The Orphan Sky

The Orphan Sky by Ella Leya Read Free Book Online

Book: The Orphan Sky by Ella Leya Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ella Leya
what?”
    â€œOf my anti-Soviet activities.”
    His face reverted to its ghostly appearance. His eyes—now iron gray—scrutinized me openly. The air grew heavy, thick as molasses. Every breath sounded like a cello sawing away against the bouncing-bow contrabasses of my heartbeat.
    Aladdin took the cigarette out of his mouth, rubbed it against the sole of his sandal, and aimed for the sink. Missed. His hands flew up in resignation. “Oh well. At least today it’s pretty close. Don’t they say a good guest brings good luck with him? With her .” His mouth curled into what could pass for a smirk. “Would you like some tea, Leila? Then we can sit and talk in detail about my anti-Soviet scheme.”
    His offer made my throat dry. The room spun around me, the slow ceyrani dance picking up speed. Why did he reveal himself? Why?
    Unless he was planning to recruit me for his spy operation. Should I play along, win his trust, and then expose the plot?
    â€œI’d love some tea,” I said. “Just not too strong.”
    â€œI’ll make it to your liking.”
    Aladdin bolted to a small, dilapidated stove plunked in the corner of the room. He struggled to light a fire, striking one match after another, failing to turn the gas on in time. His movements seemed awkward, his motor coordination disorderly. What kind of spy was this?
    â€œDo you have many customers?” I asked.
    â€œNot really. I might even say you are my first one. With Allah’s help, others will follow.”
    â€œWith what you just said and with the rumors going around town, I don’t think even Allah can help you.”
    â€œThis town brews gossip as much as it brews tea. Which rumor have you heard? The one that I am an American spy? Or the one that I’m a villain straight from Jafar’s cave, selling venomous music?”
    I giggled before I could fight it off.
    â€œWhat’s so funny?”
    â€œNothing really. It’s just…‘venomous music’ sounds like a flock of poisonous frogs singing in the swamp, all at the same time.”
    â€œPoisonous frogs, you said.” He tilted his head, gaping sideways, as if visualizing the image, then grinned, displaying a mouthful of teeth. “Nice. I should write that down somewhere. Now let’s make that tea happen.”
    He struck another match, managing to turn the gas on in time. Next he placed an iron pot on the fire that danced happily on top of the stove. Then, retrieving two armuds , pear-shaped glasses, from the shelf, he set them on a small tray with sugar and mint. The air of hostility melted away. The magic lamp returned to Aladdin’s hands.
    A barely dressed woman in a bowler hat smiled devilishly at me from the wall, her black bodice and satin shorts, fishnet stockings and shiny boots obviously aimed at exposing rather than concealing her voluptuous body.
    Pornography? Did I break a law by looking at this indignity?
    â€œDo you know who this lady is?” Aladdin asked.
    â€œNo.”
    â€œBut you think she is fascinating, don’t you?”
    I shrugged.
    â€œIt’s a poster for a movie titled Cabaret , in which she acts and sings. Her name is Liza Minnelli. I have a few of her songs. Would you like to hear?”
    If you listen to his recordings, your skin will turn into fish scales.
    â€œNo, I really have to get going.”
    Aladdin swept to the alcove, drew an album, and placed it on the turntable.
    A lazy clarinet zigzagged a melody, its timbre trailing raspy echoes as if a performer had chosen a worn-out reed or accidentally dropped one inside the instrument’s bore. Then a pause, followed by the sound of a strenuous breath. A brazen, haunting female voice poured out of the gramophone. A voice of dark velvet. A voice like no other, carrying nostalgia from some mysterious, fantastic world. A world I had known before. Somewhere. A long time ago. Maybe in a different life? Or a dream?
    I

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