The luxury of finishing a book: you can meet a friend for lunch. That’s what I did last week at a homey Turkish restaurant near where I live. It began life as a rug shop, but since Sureya, the proprietor, loves to cook, she started serving food among the rugs. People turned out to love her cooking in return — I’ve taken Turkish friends from out of town there, and they practically wept with home-sickness – so the rugs retreated to a small pile at the back of the room. Plain wooden tables and chairs multiplied, and the news spread.
Last week was a normal mix for this place: a pink-haired student with Gothic script tattooed on her bare shoulders; a couple of hijabi mothers with babies; plaid-shirt-and-chinos software types; even a suit or two.
My friend and I ordered lentil soup and some eggplant dishes, and when Sureya brought them over she told us about her plans to move to a larger space nearby. The color scheme would have lots of turquoise, she said, and she was already haunting eBay in search of beautiful plates to replace the plain white ones we were using.
Maybe there’s something about Sureya that calls forth truth, or maybe I was still light-headed with having finished the book, but I said “Um, Sureya, you know, people tend to get light-fingered around beautiful plates…” And I found myself telling her about the time, many years ago, when I was out with a few friends in New York, at an Italian restaurant that the waiter told us was due to close soon. I don’t remember how many bottles of wine we’d drunk, but it must have been a few, because by the end of the evening, it seemed an awful pity that this restaurant’s hand-painted ceramic plates were to disappear along with the place itself, which is why several of them were somehow transferred into purses, jackets, and trousers — including those of an assistant district attorney from a major American city I won’t name here.
My friend looked on in bemusement at anyone so foolish as to tell such a story to a restaurant owner even as she was eating in her restaurant.
“So maybe stick with the plain plates?” I concluded.
Sureya seemed puzzled, as though I’d suggested the most peculiar thing. She thought about it a moment, and then her response knocked me for a loop.
“Why?” she said. “Let people take if that’s what’s important to them. Why even worry about that?” And I realized she was right. Who would even dream of stealing from a woman like this? That would be to invite such bad karma…
She was smiling as she reached behind her for a blue glass dish, and held it up in both hands. She moved it around in front of her to catch the light, swaying as she did so, almost dancing with it. “Look,” she said, “how could I not use this? isn’t it beautiful?”
It was. And so was the eggplant. And so is she.