The search for love (part 1)

譯自三毛<愛的尋求>

– Translated from “The Stories of the Sahara” by Sanmao 

It was a photograph with frayed corners, and in it was an Arab woman in European clothing. She had regular features and very big eyes, but her less than youthful face, plastered with makeup, was a riot of colors. She was wearing a low-cut sleeveless floral print top, an outdated apple green miniskirt that could not be any shorter, and a copper chain belt around her waist. Her fat legs were balanced on a pair of yellow shoes with very high heels and straps that crisscrossed up to her knees. Part of her black hair was styled like a bird’s nest, with the rest of it running down her shoulders. Her entire person was bedecked with cheap jewelry, and she even carried a shiny black plastic handbag.

The photograph alone was enough to make my head spin and I could hardly steady myself. If the real person were to appear before me, the effect, combined with the smell of perfumed talc, would surely be much more electrifying.

I looked at Salam. He was anxiously waiting for my response to the picture. I didn’t want to disappoint him, but I simply couldn’t find anything complimentary to say about this “artificial Arab flower”. So I slowly put the photograph back on the counter.

“Very fashionable. Really different from the Sahrawi girls here.” That was all I could say to not hurt his feelings, without speaking against my conscience.

Salam was delighted to hear me say that, “She is fashionable, and very beautiful. No girls here can compare to her.”

I smiled and asked, “Where is she then?”

“She’s in Monte Carlo,” he talked about his wife as if he was talking about a goddess.

“Have you been to Monte Carlo?” I thought I heard wrong.

“No I didn’t, we got married in Algeria last year,” he said.

“Why didn’t she come back to the desert with you after you got married?”

His face darkened after I asked that, the passionate expression disappeared. “Saida told me to come back first, and she would come with her brother to the Sahara in a few days, but in the end… in the end…”

“She never came,” I finished the sentence for him. He nodded, looking at the floor.

“For how long?” I asked.

“It’s been a year.”

“Why didn’t you write a letter to ask earlier?”

“I…” he couldn’t go on as if his throat got stuck. “Who can I talk to…” he sighed.

Then why did you talk to me, a completely unrelated person? I thought.

“Show me the address,” I decided to help him out.

I got the address, and it was indeed Monaco, Monte Carlo, not Algeria.

“Where did you get the address?” I asked him.

“I went to Algeria to look for my wife once, three months ago,” he said hesitantly.

“Oh dear… why didn’t you just say so? You made it so confusing, so you went looking for her.”

“She wasn’t there, her brother said she left, he gave me this picture and address and told me to come back.”

He went all the way just to look for that flashy woman? I looked at Salam’s honest face in sympathy.

“Let me ask you, Salam. How much bride price did you pay her family when you got married?” I immediately recalled the traditions of the desert.

“A lot.” He lowered his head again, as if my question touched a wound.

“How much?” I asked gently.

“Over three hundred thousand.” (Around two hundred thousand Taiwanese dollars.)

I got a shock and said in disbelief, “No way! You couldn’t have that much money!”

“Yes! Yes I have, my father left me that money when he died. You can ask my brother,” Salam stubbornly argued.

“Fine, let me guess. Your father gave you that money to buy goods in Algeria to send back here to the Sahara to sell, but you didn’t buy the goods, and instead you married Saida. You gave her the money, and you came back, she never came. Am I right?”

A very simple story of a scam.

“Yes, you’re right. How come it’s like you saw the whole thing?” He was even slightly excited that I got it right.

“You really don’t get it?” I stared at him, completely baffled.

“I don’t know why she wouldn’t come here, so please do help me write a letter to her, and tell her, I… I…” He got emotional all of a sudden, and held his head in his hands. “I have nothing now,” he muttered.

I quickly looked away. Seeing this quiet honest man revealing his true feelings, I was deeply moved. Since the first time I saw him, I had sensed a depressing air of melancholy and loneliness, just like the characters in the old Soviet novels who endured great pains.

“Come on, let’s get this letter written, I have time now,” I lightened up and said. Then Salam begged me softly, “Please don’t tell my brother about writing this letter.”

“I won’t tell, don’t worry.” I opened the notebook to write the letter.

“Okay, say what you want and I’ll write. Come on, start talking…” I urged him.

“Saida, my dear wife…” Salam spitted out a few words as if he was shivering, then he stopped again.

“This doesn’t work. I can only write in Spanish, how can she read the letter?” Knowing clearly that this con woman would not read the letter, and wouldn’t admit that she’s his wife for sure, I didn’t want to write anymore.

“It’s okay, please write. She’ll get someone to read it. Please…” Salam seemed to be afraid that I wouldn’t write and started begging again.

“Fine! Go on then.” I continued writing.

“Since we separated last year, I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I have been to Algeria to look for you…” I could just tell, if Salam did not love this woman with all his heart, he would not overcome his shyness and disclose his passion deep down to a total stranger.

