Mrs. Zildjian and the Muslim Pendant
Lucine awoke from the three-hour apostolic service and turned her head from side to side. She looked up at the stained-glass windows and then at the beautiful crimson lanterns that her brother had designed for the church a few years ago, and a feeling of pride settled in. Tall and fair-skinned, Lucine possessed striking leonine features and thick black hair that she pulled back for Sunday services. She knew that her looks sometimes invited jealousy from other women, so in settings such as these she attempted to downplay her beauty as much as possible.
Lucine rose and headed towards the door.
“Lucine, I’m going to talk to the Der Hayr,” her mother whispered, referring to the priest in Armenian, and squeezed her hand. Lucine nodded in approval and pulled her long black shawl over her shoulders. Small, round gold earrings dotted her ears and her blue eyes shone in the early afternoon splendor.
But it was the gold pendant in the shape of a small travel trunk that she wore, which attracted the most attention. Held around her neck by three strands of woven gold on either side, the pendant positively radiated in all directions. And it was this pendant that Mrs. Zildjian seized upon when she finally caught up with Lucine coming out of the church into the anteroom. The structure had been built with donations from wealthy Armenians from Bergen County and combined a conference area, a pre-school, as well as priests’ quarters and a large kitchen and reception area. The exterior was plain and unexceptional and resembled hundreds of other Armenian domed churches across the country.
“What a beautiful locket, Lucine!” Mrs. Zildjian exclaimed, unable to contain herself at the sight of such luscious, polished, yellow gold. The short, heavyset Mrs. Zildjian wore her dark brown hair in a semi-bouffant above her head and a two-piece tailored blue suit with shiny gilded buttons. A pair of dark blue, rounded, sensible European shoes completed her outfit. Mrs. Zildjian’s husband Garo had made a minor fortune importing cappuccino machines to the Middle East in the 1970’s. (Well, someone had to import all those cappuccino machines into Beirut, for heaven’s sake!) Money she had aplenty but, as is often true in such cases, good taste sometimes eluded her, so that when presented with something of such simplicity and beauty as Lucine’s gold pendant, Mrs. Zildjian couldn’t restrain herself from near apoplectic exaggeration:
“My child, that is su-perb! Ex-quisite!” Mrs. Zildjian nearly swooned from excitement, then added in Armenian:
“Hra-sha-li! I’ve never seen anything like it. So big, my word, is it 18 carat?”
Lucine remained silent for a moment, contemplating how she should answer Mrs. Zildjian. Should she be understanding or curt? Irony would certainly elude the older woman and had to be exquisitely chosen, so angular yet innocent-sounding, that Mrs. Zildjian wouldn’t detect the reprobation in the comment itself:
“It’s from India,” Lucine began, knowing that the mere mention of the Orient would stoke Mrs. Zildjian’s curiosity.
“Really? How wonderful!” Mrs. Zildjian exclaimed, barely able to contain herself.
“It’s a Muslim heirloom,” Lucine said slowly, enunciating each word, unsure of the devout Christian woman’s reaction, but anticipating it with both a slight foreboding and inward glee.
“Oh Muslim, really?” Mrs. Zildjian exclaimed, perplexed.
“Yes, Muslim,” Lucine repeated, smiling now, as if to underline that this was the most natural of things. What difference could it make if her pendant were Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or otherwise? Then, unable to resist teasing the Beirut-born doyenne of the Saint Sahag Bergen County Armenian Orthodox Women’s Church Auxiliary, Lucine smiled widely and added:
“That’s the problem with the world. Lack of tolerance.”
Mrs. Zildjian stared, somewhat taken aback:
“Well, djan, I didn’t mean…,” Mrs. Zildjian was momentarily at a loss for words. She stared back blankly at Lucine. She was such a good girl, usually…and her family, a pillar of the church. How dare she, someone so young and who had been born in the United States, say something like that to her? She had never experienced the Middle East. Never lived next to Muslims. Was she forgetting what had happened in 1915? A pendant was, after all, just a few steps away from wholesale conversion…
“Here, Mrs. Zildjian,” Lucine exhaled and smiled, not wanting to upset the older woman any further. Lucine’s long, delicate fingers undid the clasp and held it forward at a 45-degree angle so that Mrs. Zildjian now looked straight into it.
And from within the locket, magic emerged:
Out leapt a Persian rug with a man astride it, riding on the wind.
Out came a blue djinn snapping his fingers left and right.
Out came Scheherazade herself, reading out loud tales of woe and wonder.
Out came a camel bedecked in jewels: it knelt on its front knees and let a startled Mrs. Zildjian up on its one hump.
Out came a Simurg, the most beautiful of all birds. It flew around the room, far past the church and the ocean and onto Mount Kaf, letting out its sweet cry until it returned and warbled for the entire assembled congregation.
Out came the antelopes of Araby, followed by the Taj Mahal.
A hundred beautiful Persian princes followed next.
One after another, the splendors of the Orient came forth from the gold pendant hanging around her neck, and they all swirled around the room.
Lucine smiled at Mrs. Zildjian and sighed. One after another, the riches of the Orient appeared and then, as quickly as they had arrived, they disappeared and returned to where they had come from:
Back went the man on the Persian rug riding astride the wind.
Back went the blue djinn, snapping his fingers right and left.
Back went Scheherazade, mumbling to herself.
Back went the camel bedecked in jewels.
Back went the Simurg bird, still beautiful and warbling.
Back went the antelopes of Araby, followed by the Taj Mahal.
Back went a hundred beautiful Persian princes.
One after another, the splendors of the Orient flew back into the gold locket around her neck. Lucine touched her pendant and closed it with her right hand.
Mrs. Zildjian looked dazed now and held onto Lucine’s arm lightly.
“I feel a little dizzy, my child,” she mumbled. “It’s as if I just saw the strangest things…” Lucine smiled:
“It must have been a daydream, Mrs. Zildjian.”
“Yes, a daydream. But what an amazing daydream…”
“So,” Lucine continued, passing her fingers over the gold pendant.
“Yes, I am a bit confused,” Mrs. Zildjian said, staring once more at the pendant. Then, as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred:
“But really my child, you should wear a cross to church next time, out of respect. Next Sunday, I’ll bring you a beautiful Orthodox cross that I brought back from Damascus, if you’d like.”
Lucine sighed, realizing that she would not get through to Mrs. Zildjian on this particular Sunday.
“That would be lovely,” Lucine answered, smiling again. And she bid Mrs. Zildjian farewell.