Mr. Khoury was a banker by day and a baker by night. He always rose at 6 AM sharp without the need of an alarm clock nor any other help. His mind was sharp as a polished stone and clear as still water in a haiku poem. His French mom used to repeat constantly that the day belongs to those who rise early. His bright eyes at the middle of his clean-shaven face carried sunshine beams to everything and everyone.
At 7 AM, you would see him at the port of his coastal city, greeting the fisherman coming back from their nightly trips into the sea. He would buy only the freshest of the catch, the rawest of the marine treasures, seashells in particular.
At 8 AM, he would be sitting at his desk, drinking his black Turkish coffee, awaiting his customers, ready to offer service upon service till all generosity faded.
And Mr. Khoury was a generous man indeed. For his time was not his, and his highly appreciated listening skills were not his either.
Everything he has ever been he had borrowed it.
This walking epitome of precision and friendliness was a subject of suspicion for many individuals, namely the curious and bored Mrs. Alam.
At 6 AM, Mrs. Alam would only wake up after her ten alarm clocks would have ranged simultaneously for ten consecutive minutes.
At 7 AM, she would be disguising herself as an old merchant on the port only to spy on Mr. Khoury.
At 8 AM, she would be home sipping her coffee and writing down her daily observations regarding Mr. Khoury.
Mrs. Alam was convinced that the man was hiding a secret, and she determined to find it.
"No one could live like this," she said to her neighbor Mrs. Khalil.
- What do you mean "Orthence"? Asked the 90 years old Mrs. Khalil.
- He is like a clock. He never changes his habits. His routine is always the same. He is always in a good mood.
- And what is wrong with that?
- Well, how can he do that? That doesn't sound Lebanese to me at all.
- Oh! You're right. I never heard him curse nor get angry.
- Imagine, not a single word. With all these problems and intermittent power cuts and shortage in fuels and medicine. Not a single word.
- How perceptive of you, dear.
- He must be hiding something. A secret. I always see him eating his weird-looking cake and smiling.
- Maybe he is on some strong anti-depressant or an illegal drug, God forbid.
- I even see him giving some parts to people. I wonder what he puts in it. I often smell this strange smell whenever he is around.
Thoughts and speculations rammed over Orthence's head at night. She could not sleep. The curiosity may have killed the cat, but that didn't keep Mrs. Alam from leaving her house and heading towards Mr. Khoury's house in her old-fashioned white nightgown.
She looked like a 50's ghost, slim and old, but she didn't care. She was intoxicated with curiosity and intrigue. She even imagined herself, Mrs. Marble. Agatha's Christy heroine. She had probably the same age as her and the same attitude.
As she arrived at Mr. Khoury's house, she approached carefully. The lights were turned off and silence reigned the atmosphere.
"That tranquil façade will not fool me," She said to herself. The 60 years old woman had the courage of an insomniac desperately seeking sleep and dreams.
She pushed the back door and entered quietly as she can. A noise came from the basement. She went down the stairs to find Mr. Khoury baking a giant cake. A bleu and bright orange mixture gave way to orangey and salty smells. The cake mix almost filled the entire room. It was a strange sight to see. Mr. Khoury was in the middle of a circular baking tray empty in its middle. He was emptying seashells in the cake and throwing them. Invisible material.
"What is he doing?" Asked Mrs. Alam.
Mrs. Alam came closer to see what was happening and accidentally stumbled and fell on the stairs. She landed right in the cake mix.
Mr. Khoury was surprised to see her. Not shocked, but surprised. Mrs. Alam has been his neighbor for as long as he can remember. And a few months ago her nephew came to solve her bank account issue. Mr. Khoury put his charming manners at use to prevent her from withdrawing money from her bank account. He knew she would come around, someday she will be here asking.
· - What are you doing here Mrs. Alam?
· - I'm sorry but I was curious and wanted to know why you are always in a good mood.
· - Is this really what you want to know? Mr. Khoury stepped closer. His interrogating eyes were searching for another statement, for another truth.
· - What are you doing with these seashells? Mrs. Alam added.
· - Well, I'm emptying the calming sea sounds into my calming cake if you must know.
· - What? What is this magic?
· - Well, I want people to feel happier.
· - But you can't drug them into feeling this way. Some anger is beneficial.
· - No anger is beneficial.
· - Listen I know it must have been hard on you. But I was your parents’ neighbor for many years and what happened was an accident. Even the police report stated it.
· - It was not. He killed her out of anger. My dad killed my mom out of anger. I know what I saw. No anger is beneficial. Never.
· - This is why all your bank's customers are satisfied? You take away their money and yet they never complain. Never dare to say a word. Is this fair?
· It's not for you to decide Mrs. Alam, replied Mr. Khoury with a smile.
That was the last thing Mrs. Alam saw. A big smile before hearing the calming sound of waves that swept her, growing louder and louder.