I Meant What I Said When I Told You I Could Buy Six Falafel Sandwiches for a Hundred Liras (editors’ pick)

fiction by Hana Alharastani — from issue seventeen

You just had to be smart about it. First you go to Amawi road, next to that old mosque with the white marble floors and flocks of pigeons circling above. Go to Abu Ammar’s hole in the wall shop in the haara just a block away. If he says marhaba and doesn’t move from his stool, he’s not Abu Ammar. Ask for Abu Ammar. When he comes, he’ll say ya hala and lean against the massive counter, readjusting international call cards and moving boxes of chocolate as if to make room for you. He’ll ask you if you want foulle or hummus. Ask for falafel. He’ll smile and say ala ainy and disappear into the back room. Leave the shop and walk two blocks down to Hamza and Abbas. You can’t miss the big blue sign with the yellow lettering. Stand and enjoy the air conditioning and the smell of pastries. Wait at the counter until a flour-puffed young boy greets you. Ask for three sugar buns. Threaten to seek them elsewhere if he tries to give them to you in any state other than taaza. He’ll ask for fifty liras. Tell him you know Abu Ammar. Pay twenty-five. Head down the street to pick up pickles and pickled turnips. Tell the vendor you want to have a taste. He’ll hand you a small jar with an assortment and wave you off. Slide over twenty-five liras as a thank you, but he’ll tell you to keep it. Leave it anyway. Go back to Abu Ammar’s. He’ll greet you as warmly as before, this time sliding over a white bag with grease stains blotting the bottom. Nus dizzineh, he’ll say, opening the bag to show you the six patties lined in a ring around a small tub of garlic yogurt sauce. The smell will captivate you. Abu Ammar knows this, which is why he’ll take one from his personal batch, dip it in yogurt, and hand it to you, on the house. The crunchy exterior made savory by the sauce has you all but drooling. Pay him fifty liras that he’ll be insistent not to take. He’ll tell you to send his salaams to your father. You know he doesn’t know your father, but you’ll do it anyway. When you arrive home, split the buns in half, slice them open, and then fill with falafel, yogurt, pickles, and samma’a. Your mother will definitely have it in her spice cabinet; it’s sour and red, you can’t miss it. Invite your family to eat. Tell them about Abu Ammar. Tell them about how you bought six falafel sandwiches for a hundred liras.

HANA ALHARASTANI hails from Michigan and is currently an MFA candidate studying fiction at the University of Central Florida. When she’s not trying to save the world, she works as the assistant fiction editor and social media coordinator for The Florida Review.