Prose Header

Shakespeare in Mogadishu

by Ralph E. Shaffer

It was two-thirty in the morning at Rick’s, Mogadishu’s only Starbucks. All the regular customers were gone, even the young student terrorists who plotted late each night at a booth in a far corner of the dining area.

The lone counterboy, who had retreated to the back room to take inventory, had dimmed the lights, saving fuel and the generators for tomorrow. In the semi-darkness, a lone woman sat at a wobbly table, nursing her latte.

Nearby, at the computer keyboard, Sam googled away. From his mumbling, it may have seemed like he was reading Shakespeare, but while a few of the Bard’s words were there, the rest of the lines could have been mistaken for gibberish.

“Say it once, Sam, for old time’s sake. You know what I want to hear.”

“My recollection’s a little rusty, Miss Ilsa, and it ain’t in the computer.”

“You know it, Sam. That line from Shakespeare that Rick parodied so well, so long ago. Say it, Sam.”

“I don’t remember it, Miss Ilsa. And Mr. Rick would never write that one down.”

Ilsa, pleadingly: “Say it again, Sam.”

“Mister Rick said I should never say it, Miss Ilsa. And, anyway, I can’t remember how it started.”

“‘Brevet’, Sam. The first word was ‘Brevet’.”

“‘Brevity is the soul of wit,’” Sam finally recited.

“No, Sam, that’s the way Shakespeare wrote it. Tell it Rick’s way.”

“But you didn’t like his version, Miss Ilsa. You chided him.”

“Mostly because I thought others might find it insensitive, even though it was intended only for me. And he did put the accent on the wrong syllable in brevet. But he had to, to make it go with the girl’s name, Tia.”

Ilsa, firmly: “Say it again, Sam, Rick’s parody, as if it were for the last time.”

Reluctantly, haltingly, Sam began: “Brevet Tia’s—”

At this point, from an office in the rear of the building, Rick entered the near-darkened room. At first they didn’t see him, only heard his voice:

“‘Brevet Tia’s the sole half wit.’ Sam, whether we’re in Paris or Mogadishu, it’s still the same old parody and I’ve repeatedly told you never to say that line again.” As he was finishing his rebuke to Sam, Rick saw Ilsa.

Sam turned off the computer and left the room.

“Are you telling me you like that line now? It’s still the same old parody.”

“I always liked it, Rick. I liked everything you wrote.”

“But not well enough. Did you also like everything he wrote?” Rick responded, bitterly.

Ilsa didn’t answer. Rick sat down at Ilsa’s table.

“How did you find me in this godforsaken hole?”

“I found you on the Internet.”

“Of all the websites in all the computers on all the search engines in this crazy, mixed-up world, you googled mine.”

“Actually, it was that real estate site, Zillow. If you want privacy, Rick, you shouldn’t put property in your own name.”

Rick went to the counter, turned out a latte, and brought it back to the table.

“What in heaven’s name brought you here, Rick? Of all the places you could have chosen, why Mogadishu?”

“I wanted to find peace.”

“But this is a hotbed of terrorism, Rick.”

“I was misinformed. That’s what happens when you don’t read a newspaper.”

A pause, then Ilsa turned the conversation to the issue that was on both their minds. “Why did you stop being my pen pal, Rick? We had such a wonderful relationship going. I looked forward to your puns, your parodies, your... well, not your op-eds. Some of them, perhaps.”

“You accidentally sent me an email intended for that other guy, that two-bit — more like two cent — washed up, has-been punster from Sheboygan. Has-been? He’s a never-was. He couldn’t even parody a nursery rhyme, never mind something from a Shakespeare play.

“‘Toby, or not Toby?’ What kind of parody is that? But here you were sending him gushy praise for his grade-school trash. And you accidentally sent that slush to me! I was shocked... shocked.”

“I’m sorry, Rick. He and I weren’t really pen pals. He was down, and I felt sorry for him. He really meant nothing to me. But after you stopped emailing, I had no one else. But it’s over now, long over. I’ll never email him again. Anyway, it surely was more than that one silly email? Why did you really stop writing, Rick?”

“I couldn’t deal with it any longer, Ilsa. The frustration was overwhelming. You expected too much, and I couldn’t parody that last Shakespeare line you wanted parodied so badly. I stayed up all night. I started drinking latte instead of gin, thinking that would put me in the right frame of mind. Nothing worked. I was latted out, beaten. So I just walked away.”

Rick paused briefly, then continued: “Yes, I wrote a parody once. As a matter of fact, I wrote a lot of parodies. But all those silly parodies weren’t worth a hill of beans. And I’ll bet you don’t even remember the Shakespeare line in question.”

“That line, and what followed, were not easy to forget. I remember every syllable.” Without hesitation, Ilsa quoted the key line flawlessly. “It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock.”

Rick winced noticeably. Ilsa detected an almost imperceptible tic on the right side of his face, a trait she now recalled from long ago, one that occurred when Rick had trouble parodying a Shakespeare line. All other times he had finally resolved the difficulty, but not with this line.

After a few moments of silence, with only the sound of an old clock ticking away their lives, Rick rose from his chair, faced her squarely before departing.

“Goodbye, Ilsa. I’ve sold this place. Maybe I’ll open a Starbucks in Timbuktu. Or some other burg where they never heard of Shakespeare. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. Think you could find me in Makhachkala?”

A brief pause, then Rick raised his near-empty latte in a toast: “Here’s looking at you, pen pal.”

“But what about us, Rick? This could be a second beginning of a beautiful penpalship. What about us?”

As he walked out the door into the foggy darkness, Rick shouted back: “We’ll always have parodies.”

Copyright © 2017 by Ralph E. Shaffer

Home Page