It was odd to feel his heart rate pick up pace, as he neared the local cafe where he met friends and colleagues to discuss life, ideas, and, as he was a filmmaker, cinema – although what is cinema, he believed, if not life and ideas? It was strange that on this night, the cafe looked like an empty facade to him, another setting in one of his studios. The reason, he understood well, was that his meetings with friends, fraught as they could be with interesting emotion, were not first dates.

He noticed her right away, a lone young woman, sitting at a table against the wall, effortfully nonchalant in dress and pose. Oh, she was pretty; certainly wasn’t hiding anything in her pictures. Was he, he wondered as he approached her, swallowing, trying to urge fear into excitement. The conversation, starting off in the clearance section, revolved around their moves to the city, what they were doing there, how they liked it. She started loosening up… unfolding. He started taking deeper breaths… sharing longer-winded thoughts. They began a dance of conversation, him, Youssef, slow and steady as he explored how she viewed the world, wondering, all the while, how it would feel to view the world alongside her. She was fast and dynamic, as she measured up his value, and gauged their compatibility. They talked freely and earnestly, surprised to notice the absence of their usual impassive, detached cools.

They were smiling as they stepped away from the cafe and into the night, aimlessly walking block after block, enjoying the crisp illusion of a city. Taxicabs scurried about, infinitely optioned but single minded. Their senses awakened as they enjoyed conversation and pauses of silence, during which they feasted on the senses before them. As she spoke, Youssef realized, with a pang of excitement, that this young woman would be an excellent inspiration for the stories that he wrote with his camera. In the line of Godard, or Truffaut, he could pay homage to her in shots capturing her style, her intelligence, her deep, piercing gaze, a gaze of one who sees and doesn’t just look. He wondered how he could bring up the subject – how he could warn her – that the one word ‘film’ that was mentioned on his profile under ‘Interests’ was disproportionate, that in fact it occupied his life much more than his ‘Occupation’, in the normal hours of the day, ever could. How could he warn her that he was a man possessed by a craft, a man who would for the rest of life speak of and speak through cinema? Her coming into his life would be her coming into his cinema.

Suddenly, in the quiet side street that they were on, a man, walking the opposite direction, almost obscured within his dark winter cloak, sprung into movement. A glint of steel could be seen as the man, lifting his head to reveal bloodshot, intense eyes, grabbed her and held her sharply by the elbow, while pressing his other hand, in his coat pocket, against her. He told them to stay quiet, even as she gasped out in shock. He demanded that they hand over their money, phones, watches, as well as her jewelry – of which she was wearing none, a fact which Youssef registered for later consideration.

With this flash, their cool was broken and their defenses were down. Panic flooded her eyes, as she looked into his for help. He became nervous, his hands and words shaking as he handed over the items to the man, who had continued muttering the whole time, visibly out of his mind. Upon departing, like a rat scurrying back into the sewer, he left them shaken from shock – out of their own minds, but bonded to one another’s. They agreed to meet the next morning to fill a police report, and each went home.

They sat in their beds that night, at opposite ends of the city. They reviewed the date, replaying in their heads the laughs and thoughts of one another. They realized – this kind of curiosity was the kind, the kind that must be acted upon, honestly, even boldly. At almost the same moment in time, they reached their hand over to their bedside dresser, groping for their phones, which held their profiles, which held the only avenue of communication they had to one another in the vast, labyrinthine city.


Mostafa was born in Egypt, raised in Kentucky, educated in L.A., and is now a neuroscientist in Washington D.C. He hopes to be as confident as Chekhov someday in saying "Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress".

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