” I beg your pardon?” I politely asked.
“By his own hand he wrapped the snake around his neck”, an Amharic proverb- she said, and disappeared with her handbag.
With time he had got used to her mysterious ways. Dropping a cryptic sentence before disappearing was certainly something to do with her Ethiopian side. He decided to leave the explanations for other more trivial moments and continued with his coffee.
Brewing a coffee on a booth during a trade fair is a very fulfilling moment, and he deserved a good coffee, especially after that delicate telephone call he had just endured.
Stirring half a lump of sugar in the dark liquid he notices some commotion in the busy crowd of visitors in the alleys of the giant hall. A peculiar energy seemed to be creating a gap, letting something through, something powerful, unmistakably in his direction.
His thoughts went back to Ana Josepha’s words and her mysterious behaviour -it was obvious now, clearly a strategic retreat- and braced for the collision knowing it was going to hurt.
He Had hoped he had settled the delicate matter that had arisen after a rather special encounter earlier in the day with a simple phonecall.
He was wrong.
It is not unusual during trade fairs, to receive the visit of personalities that don’t have much to do with interior design.
That Saturday they had come as a group of three plus a man. The three were wearing an impressive “niqab”, an unusual apparel on a trade fair. The man was in jeans and summer shirt, sun glasses on his head, carrying a massive watch on the left wrist, and a chair in the other hand.
Living in Paris as a young adult entails, amongst other things, regularly running into the odd aristocrat searching for excitement with the other layers of society. It is not unusual that this same youth, walking back late at night from meaningful conversations on the left bank and on his way to his “chambre de bonne”-the legendary “maid’s room” traditionally rented to students- occasionally bumps into some older specimen, locked out of home, disorientated by the absence of the maids and the sudden rise of democracy.
It’s a tough school, delivering a teaching that will stay with you all your life.
One learns to negotiate with strong personalities in all kind of situations.
Of course this was neither a dandy or a demented aristocrat- no- quite the opposite. This was a person used to the exercise of authority and clearly of the most noble origin, as the fact that the man was also carrying a chair for her -besides his watch- subtly testified.
This was the moment to test his solid experience, acquired in his student years.
He instantly offered one of our most comfortable chairs with a victorious smile knowing he had a much worthier seat to offer than the one the other man was carrying.
The venerable woman was the natural leader of the “trio plus one”.
The younger one, certainly the leader’s daughter, wore her “niqab” negligently, letting her beautiful oriental traits appear. The others only revealed their eyes, releasing a startling hypnotic effect.
Silence filled the hall as our neighbours stopped their chatter and paparazzi politely pointed their cameras to the floor.
The Leader spoke, the man translated. The other woman remained silent. The young one left, possibly mumbling an Amharic proverb.
“The princess likes the cushions”
“ We are flattered by the princess’ interest in our cushions”
“The princess would like to take them -ehm-, buy them all”
“we will do all we can to fulfill the princess’ desires.”
An english school master tells his pupils about the importance of pauses in a proper conversation at the earliest stages of education. The pause is essential, he would often repeat to his attentive young audience.
This was the perfect timing for a pause.
But the man with the watch, who had attended a different class, was the first to speak:
Forgetting his master’s wisdom the vendor stumbled into a disorganised flow of words:
“ah, yes? now? Can’t we wait till the end of the show? Ehm, is it possible that we deliver the cushions to the princess later? – I must verify if the are all available, samples are important…this is a professionnal trade fare…we don’t usually sell the show pieces”
“But of course, this is our phone number” says the man handing over a cell phone “check and call us in one hour”
The Leader suddenly said in perfect English “he is only the driver, talk to me! Do you have a MORE important customer?”
“But I gave my word…”
They all leave, disappearing in the crowd leaving the gap to close like the red sea on the Pharao and his army after Moses and his people.
The vendor hastily checked his notes and stock and solemnly says;” we cannot give them all to the princess.”
“May the crazy not die to make people laugh”
“listen Ana, this is not the right moment for your oriental wisdom…”
This had all happened earlier, before the message left on that cell phone number, explaining in detail why not all the cushions where available -samples, for America…
As the gap opens again in the crowd, the Paparazzi know this is worth a try, people slow their pace noticing a peculiar tension on Po! Paris’s booth.
Two “niqabs” are sitting on steel drum barrel chairs with no intention to move, and a man in a bright shirt is standing silent looking at his watch.
Ana Josefa has made her strategic retreat and an obviously embarrassed man gesticulates hastily.
“I want ALL the cushions, they are a gift for my Family” her face is uncovered this time, there is a peculiar mixture of kindness and determination in her eyes, as the man struggles to make his point:
“Certainly you must understand, I have obligations…it is vital for my business…”
This simple conversation goes on like this for a while, like a scratched record.
She suddenly stands, covers her face and tells the driver: “Pay him and take what he says”.
She then takes one of the business cards on the side table, writes on it, hands over to the embarrassed man and leaves.
We have no idea what is written on this card.
Certainly a blessing, we believe she was smiling as she left.
Possibly just a game for the princess?
The card has been handed over the the Imam of the Mosque opposite our workshop. He says he knows the Qatari Princess and someone who can decipher the handwriting.
“and the egg, slowly slowly, learns to walk” said Ana Josefa carefully folding one of the throws on the table.