When I came out of the giant supermarket, I was surprised to see the night that had fallen meanwhile—the dusks are shorter, but maybe shopping takes longer in December, too. I remembered I’d read somewhere that when the night falls in your absence, it takes on something perfidious. The night refused to give any details, the traffic lights flashed a new alarm of the last breath, while the enormous billboards on the sky were about to get pale and tired. Even the lane lines on the roads ended suddenly in the darkness void that seemed very near. Or was the asphalt fatigue that infected the car lights?

Trying to follow the white line at the first intersection I found myself in the wrong lane, which was for the right turn only, while I had to continue straight ahead on the state road that led directly to my home. A brief dilemma followed: Should I stop firmly, obstructing all those who followed me until all the cars on my left passed, and then proceed after them, or should I take the right turn, find a way out and come back to the state road again? An impatient horn honking behind put an end to my controversy. I took the right turn.

No big deal, a street sign with the direction of the state road would soon appear, I thought and plunged into the darkness of the unknown road, which seemed cold, as if didn’t want to have anything to do with me. It was not an inviting street at all and was simply telling me the “do whatever you want, what do I care?” after every bit of darkness my car and I unwillingly bit. But I was ignoring it: you are going to turn somewhere to the state road willy-nilly, I said to the road, which sometimes winded strongly without making any turn though. It was a stubborn road but not more stubborn than me. You’re playing hard to get in vain, I continued stepping on the throttle pedal in a slight frenzy. But as the saying goes, you all lead to Rome. Any of the rare cars that came across, had that unchanging speed of the driver’s certainty, which I had started to lose already.

The first crossroad came at some point, but the names of the places where the roads turned to were unknown. This suburban area was developed only recently, and the toponyms did not say anything to me. Another bifurcation that led to “Five Points” showed up. Then “North Side”. The road network resembled that of the nourishing capillaries of a dried leaf. “Perimeter drive”. Then another turn to “Inner Circle”. Darkness and Geometry Exam—certainly not the best combination.

Finally, some center was approaching. There was no direct sign of it, but the impersonal crumbling of the light onto the air, scattered like the season’s pollen, was revealing a center. At last! The lights became readily clear. It was a shopping mall, actually a marketplace. The “Publix” Supermarket appeared from far with its green colors, exactly the color of hope. The closer I got to it, the more I was convinced that it was my Publix, where I went almost every day, even when I did not need anything; it was a customer’s shrine of mine. It was not my very favorite store, but it was my routine, which is way more personal: Publix, where you’re consumed by consuming. And “where shopping is a pleasure,” as the ad went. On the other side of the road, I saw a “CVS Pharmacy”. A balm healing wounds. Skin care. Incontinence. And next to it, the “Cleaners”, run by some introverted Chinese people, who seemed, depending on the weather humor, as if they were plotting something constantly or simply minding their own cleaning business. I was relieved. Those Chinese folks could also be the most assuring thing in the world, depending on the hour of the night and the knowledge of the area street map. I was not aware that I could get to my marketplace from a street that I didn’t even know it existed... Trying to read the street name, hanging on the dark, I thought I read through the neon dust: “The Technology Street”. Well, I was indeed getting old: How come I hadn’t noticed this street before?

I got into the big square of the marketplace fulfilled and realized. The “Shell” gas station was there, with its well-known logo and the yellowness that tried to radiate warmth. The “Cleaners” folks were about to close the shop, looking at me with a conspiracy mistrust. Actually, it was I watching them with distrust. There was something strange in the air. A sort of However like a black cat. Followed by a foxy Yet. Then a Nevertheless. A Despite…

It was not my marketplace. The night was treacherous. My certainty pieces fell together with some broken beer bottles along the way. Green glass. “Publix”, where shopping is a pleasure.

I left driving without knowing where to, without that previous air of war and victory against all odds, rather with the stiff drive of a mercenary. The next marketplace showed up after five minutes with the same apparition order: Publix-CVS-Cleaners-Shell, and some unknown stores like exceptions to the rule. But I was not a beginner to rejoice prematurely now. Another five minutes later, the next marketplace emerged from the night. Publix. CVS. Shell. And the subsequent one after five minutes. I would be worried if this one did not appear… in a timely manner. It would be a break of the rule of darkness. I felt dizzy. It was probably some slight poisoning. Never buy “Chef's Specials”. Even at “Publix”, where shopping is a pleasure. The all-knowing smartphone with its navigation system weighed in my pocket like a nagging old man who is right. It was enough to touch it several times, and this odyssey would be over. But that would also signal my defeat.

I stopped in the middle of the marketplace, where the buyers’ parked cars had become too sparse. Life was about to sleep out there. This did not cause any panic, just a carboniferous sadness mixed with the bitterness of vanity. One of the latest buyers came out of the “Publix” store. I could not believe my eyes, he walked like me, maybe not exactly like me, but his green rain jacket was like mine, bought recently at “Burlington, the coat factory”, at a reduced price: its hood on the back made us so alike, and when the buyer arrived at his car, I almost screamed out: Don’t! The car was like mine. There I had the doubt that he was really I. NASA experiments and “The X files” had no problems with planting us like the patterns on a painted wall. How would I know anything? They deleted people’s memory to let in there only things of no importance, old nights when the drivers went astray, where after the “Sport Field” came a few barracks and then an elementary school with a resonant name: “The Herald of Liberty” with my first-grade teacher Mrs. Ivoni Reso, ready to fall into the abyss of my preschool childhood with my parents’ clones around.

A tray of cookies of the same shape was handed out in front of me, warm, light-colored, motherly hands, words of care, all blurred like behind a steamy window pane… I followed that guy who took a direction unknown to me, but very familiar to him, until he arrived at a cul-de-sac and entered a house driveway like mine, opened an attached garage door like mine, and a cat jumped near his feet like mine, definitely called Tom. The cat had a small bell around his neck. Ding-ding! Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle all the way.

All the way. All the way. Without end. Like a screw that won’t stop turning. Jingle all the way... There came a vanilla smell. The scream “I can’t eat sugary cookies!” sank under my brows leaning over the wheel, where my head had fallen like a martyr’s, without producing any heroic locks. The marketplace parking lot was almost completely emptied.

I slowly pulled the cell phone out of my pocket. The blue peak of an arrow glowed beneath the screen. Speak to me, say your destination. I put the phone close to my mouth and snapped all my anger with the alphanumeric address of my residence.

Jimmy Cela 

Jimmy Cela was born in Tirana, Albania and now resides in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

He graduated from the University of Georgia, where he earned a Ph.D. and an M.S. degree. He works as a statistician and also has authored and published several literary books in prose and poetry in Albania with the Publisher “Tirana Times”, such as the collection of novellas Roosevelt Island (2013), and the collection of short stories The bridegrooms’ tunnel (2015). He won the prestigious prize “Kadare 2016” for his collection of novellas Embryology, published by "UET Press" in Albania. His last publication is the collection of poems in English Dogleg with “Aldridge Press (Kelsay Books)” in 2016






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