Ryan Licata: The Lost and the Found

On the evening the Academic arrived at Atatűrk airport, Istanbul seemed to be on the defensive, and that defence came in the form of attack. On the metro, people jostled him with an evident dislike for his large suitcase as they squeezed into the train, some, worn out in face and attire, heading for home, and others to work or perhaps, cloaked in strong cologne, ready for a night out.

From his back pocket he took the notebook in which he had written the address of the Magic Otel, a conspicuous sounding pension in the Beyoğlu district, found hastily online when told that he was to represent the foundation at the Modern Sanat Műzesi.

The passage to exit Şişhane station seemed endless, a series of high escalators rising infinitely, and he had the impression of being like one of the figures on a staircase in the lithograph by Escher.

It was dark when he emerged on to Istiklal Caddesi. He inquired directions from a man in uniform, indicating the page in his notebook. The man pointed up the street, saying, Git! Git!

The street was crowded but festive and the warm summer’s evening cheered the Academic somewhat as he continued his search.

However, on reaching Galatasaray High School, a new onslaught was sprung. Red flags waved in support of an unseen speaker, whose voice was amplified by a megaphone. The Academic again asked directions, this time from a man selling corn on the cob. The vender seemed less certain than the last man and yet, waving the Academic on, the reply was the same: Git! Git!  He looked towards the mass of assembled protestors, heard the commanding voice, but there was no option but to proceed.

Dragging his suitcase, he moved slowly along the edges of the crowd. Men and women, young and old, stood listening, their faces worried, as if what was being said disturbed them deeply.  A woman wearing a red scarf looked at him with what he understood to be amused sympathy and he raised his notebook towards her. She took it and turned to a man beside her. They discussed it, and a small disagreement ensued between them, before the man finally said in English, I know this place, but it’s in the other direction. The Academic looked despondently back the way he had come. The woman returned his notebook and was about to say something when a series of lights and loud explosions filled the air like fireworks.

A wall of riot police behind shields and gasmasks moved in on the people. While some scattered in retreat, many retaliated, shouting with raised fists as they charged the police. The couple looked at the Academic with concern, the woman taking her companion by the hand as he said, You can’t stay here.

There were more explosions then and the air thickened with a dirty yellow gas out of which the police advanced, breaking through the human shield gathered around the speaker. Flags fell, and blotches of red paint stained the streets with the footprints of the police and protestors alike.

The man said a quick word to the woman and she left them, holding the scarf over her mouth. The police, their masked faces like robotic black ants, emerged from the yellow cloud, and, forcing back the last of the protestors, were almost upon them.

The man took up the Academic’s suitcase and shouted, Come with me. The Academic followed and they moved swiftly, his eyes burning.

They went downhill, past the high school, off the main street, down one road, and then another. The city changed as they fled into a series of side streets and finally descended into a narrow alley of steps, where they passed, on either side, lounges and bars, whose closeness held the intimacy of a moonlit harem; musicians played pipes and long necked lutes and sang, and men and women sat together eating and drinking, the smoke about them now sweet and rich, rising from a number of hookahs. A realm inhabited, also, by cats.

Further down, another man wearing a rimless cap of a bellboy ascended to meet them.

There was a quick exchange of words, before the man said, He is from the pension.

The Academic thanked the man, who made his way back the way they’d come.

Welcome to Istanbul, said the bellboy, now carrying his suitcase, and gestured for the Academic to follow him.

Soon they stood outside the Magic Otel, a garish place with purple cushions and fake flowers stuck to the stone walls around trickling water features. The owner of the pension, a middle aged man with a stern expression, sat at a table near the entrance smoking a cigarette and drinking tea. He acknowledged the Academic’s arrival by raising his hand slightly from the rim of his glass.

As the bellboy proceeded into the reception, the Academic, still disorientated from the gas, hesitated. At the table across from the owner sat a girl reading from a large book with a red cover. Her hair was black, cut short and modern, and a rose red blanket covering her shoulders gave her both a royal and rebellious appearance. And when his name was called from inside, he saw the girl’s ink black eyes look up from her book, and her expression, one of minor curiosity, was the final attack, quick to his heart.

