“It’s getting darker earlier,” says Nora, dragging on a dying cigarette. It’s five in the afternoon. Stillness and smoke fill the room I’ve slept in for 15 years. Nora and I are both sitting on the edge of my former bed. I can see myself in her gaze, her younger self. Back then, life had no synonyms. Today, Nora is a witness, her existence a series of decisions she never made but had to execute. Like having children she most certainly never wanted, or leaving Oran, the country she grew up in, for Korin, a city whose language she barely speaks. “You can only regret what you haven’t done,” she sometimes mumbles while hanging whites on the line. She does it more often lately, fending off voices only she can hear.
She asks, “You’re leaving tomorrow?”
I tell Nora my plane is in a few hours, that I’m leaving tonight, not tomorrow, and that I’m here to pick up the package she’s prepared for me, but she doesn’t react. “Don’t forget your passport,” she says instead, her gaze fixated on deciphering the few book titles on the shelves. Though we left Oran at the outbreak of the war, I kept a passport that Nora renews every other year. Korin and Oran are only five hours away but we never went back; we have no family left and the weather is insufferable, famous for scorching people’s skin.
Nora stubs out her cigarette, extracts How Romans Ate from the slanted shelves, and opens it to page nineteen: a recipe for soft-boiled egg in pine nut sauce. She slips it back in, next to The Past Is Still Warm,a collection of poems by Jorache I haven’t read since high school. I notice that Nora appears taller than usual in a yellow pleated skirt she hasn’t worn in years. Her hair is tied in a bun and her shoulders are wide from decades of swimming. Between her shoulder blades I see a face I know is not there. What is Nora doing here? I want her to leave the room. She never liked being amongst my things.