Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 41 (Ismail)

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

 

Chapter 41

Ismail

Once inside, Linda felt the warmth of the place…not necessarily temperature wise, but the warmth released by a well decorated room, by a room full of nice paintings hanged on the brown wooden panels which were entirely covering the walls. “This place is so…so…so different; it is exactly the opposite of Mr. Ferrari’s. It is sober yet warm, it is classy yet very inviting and friendly”; Linda murmured these two sentences while turning around to catch as much details of the place as possible. The fire place had a real log lit up and this was bringing the patrons a nice and warm feeling, a sense of homeliness and belonging, a sense of uncapped curiosity and willingness of exploring new things.

-Iyi gϋnler Bay Glenworth, Iyi gϋnler; what a pleasure! Long time…

-Efendi Ismail, good day to you too. Yes, it has been a while since I stepped into your store. I apologize for not dropping by more often.

-Mr. Glenworth, you are always welcome at my place. I can see that you have a guest.

-Yes, Efendi Ismail…this is Mrs. Parker. She is the wife of one of my top Managers at Glenworth.

-Linda Parker is my name, Efendi Ismail. It is a pleasure to meet you. Linda stretched her hand for the hand shake. Ismail bowed and shook her hand while saying something in Turkish:

-Seninle tanişmak ne gϋzel, Bayan Parker! What a pleasure to meet you!

-The pleasure is all mine, Efendi Ismail! I love your place. I have to admit that is different…different from everything we have here. Actually last time when I stepped into a Turkish coffee shop (which resembles yours), was many years ago…we made it into one of the little towns, down in Anatolia, by the sea. After we dropped our luggage, we started touring the town and we stopped by this little place, right on the seafront. They had a gorgeous patio full of flowers. But inside, it was heaven…so beautifully decorated with all sort of handcrafted things. We were both so impressed. That was also the time when my husband bought a copper ibrik. The next day, the man who sold us the pot, came by our hotel and gave it to my husband. In the meantime, he had written something on the pot. Apparently he was the pot master. We absolutely loved everything we found there: the people, the culture, the little villages and of course the food!

Linda’s story may had been sat really well with the host, as his eyes were all lit up and the face was radiant and illuminated by pride and gratitude. One could see that the man standing in front of J.J. and Linda, was taking great pride in the fact that such a well-read and educated woman was praising his culture and his native lands.

-May Great Allah bless you and your family Mrs. Parker! May I ask what the pot master had written on the pot?

-I think: “For those who love each other now and forever”…I completely forgot, but my husband remembered. As a matter of fact, last week he made coffee in that pot.

-Pardon me if I ask one more question, Mrs. Parker…do you remember the name of that little town?

-Oh…Efendi Ismail…now you got me puzzled…I am not really a person with fantastic knowledge of Geography, but my husband is. When he returns, we will for sure pay you a visit. He can list all the places we visited in the Middle East and Turkey, all the little towns, taverns, little ma and pa stores, all museums and libraries we stepped into.

-It is a great pleasure to hear this, Mrs. Parker! I am looking forward to meet your husband. Now, if I may take you to a booth I am sure you will enjoy what we can offer here, in this little store of ours. Ismail deeply tilted his trunk from the middle section of his body and took the lead in taking his new customers into an area which from the entrance, one wouldn’t have guessed it even existed. As a matter of fact, the coffee shop was gaining space while advancing towards the back. Linda figured out right away that Ismail started small and slowly bought the businesses at the rear end of his shop. Now his coffee shop was stretching for the whole width of the small plaza. He smartly divided the patrons’ area with little live palm trees, creating an oasis atmosphere. As a matter of fact, every booth was surrounded from three places with wooden barrels in which he planted six feet tall palm and fig trees. Nobody knew how he managed to keep these trees this short, but they definitely were giving the patrons the sensation of a fairy tale, a feeling similar to the un matchable “Arabian nights”

The spot Ismail chose for his guests was “tucked” somehow at the far end of the room and one would realize that it was meant to be “awarded” to special people who were visiting his business. It was almost secluded from other booths by being almost encircled with these barrels. The palm and the fig trees were offering a full “protection” from the other patrons’ eyes and the sign “Reserved” strengthened Linda’s opinion that J.J. was a very important guest whenever he decided to sip and enjoy a good Turkish coffee. Her mind started asking questions once again: “How does J.J. know this place? How does he know Ismail? What is the relationship between him and the man who owns this place? Is this just another coincidence, same like her encounters with Peter and Andrew McCarthy? At the end of the day, who is the real J.J.?” All these questions were pouring in, tormenting her imagination and judgement.