“It’s done! Sign it yourself.” I tore the finished letter off from the notebook. Salam could write his name in Arabic.

Salam signed carefully and gave out a sigh. “Now we’ll just wait for the reply.” He was full of hope.

I took one look at him, didn’t know what to say, so I just kept quiet.

“Can I use your P. O. box number as the return address? Would it trouble Mr. José?”

“Don’t worry about it. José wouldn’t mind. Okay, I’ll write the return address for you.” It did not cross my mind to leave a return address.

“Now I’ll post it myself.”

Salam asked me for stamps, closed the shop and hurried to the town.

From the second day since the letter was sent, Salam would jolt whenever he saw me entering the store. An obvious disappointment on his face would show instantly when I shook my head. He was in so much pain waiting for a reply so early on, how would he survive the days that follow?

(to be continued…)

sahara

原文:愛的尋求

摘自三毛《撒哈拉的故事》

鄰近我住的小屋附近,在七八個月前開了一家小小的雜貨店,裡面賣的東西應有盡有,這麼一來,對我們這些遠離小鎮的居民來說實在方便了很多,我也不用再提著大包小包在烈日下走長路了。

這個商店我一天大約要去四五次,有時一面燒菜,一面飛奔去店裡買糖買麵粉,在時間上總是十萬火急,偏偏有時許多鄰居買東西,再不然錢找不開,每去一趟總不能如我的意十秒鐘就跑個來回,對我這種急性子人很不合適。買了一星期後,我對這個管店的年輕沙哈拉威人建議,不如來記帳吧,我每天夜裡記下白天所買的東西,到了滿一千塊幣左右就付清。這個年輕人說他要問他哥哥之後才能答复我,第二天他告訴我,他們歡迎我記帳,他們不會寫字,所以送了我一本大簿子,由我單方面記下所欠積的東西。於是從那時候開始我就跟沙崙認識了。

沙崙平日總是一個人在店裡,他的哥哥另外有事業,只有早晚來店內晃一下。每一次我去店內結帳付錢時,沙崙總堅持不必再核對我做的帳,如果我跟他客氣起來,他馬上面紅耳赤吶吶不能成言,所以我後來也不堅持他核算帳了。

因為他信任我,我算帳時也特別仔細,不希望出了差錯讓沙崙受到責怪。這個店並不是他的,但是他好似很負責,夜間關店了也不去鎮上,總是一個人悄悄的坐在地上看著黑暗的天空。他很木訥老實,開了快一個月的店,他好似沒有交上任何朋友。

有一天下午,我又去他店裡結帳,付清了錢,我預備離去,當時沙崙手裡拿著我的帳簿低頭把玩著,那個神情不像是忘了還我,倒像有什麼話要說。

我等了他兩秒鐘,他還是那個樣子不響,於是我將他手裡的帳簿抽出來,對他說:「好了,謝謝你,明天見!」就轉身走出去。

他突然抬起頭來,對我喚著:「葛羅太太——」我停下來等他說話,他又不講了,臉已經漲得一片通紅。「有什麼事嗎?」我很和氣的問他,免得加深他的緊張。「我想——我想請您寫一封重要的信。」他說話時一直不敢抬眼望我。

「可以啊!寫給誰?」我問他,他真是太怕羞了。「給我的太太。」他低得聲音都快聽不見了。

「你結婚了?」我很意外,因為沙崙吃住都在這個小店裡。無父無母,他哥哥一家對待他也十分冷淡,從來不知道他有太太。

他再點點頭,緊張得好似對我透露了一個天大的秘密。「太太呢?在哪裡?為什麼不接來?」我知道他的心理,他自己不肯講,又渴望我問他。

他還是不回答,左右看了一下,確定沒有人進店來,他突然從櫃檯下面抽出一張彩色的照片來塞在我手裡,又低下頭去。

這是一張已經四周都磨破角的照片,裡面是一個阿拉伯女子穿著歐洲服裝。五官很端正,眼睛很大,但是並不年輕的臉上塗了很多化妝品,一片花紅柳綠。衣服是上身一件坦胸無袖的大花襯衫,下面是一條極短已經不再流行的蘋果綠迷你裙,腰上係了一條銅鍊子的皮帶,胖腿下面踏了一雙很高的黃色高跟鞋,鞋帶子成交叉狀扎到膝蓋。黑髮一部分梳成鳥巢,另一部分披在肩後。全身掛滿了廉價的首飾,還用了一個發光塑膠皮的黑皮包。

