There were various nationalities, and every nation brought its children who were plainly suffering from the demands of being mannerly. Parents were no younger than Quentin or they were twice his age, and there were plenty of hungry people who didn’t have offspring to watch over. Single men stood in groups, arms crossed or hands tucked into deep pockets—the impatient gestures of males around the world. Young women were guarded by graying fathers; beautiful girls were protected by hawk-nosed brothers. Different strangers called to Farah by name, and she said many names, each blurring into the next. Quentin’s presence demanded many reactions. He was studied. He was ignored. Smiles were offered, genuine beacons as well as forced grimaces. A dismissive glance led to a crisp comment and two bachelors pointing fingers. Then they reached the Persians, and he heard Farsi. But not always, another stereotype proving far from accurate. This wasn’t a pure contingent. Bengali and Arabic faces were mixed in, and pale souls like him, complete with beards and women wearing familiar hairstyles and accents. As Quentin arrived, Farah in hand, a Germanic-Latin voice shouted, “And then please another one for my friend.” The punchline for some long, utterly missed joke, the words precipitating plenty of earnest
And with that, Quentin was one of the Persians.
The same complications of race and culture were repeated, but his people were palpably different. Tradition and honor put them in front, standing between the cheap columns that looked plastic because they were plastic. This was a celebratory day, yet despite every smile and the welcoming voices, people were inwardly suspicious, or at the least cautious. Farah was kissed. Men she knew or pretended to know put their lips to her forehead, gestures reminiscent of the master greeting a favored dog. Then women hugged her and giggled, and she hugged back, doing an absolutely wonderful job of offering a bold believable grin.
Again, Quentin was noticed. Men who had lived in this country for months or decades took hold of his hand in the Western way. Until then, Quentin had never felt easy with that embrace. But in the afternoon sunshine, hovering at the edge of this other world, he discovered an ease of manner that might never come again. Hands he didn’t know held the hands he trusted most, and with rich accents, strangers said, “Greetings.” Some knew his name but he instantly lost track of faces and names and which ones had the strong grips and whose hands felt like dead fish between the fingers.
A few women greeted him too. No foreheads were offered. Indeed, some handed him the backs of their hands, waiting for a Western bow, which he did in small ways. At some point he discovered Maryam standing at his side. She smelled of smoke and a sickeningly sweet perfume. She looked beautiful and smart and leery, staring at his eyes while giving her hand to him, and his little half-kiss won amusement and measured gratitude. Farah seemed oblivious. His wife had thrown herself into conversation with other wives, in rapid-fire Farsi. Maryam bit her bottom lip, and the man behind her muttered, which was how he finally caught Quentin’s interest.
That stranger was dark-haired, the softest beard clinging to his handsome chin. A first glance made Quentin think of the Mongolian wastes, but he wore a Western cravat instead of the bright, elaborately knotted neckties preferred by Asians. And he spoke a Queensland Brit so pure that Quentin was baffled, right up until Maryam introduced her husband.
The name was Joseph, and his surname used to be Whitehawk, and with bubbling pride, she added, “This is my Lakota horseman.”
The couple broke into a shared laugh, teasing and nervous. Then some little noise distracted Joseph, and turning, he discovered a small girl maybe four years old.
“How much longer?” the girl demanded.
“Patience,” Maryam warned.
The girl preferred to look at Joseph, calling him, “Daddy,” with an irritable tone. “I’m hungry. When do we eat?”
The doting father knelt, and brushing the child’s black hair from her eyes, he said, “Soon, darling. Unless it’s never.”
Giggles. “Oh Daddy.”
Which was the moment when an electric motor came to life, lifting the broad and insubstantial garage door.