‘Omar is in the old city, and it is Friday, day of prayer, so he has to wait. He has to take time to find lodging for the elephant. He begins to worry. Big worry. What if the silversmith’s daughter is already married? What if there isn’t a silversmith or even a daughter. Well, you see, going back empty-handed would be more than his life was worth. Omar took one of the guards and the eunuch, of course, to look at the girl. They went straight to the old souk in Kabul. The guard struggled with the oversized casket on his head. They made their way through passageways, past stalls with sugar and perfumes, and pushed through hordes of Arab traders. No one commented as they passed. There were always so many strangers in this town. They were everywhere, Persians, Indians, and Arabs. There were Turks trading and even Europeans selling Sicilian silks. Eventually, they found the teahouse, The Dragon. Omar stood in the doorway and announced his purpose, determined to get this bit over and done with very quickly.
‘I am from the Great Emperor, Akbar,’
Rashid grunted effusively and puffed himself out as he became Omar.
‘I need to speak with the silversmith, Mahesh…on a matter of some importance.’
The silversmith, a gap-toothed Pashtu, was fidgety as he showed his unexpected visitors into shadowy rooms beyond the archway. Rashid pointed beyond the counter and abruptly stopped. He shuffled around on his stool and glanced anxiously through the archway and into the back of the teahouse as if he had noticed something of importance, something we had all missed. There was a whispering, a rattling, and static from the radio and hush and silence. Men, in twos and threes, were drinking tea and talking in low tones. Some were smoking. The sweet smell of hashish drifted around the teahouse mingling with cooking smells from behind the counter. Around us from low benches and stools a hum of conversation merged with the roll of dice and clatter of mugs. A game of chess was nearing an end by the stove. A queen was about to enter a position of checkmate. The old man stopped sweeping behind the counter. Emerging, he added charcoal to the brazier. He looked at Rashid, pulling at his beard and he stopped tending the fire as if it was a signal. Rashid’s eyebrows shot up as if he were expecting news of some kind. I thought he was waiting for the old man to say something but the ancient put his rake down, raised his head, and spoke to Rashid. I strained to listen but could hardly understand except for “Hasid will guide them through the mountains…Taliban… will be here by daybreak.”
‘What was he saying?’ the Irishman asked.
‘Telling Rashid to give up his spinning of yarns I guess.’
‘Let’s hear the end of the story in that case,’ said a Dutchman. ‘Then we can eat. The kebabs are good here. I smell them already.’