*

The young woman rode the bus down from Çanakkale and boarded the ferry to the island of Bozcaada. She’d read about it in the Sunday Times’ travel section where it was described as picturesque with its Byzantine fortress, beaches and vineyards. But, because it was what she needed, her mind had been decided by a single phrase she’d read in innumerable travel brochures. The island was a hidden getaway.

On the ferry she sat with her legs raised above her small valise and watched as the mainland drifted further away; seagulls hovered above the ship’s funnel, and small fish swam beside them.

Around her, young couples and families with children, drank Turkish tea from tiny vase-shaped glasses on saucers with small silver spoons. On her short stay in Turkey so far, she’d noticed how popular it was for the people here of all ages to drink tea in this fashion. And as they approached the island, it appeared, judging by how many drank tea and how little she understood of the language spoken around her, that most of the passengers were Turkish. Once not being able to communicate or understand might have been cause for anxiety, but now she delighted by the notion that in this aspect, too, she could be hidden, cut off from what she’d left behind.

As the ferry tucked into the small harbour there was renewed movement as the passengers returned their tea glasses to the refreshment counter and prepared to disembark.

*

In the morning, after a restless sleep brought on by an unfamiliar bed and the noise from the street outside his window, the Academic went down for breakfast. The late July sun was hot, but it was early and the outside tables were in the shade. The stern-faced man sat smoking and drinking tea at the same table as the previous night. The Academic greeted him, and the man replied with a practised amiability and uttered a command in Turkish. A woman appeared from behind a curtain, which she clipped to one side revealing a passage to the kitchen. The Academic sat at one of the tables, distancing himself from the man’s smoke.

The woman set down cutlery on his table. Tea or coffee? she said.

Coffee, please.

Waiting for his breakfast, he studied the features of the owner as he appeared to make notes in a ledger. He found him now to be rather handsome and not unlike the man Atatürk, whose image he’d seen at the airport. The distinct features of magnanimous leader, but also those of a film star – the Marlon Brando of Turkey.

The woman returned with his breakfast: a plate of sweet cheese, tomatoes, olives and sausage. A grey cat, straggly and thin, pressed against his trouser leg, but the woman got rid of it with a stamp of her heel, then hurried away to fetch his coffee.

Just then the girl appeared. Her black hair stood on end at the crown of her head and there was a lithe laziness about her, as if she had just woken up. She approached the owner and kissed him on his forehead, and he tapped her hand and spoke a few soft words to her. She turned in the Academic’s direction and he glanced up at her, half smiling, but she didn’t seem to see him as she made her way towards the kitchen. He watched her go: her hands down beside her hips, swaggering catlike, yet bouncing slightly, so that her walk was sexy and playful.

She returned wearing a set of headphones, carrying a mug, the large red book tucked under her arm. She sat down at the table opposite her father with her back leant against the wall, connected the headphones to her mobile phone and began to read.

The Academic watched her furtively, keeping one eye on her father, and tried to make out the author of the book. But she held it in such a way that it was impossible.

He finished his breakfast and took his time over his coffee before ordering another. The girl read, lifting her head only once with a smile, but although she looked his way her mind was clearly on something she had read, some phrase, some idea that pleased her. He wished he knew. He looked at his watch and realised that it was time for his appointment at the museum. He thanked the woman as she cleared away his dishes, and he stood up and stepped towards the entrance. It was here that the bellboy arrived and greeted him.

How did you sleep?

He happened to be standing between the girl and her father and the Academic saw his chance. He moved his body so that his back faced the owner so the bellboy was forced to stand with his back to the girl, allowing him to face her. He proceeded to ask some simple questions about the exact whereabouts of the museum, and in this way he was able to discover the author’s name, and also catch her as she looked up distracted, and seemed to study him more closely, if only for an instant, before she returned her attention to her reading.

