I've often wondered what it means to be attached to other people, since so often I have felt detached even from myself. Perhaps one way to talk about this is say a little about Tamilla, and a trip I took not so long ago in Turkey. Initially I met her in the south with a couple of Scots I'd befriended while travelling in a former hippie area that had become increasingly a tourist resort. The other Scots, Muriel and Christina, were like me - travellers staying for a week (though they stayed longer) to swim in the water and bathe in the sun before searching out others sights in the region. The three of us were staying in the same pension and, after chatting on the first night, became firm but temporary friends for a week. In a resort where most people were Turkish, apart from a few Australians, the occasional German, French or Italian, it was especially good to chat not only in my own language, but to hear a similar accent. I had been travelling for three months, and these were the first Scots I'd met on the trip.
They were both in their late twenties, taught in tough Scottish schools, and still possessed, and shared, a desire for social improvement. When I asked them if they would ever consider teaching in private education, they wondered where the challenge would be in that. Surely it was more important getting kids to push through social barriers rather than teaching in an institution that reconfirmed them. I agreed completely, though couldn't claim I was trying to push through social barriers too.
It would have been on the third or fourth evening when after dinner they asked if I wanted to go to a bar nearer the beach: they had met someone earlier whom they'd agreed to meet there. The person sitting alone in one of the divans, raised seating made up of cushions and carpets, was at the same time beautiful and dishevelled, and I wasn't surprised when later in the evening she informed me that she was sleeping by the sea. What did surprise me was that Tamilla said she slept on the beach with her daughter as well as a number of other people she'd met at Olympos. I asked where her daughter was now, and she said with some of the friends: It was often easy after about ten o'clock to sleep in one of the curtain-draped platforms that were on the beach and that belonged to the most salubrious hotel in the area. Only once had she been moved on. Sometimes, though, Tamilla and her daughter would sleep in one of the tree houses at a pension in the resort. Where the cabins usually had locks, many of the tree houses -huts raised on stilts - were unlocked, and if they were empty it was quite easy to sneak in late at night and leave early in the morning.
I asked her for how long she had been at the resort and where she was from. She replied she had been in the place for more than three months - since the start of the season. She planned to go back to Uzbekistan (she was half-Russian; half Uzbek) in October if she couldn't find employment in Istanbul. She said I was the fourth Scottish person she had met that summer. Who was the other one, I enquired. Ask the girls she said. As we chatted she appeared to be talking openly about her life, but all the while she would sometimes look down or away as if everything she said could equally have been a lie. That night the four of us went on to a club about twenty minutes outside of Olympos, towards the main road, where there was always a live band, and we danced till three in the morning. At the end of the evening Tamilla said she was going to the toilet and that she would see us outside. We waited twenty minutes in the outdoor cafe attached to the club, but didn't see her. There were no more buses to take us back into the centre of Olympos, and as we walked into the village I wondered what they thought of Tamilla, and wanted to ask exactly how they had met her. But to have asked then would have seemed gratuitous, as the two girls talked excitedly of the next stage of their vacation: they were thinking of leaving the next afternoon, though they ended up staying as long as I did.
I met them the next day for a lunch of pancakes and Turishi tea at a nearby restaurant, and it was there I asked them the questions I'd been thinking about the previous evening, and also if they knew where Tamilla had disappeared to the night before. They supposed she would have hooked up with someone, and stayed the night at his place. And her daughter? They shrugged, as if determined not to judge, but equally showing concern. On the first night that the three of us had talked, Muriel had mentioned a teenager in the school in which she taught who had lost her mother when she was six, and whose father was constantly working. The girl was fifteen, and had few friends in the school, since others saw her as too bookish, too enquiring and too inclined to finish her sentences. Muriel would always be recommending books, reading stories the girl would write, and taking home drawings the girl would give to her. Muriel didn't want to say her father neglected her, she had said: Muriel knew he worked hard in a low-paid job, and didn't have time to see much of his daughter. But Muriel did feel that she wanted to be the surrogate mother the girl had lost. So I knew when they shrugged their shoulders at my question about Tamilla's daughter it wasn't with indifference.
