Joan Wright Mularz

Joan Wright Mularz was born into a large family on an island in the middle of New York Harbor. It's where she read her first mystery and learned to love reading, writing, and drawing.

Through books and art history, she developed an interest in seeing other places. As a college student, she scrimped and saved and headed across the ocean for the first time.

Her experiences as a traveler, parent and a teacher, have influenced Joan to write for young people. Two and a half years living in Italy became the inspiration for her first E. T. Madigan mystery, Upheavals at Cuma. Six years in Germany led to the writing of the second mystery, White Flutters in Munich. Her picture book, What I Like About My Friends, celebrates the diversity she has found through both teaching and travel and another, Island Times, celebrates the multiplication and diversity of animal and plant life found on islands.

She has also written curricula and educational grants. When not traveling, she divides her time between a small town in Massachusetts and a small town in the western hills of Maine, inspiration for her alliterative alphabet book, Down West — the Other Maine and for her third E.T. Madigan mystery, Maine Roots Run Deep, due out in 2017.

The Souk

Joan Wright Mularz

Winner of Honorable Mention
2017 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award

The last thing the tour guide said as I stepped off the bus was, "Be careful in the souk, big guy!" An older lady overheard and agreed, "That's right, young man, I've heard it's a very dangerous place… you know… thieves and pickpockets roaming the alleys and unscrupulous merchants in the stalls!"

I peered across the square at the ancient marketplace and debated with myself. Be safe or be adventurous? No contest.

As I ducked through the entrance archway, I saw before me a cave-like labyrinth. Low-level lighting revealed passageways crammed with colorful booths and shops extending in multiple directions. An exotic aroma of spices and sweets wafted through the air and drew me forward. The variety of attractive objects like soft leather poufs, silver-framed mirrors, gleaming silky fabrics, gilt-trimmed glassware and sparkling filigree lanterns was fascinating and I browsed the stalls with curiosity.

Vendors made pleas: "Come in, sir, and have a closer look at the excellent quality" and "Special price just for you, sir." I felt no urge to buy and was polite in my refusals until I came to a stall selling sunglasses of unique quality and color. The merchant, a rail-thin, caftan-wearing woman of indeterminate age drifted toward me. She gave off an aromatic scent of roses. Her most identifiable feature was a head of cotton candy, pale, pinkish-silver hair that framed her face in billowy tufts. On the sandalwood skin of her cheeks rested a pair of the most extraordinary rose-tinted glasses with reddish frames. I couldn't see her eyes but, just the same, I sensed her piercing gaze.

I pointed to the array of sunglasses and asked, "May I try some on?"

She nodded and seemed to study me as I put on each pair and checked my reflection in a mirror she held. I settled on one particular pair and asked the price.

"For you, four hundred dirham."

I calculated in my head; that was about forty American dollars. I countered with, "That's more than I can afford. Would you accept two hundred dirham?"

"These are very special… but for you, three hundred dirham."

I hesitated, we haggled and we agreed on two hundred fifty. She took the glasses from me and disappeared behind a curtain to wrap them. As I handed over the money in exchange for my purchase, she whispered, "Love truth even if it harms you. Lenses are informers."

I smiled with politeness at the odd statement, thinking only that it was a metaphor for something I didn’t understand.

Just before I exited the souk, I opened the package. I wanted to arrive back at the bus wearing them. When I unfolded the paper, however, I found not only the ones I purchased, but also the ones the woman had been wearing! It seemed implausible that they had fallen off her face and into the package unnoticed, but I could think of no alternative. Thinking she must be looking for them, I hustled back into the maze of stalls to return them.

At the spot I was sure I remembered, there was no sunglass stall, only an empty space. To the left was the felted wool hat seller I recalled noticing earlier, so I asked him, "What happened to the sunglass lady?"

He looked perplexed and said, "I do not understand."

I walked over to the rug merchant on the right and asked him as well. He wrinkled his brow and said, "You are mistaken. The souk sells no sunglasses."

My voice rose as I said, "But there was a lady with pinkish-silver hair and rose-colored glasses! You must have seen her!"

