A Wall by Saturday by Shirley Muir

Jan 11, 2019

I had forgotten the wiry, black-haired man with the craggy face etched by the Anatolian sun, and a scar across his right eyebrow. He built the wall, stone by stone, layer by layer, fast and fluid with cutter and trowel, cement and sand.

I had forgotten that each day his wife came too. She drove the ancient rusty chugging car. He climbed out of the passenger seat, shuffled in his dusty boots along the dried mud pathway to my garden. She followed him to his task bearing cigarettes, matchsticks, a blue-topped bottle of chilled water, and a white linen-wrapped bundle.

She brought to him the thick angular slates, some as sharp as a flint arrowhead, fit to shred fingertips. Yet her hands looked soft and unscathed. Sometimes she loaded up and pushed rocks in a cement-encrusted wheelbarrow, or she lugged unopened bags of sand and cement along the mud pathway.

She ministered to him at intervals, serving quantities of cool mountain water to slake his thirst. Some he poured over his black wiry hair and it dripped over his nose. Some he tipped then rubbed into his beard. Rumours said he swigged red wine, home-made from his neighbour’s grapes, during the balmy evenings.

I had forgotten that he had said in limited English that he would finish the wall by Saturday. And I had said, “But this is Thursday.”

Slickly, he anchored the heavy flat stones into a perfect mosaic, an artwork of blues, reds, and grey flecked with yellow. The wall grew fast as the hot sun of the day beat down and beaded his brow with sweat so that he quaffed and sloshed even more water.

I had forgotten that his wife unwrapped a linen parcel of fresh bread and tangy goat’s cheese with a tomato and baklava each day for his lunch.

I exclaimed as his creation glistened gold in the rays of the sun, the pink coping stones of smooth Turkish marble topping off his masterpiece; even the slate slabs themselves were warm to the fingertips.

So skilfully and expertly did the wall rise that when he asked me for cash at three o’clock on Saturday, I had forgotten and had to dash, plastic in hand, to the ATM.

His wife, a pretty, headscarfed woman with a beaming smile and clean hands took the Turkish Liras from me and gave him none.

I remember that I considered the wall their joint venture. Despite her contribution, he would not allow his wife in the frame when I wanted a photo of him standing by his wall. After a sisterly cuddle, I took a selfie of her and myself by the sculptor’s edifice, our fingers caressing the silky, sensuous marble.

“He get in fight,” his wife whispered in my ear, “and Sunday I am drive him to prison.”


I had forgotten about the craggy man with a black beard and hardly any flesh on his bones. Until last week.

I watched him push a bicycle uphill, past my pink-topped wall. On his head lay a flat grey cap, his protection against the sun. I saw the scar slashed across his eyebrow, and cement dust rising from his boots.

Jutting below the cap’s rim, I saw a white square, a medical dressing. Probably a sizeable head wound, the blood was still oozing onto his cheek.

Each morning he cycles down the gravelly slope and in the evening, bent in weariness, he pushes the bicycle uphill.

I had forgotten about the stonemason who builds wonderful walls at great speed prior to serving jail terms.

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