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Sport 23: Spring 1999

Louis de Bernières — The Turks are so Wonderful with Children

page 173

Louis de Bernières

The Turks are so Wonderful with Children

Robert and Susan Freeman were perfectly cut out for one another. For one thing, they were both an only child, whose parents had died when they were young. Robert's had perished in a boating accident in the Lake District, and Susan's had died separately, a year apart, but each of cancer. Both Robert and Susan had been brought up by elderly relatives, and had no one left in the world by the time that they were in their early twenties, so that, therefore, when they met on the same Public Administration course at university, it seemed rather wonderful to have so much in common, and it was almost inevitable that they should forge a bond.

If they fell in love with each other at university, it was immediately afterwards that they fell for Turkey, in the year before they were married, when they were taking that crucial first holiday together, the one wherein people discover whether or not their relationship really has any future. They had not only fallen even more in love with each other, but had also become enamoured of the country itself, which had turned out to be quite different from their expectation. They had gone there in some trepidation, expecting to encounter the slavering rapists, torturers, and assassins of popular European myth, only to find a humorous, honest, hospitable, polite and affectionate people with a marvellous cuisine, whose main fault was a tendency to expound their opinions at extraordinary length and with many repetitions of the same point. You couldn't win an argument with a Turk because you were filibustered, and so Susan and Robert sedulously avoided all political discussion.

Robert and Susan enjoyed the way in which Turks employ their tractors as a kind of family car, idling along with a trailer-load of relatives, and they enjoyed the slow chaos of Turkish life in general, but what appealed to them in particular, on that idyllic first holiday together, was that the Turks were so kind to animals. Our couple were page 174 unashamedly soft-hearted about animals, and this kindness was such a relief after previous experiences in other countries. Robert had once been to a place in Greece where there was a dejected three-legged dog, which the locals had named ‘Ecevit’ so that they could kick it every time it came limping up to beg for food. He had, too, been shocked by the pitiable state of the stray cats, as visitors to Greece always are. Susan, on the other hand, had once been to Italy to visit a friend who had a palazzo in the Tuscan countryside, who had a well-loved but sick rabbit that the vet had refused to treat, on the grounds that it was not a proper animal. He had then offered her his mother's recipe for coniglio al forno. She had seen a bullfight on Spanish television once, watching it with fascinated horror through the fingers that she clamped over her eyes, and had never been back to Spain again.

The Turks, however, were surrounded by clean, sociable, trusting, well-fed. contented dogs and cats, and they even erected wire cages on the beaches, to protect the nests of turtle eggs. On Calis beach there were comical men on bicycles with enormous vernier calipers who measured the colossal creatures when they struggled ashore, grunting extravagantly like wrestlers as they tried to turn them over and tag them. In short, it was pleasant to go to a place where the folk were as sweet-willed towards animals as most of the British are. When he was feeling sententious Robert liked to say, ‘The real index of civilisation is when people are kinder than they need to be,’ and by this reckoning the Turks were civilised indeed.

It was when they were blessed with a child, however, that they realised that the Turks were also wonderful with children, and this became the true reason for their repeated return.

Little Vinnie arrived in the third year of their marriage, and to begin with he had been a perfectly normal baby, which is to say that he had yelled, excreted, and slept. He did, however, gnaw at Susan's nipples as if he were a dog at a bone, and she had soon been obliged to change over to a bottle, whose teat had regularly to be replaced. It was as soon as he could crawl that it was fully borne in upon them that their child was going to be difficult. Screaming with pleasure, he took to throwing himself on the family cats, grasping handfuls of their flesh, and wrenching it. One by one the animals suffered the equivalent page 175 of a feline nervous breakdown, and lost all sense of bladder control. All three of them left home in the same week to find themselves alternative accommodation, where their equanimity was ultimately restored. Vinnie began a similar campaign against the dog, so that, as soon as he crawled near, the persecuted animal would have to spring to his feet and flee to another room. Robert and Susan assured themselves that Vinnie would soon grow out of it, that he was, after all, only a child, but already they felt distinctly uneasy.

