It was some time ago and I was holidaying in the South of Turkey in the deliberately underdeveloped coastal resort of Cirali. My then girlfriend and I had been working in London for three years without a holiday, employed by an advertising firm where one contract followed another, and as we accumulated holiday entitlement that we never had the time to take, so we also accumulated minor ailments that seemed a by-product of long hours without alleviation in a city that was itself exhausting. A couple of months before quitting we were sitting on the tube, going from our flat in Southgate in the north of London, to our jobs in Hammersmith, which involved a change in the city centre, when we said to each other it was time to quit, at least for a while.
We decided to go somewhere tranquil and isolated and chose Cirali, a place famous for being next to the chimera, where natural gaseous flames would appear out of the cracks in the mountain. Cirali was the nearest beach, and over the last fifteen years had evolved into a village of pansions, of wooden bungalows along and around the seafront. The beach was about seven kilometres from the highway, and the only way to reach it from the main road was by a winding, downhill narrow road which added to the feeling of privacy and retreat.
It was a place made up almost exclusively of couples or families with children. It was thus surprising to see one evening as Anna and I ate dinner at a pansion restaurant not far from where we were staying, a woman sitting alone, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and though she looked to me intensely lonely, there was no sense that she wanted company either. She was neatly attired in a green summer dress that was too formal for the beach and indicated that she had dressed for dinner.
Over the next week we saw her on the beach a couple of times, and saw her once again when we ate at the nearby pansion. It was a place Anna and I had almost stayed in, as it offered a wholefood diet, yoga in the mornings, and had a fruit, vegetable and herb garden the guests could eat from, and roomy cabins with a bedroom, a bathroom and a veranda like all the others, but also a sitting room that made the bungalows look much more capacious than at the other pansions, and more like small houses. At least that is what those recommending the place claimed when we enquired into pansions on line before coming.
However, as we wanted to stay for six weeks, so we chose a place half the price, and occasionally treated ourselves to dinner at the more palatial pansion. It was on this second visit there, as we again observed the woman above, wearing once again a dress too formal for the beach, that the owner came over saying that she recognized us from our previous visit, and asked if we knew about their yoga classes in the morning. Anna replied she did, but believed they were exclusively for the guests, and the owner shrugged, saying that if all her guests attended the classes it is true there would be no space in the hall, but out of the thirty guests only eight or nine attended the classes. Perhaps they are too early she proposed: they start at eight. It was a comment Anna took to be both a provocation and an invitation, and said that she would be there the following morning.
Anna and I had been together for five years, and actually met in surroundings not too unlike those in Cirali. She was staying in a yoga retreat in Palolem in the south of Goa, and I was travelling through the South of India and, halfway through my trip, exhausted by heat and fumes even in India's smaller towns, I did what I promised myself I would not do - I opted for a couple of weeks on the palm-tree lined beaches of Southern Goa. After a few days staying in a hostel with a toilet that wouldn't flush, I moved to the retreat where the toilets didn't need to: they were holes in the ground outside the bungalow, with a wooden fence around them to allow for privacy. After defecating one simply threw a bucket of water down the hole and the waste matter was washed away.
The issue of the toilets was basically the first conversation Anna and I had as we discussed sanitation problems in India, and how the retreat managed to resolve it without relying on sophisticated technology: the toilet paper was biodegradable and along with the faeces disintegrated into the earth. As I stayed at the retreat, following its diet, doing yoga each morning, I realized whilst yoga was of little interest, many of the by-products of the life - the early rising, the vegetarian diet, the sense of existence concentrated as much on the body as on its capacity to do things - intrigued me, and if you come from Glasgow and have friends that can say with a straight face that they like to keep a regular diet of fish and chips, white pan loaves, bacon sandwiches, caramel slices, Sunday roasts of mutton or beef dripping in blood gravy - then the yoga life is as much of a culture shock as many other aspects of India. I may have for only the second time been travelling outside of Europe, but it might have been the retreat that was more of a shock than the rest of the country, if we assume that transformation is vital to the shock effect.
