© Arthur Hagopian 2017
every tile has a tale to tell
    I pause for a moment in front of a house built on the ruins of the confectionary shop run by the avuncular Apraham Baba. A gentle, genial giant he towered above us, clad in an Ottoman "shirwal," (baggy trousers), and wearing a tarboush, as he cajoled us into buying the candy and trinkets. His shop, right next to a row of communal urinals, would later disappear in a puff of smoke after a missile lobbed by the Jewish Haganah forces scored a direct hit on it.     One day, Apraham Baba decided he needed a shave - and as it happened, so did a little boy Chris.     Chris was a Siryani, a member of the tiny Syriac/Assyrian community which had staked its claim to a corner of the Old City, adjacent to the Armenian Quarter. They trace their origin to the ancient Babylonians, and speak a colloquial Aramaic, the lingua franca in the days of Jesus. The classical version is exclusive to their holy scriptures and religious ceremonies.     Chris is a distant relative, our mothers are second cousins. His father, whom I have met only briefly a couple of times, worked at the Ottoman Bank, in the Old City.      The Syrians have a proud and noble heritage: they claim their convent of St Mark, Deir El Syrian, was the first Christian edifice built in the Holy Land. It featured prominently in the saga of the Dead Sea Scrolls which were housed there temporarily before erupting onto a pleasantly astounded world with the revelation, albeit partial, of so many ancient secrets.     Chris had wanted a haircut and arrived early at the barber shop run by Vartan Nigoghosian. There were no other customers. Vartan had an errand to run and asked the boy to look after the place while he was gone.     "I won't be long," he promised.     Chris prepared to wait.     In walked Apraham Baba, the popular portly grocer. He promptly perched himself on the chair, and motioned to the only other person in the place, undoubtedly the barber or his assistant, to get on with the job.     "Not too close," he ordered.     Chris stood there dumbfounded, not knowing what to do.     "What are you waiting for? I left the shop open," Apraham Baba complained.     Chris felt he had no choice. Tremulously, he picked up a shaving stick and brush, and proceeded to daub the customer's face with liberal lashings of soap. On and on. As luck would have it, Apraham Baba soon closed his eyes.     "I'll just sleep a little," he said. "Wake me up when you finish."     Chris could not believe his luck. Dutifully, he kept lathering the old man's face, but withheld the razor, and waited hopelessly for Vartan to return.     It was an agonizing era later that his ordeal came to an end. But not before a gentle tongue- lashing from Vartan.     "What did you think you were doing?" he demanded, suppressing a guffaw.     "Nothing, just waiting for you."     "Well, next time, keep your hands away from the throats of my customers," he admonished the relieved boy, with a wink.