1. September 5, 2008
The Lebanese restaurant and bar, Al-Diwan, was a place where strange characters would appear from time to time. No one knew this better than Rashid, the bouncer. The bar was located between the docks and the warehouse district and besides the regulars, sailors and lonely weirdos would often come to drink a quiet glass of arak and ogle the belly dancers. As long as they paid up front and did not bother the dancers, Rashid didn’t mind.
It was a Tuesday night and business was slow when a man walked down the road from the direction of the warehouses. He wore a jacket and jeans, with a bulky knapsack slung over his shoulder. He looked to be in his 40s, and the bouncer was surprised to see a thin plastic tube snaking out of the backpack and into his nose. The guy must have smoked ten packs a day since elementary school to be on oxygen this early in life.
“Excuse me, what’s the date today?” the man asked.
“It’s September 5th,” Rashid said.
“It’s my mother’s birthday tomorrow. I’m sure.”
The man nodded vaguely. “Today’s Friday, right?”
“It’s Tuesday,” Rashid said. He was beginning to suspect there was more than just oxygen going through the tube into the man’s nose. “You wanna know the year too?”
“No, no, that’s fine. I’m pretty sure it’s still . . . 2008. Still, do you have the time, by any chance?”
Rashid sighed and glanced at his watch. “9:23. And fifteen seconds. You coming in or you got some more questions for me?”
“No, no, I’ll come in.”
“You gonna eat supper or just go to the bar? There’s a two drink minimum if you’re not eating.”
“I won’t be eating or drinking, thank you, but I’ll go to the bar. Here.” The man pulled out a fifty-dollar bill and handed it to the bouncer.
Crackpot, Rashid thought as he pocketed the money and ushered the man inside. Some loser thinking that the dancer was his own private show. Sure enough, the man went to the bar and sat down close to the stage. He waved off the bartender’s inquiry and didn’t even touch the complimentary peanuts—just sat and looked up at the dancer.
The man had good timing. Giselle was dancing tonight and Rashid had to admit she was one of the best dancers he had ever seen. The sinuous way her body flowed with the music seemed almost magical. It was mesmerizing. Rashid would have asked her out in a second if he wasn’t already dating one of the waitresses.
The man with the backpack seemed entranced and barely took his eyes from her. That was nothing strange—Giselle was gorgeous, but the oxygen tube, and the way he didn’t eat or drink anything made Rashid keep an eye on him. Half an hour later, the man went to the bathroom and never came out. Rashid finally went to check on him. The bathroom was empty. The man was a damned magician.
Later that night, when Rashid was counting his money, he found that the fifty was missing. He searched everywhere, but it was gone. Damned magician indeed.
2. February 19, 2024
Dr. Isaac Chu stepped off the steel platform with shaky legs. He unhooked the oxygen tube from his nose and took a deep breath. It had worked. After all this time, it had worked. This would make history and make him the most famous man on Earth, if he dared to tell anyone.
“Computer: record video, start.” A small camera moved to track his face and a green light came on. Isaac looked up at it. “Personal notes, 02:45, February 19, 2024. I have made the first successful journey back in time, arriving at 19:44, September 5, 2008, as corroborated by a local source. Energy required was 1.9743 gigajoules.”
He paused. He needed to document everything while it was fresh in his mind, but she kept crowding out all his other thoughts. He saw her face in his mind and the way her body had moved. Giselle Guerin. It was like that line from Casablanca: of all the Lebanese bars in all the towns in all the world, he walked into hers. It was like fate.
It had been a shock to step into that darkened bar and see someone from his university physics class dancing on the stage. And not just anyone, but Giselle. He had had a crush on her all the first year and just when he had built up a critical mass of courage to ask her out, she had disappeared; dropped out of the physics program and out of the university, never to be heard from again. It was hard to believe that she had quit school just to become a belly dancer. No normal person would throw away a chance at studying at MIT to dance in bars. He felt bad for her, but also he suddenly had the desire to find her.
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