At the podium, he glanced at his cheat sheet. Standard stuff, really. The people to thank, the editors, the wife, the children, the friends. For their patience, but mostly for sticking around, for putting up with his tantrums, for the thousand rewrites, for their patience, for the untouched food, the incomplete conversations, the patience. Insert joke about being a terrible friend and other self-deprecating humour that the audience would lap up. A literary writer that was also unassuming: people loved that. It wasn’t his first time. The speech, the performance, everything had beats of its own. Maybe, after all, he’d not escaped the formula.
When he finally mingled, shaking hands, smiling, being polite, his mind lingered, then wandered like a restless child, exploring, halting, moving…. and suddenly he was there. The open desert, the sand dunes, the pills, the drama, and of course, Marie laughing like a wisp of wind. He froze at the memory. It had been so long. And he’d not even allowed himself the memories.
Who was he? The name carried to him in the sandy breeze. El Feki.
He’d stopped using that name a long time ago. He couldn’t bear it anyway. But the name called to him. Just like the memories. And the dullness of regret. He’d recently started thinking that perhaps he shouldn’t have done it. Killed Marie, that is. Even if he’d gotten away with it. Not that he ever stopped missing her. But regret was new and fresh. And it evoked his curiosity. And he did it. Introduced himself at a party of some sort, with a pen name he’d thought up as a teenager. El Feki. Of course, it was Arab and pretentious sounding. But then so was he. At least according to his drunken mind.
Sober now, it was more painful. The setting had always been mediterranean, Marie, dancing to an Arab tune with her black veil and feverish eyes. He liked his women classical and beautiful. Slightly deranged or drunk or even unpopular. It gave them all a certain depth, El Feki had thought. And made them prone to unstability and of course, death. Easy simple death that looked like suicide.
But Marie hadn’t been easy. At least, killing her wasn’t. She had fought him with words, with endearment, and finally phsycial violence. And when he watched her die, it had been slow and tortuous, the loss of breath, the eyes widening with the shock of the end, the light dimming and dying. He had cried the entire time, whispering that it was for the best. “You’re in the way, Marie. I just love you too much…”
And now he remembered. Marie’s words when she was heartier and healthier, breathless but still livelier. “El Feki, you really don’t know how to live!” And he’d say, “But I live through my writing Marie dear…”.
What would she say now? He’d stopped thinking that for a long time. What Marie would say to this. What Marie would say to that. He’d decided that if he was to kill her, he would do it properly. Poison her with her own pills, yes. But also, kill her from his memories. But he gave himself that one luxury. Just one time, he’d say…ha…whose alive now, Marie? Me. That’s right! Me. But of course, she couldn’t reply. So he stared into her lifeless eyes, big, black still pools on that endless night. He tried to argue that killing her made him feel more alive in a different sort of way. His art would have a certain depth to it, the pain of loss would seep into his words and they would no longer be pretentious. No longer El Feki, the young stupid teenager. But a man who had seen death.
He was shaking hands when he returned to the room, with what seemed like a newspaper reporter. His wife was looking at him oddly, curiously, as if he’d done it again. Started dreaming of a story in the middle of a conversation. “El Feki,” he nodded to the reporter.
“Excuse me sir…I was hoping you’d say a few words about your award. For the papers, sir.”
“Yes the award.” he replied, “Good Good.”
The wife gave him a nudge. He sighed, as if merely standing here, in this room of camera-hungry people was enough to drain him of anything authentic that may still remain in him. The reporter looked at the wife desperately, and then turned to him again, pressing, “Sir, what about your next novel. What do you have plan on writing?”
“A mystery novel, for sure.“
The reporter’s eyes were rolling in disbelief, but not upwards, which he wouldn’t dare, and he said, “Genre fiction, Mister Chauduri….?”
He replied, “Yes. And the name is El Feki. El Feki, the mystery author.”
“I’ll be leaving now.” He said to the wife, and turned away. A smile was forming. A real smile this time. It was time to bring Marie back from the grave again.