The old man sat like a great sultan, with his bushy salt-and-pepper beard and glittering dark eyes, lording over his wares. The bell above the door tinkled, and Matt rushed through it; swirling snowflakes followed him inside and settled in his hair and on his coat. He shook the snow off his shoulders and glanced around the antique shop. Dust particles danced in a golden light that Matt would have sworn was sunlight, were it not for the dark and wintry evening.
He gazed at the big man in his long robe sitting on a high-backed chair. Matt greeted him as he scanned the room with curious eyes and ice-bitten cheeks.
“Marhaba,” the man’s deep voice broke the musty silence.
Something glinted behind the man, and Matt noticed a row of assorted cups and glasses and goblets perched on a shelf above the man’s head.
“I give you a good price on everything,” the man beamed, and Matt felt the warm welcome seep into his frozen bones.
He browsed the hodgepodge of hookahs and ornate furniture and dusty old books, and colorful tapestries, and stained-glass lamps. The toasty and nutty aroma of dense coffee with cardamom wafted through the room, enveloping the young man in its creamy and welcoming kindness. Matt glanced at the dark evening sprinkled with freewheeling snow beyond the shop window, and shivered.
“The coffee is fresh. Inshallah you will drink some with me,” the man said, and the deep rumble of his voice conjured the soft grating of tumbling sand in the blazing sun.
Matt patted his pocket, lamenting his shabby and skinny wallet, and meant to decline the offer, when he caught the man’s twinkling eyes that lit up his face like a starry desert night.
Matt nodded and smiled.
He offered Matt a seat beside him on the cushioned and decorated high-backed chair, a twin to the one the man occupied. Matt accepted, and watched the man pour velvety, deep black coffee from a small silver kettle with a long handle. The warm coffee filled the room, and the snowflakes slapped at the windowpane, begging to partake in the comfort.
The man chatted about his home and the trees that grow crooked from the desert wind, and the fat figs that ooze honey when you bite into them, and the lazy sunset over blooming fruit groves, and the spider grapevines that crawl over the cracked earth.
Matt listened, and let the hot thick coffee melt his bones, while its cardamom scent stuck to his nostrils like a soothing balm on this cold winter’s night, but his eyes kept falling on a shimmering goblet behind the man. It was a simple, golden cup, with no decorations or glimmering jewels like its siblings on the shelf. Noticing, the man smiled, then reached up and took the cup. He offered it to Matt.
“How much?” Matt’s sheepish voice bleated, and a crimson hue flourished on his cheeks.
The man flicked his chin upwards and clicked his tongue, “A gift for you. For a long, long time I have sat alone drinking my coffee with only these baubles and trinkets for company. Only you have shared a cup with me.”
Matt protested and offered to pay what he could for the goblet, but the man placed it in his hands, then squeezed them, as if to imprint Matt’s palms onto the golden goblet.
“This is a wishing cup from an ancient land of mystery and sand. Take it with my heartfelt wishes. You are a good person, and it will grant you only the best in all you ask.”
With a final ding, the bell above the door let a grateful Matt out, while the man bid him farewell, and the freezing wind stung his cheeks. He waved at the man, then tucked the golden cup wrapped in silk under his arm, and bowed his head into the dark snow. He reached the corner and glanced back towards the store, but saw only an empty lot where the warm, bright building had welcomed him only moments ago.