Chapter 13

“It’s a Bijar, man.” His voice rising now, “A Bijar, Tom. Not a sniveling little Chevy, man, but a Bently! A Rolls!”

Holden was happy to see Deane pop through the door of his shop. “Maybe he has the silk Kirman,” he thought. A week earlier, Deane had asked him if he would like to buy into a rug that he had found at auction in London. Deane told him that he had successfully bid for the rug but hadn’t yet paid for it. If Holden wanted to, he was welcome to split the cost of the rug and own it jointly. A silk Kirman? That was a rug so rare that, frankly, Holden had never heard of one. He was inclined to be careful, though. First of all, he would have to scrape up $1,000 dollars. Secondly, he didn’t really know Avery Deane. In fact, he knew nothing about him except what Deane had told him- that he was a professional ghost writer who had written many books whose titles he wasn’t at liberty to divulge. And that he had a kind of undefined relationship to the rug world. Evidently he sometimes bought and sold rugs throughout the world. He spoke familiarly about all the important rug people, though it was hard to tell whether they were friends of his or not.

Anyway, Holden drafted a contract and made Deane read it before he would give him the money. It spelled out their deal in great detail. He had been annoyed when Deane had laughed like a maniac. “A contract? You want me to sign a contract? Ah, good, lad. Very good. That’ll do it. Take me to court! Hah, hah!”

“It’s just so we have a clear understanding, Avery,” he had said. Deane, still laughing, signed without reading it, which gave Holden an unsettled feeling. He gave Deane the money, though. And now, a week later, Deane reappeared, making Holden feel much better. He arose from his roll top desk to welcome him. But a customer walked in right behind Deane and began inspecting rugs on the walls. “Well, Avery will understand if I take care of my customer first,” Holden thought, and he gave Deane a high-sign that meant, “Hi, I’ll be with you in just a moment but first I have to wait on my customer.” It didn’t work out that way, though, because Deane got to the customer before Holden did.

“Hah! Good eye!” Deane said, looking over the customer’s shoulder at the rug he was studying. “God, you went right to it. Ha, ha, you don’t waste time.”

“Huh?”

“You went right to the best Bijar in the western states, like a heat-seeking missile. Wham! Oh, I’m sorry; I should introduce: I’m Avery Deane.”

“Uh, I’m Tom.”

“Hah! Should have known. Tom.”

“What do you mean?”

“Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Mann. Thomas Edison. Just to name a few.” The customer looked sideways at Avery. “Say,” Deane said, “why don’t you come with us to Freemont, have a lark?”

Did Holden hear right? Was Deane inviting a customer of his to leave the store? That didn’t seem right. Was he going to sell the guy one of his rugs or something? Though feeling shy, Holden interceded. He walked over and said Hi to Deane and the customer.

“All right then, Holden, what’s your pleasure? Come with Tom and me to Fremont?”

“Why are you going to Fremont?”

Deane laughed. “R and D, lad. Research and development, and for the best Afghan food outside of Kabul. Qabuli Palau? Afghan Kofta? Lamb kabob? Bouranee Banjan? And nan? Oh, sorry, Tom, this is Holden. Holden, Tom. And that is Holden’s famous roll top desk.” While Tom glanced at the desk, Deane popped the price tag off the Bijar that Tom had been peering at. Holden saw the move and wondered what was going on. Tom turned back to the rug, probably wondering why his attention had been called to the desk. Avery resumed his hard sell. “So lunch in Little Kabul, right? ‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.’ Come on gentlemen, say yes, I’m hungry.” Tom shrugged, indecisive. Holden wondered whether he could leave his business. Except for the time he had spent showing Ulysses Pope around, he had maintained his lonely watch over the store from 10 to 5:30, six days a week for three years. Yet what had it gained him? He could put a note in the window. MEDICAL EMERGENCY- back by 3PM. He was getting hungry too. He and Tom said okay at the same time.

“But Tom,” Deane said, and took him by the arm and stood close to him, and now his voice dropped to a near whisper, “don’t leave that Bijar behind.”

“What?” Tom looked uncomfortable. He looked back at the rug on the wall.

Still sotto voce, “Buy it, Tom. It’s a Bijar, man.” His voice rising now, “A Bijar, Tom. Not a sniveling little Chevy, man, but a Bently! A Rolls! It.is.a.one.hundred.year.old.Bijar, Tom, and it’s a beauty!”