When he could toddle, Vinnie learned the delights of switching off essential electrical appliances. He turned off the fridge several times, so that occasionally the kitchen was flooded on account of the unplanned defrosting, and once he turned off the deep freeze just a day after Robert had returned from a superstore with a month's supply of meat. When Susan opened the lid a week later, she beheld a monstrous heaving of maggots, and a sordid flood of brown, green, and yellow slimy liquid. A fraction of a moment later, a smell from the vilest imaginings of Satan assaulted her nostrils, and she fell backwards and fainted, burying herself beneath a cascade of tin cans, rice, and jamjars.

When he began to talk, Vinnie destroyed Susan's and Robert's social life. It is, of course, an invariant law of nature that children cripple their parents’ social life, as well as their sex life, and indeed any other kind of life they may be attempting to lead, but Vinnie went far beyond the point of mere disablement. He did not merely cripple it, he literally destroyed it.

It began with the telephone. It would ring and Vinnie would pick it up, say, ‘Goodbye’ in his childish treble, and put the phone back on the hook. The phone would ring again, and the caller would say, ‘Vinnie, is your mother there?’ and the boy would say, ‘Yes,’ and put the phone back on the hook. It would ring once more, and the agitated voice would go, ‘Vinnie, please go and fetch your mother, I've got to speak to her,’ whereupon Vinnie would put the phone back on the hook and go and fetch his mother, who would come to the phone only to find the receiver in place, and nobody on the other end of the line.

It continued with Vinnie's treatment of callers who arrived at the page 176 house. He was normally very clean, but if there was a visitor, that was when he chose to do both kinds of business in the middle of the kitchen floor. Vinnie liked to creep up behind the sofa and pull the hair of any woman who happened to be lounging on it. If anyone was a smoker, Vinnie would impropriate their lighter and try to set fire to the coats and scarves that they had left hanging on the pegs in the hallway. If anyone brought their little girls with them, Vinnie would prise their dolls away from them, and twist off their heads. He would take worms, earwigs, and woodlice from the garden, and pop them into the mouths of babies, and he taught himself how to let down the tyres of cars as they stood in the driveway outside.

As his verbal abilities improved, it emerged that he had a strong streak of psychological cruelty. To women he would say things like ‘Why are you so ugly?’ and he once announced to a very venerable and frail gentleman that ‘I expect you're going to die quite soon, aren't you?’ When his interlocutor bravely assented to this proposition, Vinnie just said, ‘I expect we'll all be glad, won't we?’

Susan and Robert suffered their child for four years before they took him to see a child psychiatrist.

Dr Pedicue had a pleasant room in a social services centre. It was filled with comforting and pleasant things, such as a goldfish tank, building blocks, mechanical toys, teddy bears, and child-sized chairs. He was a patient man who had encountered many a demented, and many a haunted child, and on the first visit he sent Robert and Susan away whilst he performed the normal developmental tests for intelligence and spatial reasoning. Vinnie came out slightly above average, but when the parents returned they found the doctor nursing a terrible bruise on his forehead. Vinnie had knotted his shoelaces together, and he had taken a fall, cracking his head on the edge of a desk. The most sinister thing was that Vinnie had apparently not laughed. He had smiled, complacently.

The next time, Vinnie took the tests for manual dexterity and verbal ability. When his parents came back, they found Dr Pedicue, grimfaced, sitting behind his desk, with two shiny red objects laid out on the blotting paper in front of him.

‘How did Vinnie do?’ asked Susan innocently, and Dr Pedicue page 177 motioned to the two objects in front of him. ‘He scores well for manual dexterity,’ said the doctor. ‘Look at that; I was only out of the room for a few seconds.’

Susan and Robert looked down at the two dead goldfish. Each one had had a biro inserted into its mouth and jammed down its throat as far as it would go.

‘I can't find anything wrong with your son,’ said Dr Pedicue, after four more visits. ‘I mean there's nothing technically wrong with him that I can find. I can't give you a diagnosis.’ He paused for thought, wondering whether or not it was wise to continue, until finally he said, ‘May I speak off the record?’

