The waft of the tea leaves fills the house as I enter. I walk into the kitchen turn the kettle on and the water begins to bubble and spit fiercely. Dropping my keys and wallet on the bench, my eyes begin to water as the mint surrounds me.
I used to hate tea. It had always just been flavoured hot water to me. I pull the kettle off of its holder and pour into my teapot. The intricate carvings of the silver pot entrance me once again. Ripping open the bag of tea leaves I noticed the ingredients list. I had never before bothered to learn to read this language that now plagues my mind. That was until I fell in love with the warmth of being able to write to her.
I remember the first time I met her. She was unlike anything I’d seen before, as she danced through her window, the sun hitting all the right spots, I remember thinking she looked warm. There I was lying on a rooftop, M24 leaning against my chest, admiring the way her green dressed flowed in seeming slow motion.
I remember the first time we spoke. It was a scorching Saturday afternoon outside our Forward Operating Base. Saturdays were everyone’s favourites; it was market day. I never used to go to the markets, repulsed by the idea of somehow buying from the enemy. But one day, I did. The locals gathered outside the gates and set up their stalls. An assortment of local produce was being sold: vegetables, rugs and of course tea. Knowing the limited diversity of the vegetables and having no pressing need for a rug, I wandered over towards the tea. A large red blanket was spread on the dirt, there were silver teapots with complicated designs and glass teacups, searing in the sun. Entranced by the mix of red and silver I had not noticed the woman sitting on the other side of the rug. I looked up, and I saw the green. The green of her dress, the green of her eyes, and the green of the teabags she was holding.
“Hal turid bed alshshay?“ she asked, motioning at the teabags. I searched my mind for my basic Arabic
“Nem min fadlik, w hdha,” I mumbled, which loosely translated to: “Yes and this please.” I pointed at one of the silver glistening pots. Her hands reached down and picked up the pot and placed it into a green bag along with the tea. I noticed that her hands were covered in burns and scratches. I didn't ask.
I could only see her every Saturday. Saturdays became my favourite. Every Saturday I would make my way towards the red and silver, and of course the green. She would smile at me the same smile every weekend, and I would practice my broken Arabic on her. Asking for this and that, wasting time before I had to go back for dinner. Sometimes I would just sit down next to her and watch the market rush by. She never seemed to mind.
I remember the first time I wrote to her. I was in my room, Friday night, my most anxious of nights. Stomach churning, I tried practicing what I wanted to say to her, maybe I would tell her that her eyes made my head feel fuzzy. Or perhaps I would say that she smelt like soap and the ground and all things natural. And then maybe I would say that the burns on her hands probably hurt me more than her. But I knew she would make me forget all my words anyway.
So then I tried to write her a letter on stained paper. Pen and translating book in hand, I felt warm again. Even still, the pile of papers next to my bed grew bigger by the minute and my heart began to sink. I was lost for words. I fell asleep then woke up a couple of hours later, feeling inspired. So I wrote about her green dress.
The tea is sitting on the counter; I am in a crumple on the cold kitchen tiles. Tears stream down my face and I silently shake. This woman changed me, she taught me to open my eyes and to just look, at the green, at the red and at the silver.
I catch a glimpse of my uniform through the hallway, into my room, where my closet is wide open. I realize it is green, but it is not the right kind. I am angry.
She never did get my letter. Not because I was too scared to give it to her, or because she threw it away. But because that day, she fell asleep, forever. A scatty old car drove through the markets that Saturday afternoon. It then exploded. I remember noticing her from across the market, letter in hand. Everything was slow, my legs too sluggish to run to her aid. An alarm sounded and I was crushed by the running soldiers, escaping back to the safety of the base. A luxury she did not have.
I remember the last time I saw her. She was lying on her red rug, shards of glass in her face and arms, surrounded by a whirlwind of dust. As the dust settled I noticed that her green dress had turned red.
It has been 3 minutes. I pull myself up from the ground and I reach for the teapot. My whole body shakes as I sniff and pour the tea into the glass. My hand slips and now there are burns on my arm. And that is the only thing that is warm about me.