Deane still grasped one of Tom’s arms, but Tom appeared not to notice as he stared at the Bijar. With his free hand he gripped a corner of the rug to test its body, then hung on as if he really didn’t want to let go. Holden moved in closer to get a better look at the rug he had owned and loved for four years, and now both he and Avery crowded Tom, who had begun to sweat. “Tom,” Avery said reasonably, “do the right thing.”

“Uh, how much is it?”

“Fif…” Holden began.

“Twenty-five hundred,” Avery said. Still Tom clutched the rug in a bulldog grip.

“I’ll give you two,” Tom said, addressing the offer to Deane.

He laughed, more amused than wounded. “Is that rug a used Nissan, Tom, to be haggled over by desperate people? Tom,” Deane explained, “it is a 1924 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, polished to perfection. Do something good for yourself, Tom, for tomorrow we die.” Deane appeared to have become rather emotional at the end. His voice cracked.

Suddenly Tom seemed to be struggling to break out of Deane’s grasp and flee, and Holden stood back to give him room, but Tom was only reaching for his wallet. Fifteen minutes later they were all on their way to Little Kabul, riding in Holden’s used Nissan.


Of course Little Kabul wasn’t Kabul. There was no street in it called Chicken Street, no river winding through it in which women washed clothes, and no wildly painted buses hurtling over rugs left in the street to become antiques in three weeks. But still, you could understand why thousands of immigrants from Kabul had taken up their lives there. As in Kabul, no building rose to more than two or three stories and most hardly rose at all. The town and the land it was on seemed flatter than flat, and yet mountains in the middle distance to the East, and the Pacific Ocean in the West, though not visible, made it seem as if there was a reason for it to have grown up just there. When the three visitors arrived—Tom, the collector, Holden the dealer and Avery Deane the…what…dealer?…collector?…rug adventurer?…when they arrived in the center of Little Kabul at lunchtime, they found it blanketed in the same heavy smell of sheep-fat that lay like a coastal fog over Kabul itself.

Avery directed Holden to drive “slowly, slowly” as he looked for a restaurant he seemed to know about. “Here we are!” he shouted. “Park! Park!”

The Marco Polo seemed no more than a café, but certainly it looked authentic. A friendly Afghan waiter suggested this and that. Everything Avery had promised was on the menu. At the end of the meal, the waiter suggested a dish for desert that, when he was asked to explain what it was, he described as “clotted cream.” The “clots” were so nearly solid that you could pick them up and eat them with your hand, and that’s what Deane did, using only his right hand. Holden thought he had never tasted anything so good.

At the end of it all, Deane went looking for the cook, who also turned out to be the owner. Avery dragged him to their table. “My God man, take the Marco Polo to New York! Take the whole thing to London just like it is! Keep the waiters, keep the menu, keep the furniture, keep your name. You’ll be famous. Famous! They’ll flock!”

“How about Hollywood?” the cook asked. “You didn’t mention Hollywood.” Holden and the others looked closer at him. It turned out that he had once lived in Hollywood. His name was Khalil Zadeh and he told them his story.

“This was before the US war against the Taliban. It was before the Taliban. It was before the Russians. It was when Afghanistan was still a happy place and my family of merchants wanted to send a son out to explore the rest of the world. What were the opportunities in America for business, for education, for a good life? So I was selected to investigate since I was unmarried and I spoke some English.

“I landed in the Los Angeles Airport and didn’t know where to go next. There was a desk called Visitor Information, and I found a map there of Los Angeles and I sat down and studied it. The only places I had heard of were Hollywood and Venice. I thought my father had probably heard of Hollywood, too, and that he wouldn’t like me to go there, and it seemed to me that Venice had something to do with art, so I asked a taxi driver to take me there. Venice Beach. I got out and walked around and couldn’t believe what I saw. There was an ocean at the edge of the town and sand around the ocean, and on the sand there were people in swim suits. I had never seen people in bathing suits before. And they were giants, and I mean that. They were huge! I didn’t know about weightlifting at that time. They had on little tiny bathing suits, including the women.