His reaction was to step back and begin chanting a prayer, as if to ward off me, the crazy tourist. I felt the heat rise on my face and began to doubt myself until I looked down at the items in my hand — my pair of sunglasses with turquoise frames and dark lenses and one pair with ornate red frames and rose-colored lenses. I wasn't crazy… maybe I just had the wrong spot.

I weaved my way through the warren of stalls searching and questioning other merchants. No one remembered her.

As I headed back to the bus wearing the turquoise pair, I felt bewildered and not a little unnerved. However, I had two unique pairs of sunglasses for the price of one, so I couldn't complain. I would give the red and pink ones to my girlfriend.

The tour guide noticed mine right away and said, "Love your glasses!"

"Thanks. I bought them in the souk."

With a faint look of surprise he said, "Really? I didn't think they sold sunglasses in there."

His statement made my hackles rise but I shook it off and told him I had gotten two pairs. I unwrapped the package and showed him the red and pink ones.

"Wow, those are one of a kind! May I try them on?"

I handed them over and after he slipped them on, he looked me square in the face and said, "If you're thinking of giving these to your girlfriend, she's not worth it."

"What are you talking about? You don't even know my girlfriend!"

As he handed back the glasses, he gave me an apologetic look and said, "Calm down, man. You're right, I don't know your girlfriend."

"But you just said…"

"Look, I don't even know why I said that. I'm sorry. Now take your seat because I need to get this bus moving if we're to stick to our schedule."

It dawned on me that, once he removed the glasses, he didn't seem responsible for the words. It was a bit unsettling but I took my seat and tried to relax.

As the bus inched its way through the crowded square, the woman next to me noticed the red and pink glasses clutched in my fist. She said, "What incredible sunglasses! May I have a look?"

I smiled and said, "They are pretty unusual aren't they? Try them on if you'd like."

She put them on and then took a small mirror out of her purse. Gazing at her image she said,

"They're lovely." Then she turned to me and said, "You didn't pay for these."

I felt my mouth drop open.

She saw my reaction and took off the glasses saying, "I'm sorry, that was very rude of me and I don't know why on earth I would say such a thing!"

Like the tour guide, she took no ownership of what she had said while wearing the glasses. How odd.

I said nothing but I thought about what the mysterious merchant lady had said, "Lenses are informers." I knew my seatmate had spoken the truth; I hadn't paid for the merchant's glasses, but she had no way of knowing that. So did the glasses give her the power? The tour guide's statement was more unsettling. My girlfriend is amazing… but if the glasses know the truth… Nah!

Three days later, I boarded my flight home. I was feeling good and looking forward to seeing my girlfriend at the airport. As I gazed out the plane window, I patted my jacket pocket. I had decided to keep the red and pink sunglasses with me and not put them in my bag. It was as if they were calling me to use them. No, that's crazy. However, halfway through the flight I found myself taking them out and showing them to the man sitting next to me. Of course he remarked on their outstanding design and quality and I suggested he try them on. When he agreed, I watched him and said, "Those are for my girlfriend." Then I held my breath for his reaction.

He said, "Your girlfriend doesn't deserve them."

After he took them off and returned them to me, I asked, "Why doesn't my girlfriend deserve them?"

He looked flustered and said, "I don't know why I said that… maybe I meant they're too nice to give away?"

For the rest of the flight my anxiety level was high. I possessed a powerful tool but it was giving me answers I didn't want to hear. My girlfriend was crazy about me, right? Why would she meet me at the airport if she didn't care? Trust is one of the most important things in a relationship and I need to trust her despite the batty old merchant's truth-telling sunglasses, don't I?

By the time the flight landed, I had resolved not to look at my girlfriend with the glasses, just rely on my own intuition. At the baggage claim, I saw her. She saw me too and came running. When she threw her arms around my neck and gave me a solid kiss, I tossed my suspicions aside and gifted her the sunglasses. She smiled, put them on, looked into my eyes and said, "Oh John… you already suspect... I was going to tell you about him…"