Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
She offered me Turkish coffee. I finally accepted and she led me to her apartment. We lived in the same building: her domain on the ground floor and mine on the first. The lady lived alone and her name was Lucy.
I used to see her all the time. She went out once a day, slowly walking up the two blocks that separated our Georgian house of flats from the tobacco store. Sometimes, after receiving her weekly payment, she went to Safeway supermarket. She carried herself with difficulty, her eyes always with deep dark circles around them. Her two overused grocery bags half full always looked too heavy for her. We always had the same conversations:
“How are you?”
“Not bad, thanks”
“Is the rain going to stop one day?”
“Oh, this awful, awful weather…”
The apartment – living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and the cluttered conservatory – smelled of cooking oil and unclean ashtrays. Walls screaming for a new coat of paint, plates in the sink waiting for soap and water, just the essential groceries in the fridge: milk, a couple of eggs, butter, a small bag of tomatoes. Lucy said she adopted her English name as a child, after arriving in London with her parents and siblings, all together in the adventure of immigration. They left behind the island of Cyprus and its borders divided between Turkish and Greek worlds. “A lot of poverty, a lot of problems,” she said, while pulling one of the kitchen chairs for me.
“Please, sit down. Let’s have some coffee.”
From the cabinet Lucy took two minuscule china cups and saucers to match. Each saucer had a bride and groom painted right at the center. They were identical and held hands, looking at each other, love in their eyes.
“These cups belonged to my mother, I just use them for special occasions.”
“Thanks, I am honored,” I replied. I didn’t need to make conversation; she was happy to have somebody to talk to.
While I heard a lot about her large extended family, a small package of coffee came out of a drawer. “This is real Turkish coffee,” said Lucy, showing me the little pan where it would be prepared, not much different in size than the coffee cup, made of aluminum and with a long handle. She put the pan on the stove with water, a few good spoonfuls of coffee and just one of sugar. Now, the secret was the perfect way to stir the mixture.
“I never got married or had children. But don’t be mistaken, I was not ugly at all, I was actually very attractive, I had a great figure!” said Lucy.
She lowered the fire in the stove and invited me to the living room, where a black and white photograph decorated the wall. The girl on the picture was very pretty indeed, her hair all tied in an intricate 60’s hairdo, make up, party dress. I paid her a compliment and she thanked me, very proud, with a childish sparkle in her eyes.
“But why you never got married?” I asked.
“When I was 19 I had a boyfriend from Istanbul, my family liked him. We went to school together, he was a good boy, the ‘perfect match’, as my parents used to say. But one day I went to a dance in the East End and met Stavros, the Greek man I feel in love with for good. The first time I saw him he was playing the guitar, his hair falling a little over his face, he had small drops of sweat on this forehead. His fingers were long and they seemed to talk to the guitar as they moved fast over the chords. I broke up with my old boyfriend a week later and you can imagine the scandal.”
The mixture was boiling; we could see the thick foam almost overflowing from the little pan. Somebody turned on a loud radio in the neighborhood and we could hear people talking and then a song from Celia Cruz. Lucy raised her voice and started to talk faster. I had a feeling it had nothing to do with the radio.
“He was so handsome! He had dark, unruly hair; his eyes were green and deep. He had a gold chain around his neck with a cross. He was an Orthodox Catholic. But when we slept together for the first time, and that was my very first time, he took it off and said religion was not important anymore. He never wore the chain again. My religion was not important for me at that point either. I still remember his voice, he was a musician and he used to sing and play the guitar for me.”
The coffee reached the perfect texture, creamy. She poured it into the cups and placed them carefully on the saucers with the bride and groom.
“Wait until the ground coffee sits on the bottom, but not too much; you have to drink it while it’s still hot.”
“Thanks, it smells really good,” I replied. I took a sip and it tasted of foreign lands.
Lucy lighted a cigarette. Her nails were long and clean, no nail polish. She sat in front of me at the kitchen table and started to drink her coffee.
“We were madly in love. We were together for almost a year. My family never liked him but they thought it wouldn’t last. When his family found out I was Turkish and Muslim, there was a lot of pressure for him to leave me. We were too young; he was not brave enough to turn his back to his own history. They found a way to move back to Athens and he ended up getting married to some girl who was already promised to him. He was 19 and I was 20. I was sick for weeks after he left.”
The cigarette was disappearing in the blue ashtray. The coffee was getting cold.
I looked again at the stained walls, the linoleum floor. Lucy was now talking about her nieces and nephews who lived close by, the Greek friends she always visits in the West of London, how she still could speak Greek.
“Have you ever seen him again?”
“No, not at all. And I could never feel the same for anybody else. For my family I was in disgrace, no man would marry me after my fall.”
Now, there were just a few splotches of coffee in the bottom of my cup, waiting for someone with special powers to guess the future from their shape.
I stood up. I had to leave. She made me promise I would come back.
“Of course I will, maybe next week, some day in the afternoon after 4, when I come back from school?”
She opened a big smile, although her lips had a dark color of melancholy. “That would be perfect,” Lucy replied.
I said goodbye, left to the street and walked down the hill. The pretty and dreamy girl’s photo on the wall followed me. By her side was the fat woman with dark circles around her eyes pouring me a cup of coffee. Two worlds that have never met and the two of us having coffee in the kitchen, in this city of so many worlds.