I was right! He is here! – sitting on a garden chair, taking long draws from a nargiles, hookah. He looks so handsome, in his zipka, black woolly pants characteristically baggy in the seat, his gold-braided yileco, waistcoat, and his paslic tied around his head with one end sticking up like an hare’s ear.
His godmother is in her armchair opposite him. She is dressed in a gorgeous long lacy-dress, like the one I had seen a Queen Victoria wearing in a photograph. A small cup of coffee steams on the table between her. She is such a beautiful woman – by no means old, in spite of her forty-odd years; God has graced her with the kind of beauty a woman never loses. I’ll never look as good as her.
It must be a special occasion – Auntie has brought out her best nargiles, a short, and light-green, thick-glass blown into a graceful shape, and etched and decorated with silver. At its top, on a small silver tray, round pieces of coal, in the shape of extra-large tablets, are already burning over tobacco.
Tattas smokes from a brilliant mouthpiece, made from expensive amber and inset with precious gems, attached to the ivory connection at the end of the long, flexible hose embellished with embroidery.
From a leather pouch lying on the table Auntie pinches a generous amount of the exceptionally strong tömbeki, the dark, high-nicotine tobacco grown in Anatolia for use with hookahs, and places it under the coals, with the aid of a small silver tongs.
I always knew her as a calm, composed person, but, of late, she appeared somehow restless, more preoccupied; and now, they both seem uncomfortable and tense.
Auntie speaks as soon as the nargiles whistles, as if she had paused and this was her signal to start, “But, surely, you must be aware of the troubles the Neo-Turks are causing!”
He replies without any hesitation, “It’s a storm. It’ll pass. Haven’t we always lived together with them? For as long as everyone can remember – blissfully miserable together.”
“No, don’t be so sure about that. Not this time. Things are certainly different now – volatile, unpredictable. Can we afford to ignore what happened in April last year, when Ottoman soldiers massacred thirty thousand Armenians? And, you must know with what they say, ‘When the neighbour’s belly hurts, you should rub yours’!”
She waits for a response. He remains silent. I watch the furrows between his eyes grow deeper. He must be trying to work out where she is going with it, I think.
She breaks the silence. “Listen godson, you know I always speak as I see it.”
“This is not only my belief. In the foreign Embassies I hear from reliable sources that the Neo-Turks are determined upon a war of annihilation against the Christian, The Infidels.”
“Why the Christians?”
“It’s all political, of course, but religion, you see, is a superior platform. God is a much more efficient weapon than State.”
Tattas changes position on his chair. “I don’t get it.”
“Like in any country, there are zealots here too, who won’t need much of a persuasion to commit atrocities against their neighbour; but for the righteous to commit evil, they need their God’s endorsement.”
Tattas looks as puzzled as I am.
“Don’t you agree that the most important thing for a nation is the survival of its people? That we must continue to exist is of the utmost importance?”
“Not sure what you mean,” he says, leaning forward and taking a pinch of tömbeki to place it on the nargiles.
“Well… Please don’t misunderstand me…I’m not saying forget custom and all that! Nor am I trying to tear down tradition… I’m talking about survival – survival in times of upheaval. Like right now, when life won’t have time for normal human weakness.”
“Come now Yannis, you may be a traditional and religious man, but I know you are also open-minded and not uncompromising.”
He just puffs on the hookah.
This time Auntie sighs, and continues, “Wouldn’t you say now is the time to look after ourselves and our own?”
“Well then…Your korits, she’s as beautiful and lovely as the sweet Virgin Mary; and so clever! Naturally intelligent, in touch with reality! She has charmed everybody.”
Why are they talking about me? I lean forward and crane my neck to listen.
He remains silent, not showing any particular emotion at hearing her comments.