*

On the island the young woman quickly found the pension where she was to stay, set in amongst the small cottages of the town centre. She checked in, left her suitcase unpacked and, because there was still at least an hour of sunlight, inquired about a means of getting to the beach.

A shuttle bus carried her to the popular Ayazma Plaji, with its small family run restaurants, bars and kiosks. The beach itself was still relatively busy with what seemed to be local boys whom perhaps, having finished their day’s work, had come down to swim.

She walked further along a coastal path until she came to Sulubahçe Plaji. The beach, but for a single fisherman, was deserted. She removed her sandals, held them in her hand, and walked down to the water. At first the sand and water seemed dirty with what looked like large tufts of grass, but as she continued along it all became clear and she could make out beneath the calm surface the stop and dash of tiny fish and a scattering of large white stones on the seabed.

Though she had told herself not to, she began to think of him, and what he might do when he discovered that she had left. He always had a temper, which he liked to call his Sicilian blood, as if it excused him or was to be considered a commendable vein of passion. She had loved him, and it was not too long ago that she clung to him, with a fear of being alone, of not having someone. But she laid waste to herself, giving in to him, pushing more of herself out to accommodate his sulky, selfish bulk. His possession of her had been almost total. But she saw it, had always seen it, and the weight of him and the skin and bone person she’d become had sucked out the fear like marrow. She was famished, and wanted herself back. And here she was now, a thousand miles away, a full continent away, gone away, come away. But she felt him, inside her still, a swollen tick beneath her skin.

The sun set in the distance, and she looked back to see the fisherman walking up the beach, done for the day, caught his fill. And she was alone. Though she smiled at first, and stepped into the water, felt how cold it was, that loneliness that had never been far from her crept slowly back. Around her it was darker now, and it was in the dark that she had always needed someone most, someone like him, even someone like him. And she wondered, Was this island far enough? She began to run, run not to be left alone, but also to get away from him, from whoever she may have encountered in that dark.

It was only when she stopped running, once she had again reached the beach of Ayazma, with its kiosks and bars and restaurants, with its people, only then did she realise that she’d lost one of her sandals.

But it was too dark to find it, to find anything.

*

The Academic attended the conference at Istanbul Modern. But all through the presentations his mind held to the girl, and the author of the book. The name Oğuz Atay was unfamiliar to him, and it added to the mystery and allure to this girl from the Magic Otel. When the time came for him to deliver his own paper, the Academic no longer felt nervous as he often did when standing before an audience. He swept through the slides of his PowerPoint display demonstrating the series of lithographs that the foundation in London hoped to bring to Istanbul.

The interpreter at one point asked him kindly to slow down. The Academic obliged, slowing his pace but cutting some of the slides that he felt were of no importance, and soon it was over. There was applause and handshakes, and the Academic was directed to the buffet lunch that had been set up on the terrace overlooking the Bosphorus, but he excused himself and made his way to the exit.

He caught a taxi back to the Beyoğlu district, to Istiklal Caddesi, where the evening before, amongst the protestors and red flags he had noticed a large bookstore. Once there he began his search. Assuming Oğuz Atay to be Turkish, he strode directly to the national literature section. It did not take long to find it. The large red book. He drew it down from the shelf and immediately sensed that he’d created some connection with the girl, as if holding the book she held made them alike.

He saw that the book was the first in a series written by the author, numbering up to seven, each book with the author’s picture on the cover. A choice, the Academic guessed, which meant the author was dead. It frustrated him that he neither knew anything about this Oğuz Atay nor was able to read his work.

He approached one of the staff, a young man with a pointy little beard, and, showing him the book, asked if the store happened to sell an English translation. The young man shook his head.

Unfortunately not.

I see, said the Academic. Then can you tell me something about the author?

Atay? He was the greatest Turkish writer. He is great, the bookseller continued, like Proust is great.

The Academic returned to the shelf, his mind made up. He searched amongst the volumes, paging through each of the seven books carefully until he found volume four and what appeared to be a collection of Atay’s short stories.

