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She received her new key card, insisted that the desk clerk come with her to make sure the room was clear of intruders and then locked and bolted the door. A refreshing tepid shower soon cooled off her sunburned shoulders and arms.
Famished, she decided to order room service, a Turkish mezze platter and some cold crisp white wine. She ate the delicious hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and baba ghanoush with far too much pita bread. Mezze means “sharing” but Helen was feeling very alone. She found more wine in the mini bar and drank that too. She sat on her bed feeling beyond tired. She turned on the TV for company. She didn’t understand much Turkish but she watched an ad showing a Turkish mother making dinner for her family. It was all smiles and marital bliss.
Tears formed, then flooded her eyes.
Stop being ridiculous, she thought. You are drunk and you need sleep. She brushed her teeth, climbed under the soft duvet and fell fast asleep with the television blaring away.
Morning brought sunshine again and a more positive outlook. She had breakfast in the dining room amid a profusion of fashion styles. Women were wearing hijabs, burqas and Western clothing. Helen chose to keep covered up and decided to always have a shawl on hand for visiting mosques and other holy sites. After breakfast, she found the hotel coffee bar and ordered Turkish coffee. “Günaydin,” she said to the waiter. He smiled and took her order. She glanced idly at the tables around her. A businessman poking at his phone. A matron in a floral hat. A young man, possibly a student, arrived and immediately burrowed into a book. A student, how could he afford the prices here? You can never know people’s lives. Another feeling of loneliness wafted over her but she shook it off. There would be no more tears or self-pity. She yearned to get out of the hotel and wander the streets but was nervous to be on her own. Instead, she opted for a mani-pedi at the hotel spa.
In the evening she attended the event she had been looking forward to all day — a meet-up with the tour group she would be travelling with for the week of sightseeing. The stops were to include Gallipoli, Troy, Ephesus, and more. The group was small only eight members, where normally you would expect thirty or so on account of a massive decline in tourism to Turkey. The tour director made sure that everyone was aware of the dangers.
“We must stay together,” he said, “but we’ll try not to appear as though we are a tour group. Rather we'll be a small group of friends out for a stroll, especially in the city when we visit the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. We will not be using the usual headsets as we don’t want to call attention to ourselves. We all know about the recent bombing incidents where tourists were targeted by rebels. I assure you that we at Eastern Tours have taken all precautions to provide a safe trip.”
He then asked everyone to introduce themselves by giving their first name, profession and where they were from. A pair of Persian sisters who seemed to be more interested in shopping malls than the glories of ancient Troy spoke first. A young Moroccan-American couple who were obviously in love and on their honeymoon added their details. Next came an older couple from Australia who, although likeable, were intent on passing their born-again Christian values onto all who would listen. (Helen didn’t listen.)
The last person to speak was a younger man from Bosnia, quiet and reserved, who gave his name as Aslan. He was prematurely balding and had an odd little moustache. He wore a suit despite the casual atmosphere.
Helen felt his burning gaze upon her and wasn’t sure why he was exhibiting such intense interest. She was an attractive woman but wasn’t accustomed to being stared at. Perhaps, she thought, it was because they were each here on their own and so he supposed they were meant to pair up. She tried to ignore his scrutiny by striking up a conversation with (of all people) the Aussies. After a lovely meal ending in baklava for dessert, Helen decided to make her way back to the hotel which was just around the corner.
“Excuse me all, I am really tired. It was lovely to meet everyone and I look forward to our trip tomorrow but I need rest if I have to be up at 6:30. See you bright and early!”
Aslan jumped up and said, “It would be my pleasure to escort you back to the hotel, Miss. You should not be walking on the street at night alone.”