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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 24 page 13

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Bruce spoke up, “We’ll see you all in the bus shortly.”

Maria scowled at him.

The group, including Aslan, was now sitting in the lobby waiting for their bus to pull up.

“Good morning Helen,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”

“I did. And thank you so much for the chat about Troy last evening. I feel I am really up for the adventure now. I can’t wait to get on the road. But today we have our city tour. I’ve been absolutely dying to see the Hagia Sophia since I saw a documentary about it on the History Channel.”

Maria jostled Helen as she walked past in a rush to board the bus. “Come along Bruce!” she yelled back to her husband.

“Pay no mind to Maria. She’s got a lot on her mind just now,” Bruce said apologetically.

At last they were underway. “Constantinople,” the tour guide explained, “was historically a Greek city, and its current name, Istanbul, is a Turkish way of saying the Greek phrase is tin poli which means ‘to the city.’” As the bus drew near the Hagia Sophia, he exclaimed, “Before you lies one of the great jewels of Istanbul!”

As they entered the Hagia Sophia, the guide tried to condense 1,500 years of history down to a few minutes that the group could absorb. “Its name means ‘Divine Wisdom,’” he said. “The dome soars 56 metres. Construction started in 532 AD under Emperor Justinian I as a Greek Orthodox basilica, then for a time it was Roman Catholic. In 1453 Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city and turned the Hagia Sophia into an imperial mosque. This structure became the model on which future mosques would be built.”

Nowadays, however, it was mainly a museum.

“See up here, there are mosaics depicting Jesus and other Christian deities. Many were plastered over and covered with Muslim script. But some have been uncovered. Please take a few minutes to explore at your leisure.”

Helen was awestruck. The jewel-toned colours of the mosaics and the twinkling of the multitude of chandeliers, the soaring arches and buttresses, all made this holy place look and feel spectacular. Helen took one photo after another, then finally just stood still to take it all in. She, who had never felt even a whisper of divinity, bowed her head in reverence.

But as they drove away, she noted that she had achieved another checkmark on her places-to-see list.

The rest of the day was filled with visits to the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the Byzantine mosaics and frescos of the Kariye Museum. Helen was so enveloped in the beauty of the city that she had practically forgotten she had a job to do. Aslan brought that point home as he whispered to her as they were returning to their hotel that evening, “Let’s meet for a drink before dinner.”

To avoid suspicion, Helen called out for the entire group to hear, “Would anyone like to join me for a glass of wine before dinner?”

She knew the sisters and newlyweds were all Muslims and didn’t drink alcohol. The Aussies, she had previously overheard, avoided it as well. Sure enough, Maria was quick to pipe up, “Wine is a mocker, an intoxicating drink that arouses brawling. Proverbs, Chapter 20, Verse 1.” She glared at Helen as if at a devil.

“Well, I’ll join you, Helen,” Aslan said.

Off they went on their own.

“What’s happening, Aslan?”

“I’ve seen you chatting with the ladies. Now that you’ve had the chance to get to know them a little, has anyone seemed a bit off to you?”

“Not the sisters or the young couple. But there is something suspicious about Maria. She seems hostile towards me. Do you think it could be her?”

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