I returned to Glasgow about five weeks after Goa, and Anna, who was from Australia, continued travelling through Asia, into the Middle-East, and several months later came to Glasgow and moved into my flat when she arrived and we remained in it until we moved to London, with Anna working in herbal medicines in a shop called Napiers off Byres Road; while I continued working in a book shop on The Great Western Road, though I'd studied film and marketing. We enjoyed the life but hated the weather, and our minds would consistently drift back to our time in Goa. What about a retreat of our own, we mused. The plan was for both of us to move to London for five years and get jobs in the professions in which we were trained: advertising. The idea was to buy a retreat on the west coast of Mexico, where we had both been but at different times. There appeared a strange form of disjunctive coincidence that meant we should end up buying a place in Mazunte, somewhere I had been eight years earlier and Anna seven. Anna knew even then that she wanted to own a retreat, while all I knew when I visited was that I believed I was visiting the edge of the world and would recall bleakly that Glasgow was its dull centre. It wasn't especially Glasgow; simply that the city was the all too probable, and Mazunte suggested magic. When Anna and I met in Goa it was as though we had been in Mexico together, no matter that we visited on different occasions.
The next morning Anna went off to Yoga, and I read a few chapters of the Scottish novel Lanark until she returned. I read quite a lot, I supposed, perhaps especially for someone who had no interest in writing, but one reason why I took a job in a bookshop when leaving university was that after studying marketing I wanted to be around words that I believed people wanted to write and not only words written to push a product that people had been convinced to buy. Taking the job in London was an attempt to get out of Britain whilst retaining an interest in culture: basically Anna would have the retreat and I would have a bookshop conjoined, and as I worked through the two big books that I was reading, Lanark and also The Savage Detectives, I thought they seemed to sum up the two sides of the coin that I happened to be. The Gray book that talked about Glasgow as nostalgic past and as a bitter and strangely futuristic present, and the Bolao novel which talked of drifting from one place to the next, and mainly Mexico City and Barcelona. Anna and I knew that taking the trip was going to push back opening our retreat by a year, but we were also worried if we didn't take it that we would eventually have no energy left to open anything at all. Reading the books, the first I'd read in months, may not have been contributing to buying the retreat, but it felt like I was at least working once again with the feelings that contributed to the desire for one
Anna returned and over breakfast at our pansion I asked how the Yoga was and she said it wasn't especially demanding, but probably more than enough considering she hadn't been doing it regularly for so long. But it reminded her again of why she wanted to have the retreat in Mazunte, and I said that was interesting because lying in bed reading did exactly the same for me. As we talked about our mutual feeling no matter the difference of interests, she also added that she saw the woman who was alone the previous night. She hadn't been to the yoga class, but as Anna left and passed through the pansion she noticed that the woman was sitting at a table drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. I asked whether she was alone, whether she had talked to any of the staff, and Anna said that admittedly she had observed only for a minute; but that she seemed to be on her own and not engaging in conversation with anyone.
Over the next couple of days Anna and I hired a moped, and went along to several of the other villages near Cirali, all of which could only be reached by their own road down to the sea: the mountains along the sea front making it presumably too difficult or too expensive to drill a hole right through them and link one village to the other. First we went to a place called Ulupinar, halfway between the coast and the highway, known for a series of restaurants that were surrounded by waterfalls; an image that looked romantic and enchanting on the pictures, but felt dank and dark when we were sitting there in the late afternoon surrounded by overhanging trees that blocked out much of the sunlight. Many of the visitors seemed Russian, and Anna felt a vague sense of menace as she presumed that some of the women who were dressed in designer outfits, wearing inappropriate high heels and carrying handbags made of expensive leather, were probably prostitutes or gangster's wives and mistresses.
