Enthralled, Habara was able to forget the reality that surrounded him, if only for a moment. Like a blackboard wiped with a damp cloth, he was erased of worries, of unpleasant memories. Who could ask for more? At this point in his life, that kind of forgetting was what Habara desired more than anything else.


On the surface, at least, this Scheherazade had nothing in common with the beautiful queen of “A Thousand and One Nights.” She was on the road to middle age and already running to flab, with jowls and lines webbing the corners of her eyes. Her hair style, her makeup, and her manner of dress weren’t exactly slapdash, but neither were they likely to receive any compliments. Her features were not unattractive, but her face lacked focus, so that the impression she left was somehow blurry. As a consequence, those who walked by her on the street, or shared the same elevator, probably took little notice of her. Ten years earlier, she might well have been a lively and attractive young woman, perhaps even turned a few heads. At some point, however, the curtain had fallen on that part of her life and it seemed unlikely to rise again.


I’m not stranded on a desert island. No, he thought, I am a desert island. He had always been comfortable being by himself.


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