girl made of agave nectar and viper venom.
Hobbies: photography, painting, and travel
Hometown: Searcy, AR
Age: 27