He paid for the book and asked if they would be able to gift wrap it. The woman at the counter slipped the book into a thick brown paper envelope with the store’s name on it, and then began searching through a box of coloured flowers of ribbon.

Do you have white? the Academic said.

*

In the early morning, Ibrahim liked to walk along the beach. In the summer, sunrise was his favourite time of day. If not for the few fishermen or brave swimmers, the beach was deserted.

He walked on the cool sand, avoiding the water as it came to spread itself along the shore. He spoke to a young fisherman whose father he’d known for years.

You’ve taken your father’s place.

He is sick. Mother doesn’t let him fish anymore. He hasn’t the strength. But he still comes down to watch. The young man pointed up behind them to an old overturned yellow boat, beside which sat the old fisherman on a foldout camping chair. Ibrahim waved and the old man raised his hand.

The young man drew back his rod, retracted the line, and cast out again. My father loves the sea. He believes it will make him well again.

Inşallah, said Ibrahim.

Yes, the boy said, his eyes downcast.

Further up the beach, Ibrahim found a sandal. It was made of leather, an elegant cut belonging to a woman. He poked at it with his big toe. He often found sandals along the beach and amongst the rocks, but also other shoes too: smart shoes, work boots and high heels. But the pair was never complete. A single shoe. As if the nature of lostness would not allow a pair.

The sandal looked new, yet unmarked by the elements of sea and sand and sun. He looked ahead of him and then back down the beach, but there was nobody but the two fishermen. He wondered about its owner, about all the owners of lost shoes, and all the possible events that led to the loss of them. His own imagination preferred the occurrence of the romantic rather than the macabre. He glanced back down at the sandal, and at his own bare feet. Then he raised his right foot and placed it into the sandal, but it did not fit. He smiled at how ridiculous he must seem. He once more nudged the sandal with his toe, scattering it with sand, and continued up the beach.

*

The Academic was due to fly out of Istanbul the next day on a return flight to London. The idea of not seeing her again before he left was no less torturous than that of returning to the pension to find her sitting under the watchful eye of her father and having to sit around in the heat thinking up some pretence for giving her his gift. He decided to pass the rest of the afternoon exploring the hidden side streets of Istanbul and return closer to evening. He wandered about the spice market, the Galata Tower and the old record shops and second-hand stores along the Tűnel Galipede Caddesi.

When he began to tire, he ventured into a small bar, ordered a beer and sat listening to the music. Perhaps it was because he was alone, or because of his pale English complexion, but two women drinking at the next table started a conversation with him.

Are you a diplomat? one of them asked.

Don’t be silly, said the other. Would an official be drinking beer alone in a place like this? You are certainly a writer.

The Academic, flattered by both proposals, began to play the parts of both writer and diplomat, and denying neither offered to buy them drinks. The women were quick to introduce themselves and move across to his table.

Is it your first time in Istanbul? said Yelda.

Oh it must be, said Senem.

Then we must drink raki, said Yelda.

But he can’t drink it without food. It isn’t done.

Senem called the waiter over and began excitedly to order a number of dishes, and a bottle of raki. The waiter went away, and the women pressed in closer.

The table was soon filled with dishes of melon, olives, sweet breads, and mussels served in their shells with rice and lemon. The waiter poured the raki into glasses and added water, turning the clear liquid a milky white. The Academic raised his glass and all three of them drank. It tasted sweet, like anise, and strong. They began to eat and drink. The women made jokes amongst themselves.

What do you think of Turkish women, Mister Diplomat? said Yelda.

Well, said the Academic, leaning back with his drink, they’re certainly amicable.

That they are, said Senem, touching his knee. And what does Mister Writer make of them?

At heart, he said after some thought, they’re terribly enigmatic. And the women laughed, and they all filled their glasses.

It was late evening when the bottle was finished and Senem and Yelda urged him up from the cushions. Let’s go dancing, said Senem.

Yes, we know a rooftop place near here. You can see all of Istanbul.

