Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2017

 

Cobblestone & Door

NOT ISTANBUL

Prompt :– A White Lie    Genre :- Sultry (?)     Word count :– 2500

——————————————————————

NOT ISTANBUL                      by Annalie Kleinloog

 

“Your turn, Ali.”

Dan’s light touch brings me back to reality with a jolt. I gasp. Good wine turns bad. I cough and splutter. Grateful for the excuse to fetch a glass of water and to gather myself and to remember what my turn is about?

“You OK?” he peeps around the kitchen door. Gorgeous, loving and besotted, Dan.

“Fine.” I smile and wave him back betwixt hoarse breaths.

I can hear the cheerful nattering continue outside. Our group of friends’ typical Sunday pastime – lunch on the open verandah, chilled wine especially with this balmy afternoon breeze, and a topic of interest that sometimes pushes boundaries.

Earlier talk around the table, inevitably steered towards travel and favourite places. Everyone has a story to tell. I leaned back in my chair and into Dan’s protective arm, absorbed in their stories. Laughing when necessary and drifting off dreamily. It must have been the balminess that reminded me so much of that time in Istanbul. Before I met Dan.

It was just before Jane was getting married and it was to be our last girly holiday together. As always, when we travelled, it was an explosion of senses. Cultural, historical and gastronomical. Jane and I didn’t miss a mosque or a museum or an authentic experience. Istanbul was so much more, but it was that humid afternoon in a typical steamy Hammam that interfered with my focus at present.

“The oldest and most reasonable hotel, in the old town,” Jane emphasised the last bit as I queried the weird name she gave to the Taxi driver.   “It’s near the Grand Bazaar and walking distance to the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia” she added, but I knew she always did her research well. I smiled in appreciation. “Cobblestone streets around the shopping areas, good exercise”, she continued the animated itinerary, “then we can drop the bags off before heading to the Bospherous to just chill on a ferry”.

“What about a bit of authentic?” I curbed her fast-forward babbling. “I heard a Turkish Bath is quite different.”

“But we can bath in the hotel, Ali! And I am clean anyway, aren’t you?” She quipped, unenthusiastically. She also understood the secret of amiable traveling. So, we agreed on an authentic Turkish Bath experience by the time we arrived. The historical hotel’s ancient concierge obliged while the aged clerk sorted out the antique keys to our medieval chamber.

“Ahh Ma’am, the original Hammam of all time and in all of Turkey is just around the corner. And there is but one person that can arrange that for you. And that is ME.”

The white gloved, big-grinned concierge puffed his buttoned chest in response to our enquiry and then paused to create the necessary impact of his importance. With us now open-mouthed and big-eyed, he continued to explain: “Yes, this is the ONE Hammam that was used by Sultans. Persian rulers traveled months to see it. Tsars would risk storms, not to miss this.” He swallowed a smoky cough, folded his busy hands behind his back and peered at us from underneath bushy eyebrows.

A dramatic silence crept past. “And important people through the ages from ALL over the world came to have this ONE experience. You see? Ya, only important people like you can go there.”  He ended with a deep bow. We smiled in acceptance of the over-obvious compliment and nodded as was expected, but the look we shared was loaded with suppressed humour.

“I will make reservation now, yes?” Some serious phoning and negotiating accompanied by unfamiliar gesticulating finally resulted in The Bath being secured.  “Please meet here in foyer exactly five o’clock, Ma’am”.   Five o’clock brought us face-to- face with a visibly excited concierge and his on-the-other-side-of-the-phone-friend; the chauffeur of an ominous black car.

As it was late afternoon and a Sunday, there was an eerie stillness around the winding and obscure route we followed. “Like a kidnap scene in a thriller …” Jane mumbled. And glared at me. “You and the authentic thing!” I shrugged the accusation away with a sigh of anticipation. The car’s black polished nose pushed through a gap in an ancient wall. “Wall of Constantinople”, the uniformed and oily-haired driver said. We nodded and pretended to stare in awe. Then we were swallowed by a narrow street on the other side of the gap. Dark alleys combed off to both sides. The driver slowed down, partly to negotiate the uneven width of the road and partly because of visibility. At this snail’s pace I sensed Jane’s impatience and her irritation with my excitement.

