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Restaurant Palmyra (short story)

Harald Renner

Wolfgang crossed the winterly spa gardens of Bad Homburg rapidly. Now he felt frozen and longed for the warmth, candlelight and aroma of Mediterranean herbs and spices. He knocked the muddy snow clumps from his boots and paused in front of the green panelled entrance door of the restaurant “Palmyra”. He noticed a faint glow of light which peeped through a gap in the curtain. And he could hear muffled voices and the rattling of dishes.

"Come in my friend!" Thomas, the innkeeper, beckoned him in and closed the door.
"You are our only guest today. Sabine is looking forward to your company."
"That's right," his wife agreed with him. "Please sit down and make yourself comfortable! You came just in time. We are so happy to see you.”

Esat appeared from the kitchen balancing a silver tray, overflowing with food. Wolfgang felt his mouth watering at the smell of these delicious starters.
Esat raised his shoulders.
“I don’t speak good German, you know? Too heavy."
"Really?" protested Wolfgang. "You get better every time we meet. How nice to see you again."

The young cook placed the tray on the side table and pointed to the food.
"We have Muhamara, a paprika and walnut paste, and Warak Inab, and stuffed vine leaves, for your pleasure. Dishes we always started with before the war, in Damascus."

Sabine's voice averted her eyes as she spoke in a hushed shaky voice.
Instead of reaching for her knife and fork, she coughed into her handkerchief.
"Please excuse me!"
Wolfgang looked at her.
"You don't have to apologize. Are things really that bad with you?"

The innkeeper took over the conversation.
"Yes, it is worse than bad. Six weeks ago we were still hoping for a solution, you remember? But now our debts continue to grow. Business is getting tough, also for other restaurants in the village. The owner wants to renovate. He offered us a new lease, but we had to reject it. Much too expensive for us. We give up, at the turn of the year it's over."
"Ah, I saw this coming” said Wolfgang. Do you want to stay here?"
"We would love to," Sabine intervened, "but we can no longer afford anything around Frankfurt. We looked at a two-room apartment in the Vogelsberg district. Much cheaper, but we are not country folk. Let´s see."

Esat appeared with a bottle of deep red Syrah from Bargylus, presented the label and let his boss taste the wine.
“Yes, it’s good!"
When the cook had disappeared again, Sabine picked up the thread.
"We also wonder what will become of Esat. He arrived here four years ago, all alone. He has heard nothing from his family at home for a long time. He will have a hard time finding a new job."

The Syrian cook now sat at the table, and the four enjoyed each new dish with relish. When Esat served the Falafel in lamb sauce, then Sea Bass in sesame and lime sauce, followed by exquisite desserts and a strong-smelling mocha, his enthusiasm infected everyone. Without even noticing, he explained the dishes in his mother tongue and everyone understood what he meant.

It was a good thing that the conversation was now dominated by other topics. The precious wine contributed to the loosening of the tongues. Finally, Wolfgang asked the question that was on his mind at every meeting, so often in recent years.
"Tell me, Thomas, how is your health?"
"Very good," the innkeeper replied much too quickly.

Sabine touched her man's forearm.
“Let it go, we should let Wolfgang know. My husband is not well. Since the accident breathing is difficult. It has worsened over the last five years. He is missing lobes of his right lung. That’s why he can no longer work in the kitchen, only in service and billing.”

Wolfgang thought long and hard.
“Can I ask you something else?”
Thomas encouraged him: “Go ahead!”
"The thing with the accident. I know you don't talk about it. But I have been wondering for a long time what happened then. Was it a traffic accident? Don't get me wrong. I ask as your friend, not out of curiosity."

After a long silence Sabine came out with the truth.
"It wasn't a traffic accident, and it was in many newspapers. My husband is my hero - brave, sweet and idiotic. He saved the boy's life and paid dearly for it."

What happened then now came to light. The robbery of five young men at Frankfurt Central Station. Without cause, out of lust for naked violence. The seventeen-year-old boy with a blood-stained face on the floor. The kicks with the combat boots aimed at the boy's head. And then Thomas in between, with a high pitched scream. He jumped at the first one he could get hold of and rammed his knee between his legs. Then the others, who attacked Thomas at the same time, beat him again and again until he lost consciousness. The attackers fled when the first police siren sounded. None of the evildoers was ever caught.

Wolfgang let the words have an effect on him. Then he wanted to know if the boy or his family had ever thanked the rescuer.
"Yes, they were grateful," Sabine replied. "They wrote a touching letter and suggested a meeting, but we didn't agree. My husband was petrified then. To this day he does not want to be reminded of the unspeakable attack. No, we don't know the people."

Wolfgang felt that the three now wanted to be alone. With warm words he thanked them for the wonderful food. To say goodbye, he pulled a letter out of the inside pocket of his jacket and put it on the dining table.
“It’s from my wife, she sends you her best wishes.”

Half an hour later the restaurant was tidy, the dishes, plates and glasses had been washed. Sabine discovered the letter and opened the envelope.

As she read the few lines, the words blurred before her tired eyes. Hot tears spilled down her face. Gradually her body relaxed. She felt how the long months of tension and worry began to dissipate.

The letter was short.
"Our company is going well, and every year we could save more money for you. Yesterday we talked to your owner and settled everything. Don't worry anymore, you'll keep the restaurant. Our son Sebastian wants so much to get to know the man who saved his life five years ago at Frankfurt Central Station. We will never forget that. Merry Christmas, everyone!"

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