Susan and Robert nodded, rightly anticipating the very worst. ‘Sometimes we get appalling parents who produce absolutely faultless and wonderful children,’ the doctor told them, ‘and sometimes we get perfect parents who produce children so awful that they ought to be subjected to euthanasia before they inflict irreparable damage on the human race. I can't explain this. I mean, usually, it's awful parents who have awful children, but sometimes you get these inexplicable exceptions. Your child is one of these.’

‘Can't you do anything then?’ asked Susan, fearfully.

‘If I can't diagnose, I can't treat,’ said the doctor, raising his hands in a gesture of defeat. ‘I mean, your child is obnoxious and malevolent. He's evil, and that isn't a condition I can look up in my manual.’ The doctor leaned forward. ‘Between you and me, and I hope you won't take offence, and I know that this isn't very professional, but your Vinnie is just a gobshite. He's a snake-in-the-grass. That's the only diagnosis I can give. All I can do is offer you my sympathy.’

Susan and Robert hung their heads, and Dr Pedicue went over to the window and stood there for a few moments with his hands behind his back. Then he turned and said, ‘I don't know if you're Catholic or not, but if you are, you might try exorcism. I think that in your situation I would be desperate enough to try it. And I'm an agnostic.’

Vinnie's parents grew more dejected and despondent by the day. They had no friends left, cautionary word had spread amid the local coterie of babysitters and, in rotation, the nursery schools of the area has resorted to expulsion, so that there was no prospect of a moment's page 178 peace at home. Susan gave up her job because Robert's was better paid, and they sold her car in order to make ends meet. Her life became a dismal succession of torments, incarcerated as she was, with a diminutive but endlessly inventive demoniac.

One evening, as she was getting ready for bed, Susan sat in front the mirror at her dressing table, and realised what Vinnie had done to her. Her skin was lined and sallow, her cheeks were sunken, there were black hollows under her eyes, her cracked lips twitched at the corners, and her thick black hair had thinned and greyed. Her hairbrush removed generous tufts with every stroke. Suddenly she put her hands to her face and began to sob. Robert came up behind her and placed a trembling hand on her shoulder. After some minutes, when her tears had subsided, she said, ‘He's my child, and I can't love him. Oh Robbie, I just want to kill him. I can't bear it any longer, really I can't.’

‘We'll take him to Turkey,’ said Robert. ‘This is a sort of window of opportunity, if you think about it. We can do what we've been talking about. It's probably now or never.’

Turkey was the only place where Vinnie began to resemble a normal human being, and Robert and Susan had often wondered why. Vinnie was quite a pretty child, with his mother's creamy white skin, black hair and dark brown eyes, and in Turkey he was for most of the time firmly clamped in the arms of a succession of affectionate Turks. Robert and Susan had a theory that Vinnie was slightly frightened by the men, with their aroma of lemon cologne, their dark-roast skins and exuberant moustaches, their extraordinary toughness and physical strength, their pungent cigarettes, and their tea-stained teeth. Seized by one of these men, hugged to within an inch of his life, his hair ruffled into a mop, Vinnie would subside into something like the resemblance of a natural little boy. The women, thought Susan, confused Vinnie rather than intimidated him. Marriage turns Turkish women into something broadbacksided and formidable, but they have rather sweet round faces framed by the customary headscarf, and any stranger's child within convenient reach is perched on a sturdy thigh in order to have its face crammed with lokma, lokum, and baklava. ‘The Turks are so wonderful with children,’ sighed Robert and Susan, page 179 every time they went there, amazed by how tractable Vinnie would become.

It might have seemed strange, had they told anyone, that Robert and Susan should have decided to take a trip to South-West Turkey in July, when it was unbearably hot and bona fide connoisseurs stay away on account of the tourists, and when, to cap it all, they were also in the middle of moving house from East Anglia to Cornwall. It might also have seemed strange that they were landing at Izmir airport rather than the one at Dalaman, when they were ultimately headed for Fethiye. They had their reasons, however, and their main concern was simply to reach Fethiye by Tuesday morning. Besides, some of the landscape on that long drive was absolutely wonderful. Often you came upon bands of nomads in their goatskin tents, weaving carpets on looms that they set up outdoors, and sometimes you still saw camels that worked for a living, with azure prayer beads hanging from their halters. You might come round a bend on the road and see before you a view so stunning that you just had to stop for a while and look at it, even if your darling child was kicking the back of your seat, or blowing his nose into his fingers and trying to smear it into the back of your neck.