It was a feeling partly confirmed by our next stop further along the coast at Tekirova, a fully developed holiday resort where the signs were in both Turkish and Russian, and where the shops were selling the very designer items we saw the women in Ulupinar wearing. Much of the beach front was invisible, owned it seemed by the large hotels that were as conspicuously present as the beaches were absent. The hotels were gated and with security guards, and we wondered who owned them: Russians or Turks? We knew that land laws in Turkey made it difficult for foreigners to own property in the country, but this was we supposed more like 'investment': an instance of so large a sum of money being spent, so vast an area converted, that it could be justified through job creation and renewal. Perhaps.
Indeed Anna and I had talked about the ethical problem involved in owning a piece of land in Mexico, in using our dubiously gotten gains from advertising on a paradise in a country we had merely visited, but like many another westerner we created for ourselves a sort of ethical space of our own to justify it. Anna insisted that she would pay people a wage much higher than other menial jobs in the area, would feed the staff on the organic food the guests would be eating, and arrange transport to and from work for all the people she employed. I didn't disagree with her, but supposed that even the most idealistic dreams would have to meet with reality. After all hadn't we insisted we would work for five years, and had to take a break after three? The dream was one thing, but our body fatigue another.
What dream had broken against what reality I wondered, for the woman alone? As I was sitting reading The Savage Detectives one afternoon at a juice caf in the village centre, I looked across and noticed the woman having obviously just sat down about twenty yards away. I watched as the caf owner came over and said hello in such a manner that it was obvious they were already acquainted, and mused over whether the greeting was based on knowing her this season or previous years also. At the pansion where Anna and I had dinner she spoke English with what we assumed was the owner, though as far as we could tell the owner was Turkish; here, however she talked in Turkish. Whether she was fluent or not I could not say; my own Turkish no more fluent than it needed to be to offer a few words to be polite. Indeed when the caf owner came over to take my order he asked in English, and realising his English was obviously quite good, to reply in Turkish rather than my mother tongue would have been ruder than trying to be polite by using his. But as they talked for several minutes I noticed that if she wasn't Turkish she must at least have been as comfortable in the language as she and the owner even seemed to share a joke. This was the first sign of humour from a woman I had assumed to be depressed, and it made her more intriguing still. I remember a friend once saying the most interesting people are those who are miserable but have a sense of humour - it indicates they also have a sense of perspective.
It would have been a couple of days after this when I saw her again. I had met Anna at the upmarket pansion after she had finished yoga, with the idea of us having breakfast together there. Coming out of the session Anna said she wasn't hungry, that she was going back to the bungalow - she felt exhausted. The previous night we had been up late talking enthusiastically over a bottle of wine about the retreat we were going to own, and the food we would serve, the sort of books I would sell in the small shop we were going to have next to it, and the gallery where we would sell the work of artists from Scotland, Australia and Mexico. She insisted I stay for breakfast myself - she wanted to be alone for a couple of hours anyway, and she would meet me on the beach.
It was that morning I talked to the woman for the first time. The pansion only had seven tables, and all were occupied, and so I asked the woman if I could share hers. She said that would be fine, and though she may have been alone, conversationally she didn't seem to be especially lonely. Up close she looked around fifty, and though her skin was indicative of a woman middle-aged, with its open pores and its crow's feet, her eyes looked much younger. They were a clear blue, with no signs of redness around the edges, and no doubt her blonde hair, clearly though lightly dyed, made them especially prominent. She was no longer the beautiful woman she may well have been ten to fifteen years before, but she was more than attractive enough for her often youthful, vaguely flirtatious gestures not to seem absurd. We had been talking for about thirty minutes when she said that she had been coming to Cirali now for more than five years, and I asked how this came to be so. She laughed and said it was the sort of thing that she didn't like talking about - yet whenever anyone asked she would always talk about it.
