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A Love Story in no man's land

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1. Into the Past

Paris, A sunny morning

“Hurry up, Amira,” said Julia, “Its Philip’s 21st birthday!”

“Cool, ma, almost done. I am baking a cake for him, not boiling a glass of water”

Julia is running all around the house making sure everything is arranged for Philip’s birthday. “Charlie, is his gift ready?”

“Yes, Julia, along with a bunch of chocolates”

“At what time are Catherine and his other friends coming, Amira?” asked Julia. “Soon, Ma!” replied Amira.

“Ah! Julia, by the way, Elvis will be here as well,” added Charlie.

“Wwwhaat?” said a shocked Julia, “I... I am.. am sure just for the party?”

“I am afraid not. It’s time for Philip to know a couple of things. He is 21 now!”

“But...”

“Everything will be fine, Julia, he should know it some day or the other”

Meanwhile, Amira called Julia from the kitchen, “Moooooommm, I need to go out and get some cards. Can you please check on his cake. I have kept it in the Oven.”

“Sure, Amira. Be quick.”

“Charlie, make sure Elvis doesn’t talk about it till the party ends”

“Sure!”

Catherine, Rosie and Ted just entered the house.

“Hola, everyone! Where’s the birthday boy?” greeted Catherine in her Spanish accent.

“Guten Tag, Uncle and Auntie!” said Ted, shaking hands with Charlie and Julia.

“Ciao!” said Rosie, making sure she reminds people that there is another foreigner :p

“Welcome kids! How have you been?” greeted Julia

“Well, now that you are here, the birthday boy can’t still be sleeping!” added Charlie

“Sure, we are gonna wake him up!” laughed Catherine

(Catherine’s family lives the next door and she has been friends with Philip since their childhood and the two share a great bond. Ted and Rosie are in same class as Catherine and Philip. They are together in a band too. Cathy, as people close to Catherine address her, belongs to a Spanish family that settled in Paris more than 20 years ago. Rosie aka Rosabella is a natives of Naples, studying in Paris. Theodor, whom most people call Theo but prefers to be called Ted, is a Bavarian student in the same school.)

“Hey, Philip!” called Ted

Since there was no response from Philip, Ted started banging the door.

“Calm down bruh! I have the room key” Cathy said as she opened the door. Philip was past asleep undisturbed even by Ted’s banging the door.

“Wake up, Phil,” tried Rosie.

*No response*

Cathy fetched a bottle on Phil’s table and poured the water on his face.

“What the hell!” woke up an annoyed Phil

“Get ready, Phil,” said Cathy, “We have a lot of things planned!”

“You people are so annoying!” said Phil who was clearly not in a mood to wake up

“Need to be,” laughed Rosie, “To deal with an annoying friend”

“I need to fresh up,” said Phil, “So, you people can wait outside”

“You have just 20 minutes,” said Ted, closing the door

********************************************************************

Budapest, A windy noon

“Granny, can I get some daisies?” asked Daisy, “I want to decorate the entrance.”

“Sure,” said Maria, “They are on the table.”

Cassey, the caretaker said to herself, “Maria sure doesn’t look like a 80-year old lady.”

“Granny, you look so happy today,” wondered Tina, “You are jumping around like a small kid. What’s special about today?”

“Your Grand Pa and I married on this day twenty-one years ago,” said an overjoyed Maria.

“Oh! We should have an awesome party today!” exclaimed Razia as she pushed Abdul’s wheelchair, “What say, Grand Pa?”

Abdul however seemed to have lost in memories as he heard Maria. His face mirrored his mixed emotions.

“Grand Pa?” called young Harmon

“Are you here?” asked Rehaan, patting Abdul’s shoulder

“Umm.. Yeahh.. Was just thinking about the old days,” said Abdul, clearing his tone and hiding his wet eyes from the children.

(Abdul and Maria have settled in Budapest twenty years ago. Since then the couple has adopted more than twenty five children. Cassandra aka Cassy, a septuagenarian lived along with the couple taking care of the children. Cassandra was an orphan brought up in a small village in the Czech Republic. Cassy shares a great bond with Abdul, Maria, and the children. About ten years ago, a 21-year old Naina, a young student in Budapest joined them as a nanny for the children. Naina was married off at a young age and after ending her troublesome relationship with her husband, she joined the children’s home as a nanny. Though she initially planned to work for an year and look for a job in Budapest, she slowly developed an inseparable bond with the children and continued to stay at the home. Maria’s niece, Hanna visits the house often and Maria’s parents too were frequent in the past. None from Abdul’s side ever visited the home. Naina, the children, or even Cassy, who has been at the house since the beginning, knew nothing about Abdul’s past or his family.)

Cassy wondered about Abdul’s mixed emotions but did not ask him anything.

Roger aka Ro and Mathilda aka Matt just arrived at the home.

