The Mystery of an Oriental Romance
(Lived Short Story)
By Sotir Athanasi
The group of visitors that came from Athens arrived at the exit of the Blue Mosque.
The women had already handed over the headscarves that the tour guides had given to them in respect of the religious rites. They were still barefoot.
They took their sandals out of the plastic bags and began to put them on and to walk down the stairway.
Immersion in that numbness that the perception of everything they saw and heard brings, will naturally cause a kind of confusion for everyone.
With these visitors was a lady who would later be called L E J – L A.
The husband had come out a little earlier and was tying up his shoelaces.
When he raised his head and saw his wife, already without the headscarf of which he was so fond, he said to her,
“How did you not do a pose with that handkerchief?”.
This moment was enough for her to trigger her dreams and desires as she saw herself being admired by the looks of not only men but also the ladies.
She began to think about how that headscarf that came as if from heaven and sent at galactic speeds especially for her, in a way compensated for the denied charm of the whole inside of this mosque. She looked very beautiful with that piece of cloth on her head. The headscarf seemed to inspire her.
Thus, she hastily began to climb the stairs, although she was somewhat doubtful whether she would be able to put on again that cloth of the Muslim rite which was in the color of God. Much less did she believe that she would convince the security man who was indeed a very strict person to take a photo of her with her mobile phone with that headscarf on.
Anyway, she climbed the stairs and as she did the security man turned his head.
His stern look, if not harsh, openly showed the lack of his willingness to help.
In addition, his visage had a look that nevertheless hid a personal inner drama.
The woman who knew so well how to distinguish the fine fragrance in female nature also sensed the storm of male turmoil within him so as soon as she went near him she smiled very kindly.
When her portrait took this shape it expressed sweetness and chastity. She looked like a classy woman, a real lady. You could read it in her eyes.
It was at this moment a disarming innocence unfolded on her face for anyone to whom she would so kindly address the request for a favour.
This made repulsion difficult and rejection impossible.
She said in English, “Sir, could you please have the kindness that characterizes you to give me once again that handkerchief that I just handed you” with the same smile and sweetness,- I love this mosque. I was so emotional when I went inside it. It shows the extraordinary value of the Muslim culture. You are such a lucky man to serve here. You are the sweetest security man! One thing though. I forgot to take a picture. I wonder would you oblige me in this regard.
The security man at first surprised by her words, gestures and requests, instinctively while murmuring in Turkish to one of the staff, immediately handed her the headscarf accompanied by a shy forced smile which indeed was not his usual behaviour.
It must be admitted that the protective armour that surrounded his whole behaviour with a woman was suddenly lowered by the flattery in the words, “sweetest security man”.
This, like an intoxicating liquid, spread deep in his veins to excite his heart.
How was this innocent Turkish man to know that this expression in Greece was commonly used every day and that it could mean the very opposite as well.
A man, for example, in the supermarket in Greece may address the young saleswoman, “My miss”, or: “My lady!”, when the saleswoman was a middle-aged one.
But let’s not stray from our story.
He felt more respectful of her request, adorned with the words: “sweet security man”!
This was in contrast to the usual cases when he was obliged to be strict with the visitors regarding the rules of the cult rites. His behaviour just a few moments previously towards someone else was so cold as to be annoying.
Those magic words were enough for this lady to win him over. This is because she was well aware of that secret female power which means that a woman always knows and captures the benevolent signals of the opposite sex.
She felt so sure of her actions as if she was among her friends. She reached out to him and handed him her mobile phone without asking him first if he had the kindness to hold it.
This action was the next stage in the continuation of the game with a bolder step.
After that, she threw the handkerchief over her head and took back her mobile phone from him so that he could have his hands free and in the same way as among old friends she said to him in English,
– Please, “the best and the most respected sir”, (she said, trying one of her nicest expressions),
– “Mr. Supervisor, could you please adjust my scarf a little bit?”
This for sure surpassed all exceptions. Firstly, she was a Greek woman and he was a Turkish man. Secondly, he was a Muslim, and she was a Christian.
And thirdly, she was a married lady. And moreover, the wedding rings on their fingers were clearly visible to both of them, indicating that he was also a married man.
He, therefore, hesitated for a moment before responding to this very natural and logical request from this strange lady who had softened his rudeness.
But, her intention was not to disrespect him. No, on the contrary. She approached him as if in secret, trusting only his ears, and in a whisper, she said to him, “I am an Albanian Muslim”.
After that in a very low voice, she recited to him a sýra that she remembered from her childhood and that started with the words: – Eshen ilaj-laj hilellaj. . . then the Turkish security man without the slightest hesitation very fraternally threw his arms around her neck and embraced her.
He moved to fix the scarf on her head as if she was with his partner and they were preparing each other before going out on a special occasion.
It looks like this lady seemed to be the same age as him.
When the process of fixing her headscarf was over this Oriental security man looked long into her eyes with a sweet and dreamy admiration and instinctively pronounced the name of his ex-wife, “LEJ-LA!”.
