On October 28th 1942, a radio broadcast forewarned of a threatening nawa that might take down the city before the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica bombers did. A nawa was what the Alexandrians called their storms.
“Gretel, your secrets are safe with me as long as you help me keep my family safe.” Chrisoula had extended a hand, waiting for the key. I had never thought blackmail was something that came between friends, but all the same, I didn’t mind it at all.
I woke up with a start in my friend’s empty bed. Not you again, I groaned, covering my head with the duvet to avoid looking at the reflection of Mary Magdalene’s framed painting in the vanity mirror.
The shutters I forgot to shut yesterday slapped against the still standing windows, chasing away my coveted escape into slumber. I wondered how Chrisoula was doing in my dead father’s house overlooking the sea at the edge of the desert in Sidi Bishr. I don’t think he would’ve minded. His business partner in the export/import trade had been a Greek Jew, too.
I let my bare feet touch the hardwood floor before I plopped my weight on Chrisoula’s dead grandmother’s recliner or chaise lounge as she liked to call it. Her grandmother had insisted she be called, the Nonna, to make her feel more of the Italian that she was in this melting pot of a city with inhabitants from all over the world.
Cold forced its way like those blind bombs wiping out family albums and shared memories. I took a sharp breath as I peered out at the empty Saad Zaghloul Street. Only old man Antouine, the baker, remained. My Grossmutter—what we Germans called our grandmothers—used to say, that, long ago he used to be a magician in Marseille with his very own show. I believed he still had magic in him because his Boulangerie was never short of bread.
In the few years Grossmutter lived in Alexandria before her passing, she iced cakes for Antouine’s special birthday deliveries. This was the closest thing to snow in Berlin, she would say, and I would always imagine Berlin a city made of layers of cake, decorated with fruits during the summers and icing sugar in the cold of the winter. Alexandria was the undisputed city of pastrami, and salted fish the locals called Ringah.
My Grossmutter was quite the storyteller. I remember begging her to tell me the same story every night. The story of Hansel, a boy as smart as a fox who struck a deal with the witch living in the bread and candy house in the dark woods, and Gretel, a girl enamored with his boldness. The witch had an insatiable appetite for human flesh, but was quite blind and needed help. They agreed he’d get her more edible guests in exchange for magic powers. The village people were dying anyway because of the great famine, and he wanted to leave for the big city. Hansel knew Gretel liked him and followed him everywhere, so she was the witch’s first edible guest.
I heard a knock on the door and for a moment imagined it might be Karl, my husband, in the blue reefer coat he hid in his backpack before fleeing to the Führer and the Fatherland, four years ago.
I also imagined James, my lover, in his rumpled khakis and stained tie. I had seen Karl in James’s angular jaw, and the blond head with the sharp part. We first met during a grueling questioning about Karl in the British Barracks headquarters close to Ramleh Station. A spy, James had said, but Karl was no spy, Karl was a wife deserter.
The hallway was empty of both lover and husband but filled with the blood-curdling echoes of air-raid sirens.
I just needed to get more bread.
I hurried down the steps, listening to the clanking of my husband’s repurposed boroughs on the cold wooden planks. The sky grew sodden with water torrents and the fierce wind pushed me back against the slippery path. I caught the wounded glance of the dark buildings blown naked, what’s left of them sat in shame without front walls, interiors all on display.
Bombs thundered as they dropped in the nearby harbor.
In Antouine’s Boulangerie, my warm Brötchen waited on the baking tray. A fleeting thought entrenched my tired mind. Perhaps if I ate the first half, Karl might come back, and If I ate the lower half James might show up.
Minutes before a stray bomb decimated the entire neighborhood; I split my bread roll in half, dumping the chunks in my pockets, along with their kin of stale bread.
In that last moment, I knew I had enough to build myself a house of my own.
Riham Adly is a mother, ex-dentist, and is trying to be a full time fiction writer/ blogger. She is also first reader in Vestal Review Magazine. Her fiction has appeared in journals such Bending Genres, Connotation Press, Spelk, and The Cabinet of Heed, Vestal Review, SoftCartel, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Ekphrastic Review, Cafelit, FictionalCafe.com, FridayFlashFiction, and Flash Boulevard, among others. She lives in Gizah, Egypt.