I wake up moaning from a dream I forget as soon as I open my eyes and jump out of bed, grab my tablet and do my online check in and proceed with packing. Then breakfast. There’s this guy I saw yesterday too. Tall, firm, dark hair, beard. Something tells me he might be a journalist. When I get to the cheese section with my plate, he comes and stands close behind my back. Just like yesterday. Yesterday I turned smiling and made room for him to come next to me so he can fill up his plate, only to be refused and shown by a quick hand gesture to carry on. So today I don’t bother and just attend to my plate, feeling his presence in the room and his invisible touch on the back of my neck, under my hair being held up by two bobby pins with round shaped blue and black gems at the end.
I resume my seat next to the window. This time the room is full and some women wearing scarves wrapped around their heads are also here, still outnumbered by men. The TV is on again and everyone is watching the news, so I decide to crawl out of my autism and join them. Nothing to be worried about: arrests being made, police officers beating up people, protests, street explosions, a blast in an apartment building, speeches, riot police marching. I have no idea where all this is happening and I am not sure I even want to know. Wherever it is, it’s too close.
“Postane?” I ask my fat bearded receptionist when I finish breakfast. “I want to post some cards…”
“There, but is closed today. I think… But I can help you. Monday.” he says , looking directly behind my eyes somehow.
“Tesekkur, evet. I go and check now and if it is closed I will leave them with you. Tamam?”
“Tamam”, he replies and we say our goodbyes and, as I get out into the street, an old man speaks Turkish to me, so I know I have become a Konyan. At least partly. This, too, is one of my homes now.
I get to the post office and find my receptionist was right, so it will be the second time in Turkey that I leave my postcards to be sent by a receptionist after I am already back in Romania. I still have time before my flight, but I decide to go back to the hotel and write. Then I see this natural shop on the left and go in. I let out a sigh of pleasure as a smile warms up my face when I get in and dip myself in the mixed smell of spices and herbs and oils. Did you know that the Turkish word for ‘mixed’ is ‘karma’, by the way?
It’s sunny and quiet as I come out of the shop and the thought of visiting Shams again starts challenging my decision to go to the hotel. But we said or goodbyes, I tell myself. It is good to respect that. Yes, but you don’t know if in this lifetime you can ever come back here again. So now you are here. You have time. Go. And so I go. And as I’m walking to the mosque, I realize it’s my third time here this week and I’ve always come from the right side and went away on the left side, surrounding the mosque every time.
In front of the mosque, just like yesterday, some boys are running and laughing around the ablution fountain, scaring the pigeons away. I take off my shoes and get in without covering my head again. I remember when I am already in front of the tomb. The atmosphere seems more peaceful today and I have a stronger and more stable sense of the energy here, bathing in rose perfume.
You have come again.
You are already whole.
What is it that you seek?
My love, send him to me. I want my equal. My partner. If he is already close, wake him up, remind him of who he is. Send him to me. I want to be found.
I walk slowly and calmly back to my hotel, finish packing and then carry my suitcase down the stairs to the reception. The ‘journalist’ comes in right as the receptionist hands me back my credit card. We smile to each other and he hesitates for a moment before getting into the elevator. I ask the receptionist to call me a taxi for the airport in thirty minutes and then sit in the red armchair facing the elevator, planning to take out my tablet and work on my writing. The ‘journalist’ comes down a minute later and, when he sees me, he says something in Turkish.
“Sorry?” I reply.
From here on, it all happens very fast and I just remember he asks me if I want to have tea with him somewhere and I say yes, but I only have thirty minutes before I should head to the airport. I think we also talk about where each of us is from at this point, but I am not sure anymore.
“What if I take you?” he offers and I do have a brief moment of hesitation before my right hand reaches out to him and I introduce myself. In something like a fraction of a second, the following inner dialogue takes place:
“You are completely nuts! You are absolutely not getting into a car with a stranger again in this place!” my mind says.
“Have it your way. Anyway, you know exactly how it’s going to be: you’ll say no, of course, because it’s the sensible thing to say, and then spend the entire taxi ride to the airport wanting to go back to the hotel and, after that, both flights designing plans to jump off the airplane and, of course, the next few months (at least!) wondering what could’ve happened and trying your best to forget you were so stupid and said no.” My heart doesn’t explain all this actually, but gives me a homeopathic dose of the feeling projected over the whole film shown in fast forward motion. Less than a fraction of a second.
“Hmm… OK!” I am actually shocked and, at the same time, happy at the sound of my own voice. He happily picks up my backpack, says something in Turkish to the hotel staff, who are all gathered around a table in the restaurant, watching the whole scene with great interest and some of them even envy, and then we both get out.