光看這張照片,就令人眼花撩亂,招架不及,如果真人來了,加上香粉味一定更是精彩。

看看沙崙,他正熱切地等待著我對照片的反應,我不忍掃他的興,但是對這朵「阿拉伯人造花」實在找不出適當讚美的字眼,只有慢慢的將照片放回在櫃檯上。

「很時髦,跟這兒的沙哈拉威女孩們太不相同了。」我只有這麼說,不傷害他,也不昧著自己良心。

沙崙聽我這麼說,很高興,馬上說:「他是很時髦,很美麗,這裡沒有女孩比得上她。」

我笑笑問他:「在哪兒?」

「她現在在蒙地卡羅。」他講起他太太來好似在說一個女神似的。

「你去過蒙地卡羅?」我懷疑自己聽錯了。

「我沒有,我們是去年在阿爾及利亞結婚的。」他說。

「結了婚,她為什麼不跟你回沙漠來?」

他的臉被我一問,馬上黯淡下來了,熱切的神情消失了。「沙伊達說,叫我先回來,過幾日她跟她哥哥一同來撒哈拉,結果,結果——」

「一直沒有來。」我替他將話接下去,他點點頭看著地。

「多久了?」我又問。

「一年多了。」

「你怎麼不早寫信去問?」

「我——」他說著好似喉嚨被卡住了。「我跟誰去講——。」他嘆了一口氣。

我心裡想,你為什麼又肯對我這個不相干的人講了呢?

「拿地址來看看。」我決定幫他一把。

地址拿出來了,果然是摩納哥,蒙地卡羅,不是阿爾及利亞。

「你哪裡來的這個地址?」我問他。

「我去阿爾及利亞找過我太太一次,三個月以前。」他吞吞吐吐地說。

「哎呀,怎麼不早講,你話講得不清不楚,原來又去找過了。」

「她不在,她哥哥說她走了,給了我這張照片和地址叫我回來。」

千里跋涉,就為了照片裡那個俗氣女人?我感嘆的看著沙崙那張忠厚的臉。

「沙崙,我問你,你結婚時給了多少聘金給女方?」突然想到沙漠裡的風俗。

「很多。」他又低下頭去,好似我的問觸痛了他的傷口。

「多少?」我輕輕的問。

「三十多萬。」(合台幣二十多萬。)

我嚇了一跳,懷疑的說:「你不可能有那麼多錢,亂講!」

「有,有,我父親前年死時留下來給我的,你可以問我哥哥。」沙崙頑固地分辯著。

「好,下面我來猜。你去年將父親這筆錢帶去阿爾及利亞買貨,要運回撒哈拉來賣,結果貨沒有買成,娶了照片上的沙伊達,錢送給了她,你就回來了,她始終沒有來。我講的對不對?」

一個很簡單拆白黨的故事。

「對,都猜對了,你怎麼像看見一樣?」他居然因為被我猜中了,有點高興。

「你真不明白?」我張大了眼睛,奇怪得不得了。

「我不明白她為什麼不肯來這裡,所以我拜託你一定要寫信給她,告訴她,我——我——」他情緒突然很激動,用手托住了頭。「我現在什麼都沒有了。」他喃喃的說。

我趕快將視線轉開去,看見這個老實木訥的人這麼真情流露,我心裡受到了很大的感動。從第一次見到他時開始,他身上一直靜靜的散發著一種很孤苦的悲戚感。就好像舊俄時代小說裡的那些忍受著巨大苦難的人一樣。

「來吧,來寫信,我現在有空。」我打起精神來說。這時沙崙輕輕的懇求我:「請你不要告訴我哥哥這寫信的事。」

「我不講,你放心。」我將帳簿打開來寫信。

「好,你來講,我寫,講啊……。」我又催他。「沙伊達,我的妻——。」沙崙發抖似的吐出這幾個字,又停住了。

「不行,我只會寫西班牙文,她怎麼念信?」明明知道這個女騙子根本不會念這封信,也不會承認是他什麼太太,我又不想寫了。

「沒關係,請你寫,她會找人去唸信的,求求你…… 。」沙崙好似怕我又不肯寫,急著求我。

「好吧!講下去吧!」我低頭再寫。

「自從我們去年分手之後,我念念不忘你,我曾經去阿爾及利亞找你——。」我看得出,如果沙崙對這個女子沒有巨大的愛情,他不會克服他的羞怯,在一個陌生人的面前陳述他心底深藏著的熱情。

「好啦!你來簽名。」我把寫好的信從帳簿上撕下來,沙崙會用阿拉伯文寫自己的名字。

沙崙很仔細的簽了名,嘆了口氣,他滿懷希望的說:「現在只差等回信來了。」

我望了他一眼,不知怎麼說,只有不響。

「回信地址可以用你們的郵局信箱號碼嗎?荷西先生不會麻煩吧?」

「你放心,荷西不在意的,好,我替你寫回信地址。」我原先並沒有想到要留回信地址。

「現在我親自去寄。」

沙崙向我要了郵票,關了店門,往鎮上飛奔而去。

從信寄掉第二日開始,這個沙崙一看見我進店,就要驚得跳起來,如果我搖搖頭,他臉上失望的表情馬上很明顯地露出來。這樣早就開始為等信痛苦,將來的日子怎麼過呢?

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