She explained that eight years ago she was living in Berlin, was living with a man who often bored her, who had a job quite high up in the car industry, and who gave her whatever she wished. She worked part-time in an art gallery, but it was her partner that funded her lifestyle. One afternoon an artist from the south of Turkey came in to see the opening of an exhibition they were putting on of contemporary Turkish art, and they talked for a short while that evening, and then he returned the next day and they had lunch together. He was only thirty two, and she was at the time several years older, while her own partner was in his late fifties. It was the sort of scenario that was not unpredictable, but then maybe our mind is more discerning than our heart, she offered, with a shrug and a smile. She took the afternoon off work, went to a hotel with him, and they slept together. She would occasionally take a lover, for her partner was not always potent, and much of his ego was in his work and not especially in the bedroom. He liked a partner who was younger than he was and involved in the arts, and didn't expect from her fidelity; merely discretion.
This lover was different, she said, as they lay in bed all afternoon and talked about art and the feelings it gave them. I looked at her as if maybe she had told me enough already, but by now she wasn't talking to me at all, but in reverie, as she said that for him art was a sensual act, and that he worked on a canvas as intimately as he would make love to a body. He liked to work on large canvases because he felt it was a world; small canvases merely a glance at the world. He wanted to be encompassed, and she said that how he created art made her think of how she absorbed it. She respected miniaturist art, she had a liking for anything from Giacometti to Joseph Cornell, but she loved Warhol's large-scale pieces, Rothko's work. She would usually only curate for big canvases, and that was exactly how she came to have an exhibition of the artist she was in bed with. As she talked, she sometimes would seem to be speaking to me, at others talking to her lover.
I asked her whether she saw him again after that, and she said not only did she see him again, she allowed him to change completely her life. Though she lived with her wealthy lover, she also knew she wanted to be alone sometimes, and he had insisted in buying her an apartment next to the Tiergarten, Berlin's major park. She supposed it was his way of giving her a gift that would also give her stability. He never wanted her to think that she should live with him because she had nowhere else to go. Though she initially tried to dissuade him from buying the two bedroomed but very roomy apartment, he insisted that it was as much for his peace of mind as hers. He wanted to know that she was with him because she wanted to be. During the five years they were together he bought her many gifts, but nothing that convinced her he loved her more than the buying of the flat. She also knew that somehow leaving him would hurt him less than if she were to sell the apartment. Perhaps because as long as she still had the flat, she still would have some feelings for him and for the generosity he showed her.
But when she met the young artist with whom she shared so many thoughts and so many feelings, whose touch was never clumsy and whose eyes were always clear, she wanted to have nothing more to do with her older lover. His generosity seemed suddenly imprisoning, his low-key jealousy passive aggressive, and his wealth an absurd attempt to hide the inevitability of his bodily decay. Now, she said, the older man wanted finally nothing with her: she was an adjunct to his life, and though he wasn't married, she nevertheless lived with him she believed as if a mistress. He had his business-oriented life, and her purpose in it was to be a vacation from that life, and occasionally a trophy presence at various events. With the artist she thought it was different, as he wanted them to be so intertwined that they should find a way of living together that meant they need never be apart unless they wished to be. Where her older lover offered her a flat that made her feel like mistress; the artist indicated to her a life where they could become life partners.
As they would lie in bed those first weeks together, before she had told her older lover she was seeing someone else, they discussed where they could live, how they could live, what they would do with the many years they had before them. It was during that time she added up the cost of all the jewellery she had been given, and valued the price of the flat. She worked out that at a conservative estimate she was worth half a million Euros, and that would easily be enough to buy a retreat in the very village that she now happened to be having this conversation. As I looked at her she seemed at the same time to be both sad and proud, and I guessed that she was the owner of the retreat where Anna and I would occasionally have dinner, and that the perceived owner was the manager. Who I wondered was the young artist, and mused over the various people milling around who could have been workers, owners or guests? Or had he long since left?
