In his desire to start a new life, a young Middle Eastern man alters his identity by legally changing his name and moving away. His past is horrifically tied to a contract killing, history that must be left behind with shame and sorrow.
He begins his journey in the hope for a better existence, but at times he reflects on what life could have been like had things turn out differently. Countless lies, deceitful desires, a failed arranged marriage and lost love, inescapably darkened his chances at a respectable everyday life, but the past follows and surroundings him with new predicaments that forces him to embark on the road to redemption.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.48(d)|
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Midway to Redemption
By Eléna Martina
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Eléna Martina
All rights reserved.
Off to Paris
Claude was nervous. As he presented his airline ticket to the check-in attendant at the gate he noticed the lady did not smile at him as she had done to previous passengers. Was it his name that gave him away? He lowered his gaze and walked by her after she handed him the ticket stub.
His awkward feeling increased as he walked down the plane's center aisle. He felt exposed and a self-induced paranoia made him feel that every eye was on him.
It was only a year and a half earlier that his father had committed a hideous crime that put him in prison for twenty years, a case well publicized by the media and followed by the public; the hired killing of Claude's pregnant mother. He, being the oldest of their five children, had been followed continuously by a local newspaper reporter during the trial and even afterwards to observe his reaction with hopes of writing a sensational story.
He tried to hurry to his seat, but not before scolding himself.
"I should have worn my sunglasses. Putting them on now would attract attention."
Looking at his ticket stub one more time, he acknowledged again the seat number "16-A," and saw it a couple of seats ahead.
"Finally!" He thought.
No one was sitting in his row so he hurried and retrieved a book to read during the long flight, the cap he had purchased only an hour before at the airport and the dark sunglasses, just in case. After placing his carry-on above his seat, he sat down relieved, but still anxious. He was breathing a little easier, and needed to adjust his worrisome thoughts, but to his amazement found comedy in his fear. Looking at his passport and ticket, he read his new name: Claude. He was no longer Hassan, and nobody could have possibly recognized him.
"I'm such a fool. And I thought the ticket agent was onto me."
Claude used to be named Hassan, a young man in the center of a forced arranged marriage that never happened. He was in his twenties, tall and handsome with hazel green eyes ladies simply adored. It was his father who had ordered him to marry a complete stranger.
He had rebelled by lying and deceiving everyone, going along with the plan only to gain the dowry money. He needed the cash as he had mapped his future with another young woman that he thought loved him back.
And just when he was breathing a little easier and sitting comfortably in his seat, a former college instructor passed by him in the aisle.
He rapidly turned toward the window to avoid his gaze.
"What are the odds?" He asked himself, "I took his science class two years ago; I can't expect him to remember me. I need to calm down."
He tried to composed himself with the realization that escaping his past was not going to be as simple as changing a name. Face recognition could destroy his shot at recreating himself.
As people boarded the flight and seats filled with passengers, Claude looked out his small window and reminisced the day he thought about changing his identity. It was not long ago during a warm evening as he stared at the far away hills through his open bedroom windows.
"I wish I could be someone else; maybe I could change my name?"
He began to write a letter to his best friend Rashid who had moved to England to study biochemistry at Warwick.
Unexpectedly, the phone rang that instant, disrupting his train of thought; he put down the pen to answer it.
"My friend, how are you?" said the caller.
He immediately recognized who it was.
"Rashid! I was writing a letter to you my friend. What a coincidence that you are calling now!"
"A hand-written letter?" cautioned his friend, "Do you know how long it'd take to get to me? Two weeks if I'm lucky. The postman misplaces my mail regularly, giving it to my neighbor two doors down who hands it to me when he remembers. We have the same first name; that's why he gets it from time to time. Anyway, why don't you call or e-mail instead?"
"Phone calls are expensive and you know how I enjoy writing. Besides, some issues are too personal to send via internet. I prefer to grab a good pen, a crisp piece of paper and put it in the mail box down the street."
"Oh, Hassan, you're so sappy sometimes ... But tell me, what were you writing?"
"I just started. I was thinking of changing my name."
"Really? ... But why?" Inquired Rashid, a little surprised.
"Why? Because of what my father did to my mother and all the senseless notoriety."
"I see ..." Rashid felt deeply sorry for Hassan, but to lift his spirit added, "You know what? You've got my full support! Not only that ... I'll baptize you with a new name."
Clearly interested, Hassan teased.
"Oh yeah? And what wondrous name might that be?"
"Claude? No way!" he paused, "Why Claude?"
"Aren't you moving to France in three months?"
"Um, yeah ... and?"
"Naming yourself Claude will make the French accept you sooner."
Hassan pondered his friend's seemingly wild idea and replied.
"I don't think I look like a Claude."
Rashid swiftly educated his friend.
"Hassan, the French don't look French anymore, the population is so varied and mixed with foreign born parents you'd look like the rest of those who take French names to assimilate."
