His cart is brimming with neatly baked cookies and pies, which are covered by a thin insect-screening mesh. Every morning, he sets out at dawn while the city is still sleeping to earn his daily bread. He trundles his wheelbarrow toward the al-Boukharia market in downtown Amman. He pushes it through several neighborhoods before reaching the narrow corridors of the bustling market. To get his pies to be, bar none, the most delicious in town, he follows a secret recipe, which he has devised and fleshed out over the years with what his usual struggle to make ends meet has taught him on a daily basis and with what he has discovered tickles taste buds while simultaneously triggering sweet memories.
Bater’s father is already sixty years old, but his face is always wreathed in smiles that camouflage the signs of fatigue he accumulates throughout the work day. He greets everyone cheerfully as he plies his habitual route through the big market, whose shops are filled wall to wall with fine textiles, lustrous embroideries, and rare antiquities from all over the world; they provide proof that trade and cultural exchange have always been fostered in the region.
This is how Bater’s father spends his days, going from one place to the next while caroling witty advertising jingles such as, “Ladies, don’t eat up your hearts over swines. Instead, put mouth-watering pies in your lives,” “Reach out your hands and you’ll see, a piece of heaven shall be bestowed upon thee,” or “Get closer and listen up, you homies and friends. Those you have wronged with nothing but ambrosia you are to make amends.” His silver tongue lures children who are dragging their mothers along—and vice versa—to his cart, where he is more than happy to have the quality of his product speak for itself.
The sixty-year-old parks his wheelbarrow in front of the antiquities shop for a second to say hi to Kamil’s uncle, who smiles back at him straightaway and replies with his husky voice, “Hi, Bater’s father. How are you doing this morning? Please, come in and take a seat.”
Bater’s father raises his hand to politely decline his friend’s generous offer and then continues hyping his products with amusing ditties.
The sixty-year-old carries on weaving his way through the crowds until the blazing sun starts to parch his goods. He then decides to return home. On his way back, he stops at the antiquities shop once again and beckons Basheer, a ten-year-old boy, over. He presses a few dirhams into the palms of his dry hands and says, “Take these. May God always be with you.”
A smile of joy lights up the child’s pale face. Kamil’s uncle then goes into raptures about the sixty-year-old’s generosity. “May God bless you and grant you a lot of time to spend with Bater.”
Bater’s father nods in assent and lowers his eyes. He then heads toward the Grand Husseini Mosque before returning to what he calls home: a small apartment in a ramshackle house in the vicinity of the mosque.
One bright morning, after the shop owners in the market had already started trumpeting their goods as if to wake the dead, Basheer surprised Kamil’s uncle in the middle of the day at his store. He had sprinted through the market to get to the store and was gasping for air. A look of panic had spread across the boy’s face. When Kamil’s uncle saw him, concerned about his welfare, he asked him, “Are you all right? What has happened?”
The kid then stammered in a muffled voice, “Bater’s father is nowhere to be found!”
Kamil’s uncle patted him consolingly on the head and told him, “Don’t worry about it.”
The day passed slower than usual. It was as if the whole market had already begun grieving for the unique sixty-year-old.
As soon as night fell, Kamil’s uncle closed his store, summoned the boy, and dashed out of the market with him. They were both headed toward Bater’s father’s house, whose address Kamil’s uncle had gotten earlier from Darwish, the perfumer. They walked hastily until they reached their destination and then knocked loudly on the door.
Bater’s father opened the door with a smile on his face. He greeted his guests and invited them inside the house with its crack-ridden walls. They all sat down. The faces of both Kamil’s uncle and the boy revealed their anxiety. Bater’s father punctuated the prolonged silence by saying, “I was feeling a little dizzy this morning. That’s why I decided to stay at home and rest. But you guys have made my day. Thanks for dropping by!”
Kamil’s uncle replied, “We were worried about you. I hope you are feeling better now.”
Basheer stood up and planted a tender kiss on Bater’s head. Then he said, “May God grant you a healthy life. By the way, where is Bater? I was hoping to meet him today.”
For a second, silence reigned. Bater’s father’s eyes hardened with pain. He shot a glance at an old picture frame hanging from the wall. Inside, there was a photo of a beautiful woman in her thirties wearing an embroidered gown. He uttered, “Tawaly, my wife, was seven months pregnant with Bater when the Lord took her away from me. She loved to eat pies. I am sure Bater is happy among the birds.”
At once, Basheer rushed to hug him. Suddenly, a sense of disquiet came over them.
Written by Hedaya Razooq.