A Comedy, Perhaps a Tragedy, Part 1
Novelist David L. Robbins remembers a long-ago trip in Turkey when things go wrong. Quickly.
Recently, I wrote both a feature in BOOMER and a book review elsewhere of the latest and likely final book from the wonderful, iconic writer, former Richmonder Tom Robbins, Tibetan Peach Pie. Tom, an old friend, presents his readers with one last carnival of stories, this time the wild ride that has been his creative life.
I so enjoyed the read, filled with tales of Tom’s childhood genius, youthful indiscretions (e.g., he married a woman he’d known for five minutes, and she asked him!) and his peculiar, flexible sense of decorum, that I was inspired to pluck a story out of my own vault, for no reason other than the joy of telling it. The folks at BOOMER are patient with me. We’ll see how much. This will take me three installments of Native Son, so stay with me. Spoiler alert: it involves poop.
A MAN SCORNED
Twenty-odd years ago, backpacking around Turkey, I sat waiting for a bus in Alanya, a town on the southern central coast. The station consisted of a series of small, cinder block cells, one for each route; mine was the bus to Kusadasi on the Aegean, twelve hours west. I engaged the time playing tavla, backgammon, with Muhammad, a gentle cleric. Each cell featured a large plate glass window.
Suddenly, from outside, an angry shout flooded the waiting room. The window blew inward with a crash and a folding chair, followed by a behemoth bellowing and waving a big knife. A shard of glass had nicked my cheek. Muhammad tugged me away, but I, the curious young writer, wanted to know what was happening. Forcing me backward, Muhammad explained that the giant in our midst was looking for the fellow who’d been stepping out with his wife, though this was not a particularly secretive way to do it, screaming and smashing in windows. The behemoth didn’t find his target in our waiting area; he gazed cursorily at me, a foreigner in a powder blue baseball cap, and nodded, oddly calmed and apologetic. Then he snatched up the chair, crunched out over the busted window frame, and bashed through the neighboring window painted for Ankara, again ignoring a perfectly good doorway. He stormed in, screaming.
I followed, despite Muhammad’s pleas. Unbelievably, because this is how stories work, he found the guy.
AN INADVERTENT SIP
The little chap was a bit of a weasel and clearly not paying close attention. He ducked a few swings of the blade from our lumbering leviathan and leaped away over the strewn, tinkling glass, with the huge cuckold in hot pursuit.
The constant brooms of a Turkish village went to work, the tavla tables were set aright, and dusk fell. A local mullah began the call to prayer from the tip of a nearby minaret. Muhammad invited me to come pray with him. I accepted the chance to see the inside of an ancient mosque.
At a fountain before the temple, Muhammad instructed me to wash before entering: hands, feet, and the blood off my face. Without thinking, I cupped my palms for a sip of water.
It hit me immediately – not as hard as it would later – that I had just drunk from a public fountain in a small town in Turkey. I’d traveled much in this part of the world, and I knew what I’d done. Inside, under the gilded dome, with my head pressed to the floor and my hands spread in supplication, I prayed as hard as I could for reprieve and antibodies.
An hour later, back at the bus station, a flashing police van roared by, sirens wailing in that characteristic neeyah-neeyah of Middle Eastern emergencies. The white side of the van had been marred by two great bloody handprints.
Soon after, the Kusadasi bus arrived. Onboard, Muhammad held my hand. With my free fingers I worked a set of mother-of-pearl worry beads. The bus pulled out into the full, moonless dark for the 600-mile ride.
The vehicle was jammed with Turks smoking, snoring or eating; in the seat in front of me, a drunken gent’s head lolled with every jolt, he muttered “Allah … Allah.” I couldn’t sleep for hours, well past midnight, so worried of what dastardly things were brewing inside me.
I awoke to a quiet tapping in my gut, like a child on her parents’ bedroom door. Reluctant, quiet, even shy at first, but no less a warning.
An opening bell.