The smell of the mouth-watering hot dogs hit us both at once, as we steadily approached the food stand where Old man Malik worked. Well not exactly steadily, since Rami got too excited that he ran pass me and started greeting Malik with many Hi’s and hellos. Kids get excited for the simplest things; I wish I were that kind of kid. As soon as the old man spotted me, he greeted me with a smile and a head nod. “ Sofia, “ he began, “ the usual I presume?” I smiled back, “ yeah, extra ketchup, no mayo and defiantly no mustard.”
“I want all of those!” Rami chirped, “ more of everything!”
Malik chuckled, and ruffled the young boy’s hair “ sure little one, coming right up!”
We both then, sat on small wooden chairs that squeaked as soon as our backs hit them. We didn’t mind, though. Old man Malik started preparing our food, whistling a tune in between that he always whistles. I remember him telling me that it is from his homeland, which I still don’t know where. I just know that he’s from somewhere in Africa. Rami stared making a tune with his mouth too. He was humming something familiar. And then he turned to me, “ sing a long, Sofi,” he demanded. I shrugged, “ what should I sing?”
“The boy is right,” said Malik over the vender, “ sing!”
“I don’t really-“ I started, when Rami interrupted “she has a great voice, “he blurted happily, “ I hear her all the time singing to Silver the cat back at the orphanage.”
I could feel my face’s skin flush with embarrassment, I didn’t know someone heard me while doing that. I always made sure that my singing sessions were privet. Between the old fury ball and me only. How come this little prankster has heard? This is ridiculous. I was busted, and I couldn’t say anything smart in return. So I said, “ I sound awful, I bet. You’re just being too nice today which is so weird.”
“Of course I’ll be nice, hey old man Malik! It’s Sofi’s birthday today.” He turned to the old man happily. Rami is just too excited for his own good. I nudged him, giving him a warning look. He needed to stop talking now. The boy got the message, since he looked away from me and continued humming, what I presume Back Street Boy’s I Want it that Way. The boy is cliché as fudge. “Well that’s the best reason to sing. Celebrate, child.” Malik wrapped our hot dogs in white papers, and came over to hand them out to us both. We thanked him, “so how much?” I asked. He shook his head, “ on the house, it’s not every day that we get to celibate our birthdays. In my country, it is a huge deal when a girl turns…how old are you again?” He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion.
I laughed, and it was actually genuine. I knew coming here was a good choice. “17, today I get to say that I’ve lived through 17 crappy years.”
He throw his head back into a laughter, and walked away saying,” you are a funny gal, you know that right?” his accent was spot on to be honest, I’ve always found it amusing. “now sing something funny gal.” he sat on his chair, grabbing a soda.
“Yes, sing sing sing!” Rami said repeatedly, and Malik followed. Soon they were both chanting my name, which was embarrassing. I shushed them, and said “ alright! But what should I sing?”
“find your sound, “ Malik said, “ just like us earlier.”
“okay,” So I need to think of a song that isn’t native to my homeland, wherever that is, and a song that doesn’t belong to a 90’s boy band. I can do that. I got it. But, I’ve never sang in front of anyone before. This is so weird. I stood up from my chair, and closed my eyes for a moment. I heard some faint giggles, and shafting. That twat. I opened my eyes, feeling a bit nervous. But I somehow shook it off, and started singing.
“We grow a-apart, “ I stuttered, and cleared my throat. “It’s okay Sofia, try again.’ Said Malik, while Rami nodded encouragingly. The audience was cool. So I relaxed more, and opened my mouth again to sing.
We grow a part,
Just to be on our own,
And we walk next to all that we have known,
Give me your hand,
We can climb further up,
And we climb the trees,
And the forests seem to be bigger now,
Oh we had so much more.
I stopped, and looked at their wide eyes. I must’ve made them deaf. They both glanced at each other, and right back at me. What have I done?, I questioned myself as I shifted my legs uncomfortably. Their blank expressions suddenly changed, wide smiles were drawn into their faces in exchange. They started clapping too, “WOW,” Malik cheered, “ you have a great voice kiddo!” dragging the D every time with his accent.
