Wali watched skeptically as Rasool crouched on the floor unfolding the carpet. “I’m not buying right now,” he said. “The store is way too full.” He lifted his arms
and gestured around him. The floors were entirely covered with stacks of rugs, the walls were draped with ancient Chinese and Afghan pieces, and every isle was lined with either a Turkish runner or a faded Kilim. Just outside the door, greeting the numerous cars and pedestrians on College Avenue, was a stack of camel bags resting on a sawhorse.
“Come on, Wali, just have a look. This is the most beautiful Gabbeh in the world, I swear,” Rasool said, winking at Wali.
When Rasool had the carpet spread out evenly on the floor, Wali walked around its perimeter with his arms folded across his chest.
“The colors are too bright—synthetic. And it can’t be more than fifty years old,” Wali said.
“C’mon man, it’s beautiful! What’s wrong with you? You could sell it in a day and you know it,” Rasool snapped back.
Rasool was right, it was beautiful. Probably the most beautiful Gabbeh Wali had ever seen. Unlike the others, it was not dominated by eccentric geometric shapes and figures, making it look as if it were woven by a child. Instead the entire field was filled with brilliantly colored roses—magenta, orange, fuchsia, and gold, each lined up side by side, separated by an almost imperceptible square frame.
It was also true that Wali could sell it in a day. In fact, he had at least three clients who would buy it unseen, over the phone, at whatever price he asked. Tribal carpets were hot, and Gabbehs the most collectable. Turning over a corner to inspect the knots, Wali realized the entire rug was as soft as a blanket.
“How much?” Wali asked.
“I won’t take less than ten thousand. You know it’s worth twice that—easy.”
“But you still owe me five from the Mercedes,” Wali said.
“Okay, five,” Rasool said firmly. “You’ve got to give it to me today though. My landlord’s going to throw me out of my apartment.”
“Your wife’s on the phone, Wali,” Alexander the shop assistant called from the back of the store. “She wants you to pick up a bag of rice and some yogurt from Safeway on your way home.”
Wali did not respond. Instead he bent over and began folding up the rug. Rasool grabbed at the opposite end.
“How’s Zara?” Rasool asked.
“And your daughter, does she like college?”
“Sure, she’s all right. Can you take a check?”
“As long as it’s good.”
After Rasool left, Wali put the carpet in the back office and went home for the day, leaving Alexander to close up.
When Wali opened the shop the following morning the entire back office smelled of flowers. Not the sharp smell of a cheap perfume, but the intoxicating wine-like fragrance of a large blossoming red rose. Wali was reminded of his mother’s garden back home. “You see,” she would say, bending down to smell a rose, “they are sweet, just like God.”
“Good morning,” Alexander said, arriving late for work, as usual.
“Good morning,” Wali answered, not looking up. “Hey, Alexander, did you have a girl in here last night?”
Alexander was at that age and Wali knew he occasionally brought friends into the shop late at night to party. As long as they cleaned up after themselves and didn’t start a fire, he didn’t mind.
“Of course not!” Alexander said, pretending to be offended. “Why?”
“The place smells of flowers.”
“I don’t smell anything,” Alexander said, sniffing at the air.
“I guess it’s nothing. Forget it. I’m sorry.”
Wali thought of calling Dr. Weinsfeld about the new Gabbeh. Then he remembered how pretty it was. Maybe I’ll hold off and keep it in the shop for a few days, he thought to himself. What do I need money for? Zara will just spend it on a new washing machine. No, I’ll savor it for a little while. Besides, it will be nice for the customers to see.
Wali sat at his desk waiting for Sharon, the young girl from the hair salon next door, to come out for her morning cigarette. Unlike the other carpet dealers in town, Wali did not go out at night drinking or keep a mistress. Instead, he limited the pleasures in his life to three: his wife’s cooking, spoiling his daughter, and visiting with Sharon in the morning when she had her cigarette. The problem was that lately, for some unknown reason, his wife had begun withdrawing the one last remaining bit of joy she still managed to give him. Her rice was almost always sticky now, her vegetables pale and lifeless, and she hardly ever used spices anymore. Lately his evening meal had become little more than the necessary acquisition of sustenance, ingested at a silent table. To make matters worse, his beautiful, most-beloved daughter had just started college and was hardly ever home. Sharon was all he had left. The minute he saw the edge of her flowered skirt in the front window, Wali grabbed his pack of cigarettes and leapt from his chair.