“Nobody would know where to find us”, she whispered urgently. And I too noticed that buildings were closer and side streets fewer. In the last rays of the day I could make out a huge door, totally covered by ornate shields, weird patterns and ancient frescoes. Nowhere else to go, this door also indicated the end of the road.

“See where your exploring got us? In the heart of the mafia part of the city … you know these Turks can be cruel and…” Jane swallowed as she was interrupted by a commotion outside. Our doors opened and curious, but friendly faces helped us out. The wave of wigwagging hands and faces carried us through the ancient door. I could just make out Jane’s nervous giggle.

We were led into a cavernous space. Unexpected big and open, but filled with foreign, mesmerising music and chanting in the background. Filled with old smells mixed with clean ones; confusing our chemically conditioned olfactory pathways. Filled with dark spaces; blindingly interspersed with splashes of brightness.

The moment I stepped into the space my thought processes and analytical responses were numbed by the incense, or the dim light, or the strangeness, or all of it.  Different levels in the ancient marble floor made me stumble, my reactions were busy somewhere else.

Jane bumped into me and cursed softly.

Then we came to an abrupt halt in a dimly lit change room. Hushed, but hasty sign language indicated a suspiciously small bundle of clothing. Two bundles with two pieces for each of us. Our hosts disappeared for a moment. As we changed into the scant outfits; the purpose of which still escapes my logic as I was soon to discover that the ‘bath’ had no need for any kind of covering; I could hear the rolling of a foreign tongue giving instructions on the other side of our door. Followed by the friendly hands and faces reappearing to lead us into a different passage. Squeaky and warm wood under our bare feet now. Smooth marble under my naked palms as I tried to stabilise myself against the walls. Muted voices drowned by sounds of what…water? Pattering – feet or hands?

The clean smell of soap became more distinct. So did the sound of water; and then the pattering of, yes, hands. I glanced over my shoulder, caught a glimpse of Jane’s worried expression while passing an old-world wall torch, the only flickering sign of light, and felt a tingle of expectation down my spine.

“Jane,” I motioned and she eagerly caught up with me. “Imagine, to go where the ancients went – to experience what the gods invented. You do know that to explore is to live?” She managed a quivering smile and I giggled.

Steam bubbled from all available gaps as our chaperone opened a door quietly. I could make out the dull sound of a gong; indicating the end of the preceding session. From our side of the door I could just make out the glistening bodies moving to the opposite side of the room.

“Wait here” I translated from the gesture, and knew it wasn’t the steam when I heard Jane breathe hard behind me. Noiseless, our chaperone materialised again from the mist. He guided us into a round room with side passages. Following his wordless instructions, we stretched out on the central marble slab, surprised by its warmth. Jane curled up in protective stance, face-down and foetal. But I found myself in sacrificial position, face up, DaVinci-man, not to miss anything. My view filled with the marble dome adorned with ancient windows; most probably to let the sun in to warm up the slabs. I stretched and waited for the next step in this adventure.

More guests arrived. The round slab filled up with bodies. I realised then that it was Bath night for women. “See?” I said to Jane, “we are not alone.” Secure in the presence of others, she succumbed to the experience. I could tell by her sigh and then turning on her back. And we both observed the ritual starting to whirl around us. Lean, loin-clothed masseurs fell into a rhythmic movement – alternating between filling buckets from hidden taps on the far sides of the room and swooshing the contents over the central marble slab where we reclined.

Group chatter slowly drowned in the symphony created by the hissing of cotton soap-bags filled under ancient taps, accompanied by the pattering of hands. Swirling and twirling; the macabre dance between human, bag and foam was slow enough to be mesmerising, but fast enough to create a luscious lather. The dancers’ shared gestures and expressions indicated the onset of the ‘bath’.

Anticipation was rewarded with the masseur’s firm hands positioning me face-down on the communal slab. He took in his place next to me with his trophy of a foam factory tugged into a loincloth of sort. The only garment of sort on these young men. There was no time to muse over fashion. The first layer of foam was applied as part of a twirling dance movement. I felt the silky flow of the foam over ticklish places. Goosebumps crawled in all directions.

Alternating his foam-dance and lather-layering, the young, but experienced masseur morphed my body into anonymity with the rest of the foam covered group. After an eternity of foam packing, the foam-ritual came to an end.

