Siddharth Prasad’s Orientalist Carpet Bazaar
The sign was blue and gold and looked freshly painted. Siddharth Prasad’s Orientalist Carpet Bazaar, it read in bright serif lettering. Jack hesitated for a second then grasped the oak and glass carved handle and pushed the door open. There were no people inside but the shop was jammed full from wall to wall with mounds and stacks and thrown clumps of carpets. Every conceivable design had a representative weaved or knotted or laced, and in every shade of colour. Away from the door three corridors led through the piles to different corners of the shop. Sound was muffled by so much insulation. Jack had to raise his voice twice before a figure emerged from an alcove in the back wall and smiled at him a glorious, improbably wide beam of welcome.
‘Good morning, sir, what a lovely day, isn’t it? Come in, come in. And welcome.’ The beam flashed again. Jack felt himself drawn inside as if threads attached to his legs and body were being tugged by an unseen power. The door clicked shut. It was suddenly so still a group of flies swirling about the brass lamp hanging in the centre of the ceiling hummed and buzzed the sound of life itself. The shopkeeper nodded at the tiny commotion. ‘They must pack in so much in so little time.’
‘Yes,’ Jack said, ‘I suppose they do.’
‘Luckily,’ the other went on, ‘nature provides all the necessary tools and tricks. Otherwise, why would we call them flies?’ He laughed a little gasp of delight. ‘Why indeed.’
Jack cleared his throat. ‘You have a great selection of carpets, I must say. Very,’ he searched for the right word, ‘comprehensive.’
‘Indeed we do. You are right there.’
‘I was wondering …’
‘Oh, now now. So sorry, how rude. First of all, let me introduce myself. Siddharth Prasad, at your service. I am the proud owner of this very firmly established business.’ He gripped Jack’s hand and pumped it up and down seven or eight times. ‘Carpets, gabbehs, kilims, alikapashas, you name it, we have them all. And some without names too. Very ancient traditions are embodied here, Mr. …?’
‘Jack,’ Jack said, ‘just Jack.’
‘Well, Jack, yes, very ancient, formidable, and exotic traditions are here represented. I myself am from India.’ He made a low bow.
‘Hmmm, good.’ Jack took a deep breath. ‘I was looking for something special.’ He hurried his words hoping not to be interrupted by this evidently garrulous fellow, and also in case he changed his mind. What had been until that moment his most private of wishes approached the outside world reluctantly. A blush bloomed all over his skin. He felt hot. ‘Something…well, it probably sounds silly.’ He dared not pause. ‘Have you any, you know, magic ones?’
Siddharth looked blankly for a moment, and in the silence the flies droned manically overhead, until with a blink he regained his composure and clapped a hand on Jack’s shoulder.
‘Magic, yes of course, and also tragic, even strategic.’ He spoke quickly, looking Jack in the eye. He knew, as his uncle Amrit patiently had taught him, top patter relies on improvising between the facts. He had a challenge on his hands to tell his children about one day and he wasn’t about to let it get away on account of awkward silences. ‘Only yesterday a most magical selection was delivered from the Beryan district near the border with Nepal, home to generations of distinguished weavers. The cloth is sourced from the hills. Well-kept secrets do not travel far. Let me show you.’
He ducked into the alcove and returned with a small silver key that fitted into the lock of a cupboard set flush into the wall from which in brisk movements he extracted another, larger key. He used this in the catch of an ornately carved mahogany chest, opening the top and gingerly lifting out a set of thick rolled rugs that he laid alongside the kilims at Jack’s feet. With an extra wink and a hand flourish he implied that these were very special examples indeed. Then he relocked the cupboard and put both keys in his pocket. ‘The plain truth,’ he continued, ‘though one not regularly divulged to Tom and Harry, if you catch me, is that all the carpets we have here at my Orientalist Bazaar are magic ones. The trick is to find the right one for you.’
Jack sat down on a small stack of gabehs and looked at the thousands heaped around him. ‘How can I choose? I mean, there are so many. And if they’re all magic…’
‘Size of a door, super-fluffy underlay, Hindu god design.’ Siddharth picked up a nearby rug and with a flourish opened it in front of Jack. ‘Extremely magical. All the usual, plus special features for the initiated. If I may be bold, Jack, I estimate you are in the region of exchanging perhaps around eight hundred pounds or so, isn’t it?’
The sprightly shopkeeper then skipped to the other side of where Jack was sitting and whipped open another. It was cream and grey with swirls of geometric patterning and plum red floral borders.
‘Slightly more splendid, only nine hundred and fifty. With gold thread fringe and craft guarantee.’
Carpet after carpet was unfurled with a flick of the wrist by the effervescent Mr. Prasad. Jack watched carefully trying to decide between them.
‘As you can see with your very own eyes, Jack,’ Siddharth said, pausing for a moment his stream of descriptive phrases, ‘selecting the right carpet is a matter of no slight deliberation. What I have shown you is merely an introduction. Perhaps let me leave you for a few moments to spend with yourself to feel out the right one. How about I make some superior coffee for us?’ He turned and made his way through to the doorway at the back of the shop, leaving Jack, who was relieved at the sudden prospect of calm, to rummage through two six-foot thick stacks.
// Second half posted soon…