Riham El-Ashry: A Different Perspective

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A Different Perspective 

Riham El-Ashry

Zara held her bag over her head and rushed through the narrow street trying to find a suitable shelter from the rain. Her sneakers were getting soaked and her hair stuck onto her eyes in long black streams. She wished she had picked her umbrella with her this afternoon too. But considering the nervous tantrum in which she left her room, that was not in her mind. 

She dashed into one of the common Parisian cafés that were scattered in many of these streets. 

“Faites attention,” a man demanded from behind her. 

Sounds that followed were not so pleasant, neither to Zara nor to the man. His sketches had collapsed on the wet floor and out in the rain. Some sharp words seemed to be clear swearing and damning came very loud and clear. She stood there staring for seconds at the mess she created. The artist, obviously he was an artist, crouched to collect his papers and paint tubes. His back was getting rain spots that his shirt turned to brown polka. Zara aimlessly tried to gather the brushes that flew away in the middle of the path. 

“Pardon! Ammm. I’m sorry.” She never trusted her French and hoped that he understood her. “Terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to spoil your work. What a shame!” 

He looked up at her, examined her face and appearance and went back to arrange his tubes and brushes. Zara was in her late twenties but looked younger especially in her sport outfit. 

“Do you understand me, sir. Je suis désolé.” Her last sentence came out shaky and slow. 

“If you’re afraid of the rain, why do you take a walk? Driving is safer for someone like you,” he exclaimed in a way that seemed hostile to Zara. Consequently, she straightened and changed her regret look with a defensive one. 

“Like me?” she began, but then considering the awful damage she did to his painting, gently said, “What a remarkable painting this is!” 

“It would have been if people looked where they were going,” he said hoarsely in a plain accent that would suggest he wasn’t from this place just like her, only hers in both was a Latino one. 

And though he dismissed her with a quick gesture from his hand, she raised her eyebrows and defyingly made her remark, “You got the wrong light on the left corner of the painting.” 

“Excuse me!” 

“Yes, I see you are drawing the building at the end of the path. You’re good, but the light?!!” She shook her head sideways in disapproval. 

He stared at her, astonished at her remark. He seemed to be annoyed so he looked carefully at her trying to decipher a part of her identity. She had sculpted features with dark skin, black hair. Her wet clothes, to some extent became transparent, showed off pleasant parts to the eye to linger upon. She realized that and tried to loosen her white sticky blouse off her body. 

In an attempt to distract from embarrassment, she talked about the painting. On a toned paper, a subtle, very delicate outline of the opposite ancient building. A commendable usage of black ink and watercolors. It was perfect except for a few splashes caused by the raindrops which washed the colors down on the paper. 

He held his precious sketch in front of his eyes figuring out how to handle the damage or maybe thinking of the positive aspects of a loose washed paint. A man in a cotton t-shirt and a brown blazer, deep lines on his brow witnessed that he had passed his fourth decade some years ago. 

When he didn’t answer her, she dragged a chair, placed it near to his table and sat there surveying him once and painting another. 

“I think you were not invited, madam,” he said politely and impatiently. 

“It is a café for everyone,” turning her lips into an upside-down ‘u’. 

Zara, sensing the artist almost boiling, shuffled her chair backward, causing a loud, ugly, squeaky noise that everyone in the café turned abruptly to her in silent discorn. Her chair stopped between his table and another one, there were no available tables. 

“Please, stop doing that,” he murmured. “Fine. You can join me. Quietly!” 

“I’m so sorry. I only want to apologize. I understand what a work of art means to the artist. It is amazing. I like how you capture the light and shadow on the facades. And the ambiguous figures in the street. As if the hero in the painting is the building itself. It controls the scene and manipulates its ruling magnificence…”

“Thank you. You are…” He examined her to figure out her profession or the reason she was in Paris. 

“A student” she replied after a while. “I passed a competition and won a scholarship for one year to study culinary art in a famous school.” 

“Cool. You must be good.” 

“Naa. Actually, I have decided today that I will leave by the end of this month.”

“Oh! Tough world, isn’t it?” 


He felt curious or concerned to learn more, but as her face grew gloomy, he preferred to keep quiet. In the meantime, the rain had ceased and the sky began to clear slowly. They observed the grey clouds vanish, and the sun took over the sky once more.

“What was your destination, Ms….?” 

“Zara.” She smiled vaguely and shook hands with him. 

“Max. Let’s take a walk. The sun is warm now, and you need to get dry.” 

He collected his materials and handed them to the waiter who somehow knew what Max expected him to do without any discussion. Max was a regular at the café and visited it daily to pursue his current artistic project. 

“So, what put you off your dream?” he asked as they walked down the streets in accidentally sudden turns, following the sunlight. 

“Have I had one? How do you know?” 

Zara disclosed her story of an unsuccessful marriage back home. She was young, younger, and she thought it was love. Everything was magical, pleasant, and certain. She was certain it was the love of her life that would last forever. Alas, forever continued for two years. 

“And now?” Zara sighed. “I thought I’d get to something solid, something I loved to do all my life. However, I can’t get along. I am always placing the wrong ingredients or unsuitable colors on the plate, holding incorrect utensils. So many French words are confusing me. I felt so stupid today at the mess I caused in the kitchen spilling sauce on the table. Clumsy!

“Sorry, if I talk too much about my troubles. What do you do here?” 

“And you are lonely. Listen I can ask Louis to help you with some basics.” 


“Yes, the waiter at the Beaubourg Café where we met.” 

“Please. Merci beaucoup. This will be great! 

“And,” he looked at her very carefully, “what a beautiful face you have and of course a splendid body. I… I mean I’d love to paint a portrait for you if you are interested.”

Zara looked to the other side and moved her fingers through her black hair, now dry, and gave a faint nod. Or at least Max imagined she nodded. 

“I have to think about that. But anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow in the Café. To see Louis, I mean.” 


She took the lane on the right and walked away. Max lit up a cigarette, his eyes following her steps. She turned back and waved.

He thought she smiled too.

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Please visit Riham on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010254645147

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