I spent most of the afternoon writing letters, catching up on correspondence that had piled up in my mailbox while I was away. I was also conveniently avoiding the heat and, to some degree, the village itself. At the moment, it didn't feel like the place where I wanted to be.
A cool breeze from the mountains picked up late in the afternoon. I took advantage of the cooler air to get a little exercise and walked to the post office. When I started back, the rain was looking like a sure thing. Little dust devils were whirling around in the dirt streets, and withered leaves twirled down from the sycamore trees that formed an arcade over the wide, dilapidated street. Dark clouds were bearing down from the mountains to the south. I picked up my pace.
Down the street, coming towards me, was a woman wrapped up in a turquoise jellaba. I recognized her as my downstairs neighbor. As we continued towards each other, we were nearly jogging, trying to reach our destinations before the rain. We exchanged the minimum smiles and hello, how-are-yous as we passed.
"Please tell Aisha to put the goats in the shed, it's going to rain,." she shouted at me over her shoulders as she continued on her way.
"Okay," I said.
In that moment, I had such a feeling of elation! Why, over something so small and trivial? Because she said it in Arabic, not in French. Because she didn't slow it down or dress it up for speaking to a foreigner. Because she said it to me in the same way she would have said it to one of her own children or one of her other neighbors, without formality, without any awareness that she was talking to someone from the other side of the world, but just saying it the way she would normally say it. Because, after all, I was only her neighbor, no one strange or special. I was just the guy who lived upstairs.