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Mandarins for Christmas

Poetry By: Celeste Neumann
Travel



A small Christmas travel episode


Submitted:Dec 22, 2009    Reads: 83    Comments: 3    Likes: 2   


Mandarins for Christmas


Hours we drove, dodging potholes large enough to swallow elephants
Through the high jagged-tooth Taurus mountains viciously biting the sky
Listening to his singing, his ponders, thoughts and sometimes his rants
Where we wanted to go, we didn't know where, and we didn't know why

Past orchards full of glowing bright oranges as far the eye could reach
Past lone olive trees on barren winter fields brimming with mistletoe
Past the ancient home of the real St. Nicholas not far from a beach
In an exotic land full of Christmas legends yet minus the church and the snow

Down and down to a mystical town by the sea with a mysterious name
'Kash' it said upon the map, home of the ancient Lycians from days of old
A harbour boasting a forgotten Lycian grave in its midst with particular fame
On the harbour isthmus a small Greek amphitheatre, or so I had been told

At dusk we arrived at the harbour to catch the sun's last sliver of red
As the faint mists of the evening sea rolled toward the warmth of the land
The spell of my reverie broken by a quiet "Good Evening" that was said
To turn to find a small man with charm and poise extending his hand

He told us his name was Mehmet, with modesty he was the harbour master
And how pleased he was to receive foreign visitors on such a winter day
For no ships returned now from the sea, which no one but he, could service faster
His friendliness was so infectious, we didn't quite know what to say

He said there would no greater pleasure than to show us the theatre at our leisure
"Come quickly, before the last light is gone! In the winter the days don't hold long!"
That isthmus was so close to the sea that water lapped at the wheels, though I was careful with measure
Nervously I hoped we would not be stuck out here, and nothing would go wrong

Mehmet made an encouraging gesture as we rounded the bend
Revealing the most perfect small amphitheatre that ever had fallen under my eyes
And asked me if I minded and could be so kind as my camera to lend
I did, he insisted on a romantic photo, as remembrance in the days long gone by

As the gloom began to gather, he was urgent to return, to be faster than the sea
Worrying the isthmus would become an island, and having to forge the tide
"Hurry now" he cautioned, "it's a poor road and lies not in the lee!"
Back to the harbour we arrived splashing through the lapping waves, just a short ride

With a smile and welcoming gesture, he insisted to come in his house for a glass of tea
To warm ourselves from the fire of his make-shift oven and offer him company
"Forgive me", he said haltingly, "I am stay here alone - just my ten cats and me"
But why not I thought - today is Christmas - why not a bit of tea and some sympathy?

In perfect politeness to foreigners, he offered us dented scratched cans of luke-warm beer
And we smiled kindly and said we much more preferred the precious tea of the
Turks
Then he smiled like one does when you meet people you like, as he pulled a table near
His cats came to greet us with mewing and purrs, and he prepared dark teas with the works

"I have no biscuits" he apologized, "but instead, I have Mandarins freshly picked"
While one of his cats stood on the table and sniffed suspiciously at my tea
Which looked the colour of a toasted ruby in my glass, I thought as I absently nicked
And mused at the harbour master being a gracious host on the count of me

Quickly a basket of the most fragrant small oranges I ever sensed before us he set
Gave us an offering gesture yet said not but a single word more
I could see there was genuine kindness reflected when our eyes met
Then he lowered them in quiet humility as he looked at the floor


His harbour hut was shabby; loneliness echoed from the walls with a bored yawn
His only companions his ten motley chequered-coloured cats
Where he spent night after night vigilant from dusk until dawn
With a shabby collection of old magazines, posters and a odd number of hats

But on this quiet Christmas we peeled Mandarins with the harbour master
As the sweetest of juice imaginable squirted on our tongues and teeth
And we praised the man who serviced incoming ships better and faster
That he was also a top-rated tour-guide down underneath

He smiled at the praise with a real happiness and offered us more tea
And his voice faltered, his words mumbling, stumbling as he asked
If we mind giving him a bank note - to feed the cats you see
Caring for so many scroungy night hunters was an enormous task

And I laughed pulled out the biggest bank note I had in my purse
"For the best Mandarins, the best tea and of course for the cats!"
(While my other was biting his tongue to suppress his curse)
"Hopefully, they can dine on hamburger now instead of rats!"

The harbour master's eyes widened and nearly filled with a tear
But gallantly he composed himself and smiled with cheer
Wordlessly moved, he simply pushed towards me the Mandarins near
"Of course you do agree with me, don't you my dear?"

The other looked at the harbour master then back at me
Then quietly nodded as he took another Mandarin to peel
And he laughed lightly as he was beginning to see
What the harbour master could not express, but only feel

After a while we drove away into the star-dotted night
While I remembered the taste of the Mandarins and the strong tea
The harbour master continued to wave until we long out of sight
And I marvelled how Christian Mehmet the non-Christian could be





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