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“Anything is possible. In 2016 a PKK member named Renas Lelikan based in Sydney, Australia, had many women amongst his supporters. Maria could easily have been one of them. He was charged with being a member of a terrorist group.”
PKK, Aslan said, means the Kurdistan Workers Party, a militant faction fighting for Kurdish autonomy. The political situation is complicated, he commented, “and there is no solution in sight. But blowing up innocent people and tourist sites will not help their cause.”
He was suddenly in a hurry. Perhaps he was anxious to return to his office. “We’re still working on background checks for everyone in your group. I’ll keep you up informed as the info comes through. I will pass on your concerns about Maria and see if they can find out more about her and her husband. I’ll try to talk to him alone and see what I can find out. Tomorrow we will be in Gallipoli. Try to stay close to Maria and tomorrow evening we’ll compare notes.”
The following morning, the motley group visited Gallipoli, walked the battlegrounds and stood on Anzac Cove where in World War One the casualties numbered almost 400,000 Allied and Turkish soldiers. Helen trailed behind Maria as they walked amid the tombstones at Lone Pine Cemetery. Helen pointed at the dates on one the markers. “Look,” she said to Maria, “This one was only 19 years old. It’s so sad.”
“They were lions led by donkeys,” said Maria, quoting an old wartime adage. Then she spat out, “What do a few lives matter if the cause is just?” Helen’s eyes widened. In the next breath Maria seemed to back off. “I mean,” she said, “we are in the hands of God and He will bring us into the fold when it is our time.”
The next day found the group wandering on the ancient hills of Troy. “There were nine periods of settlement here starting with a Bronze Age city in the third millennium BC,” said the guide, who went on to deliver a formulaic summary of Homer’s Iliad with the story of Paris and Helen, whose legendary beauty gave rise to the Trojan War.
“We have our own beautiful lady with us today,” the guide adlibbed, turning to Helen. “I give you Helen of Toronto!”
The group applauded and Helen blushed. “Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships. But mine? A rowboat perhaps?” she laughed.
All eyes, including Aslan’s, were on her.
A moment later Aslan was tumbling down the rocky hill into a deep excavation site. He cried out in pain. The group members turned in unison to see him lying at the bottom of the trench with one leg splayed out at a very unnatural angle.
An hour passed before help arrived to bring a bruised and bloody Aslan up on a stretcher and into a rickety ambulance bound for the Bayramic State Hospital. He was in a great deal of pain, a broken leg for certain, and possible internal injuries, but he was conscious. Everyone stood around and expressed their best wishes to him. “Bad luck, old chap,” said Bruce. The sisters waved and blew kisses to him. He caught Helen’s eye for an instant but she saw only fear reflected back in his.
The day’s outing had come to an abrupt end now. There was only time to buy some local souvenirs. Helen picked up a wooden horse statuette. The group got back on their bus to return to their hotel. Helen sat in an aisle seat with her eyes closed, a little afraid and missing having her cohort nearby. What am I supposed to do now, she wondered. A gentle buzz emitted from her bag. Her phone.
She covertly read the text and then quickly deleted it. It was from Aslan. She casually looked around. The sisters were dozing in front of her, the newlyweds were kissing, Maria was whispering heatedly to Bruce at the back of the bus.
Helen lay back, shaken. She saw the text again in her mind. “Be very careful. Didn’t fall. Was pushed.”