"Do they really do that?"
"They sure do! A name after a saint is better. I'm sure 'Saint Claude' wouldn't mind." Rashid chuckled.
"Huh! Very interesting ..." replied Hassan, enjoying what he was learning and fully trusting him.
Back in the plane, his vivid recollection was cut abruptly short by a young woman that was now sitting next to him.
"Pardon me, but would you mind closing your window shade a little? The sun is shining directly at my eyes."
"What?" Claude reacted a bit dazed, "We haven't taken off yet."
To which she replied,
"I know, right? But the sun is reflecting right into my face from the glass window on that building," pointing at the source.
Looking outside he saw her problem.
"Oh, I see."
He acknowledged and lowered the shade.
She thanked him and extended a hand to introduce herself.
He had not noticed when the two passengers sat next to him or how long he was reminiscing about the past. Now this girl was trying to make friends. Uneasy, he noticed her nails were colored hot pink. Without really looking at her face, he shook her hand.
"It's nice to meet you Claude."
He gave her a nod, and prayed that she would not talk to him the entire flight. He wanted to be left alone, but his mind was already affected by her hot pink nails that reminded him of Aqqela's dress the last time he had seen her at a ceremony to marry another man.
Aqqela was the young lady pledged to him in an arranged marriage gone wrong; an agreement spoiled by family deceit and self-centeredness that included the embarrassing misuse of her dowry funds by his father and the public news of his mother's murder. The memory of seeing her marrying another man was too much to bear.
"Where are you from?" Alexis asked cautiously.
"Oh no, here it comes," he thought, "the endless questions, the nonstop conversation; what should I say to not sound rude?"
He pretended to have not heard; maybe she would understand that he wanted to be left alone.
But it did not work.
"Where are you from?" She repeated a little louder.
It was inevitable, he had to respond. As his head turned toward her, he could not think of anything polite to say to shut her up, but quickly noticed her bright smile that exposed a beautiful set of perfectly aligned white teeth, her smiling brown eyes and long eyelashes. She was strikingly beautiful.
"Umm," he uttered, clearly choking under pressure. To appear in control he cleared his throat giving a quick second to recover, sat up straight and answered.
"I'm from Midama. Why do you ask?"
"No reason, just trying to make small talk. The flight is nine hours long, you know." She quipped.
"Yes, I'm aware of the flying time and I'd rather ..."
"Look! We're moving." She remarked with excitement.
"What a relief. I cannot wait to land in Paris," she continued, "but I won't bother you, once we're up, I'll plant my face in a book or watch a movie."
Relieved to hear it, Claude relaxed.
The following three hours were peaceful and he even got some sleep.
After the flight attendants went up and down the aisles serving drinks and hot meals, and passengers got a chance to view their first movie it was time to return food trays and empty cups.
Some of them got up and headed to the toilet. Claude did not need to, but as the two people sitting next to him moved to use the lavatory he thought it would be a good idea. Wearing now his sunglasses, he walked toward the nearest toilet, but turned back around after seeing the long line of folks waiting their turn. He found his seat, put the sunglasses in the seat pocket in front of him and retrieved his book titled "The Arabs."
He was in the middle of chapter one and had placed a pillow behind his back for comfort when Alexis returned to her seat.
"What are you reading?" She inquired.
A little less bothered because she had not interrupted him the last three hours, he simply showed her the book's cover.
"The Arabs. Huh! Is it any good?"
"I think so."
Hearing a slight accent he asked her, "Where are you from?" but he quickly reconsidered, "Sorry, I don't mean to pry."
"No problem! I'm originally from Perú."
"Perú you say? And you live in Bahjar?"
"No, I don't. I was there for a modeling job. I actually live in Paris."
Claude, now intrigued, wanted to know more.
"Oh! How did you get into that?"
"You mean modeling?" Alexis emphasized.
"Yes, of course."
She leaned closer to him.
"Well, when I was eighteen, I was discovered by an American radio personality who was vacationing in Lima, Perú. He convinced me on the spot to work for his friend's modeling agency and flew me to the United States where I worked a whole year for them while attending their modeling school. I later moved to France after graduating and was picked to work for Glam Models of Paris. I've lived in that city ever since!" Alexis demonstrated pride in her accomplishments.
"Very cool," Claude smiled at her fascinating story.
He now did not mind so much hearing more about this young woman's seemingly exciting life. As he continued asking her more questions, he tried answering hers with short vague answers to keep his personal history hidden as much as possible. They talked for hours which made the long flight appear exceedingly short.
It was now time to land.
Ten minutes before landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport, they decided to exchange addresses and phone numbers, and agreed to meet for steak frites, Alexis' favorite Parisian dish.
"Do you know in which district your hotel is located?"
"Umm ... No. Why?"
