Coffee With the Traitors’ Club

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

In the centre of Cyprus’ divided capital, Nicosia, is the Büyük Han. Built in 1572, it’s been used as an inn, a prison, and a refuge. Now, it’s galleries, restaurants, workshops, and cafés, where a group of friends meet every weekend for coffee. Some are from the Greek-Cypriot side, others from the Turkish-Cypriot side. Together, they’ve been coined “the traitors’ club”, brought together by a common desire to unite the island.

When I was invited to join them, I sat at the foot of a long stretch of coffee-stained and beaten-up tables, enveloped by a perfume of bitter coffee and leathery tobacco that hung in the courtyard air. Echoes of conversation filtered through the clinking of cutlery in the distance – one on someone’s semi-famous daughter, many on solving the Cyprus problem, with the man beside me sharing dry jokes to humour my apparent ignorance. A call came for a new round of coffee and Mahalepi.

It was just another weekend for them, but as laughter rippled down the tables, a lump swelled in my throat. I forced a smile and circled my coffee cup with a finger, lost in thoughts of when I had last shared such a moment with friends. I thought back to the Saturday night pre-drinks. The summer BBQs that burnt holes in the night sky. The long walks home to the ferocious tune of Jeff Beck. All then as vivid as the haze of smoke above me.

When did it all change?

Cyprus is an island that everyone has wanted – from the Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Romans to the Byzantines, Crusaders, Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and the British. There I was, too, wanting something it had. Not its tangible treasures of copper, karpoúzi, or geographical location, though. But an intangible treasure. One that I’d found, fittingly, on its Greek-Turkish border. A sense of fellowship.

If there’s one thing the new year lends itself to, it’s the opportunity to go again. To try and create a scene like that. To find such fellowship. It doesn’t have to be every weekend. It doesn’t have to be a long stretch of tables. It doesn’t need to be an ‘event’. But it does have to be treated as such – with empty coffee cups and echoes of conversation and laughter as its only evidence.

A bottle of recent memories, so vivid I can touch them, no matter where I find myself.

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