The family arrived at Fethiye early on Tuesday morning, just as planned, having passed the night in a modest pansiyon in Gocek. It was with pleasurable anticipation in their hearts that the couple drove along Suleyman Demirel Bulvari at ten miles an hour, with, in front of them in the middle of the road, an ancient tractor being driven doggedly by a stoical old man in a flat cap. It was with even greater pleasure that they beheld that city of white awnings which constituted the bazaar, erected overnight on either side of the canal, and somehow always the same.

The bazaar had, by a natural process of evolution, divided itself into the part that catered for the tourists, and the part that catered for the locals, and it had grown extremely large. The part for the locals mainly consisted of about two hundred metres of stalls devoted to fruit and vegetables. Fat shiny aubergines were heaped up next to beans with pink pods, sweet peppers in all sorts of odd shapes and in every shade of green, okra, potatoes, spring onions, and succulent red page 180 tomatoes that actually tasted of tomatoes, and which were therefore quite unlike anything that you might find in a supermarket in Britain. Some tables specialised in olives, with a dozen different varieties heaped side by side on vast aluminium plates. There were stalls that sold white cheeses from capacious goatskins that still had the hair on them. You could buy honeycomb, chickpeas, pistachios, sunflower and melon seeds, almonds, henna, tea from the Black Sea, saffron, chicks and ducklings, tall brass spice-grinders, apple-tea, mountain tea, and lemon cologne. Robert particularly loved the tool stalls, where you could buy elegant axe heads, hammers that double as chisels and nail-pullers, scythes and sickles, tack for horses and donkeys, folding clasp knives, cooking knives, and heavy lengths of rusty chain. Both of them loved the tables laden with cookery implements, and could not resist the conical brass coffee pots or the double-decker teapots. In this part of the market the buyer was mainly left in peace, the prices were absurdly low, and one could drink sweet apple-tea amicably and with no obligation with the owner of each stall, until one's stomach was bloated and gurgling with it.

The tourist part did contain the stalls that sold bolts of cloth for the women to make their own skirts and headscarves, but otherwise it was an extraordinary bedlam. It had one very long straight section from either side of which branched many cul-de-sacs of greater or lesser length. It was packed to the uttermost limit with tourists who artlessly believed that this actually was the authentic part of the bazaar, unaware that it was really a sort of commercial hellhole created specifically in order to take advantage of them.

They day was insufferably hot, and the conditions under the canvas alleyways were predictably appalling. It was quite airless, there were far too many people, and the harrassment from the vendors would have been enough to drive even the Buddha to distraction. At the entrance was a loud fat woman who was selling poor quality, gaudy jewellery, and unpractised Europeans who had not yet learned the art of polite but adamant refusal were sucked in by her torrents of words as she forced them to try on earrings that they didn't want, until finally they could only escape by buying them. Susan palmed her off almost as if she were a rugby player, and the family forged ahead into that page 181 awful purgatory, whose one positive aspect might be said to be that at least the overwhelming heat and jostle reduced Vinnie to abject submissiveness. His parents dragged him between them, and he came along miserably and sullenly, his eyes blinded by sweat.

A boy appeared in front of them, dancing about as he demonstrated a small brass toy that was something like a cross between a yo-yo and a spinning top. ‘Very nice,’ said Robert, pushing ahead. A man on the right suddenly and very loudly played the first inane bar of ‘Happy Birthday To You’ on a small toy reed instrument that sounded somewhat like a kazoo. A man on the left imitated birdsong on a whistle that was half-filled with water. A very tall blonde Scandinavian girl walked past in a state of almost complete undress, a neat cut across the back of her shorts displaying a delectable white buttock. The local men stopped what they were doing and watched her pass with expressions of delighted amazement on their faces, their lust so absolute and ingenuous that it was almost respectful. All around, and at every stall, came Turkish voices trying out the only English they knew: ‘Hallo, how are you? Look, look, excuse please, very nice, very cheap. Engleesh? Where you from? Look, look, very nice, excuse, excuse, you look. Why you not look? Apple-tea? Here, I give you apple-tea, you look, OK? Too much good things! Looking is free!’ A man selling nylon mats called out, ‘Turkish carpets, you want Turkish carpets?’ and Robert astonished him by saying in Turkish, ‘Sorry, I don't have a house.’ ‘You speak Turkish?’ demanded the man, addressing Robert's retreating back, as if speaking Turkish were against the local bylaws governing the conduct of foreigners. On her side of the aisle Susan fended off a persistent gentleman who purveyed counterfeit Chanel perfume, and Robert, on his side, fended off another who sold counterfeit Cartier watches.