She looked at me and said that I seemed to have worked out that she was the owner of the pansion, said her name was Fatma, and asked why Anna and I had decided to stay at another one. I wanted to ask her futher questions about her life, but I realized that everything she had offered so far was unprompted by any queries on my part, and that it would be strangely violating, no matter how much she had already told me, to ask a question that would have made her say more. Instead I explained to her why Anna and I had come to Cirali, and how our future plan was indeed to start a retreat of our own. She invited Anna and I for dinner at the pansion that evening, and I said I had to talk to Anna of course but I am sure she would agree.
By the time I arrived at the beach it was after one O'clock and Anna wasn't any longer there. I went back to the bungalow and saw her lying on the hammock, and as I moved towards her I realized that she must have fallen asleep there after getting back from yoga, for she looked like she was becoming burnt. As I woke her she immediately noticed she had been sitting in the sun too long, and instead of chastising herself for her unawareness, she attacked me for being away till so late. Where had I been all this time she said loudly, and I explained to her that I had been talking to the woman we had observed. After I went and got a couple of cups of tea from the pansion, and we sat in the porch and out of the harsh sun, I told her what the woman had talked to me about. After I finished, Anna said why did she stop there, and I said that she concluded abruptly and then asked me a question, and I didn't feel somehow that I had a right to enquire further. Perhaps she will talk more at dinner tonight. Anna wasn't so sure and wondered whether the woman wasn't trying to seduce me. She would have been maybe fifteen years older than Anna, and clearly well into her forties, but Anna's petulant jealousy wasn't without justification. Not because at that moment I was especially attracted to the woman, but that the woman was still obviously attractive. Occasionally an older woman intimidates a younger one with her history, and while it is true most older women that I've met seem shy of light, shy of their past, shy of being alive for so long, this woman seemed different. When I got back to the bungalow, for the first time Anna's skin seemed too young, her eyes too clear, her past barely existing much beyond our first meeting. We were in our mid-twenties when we met, and both hardly out of university; this woman seemed to have lived several more lives than Anna. While I wasn't especially attracted to her; she intrigued me, and that she owned a pansion not too unlike the one Anna and I hoped one day to open, added to the respect we both I suppose felt for her. Anna's admiration may have reflected itself in jealousy, and mine in fascination, but I suppose we were both equally willing to give this woman credence that we wouldn't have so readily offered without the credentials she seemed to possess.
That evening we dressed up more than usual. As our tans were now a warm light brown and no longer reddish(Anna had got out of the sun in time not to burn); Anna wore a cream coloured, almost diaphanous dress she had bought shortly before coming to Turkey, and I wore a pair of faded jeans and a white shirt. It was as though we were both dressing up for each other and curiously competing for the woman's attentions I felt, as we arrived at the other pansion and entered the dining area. Fatma was even more strikingly dressed than usual, wearing an emerald green dress with matching shoes, and a green amber necklace and bracelet. Over the starter she asked us about our ambitions, and we explained that we had saved quite a lot of money, had taken time out, and would go back to London to work for another two or three years before hopefully opening our own retreat in Mexico.
She said that she admired the directness of our ambitions, and I asked her what she meant by the directness and she shrugged, lit a cigarette as we waited for the main course, and reckoned that her moves toward owning her own place were much more lateral and contingent. After university at Munich she had no idea what she wanted to do: she was interested in art but had no aptitude for it, would have at least liked to have been a critic but though she was discerning enough and seemed to know the good from the bad, the fresh from the stale, she could rarely go beyond the initial reaction to explain what was so significant about it. She got a job in an art gallery for a couple of years, then left and travelled to Istanbul, where she worked in a gallery for six months, staying with relatives, then onto Goa and then went to Morocco for a while, working in a craft shop in Essaouira. When she returned to Germany she didn't know where she wanted to live. She didn't want to go back to Munich, where she had worked for a while after university, finding it too restricting and comfortable, and so went to Berlin: the wall had recently fallen, the rents were cheap, the art scene seemed to be exciting. After a few relationships she met the man she had told me about, and was with him for a number of years. He was generous, bought a gallery she could run, and a flat that she owned. I'm sure, she said, looking at me, you've told Anna about what I told you earlier today, so I've no reason to repeat myself. Just to say, she added, that I can hardly say all this came out of a strong drive and direction.
