A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
(For Part III click here)
On a sultry Sunday afternoon, Madison Yardley and Sylvia Ferguson got off a plane at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport and disappeared. They had told their friends and family they were driving south to Arizona with Mrs. Ferguson’s church choir, but in actual fact, they vanished. Several hours later, two Canadian tourists, Sylvia and Madison Harrow, boarded a non-stop Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. Among their various guide books, paper itineraries, pens, markers and printouts, was a third passport. It wasn’t conspicuous, but it wasn’t hidden. It might have been an honest mistake (scooped up in a rush by an excited woman) but it wasn’t. It was in the name of Jennifer Harrow.
“Pack two bags, Maddy, one light enough to carry — just toothbrush, change of underwear, birth control … “
“What? Grandma doesn’t know where babies come from?” Sylvia laughed, “Anyway, just the essentials. Put the rest of your clothes in the other bag but nothing you don’t want to lose. Once we find Jennifer, we’re going to have to move quickly, and we might not be dragging suitcases.”
“Why even take them?”
“Tourists have luggage. No luggage and alarm bells go off. Border guards get suspicious.”
Madison set the large suitcase on the bed and stopped.
“What did you smuggle, Grandma?” she asked, not sure she wanted an answer.
“Cigarettes, mostly — perfume, pantyhose, records – um – Levis. Levis were good — anything people would pay for.
“From Turkey. To Russia. In those days, even rich Russians couldn’t get those things. It wasn’t allowed, so they were willing to pay for them – quite a lot, actually. We made good money.”
“Why did you stop?”
“We got caught. Well — I got caught. Freddy and Teddy could run faster than me.”
“Oh! That was what you were talking about. Those assholes!”
“No, honey, it wasn’t like that. Uh … if the Russians had’ve got the boys, they would have shot them. And I would have slowed them down. So Freddy and Teddy took off, and I stayed with the car. They weren’t going to shoot a woman.”
“Oh, my God! What happened then?”
“That’s a long story, dear. For some other time. Right now, we’ve got things to do. Come on.”
Like every major city in the world, Istanbul has a distinct smell that burrows into your subconscious and leaves a misty cloud of memory. Sylvia remembered it. No one event, no one party, one lover, or broken heart — just a feeling of young and powerful and immortal and happy – God, she was happy in those days. She still was — seriously happy actually — certainly a lot happier than her aches-and-pains friends, but it was different. The old days were clear and restless and full of possibilities– like the open water of the Black Sea, sparkling in the light of a silver crescent Muslim moon. “Was I ever that young?” Not that Sylvia wanted to be young again. Oh, God no! But it was good to remember she was still that girl – inside — a little too romantic for her own good and, when she wasn’t careful, a little reckless. But today she had to be careful. There was work to do.
Sylvia had telephoned Karga’s office from the airport.
“Merhaba, yes – uh – my Turkish is not very good. Do you speak English?
“I’d like to make an appointment with Mr. Karay, please, for tomorrow.”
“Ertan Bey is a very busy man, madam. Tomorrow is impossible. What is this concerning?”
“Just tell him Sylvia Harrow is desperate to see him. I’m staying at the Crowne Plaza Old City and he can contact me there. Sylvia Harrow.”
“Yes, madam, I will give him that message. Thank you.
“Thank you. Good bye.”
“Let’s hope the old boy remembers me,” Sylvia thought as she hung up the phone.
It took the taxi nearly an hour to get to the hotel, but by the time the two women got there, it was obvious that Karga remembered her.
“Hell-o, my name is Sylvia Harrow. I have a reservation for two.”
“Yes, one moment please.”
The man behind the counter picked up the phone and spoke rapidly. Sylvia didn’t understand any of it (her Turkish was old, unused and faded) but she did recognize Ertan Bey. The man put down the phone and smiled at them and suddenly there were people everywhere.
“Madam Harrow, I am the hotel manager. My name is Kemal. It’s a pleasure to meet you. My card.”
Sylvia took the card with both hands.
“Allow me to escort you to your rooms. We’ve taken the liberty of upgrading you to a suite. It will be much more comfortable. Do you require another room for your – uh – daughter?”
“Granddaughter. No, we’re fine.”
At a gesture, two younger men hurried over and took the suitcases.
“This is Zehra, my personal assistant. She will be happy to answer any questions or take care of anything else you might need. Feel free to call on her anytime.”
Zehra presented her card and Sylvia took it with both hands. Zehra smiled but didn’t speak.
“Your passports, please.”
Kemal handed them to the man behind the counter.
“Ertan Bey has called to apologize that unfortunately, he won’t be able to see you tonight. However, if you would allow us, please be our guests for dinner. Ertan Bey says that tomorrow night would be very good, and he will send a car at eight, if that is acceptable. But come. You must be tired after your long journey.”
Kemal directed the entire entourage towards the elevators.
Later, when everyone left.
“Holy crap, grandma!”
Holy crap, indeed. So much for inconspicuous tourists.
As the two women sat down to catch their breath, the S.S. Delfini sailed quietly through the Dardanelles.