‘We've got to find Vinnie a complete set of clothes,’ said Susan.

‘Well, that won't be difficult,’ replied Robert.

‘I want to go home,’ moaned Vinnie, completely overwhelmed by the suffocating atmosphere and the discomfiting press of people. His parents tightened their grip on his hands.

They found a stall manned by a jovial character dressed in a maroon cardboard fez, and a gilded waistcoat covered in small mirrors that page 182 had really been made in India. ‘Better than Harrods!’ he was bawling, ‘Cheaper than Tesco! Lovely jubbly! All genuine fake! No problem! Nice and cheap! I give you change next year! Everything free … tomorrow!’

Laid out before him were very passable imitations of all kinds of designer wear, with the logos of Lacoste, Reebok, Adidas, or Nike shamelessly emblazoned across them. ‘Ah,’ said Robert, ‘real Turkish clothes.’

Susan began to pick through the clothing, and the vendor descended on them like a vulture scenting a wonderfully ripe cadaver. He began to sift through the garments himself, thrusting items into Susan's face. ‘Look, very good, very nice, very cheap!’

‘It's all right,’ said Susan, ‘I am going to buy a lot of things anyway.’

The man in the fake fez endured a pang of disappointment over not having a chance to exercise his powers of pestiferation, but he soon left Susan and Robert in order to resume his wauling: ‘Better than Harrods! Lovely jubbly!’

They bought four shirts, three pairs of trousers, seven sets of underwear, seven pairs of socks, and, from a neighbouring stall, three pairs of shoes, all at two-thirds the price originally demanded. From the stall next to that, and for the ridiculously low price of two million lira, they brought a cheerful plastic sports bag in the red and yellow colours of the Galatasaray football club. Into this they put all the clothing they had bought, and then they struggled back through the crowd. Susan bought a pretty white headscarf, trimmed in blue, and then at last, back out in the sunlight, they found a refreshing breeze blowing in off the bay. ‘Thank God we're out,’ they said, both at once.

‘My God, Robbie, your shirt is absolutely soaked!’ exclaimed Susan, as he mopped at his brow with a handkerchief.

‘It's like a bloody greenhouse in there,’ said Robert, and Susan peered down her front. ‘I've got sweat running down between my boobs,’ she said. Vinnie spotted a blind man playing a tragic lament on the szass, and darted off in order to remove some of the hundred-thousand lira notes that charitable passers-by had placed in his hat. Robert stopped him just in time, and, grasping his son's hand firmly, page 183 took him to the public lavatory on the green behind the promenade. There he made him change into Turkish clothes, bundling the British ones into a carrier bag. In the meantime Susan went into the women's and put on a long flowery skirt that would cover her legs. She then donned one of her husband's long-sleeved shirts, buttoning it at the cuffs and collar, and tied on the headscarf. ‘You look quite the Turkish babe,’ said Robert when they met again outside.

They found the car in the sidestreet where they had left it, and drove out of town. Vinnie began to create a ruckus in the back. ‘Where are we going?’ he demanded, ‘I want to know where we're going!’

‘We're going to Oenoanda,’ said Susan over her shoulder.

‘O no,’ he cried, ‘I bet it's a hot stony place! I don't want to go to any more hot stony places! I hate hot stony places! I want to go home! Take me home!’

‘It's an ancient ruined city,’ said Robert, in a neutral tone of voice.