Linda realized that all these booths were designed for people to sit in that lotus position, typical to oriental cultures. It was the time when J.J. asked her:

-I hope you don’t mind sitting at this table, do you? It requires a certain flexibility I guess, but I do not think this is a big deal for you. You are an athlete!

His face was all of a sudden lit up with a large and kind smile, a smile which left Linda perplex. She was in a defensive mode since she decided to follow J.J.’s invite, but this last turn of events puzzled her. He was jovial, he was relaxed and he was happy and eager to taste once again from the liquid which was filling the air into the room with aromas which were making ones imagination wonder through the stories of the childhood, stories riddled with white palaces built into the oasis, stories with princes and princes , stories with  betrayals and chivalry.

The room was indeed loaded with scents which were inevitably bringing the patrons at ease, at peace and was making them relax and enjoy their coffee and the sweets which were brought along with the unique Turkish coffee.

Linda realized that the seats were actually very comfortable divans which had the shape of an arc, leaving open just the side where the waiter was bringing the goodies to the table. She also noticed the beautiful pillows wrapped into silk covers, covers decorated into the most lively and inviting colors, from red and purple to yellow and light greens and blues. She couldn’t help but grabbing a pillow and run her palm on top of it. Yes, it was a high quality silk. On the floor, she realized that a thick Turkish woolen rug was making your bare feet rest so well, had you decided not to do that lotus sitting. Removing the shoes was a must and the waiter brought right away the traditional terliks, a Turkish version of warm and comfortable slippers. The rugs were complementing the sofa and the pillows and a good eye would’ve realized that these were exceptional handmade woolen carpets, thick and warm, beautiful and colorful. Everything at this table was contrasting with the sober walls, covered with dark wooden panels. But the combination was exquisite in taste, refinement and elegancy. Linda was completely captured by the environment and for a moment she even forgot that she set her mind up to watch J.J.’s moves. When the magic moment passed, she shook her head and inaudibly murmured to herself: “What a crafty guy! He brought me here to make me feel at ease and eventually make me open up on some things he is interested into. That’s it! No more magic moments, no more exploration of the environment! I have to be all eyes and ears” She didn’t even realize that J.J. was ordering from a Menu. Ismail was taking notes and soon he disappeared. Now she was sitting on the nice sofa, having a pillow tucked behind the back into the lower back area. To her surprise, J.J. (in spite of his age) didn’t have any problem sitting into the same position. A few moments of quietness took over and both of them were looking at each other trying to guess what his interlocutor has on his/her mind. Finally, J.J. decided to break the silence:

-So, how do you like this place?

-It is spectacular, I have to admit it…everything is done with such refinement and attention to details! The combination couch, pillows, rug is stunning!

-Indeed! This place has its uniqueness, its charm, its mysterious look and Oriental touch.

Another round of silence encompassed the table. This time, Linda decided to get out of her shell and start the attack.

-So, J.J. – how did you make it to this particular Church? You live on the other side of the town, if I am not mistaken…

He looked at her trying to understand if this was just a simple curiosity, or there was a hidden agenda tucked behind the question? At that moment, Linda’s face exhibited the most innocent look one could put on. She managed to show a typical feminine curiosity, which tricked J.J. and made him speak freely, without guessing that he was spied on.

-I do live on the other side of the town, but I know lots of people in this area through my wife’s siblings. As a matter of fact, two of her brothers live nearby. They are farmers and we spent many Thanks Giving Sundays at their houses. I’ve been knowing this Church for many years as we used to come here for the Mass on those particular Sundays. I know many people from the community. Here in the country, you really get that old, almost holistic spirit of the man living at peace with the land he works and with the crops he is harvesting, living at peace with the nature and the living things out there, living closer to the good Lord, closer than we do in the city. These simple people, know how to talk to the land, how to talk to their crops, how to live peacefully side by side with the wild life. I have so much respect for them!

