Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chapter 10 - And then...

And then things slowly went downhill. The feelings I knew would finally come showed up a little at a time. Nowhere to go. Not on an adventure any more. Weeks passed and I got no more mail from Ivan. He would soon begin to fade, a momentary magnet on the road, they had happened often when I was much younger. So one snuck up on me at this vulnerable time of my life. One part of me resisted this thinking, but the stronger part felt almost relieved.

I think sending me a book about Vagabonding After 50 might not have been so nice. I'd known men who would do things like that. But I'd only known them briefly.

But the dark feelings crept up on me more often, unexpectedly. They seemed logical, sensible as if I were silly and shortsighted when I'd felt all right, and only clear and honest about the reality of my life when I saw it had added up to nothing.

Something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to. Was that Elvis Presley's recommendation for a happy life? That's what someone had told me. Pretty good for a country boy. And it seemed true. Until, of course, I remembered what happened to Elvis Presely. To say nothing of the fact that I had nothing to do, no one to love, and when it came to looking forward to something -- I pushed away from that thought as if it were a cliff I had almost accidentally walked over.

And so I read, and listened to the mosques at dawn and in the evening. And slept a lot. From time to time for the first week I felt almost okay. One morning I even found myself quite optimistic and, hearing the door downstairs open and shut and realizing that the real breakfast was being laid out on the rooftop terrace one level below, I prepared to join the others downstairs to tell them of a fine idea that had grown in my brain and seemed very sensible: I would live in Turkey forever and teach English and become a very old, contented lady doing much good wherever I went.

With a smile I gathered my books to my chest and crept down the precarious indoor stairs with my hand on the rough whitewashed walls for balance. But this first sign of optimism began to melt by the time I was on the second step and I started to sink. I sat down on the fourth step feeling the darkness start to form somewhere between my shoulderblades, floating the familiar thoughts attached to it like a foghorn is attached to a lost boat, "How stupid you are. Moron. What a fool. This is a new low." I held very still, afraid of the feeling.

But before the mess hit my chest, it was interrupted by a loud, rough peal of laughter below that pulled me away from myself. I listened for more sounds, and heard nothing. Curious, I continued down the stairs. I'd never heard that laugh before, but it was familiar all the same. A turn around the corner of doorway at the bottom showed me a rooftop with a short table and chairs, Saladin standing by the grill talking over his shoulder and the back of a large man in a woolen jacket.

It was Ivan. Leaning on the white wall, arms crossed, huge, in a rumpled, caramel-colored suit, his graying hair uncombed, he looked -- gorgeous.

He had found me in the simplest way, directed by the first person he asked to the house where the American women were, had then gone for a walk with Saladin to identify himself, and was at that moment apparently speculating on how to seat his huge frame on one of the little x-shaped seats around the table. Priscilla entered with a large wooden chair at the same moment that I entered with a smile, offering my hand and Ivan, turning, took it in his without a word.

Breakfast was sitting on the low table: tea and cucumbers, yoghurt and chocolate, warm boiled eggs in egg holders with tiny spoons nearby, and lots of fresh bread. Ivan towered over us on his chair, gave up and moved to the ground where he sat cross-legged with surprising comfort, almost as tall as we were on our little seats.

"This is the woman who stares at food. And smiles at it," he said. "But I am happy for you that she eats now instead of staring at your food as well."

"I never describe good food. It inspires me only to speak of food horrors," I laughed.

Ivan talked to Pam and Saladin about his movies. How Uzbekistan is fighting with Tajikistan over which one should get the first feature film, how he's looking for stories and locations. He tells he wants to do a modern Marco Polo with love interest. Tells about the Silk Road from beginning to end, just after Marco Polo travelled it.

"...and Polo came home by sea, because Kublai Khan knew there were people waiting to ambush him on the road. So he went by Silk Road and returned by sea and really that was what happened to the Silk Road too. The Khans fell, too soft unlike their grandfather Genghis, they didn't really like war. And the whole of the Silk Road, once under their power and wide open to trade, fell apart into small warring kingdoms again, just at the time when they got smart enough to go by sea.

"So good bye Silk Road."

"One of the last stops of the Silk Road was right here," said Saladin, walking into the house again, his voice trailing off. "You can start for the east from right here."