“Good morning,” he said, smiling.
“Good morning,” she said, smiling back. “How’s things?”
“Okay,” Wali said, looking down at the pavement.
“You look tired, Wali. You work too hard. What you need is a good massage.” Sharon stretched out her long, ringed fingers, and kneaded at the air like dough. Wali stared in enchantment. “You should come over to my place sometime after work, I’ll give you one. I’ve taken classes, you know.” Wali was blushing like a teenage boy.
“What’ll it be today?” he said, trying to change the subject. “A dragon, a lion, the Tree of Life, what about diamonds?” Each morning, Wali would ask Sharon this question, and then dash into his shop to look for a corresponding theme in a carpet for the front window. “Actually,” Wali said, remembering the rose rug, “I have a surprise for you.” He then stuck his head in the door and asked Alexander to hang the new rug in the front window.
Now, Wali owned some pretty impressive carpets, and he was not stingy with what he allowed to be exposed to the harsh afternoon sun. Why, just yesterday he hung up a Nain that once belonged to the Shah of Iran, simply because Sharon asked for birds gathered around a fountain. But nothing, not even that silk Nain, had ever made her eyes sparkle quite the way they did when she saw Alexander unfolding the rose Gabbeh.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, putting out her cigarette so she could go inside for a closer look. “Wali, it’s beautiful!” She repeated, brushing one of its soft corners against her cheek. “Where is it from?”
“Iran. It was made by a nomadic tribe.”
“Nomads, cool! How much is it?”
Sharon had never asked Wali the price of one of his carpets before. This was a good thing, in his view, since he knew she would not understand. The Nain up the day before was worth eighty-five thousand, maybe more. How could he possibly tell this to a young girl giving massages after work to earn extra cash?
“Oh Sharon, I don’t know. I haven’t priced it yet.”
Sharon spent the whole day popping out of the salon to have a cigarette and admire the rug. Every so often Wali could overhear her proudly explaining to one of her coworkers that it was woven by nomads.
At about four o’ clock that afternoon a middle-aged man driving a vintage Jaguar pulled up in front of the store. He stood for some time looking at the rose carpet before coming inside and asking Alexander to take it down. Wali sat in the back office watching. The minute Alexander brought out the step stool, Sharon appeared with another cigarette. Wali waited a few minutes before getting up to greet his customer.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Wali said, finally making his appearance. “Wonderful piece, isn’t it?” The man didn’t respond. Instead he walked slowly around the carpet.
“The dyes are mostly synthetic,” the man said, stopping to flip over a corner of the rug with his shoe, “and it’s not terribly old either.”
Wali glanced outside at Sharon, who was pacing back and forth like an angry animal.
“No, you’re right. It’s not very old, maybe fifty years.”
Sharon motioned for Wali to come outside. He pretended not to see, but then she leaned her head in the doorway and softly called his name.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Wali said. “Would you like some tea? Alexander, please bring this gentleman some tea.”
Sharon stood nervously in front of Wali. “Is he going to buy it?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
She then leaned close to him, so close he could smell her. It was the same intoxicating fragrance that filled his office earlier that morning. “Wali,” she said, “whatever that man offers, I’ll give you twice as much.” Again she stretched out her ringed fingers for him and rubbed a mound of imaginary flesh. “Twice as much,” she repeated in a whisper.
Wali was drunk with her smell and the sight of her young hands when he walked back into his store. Twice as much, he thought to himself. Twice as much.
When he returned, the man was sitting on the edge of a large stack of carpets, holding his cup of tea and scowling down at the rug.
“I’m very sorry to keep you waiting,” Wali said, as he quickly began folding up the rose carpet.
“Please, don’t take it away. I’m thinking of buying it. How much?”
“I’m sorry, it’s already been sold. I’ll have Alexander show you some more tribal weavings.”
“I don’t understand,” the man replied, clearly irritated.
“I’m very sorry, sir, but this carpet is sold. I have to leave now. Alexander will help you. There are many more beautiful rugs in the store. You will find another you love.”
Wali held the rose Gabbeh in his arms like a baby as he left the store. The girl is so sweet, he said to himself. Like God.
September/October 2010, Ragazine
Mira Martin-Parker recently completed an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in various publications, including the Istanbul Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Mythium, and Zyzzyva.