I asked them also about this other Scot - Tamilla had said I should ask them. They said they hadn't met him; he left long before they arrived. That afternoon, though, when Muriel and Christina had first talked with Tamilla on the beach, Tamilla mentioned a Scotsman with whom she'd had a week long affair, and they had been in contact through email. Perhaps she would go to Scotland, she had said. They asked what so appealed to her about him, and Tamilla said the way he talked - not just his accent, but that he seemed to think through what he was saying. I asked if they knew what he did. He taught sociology at Glasgow University.
During the week I had become no less intrigued by another woman, staying in the same pension as the Scottish girls and myself, who happened to have a daughter also. The daughter seemed several years younger than Tamilla's, though the woman appeared to be about a decade older than Tamilla was. She looked around her mid-forties, with clover honey-coloured hair and a burnished brown body. But such description said little - it was in how she would toss her hair, how she would rub oil into her skin as over the week it turned from the colour of a light tan to a varnished pine tone. The hair she would sometimes wear up, sometimes down, and sometimes play with it as if with indecision. She was thickening around the middle, but her proportions remained - she looked like an older woman not so much losing her shape but finding a new one, equally attractive. She was only a few years older than me, but when I would stand next to her in the queue for dinner, or stand behind her or her behind me getting tea at breakfast, I felt an inadequate masculinity.
Now sometimes there are things that we feel we don't have the language to describe; other things where the language merely needs to be tweaked into grammatical error for the purposes of emotional precision. I remember reading once a writer referring to Van Gogh as having been 'suicided' rather than committing suicide, and near this woman I felt 'immatured'. In most situations, and with most women, I reckon I possessed the appropriate amount of masculinity for the situation; in this instance I was an amateur surfer meeting an engulfing wave.
One evening I asked the girls what they thought of her. She was a woman, they said, saying it with a mixture of envy, awe and relief. Envy I suspect because they knew that they lacked the beauty she possessed, awe that she still possessed it in to her forties, and relief that they were still fifteen to twenty years younger. Now, it would have been later that evening when something unusual happened. Muriel and Christina had gone along to another nearby pension which they preferred for drinks, and I said I would join them later. On previous nights, the woman sat with her daughter and a couple of other families on the raised platform in the centre of the pension; in front of it were tables and chairs, and lower divans. The raised platform consequently seemed like a stage, and the people on it easily observed, and I had been trying to work out the connection between these various people and whose kids were whose. It was only that morning I concluded that she was alone with her daughter, the others were couples with kids. Anyway, what happened was at one moment someone arrived at the reception, which was also the pension bar, and the woman quickly got up and went over to talk to him. They sat at the bar as they ordered drinks and stayed there for a few minutes afterwards. As she walked over I noticed her hair was down, but as she started talking to the man she put her hair into a bun, a very deliberate gesture I assumed since it meant carrying with her a pin in which to hold it up.
A couple of minutes afterwards the woman came back over to the platform with the man following behind her, and then introduced him to the others. I assumed it was someone she met at the beach, but then was surprised to see after maybe five more minutes of conversation the pair of them get up and go off behind the platform to where the bungalows were. Were they having a quick assignation, with the mother leaving her daughter with the fellow families while she took up with what seemed like a complete stranger? They returned after fifteen minutes, but it was at that moment I got a text from the girls, and I thought I had given enough time over to the life of this figure. Just before going I looked at the man she was with, reckoning he must have been a few years younger than her and maybe my own age. But his look was very different from mine. He had the long, dried-out blonde hair and thickened tan of a surfer. He was surely better equipped for such waves than I was, even if he seemed mildly immatured by her also.
When I arrived at the pension the two English girls were sitting there with Tamilla and her daughter, and what I noticed was affection for her daughter similar to the other woman's for hers. If one were to see them with their daughters and have no other context, they would be taken for great mums, and it made me think back to my own childhood where my parents were nothing if not stable people, but where the hug was reserved for going away and coming back, for summer camps and holidays with my grandparents. I could never remember sitting with others, next to my mother, and her playing with my hair, or letting me lean my head on her shoulder. With Tamilla and the other woman, their daughters were like extensions of themselves, part of their own bodies, and I didn't believe it would have been any different if the children had been sons.
