I'm sometimes amazed how I got here, but here is a place I'm quite happy. I'm writing this story at work, sitting inside my office, while my wife is out in the store and sells. We've been married for a few weeks, but have been together for many many years. She just turned 18, and we made it legal. It all started 12 years ago, when her parents started selling at a market I sold at...
The world of a flea marketeer is something the average human couldn't comprehend. These were the days when it still made sense. I was mostly shooting for a goal of early retirement, and as a result was very careful with expenses. Her parents showed up at my Saturday market- I was a nomadic flea market guy who worked six days a week and restocked on Mondays.
Back then most vendors were like me- Jewish, ex-salesmen or ex-buyers who knew contacts for where to get merchandise cheap, had a flair for negotiating, and a natural talent for selling. We bought distressed or close out merchandise for a quarter what it cost in the store and sold it for half what it cost in the store- or better. I was a nomadic outdoor vendor, and most vendors like me did all the same markets. Some might take off more than others, but we all did the same markets.
With my main goal in mind, I was keeping my costs at an absolute minimum. I had bought my truck, at a deep discount (naturally) from a moving company that had greatly underestimated the need for capital reserves and went out of business after just six months. It was a nearly new 2000 International 4300 with a 28-foot moving body with attic and two side access doors, one near the front.
I had partitioned the box at the front side door so as to create a small apartment with a pair of bunk beds, a personal storage locker in the attic, a heater that ran off of diesel fuel, a reefer unit reconfigured to serve as an A/C, a small utility office space and a tiny hot-plate kitchen for cooking cheap food. That left 20 feet of box to store merchandise in.
At the time I was selling mens designer clothing, something I would sell until quite recently, actually. I had girlfriends from time to time, mostly younger flea market vendors. I had never fallen in love with anything but money. With my tiny living expenses (No rent, no property tax, no major utilities, and no reported income, thank you!) money piled up in a rapid fashion, so I was indulging that love quite adequately.
By this point I had been selling for over 20 years, ever since I had a drivers license, and had several million in merchandise in various warehouses, but no cash- I had kept that in my last truck, which I crashed and caught on fire. I had to make sure all the money burned, lest the police find it and ask me where I got it. I had since gotten wise and started storing it in fire safes in each warehouse. I learn, trust me.
Also, by this point, the party had started slowing down. I was still making gobs of money, but the days when my yearly sales exceeded a million dollars were a few years in the past. I don't know how much money had quite burned up with the truck, but I am pretty sure it was at least $5 million.
Anyway, her parents, Mahmoud and Shekiah Shomani, were (obviously) Arabs, a breed of people that were starting to show up at markets. By the late 2000s, most vendors were Arabs or Asians. Some of them were very nice. More nice Arabs then nice Asians, but still, most of the Arabs were decent people who were friendly, and partook in the friendly neighborliness that tended to occur in flea market circles.
As an aside, most flea market Asians, then as now, were FOBs who barely spoke English and were working with the Triads. They were not friendly, they were greedy, and they used the pretense they spoke no English at all as a screen to hide all manner of impolite behavior in violation of the Flea Marketeers Code of Ethics, like table stealing. Also, they usually sold garbage of a quality that gave the markets bad names.
Anyway, Mahmoud wasn't one of the nice Arabs. He was friendly to other vendors, so I didn't have a social problem with him. But he liked to fuck the living tar out of his customers. Shekiah was no better then him in that department. They had a daughter, at that time six years of age, and her name was Yasmin. She was cute, as six year olds go, and very friendly.
Now, in order to explain that, I have to explain the phenomenon known as market children. Parents engaged in flea marketing often do so six days a week, live nomadicly, and don't send their children to school. They home school them, or simply stay off the radar. Market children, who are often not supervised very well, pollute the market and grow up among the drudgery of the markets. They are not nice places, with stolen merchandise, fakes, illegal items, and drugs changing hands.