It was then that he pressed his hand down on a cushion beside him and felt the package beneath. The book. He remembered vividly the girl, and the thought of missing her caused a sobering jolt. What time is it?

It’s almost ten, Yelda said. If we leave now we’ll catch the best deejays.

No, he said, rising with his package. I must go. He called the waiter over.

No, no, said Yelda, you are our guest. We’ll pay, Mister Diplomat.

But only if you come dancing with us, said Senem. Please, don’t say no, Mister Writer.

The Academic downed what was left in his glass and staggered to the bar where he emptied his wallet of all his remaining lira. Will this do? he asked the waiter.

The waiter gathered up the money and returned to him a single ten lira note.

Thank you, ladies, said the Academic.

No, don’t leave us, said Yelda. You are a lousy, no good diplomat.

And a boring, old writer! said Senem.

My apologies, he said. He held the package close to his chest and retreated towards the entrance.

Look at him go, said Senem.

He must be a postman, said Yelda.

And the Academic pushed through the doors, and ran with the women’s giddy laughter following him out into the street.

*

Ibrahim sat at the kőfte shack. He had just finished his sandwich and was waiting for his tea when a young woman rode up on a bicycle. Her delicate skin looked newly burned and her unruly hair was like the dry brush of the island. She held a small note which she referred to with an expression that brought lines to her forehead, as if attempting to decipher the indecipherable, looking back and forth between her note and the signboard nailed above the shack window, which read: Kőfteci Lutfu Usta. When she seemed sure to have the right place she sat down at one of the small wooden tables and chairs under the chestnut trees that had yet to bear fruit.

To one side of the shack there was a fenced field where boys played football whilst on the other side stood the garden of the neighbouring teahouse, where people sat under the trees at tables in the quiet of the shade drinking tea and playing tavla.

The old man, whom the islanders knew only as Lutfu Usta, the master chef, came out of the shack and cried out to the boys from the teahouse to bring Ibrahim his tea. He saw the young woman and returned to his kitchen.

She tried to fix her hair, gathering it behind her, but she didn’t seem to have anything to tie it with so she let it go and it sprang up again like a surprised wild animal.

She turned to Ibrahim.

Excuse me, do I need to go to him or will he bring me a menu?

Ibrahim smiled and leaned forward. There is only kőfte. That’s all the old man serves.

I see, she said, seeming uneasy.

Don’t worry. He has seen you. And his kőfte are the best in all of Bozcaada.

Just then the old man appeared at the shack window and spoke to the young woman with the familiarity he used with all his customers.

Ibrahim explained to him that the woman didn’t understand Turkish.

He wants to know what you’d like to drink.

Ayran, if he has it.

The old man understood, and from the fridge placed the ayran on the windowsill.

The woman fetched her drink along with a straw with the promptness of a waitress and returned to her table.

Do you like ayran? said Ibrahim.

Very much, she said, shaking the container.

Do you know it is our national drink? A boy came across with a tray and set Ibrahim’s tea down and dashed away again.

And tea, too? I gather, she said.

Yes, that must be obvious to you.

You speak English very well.

Thank you. I’m a winemaker. It’s useful when trying to convince people to buy my wine.

Do you get many English speaking tourists here? I seem to be the only one.

Very few. Bozcaada is not well-known, but perhaps one day my wine will change that, he said, stirring sugar into his tea.

The old man appeared and called to the woman, waving his hands.

He wants you to go to him.

She rose slowly and ambled to the shack, like a schoolgirl summoned to the blackboard to solve a problem she didn’t understand.

You need to dress your sandwich, said Ibrahim. As you like.

Inside the shack, the old man handed her a sandwich filled with kőfte and pointed out the aluminium trays of sliced tomato, green pepper, onions, and tubs of mixed spices.

The old man took her by the shoulder and reassured her with a smile and hurried from the shack across to the teahouse.

*

The Academic, running back through the streets of Istanbul, felt fearless, felt none of the anxiety he had on his arrival an evening ago. Whether emboldened by passion, or the warmth felt in the company of the two women, or the raki, or the sum of all these parts, what he felt was that Istanbul had taken possession of him, and now he hurried down the streets, amidst the people, not away from them, but towards them, as if he too belonged there.

