Had he still been alive, their father would have wasted no time
in making a point of this Eastern descent. Javid Aminpour often boasted a
lineage to Genghis Khan, beating his chest while yodeling Mongolian war songs,
in imitation of an ancestry he was determined to stake a claim to. He died two
months before Layla's first birthday, so she could barely recall her father's
theatrics, but Bahar's many bedtime stories over the years had given Layla
ownership over her own set of memories.
Layla never knew her mother either, for she died shortly after
pushing her out into the harsh world. After a nine-year drought, it seemed that
this last child had released in Shirin Aminpour an inner tourniquet that kept on
flowing until there was nothing more to give. The weary doctors in Tehran
General Hospital had no explanation for the merciless bleeding and just shrugged
with defeat when they told her father the news. They failed to mention that, as
the last drops of blood seeped into the hospital's sea green bedsheets, a tiny
bud had popped out of his wife's womb. When the flower seed fell into the pool
of blood, it blossomed into the face of a full-grown rose. The fearful doctors
had kept this to themselves, partly to avoid a malpractice suit, and partly
because the rosewater and cinnamon scent that accompanied the flower's
miraculous unfolding reminded them of a time when military guards did not hover
behind every surgery room door. So it is that people who are denied hope become
greedy hoarders when granted even the smallest of drops.
But the doctors' selfish motives had made little difference in
Layla's fate. Even from those first minutes in the outside world, she was
charming all who crossed her path. In Layla's hopeful aura, men like Benny
Corcoran were free to relive the ambitions of their idle youths, dreams that
were once entertained behind closed doors as they rubbed away under sweaty
teenage quilts. Those were the moments of pure self-indulgence, before the
repercussions of manhood were thrust upon them in the form of soul-breaking jobs
and nagging wives.
Sensing Benny's adoring eyes on her, Layla quickened her pace
down Main Mall. A gaggle of primary school children milling about outside the
news agency were too busy sucking gobstoppers between crooked teeth to notice
her. On the opposite side of the street, a beauty salon, Athey's Shear Delight,
was just opening up its flamingo pink window blinds. Still too early for
customers, the three hairdressers were enjoying their morning tea inside as they
flipped through old magazines. When Layla walked by, the beauticians dropped
their Irish Women's Weekly and Celtic Hair and stared with open
mouths out the window.
"Now who do you suppose that is, then? Would you look at the
length of skirt on her!" Joan Donnelly, hair colorist and sister to the
proprietor, slammed her teacup down and marched over to the window, widening the
gap between two blinds with her fingers. Joan was a small, nervous woman.
Although blessed with a talent for both hi and low-lites, she had found no cure
for the barrage of dandruff that fell daily from her own bowl-cut fringe; the
flakes sat like a conscience on her pointy little shoulders. "She looks right
foreign to me. Spanish or Italian, wouldn't you say?"
"Haven't ya heard, so? Sure, I was meaning to tell ya!"
Nineteen-year-old Evie Watson's sparrow voice piped up. "That Delmonico woman,
she's got the old pastry place up and running again. With some sort of foreign
hippies, no less. To listen to Dervla Quigley tell it she's ready to put
Corcoran's out of business."
In spite of her bulimic frame, or perhaps because of it, Evie
was always hungry for approval and did her best to gather tidbits of
Ballinacroagh information that might prove useful. Evie's eagerness, though, was
quite different from Dervla Quigley's lust for gossip. Her chatter was grounded
on good intentions and hopes that it would boost her position from salon
apprentice to full-time stylist, like she had always dreamed.
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