With so much nastiness around, naturally, there are pretty nasty people, too. You grow up fast. Too fast, really. You have to learn how to survive among all these nasty people. You see things that are really not meant for young eyes to see- like pornography, which is rampant in the markets. You see thefts, you see fights, and you see all matter of depravity.
Fights that send people to the hospital break out over a few inches of display space. Its a hard way to grow up. Most of the market children are equally nasty people, because they grow up with the internal belief that fucking people is the way of the world.
The Shomanis started off at my saturday market, but quickly fell into market habit. They bought a Ford van of questionable roadworthiness (the standard market vehicle, really) and went around selling at all of the same markets I did. I had noticed them around for a while building up a decent inventory base. They first started out in their apartment in a nearby city, but quickly gave it up and spent their nights in various motels near the market they were selling at.
In those days, money was easy, and the money made allowed for sleeping in motels. Even for grade C vendors like the Shomanis.
Mahmoud was a first rate salesman/con-artist and he quickly moved up to the point where that Ford van wasn't big enough for his operation. After being a Ford Van Vendor for eight months, he bought a used U-haul 16 footer, and moved somewhat closer to me. It was at that point that I saw Yasmin often enough to actually really define her as a person.
Eight months had shown on her. We all aged fast, it was part of the game. I was 36 going on 50, for example. But the kids aged faster, and the intelligent ones the fastest of all. Not outwardly, of course. While the kids who worked would age markedly with the rest of us, the ones to young to do heavy work would age only mentally.
By then, she had the wisdom of mid-age teenager, and the slightly cynical nature of any person who has been on the flea market circuit eight months.
I was a 36 year old with deep sun wrinkles, a sense of humor developed to ingratiate me to customers, a slight baldness from all the sun exposure, and the muscles of an ox. I unloaded a truck, with an employee who lived with me in the truck, full of enough merchandise to fill a 1500 square foot spot. I had dress shirts, polo shirts, jeans, khakis, and dress pants, of all sizes up to super-extra-large sizes. Not to mention a full haberdashery worth of accessories. Unloading and reloading 5 tons of cargo every day builds the muscles. And the sun tan.
And incredible cynicism. So many customers had tried to screw the pants off me in so many ways. I had collected at least $15,000 worth of counterfeit bills over the past 20 years. I had lost $150,000 worth of merchandise, to my knowledge, to shoplifting. And that was just to my knowledge.
But I was an honest vendor. I treated my customers properly, with the respect they deserved, or didn't deserve, depending on the customer. I offered returns, fashion advice, and all of it. I had a strong following. That was one of the reasons I had survived the market turmoil that had only just begun.
Mahmoud sold over priced poorly jerry-rigged repaired electronics. Most of it was shit that broke not long after you got it home, and he did not take returns. Period, end of discussion. He ran every scam in the book to get people to take the merchandise for more money then even a properly working variant was worth. That was why I didn't like him on a personal level.
I don't know what attracted Yasmin to me as a kid the first few years, but something did. She liked me, even then. To me, then, she was just a kid who sometimes hung out in my stand and played with me. I'd tell her jokes, or stories, and she'd do the same. We weren't that close, then. But we were friends, or as close to friends as a 36 year old vendor could be to a 6 year old market kid.
A year and a half later, Mahmoud had expanded his business again, and replaced his truck with an ancient Isuzu Forward with a 20 foot box. With the expansion came a new spot, which in three of the markets we did, were next to mine or across from mine. Mahmoud had reached what we called Grade A status, much to my astonishment.
Part of the reason for his expansion was being pulled over in the U-haul at a weigh station. His truck had been over 4000 lbs overweight, incredibly. It was an under-rated U-haul registered personally as an 8500 lb truck. It had been slightly over the chassis capacity at 12,700. At $2 a pound for the weight fine, and a $1900 non-commercial registration of commercial vehicle fine, Mahmoud started playing by the rules.
It was a little over a year later, Yasmin was about 9 and a half, when we really became good friends. By this time, she was an adult in a child's body, in terms of intellect. She was still a small child in some emotional ways, but she was mature and generally speaking, an adult.
