THE SCARF SELLER
In the golden brick-paved courtyard at the front
of the sprawling glory of the Blue Mosque
the scarf sellers spread their wares,
neatly folded to show color and design.
The Turkish women use these smooth squares
to cover their hair,
wrapping the folded ends so their faces are framed in silk,
the apex of the design centered on their heads like an elegant hat.
I sit on the curb at the side of the walk
to haggle over the price of nineteen
of these huge silk scarves
printed with gay arabesques, dyed in gentle monotones.
The scarf-seller, a tall, striking woman
who reminds me of a gypsy,
insists on making a seat for me with a doubled scarf
(it is January, and the weather is damp and cold).
We rely on her handsome, unsmiling son
ten years old, he tells me in careful, broken English
to translate my offers.
The woman and I talk, and smile at each other;
her pride in her son is obvious,
this child who can speak the foreigner's language,
who advises and protects her, shaking his head and frowning
when I offer too small a price.
It does not matter how many you buy, he tells me earnestly,
A what you give is for each one what it costs us.
It is her stern father-in-law, sitting a short distance away
on a rickety wooden chair, like a king on his throne,
who is consulted by his grandson and who sets the final price.
When I rise to leave with my purchases,
I spontaneously draw the boy to me
and brush his cheek with a kiss.
He pulls back in horror,
and I blush at what must have been
an unpardonable familiarity.
He stands glaring at me, rubbing his face,
as I scurry off.
The next day I am so ashamed at my success in bargaining
and my lack of cultural understanding
that I return, anxious to press more money on the scarf seller
but the little family group is gone.
I do not see them again,
although I search the courtyard of the mosque each day
until we leave.