“You haven’t learnt anything. ” my mind insists hopelessly as I get into the front seat and he apologizes for the mess.
“No, I haven’t, thank God. Now just shut up.” I reply.
“Let’s see, where can we have tea…”, he says trying to focus.
“In Turkey? Everywhere.”
“In Konya… You know, when I saw you yesterday I wanted to ask if you want to have tea with me, but I… It’s hard… I didn’t.”
I say nothing.
“You look Greek.” he continues.
“Do I? Everyone here says I look Turkish.”
“I thought Turkish at first, you heard I spoke Turkish to you at first.”
And we talk about our professions, the political context, our living situations, family relations, anxiety, my birthday, my bike fall, my travels, my writing and why I came to Konya and I don’t remember everything and we decide going directly to the airport is a better idea than finding a place in the city because once we are there we can be more relaxed and just enjoy our cay.
“So are you going to write about me?” he asks.
“I think I already have, to be perfectly honest”, I reply and check my draft, which I already started earlier this morning, and find it’s right in the first paragraph.
“I will read it later”, he says.
Our interaction is pleasant and whole, natural and honest, lacking the usual aggressive courting heavily infused with sexual tension I have got used to in most of my interactions with Turkish men. Moreover, it is not seduction that has brought us together. So I finally start feeling I am being treated like a person, not a mere walking sex opportunity.
“So why are you traveling alone?”
“Oh, right. I would be afraid to go alone even to Bulgaria. And you come here alone. It is not safe here. People get drunk and have knives and there are fights after dark. I have this pepper spray with me, look.”
“Well, I am not usually afraid. Now it was a bit stressful, it’s true.” I reply.
“How old are you?”
“34. How about you?”
“What do you think?”
“The same. Or maybe 35?” I reply.
“I am 34. I was born in…
“1982” we both say at the same time.
“When?” I ask.
“The sixth month… June.”
“What day?” I continue driven by my insatiable curiosity. “20? Something with 2, right?”
“12”, he says and he doesn’t seem to freak out.
We get to the airport in a short while and he takes my luggage out of his car and then I give him my mobile check-in printed by the receptionist and he goes in and asks what time I should come for boarding. He comes back triumphantly and tells me we have two hours. So he puts my luggage back in his car and we drive to a nearby place. It is a nice restaurant and we are both here for the first time. We sit at a table for two next to the window and he asks:
“How is your stomach?”
I mean to say fat, but I just say it is ok and, when the waiter comes to take his order, I can’t help noticing that the waiter looks so much like Hamodi, my good Syrian friend in Istanbul, so I smile to him perhaps with a little bit too much attention, but really I feel like hugging him.
And I also can’t help noticing that we are both sitting at a table for two next to the window, facing each other, just as we were yesterday morning at the hotel, only this time we are finally at the same table. And I remember how this morning I regretted having put my coat and purse on the seat in front of me and thought I might have invited him to share the table and eat together, since the restaurant was full and the only free table he could find was right next to the huge TV screen. But I figured I was leaving today anyway and women don’t usually do that here. Not because they can’t, but because they don’t need to. Men around here still seem to have balls. And I want that. Not needing to make up for someone else’s lack of balls. Plus, I thought there is no point in forcing things and I reminded myself (as I always do) that life always finds a way.
The waiter brings cay, water and the same traditional desert I had last night with Merve. I get up and go to wash my hands and I simply notice, I just notice how I leave my purse with my phone and wallet with passport and everything on the chair in front of him. When I return, we enjoy everything together and talk.
He asks if I have eaten some traditional Konyan food and tell him I am a vegetarian. He asks why.
“Well, long story”, I reply.
“Long story and you think I wouldn’t understand”, he says reading my mind.
“I will show you a poem from Mevlana to Shems, so that he doesn’t leave him”, he says out of the blue and picks up his phone and types something. When he points the screen at me, a video starts playing. “But it’s in Turkish”, he adds. We watch a few seconds of it and then he gets the idea to find the poem in English so that I can read it.
He hands me his phone again and I barely get to read the first two or three lines and I feel something is changing dramatically in the atmosphere. I look up and ask if he is OK. I feel a sort of agitation and very ample movement, like spinning. In the beginning it feels like the tension preceding an earthquake, but then the movement is much more erratic, not only vertical and horizontal, but more chaotic on account of what I perceive as fear of letting go, of losing control. He is clearly affected by something and is struggling to keep it all together. I remain calm and ask the question again. He answers in Turkish, gets up in a rush, spilling the water glasses on the table and over his phone, a few drops landing on my trousers.