I had seen in many times before, but usually she had not been in earshot of her parents. It was a common scam, and the Shomanis weren't the only ones who used it. Shekiah was presiding over a customer looking at a big screen TV worth, perhaps, $500 in good condition. (It wasn't, but there was no way for the customer to know that!) Shekiah asked Yasmin to ask her dad (who was on the other end of the store) what the price was, and came back with the price of $390.
The customer was pleased, and agreed to buy it. At which point, Shekiah called Mahmoud over. Mahmoud was absolutely shocked as to how the price of $390 had been stipulated. He had, in fact, paid $516 for it. He would sell it to the customer at his cost, because his daughter had made a mistake. He was ever so sorry.
This was all BS. It was the scam he was running to get the customer to pay more for the infernal thing then it was worth. For a while then Yasmin had been complaining to me about what a schmuck her father had been cheating all of his customers. I had told her that there was nothing she could really do about it, except to consider it an example of what not to do.
Yasmin, looking pissed, faked a little girl voice and said, "But daddy, you only paid $125 for it."
Her father, looking suddenly incensed, replied, "Yasmin, you are mistaken, you are thinking of something else," and then smiled at the customer with a alligator grin.
"No, I'm not mistaken," she replied, "I remember you paid $125 for that."
The customer, realizing he was being taken, walked away.
Mahmoud then took her into their truck and closed the door. I assumed he was going to give her a talking to.
I was wrong. I heard her squeal in pain from inside the truck, and I ran from my spot and threw open the door to the truck, Shekiah behind me asking me what I was doing.
Yasmin was being held against the wall by one of Mahmoud's hands and being punched with the other. Her nose and lip were bleeding. That was all I saw before I kicked Mahmoud in the balls from behind, yanked him off of her, and shoved him against the other wall of the truck.
"SHOMANI," I roared at him, "If you EVER, EVER, touch that girl again, I will call DYFS and then kill you."
He was basically a coward, and he mumbled something about how a father was supposed to be allowed to discipline his child.
"Bullshit," I replied in an even, calm, and detached voice, "First of all, that wasn't discipline, that was abuse. Second, you are beating your child for being a good, kind hearted person. You are a dishonest toad. You are the lowest type of being on earth. You cheat and steal and take for yourself!"
At this point, I punched him hard in the mouth. I should have known better- I badly hurt my hand. You hit soft things with your hands, hard things you use a utensil.
Blood coming out of his mouth, he mumbled something about how I did the same thing.
"Mahmoud," I hissed, "I have never lied to a customer in my life, I have never cheated a customer in my life, and I have always taken every return brought to me. You aren't worthy of kissing my ass."
I then released him, and he slid down to the floor, in abject pain.
I went back to Yasmin, who was also in pain and crying, picked her up in my arms, and gave her a hug. Then I took a handkerchief out of my pocket and helped clean the blood and tears off her face.
She looked at me with what I'd mostly call confusion, still looking very upset.
"You did the right thing, Yaz," I told her in a soft and caring voice, "I'm always here for you, ok?"
She then hugged me, by way of response.
I got out of the truck and went back to my stand. At first, not much changed, then she started hanging out by my truck more and more. We talked a lot, and I really found her to be a really interesting and very intelligent young woman. I really grew very attached to her, although in a paternal way. I loved her- paternally.
She hugged me hello in the morning, and kissed me goodnight at the end of the day- again, a paternal relationship.
The winter of 2004-2005 was a very bad winter in the markets. Over those four months, I made very little money. Of course, by then I had a few hundred grand in my various safes, so I was fine. I even had a few days where I lost money. I had to let my help go.
Mahmoud spent money like it was water, and he started to run out. He was becoming alarmed.
One day, after work, I drove my truck, as always, to a truck stop most of the way to the next days market. I pulled into a parking spot, got out, and got into my bedroom in the back. I was shocked as well when shortly thereafter, there was a knock at my door. I had been sitting at my desk doing accounting work.