Tamilla said we should all go out to this venue where there was live music, and her daughter scowled at her as if to say she wanted to go to bed. Her mother scowled back saying she was being a bore. We took a bus out to the edge of the village, pulling up outside a large one-storey building resembling an out-of-town store. The band I could overhear as I stepped out of the bus, and the film that was soundlessly playing on a screen in the outside area, where people could take their drinks and escape the loudness inside, indicated a cultural oasis more than a desert even if the surrounding area looked barren. Tamilla stepped inside with her daughter as we bought drinks outside and tried to guess the film. Fifteen minutes later Tamilla still hadn't come back, and I said I would go inside and give her the drink she'd asked us to buy. It was a heaving of bodies and yet it was easy to spot Tamilla and her daughter amongst them, with Tamilla dancing with this miniature person as if she were out with a friend. Her daughter was easily the youngest person in the club, and I thought I noticed a few perplexed and judgemental looks. Equally though there was nothing in the body language of Tamilla that indicated she treated her daughter as anything but her equal. I could not imagine dancing at midnight in a club with my mother when I was eleven, and as parental failure goes I couldn't have gained much sympathy from it, but the unusual yearning I felt then alluded to numerous instances where I might have wished my parents had been more immediate.
I watched Tamilla and her daughter dance for a few minutes and then handed Tamilla the drink before going back outside. I noticed a familiar moment in the film and asked them if they had guessed what it was. Modern Times they announced, and I concurred, before adding what they made of the modern times of Tamilla and her daughter. They asked whether it was modern or unconventional, and I supposed there weren't that many mothers today who would be inclined to take their eleven year old daughter to a club till three in the morning. Muriel said that while a part of her couldn't avoid feeling disapproval, another part thought it touching. She said she thought again about her fifteen year old pupil whose would spend her evenings alone while her father worked. Here, I supposed, was a mother not at all leaving her daughter emotionally alienated.
The drink I gave Tamilla was the only one she drank all evening, and while she danced for the entire three hours at the club with occasional breaks for a quick seat and a glass of water, her daughter would join whichever one of us would be taking a break when she didn't feel like dancing herself. Interestingly she never once looked bored, and only near the end did she show signs of tiredness.
At three we were about to get a bus back to the centre of the village, and Tamilla, who had a firm back and strong shoulders, seeing her daughter was now exhausted, asked her to get on her back. They were going to walk all the way to the beach, taking a side road that meant they could avoid the toll booth that closed the beach at ten o'clock. I looked surprised. It was quite a distance. She smiled, saying she was sure a car would stop and pick them up and take them most of the way. We got into the bus the club put on, and left Tamilla and her daughter there.
The next morning I watched the German woman and again saw a mother engrossed in her child's needs without looking like she was ignoring her own. At one moment she said something that showed she wanted to play table tennis, and the little girl looked like she didn't want to play, and her mum went into a mock sulk before her daughter agreed to join her. It was then I thought that she probably hadn't gone off the previous evening for a quick assignation but merely because she wanted a joint. The surfer was likely someone whom she met on the beach and that she had arranged to meet again at the pension. It was if my previous interpretation contained moral rectitude; this one warm pragmatism, and it was a reading given credence later that night when I passed her and her cabin in the early evening, while her daughter was playing with the other kids at table tennis, and she was smoking a joint.
That evening Muriel, Christina and I again met up with Tamilla, and this time she said her daughter was having an early night: she was sleeping on a divan by the beach with friends. Earlier that day the girls and I wondered where her daughter got her schooling, and I tentatively asked her as we sipped at ulceratingly tart wine that only Tamilla seemed to enjoy. I asked the question with less acidity than the wine, and Tamilla answered like a sweet, fruity red. She smiled and said that her daughter went to school in Uzbekistan of course. Her daughter joined her when school ended in June, and she left in late August. I wondered how she got to Olympos, whether a relative took her, one of Tamilla's friends or whether Tamilla went home again and picked her up, but I felt I had asked enough questions for the moment. If I was asking so that I didn't too readily want to judge; equally I didn't want to intrude.
It was then that Tamilla said something I initially found odd. She said a couple of nights previously she had come along to our pension and asked if any of us were around, and the pension owner told her to go away. I asked why, and Tamilla shrugged saying she had no idea, but I had found the pension owner friendly and fair, and believed she must have had a reason.
