Sufi Snaps: Fleeting (A photo and a story)

by Ali Hammad



The eatery was bustling with customers of many nationalities. The wait to a table that morning was five minutes. I got a corner table for two at the back. I took the seat facing the hall and kept the other for my friend. He had said he would meet me there when done with his morning rounds.

The redeye from O’Hare to Heathrow had sapped me. “Just some Earl Grey tea for now, please. I’ll order breakfast when my friend arrives,” I said to the waitress, loudly, to be heard over the ambient noise, and leaned back in the chair.

I nodded off for no more than a fleeting second. As soon as my head fell back, I jerked awake.

The scene had changed. The café had fallen silent. There were no customers or attendants. All tables were now vacant. The only other occupant of the room was a gray-haired woman sitting catercorner from me, by the floor-to-ceiling glass window. She was bent over a book. Outside, the always-busy London thoroughfare was devoid of all vehicular traffic. I could see some humanoid silhouettes, but they seemed frozen. The scene was also drained of all color: now reminiscent of a daguerreotype.

I pinched my arm, then bit my wrist. It hurt. I was not dreaming. It was real.

I decided to walk over to the woman. As I approached her, some color seeped into the scene, a little red, a little gold—sepia, I’d say. “Ahem,” I cleared my throat, as I got closer to her. She remained oblivious, lost in her book.

“Excuse me,” I said, “Do you know what happened here?”

She lifted her eyes, a transfixing gaze. The room brightened, a little more gold thrown into the tint. “What happened here?” she repeated my question.

“I mean, where did everyone go?” I said.

“There never was anyone here but you and me,” she said.

“There were many people here,” I insisted. “The hall was packed a moment ago and noisy as an oriental bazaar.”

“Perhaps you dozed off, and the people you describe were in your dream.”

“I didn’t dream that. It was real, as real as we are.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

Until then I had only been puzzled. Now I began to panic. Then I thought I saw her smile—a tiny, fleeting smile—lips in steep pink, like a photoshopped image. “Fine, go back to the dream you came from,” I heard her say.

I stumbled back to my table, perplexed and scared. As I sat down, I shut my eyes for a moment to contemplate my next move.

When I opened my eyes, the people were back, along with all the color and the cacophony of a cosmopolis. I looked catercorner from where I was. The lady was gone, but the afterimage of a pink smile lingered where now sat some Eastern Europeans laughing over a joke. Then I saw my friend enter.

I pinched my arm, then bit my wrist. It hurt. I was not dreaming. It was real.

Photo and story by Ali Hammad

This entry was posted in Ali Hammad, Original Fiction, Original Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Sufi Snaps: Fleeting (A photo and a story)

  1. Wow! Excellent story, and perfect for the theme.

  2. Ali, I so enjoyed that.

  3. viveka says:

    Love the photo … love the story.

  4. Pingback: A Sufi Thought for the Week (Zhuangzi) | Sufi Ways

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