I got up, went to the door, and opened it. On the other side was Mahmoud Shomani. I was deeply confused, but I actually invited him in. It had been over six months since I had knocked out a few of his teeth, and I figured he wouldn't wait this long to claim his revenge.
I was right.
He had, partly because of the lost money, been soul searching about what I had told him. He had actually gotten it into his head that his daughter was more right then he had been.
He asked me how I managed to do so much better then him.
"Mo," I told him, "I treat my customers with respect. That means they want to buy from me more then once. They have to buy clothing. They still come here and buy it from me, even when things are bad. Besides, I squeeze every dime."
He seemed to understand. He told me he wanted to get into a different business.
I suggested to him that he might do better in the pots-and-pans business. There was so much mark up in pots-and-pans at department stores, that he had a chance of making it there.
He told me he thought it was a good idea, but he didn't have the money to invest in it.
I really cared about Yasmin. I didn't give two shits about Mahmoud, but I loved his daughter. For that reason, I offered to set him up with merchandise, $50,000 worth. All he had to do was pay me back a grand a month. And stop spending money like it was going out of style.
He agreed enthusiastically. I helped him find a supplier, I put up the purchase bond for him, I negotiated pricing for him. I made it damned easy for him. All he had to do was sell the stuff honestly. Even his thick head should have been able to do it.
He wanted to figure out a way to sell his remaining electronics. I led him to a junkyard and got him to push them out of the truck. I taught him some things about business, especially that when you recognized product had failed to sell, you write it off and either throw it away or ditch it way below cost.
He started off ok, his first selling month being April. He made his thousand dollar payment to me for April and May. In June he only gave me $500, telling me he was having trouble. In July he only gave me $650. He was now $850 behind, and I knew he had been selling enough to pay me.
I got him into my truck, and demanded an explanation for why he hadn't been paying me.
He proceeded to start out calling me a cheap Jew.
I pinned him against my kitchen counter and told him he was lucky I cared too much about his daughter to want to leave her fatherless.
Having properly put the fear of God into him, we sat down and discussed why he couldn't pay me. Among the reasons he gave me was the cost of eating out and the cost of staying at hotels every night. I disabused him of the notion that either was a needed cost. I live in my truck. His had enough room to sleep in his.
From that point, he and Shekiah slept on the front seat, while Yasmin slept on the parcel shelf.
Initially, Mahmoud ran his truck at night to provide air conditioning, but he quickly decided that running a large Cat all night long cost almost as much as a hotel room.
So he stopped running it and simply left the windows down ... that worked until mid-August, when we had a crazy heat wave. He required his wife to wear a full Burqa when they were out, which makes sense when you are moving. His daughter dressed more modernly, since she had not yet gone through puberty. But at night, he expected both of them to be fully dressed in this truck.
It was 90 degrees that night, when Yaz knocked on my door. I'm not sure how she had gotten out of his truck without him knowing, but she had. She pleaded to let me sleep in my air-conditioned truck - running a dedicated reefer unit is cheaper then running my trucks 7.2 litre diesel - and I let her use the upper berth that had been vacated when I had let my employee go.
The next morning, Mahmoud was hysterical. He was convinced it was wrong, that I was abusing his daughter, and so forth.
After a long conversation, though, I got him to agree to let her sleep in my truck, so long as we always parked next to each other, and she remained fully clothed- like I cared.
Again, we were close. Best friends, even. But the relationship, in my head, was paternal. I assume it was in her head, too.
With his costs way down, he was able to not only pay me the money required, but more then was required. He started to pay down the amount more rapidly then I had anticipated, which was fine with me.
A few times he came over to "check" on us, but that eventually subsided.
The more time we spent together, the more I liked her, and the more she liked me. As the winter started to dawn on us, I actually had the occasional thought of, "Gee, if only she had come along 25 years ago."
And then that night came where everything changed. It was a freezing cold February of 2006. She was right about 11 years old, a little under. We were in our beds when the heater stopped working. She started shivering, and I woke up cold hearing her teeth chatter.