As we were eating the main course she announced provocatively that maybe she believed more in love than Anna and I did. Not, she insisted, that Anna and I didn't love each other. No, more that our ambitions were perhaps stronger than our love; for her she thought it was the opposite, and perhaps why she was running this very pansion, and running it in such a way that was consistent with the ethos she shared with her lover. But now, she said, looking at the cigarette she was smoking and the third glass of wine she was drinking, it would probably be more appropriate if she owned a bar. She explained that when she first met her lover he was close to becoming an alcoholic and she was a heavy drinker. He would often paint drunk, and began to believe that the work was better for his inebriated state and she would drink at any party or gallery opening under the assumption that drunk she was a lot more engaging than sober. Perhaps they found that in the previous years they hadn't talked to anybody who was interested enough in them, and only concerned with what they represented, but they discovered with each other they didn't need to drink at all. They were drunk on the excitement of their meetings, the pleasure of each other's bodies. Why drink, they wondered, and it was then that they decided what they wanted to do was create the opposite of the environments they were in in Berlin and in Kas, and decided they would open a retreat in the south of Turkey. It would be a creative space and a healthy spa at the same time, and one that came not out of some abstract ideal, but the immediacy of the two bodies that would commingle in her flat in Berlin.
As she finished she took a large sip of wine, and said that clearly something hadn't worked. Once again I found that despite her apparent honesty, she did not create the opportunity for me to ask her a personal question without seeming to be rude. It was as though her need to talk had its own inner logic and to ask questions was a bit like interrupting someone's train of thought. I suspected that this was a convoluted thought process that had gone on for months, perhaps several years, from the moment her lover had left her - for that is surely what must have happened.
Yet that evening she never did talk about her lover's leaving, and instead did what she had done before: she broke off her own monologue and turned the conversation around, asking us when we intended to return to work. We explained as soon as we felt rested. She said again that she liked our focus and direction, but somehow wondered if a life, a real life doesn't have direction but digression; that it is the wrong directions, the unanticipated paths that we take which strangely give our lives their uniqueness. She said this and let her mind trail off, before saying that we may have noticed that most evenings there had been screenings in the yoga hall. Most nights of the week, she said, they would put a film on after dinner for the guests. Usually it would start around nine, and obviously many diners continued with their meal; others finished promptly and would let their dinner digest with the aid of some food for their mind. I asked what the film was going to be that evening and she said it was a German road movie of the seventies.I'd heard of it; even studied it at university, and said that I hadn't seen it since. I said I would love to, though Anna pulled a face, and said that she wanted to go back to the room to meditate, and wanted to be up early in the morning for yoga. She insisted I go ahead; it would be easier for her to concentrate if I wasn't hovering around the bungalow.
There were seven of us watching the film, and as we sat on the dining chairs that we took from the restaurant area we all patiently watched this film about a young man whose own life takes a different turn when he temporarily looks after a young girl. As I watched the film in German but with the English subtitles on, I wondered if the pansion owner chose the films based on aesthetic criteria, on what she assumed the guests would like to see, or some personal preoccupation. I realized that there seemed to be nothing that she did, said, ate or drank that didn't seem to be based on exactly what she wanted to do. She smoked in her own pansion though it was a health retreat, she talked about whatever seemed to preoccupy her, and managed to dissuade anyone from asking her certain questions whilst apparently feeling entitled to ask others any question she liked. Near the end of the film I glanced sideways and noticed tears trickling down her face, and I had the feeling that this was a film she had watched many times, and that the films she chose were all personally resonant.
