The current Turkish capital isn’t as charming as Istanbul.
No way! Travelling by bus from Nevşehir.
750 km! I need to think.
1 April 2011 at 16:12
The bus driver explained that they could get off for half an hour to drink something and stretch their legs while he filled up with petrol and checked the wheels. Or that was more or less what Leo understood. They were in a service station on the outskirts of Ankara, Turkey. They had been on the road for four hours, with another six to go, so it was a good idea to rest and get some fresh air. The sun beat down, and all the passengers hurried to get off the vehicle. There were lots of middle-aged women carrying large packages and half a dozen children with grubby cheeks and translucent eyes who went from crying to running around, sulking and laughing almost without noticing. Right next to a petrol pump, two men stood smoking and, over on the other side, another four were playing draughts. In the distance could be seen the city, which spread over the stony hill with its yellow and white buildings of no more than four floors. Humble houses with their belly of misery surrounded the current political and administrative tummy button of Turkey. Leo sighed. They had been travelling for hours! The succession of events over the last two weeks made her feel dizzy. The young man next to her also got off and invited her to a cup of tea with a brief gesture of his hand. She accepted and smiled. Beforehand, she asked permission in the station to use a computer and post a public message on Twitter, as she had promised her brother before leaving home on that distant 8 January. It was the quickest way to let her family know which part of the world she was in.
It seemed like such a long time since she had taken her leave of her father, mother and Roi at the airport! It wasn’t even three months since her departure, and yet Leo had the sensation that centuries had gone by. No one else had turned up to say goodbye, despite the fact that this journey had been a joint project which others, one by one, had reneged on. First Aldara, then Inés, and finally Martiño. Her best friends had pulled out at the last moment, but Leo – in spite of her fear, doubts, suspicions… in spite of everything – had decided to push ahead with her dream.
She would travel around the world on her own for six months. She had six thousand euros and a fixed purpose: to see everything that entered through her eyes during that time. She had recently completed a degree in Business Studies, and she needed this breath of fresh air before signing up for the world of work – or, rather, unemployment benefit. The economic crisis didn’t offer a clear horizon, and clouds of despair threatened moderate to heavy rain. ‘Later,’ she swore, ‘I’ll go back.’ No delay. No excuses. Everybody has to confront their own responsibility, and Leo realized there was no shirking hers. Her sense of duty weighed down on her shoulders more than any other burden. This was further increased by what had happened barely two months before she’d left: the accident. It sent a shiver down her spine, just thinking about it. Also, the meaning of words such as ‘meeting of creditors’ and ‘redundancy plan’, which before then had been unfamiliar terms in the press, had suddenly taken on visible form in the kitchen of their house.
She had thought there was no way she could leave her mother in such circumstances. But she did.
‘It’s not a question of abandoning you, mother,’ she had insisted during the rosary of complaints she’d been forced to endure before her departure. ‘I have to do this. I promise you I’ll be back. In six months. You’re tougher than you think, you’ll manage on your own.’
And so it turned out. As Leo carefully confirmed in the database each week, her mother’s new company figures had dipped slightly to begin with, but were now steaming ahead at full speed.
Her mother was capable of fulfilling any task she set herself.
Leo had herself a good role model.
Perhaps that was why she was there. In a service station on the outskirts of Ankara, Turkey, under a beating sun, on inhospitable and rugged terrain. All she had was a rucksack with a couple of changes of clothes, passport, credit card, a little cash, international student card, international health insurance, a ridiculous washbag and an unexpected guest: the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Somebody had put it in her rucksack at the last moment, and it had become an indispensable travelling companion. Probably her aunt Cris or Roi – whatever, she had to admit they’d come up with the most loyal companion she could have wished for. The things we rely on are sometimes the ones we least expect.
The ones that weigh the least.
So there she was, drinking tea with a stranger and stringing together a few discreet words in an English whose communicative possibilities she had learned to exploit to the maximum.
After that major surprise on 19 March, Leo had decided to give herself some distance so she could clarify her ideas.
She hadn’t clarified them very much, but every little bit helps.
Since her departure the previous 8 January, she had visited Lisbon first, where she’d shared an apartment and mould in the Chiado district with Rubén, a flighty character who’d ended up falling for her, or something like that. She’d run away from all that rain and nostalgia in search of sun, and landed in Barcelona, where she’d met Ruth & Co., a gang she’d hooked up with for a period of time. By the hand of Mayra, Lía, Edmundo, Andrés and Claudia, she’d discovered Granada – oh, the light! – and lots of other intimate, unconfessable secrets. For that reason, when they decided to head north in the direction of Santiago de Compostela, it had cost her an arm and a leg to opt for a different destination. She had visited Marrakesh, the desert’s red city, in the awkward company of the Argentinian Edmundo. But she’d got fed up of all his hypocrisy and taken hold of the rudder of her journey. In this way, following a brief adventure in Cairo Airport, she’d ended up in Iria’s house in Istanbul. Iria was friends with Bibi, a colleague of her brother Roi’s, and had acted as guide during the first few days of Leo’s assault on the ancient Constantinople. She’d also put her in touch with her new hostess, Zerdali, a student of hers at the Cervantes Institute who’d flung open the doors of her home in return for some conversation practice. And that was as far as she’d got when this major surprise arrived on 19 March, shaking the foundations of her universe and causing her to do a runner in the direction of Cappadocia – apparently so she could put her ideas in order.
She hadn’t clarified them very much, she kept on telling herself, but every little bit helps.
At least she was now completely aware of what she’d only glimpsed on that foggy evening when she was on her way back to Zerdali’s wonderful abode in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul and a lump of mist had come to wreak havoc on her senses and thoughts. She’d been in Turkey for exactly a week and was starting to feel at ease in that deafening city that straddled Europe and Asia by means of a bridge.
That day – 19 March 2011, how could she ever forget? – the street’s shadows had revealed a familiar bulk smiling at her intensely.
‘What a face! Anyone would think you’d seen a ghost! Aren’t you pleased to see me?’
Leo had the impression that the vision before her – as impossible as it was real – had just completely altered the course of her immediate future.
Or something like that.
Translated from Galician by Jonathan Dunne