That evening Tamilla did not stay out long, saying she wanted to get back to her daughter, but it was about an hour after she had left, when we were walking along the road to another bar, that we saw distantly in front of us Tamilla hand-in-hand with a man. Muriel asked if that was Tamilla up ahead, and Christina said without her glasses she couldn't tell, but I concurred: it was definitely her.
The next morning after breakfast I asked the pension owner about what Tamilla had said, and she announced that yes she was banned from the pension. On more than one occasion she had befriended guests and visited them during dinner time, using the opportunity to eat for free. Like most of the pensions in Olympos the room included half-board, and the owner had assumed that Tamilla would go from pension to pension eating dinner as if a guest. I wasn't surprised to hear this; hadn't Tamilla admitted to sneaking into a pension tree house sometimes too? I was more surprised by the little lie that Tamilla was going home to her daughter when she had an assignation with a man. I asked the pension owner if she knew anything more about Tamilla. She is here to make money, she said. Everyone is here to make money - unless you are here to have fun.
I suppose much of the behaviour I had seen over the last week could be summed up by the making of money or the having of fun. Many of the people selling goods and food along the street seemed to offer their innocuous items as if they were vices. It doesn't matter if you have loads of T-shirts or you've just finished your dinner - buy more, eat more they seemed to be saying. You are here for pleasure and we are here to make money. Indulge yourself so that you can indulge us; or vice versa.
I also asked the pension owner about the other guests, and whether many of them came to the resort every year. She said several of them did, and mentioned the German woman. She has been coming for ten years now, since before her daughter was born. I may have noticed, the pension owner said, that they seemed part of a larger group. Each year she would invite friends too, and they would bring their children. She loves it here. I wondered at that moment if Tamilla and the German woman knew each other.
I saw Tamilla once more before leaving, on the final night of my stay and also, coincidentally, the final night for the Scottish girls' too. She announced that I was the first person she really liked since the Scotsman a while back - maybe it is the accent she liked, she said, throwing the odd stone that carpeted most of the pensions. We were having a drink at a pension Tamilla wasn't banned from. I wondered how many pensions there were where she couldn't get served . She threw the stones as a flirtatious gesture, and when I caught one in my hand it was if I had received a kiss. Muriel reckoned we should all swap emails after I mentioned I wasn't on Facebook.
It was around ten o'clock when I said I really needed to get back to the pension and have an early night. I was leaving very early the next day; the girls not till the late afternoon. As we all parted, the Scottish girls gave me a nice hug, but Tamilla's contained within it a hint of desperation, need, and I sensed it was the sort of hug I would sometimes see her give her daughter.
When I got back I ordered a weak tea from the bar: the Turkish method was to make a pot of very strong tea and then add water according to taste. I asked for a dash of tea and a lot of water so that it wouldn't affect my sleep. While drinking it by the bar area, the German woman came down from her divan and said that a tea seemed liked a good choice, and ordered the same, before adding that she wanted one a bit stronger than mine. Certain choices and remarks can quickly implicate us in the lives of others, and while it was hardly as if the German woman and I had broken open a bottle of whisky, it still created the space for me to talk with her for the first time. I explained my tea was so weak since I was away at seven the next morning, and she asked where I was going. I said I was getting an early flight to Istanbul, finishing off my Turkey trip there before flying back to Scotland.
She had once been to Scotland she said: when she was nineteen. She stayed in Edinburgh for the summer, but also went all around the Highlands. It was an enchanting country, she insisted, a country that she hadn't easily forgotten. I asked her what made it so memorable, and she smiled before saying that didn't I have an early morning plane to catch. She offered her remark not with the flirtatiousness that the statement on a blank page might indicate, but with a wistfulness that asked if I really had time to listen. At that moment I was more intrigued than tired, and as I said it sounded interesting, and as her tea arrived, she started walking back towards the divan and I followed her. She said that after finishing secondary school, and before going off to drama college, she wanted arbitrarily to spend the three months somewhere and had chosen Scotland. She could not explain why and that was the reason why she chose it. It was based on no book and no film, no relative who had been or school friend who had travelled there. It was a hunch, and then over the next couple of months, before leaving school, she would read all about the country; look at maps, study photos. By the time she arrived in Edinburgh she felt instantly comfortable with the city and didn't know whether this was because she had read so much about the country, watched films set there or whether Edinburgh itself seemed such an antithesis to her own home city of Cologne. A city that was so modern, so uncompromisingly and comprehensively rebuilt after the war, while Edinburgh looked like it had been removed from the conflict altogether. She asked me if I recalled the German reaction to the Serbian bombing of Dubrovnik. I said I remembered a general, international reaction. Yes, but for the Germans she thought it was a moment of retrospective intervention: they had lost some of their great cities to the war, and they didn't want other cities to suffer as theirs had. What she liked about Edinburgh was that it didn't look like a city that had suffered, and yet equally, while she was there, she did see suffering.