The next morning when I awoke, Anna was still at yoga, and I quickly put on my swimming trunks, grabbed a towel, took a bottle of water from the fridge next to the pansion kitchen, and went for a swim. As I swam back and forth between a couple of boats anchored a hundred metres or so from the shore, so I knew I didn't want to go back to the pansion and have breakfast with Anna. Instead I went along to the one where I saw Fatma talking to the owner in Turkish, and ordered some breakfast there. Again the owner insisted in speaking English, and I explained that I felt a little rude and that I should be making the effort to speak Turkish. He said it is difficult: it is true he wanted the people who visit Turkey to speak Turkish, but he knew also that if he spoke English with visitors then his English would steadily improve and he would have more guests. I couldn't deny this was so: Anna and I chose the pansion we were staying in partly because they claimed English was spoken. It was by now almost eleven in the morning and there was nobody else for breakfast; I asked if he wanted to join me and practice his English.
As I sat eating a tahini and honey pancake and some fresh fruit with yogurt, I asked for how long he had owned the pansion. He said it was his family home - his parents had worked the land, and about twelve years ago, when he got back from his studies, and his parents were in their late fifties, he thought they would be better turning it into a pansion. His sister and brother were not interested - they both lived in Istanbul, and were in well paid jobs - and so he took it over, married the woman who he waved across at, the woman who had made the pancake, and they had two children: one of whom had served it to me. He started to talk about the recent history of this coastal village, and it was then that I asked for how long had Fatma owned her pansion. He might have been suspicious of such a query - he didn't know which pansion I was staying in, and if I was staying at Fatma's he may have wondered why I hadn't asked someone there, or if I wasn't why I was asking the question at all. Instead he said that she was well-known around here, and there are certain people, he proposed, that are the subject of gossip. As far as he knew nobody was at all interested in his life, for he was married with two children and living on his parents' land, with his parents in a bungalow at the back and enjoying their retirement. He and his wife liked Fatma, though Fatma was not religious as they were, and she dressed in a manner that people would sometimes say was provocative and anti-Islamic. But though her values were not theirs; they knew she was a strong woman. A couple of years ago when it looked like a big hotel was going to move into the area, funded by Russian money like in Tekirova, she went to all the meetings, and she was the only one there who spoke all the languages required: Turkish, English, German, and also some Russian. He said he went with her to a couple of these meetings, and he admired how she defended herself and the community.
At the time it must have been especially hard for her, he said, because it was only a few months after her lover had left, the person she had come to Cirali to set up the pansion with. He was much younger than her, and very good looking the women would say, but he never seemed to flirt with any of the guests, or anybody in the community - until one day a guest arrived and he left with her less than a week later. People knew that because he was Turkish the pansion would have been in his name, and we wondered when he would come back and claim it as his own, but he never did. He sometimes thought that Fatma would have preferred for him to have done so, if only to have seen him again as he asked her to leave. As he said this the pansion owner seemed almost to be enacting the scenario, as though to see in her, if only in his imagination, a weakness that he suspected she had felt but never shown. I in turn surmised that this pansion owner was not a little in love with Fatma himself, and in the process of thinking the thought realized that I probably was no less so.
As I finished drinking the complementary tea the owner's son had brought me, I said I should be going. I left ten Turkish lira and thanked him for the breakfast, and started walking back to the pansion. On the veranda table Anna had left a note saying that she had gone to buy a lamp; a mosaic candle lamp we had seen shortly after arriving in Cirali, and that we had decided would look nice hanging from the entrance to the bungalow, as we sat drinking a glass of wine and thinking wistfully of our successful escape from London. Except I knew that night as we would be sitting there perhaps eating succulent figs and sipping a glass of wine, I wouldn't be thinking of our trudging through the streets of London, or the retreat we would have in a few years time. I would be instead thinking of Fatma, sitting not very far away, whose loneliness had strangely eaten its way into my own heart and excavated much of my feeling for Anna and the joint dream we shared.
© Tony McKibbin