She served the best tea in Shushi. I always visited her during my stay there. It was a long process; at first she boiled the water in this old samovar, then prepared the concentrated tea in a small Chinese teapot with red magnolias design on it. Then she took out the beautiful set of blue teacups, gently kept in an old shoebox under her bed. And the final touch was the delicious raspberry jam prepared from freshly picked fruits of her garden that she presented in a very antique crystal jars.
Everything was so neat in her small one bedroom house and everything smelled of fresh lavender and mint. The old and broken windows were covered with hand sewed flowery curtains. The kitchen didn’t have running water and lacked basic necessities but she managed well and improvised a cooking area and a small container for washing the dishes with water, poured manually from another small metallic container fixed on the wall. The bedroom was very simple and dark. A large bed was placed on one corner covered with different kinds of covers, sheets and pillows all neatly folded. On the other side small carpets lied on the floor to cover the wholes of the wooden floor. But what impressed me most was the silence in this house and the inertia. It seemed to me that nobody really lived there.
But somebody did live there; her name is Laura, she is an Armenian refugee from Baku, Azerbaijan. She managed to flee the city, just before the war started. She left all her belongings there. The only thing she took with her was that old shoebox with the tea set and some of her official papers, a couple of family photos and the key of her apartment there.
Every time I visit her, I find her well dressed and groomed as if she is invited to a big party. In this cold, devastated and grey city of Shushi, her colorful make-up looks almost ridiculous. She tells me in a sad voice: “ I grew up in a big city, you know, I went to University there, had lots of friends, went to all this different parties and had a wonderful time” then she will add in a very sad voice, “but it will never be the same again, you know? After the war, a lot happened. My life changed completely. I don’t have most of my relatives, my friends are lost too, I feel so lonely”, then she sweeps off a tear, try to smile again.
Once I asked her, why she decided to bring the tea set? She smiled but this time her smile made me uncomfortable. “It was my wedding gift which did never occurred…he never came back, but I couldn’t leave it there, I just couldn’t”
After the tea ceremony, Laura washes everything very gently. She puts the teacups in the old shoebox and back in their place under the bed. These short scarce moments of happiness help her continue living a life she never chose.