This was the mid-to-late eighties she said, and while the city was as beautiful as it no doubt still is, on the outskirts, in the housing estates, people were in pain, and the person she befriended, even loved, could have been one of those people - most of his friends were. It was during the festival, and she was sitting alone in Princes Street Gardens, reading a book on a park bench, when a young man and what she at the time assumed was his girlfriend approached her. They asked if they could take a seat - the park was crowded - and after a few minutes talking with each other, the man asked her what she was reading. She said The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and he said he had read it too - but not through choice. It was on a first year university reading list. She was a bit surprised, since he didn't look much like a reader to her, and while the girl said she was going off to get a couple of tins, she didn't know whether she should make up an excuse and leave, or ask him about the course. She chose the latter and for fifteen minutes he talked in what seemed like one long sentence. He explained that he left university after one year because it taught him nothing but assumptions that were only going to be of any use if he wanted to get for himself some social status. He instead wanted to comprehend great feelings and thoughts, not join a specific social class, and so he left. As he talked his words had great emphasis partly she would later find out due to his passion for thinking, and partly because he knew that his accent was not easily comprehensible if he talked as he would with his family and local friends. If the first year at university taught him anything, he would later say, it was that you can't expect everybody to get an accent like his.
He was still living in a room in a student flat in the city centre, while she was staying in a place on the other side of town but still very much in the city. For a week or two they met up most days as he showed her places that he liked, and then one afternoon while they were walking along the river towards the art galleries he asked very sweetly if he could kiss her. They were lovers for the rest of her stay. She met people he knew and some of them were heroin addicts, others alcoholics, others on or recovering from various other drugs. It was a summer romance, of no great importance in some ways - they never saw each other again - but it impacted upon her, probably changed her, and she still thought of this young man who of course was now not so young. Perhaps she was telling me, she said, for no other reason than that I was a Scotsman, too, but she had not at all forgotten him.
She wondered where he was now. She wondered whether he had ever come back to Turkey, since it was this young man who had first talked to her of the area. At the end of that summer, after she had returned to Germany, he still had some savings from the job he'd been doing all that year and through the summer (helping rehabilitate drug addicts). For some reason he had never been attracted to drugs at all though it was common in his milieu, and hardly even drank. He said he had always wanted to see an ancient city, and booked a flight to the south of Turkey and visited a number of places including the site that moved him as if it were a homecoming. He sent her a postcard of Phaselis and a long letter accompanying it. In the letter he said he had found the place he was looking for, even though he couldn't possibly have imagined what it was he was seeking. He described ancient ruins with three bays, located in a wood of pine trees. He swam in the sea in the late afternoon, picnicked in the woods and watched as the sun disappeared behind the mountains, leaving for half an hour the site with a muted, gentle daylight. He felt a happy sorrow, and knew that such a place was the opposite of the housing estate on which he'd been brought up. Whatever he wanted to do with his life must incorporate this feeling of sorrowful bliss. He knew it didn't lie at that moment in university and it certainly didn't lie in living again in the scheme in which his parents still lived and where numerous friends were located. He signed off saying he loved her very much, and that maybe they would meet another time.
She might never have seen him again, but she'd been to Phaselis frequently. She would visit it every year when she came to Olympos. I gave her my email address and said if she ever wanted to return to Scotland she should get in contact. I did it not with the idea that she might; more that I needed to sleep, and yet somehow I wanted still to talk, but also politely extricate myself from the situation. An exchange of email addresses seemed appropriate. I got a pen and a piece of paper from the bar and the owner looked at me in an indeterminate manner as I thanked her. As I scribbled my email details down on the paper and I tore in two down the middle, I could see in the middle distance Christina going to use the communal toilets: they were in a dorm; I had a room with a bathroom to myself. I suppose she wouldn't have seen me since she wasn't wearing her glasses, but maybe if she had she might have found it curious that I was sitting talking to the German woman rather than asleep in my room.
