The uneven cobblestone streets wound down into the old medina. It was my last big shopping trip before I left the country. I wasn’t going to rush. Not many people were out today- was it a holiday? Who cared?
I had already bought a neat little set of tea glasses and stopped to chat with the rug seller who invited me into his shop whenever I strolled by. Then I paused in front of a shop to look for a piece of jewelry someone had asked me to look for. Earrings with a ship anchors on them.
“Can I help you?” The idle shopkeeper was suddenly at attention.
“Yes, do you have… do you have… Do you have earrings with-” How in the world was I going to describe an anchor?
“Yes! Here are the earrings! I have this kind, and this kind-” His hands flew as he pointed out his worthy merchandise. “Do you want camels? I have camel earrings!”
“No. I want… I want earrings with something from a ship. Something they throw into the water.”
He covered his confusion by pointing out more undesired sets.
Then I spotted a keychain with a ship anchor. “There! I want earrings with this! What is this?”
He shrugged and grinned. “Something from a ship that they throw into the water.”
I rolled my eyes, but he urged me into his shop to look at other things. After a quick glance around, I was ready to go.
But he had spotted the set of tea glasses sticking out of the cloth bag I had draped over my arm. “Are those colored?”
“No. They’re just normal.”
Uninvited, he pulled them out of my bag. Carefully, he opened the box and seeing the set of shining but very normal glasses, he said reverently, “They’re nice.”
I agreed as I took the box back from him.
He was still staring at the box as I replaced it my shopping bag. “How much did you pay for them?”
The moment I had been waiting for had sneaked up and caught me unaware. Almost. But not quite.
“Do you want to know the apricot tree and who planted her?” I didn’t say the words loudly; I was too preoccupied with saying them correctly. But they hit their mark.
The storekeeper took a step backward before bursting into hearty laughter. It was several moments before he was able to respond. “You are not a foreigner. You are a North African! You speak North African!”