“Looking at these people, I was afraid I didn’t have what it takes to be an American, but I was determined to try. So as soon as I found a room in Venice Beach, California, I found a place that sold small bathing suits, and I tried to fit in like my father had told me to do. I was never big enough to look like the others down at the beach, though. Still, in clothes I looked a little like the others, with my new gold chains around my neck. I met people and had new friends and learned about snorting cocaine and all of that. So I was getting along pretty well, with money from home. For a while I lived in Hollywood and then I came back to Venice Beach.

“Today there must be two hundred Turkmen people living in America, but at that time I believe I may have been the only Turkmen in the country. I didn’t even understand that I was lonely.

“Then I quite writing to my family and one day my father showed up and found me. After the first time he saw those people down at the beach, he refused to look at them. He was a very serious man and soon he found out about AA and got me signed up and pretty soon I’m telling all these strangers, “I am a drug addict.” And I was. So it took me all told about twenty years to land here in Little Kabul and open the Marco Polo. So I don’t want to go to New York and I don’t want to go to London or to Hollywood or Venice. I like it here in Little Kabul. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. And there’s no beach.”


After Holden and Tom and Avery heard Khalil’s story, Avery said to him, “You’re coming with us. Let’s go.”

“Let’s go where?”

“We’re going to find someone who can make a rug.”

“We are?” Holden said.

“We are.”

“I know where you can buy plenty of rugs,” Khalil said, “and they’re already made, too.”

“No, we want a different kind of rug, one that hasn’t been made before.”

“I can do that, too. But you have to show me what to make.”

“You can? If I show you a drawing of it, can you make it into a graph?”

“Of course I can. Rug making was my family business. We had 600 looms near Andkoi before the Taliban came. I can do it all.”

“You can weave?”

“Yes.”

“Do you tie with the Persian knot?”

“I tie with the Turkmen knot.”

“Hmm. Show me what the Turkmen knot looks like.” Khalil showed him by drawing what the knot looked like. Finally Avery said, “That’s it! That’s what I want, the Persian knot.” Khalil shrugged. “You can make graphs and you can weave. Can you dye?”

“Of course I can dye.”

“Can you work with natural dyes?” Khalil looked puzzled, so Avery said, “Can you make dyes from roots?”

“No. My mother could, but she’s not alive now. I can make dyes from cans.”

“Can you spin wool?” Again, Khalil looked blank. “Do you remember how the old ladies used to make yarn?”

Khalil smiled. “Yes, I remember. But no one does that any more. You don’t have to. Now you just buy yarn and it’s already dyed. It’s easier.”

“So, Khalil my friend, if I give you a drawing of a rug and the wool already dyed, can you weave a rug for me?”

“How big?”

“Oh, one-and-a-half meters by two meters.”

“Yes, I can do that. But first I have to make a loom.”

“Can you make a loom?”

“Of course.”

“What kind of rug are you going to have Khalil make?” Holden asked.

Avery laughed. “It’s a bit embarrassing, lad, but I want a rug with my name in it. Just ‘Avery Deane,’ that’s all.”

“Wow,” Holden said politely, as if he had never heard of such a good idea.

“Cool,” Tom said.


When it was time for Holden and the others to leave, Khalil baksheeshed each of them with small Belouch bags—wonderful little pieces that may have been five or ten years old. Deane whispered in Holden’s ear, “Lad, be sure to give him a handsome tip.”

A tip? Holden hadn’t said anything about paying. But he guessed he should. After all, Tom had just bought a rug from him, and Avery had sold it…and he had got $1,000 more for it than he had hoped for. So Holden picked up the bill and left a $25 tip.

“Uh, Avery,” he asked, “did the silk Kirman come yet?”

“Hah, hah, hah! Chomping at the bit, are you? Patience, lad. It’ll come soon.”

Back at the store, Tom picked up his Bijar and left, pleased and excited. Avery paced through the store while Holden excused himself. Holden went through the curtained door to his apartment and to the black hole of Calcutta, and he threw the nice little Belouch bag into it, then a small fistful of moth crystals. When he returned to the showroom, Deane was already in the process of selling his second rug of the day in Holden’s store.

“My God man, it’s a Jaguar,” he was shouting. “A Mercedes. A Porsche 928!”

handspun wool for oriental rugs

When a Dragon Winks

  • A novel by Emmett Eiland

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