It was a few months later that I got an email from Tamilla, saying that she happened to be in Glasgow, that she had met up with the man she had seen in Olympos, but that it wasn't working out. Could she come and visit me? I replied why not, in a manner that indicated I didn't want her to stay for long; and that I wasn't someone she could rely upon. I explained my flat was very small, but if she needed to stay for a couple of days that would be fine. She said nothing about her daughter.
She arrived in the early afternoon and I met her at Waverley station. It was a dull November day and her colour stood out against the inconspicuousness of the crowds. The exotic look I saw in Turkey became incandescent and radiant in Scotland, and as she came towards me I wondered what cautiousness I had been practising to resist her charms whilst there. Over the next week we hardly left the flat, and while I remember once many years before someone whispering in my ear that she could give me the best sex I had ever had, I remember facetiously replying that wouldn't be difficult: I was only nineteen. But with Tamilla I was in my mid-thirties and she didn't need to whisper the possibility in my ear: the sex was what the earlier girl had promised me but whose delivery would have been muted by immaturity - I would have had so little to compare it with. However, whatever sexual experience I possessed, it was negligible next to Tamilla's, and I lost my body in hers, though my mind I kept lucid. We never once made love without precautions, and I knew that any moment she could leave, find another lover, go back to see the other man in Glasgow. One evening, as I passed my hand down her back, her skin so soft that the hand glided smoothly along it, I asked her about her daughter. She was in Uzbekistan she replied, at school. I wanted to ask how she could leave her there alone, but didn't know how to ask without the question sounding moralistic, and I surmised that she was with Tamilla's parents. Even to ask about her seemed to break the intimacy between us, and I suppose I broke it again later the same night when I asked her about the man from Glasgow. She seemed however happier to talk about this and said he was a lovely man, but very different from her. I asked what she meant, and she said that here she was in someone else's bed after failing to get into his. It was offered without at all the breathtaking insensitivity it might appear to possess as I write it down, and she admitted she was someone who had the capacity to switch her emotions from one person to another without any difficulty. The only person to whom she had ever been strongly attached was her daughter, and yet here she was in Scotland very far away from her.
But she came to Scotland nevertheless I said. Hadn't she come to see a man she had met briefly in the south of Turkey, and followed him to Scotland? Yes she admitted this could have seemed romantic, and she supposed it was, but hardly the first example of it. She said that she first went to Turkey because of a man. Someone she met in Uzbekistan lived in Antalya, and so she went to see him. He was married, had children, but they had a long weekend together and then insisted he must be faithful to his family. She shrugged and got a bus up to Istanbul for a while. And here you are I said not in Glasgow but in Edinburgh and in my bed. She shrugged. Though her English was not perfect, her capacity for explaining herself was impressive. I asked her more about this man in Glasgow.
She said he was someone who went to Turkey often, went there to return to a site he found a magical place when he was younger, and wondered every two to three years whether the place was retaining that magic by returning to it. He said it was to see he supposed whether the magic still resided within him. I asked if she had ever been there. She said of course, and when she asked the question back I said of course too. And was it magical, she asked. Yes it was, but it seemed to contain for her other Scottish friend a melancholy it didn't quite have for me; and it was then that I wondered if the person she knew from Glasgow happened to be the person all those years before that the German woman had met and fallen in love with in Edinburgh. I asked her to tell me what she knew about his career, where he was brought up. She said she wasn't sure where he was from: she assumed it was Glasgow but since she had no idea about Scottish accents it could have been Edinburgh, could have been the Highlands, where I had told her I was from. I recalled he was a sociologist, and she said that he specialized in issues of urban decay. I wondered whether he had ever talked of a great love in the past. She said he was married once, but not for long. She asked him why, and he said maybe that they didn't love each other enough. Had he loved someone else much more? That he didn't say, she said, but it wouldn't have surprised her. He seemed to her a man burdened; it might have been what attracted her to him when she saw him in a bar alone.
