By Scott Ragland
Hassan saves his earnings to take his wife and twin daughters on the bus tour of the Great Ocean Road. He’s eager to go but willing to wait. The sky is clear of bombs.
The tour bus arrives in Apollo Bay for lunch. Mostly Asians who’ve come to Melbourne on business and scheduled a day for sightseeing; a few Americans on working-holiday visas, tagging along with visiting parents who can afford to pay their way.
Hassan, whose English isn’t so good, stays in the back in the kitchen, waiting for his job to wash the dishes and the forks of the Americans unable to eat with chopsticks. The tour guide has emailed people’s choices in advance. Hassan can hear his manager’s son taking the food to the tables, the clatter of plates and glasses.
In his backyard, the size of his living room rug in Zabadani, Hassan has planted zucchini and capsicum, in deference to the climate of this land, and muskmelons to remind him of home. Come summer, his daughters will help pick the harvest. His wife will give them paper bags to fill, to take to neighbors.
As the tourists finish lunch, Hassan’s manager tells them about the corner shop that sells vegemite ice cream, about the public path that leads to the beach. After washing the dishes, Hassan comes out and watches them returning to the bus, slipping smartphones into purses and pockets. His manager goes out and waves as the bus pulls away; Hassan can see the tourists wave back through the windows.
Before he leaves for the day, his manager teaches him a word in English and how to use it in a sentence.
“‘Rain,’” Hassan repeats. “‘Rain is good for flowers.’”
Hassan hasn’t traveled the Great Ocean Road, but he’s seen photos in a brochure left behind by a tourist. Waves crashing against cliffs. Sheep and cattle grazing on hillsides overlooking the sea. Penguins emerging from the moon-lit surf on a side trip to Phillip Island. Trees in a rainforest reaching the sky.
Zabadani was nothing like this. But, before the bombs, it was beautiful in its own way. A place where people came to see the plum and apple orchards, where Hassan’s family farmed vegetables for more than 500 years. Sometimes, toweling a dish dry, he remembers turning the soil over in his hands, his heritage spilling between his fingers.
The tour bus arrives with empty seats, a mixup with the booking. Hassan’s manager comes to the kitchen and says he can ask the guide if Hassan and his family could ride along the rest of the way.
“For free,” he says.
Hassan can hear the tourists taking their places at the tables, his manager’s son speaking words of welcome.
“Thank you,” Hassan says, “but no.”
He’ll wait until he can share a bag of muskmelons at the lunch stop. He’ll describe the fields stretching across the valley floor, only sparrowhawks soaring above.
About the Author:
Scott Ragland has an MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) from UNC Greensboro. Before taking a writing hiatus, he had several stories published, most notably in Writers' Forum, Beloit Fiction Journal, and The Quarterly. More recently, his work has appeared in apt, The Conium Review, NANO Fiction, Ambit, The Common (online), Fiction International, and Cherry Tree, among others. He also has a flash forthcoming in the minnesota review. He lives in Carrboro, N.C., with his wife, two dogs, and a cat. His three kids have left the nest.
About Weekly Flash Prose and Prose Poetry:
CutBank Online features one work of flash prose or prose poetry every Monday. Submissions are free and open year-round. Send us your best work of 750 words or less at https://cutbank.submittable.com/submit.