Morning broke hot and golden over the horizon. Mina rose, showered and dressed, then headed out into the warren of alleys and passages that formed the bazaar.
Moving through the spaces in between, spaces born of the room left empty between stalls, was like inhabiting the negative space in a painting. It was perpetually shady and dark, though already hot by mid-morning. Mina looked up at the deep blue of the sky as she wove her way through men, women and children. She enjoyed the anonymity that came with being part of the multicoloured crushing and heaving throng.
She passed piles of rugs, scarves, pottery, gold and silver jewellery, gemstones and mirrors. She twisted and turned, moving expertly through tables that held bowls upon bowls of ground powders in reds, browns, golds and blacks, their pungent aromas mingling with the sand that blew in from the desert, all of it lifting into the sky to temporarily block out the stench of humanity.
At the end of one spice stall, just before the first vegetable stall, she turned and ducked through an almost invisible doorway, disappearing into a building which seemed to materialize out of nowhere.
The building’s walls were white, but hidden by the brightly coloured awnings of the stalls out front. Two heavy cypress wood doors etched with floral and paisley patterns stood open onto the bazaar.
The air inside the building was cool; it did not absorb the heat from without, nor any of the scant daylight. Candles danced in old tins, the light flickering across the room through patterned holes in their sides.
It was quieter, too. Muted voices discussing politics, poetry, the woes of the world and the next chess move mingled with the clinking of cups and glasses. The din of the marketplace seemed distant, faded, just like the stench. Instead, it smelled of mint tea, coffee and sweet smoke. Mina stopped and breathed deeply.
A man behind the long, darkly stained bar looked up and nodded then disappeared behind a Persian wall-hanging into a hidden anteroom at the back. Presently, he returned with a small burlap sack and beckoned Mina to come closer.
“Your coffee beans, Mrs. Mina,” he whispered, passing the bag to her reverently, as though it held something precious. “I have kept them aside especially for you; these ones are the freshest. They were just roasted this morning,” he continued. “I know that’s what you like.”
He had been surprised when, two months earlier, she had walked into his cafe and requested a cup of coffee. Usually, his establishment was frequented by regulars, old men who played chess and held the same arguments about life and death day after day after month after year. They certainly were not connoisseurs of coffee or tea.
She had thoughtfully savoured that cup of coffee, asking him about its origins, its freshness and his brewing methods. He was surprised and he appreciated her interest and her knowledge. From that day forward, he held aside a bag of the freshest beans for her. Just enough to last her a week.
For her part, Mina had never experienced such gracious and courteous service before. Monsieur did not speak much – he seemed shy – but she was happy to have established this weekly ritual and this familiarity with a small corner of the bazaar.
Mina smiled at his eagerness to please her particular tastes.
“You are so good to me, Monsieur. Thank you.” She paid him tucked the bag under her arm. “I will see you next week,” she promised.
“Yes, Mrs. Mina. Thank you. I will make sure to have your special beans again for you next week.”
And then, she was outside again, her senses assaulted after the calm of the cafe and the kind consideration of its owner. Her step quickened as she neared her home. She began to anticipate the perfect cup of coffee – creamy, thick and velvety – which she would brew with her special beans, the freshest in town.
I originally wrote this story in September 2013 but I’ve been meaning to edit and re-post it for the past few weeks. At the time, it was inspired by a WordPress daily prompt and the positive experiences I’d had buying coffee beans at our usual coffee supplier.
Lately, I’ve read a number of pieces that turn what are otherwise fairly ordinary moments in a day into something beautiful or enthralling or intriguing. I really enjoy reading them so I wanted to play around with this piece to try to do the same thing. Constructive criticism welcome!