He reached the Magic Otel with the expectation of a boy and a light sweat on his forehead. Outside her father sat at his table as usual with a burning cigarette and cup of tea, as if these two things were an extension of himself – necessary emblems of his small empire. But across from him, the table that had been her place, at her father’s right hand, was empty. Catching his breath and wiping away the sweat with his forearm, the Academic stood with his disappointment weighed down by the resurgence of the alcohol in his blood.

Your daughter, Sir, where is she?

My daughter, the man said, lowering his cigarette to an ashtray, has gone away.

Away? For the evening, you mean?

Her father’s expression, until now held stern, relaxed. Please, have a seat, he said, gesturing to the empty chair at his table.

The Academic sat, placing the gift before him.

My daughter has gone on holiday, to stay with her mother in Izmir. We are divorced.

So she will not be back tonight, the Academic said, thinking aloud. But her father, perhaps out of pity, replied anyway.

No, she will not return tonight. In the summer, she prefers the Aegean Sea.

The Academic nodded, and toyed with the white ribbon.

This is for her, your daughter, Sir.

Her father took up his cigarette again and turned the glass around on the saucer. She will be grateful, he said. Please, return one day. You will find our little place much changed.

The Academic rose from the table and shook the owner’s hand. Then he turned away, walking again out into the night.

He wandered down towards the Kabataş district, to the banks of the Bosphorus. Walking along the promenade towards Karakőy, he watched as the last of the evening ferries came into port. In a dark, unlit place, he stopped to sit on a bench and looked out across the water towards the Asian side of the strait and the far distant tower in the middle of the sea, the tower the Turks called Kiz Kulesi, the Maiden’s Tower.

The Academic wondered if the girl’s father had told him the truth. Perhaps he, like the emperor in the famous legend, had hidden his daughter in the tower to protect her. He hung his head in his hands and laughed at himself. Then, as he was about to go, he noticed beside him on the bench a small doll, seated, comically, much like he was. The doll’s hair was dark and plaited and she wore traditional Turkish dress.

It reminded him of The Captain’s Doll, the story by D.H. Lawrence, and he found himself searching the doll’s features for a likeness to the girl from the Magic Otel. But for the darkness of the hair and eyes there was nothing modern about it. He thought of taking it, as a keepsake, but then rebuked himself for his stupid sentimentality. Besides, he thought, if something worth keeping is lost then the owner will surely come in search of it.

It was this idea that led the Academic to reflect that although both loss and discovery are equal to change they did not amount to the same thing, for the weight of one was far greater.

*

Ibrahim sat in the shade drinking wine while his daughter, Ecrin, played on the rusted shell of an old World War I motorcycle that stood out in the garden. While the hard work of picking the grapes and making wine came in the autumn, in the summer the success of the grape depended on the weather, and apart from the clearing away of leaves, the trimming of the stems, irrigation and spraying for pests, the fate of the grape, and so his livelihood, was out of his hands.

Having lunched in the town, he saw to the selling of wine, and to the care of Ecrin, who was four and, with the schools closed, happy to stay with him in the afternoons while her mother cooked in her family’s restaurant opposite Ayazma beach. Some afternoons Ibrahim took Ecrin down to swim and visit her mother. Everybody in the restaurant adored her, that soft brown face of mischief peering out from beneath a stack of dark curls, and she was spoilt with watermelon or, when they thought her father was not looking, a soda. But otherwise they stayed close to home and the vineyard, where he had set up a small stall visible from the road that lead to the cliffs so that passers-by could taste his wine, or even buy a bottle to drink while watching the sunset from the belvedere beside the lighthouse.

It was the second time that day that he had seen the young woman. He watched as she cycled by, and then turned back round.

I thought I recognised you, she said. Is this where you live?

Live and work, he said.

Of course. You’re a winemaker.

