Aleppo Wedding, Chapter 8

They carried on the awkward small talk for a while, until Sarah was given her key and found her room-mate, a tall brunette of about the same age and talking about the lunch arranged for the party. This forced Nury to be more assertive, and he invited Sarah to eat at another restaurant with him. For politeness' sake he also invited the other girl, Jane, to go with them, but she had the sense to refuse.  Sarah was pleased, and hurried away to shower and change so it was only quite a short time later that she reappeared and they set off for a very late lunch - Nury had used the time to book a table at a restaurant made from a beautiful old Arabic house not too far away. Her high-heeled sandals dictated a taxi for the trip, and they were dropped only a few steps from the restaurant - just as well, thought Nury, or she would have broken her ankle on the wet cobbles, ancient, but recently restored.
The area was charming with narrow passages running off between high stone walls. One of the big, studded doors led to the restaurant, also a small hotel, and it stood a little open. Sarah looked around and said all the right things as she walked through the door, but inside she just stopped and stared. The restaurant was in the old courtyard of what had been a very grand house. The entrance was through one side, and the courtyard was glass-covered for the winter. All the window cases looking onto it from the surrounding three floors were decorated with carved stone, mostly flowers and geometric shapes, and the coloured-tile floor was broken in the middle by a fountain and a lemon tree with two resident doves.
"Nury, it's lovely." She gave him a delighted smile as they were led to a table in the raised area like an open room at one side. He ordered food which he had tried to cook for her in England, so she could find out what it really tasted like, and she enjoyed it all, though she ate very little of any of the dishes. Two hours passed quickly in eating, catching up and reminiscing. She was having a fascinating holiday and made him laugh at her surprise at things she had seen so far. He heard all about the friend she was travelling with, whom she had met after he had left and who now worked with her, until she looked at her watch and discovered it was getting late.
"There is a concert at seven, and we are all getting a bus at half past six. It's some sort of religious thing, I think. It's in a very old building. Do you know it?" Nury did, it was an exhibition by the 'whirling dervishes', an Islamic sect who aim to achieve a trance-like state by spinning around. They wear long white robes and spin to the rhythm of drums, and Nury knew she would enjoy the spectacle. "There's just one thing, though," he offered, "I think you had better put something warm on. These historic spots tend to be really cold at night." She was dressed in a very pretty light dress with a summer jacket. Like many another, she had been fooled by the words 'Middle East' into expecting endless warm days, but the nights in Aleppo in February are usually cold, especially after rain.

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