Istanbul, the place where Byzantine and Ottoman architecture hold infatuated hands, still managed to cling on to its cosmopolitan impression despite the establishment of the Turkish Republic some 30 years past. It was upon the warmest moonlit evening under oblivious stars, sat at a table set outside of a culinary shrine in the form of a much exalted sea food restaurant in the Kumkapı district of the city, overlooking the Sea of Marmara that two pretty young ladies took particular delight in stuffing themselves upon stuffed calamari as well finding amusement in the animated, vociferous, overburdened waiters, itinerant vagabonds and the skilled, yet wildly surreal one-legged musician playing his accordion and occasionally giving them ‘the eye’.
The girls made the oddest couple, the one perhaps named Eliza, a snow-white slender kidnapper, the other her plausible, yet only days before actual hostage, a sultry, tawny fully ripened Romanian named Catalina. To passers-by and for all intents and purposes the pair were best buddies. Indeed, that is what they had almost become over the previous four days of arduous travel together from Kharkov, across the Ukraine into Crimea, through the effectively closed city, and home of the Soviet naval fleet, of Sebastopol, then across The Black Sea curtesy of a tame fisherman, enroute to Istanbul.
Reflecting upon the events of those previous 96 hours the kidnapper, sipping upon illicit, yet widely available Chardonnay had found it an amazing although not entirely unexpected thing how audacious bribery of railway and border officials had allowed to convert what would otherwise have been a much more onerous journey into one of relatively easy passage.
Having taken one too many glasses of wine, and in retrospect a willingly shanghaied Catalina was clearly keen to fill in the blanks insofar as her personal history was concerned. She had alluded to her tale when travelling, yet now with the bravado born of alcohol had the courage to put flesh on the bone. Nevertheless, her abductor was not herself so tipsy as to realize that were it not for happenstance the escape to Istanbul would have been significantly more dangerous than it had been. In the event, such good fortune meant that the journey had been free of any police or military giving chase.
“Save your tale for now, Catalina, your future remains in balance; is a very private matter twixt me and the ‘other side’. I suggest we get back to our hotel and sleep a well-earned sleep.”
Tomorrow arrived with a flourish, an eager sun shone as proudly as only an arrogant golden orb is capable of. Catalina’s transfer of tangible guardianship back to the Soviets in exchange for a portly, yet supposedly important diplomat was just three more days away. Her abductor concluded a little culture would provide light relief and was much in order. She suspected her hostage had never seen beauty fashioned by man akin to that which Sultan Selim III had designed for his much-cherished mother. It was thus both girls took to Yildiz Park in the Beşiktaş district of the city, with its two beautiful old pavilions, the view of the Bosphorus, waterfalls and ponds as well the stunning gardens and mass of established trees, all guardians of history’s unfinished secrets. Out of choice, both wearing respectful headscarves they strolled aimlessly, favouring chance over design.
“Eliza, this place is so beautiful, I’ve never seen anywhere like it in my life.”
“It is lovely, I agree wholeheartedly.”
The heat was soaring as midday approached, so the girls took to sitting in the shade of a lonely Japanese cherry tree surrounded by absurdly green lawns. Prior to idle chat a quizzical Catalina expressed her concern that wherever they went people were staring at Eliza. Notwithstanding the answer being plainly obvious, Eliza replied saying that she was used to random stares; that it was the way of things for albino’s; that that was why she generally took to wearing both a sunhat and sunglasses, notwithstanding substituting the scarf for the sunhat as of now, her bleached complexion was a giveaway, hence still they gawp. Time to move on.
In a silence that sought no translation, two girls walked through and out of the park in the quest to find a street café in shade. An essentially, but not quite intimate hush. More, one born of Eliza mulling over the barbaric ordeal of Catalina’s misfortune and the determining of exactly what to do with her. That Catalina could prove with hard evidence and certainly to Eliza’s satisfaction, that she had been telling the truth insofar as her innocence viz-a-viz the claimed honey-trap scam was concerned changed the rules of the game. That being the case, it meant, without any shadow of a doubt the planned exchange was a moral impossibility. With that decision made, a methodology of enactment to be resolved and a shady café happened upon, the girls spent the rest of that day being just girls, eventually ending up in the undercover elephantine Grand Bazaar of 60 streets and 5,000 shops. By the end of the day it was an overjoyed Catalina crying tears of wonder at the experience of her lifetime and the gifts she had received. So precious to her the evil eye amulet to wear in her luscious hair to ward off evil spirits, so much silver jewellery, and even a skimpy belly dance costume just for the sake of harmless fun.
“Perhaps you’ll belly dance for me later, Catalina? You looked deliciously exotic when you tried it on in the shop.”
“I don’t know how to.”
“I’ll teach you if you like. A decision apropos your fate can wait another day?”
“You have no costume?”