His face blushed profusely and for this classy Greek lady this was such an emotional gesture. For her, this was perhaps a sign of longing or maybe even remorse for a heartbroken separation.
But this lady knew how to hide even this conjecture which was perhaps very close to the truth
so she gave him the camera with a very social gesture and he, without the slightest hesitation, started filming her.
After that she handed him the blue headscarf and surprisingly saw that his gaze, like that of an actor playing a part in a movie, did not look in the direction of the camera but behind the cameraman.
He had focused his gaze to the right of her.
But, as women so beautifully know how to disguise intent, she, slightly displaced her body.
Thus, allowing a woman to pass, who had just handed over to him the headscarf and was distancing her from this intimacy with the security man.
This moment was enough for her to be able to see with her eyes in such a hidden way the shaking of the head and the movement of the lips of the Turkish colleague of that man who also was a security man, who approved of the resemblance of this lady to the ex-wife of that “sweet security” fellow.
He along with the shaking of his head, in a low voice, repeated as if in secret but quite sweetly in two syllables, the name “LEJ-LA, LEJ-LA!”.
Lejla was the name of the ex-wife of the “sweet security” man who was called Qemal.
Before taking up the job as a security man he was an unlucky painter, although he was a Van Gogh in Turkish landscape and nature. The fact that every visitor is amazed to see the greenery of Constantinople is well known, as the Greeks still officially call it but it is called Istanbul today.
The partner of painter Qemal struggled badly for almost a year with extraordinary shortcomings in coping with a life full of sacrifices and deprivations.
This was due to the fact that the painter did not have a permanent job and the only income he earned was from the very low sales of his paintings. But he could not give up his hobby of painting. Meanwhile she was mastering the craft of hairdressing.
He was ashamed of his wife’s economic dependence on his meagre income. They were experiencing the most basic shortages of the necessities for survival.
Quarrels with his partner who was living his despair forced them to the sad solution of a divorce.
She crossed the Bosphorus and on the Asian side, assisted by her parents, opened a beauty salon.
It’s already a year now since she started her business and she has created a steady and satisfying clientele. But, what about the painter?
The ill-fated painter turned to a childhood friend and asked if he could lend him some money. The childhood friend’s name is Refik, none other than Qemal’s work colleague, the other security man.
Refik persuaded Qemal to start work at the Blue Mosque as a security man to replace someone who had retired.
Here our painter could even be inspired for his future paintings.
The painter, already employed, that same day, returned home quickly and took his paints.
He immediately began to paint the contours of the portrait of the visitor called “LEJ-LA” with the headscarf on her head and then began to stir the colors with his fingers, repeating to himself,
“Go, start now Qemal, show your talent! Such a mixture of these colors is the music for our mastery. Let’s do it … let’s do this musical symphony under the title: Come back LEJ-LA”.
And as always in these cases, he focused behind the cameraman. There where the imagination had already brought the image of his LEJ-LA. And he stayed up all night working until the next morning on that portrait until he mastered his work.
Two days later the group of tourists from Greece in the lobby of the Okean hotel were unloading their suitcases satisfied with their busy week of visits.
That morning they did not forget to go to the bakery to buy the characteristic and most famous sweet pie in Constantinople called baklava.
The hotelier was looking at the newspapers of the day before putting them on the tables next to the armchairs in the lobby.
At that moment, a couple came down from Room 404. The hotelier took the key. He looked confused. Sometimes he stared at the newspaper and sometimes at the lady who handed him the key.
He instinctively murmured: – LEJ-LA!
The client smiled sweetly. It was this smile that highlighted the best, the purest, the most sincere and compelling features of this classy lady.
– Come back LEJ-LA!, – repeated the hotelier at the reception. It was understood that he was reading the title of the newspaper, but he did it so specifically with a very friendly smile. He said these words in English.
This classy lady understood everything. Her intuition reminded her of the Turkish security man. She was very sure that he was living a drama.
The receptionist asked her to come over to him and showed her the newspaper.
This classy lady of the Greek group of visitors saw her portrait with that headscarf in the paradise of the Blue Mosque.
But, the portrait was hers. The author had equipped this portrait with wings to turn it into a migratory bird.
The enigma in this painting was whether the flight indicated the escape or the return of this migratory bird?
The title was ‘Come back LEJ-LA!’.
Yet, thank God, this title clearly indicated the purpose.
It is a widely accepted fact that women know very well how to see details, especially when someone tries to disguise them.
So, somewhere in the corner of this portrait published on this newspaper, this classy lady read the name of the author. The author of this portrait was named Qemal.
She reached to read it. For her it was not easy to understand as it was in Turkish, but written in Latin letters. It was drawn as a shy smile, and labelled with the words:
“Çok gjyzel, LEJ-LA”!
And she quite logically felt privileged about this artistic portrait realized so masterfully by that security man called Qemal, who indeed was a talented painter. She instinctively murmured a wish,
“I pray to God that LEJ-LA will return to Qemal!”.We also repeat this prayer in Turkish, hoping that God will hear our wish: “ISHALLAH!”.
Constantinople – Athens
June 10th, 2019