The waiter comes and accompanies him to the exit. Before getting out, he looks back at me and makes a reassuring gesture with his hand, telling me to relax, stay there and wait. And I remain calm, wipe the water off his phone with a tissue and continue reading the beautiful poem, wondering if I can find it in my book as my mind makes the connection between these lines, in which Rumi’s asking Shams not to leave him, and my complaints about his absence as I was visiting his tomb.
When he returns, he has washed his face and it’s wet and he keeps apologizing.
“It is first time, never happened to me before, I don’t know what this is, maybe tension, I don’t know, I have anxiety. I am sorry.”
“Have some water”, I advise him smiling calmly. I want to squeeze his hand and help him get down on the ground again, but at this point I don’t. I am just witnessing. And I have no doubt that nothing is wrong.
“Let’s go”, he says, “when I stay here my head is spinning again.”
“OK. Let’s get out of here, the air will be good. You are OK.”
“Daniela, I am so sorry. I am sorry. Daniela… Daniela… Where is my car?”
“It is in the back, let’s go this way.”
“It never happened before.”
“You haven’t met me before”, I reply and make him laugh so now he is more relaxed.
” Where is the car?” he asks again.
“Where is my head?” I reply.
“Where are we? Who am I?” he continues and we laugh.
Having exchanged contact information, he now drops me off at the airport, complaining about my heavy suitcase as he is carrying it inside.
“Sorry, it’s not a Turkish guy”, I tell him so we laugh again.
As I continue working on my blog post after the security check, I lean back in the chair at the boarding gate and rejoice in the silent and relaxed atmosphere of the Konyan airport.
The guy at the security check even insisted I should keep my water bottle. All my previous tension is history now and the atmosphere has either cleared or I cannot be bothered by its heaviness anymore. When I get in my seat on the plane, I start feeling the same rose smell as in the Mevlana museum and Shams’ mosque. Suddenly, I hear a girl at my back say in a British accent:
“It is your destiny, you can’t escape it.”
The weather is perfect and taking off makes me a bit high, as it always does, and I enjoy it like an addict taking a dose of his drug. On board service soon starts and everyone is relaxed, no one talks loudly, we smile to one another and I take pictures of the sky. It looks like a snow covered field, making me dream up plans about this winter.
“Istanbul”, I turn and say it to the big girl on my right as we have come down through the thick layer of cotton above the city. And I purposely stress the ‘a’ and add some air around it before I allow the other sounds of the name to slip out on the water slide my tongue curves into.
“Istanbul”, she repeats returning my smile.
“Guzel”, I add, this time stressing the ‘e’ like licking a lolly pop.
“Cok guzel”, she corrects me, her face lit up by an even warmer smile.
At passport control in Istanbul, with a big smile on my face and the rose perfume still in my nose, I get to this desk where a guy with a purple right eye checks my passport. And I think it is just too funny a coincidence and can’t help laughing and pointing to my purple right eye.
“Merhaba! We both have a purple right eye, look!” I say and close mine so he can have a better look.
He listens and takes out his pistol from his waist to show me how he got it, explaining everything in Turkish. Then I tell him about the bike crash, but I am not sure he gets it.
” Daniela… Daniela… Daniela… I am not handsome, Daniela…” he adds, composing the beginning lines of his first elegy.
We wish each other the best, like two brothers in arms and then I catch a glimpse of the most beautiful red sunset before it takes me almost one hour to walk through the entrails of the huge airport from the quiet domestic arrivals to the busy international departures, where I struggle to find a WiFi connection.
The first time I hear someone speaking Romanian I think “Oh, how nice, they are going to Romania!” I feel I am not and it takes me a moment to realize I actually am. It feels as if I were just passing through, that it’s not really my destination. I feel I am on this long journey, going somewhere very far away. Such a strange and strong feeling…
The plane takes off in Istanbul and I am looking down at the beautiful lights and taking photos, thinking that we all get this impulse to arrest moments, as if simply living them is never enough. We cannot just look at the beautiful lights and enjoy the feelings they awaken, but need to make them our own, to possess an image of them, frozen, stopped in time. A moment that is so fleeting and so artificial in its death caught on camera. We arrest impressions of time passing in an attempt to create permanency. Only that never really happens, everything keeps flowing all the time. Whirling.
And I keep repeating I my head “the Istanbul of my dreams, the Istanbul of my dreams” and I remember my friend Hamodi calling me earlier today, before checking out of the hotel, reassuring me everything will be all right by telling me that I will always be safe in Turkey even if there was a war because “everyone loves you here and you have a friendship with the dangerous things”.