The air is thick with the smell of baked bread, the ground covered in colourful sheets littered with peppers spread out to dry. To the right, the kitchens spill into the yard in a happy tumble of pots and pans, their polished faces turned up to the sun. Next to this an old woman sits with her back to Iskender. She holds a large silver sieve between her hands and as she shakes, great white clouds emanate, covering her from head to foot.
As his mother is ushered indoors, Iskender stands back, transfixed. The clouds of flour billow and settle into a perfectly symmetrical cone under the sieve. The nature of light and air, the forces of balance and gravity – the old woman is master of them all. She sifts again and Iskender sees – just for a fleeting moment – two outstretched wings of pale light surrounding her. It must be the heat. A trickle of sweat slips down his shirt, stroking his side. He can’t help noticing how long the woman’s fingers are, how rhythmic her hips. Her hair is thick and luxuriant, plaited in two healthy braids that drop to her waist, the ends curling back like unanswered questions. He is mesmerised. The more she shakes, the more her hair comes to life. He takes a tentative step forward and a cry shatters his dreams.
“Khatoun!” Digin Khouri calls from the doorway. “Clean up, and bring some refreshments for our guests.”
The flour sifter stands up and turns to face the visitors and Iskender yelps. The long plaits belong to a beautiful girl. Of course! They are white with flour not age. The young woman facing him only reaches his third rib. She has slanted, Assyrian eyes, the softest blush of pink to her cheeks. If she held out her hand she would surely be holding an apple. And that hair… She smiles at him, lowers her eyes in the customary way and disappears into the kitchen.
A deafening silence envelops him and Iskender turns to face the two women causing it. They stand in the doorway, gleaming with delight. Not a single moment of his rapture has gone unnoticed. Mother and mother-in-law are fluffy and plump – exchanging that nod – that sly, sideways, almost imperceptible comma drawn with the point of a chin, one eyebrow raised. Iskender is too shaken to feel embarrassed.
Love has entered through his eyes.