I called her over to me, and she got out of bed, shivering even in her flannel pajamas. She was shivering. I had been about to tell her where some really warm clothes were she could use as more bedding, but I realized it was probably under 40 degrees in the truck by then, at it wasn't even midnight.
I pulled up the covers and invited her in. I don't know what she was thinking when I did that, but I suspect the main thing was, "WARM!", and she jumped in with me.
I put my arms around her, again, paternal, and the combined warmth of our bodies let us stay warm as we spooned up together.
I fell asleep. I assume she did soon thereafter, because she was asleep the next morning, looking like a very content Arabic angel.
It took me until Monday to get the truck's heater fixed (it broke on Tuesday, of course!). At which point I told her to go back to sleeping in her own bed. Two nights later, she shook me awake. It hadn't been hard to do- I was feeling the absence, and was sad.
She told me she couldn't sleep alone anymore. I couldn't sleep alone anymore, either. I invited her in. She was the first woman I had ever slept with- I had relationships in the past, but not of the sleep-together kind.
The little girl inside her showed sometimes, mostly in the clinginess. But not often.
From that point on, we slept together, though.
Shortly thereafter, I hired her to help me sell. She had a natural ability to sell her father didn't.
The relationship had begun to shift by then. I'd be lying if I said it hadn't. My paternal feelings were starting to mix a little with romantic ones. Which I tried to keep out of my mind. Either way, I loved her as life itself.
Logically looking at it, I had to force the new development from my mind. It was 2006. I was 41 years old, and she was 11.
Sometimes you hear people say that a father has lost a daughter. Well, to some extent, her father had lost her. I had gained one. She ate with me, worked for me, and slept with me. She saw her parents every day, but she spent a hell of a lot more time with me than them.
The paternal thing left once and for all one mild June morning. I had been dreaming about her in one of those dreams I punched out of my mind whenever I had them. She had been dreaming the same thing, apparently. She told me so.
Anyway, the alarm had gone off, and I partially woke up and started shaking her gently to wake her. She, half asleep, turned around and hugged me. That happened from time to time. Except this hug was different. And it came with a kiss, a kiss involving tongues.
I was still half asleep, not knowing the difference, until the feeling of my penis stiffening became too damned real.
I had never, to my knowledge, had a hard on sleeping next to her. I had a thing I loved next to me, not a thing I lusted after, except perhaps subconsciously.
I started into full consciousness and pushed her away. Too hard. She fell off the bed.
She was also awake.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"It's alright," I assured her, "You were dreaming and thought I was somebody else, and so was I."
She started to cry. I mean, really cry. I hadn't seen her cry so hard since I had knocked her dads teeth out two years ago.
She didn't speak, and I'm not psychic. But I didn't need to be to understand why.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I was lying. It was you. I was dreaming about you. I love you, Yasmin, love you so much it hurts." I was shaking. I wasn't going to sit and explain why we couldn't do this. We were both intelligent people. We both knew why we couldn't do this.
She looked up at me, still looking upset, and shaking, and crying.
I finally held my arms open, and she jumped into them. I hugged her and kissed her. When we finally calmed down and separated, she was radiant.
As had started happening, her dad had taken off earlier that morning. We'd see each other again at the market.
We walked from the truck to the truck stop, and went our separate ways to shower. (By the by, for those of you unfamiliar, public truck stop showers are not like public showers in, say, the Y. Each shower is private.)
When she came out of the shower, I finally saw her the way I had been stopping myself from seeing her. She hadn't bloomed yet, but she was beautiful. Her Arabic features defined her face, with her straight black hair held back in a ponytail. All of that was attractive. But she smiled with an inner happiness, an inner radiance, that made her stunningly beautiful.
She was wearing a blue T-shirt and worn blue jeans. She had her clothing bag slung over her shoulder. She wore no makeup.
She looked playful. She looked happy. She looked slightly cynical, slightly sarcastic, and very wise. And damned happy. She was my Yaz. And dear god, I loved her.