Ro and Matt were the first kids who were adopted by Maria and Abdul. Abdul met Matt in a park one day when he went for a walk. 6-year old Matt was not in a position to give any personal details and was weeping the death of her parents. Using a letter that Matt carried with her, Abdul figured out that she was a Bosnian refugee. Ro’s father lost his life in the Croatian war of independence when he was 7-years old and his mother moved along with him to Hungary. His mother passed away in the next few years leaving Ro behind. After spotting Ro in a hospital and knowing about his mother’s death, Maria brought Ro home. At the same time, Abdul brought Matt home. That was the day when Abdul and Maria decided to shelter the orphaned kids. Over the years, Abdul and Matt adopted several kids and treated them as their own children. Ro and Matt studied graduated from the same school in London and joined the same company. Both got married a few months ago.

“Have some chocolates, kids!” said Matt taking out a few boxes from the packet she was carrying.

“This is for you, my dearest Cassy,” said Ro extending a gift box to Cassy. “And, this is for you Naina” Matt handed a gift box.

“And among a lot of other gifts, this is a special one for you two,” said Ro as Matt took out a specially designed photo album and handed it over to Abdul and Maria.

As the kids turned the pages of the album, Abdul turned the pages of his memories from youth and could not help but dive deep into the sea of memories and emotions.

Abdul signaled Naina to take him to his room. “Can you open the wardrobe and pull out the green suitcase for me?”

“Lost in your memories?” asked Naina as she pulled out the suitcase, “Here it is.”

“Thank you, Naina”

Naina noticed the suitcase had ‘Damascus’ embossed on it but did not understand as neither Abdul nor Maria ever mentioned about any Syrian connection. She did not ask Abdul about this though.

“I will be outside. Call me in case you need something,” said Naina as she walked out and closed the door, understanding Abdul wants to be alone for a while.

He opened the suitcase and pulled out something, seemingly a file, but with some photos, some documents and some medals. As he looked at the photos and documents, he was slowly lost in the old memories.

*****************************************************************

Tel Aviv, A stormy evening

“Sorry officer, I was stuck in the traffic due to this heavy rain” apologized Marc as he walked into the office.

“No problem. So, finally, some one has claimed the property?” asked the officer.

“Yeah. I informed Sir Matt’s sister as well. She was extremely relieved upon knowing that her nephew is alive”

“That’s great! Finish all the paper work before this Saturday”

“Sure, officer”

“When is he visiting Tel Aviv?”

“In another two weeks”

“Ah, okay. I am leaving home now. You should also leave soon as the storm doesn’t seem to calm down anytime soon”

“Yeah. Just have a small work pending. Will leave after finishing it.”

“Hmm... By the way, what’s the boy’s name?”

“Philip Duncan”

*******************************************************************

Paris, A party night

“Cathy, can you give me that red balloon?” asked Myra, Amira’s 5-year old daughter

“Here it is, cutie” Rosie handed over the balloon to her

“Let’s start a game?” asked Ted

“Remember we are here too,” laughed Charlie

“I also remember that we have a centenarian with us” said Ted while cheering Zahira, Phil’s Granny

“We should finish the game in 15 minutes” said Julia, “The dinner is ready”

“Sure. We will continue it post the dinner,” sighed Cathy

“But, what’s the game?” asked Myra

“We will sit in a circle and roll the bottle. Whoever the mouth of the bottle points to upon stopping will have to answer a question. Each round will have a question as its theme,” explained Rosie.

“For the first round, let the theme be ‘my life’s dream’. Fine?” asked Ted

“Hmm. Okay. We will get into the interesting things post dinner” sighed Charlie joining the kids.

“Cathy, did you see my hair gel?” asked Phil from his room

“Oh, Dude! The guests have already left. Only us right now. So, you may better stop decorating yourself and join us here,” teased Ted.

“Yeah, coming!”

“So, let’s start the game!”

Ted rolled the bottle and it stopped facing Myra

“Ah! It’s Myra’s turn. Girl, what’s you dream?”

“I want a bag full of chocolates every day,” said a smiling Myra

“Ha ha. Amira, you too were a chocolate girl at her age?” asked Rosie, teasing Amira.

Amira was seemingly disturbed by the question but just smiled and walked into the kitchen saying she forgot to switch the microwave off.

“Sure chocolates keep you happy, little one” Cathy said, handing Myra a chocolate

“Yes. You live long if you are happy, like Granny” sighed Myra running into Zahira’s hands

Zahira’s eyes were wet as she hugged Myra. “No, my girl. Sometimes sorrow can also make you live longer,” Zahira said to herself.

Amira’s eyes were also wet as the gloomy past shadowed her smile. She was in the kitchen alone and so, this time did not feel a need to hide her tears.

*Door bell rings*

“Charlie, can you open the door”

Charlie opened the door and greeted the young man

“Who?” asked Julia

“Elvis”

*****************************************************************

(Move to chapter 2...)

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