‘It's a hot stony place,’ whined Vinnie, adding, ‘I've got a headache.’ A little further on he complained, ‘I've got a tummy-ache,’ and his parents ignored him, as if he were a bad tune on the radio. ‘Bumhole, bumhole, bumhole,’ he chanted, ‘Mummy is a bumhole, bumhole, bumhole.’

Oenoanda is a derelict city on the top of a very high and steep mountain, and it is completely off the tourist route because there is no road up it, and the climb to the peak requires leg muscles of spring-steel. To reach it one has to drive some thirty kilometres past Kemer, through some remarkably majestic country side, and then take a right turn onto a dirt-track that leads ultimately to the tiny, ramshackle hamlet of Incealiler. The ruins boast some remarkable tombs and a very impressive theatre, but at the foot of the mountain there are no cafés where you can buy Coca-Cola and chip-butties. There is Incealiler instead, which has never emerged from the nineteenth century and has never wanted to. It has resolutely remained in the middle of nowhere, the authorities have continued to be more or less ignorant of it, and it is the sort of place where the women scuttle into their houses at the mere sight of an unfamiliar man, pulling their scarves across their faces as they go. Rare visitors find themselves confronted by the headman, the Mukhtar, who, standing alone in the middle of page 184 the street like the sheriff in an old western, assesses the visitors and judges whether or not they are worthy of hospitality. He is a tall, dignified, semi-shaven, tattily-clad but redoubtable gentleman who exudes a kind of moral force and confidence that is completely extinct in the modern European.

Susan and Robert drew up in their car, leaving behind them a feather of beige dust that hung in the air along the track as far as the eye could see. The Mukhtar fully expected the foreigners to be the next worst thing to the devil, and was therefore throughly disarmed when Robert extended his hand and intoned, ‘Salaam alekum.’ The Mukhtar shook his hand and smiled, exposing dark brown, pointed stumps where once his teeth had been. ‘Alekum salaam,’ he said, adding the inevitable ‘Cay?’

No sooner had Robert settled in the cay-house than all the other men begin to appear, irresistibly motivated by that chronic nosiness which is so deeply engrained in the Turkish national character. They nodded their heads, saying ‘Salaam alekum’ as they entered, and immediately set about discovering how many children their visitors had, where they lived, where else they had been, whether or not they liked Turkey, and how much their watches cost.

Robert and Susan had discovered the place on their first trip to that country, when they had been more adventurous, more easily seduced by the romance of vanished civilisations and melancholy ruin, and less concerned with the well-being of hire-cars in general. Last time they had not drunk tea until they had been up the mountain and back down again, but back then there had been no Vinnie. On this occasion Susan brought him to the cay-house, but modestly and fittingly declined to join the men, drinking tea on her own, and hiding under her headscarf in the shade of a fig-tree. The cay-house consisted of no more than a hard mud floor beneath an open-sided shelter whose roof was constituted of bamboo fronds cut from the banks of a nearby river, but it was nonetheless the social focus for the community's men. A couple of them produced the inevitable backgammon board, and Robert attempted to make conversation with the Mukhtar, who was determined to maintain his position as principal host and poser of questions.

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They made the usual exchanges, and then Robert reminded the Mukhtar that many years ago he had guided the young couple up the mountain in order to look at the ruins. The Mukhtar searched his memory, and smiled. ‘Ah, yes,’ he said, ‘I remember you now. Your wife screamed when she saw a snake.’ Robert was amazed at the man's accurate recollection, and immediately felt that an intimacy had been established between them. ‘My wife is scared of snakes,’ said Robert.

‘Most women are,’ replied the Mukhtar, ‘and so are most men. It was the snake that removed us from paradise.’ He nodded towards Vinnie, who was biting his own fingers and looking somewhat wide-eyed with uncertainty, and said, ‘You have a very pretty child.’

Robert's Turkish was far from fluent, but he had picked up just about enough from tapes and from their frequent visits to Turkey. He had taken the precaution of working out in advance, with the aid of a dictionary and a text book, exactly what it was that he had to say. His pronunciation would be ludicrous and his grammar eccentric, but he thought that he would be able to make himself understood. He bided his time until he thought that the moment was correct.

