Persian Delight:

by | Nov 6, 2023 | Uncategorized | 1 comment

. The resulting rich black mixture was served with saffron rice and freshly baked flatbread, accompanied by the uniquely  flavoured tea of the region; black with plenty of sugar.

Let me tell you how I came to write this story. It started with an encounter with an elderly man in a Persian restaurant in the West End of Newcastle upon Tyne.

I say encounter, it was more of an altercation between said gentleman and the proprietor of the establishment, in Farsi. I was witness to this argument, having taken my seat at one of the tables. Managing to extract some words from the exchange, I deduced that the disagreement was about tea and the man’s ability to pay for it. This is how it developed.

Circumstances were somewhat difficult and I had been in search of a diversion for some time. My favourite Persian meal seemed the ideal solution, even though it would invoke memories and was a double bus journey away. The restaurant served gormeh sabzi on Fridays as the dish of the day. This slow cooked lamb casserole with red beans, spinach and coriander would be prepared the night before and cooked overnight. It would be ready in time for the eatery’s opening time of one p.m, and be sold out an hour later. The resulting rich black mixture was served with saffron rice and freshly baked flatbread, accompanied by the uniquely  flavoured tea of the region; black with plenty of sugar. 

As I waited for my meal, I studied the carefully arranged decor. Each item was a reflection of the country’s rich history. From the giant framed photograph of Shah Reza Pahlavi and his beautiful Shahbanu, Farah, to the delicately embroidered Faravahar in gold on silk. Both treasures displayed the allegiance of the proprietor within the volatile history of the country.

The aroma of grilling meat, coupled with the decor and the raised conversation, stimulated my senses and I relished my decision to partake. It was at that point when the old man entered the room. He was of Middle Eastern appearance and, other than his scruffy clothes, didn’t stand out from the rest of the clientele. Nevertheless, his entrance immediately agitated the usually friendly patron. The seemingly negative effect the intruder had on the atmosphere attracted my attention.

Having ascertained the reason for the ensuing exchange, and buoyed by my pleasant experience, I decided to intervene. Voices had taken on another level of volume and it looked as if things may become nasty. Standing up and moving between the two, I exhausted my armoury of Farsi.

“Good afternoon sir, tea?” I kept thank you and good day in reserve. The elder’s eyes seemed to light up in his dark, leathery features on my interjection, two silvery jewels in the soil. There was a spark of recognition in his countenance, even though, to me, he was a total stranger.  With this look, the entire restaurant seemed to stop in time, only the hum of the grill hood polluted the silence. I broke the deadlock by inviting the old man to my table with a gesture, which he accepted without hesitation.

The proprietor’s expression was torn between confusion and anger, which I diffused with a request for another plate. Dish of the day portions were huge and usually warranted a doggy-bag. The patron stood down from his brace of emotions and brought the tea and I welcomed the more natural calm. The usual sights, sounds and smells seemed to thaw and resume. My companion addressed me personally, for the first time.

“You are the writer,” he said in that familiar accent of Northern Iran. It was more Eastern European than Arabic in its intonation. I was thrown by the accuracy of this random remark.

*

The cause of my melancholy and the resultant search for solace was twofold. Firstly, I had recently split from my partner of three years, a beautiful young Tunisian author, half my age. In addition and a partial cause of the break, was the stagnation of my own writing, in contrast to her stellar success. I had three unfinished novels that lay in my consciousness like abandoned trawlers in a North Sea port. In addition, the seventy three thousand word romantic epic we had co-written, lay in my drawer like a corpse in a shallow grave. Whereas her two debut novels, the first in French and the second in Arabic were international best sellers.

*

“Pardon?” The single word was all I could muster.

“You put pen to paper for a living. I have been looking for you.” The fact that I was taken aback by his first words, were eclipsed by this bombshell.

“You could say that, roughly,” I replied, attempting an ironic smile. Outwardly it may have worked but inside panic was setting in.

The food arrived and I handed the man the empty plate, which he waved away with a smile. He took a sip of his tea and his eyes rolled back in their sockets.

“The Lord’s nectar,” he breathed, then continued. “I feel your frustration. She is a talented individual. However, the potential you have yet to realise will place her in the shadows.” The man’s third remark plunged me further into the maelstrom he had created. I began to doubt whether I’d woken up this morning.

“I am sorry, you have me at a disadvantage. Do I know you? From the university, perhaps?” I racked my brains, trying to pick his unique features from the depths of my memory. Nothing.

“We have never met,” came the simple response, followed by a broadening smile and a tilt of his bronzed, balding head. He brought the glass cup to his thin lips and savoured the amber brew. It seemed to breathe life into his decrepit body.

1 Comment

  1. Kenneth Childs

    As usual wonderfully descriptive fact or fiction I’m never quite sure.

    Reply

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