Would you like to try some? You could keep me company, he said, holding the stem of the glass before him.

Why not? It might be just the stamina booster I need to get up these hills.

What would you like? I’m drinking Kuntra.

I like red, but perhaps you have something cool.

I have rosé or even sparkling wine.

A rosé, she said. Thank you.

He left the table and went to fetch her wine. As he felt the temperature of the bottle, uncorked it and poured her a glass, he watched her. She seemed happier than earlier that day, but even in her smile there was still something melancholic. He had never known any single Turkish women to travel alone – not because they could not, but because the bonds between women were strong. The foreign women he met travelling alone had often had something terrible happen to them, or simply felt lost.

Your wine, he said, handing her the glass of cool rosé. Then he sat and raised his own glass. Şerefe.

Cheers, she said. I’m afraid my Turkish isn’t very good. I’d hoped to learn more by now.

How long have you been in Turkey?

Only a few days. I was in Istanbul for a week or so.

And what did you think of the city?

She was quiet, sipped her wine and then raised her hand, her eyes up cast. I’m sorry, she finally said, I don’t want to say the usual things, so I’m stuck how to describe it. Istanbul, it will stay with me. Can I say that? Do you understand?

Ibrahim laughed. You can say that, and I understand you. Not even the people of Istanbul are able to find the words to describe their city. But I think you have succeeded.

Just then Ecrin appeared from behind the motorcycle, having watched with ferocious curiosity the arrival of the woman. She came up to them and held on to her father’s arm while looking at the visitor.

Merhaba bebegim, Ibrahim said. Meet my daughter, Ecrin.

Hello, how do you do? said the woman, in a voice, it pleased Ibrahim to hear, no different to the voice she used when speaking to him.

Ecrin is my little helper, Ibrahim said. She has many talents, don’t you, canim kazim? Here she attracts the tourists to taste her baba’s wine, and out in the field she is my little scarecrow.

Ecrin hit her father on the upper arm.

She understands you?

Yes, her English is very good, even if she is shy when it suits her.

How old are you? My guess is three. Am I right?

Ecrin held up four fingers and smiled.

Of course, you must be four to have so many responsibilities.

The child nodded and turned to whisper in Ibrahim’s ear before running off again to play beneath the fig trees that grew beside the house.

My daughter has invited you to stay with us for dinner.

The woman smiled, but the sadness was still there as she looked after his daughter, who could now be heard addressing the trees, reprimanding them on the matter of their fallen fruit.

You must love her very much.

Ibrahim looked at his daughter intently and filled his glass.

I’m sorry, the woman said, that’s an obvious thing to say.

In your days in Istanbul, Ibrahim said, did you happen to travel across to Űskűdar? There is a tower in the middle of the Bosphorus.

Yes, I think so. The Maiden’s Tower, it’s called.

Yes, Kiz Kulesi. The legend says that there lived an emperor who loved his daughter more than anything, but one day the Oracle prophesied that before her eighteenth birthday she would be bitten by a poisonous snake and die. So the emperor, in order to keep his beloved daughter away from the land, built a tower in the middle of the sea, where she would live protected. As the years passed, the emperor visited his daughter frequently. Until the day of her eighteenth birthday. He arrived with a sumptuous basket of fruit to celebrate her birthday, and rejoice having prevented the fulfilment of the prophecy. But as his daughter reached into the basket she was bitten by an asp hidden amongst the fruit, and so died in her father’s arms, just as the Oracle had prophesied.

The woman clung to her glass, held to her lips, but she did not drink.

I tell you this story because you are right. Yes, I love my daughter very much, so much that sometimes it’s hard for me not to lock her away in a tower. But just look at her – she would never let me. So all I can do is love her.

The woman laughed, and finished her wine.

So would you join us for dinner? My wife would be pleased to have someone with whom to practise her English. We are a family of anglophiles.

The woman looked again at Ecrin, dancing now, perhaps to soothe the trees she had just rebuked.

Yes, she said. I’d like that very much.

 

black tree

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Photo by Tomek Dzido