"If you wish to go by train, you must start in Moscow," Ivan had said gruffly, almost to himself and tapped a cigarette on the table. Then he looked at me with a smile that made fun of his words.

Saladin returned with two lemons in each of his hands.

"What are we supposed to do with all those lemons?" I asked.

He smiled, split one of them in half and began to suck on it. I grimaced as he handed me the other half, but with encouragement, sunk in my teeth and sucked on the juice. It was as sweet as lemonade, and stronger in taste. "These are wonderful!" I said, amazed.

"The caves make them sweet. It's our biggest source of cash in this village to rent out your caves to the lemon and grapefruit people to store their fruit for awhile and make it sweet."

"No offense, Ivan," Pam said cheerfully, "but Moscow is a shithole." She turned to me. "Do you want to go to Moscow?"

"Nope," I said, sucking on the lemon and reaching for another.

"The Silk Road starts in Moscow," Ivan shrugged.

"The Silk Road starts right here, " said Saladin, "and the next stop is Palymyra in Syria."

"Well, maybe there's some other way..." but Saladin began to look uncomfortable and started to glare at her. She gave him an hooded look. I could feel a fight brewing but had no idea why.

The conversation stopped and we all pretended it was because we were eating, but as soon as it seemed polite, Ivan stood up, reached for my hand and said "Take me to see the little onyx factory your friends have mentioned."

They chattered politely, stood to say goodbye, and together we descended another stairway , walked across the little courtyard, out the heavy wooden doors and onto the narrow path that lead around the walled garden to the main street of the little town. I slid the iron loop along its slot, locking the door from inside.

"Don't ask, I don't understand a thing," I said to him, rolling my eyes.

"American women treat men very strangely," he said, walking slowly so I could keep up.

"And vice-versa," I added, troubled. Were we going to fight? I had hardly said hello. This was turning into something odd, intimate, but angry and, bewildered, I slid right into it and found myself almost making fists. "He can be very stubborn. You showed some of that, too."

"Well, it will be good. An American woman should have the experience of being with a man who is not, how shall I say, confused."

"Like a Turk or a Kalmyk?" I tried to joke, but I was getting cranky and couldn't stop myself. "Do you know that Russians, no all Europeans, always assume that everything they do is right and everything we do is wrong? I was cutting up a celery once and a Russian girl told me how ridiculous it was that Americans throw out leaves, which are the best part according to her, and keep the stalk. How the hell does she know the leaves are the best part? How about a little respect for variety?"

He was grinning. "So you are defending the way American men treat women."
I stared at him for a moment and looked down, almost in tears. What on earth was wrong with all of us? What was wrong with me? I was about to start remembering and pulled my head back slightly, but he saved me by interrupting my thoughts.

"Still it is good that you do not judge other cultures, good for what I need from you. An open heart, respect, this will help you prepare the way for me."

"What you need from me?"

"Ah, I meant to say this. Would you like a job?"

Where was I? What was going on? We stopped for tea at a little cave cafe, carved out of the side of a rock and we talked. Before an hour had passed, in spite of much hesitation, I had agreed to scout locations for Ivan's films, and look for local stories, interesting characters, and details to help the screenwriter put a script together.

"But you must leave before the weather becomes too cold," he said.

"Via Moscow?" I was only half joking but he almost blushed.

"No, we can fly you almost the whole way. Then maybe a train. Then a donkey." He looked at me. "Can you do this?"

It was my turn to shrug. "I guess I'm going to find out," I said, beginning to feel cautiously happy as he took my hand and we made our way out to the road.

What was my relationship with this man? Who was he, and who was I to him?

He left for his hotel without clearing up my question to myself, and I retired to my room, Saladin and Pam having disappeared. On the terrace, I looked over the town, which still was lit and active. My mind raced. Could I do this? I'd be on my own. And looking for locations isn't exactly like having a structured day.

I have a scrambled brain. Freedom is bad for me. Evenings after work were a problem and I was only saved by television, which softly hammered all consciousness out of my brain until I was tired. But I don't think I'll get much TV on the Silk Road.

I pulled up the blankets in the dark and decided maybe we'd better talk this through more carefully in the morning.

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