Thursday, December 19, 2013

Uncle Said


Said hoisted himself off the sofa to greet the customers one of the local guides had just led up the steep stairway. His sudden movements triggered a coughing fit. One of his employees quickly flicked on the lights and ushered the tourists over to some built-in seats. The tourists settled themselves in and accepted the tea that was offered and then ordered from yet another employee of the shop. The guide helped make the visitors comfortable and then  positioned himself away from the group so Said could take over. This gave Said time to recover from his chronic hacking so he could play the role of welcoming proprietor. Said didn't get up for everyone that came into his carpet shop. He had an eye for those who would spend and those who just wanted to look. He could see the hopeful gleam in the eyes of the guide. These tourists would be well-worth his time and efforts.

It was cold in the shop and Said was glad he had worn his galaba. Not only did it serve to keep him warm, it also contributed to the atmosphere of a place frozen in time. It was all theater, just like the old wooden loom with the equally old operator passing the yarn to and fro and rhythmically working the foot peddles. Everything and everyone in the shop served a purpose. Tourists liked the antiquated look of his carpet shop and happy tourists spent money. Said began his show.

After a few welcoming words and polite inquiries about the tourists' experience thus far in Fes, Said unobtrusively signaled his helpers to begin pulling carpets from the stacks that lined the walls. The tourists demurred, stating they weren't really in the market for buying today but that did nothing to deter Said. He knew better. He knew they would walk out of his shop with something; maybe some carpets or bedspreads. At the very least they would purchase some woolen blankets. He could smell the money coming.

Before long, the floors were covered in thick layers of carpets. Each successive carpet was more expensive than the one that preceded it. Said watched the women's eyes to see when they flickered or returned to rest again on a carpet before them. Now it was just a matter of asking them which carpets they preferred. No was not an option. All Said had to do was get them to start saying yes to something. Carpets that didn't pass muster were quickly taken away until the tourists were now ruminating over colors and patterns; making choices rather than offering polite refusals. The fun part, the negotiating, was yet to come.

After Said got the tourists to designate their favorites among all the carpets before them he sat back and simply waited. The tourists whispered amongst themselves and discussed the merits of each rug. Finally, the question Said was waiting for came up. "How much?" Calculators came into play and the inevitable question about the acceptance of credit cards followed. Of course Said told them he could accept their plastic but he almost never had to. Rather, he had one of his helpers escort one of the husbands or boyfriends to an ATM to withdraw the much preferred cash. While the cash was being collected, the carpets were rolled up into tight cylinders and wrapped in pink paper so no one on the street would see the purchase or ask what price had been paid. No reason to have a jealous competitor or anyone else tell the tourists they had paid too much (which they would not hesitate to say no matter what price was paid). That would never do.

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