My feeling suggested this was the man the German woman was talking about, and how often must they have just missed each other on their regular trips to the area? Did they even pass each other on the beach, or in the village and fail to recognize each other? And here I was, trying to make those connections that they couldn't quite make. I felt as if I wanted to search out this man, say to him that while sleeping with a brief lover of his who had come to Scotland to see him, and then, after he rejected her, came to see me, I found myself thinking that he was the man a woman in a pension had talked about. I wanted to say to him that she still talked fondly of this youthful romance, and that each year she returned to the place where he had once sent a postcard, and visited each year the place that he sometimes returned to also. Yet the hunch of course contained within it the equal sense of how absurd such a gesture would seem, even if I happened to be right that he was the person who had dropped out of university after a year, presumably returning later to do a completely different degree.
It was a strange feeling lying in bed with someone whose body I so desired and yet whom I didn't at all love, and I wondered whether my yearning for the Scottish boy and the German girl to be reunited in later life echoed not so much a major love in my past but the lack of such love altogether. Over the years my affairs have been not unlike the one I was having with Tamilla: casual, temporary, pleasurable. Only this time the sex was astounding. But I had never felt very close to anything or anybody. My work was in IT. My parents and my sister I would see at irregular intervals, though never feel that I missed them, and while my flat, full of idiosyncrasies bought on my numerous travel trips, and furniture bought not cheaply, and a record and CD collection much admired by visitors, was lived in but not loved in. Of all the pictures on the wall not one was of a person I knew. There were paintings by a couple of well-known Scottish artists, a rare film poster for a film I admired less than I liked the poster, and some landscape photographs by a casual lover who kindly left them with me before going on to become almost as famous as the Scottish artists. I couldn't say I didn't like my life, but that wasn't to say I was impervious to the desire for a better, deeper one.
A week after arriving, Tamilla left. She knew people in London and would visit them. I suspected she knew a man there, and was less hurt by the idea than insulted that she felt a white lie was required to protect my feelings. After that she would probably go back to Uzbekistan, she said. She was missing her daughter terribly. I didn't doubt it, no matter if someone else might have seen a woman more interested in jumping in and out of men's beds than tucking her daughter into hers. Tamilla was as free a sexual spirit as I would probably ever know, but she also grounded herself in a love for her daughter that I wouldn't have at all questioned even if it was unconventionally shown.
That evening after Tamilla left I went for a walk up round by a ruined castle down from the highperched Volcanic rock overlooking the city, Arthur's Seat. It was a late Spring day and a dusky early evening, and the sun, fading, left a burnished light not unlike that I recalled from Phaselis. Yet as I stood amongst this modest fourteenth century ruin, I thought not of what I was seeing around me, but the much older ruins of the ancient Turkish coastal town, and of two people, both nineteen, perhaps in their early twenties, but at the same time in their forties, who were walking amongst the ruins. They were both there for the first time, reuniting after months apart, and, again, meeting for the first time there, but after many years estranged. This moment in time, containing so many layers, moved me, and it moved me not because my life lacked meaning, nor even because of past events in this existence of mine. It was as though the German woman, and the young man who might have briefly been Tamilla's lover, as Tamilla was mine, were capable of moving me more than events in my own life. Maybe this was indicative of being estranged from my feelings, or curiously, and momentarily, able to share a feeling that need not belong to anyone, but that travels through time, occasionally locating itself here or there, and which people feel obliged to claim as their own, or at least to claim it through the immediacy of a loved child, as I believed the German woman and Tamilla did, or more vicariously, as Muriel would do with her teenage pupil. Yet perhaps this shared love was not quite the sorrowful joy the German woman's young lover had talked about, and if there was a tragic dimension to my existence it was that it might have been the first time I had ever felt it. Some insist that a life is sad if people have never loved deeply, but I am not so sure if this feeling that evening was not much deeper and more chasmic than love, which habitually hardens around other subjects, and allows for anything from marriage to the neatly written story. This loss that I felt standing by the old ruin seemed to have no object, no matter if I conjured a few up to try and give names to the feeling, and I suspect any attempt here to express it on the page will contain an inevitable failure. Partly, no doubt, through my own literary incompetence, but also I suspect, through a certain nominal slipperiness that means no amount of naming could quite convey the feelings felt. I wondered though whether a child, the daughters Tamilla and the German woman had, allowed this emotion to coagulate, rather as blood stanches a wound that would otherwise keep bleeding.
© Tony McKibbin