The Mukhtar stuck his cigarette squarely in the front of his mouth and seized Vinnie under the armpits. He deposited the child on his knee and draped on arm over its shoulder, using his other hand to continue his smoking and tea-drinking. Vinnie sat there tamely, rolling his eyes and pulling faces, but otherwise well behaved, and Robert took a deep breath and summoned up his courage. ‘Do you think you could look after him for a while?’ he asked.

‘Look after the child?’ asked the Mukhtar, furrowing his brow.

‘Yes, nodded Robert. ‘My wife and I have to go away and do…something.’

‘How long?’

Robert spread his hands in a devout gesture, and said, ‘As God wills,’ adding, ‘A short time, inshallah.’

The Mukhtar looked at Robert unblinkingly, as if assessing the state of his soul, and then, without further question, and indeed without any word at all, the Mukhtar got up and crossed the stony street to his house. He lifted the latch, openbed the door a fraction, and called out. ‘Mehmet!’ A smiling, ragged, barefoot, grubby, shiny- page 186 haired and bright-eyed little boy of about Vinnie's age appeared, and his father said a few words to him, motioning towards Vinnie with a loose wave of his arm. Mehmet came forward boldly and took Vinnie's hand. He had the same unquestionable air of command as his father, and Vinnie got up as if compelled. Hand in hand the boys disappeared up the slopes of the mountain, because Mehmet wanted Vinnie to see some especially big tortoises. Vinnie kept looking behind him, over his shoulder, but Mehmet gave him no choice, and in a few moment he was gone from view, disappearing behind the clumps of oleander.

The Mukhtar gazed after them and smiled. He had fond memories of running about on the mountain when he was a little boy, before adulthood, parenthood, authority and Islamic sobriety had imposed dignity upon him. ‘Very good,’ he said.

‘Very good,’ repeated Robert. He waited as long as he dared, and then drained the last few drops of his fourth cup of tea. He offered the Mukhtar a five million lira note, but it was waved away without consideration. He rose to his feet and shook hands with all present, repeating ‘Allaha ismarladik’ to each one, and receiving the customary ‘Gule gule’ in reply.

With a very odd feeling rising up in his heart he trod the stones back to the car, smiled reassuringly at Susan as she strapped herself in, and opened the back door. He took out the sportsbag with the clothing in it, undid the zip, and got out his wallet. He removed one hundred million lira in five million lira notes, and put them in with the clothes. He deposited the bag on the ground, opened the front door of the car, hesitated, got in, and started the engine.

Two hundred metres up the road he stopped the car. He looked at his wife. ‘Well?’ he said.

She smiled wanly, but said nothing.

‘This is the moment,’ he declared. ‘We have to decide now.’

‘Do you think he'll be all right?’ asked Susan.

‘Turks always keep their promises,’ said Robert, ‘especially the rural ones.’

‘I feel bad about deceiving them,’ said Susan, biting her lip. ‘How long did you say?’

‘I said “a short time”.’ Robert looked straight ahead, and then he page 187 said, ‘If you think about it, in the context of eternity, all times are short.’

This Jesuitical piece of sophistry convinced neither of them, but it made no difference. Susan began to cry, and he put his arm around her. ‘You know what's really sad?’ she asked finally. ‘What's really sad is that I won't even miss him.’

‘I won't either,’ he said. There was a long silence between them, and then Robert said, ‘We could always try for another one.’

Susan ignored the suggestion. ‘It is the right thing, isn't it?’ she asked. Her eyes implored him to say that it was.

‘It's his best chance,’ said Robert. ‘In fact it's probably his only chance. This is for him as well as for us.’

‘The Turks are so wonderful with children, aren't they?’ said Susan.

Robert put the car into gear and let out the clutch. In first gear they jolted, bumped, and slid through the potholes and runnels until, half an hour later, they finally attained the main road.

As they turned left onto the tarmac and Robert accelerated through the gears, they experienced, quite viscerally, the blessed relief of lost time and lost life returning. Susan felt youth and well-being re-establish themselves in her heart like familiar friends. When they reached the mountains they would make a cheerful little bonfire of Vinnie's British clothes, but now they began to sing as they commenced the long but exhilarating journey to Izmir.