Linda was stunned! She never expected something like this from J.J., a man of exquisite taste and refinement, a man who spent lots of money on fine clothes and cars, on furniture and memberships at exclusive Golf Country Clubs. She decided to get back into the shell and prepare for defense at any costs. “He is so crafty! He knows that I am all eyes and ears trying to get something out of him. By now he probably knows by heart what John is up to and what his next steps are. Why did he approach me, though? How come he showed up at this Church exactly when I showed up? It was the first time when I stepped into this Church and he was there! Is he watching my moves? What if he is travelling from the past to fulfil that nonsense curse? Is he part of it? No way! You cannot travel in time!”

Same as John did when he asked himself this question, Linda cracked a smile and then a barely audible laughter followed in a sign that she is not buying this theory.

J.J. picked up on this little emotional relief and with a large smile on his face asked:

-Why are you laughing? It must be something nice. Please tell me why you are laughing so I can pick up the pace. I can always use a good laughter.

Linda realized that she has to back up and quickly come up with something credible and innocent, with something which will divert the pressure J.J. was already putting on her, with something that will lead eventually her interlocutor into a dead end.

-Have you noticed the quality of these rugs?

J.J. was stunned and didn’t know how to react, but the chance he had to exhibit his knowledge on furniture, home decorations, quality rugs and Turkish culture prevailed.

On the other hand, Linda felt how the noose was slowly loosening up and J.J. fell into the trap she laid down for him. This little challenge set J.J. up for a long speech on the way the rugs are still manually made in some parts of the world and what was stunning, he knew exactly even how the people (the peasants or farmers) in those countries were making them. He explained to Linda how the wool strings are carefully made out of a big bundle, how they are then made into the shape of a ball and lately pulled through the wooden pieces of an equipment which was obviously handled manually by a human.

-How do you know all of these things? Linda’s question was genuine. In the same time she realized that J.J. forgot about her laughter. “Things are getting back to the right path! Keep your eyes open, Linda!” It was a self-assuring, a self-defense mode she was now calling upon.

-Well, Linda…first of all I read a lot. I absolutely love Geography, History, Archeology and Architecture. Secondly, I did travel quite a bit. It’s been now few years (especially after Jen’s passing) since I stopped travelling. But I had probably seen most of the countries in this world.

-Wow! That’s impressive, J.J.!

-Thanks Linda! You and John did travel in your youth as well, didn’t you?

-Yes we did. Not as much as we would’ve loved to, but we can say that we are well traveled.

-You see Linda…travelling gives you that freedom which probably the explorers felt hundreds of years ago while they were sailing sometimes to a destination, but many times towards an unknown land or maybe to an unknown destiny. When the wind rages into the sails of the ship, when the masts are bending under the relentless pounding of the wind gusts, when the bow of the ship dives into the sea only to raise higher riding on the wave, when the salty air penetrates every single pore of your body, when the speed of the ship (which splits the waves the way a sharp knife splits a piece of tender meat) makes you forget that you are still at the mercy of the sea…that is the moment of maximum freedom, Linda. J.J. stopped to catch his breath. His eyes were throwing bolts of fire, his whole face turned into the face of a man who was in the middle of a fight, of a man who was living in that moment the story he was telling, a man who probably did not even belong to this world. Linda got scared. J.J.’s metamorphosis made her get into an extreme defensive mode.

-I am sorry about my little monologue. I hope you didn’t mind it.

-Not at all, J.J.; it was actually quite impressive! The way you described that boat sailing through the waves, it almost made me envision one of those explorers’ adventures into uncharted waters. Very well done!

-I thank you, but this is nothing. It apparently comes naturally when talking about ships and navigation. Don’t know why…

Linda looked at him and felt how a cold sweat was slowly moving down her spine. “Who is he? I’ve been knowing him for so many years, but I have never seen him like this. I have never seen him so excited, so passionate, so revved up and open! He was calm and calculated, never letting emotions take over. Now he is a totally different man from what I used to know”

-Your coffee has arrived!

 

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