She found him watching the river, and after an uncomfortable pause, she asked, “How long have you been here?”
“Fifteen minutes,” Quentin guessed.
Farah leaned against the rail, and when it sagged, she leaned back. Hands lay on the splintered, paint-stripped board. She waited for him to say more. Then she gave up waiting. With authority, she said, “The river is lovely.”
Silence felt right. He gave her silence.
“Do people use it?” She moved closer, halving the gap. “Is it good for boating and fishing?”
He turned back to the twisting brown water and the sandy foam.
“The Arvand Rud,” she said. “It’s where the Euphrates and Tigris join. It’s lovely too. My father would take me—“
Farah stopped talking.
He looked at her. This time, she kept her eyes focused on his river.
Quentin’s arms had crossed themselves. He couldn’t remember that motion. Putting his feet apart, he breathed, working to clear a head that refused to clear, and then he began to talk, both of them listening to the steady slow voice.
“I was twelve,” he said. “Or eleven, and my father got me up long before dawn and drove us to a blind beside this river, downstream from here, minutes before the waterfowl season began.
“I liked that kind of hunting,” he continued. “Walking fields was work. But sitting in a blind, doing nothing, gave me the chance to watch the world. I could talk to my father, if I wanted. We probably talked, except I don’t remember what about. He shot a pair of geese. One ivory, one blue-clay. I remember that because he told me—I’m sure that’s the day—he told me that those birds used to be uncommon. When he was a boy, people believed they were two species of geese that flew together. A lot of birds do that. Ivories and blue-clays resembled one another, but the plumage was so different. Experts saw variations in their bones and habits and calls. So each had its own scientific name, and everybody was happy.”
She nodded, waiting guardedly.
“Anyway, the experts were wrong. The bird books were wrong. The trouble was that nobody actually knew where the geese bred. Not until after the World’s War. Then somebody took the trouble to find the breeding grounds on the tundra. Nothing beyond but pack ice and snow bears. And sure enough, when somebody bothered to watch the geese, it was obvious. An ivory and blue-clay would nest together and lay eggs and celebrate both color phases of the goslings being born. And like my dad said, 'That proves one big thing. If you study anything close enough, there’s no end to the ways to make any two things seem different.'”
Quentin paused. If he didn’t know better, he would believe that Farah was fascinated by the reminiscence. She smiled and dipped her head while keeping her eyes on him, and then she started to talk and he interrupted her.
“Now you know more about my father than I know about yours," he said.
Farah hesitated, wondering what she could possibly say.
Quentin liked the caution, the confusion. This seemed like the perfect moment for a question—some combination of words and bluster that would shake loose one useful truth. But then a man inside the temple cried out. Loudly, insistently, a great voice sang its favorite note—and Farah grabbed his hand, smiling as if saved.
“Dessert is served. Yes? Come with me, my husband.”