“I told you she could sing,” laughed Rami, grabbing his chair with his tiny arms after he stopped clapping. Are they serious? I immediately turned my face around, I felt really weird. I had goosbumps all over my arms, as I sat back down. “ You guys don’t need to do that, I’m no Witney Huston.” I murmured.
“Who the heck is she?” questioned Rami, turning his head to Malik, and I. He was already laughing again. “ Of course, no one can replace or be compared to her. But you still have a nice sound, I’m happy you found your voice.” It was Trouble, by my favourite band. Technically, it is their sound. I just borrowed it. But still, I was happy that they helped bring it out of me. We finshed our food, and were starting to leave when Malik pulled me on the corner for advice, “ Sofia, since it’s your birthday, before you leave I want to tell you something. You could either take it from me, or you can toss in that blue garbage ben over there. I don’t care, as long as I gave it to you I’m a happy old man.”
I looked at him with a confused look, but decided to listen. He was way better at giving advice than Madam Emily anyways. I nodded my head, and waited for him to talk. She coughed, clearing his throat, and began. “ Child, I see great sadness in your eyes whenever you come over here, so I get really happy when you leave smiling at a joke this old man made or a story he told” I slimed, as he continued, “I know that life is hard now, but believe me you never know what is out there. I grew up with nothing, and I still have nothing. We both have nothing, but the biggest difference between us is that I’m happy with my life choices. I’m a happy simple old man. Sure, I had my dreams, I had my falls, but I never said no to any chance. I live free of regrets. I want you to grab them too, your chances I mean. I want you to love life, and chase your dreams. You don’t want to be sitting here until you grow old, are you? You don’t want to stay in this plain town. I see big things when I see you, don’t doubt yourself. And go for it, no matter what. Okay?”
By the time he finished his speech, a sneaky tear fell from my eyes; this old man summed everything that I was doing wrong to myself. He understood, somehow. My chest felt pain, and my throat was soar. I wanted to cry more, but I stopped myself. I wiped the tear quickly, faking a yawn. “ thank you,” I smiled, “ I promise I’d keep that in mind.”
“good,” he smiled back, “ now off to your home.” He then turned to Rami who was trailing after a grasshopper on the sidewalk, “ Both of you” Malik said louder. Rami turned to us with a sheepish smile on his face, and jogged toward us. “are we going home now?” he asked innocently.
“yes we are,” I said, “ let’s go. Thank you again for the free meal Malik!” I said as I waved. “Yeah thanks old man Malik, I really enjoyed my hot dog.” Rami said, giving Malik a thumbs up. “Stay safe, kids! Bye.”
Home, I thought with a pathetic smile as I walked beside a skipping Rami. That’s not my home I’m headed to. That’s just a stop; my home is still far away from here, and I have no idea when I will get there.
That night, I stayed awake in my bed, tossing and turning every now and then and thinking about Malik’s words. It hit me hard, because he was right.
I want you to grab them too, your chances I mean
My chances? Well I do have a chance to travel.
You don’t want to be sitting here until you grow old, are you? You don’t want to stay in this plain town.
I really don’t. I want to go away, find my true home. A home where I truly belong.
I see big things when I see you, don’t doubt yourself. And go for it, no matter what. Okay?
“Okay” I chocked out in the middle of the ghostly silence my room had, except for the purring noises Silver had. Good thing I fed him, I don’t want him waking up now. I turned to my side and opened my phone. The light hit my face hard; I groaned in discomfort as a quickly lowered the lighting. I opened the messages and typed,
“ Sofia: That traveling offer, is it still on?”
Jinan replied almost immediately,
“JinJin: of course! Does this mean you’re coming?”
I swallowed the limp that was caught in my throat. I’m actually doing this, there is no going back now. I looked over at silver purring, his eyes twitching from a bad dream probably. I then glanced at the window, witnessing the night sky and the moon glow. I was trying to distract myself from this decision I am currently making. And-
“Sofia: Count me in.”