"No biggie, I live in a tiny apartment in the 2nd district. I just love that area."
She continued, "The city is divided into twenty districts called arrondissements that spiral from Paris' center outwards. A lower number means a better area and closer to tourist sites. Keep that in mind!" She told him.
"That's very interesting ..." Claude declared.
"I learned that tad of information the first week I moved to Paris. I also remember a taxi driver telling me the real French lived in the 15th district!" She laughed and added sheepishly, "With fewer foreigners, if you know what I mean."
"The things one learns about a foreign country ..." Claude acknowledged.
Their plane landed and before going their separate ways, she made sure to take a photo of him using her cell phone camera.
"You know, you're very handsome." Alexis revealed.
Claude answered a little embarrassed, adding, "And you're a very beautiful woman."
They embraced like old friends and she kissed him once on each cheek.
Noticing his facial expression, she cleared the air.
"In France," Alexis explained, "People kiss on both cheeks. So no, I'm not coming on to you."
"Good to know!" Claude laughed and replied, "In my country we kiss once and only people we know."
"I'll remember that next time I go back!" She said waving good-bye as she walked away with her carry-on bag straight to customs.
He stayed behind watching this beautiful woman walk away as he and other passengers headed to the baggage carrousel to pick up their belongings.
He was thrilled to have her number.
Claude's four day stay in Paris was going to be a much welcomed relaxation. All he had to do was pass through immigration, find a cab, go to the hotel, rest, and be a tourist for a few days. No worries, just enjoyment. After earlier apprehensions, Alexis made him feel calm and at ease. He was pleased to have met her and welcomed the prospect of seeing her again.
"She sure is likeable!" he said to himself.
His only scheduled trip was to Hyères, a sunny place situated in the South of France where he would immerse in a program to learn the language, have some awareness of French history, cuisine, wine making and overall culture before heading back to attend La Sorbonne in the fall. He would leave Paris by train the morning of the fifth day.
Exhausted after such a lengthy flight and long taxi drive to his hotel, he carried his bags onto the elevator and pressed the fourth floor button. He walked down the hall and opened the door to the tiniest guest room he had ever seen.
"What in the world?"
A double bed occupied most of the space with a small fan supplied by the front desk on a dresser to compensate for the lack of air conditioning in the building. Not even the large wall mirror made the place seem any larger. He turned the fan on high and went to use the toilet.
Alarmed, he looked around.
"Where's the shower?"
A separate door, not in the bathroom, led to the shower space.
"How odd ..."
Having never stayed in a room so minute, he took his camera out of the luggage and took several photos of his room to show family and friends so that they would believe his shocking experience.
Claude was excited to be in Paris, the city of love, and was going to make the best of it. He plopped on the bed to rest and fell deep asleep almost immediately. Four hours later he awoke soaked in sweat. Even with the fan running the room was too warm. At first, he did not know where he was until he looked out his open window at what appeared to be a tall metal tower in the distance.
"Is that ... Yes it is! The Eiffel Tower! Wow, amazing I didn't notice it when I came in!"
He stood by the window in appreciation of how close the monument appeared to be. After washing his face with water and changing his sweaty shirt, he decided to go for a walk.
"Bonjour Monsieur," greeted the front desk clerk when he saw him come out of the elevator.
"Bonjour," Claude answered and continued in English, "May I have a city map, please? I'd like to venture to the Eiffel Tower."
The clerk quickly switched from French to English, searched for a map and circled nearby attractions. Speaking with a really heavy accent, he informed him of three things:
"Monsieur, Da Eiffel Tawer iss only sis blocks away anda 'otel wrestarant will be ohpen to ten dis eveneen. Ittis now sis pee emme."
Nodding affirmatively, Claude grinned and thanked the clerk for being so helpful, but once outside, he jokingly repeated, "Only sis blocks to the tawer!"
Even though his first day was going well, Claude did not feel good for having to move far from his native and beloved Bahjar, but the distance from the two women in his former life, Aqqela and Selene, would help mend his broken heart. As he reminisced, the six blocks to the tower went by quickly and he soon found himself in awe.
"Wow, this is absolutely fantastic!"
He politely asked someone who was walking by to take a picture of him with the tower in the background.
Soon he stood by its base. Claude seriously considered climbing the flight of stairs after watching a few brave tourists step up onto it with hundreds of others standing in line waiting by the elevators to be lifted to the top for a fee.
The sky was sunny so he took the weather into account and the tower's height of 1,063 ft. and calculated his ascent. It would take him over an hour he imagined.
He was at his best physical shape, but pondered his tiredness due to the long trip and decided to stand in line with the others.
"I just arrived from a very long flight," he thought, "It'd be stupid to climb the tower right now, perhaps another day."
Excerpted from Midway to Redemption by Eléna Martina. Copyright © 2015 Eléna Martina. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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