June 28, 2008 Posted by Tahir in Travel

The Carpenter

Mr. Reda is not Moroccan. If you ask him where he comes from, he smiles very sweetly, his eyes lost in creases, and lowers his head a fraction in a bow.

‘I am from Damascus,’ he says in a voice shaped by a lifelong fondness for filterless cigarettes, ‘and I learned my English there long ago when my hair was still brown.’
For forty years or more Reda has lived wood. It’s what he understands. And the thing about someone like him is that he sees much more than you or I would in something we take for granted, like an old bit of tree.
It’s a little like a deaf person whose sight is extra keen, or a blind man who can smell the scent of winter approaching on the breeze. Give Mr. Reda a piece of wood, any piece, and he will caress it, run his yellowed fingers over the grain, touch it to his cheek. Only when he has observed it for a long while, will he say something.
And more often than not he won’t say anything at all.
He’ll just smile.
The first time I found his workshop, I felt as if I had stepped into another world. It’s the sort of place you can walk by a thousand times. And I must have done exactly that. There’s nothing extraordinary about the front… there’s not even a sign. It’s opposite the train station at Oasis, a Casablanca suburb favoured by the French, a few feet of frontage between a pharmacy and a tabac.
Reda usually sits in his windowless office at the back. When you have gone right in deep, lured forward by damascened furniture, carved wood inset with mother of pearl, he jumps out. Behind him, spewing like a vapour trail, there’s always a swirling cloud of black tobacco smoke.
I knew when I’d found him that Mr. Reda could be trusted. I knew it right away. And the way I knew was that he had a labyrinth of chambers filled with workers beneath his shop. They are a little bit like Santa’s helpers, dozens of them squashed up on narrow benches, their heads cocked to the side, faces low, chisels and mallets clutched in their hands.
A man with a labyrinth like that has no question mark hanging about his head. The reason I say that is when Mr. Reda enters the caverns, none of the workers even look up. To me that meant that they had a respect for him, an appreciation, and that he had passed on his knowledge in full.
So it was then that I gave him a huge brick of 100-dirhams notes as a down payment to build me a galleried cedar library. I sketched it out on the back of an envelope, scoped measurements roughly with my hands. Reda nodded, drew hard on the cigarette which he had just lit, and said:
Monsieur Tahir I shall make you a library that will melt your heart.’
And that’s exactly what he did.
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