The sudden stillness enhanced the general hypnotic state as I battled to lift my head, curious. Was the haziness from the group’s heavy breathing or the warm water and foam on cool marble? The calm before the stormy massage phase?

Before reason could take over, strong hands found my back through the layers of foam. Initial surprise caused me to gulp. The masseur took it as a sign of pleasure and proceeded with added vigour making sure not a single fibre of muscle was missed by his probing fingers.

Smooth, rhythmic movements relaxed tense bodies on hard tables. Weariness foamed down the marble slab, onto the marble floor, flowed away into marble canals to join troubles of others across the ages.

“We are unique in our sameness…” I heard Jane groan next to me.

Too soon, the wordless request to turn over was gestured. Barely aware of being human, I obliged. Stretched out, with eyes closed, legs slightly spread and arms floppy with palms facing up, I refused to take control of my senses. Brief irritation with the nervous giggles from around me was replaced by blissful surrender as the foam-dance continued to enchant, albeit from the more sensitive anterior perspective.

Some distant concern about my nakedness and my masseur’s maleness dissipated with the confident manner in his approach. Starting with my left foot and leg, with ever-widening circles he rippled across western restrictions. Anatomical definitions blurred into oblivion as I let myself spin, mesmerised and paralysed.

Slick movements of almost touch – too fast to be grasped – too obscure to be noticed – too subtle to differentiate – too confident to judge. From afar I listened to the heavy breathing and I felt the rhythmic power as he followed this ancient routine. All obtuseness cleared with the sudden conclusion of the ‘bath’. The rhythmic movement stopped abruptly and the atmosphere uncharged in seconds. There was a communal sigh. Everyone on the slab looked flushed. Seated, we received ancient carafes from our individual masseurs. It was filled with cool and clean water. Understanding their gestures, we poured the contents over our foam-covered bodies and stifled gasps as the cold unite us in reality again.

Shiny, clean and naked – several hands reached for stacked towels. Wrapped in dry security, we completed the cycle as we returned to our individual change rooms, to be met by our modern, recently shed attires. Numbed senses, but enhanced awareness. An experience banked in memory. Till today.

I clear my throat again and sip the last bit of water before returning to the pleasant hum around the table outside. Wiping my eyes as I sit down, I smile back at the sympathetic stares. It happens. Dan leans over and kisses my cheek.

“Your turn?” he says and all eyes now focus on me. My turn.

I smile, cough again and start my story about my favourite place.

“You all know that city-travel is not my thing. I prefer the wide open spaces with no interference from civilisation. Rather interaction with locals in rural areas than shopping in malls.” I see some rolling their eyes, they know me. “Give me the smells and sounds of earth in its rawest from.” Appreciative nods around the table.

“But there is ONE city that vibrates with a life of its own. And somehow hums with my vibe too.” Curious glances and knowing smiles. “ The only city I am capable of revisiting over and over again.” Now I see a few leaning forward for more. I smile. “That place where memories created by senses will always haunt me and find my; as if it happened yesterday.”

The daydream fresh in my mind, I once again whirl with the dervishes in concert on the cobbled streets. Where the ice cream sellers played their tricks on me with their bells and little trolleys. I remember the flavours of the food court vendor’s shawarma and his sizzling kebabs. Overflowing grand bazaar, colours, people and exotic items mingle with the constant supply of apple tea and I can feel the glow of the sunset on the waters of the Bospheros.

Suddenly Dan’s face comes into focus and I realise the glow must show. His eyes warm with his own memories. And I realise his anticipation. The reality hit me. I give a little cough, choking experience still an excuse, and continue.

“London” I hear my voice. Strong and convincing. I look at Dan. He beams.

“My favourite place is London.” I pause for effect and to squeeze Dan’s hand on my thigh. “Because that is where I met Dan.”

Whoops and jeers from around the table. And the gentle tuck on my arm, pulling me closer. A whisper in my ear. Enough excuse to make me blush truthfully. Yes, he is gorgeous. And I do love him so.

So what if I have to sacrifice Istanbul? Jane will understand.

Doesn’t Oxford Dictionary define a white lie as a harmless or trivial lie, especially one told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »