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The Old Lamp
By Colleen Messina
1 Akbar put on a fresh robe, combed his wiry beard, and wrapped his head in a clean, saffron-colored turban. His walk through the marketplace was not just for fresh air; it was a business excursion. He was looking for the most unusual pottery in Cairo!
2 Akbar made clay pots for a living, although he was always open to new money-making schemes. He had once been a book dealer. Before that, he had sold shish kebabs. He wanted to distinguish himself as the creator of the most beautiful pots in the city, but so far, business seemed to elude him. He wanted to check out his competition and figure out how to draw more customers into his shop.
3 Akbar walked past stalls selling hand-woven Turkish rugs, sticks of frankincense, and spicy foods. The food vendors had strands of garlic hanging on ropes from their canvas ceilings. When he turned a corner, he saw a proprietor of souvenirs with his wares arranged on a red blanket. Gold bracelets, pots, and squares of silk littered the fabric like children's discarded toys, but then something caught Akbar's eye. A burnished gold lamp intrigued him and drew him irresistibly to it.
4 "How much for your crude little lamp?" asked Akbar. He had learned to express his interests carefully in order to negotiate the best bargains.
5 The old man rubbed his chin. He smelled faintly of spices and oil. His eyes ignited with the zeal of making a profit.
6 "It is an antique. I couldn't part with it for less than one hundred piasters," he said.
7 "That's too much. Thank you anyway," replied Akbar. He turned and walked away.
8 The old man, seeing his sale disappearing like a puff of smoke, suddenly changed his mind.
9 "For you, the price is fifty piastres," he called. He was missing two teeth, and their absence left a black gaping hole in an otherwise dazzling smile.
10 "Fine, then, here you go," Akbar said as he tossed two coins to the old man. They clinked together as the wrinkled hands caught them with precision.
11 Akbar took the lamp back to his room. He tried to ascertain its value, but he had never seen anything like it. He couldn't read the engravings across its belly. Around the top of the lamp where the lid fit sparkled a thin line of red jewels. Akbar didn't know whether they were glass or rubies. Around the base was a line of turquoise beads alternating with tiny, luminescent pearls. The curved handle of the lamp felt oddly warm to his touch. He thought it would be quite beautiful if he polished it a bit. He took the edge of his linen sleeve and rubbed the lamp with it.
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