Daniel wandered through he scattered stalls of the flea market, fighting his boredom and cursing the tire blowout that had stranded him here in this tiny mountain town.
If only he hadn't have been late and decided to take a 'short cut' instead of the main highway. Yeah. Then his tire would have blown out at 75 miles an hour on a crowded interstate rather than on a relatively deserted road.
So instead of losing control and spinning out on a nice modern highway he'd stood by his disabled vehicle, railing at the god Murphy whose law stated if you really needed to use it your cell phone it was guaranteed not to work. He'd been faced with staying with his car or starting to walk, an option he really didn't care for since he could see the distant traces of developing thunderstorms.
Fortunately fate decided to smile upon him. Rescue had come in the form of a friendly farmer with a convenient flat bed trailer.
Less than an hour later he'd been deposited in a small town where the mechanic in the one and only garage promised to have him on his way again…once he ran into the next town and picked Daniel up a new set of tires.
It was an incredibly neighborly gesture for the man but it also effectively left Daniel marooned in a tiny berg whose main claim to fame was the largest flea market in four counties.
Faced with thumbing through six-year-old People magazines or exploring, he chose the latter. Daniel strolled through the narrow passageways between stalls sipping lemonade and perusing the merchandise.
He passed a table and picked up a medium sized statue of a mermaid with a clock in her belly. He chuckled. It would so serve Jack right if he picked it up for his Christmas present. It'd almost be worth it just to see the look on his friend's face.
He set the statue back down and continued on his way. The place was mostly deserted and he could always go back. Something told him he wouldn't have to worry about it being snapped up in the mean time.
He passed a jewelry booth and paused to look at the rows and rows of silver necklaces and earrings glinting in the sun. His eyes lit upon a bracelet and he knew he just had to buy it for Sam. The stone was a large and black, maybe onyx. But what made it unique were the tiny bits of silver set into the stone in the shape of the constellation Orion.
He paid for it and slipped it in his pocket glad that something positive had come out of his enforced detour.
He continued on his tour, this time with renewed purpose. It would be great if he could get some birthday or Christmas shopping done. Since they often spent days or weeks away from home, shopping in advance had its advantages. And he actually felt more at home shopping in this open-air market than in any modern mall in the world.
For most of his childhood it was the only way of shopping he'd known. Some of his earliest memories were holding tightly to his mom's hand as she did the weekly shopping at the market in Cairo.
That market was huge, miles and miles across. At least it had seemed like miles at the time. At first it had been a scary place, loud, crowded and dusty. A perfect place for a little boy to get lost.
If he concentrated hard enough he could hear the lyrical chanting of the sellers. Feel the desert sun beating down on his shoulders. Taste the dust in his mouth. He could smell the aroma of roasting goat tinged with the acrid smell of animal dung, exotic spices and unwashed humans.
That had been one of the hardest things after his parents had died. Not only living with strangers but also losing everything familiar.
Home wasn't a tent or a small earthen-brick house but a neat and tiny foster home.
Everyone spoke English not the mixture of Farsi and Arabic and many others he'd grown up listening to.
He'd known little about the culture of his new home. When the kids had started talking about the Beatles he'd pictured scarabs.
After his parents had died, the social worker had told him it was a good thing that he was going to be living in the US…that he'd finally be able to come home. Little did they realize it was just the opposite. When he'd grown up and returned to Egypt the first place he'd gone was the market. He'd stood there, oblivious to the crowed, drinking in the atmosphere like an alcoholic in a distillery.
At that instant he knew he'd really come home.
He remembered one trip to the market just six months before that fateful journey to New York. It was one of the few times he remembered his parents fighting about anything but archaeology.
"Clair. What are we going to do with this?" Melbourne asked motioning towards the piano six men had just brought into their tiny house.
His wife shot him a 'not in front of the help' look then paid the men and shut the door against the rapidly chilling evening air. "It's for Daniel," she said.
"He's seven. What does he need with a piano? What do WE need with a piano?"
"He needs culture."
"Clair look around you, he's surrounded by culture," Melbourne exclaimed motioning at shelves of artifacts tagged and awaiting shipment stateside.
"He needs something he can interact with not something he isn't permitted to touch," she said gently reminding her husband of recent admonitions for Daniel not to touch the precious artifacts. "Come here Daniel," she said to her son who had been standing just outside the doorway watching the conversation with wide eyes.
He shook his head to clear the memory and continued his exploration of the flea market. He glanced at his watch, just another hour or two. He stopped and frowned as a shape in the back of a cluttered booth caught his eyes. He tossed his empty cup into a convenient trashcan and stepped into the stall. He carefully made his way around teetering piles of old records and stepped over a footstool shaped like a pig. He pushed aside a tattered quilt and stared. It looked just like the one he remembered.
He pushed down on one of the keys and winced at the discordant note. They keys of this piano were a soft warm cream, not at all like the yellowed and cracked ivory of decades before. The finish on the wood was a warm walnut while the one from his childhood had been of a honey color.
Almost without realizing what he was doing he pulled out the bench and sat down, moving aside a small stack of embroidered napkins. He laid his fingers on the keys, mimicking barely remembered chords and keys from years before.
"Yes that one Daniel. That's middle C," Clair said helping her son place his small fingers on the key. "And see, if you do this…this is a chord," she said, spreading out her hand to press several keys at once.
Daniel tried to copy her but couldn't quite make it. "Clair, give the boy a break. His hands are too small," Melbourne said, closing the window against the monsoon rains that were just beginning that signaled the end of the digging season.
"They'll grow. He inherited your long fingers," she said with a smile.
"Lovely isn't it?" A voice snapped Daniel back to the present. He looked up to see a young woman standing beside him.
"Huh? Oh yes. Very nice," he replied running his fingers over the cabinet.
"It belonged to my uncle Joe," she said, standing beside him and running her fingers over the keys, a small smile on her face. "He had to go into one of those retirement homes, him and Granny. There wasn't room for this…well all of this," she said, motioning around her at the collection. Daniel could see it wasn't just a gathering of antiques but discarded bits and pieces of a couple's life. "Do you play?" she asked.
"No…not…for a very long time," he replied slowly.
"Ooh…well, that's too bad. I was hoping to find a good home for it. Maybe…"
"No," he said getting up. "I'm away a lot. I …travel. It'd just gather dust," he said getting to his feet. He pushed the bench in and stepped back.
"Come on Danny. Play for your dad," Melbourne requested. Eager to please Daniel sat down and played, looking over his shoulder to see his dad pulling his mom away from her packing. It was probably going to be the last time he got to play his piano for a while. They were going to New York for the winter to set up all their discoveries of the summer. They had arranged for one of their friends to keep the piano but Daniel knew it'd be months before they were back.
He paused as his dad pulled his mom into his arms and started dancing with her.
"Danny, keep it up," he said. Daniel looked at his parents. He couldn't remember ever seeing them so happy…so carefree. He turned back to the keyboard and played the same song over and over and over, not wanting the moment to ever end.
"Actually you know…there is a bare corner in my apartment," Daniel said softly, telling his common sense to just go away.
"Thank you," Daniel said, shutting the door behind the piano tuner. He didn't know which had been harder, arranging for the delivery of the instrument or finding a piano tuner in this age of CD's and MP-3's.
He pulled out the bench and sat down, again running his fingers over the newly polished keys.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting his memories come forth. Feeling out his place on the keyboard he began to play singing along silently with the melody.Twinkle, twinkle little star…
How I wonder what you are…