“I would like to take you to my bed ---.”
These words, whispered softly but quite sincerely absolutely threw me. What was going on here? Why did this man think that I was suggesting a relationship between us, when nothing could be further from my mind? I smiled in an embarrassed fashion, and made an excuse to leave the shop as quickly as I politely could. I needed to think this one through.
When we had arrived in Cesme, Turkey for our bridge holiday a romance was not on my agenda. There were 40 of us in the group embarking on a very exciting idea - a week of playing bridge with friends, getting a suntan and seeing the sights of Turkey at the same time. We booked into a just-built hotel, on the edge of this tiny town on the Adriatic Coast. The whole place was just finding itself - the waiters really had no idea how to wait on table, and yet they were handsome young men so eager and keen to please, nobody much minded that the forks and knives were in the wrong places.
We had flown from Manchester to Istanbul and taken a bus to our resort - perhaps an hour’s drive. As we drove through the streets of this large city, you could not help but notice the poverty. This
was my first experience of having a holiday in a poor country and the broken down streets, and the air of despondency were very apparent. There were the odd bright pot flowers in the occasional balcony, but the scene was not one of tropical colours, as I had thought it would be - but shades of brown and grey and despair. And the countryside scenery disappointed me too, because this was early May, and I had thought that the worst of the heat of the sun would not have yet made the area into a desert. I expected to see lots of flowers and greenery, but mostly the views were of very dry and dusty fields - being ploughed by tired looking men with even more tired donkeys,
everywhere looking very worn out.
The little village of Cesme is built into a hillside, and our hotel was on the slope of the hill. Most of us bridge players on the holiday had come with partners we knew from home, and my partner was my good friend Pat. She was in her early 70’s at the time, more than old enough to be my mother, but absolutely full of energy and enthusiasm, and wanted to explore the town as soon as we possibly
could the morning after we arrived.
We walked down the narrow dusty streets, with chickens and donkeys mingled in the various back yards. There was no clear path or signs to the town, but we just thought if we kept going
downhill, we were bound to run into it. We passed some school children who seemed so pleased to see us, and when we said “Hello” and they realised we spoke English, they were very keen to try out
their few words on us. After about five minutes we came to the area of shops - with much of the wares from the shops on display in the fronts. It seems odd that the very first shop we stopped at was the one that Niazi owned. I certainly didn’t know then what a big part this shop and its owner were going to play in my holiday.
It was a carpet shop. I had had at the back of my mind when we came, that a Turkish carpet might be a good thing to take home as a souvenir. So we stopped and looked at the small colourful rugs
displayed outside. The owner, a short, dark man, slim with curly dark brown hair, came out to greet us. It didn’t take him long to realise that Pat was English, and that I was an American. He had
spent many years in the Turkish Air Force and had some of his training in Denver, Colorado - and he told us he had enjoyed his time in America very much. When we asked the price of the carpet that had caught my eye, it turned out to be very expensive - silk and very fine weaving - the best in the shop. At least I could say I had good taste - having picked out the very best straight away. So we said, “We'll think about it,” and moved away down to see what was onoffer in the other shops. “Come in and have apple tea,” he said. We decided not to, because we had the whole village to explore. As we walked down the street, I looked back for some reason, and he was still standing outside his shop watching us walk away. I smiled, and waved to him.
Cesme had many tempting things on offer. Pat wanted to buy a leather coat for her son, and I also had in mind buying a leather handbag. Being so early in the spring and having just been made into a tourist town, there were few people in Cesme that day other than our bridge group. So wherever we went, we were welcomed, and offered these tiny glass cups of apple tea, which turned out to be a very pleasant drink. It didn’t seem to matter much to the shop people whether we bought anything or not. They just seemed welcoming and happy to have someone to talk to. On the way back to the hotel, we had to pass the carpet shop again. There were many other carpet shops in Cesme, and I
had gone into all of them, but for some reason I really wanted to go back into this first one, and see what was available there.
Our carpet man was so pleased to see us again, and he invited us in and provided us with yet another cup of apple tea. He wasn’t having one, and he explained to us that it was Ramadan, which would continue from now through the weekend, and then he would be able to celebrate
and have food in the day again. He wasn’t trying to be a salesman at all but just to chat with us about our lives. He introduced himself as Niazi Sogut, and he told us about himself and his family.
He had only recently moved to Cesme, having sold his leather shop in Istanbul and come into a partnership with the other man who I now noticed in the back. His wife was still living in
the city but she would come to visit him on the weekend. He said he had three children - and his oldest son was a jeweller in Istanbul, and if we wanted any jewellery while we were there, he would have his son come and show us what he had. His daughter was newly married to a jeweller, who was the employer of the oldest son. The youngest son, who he told us was just 20, had been conceived when he had returned from his stay in the army in America, so he felt this son was sort of
a token American. He was very worried about the future for this son, and what he would really like was for him to go to Italy or England, and get an apprenticeship to become a jeweller as well. He showed us pictures of his children - and was so pleased that we were interested. We talked about our families too. Pat has two grown sons, the youngest then not married although he was well into his thirties, but eldest married and Pat was very pleased with her two grandsons. My children were younger, still at school. When Niazi talked about his family connections with the jewellery trade, it suddenly dawned on me, how nice it would be to give my eldest daughter some sort of special jewellery for her birthday. So now I had a second reason to continue to visit Niazi's shop.
The weather in Turkey that week was far from ideal. We had hardly any sun-tanning time at all, and although we managed to sit around the pool at our hotel and get a smattering of tan, none of us had much success at the seaside. But the weather didn’t stop us from shopping, and each day after our breakfast of hard unbuttered bread, olives and feta cheese, Pat and I did the rounds of the shops in
Cesme, but somehow we always started and finished at Niazi’s,
We were very interested in learning more about the Islamic religion, and Niazi was a good teacher. He told us that it was very important that one did not go to bed at night if one had done something bad during the day, until one had prayed sufficiently to beg forgiveness of Allah. He said he had had many long sleepless nights. He talked about how terrible he felt it was that one of the nearby beaches was topless, and the tourists were quite shameless in how they paraded their bodies. He said it was such a temptation for the local young men, and yet he knew that in order to attract
tourists, they could not forbid these foreign women to show their bodies and put these young men in moral danger.
One evening, Niazi invited Pat and me to go out after dark with him to a nearby bakery to have a great treat. The rules of Ramadan were that you could not eat, drink smoke or have sex
from dawn til dusk, but you could have these things before and after those times. So we had to wait until he shut up his shop at 9 p.m. and then we walked down the road with him. He was so pleased to buy us baklava - a very sweet pastry item with honey and nuts, that we pretended we were equally enthusiastic, although both of us felt it was much sweeter than we wanted. Normally we played bridge each evening with our group, but on this occasion, we chose to give the
bridge a miss in order to have our treat with Niazi. He then walked us back to our hotel and came inside with us, and the others in the group were very interested to see this little man who we had talked so much about.
Because we had mentioned that his son would bring jewellery items to the shop, quite a few of the others from the bridge group were also interested, so when we were told that Friday morning the son would arrive to show off a sample of his work, the shop was full. I had said I was looking for something in my daughter’s birthstone - ruby - and so I was given a choice of rings and pendants and earrings in beautiful settings. I really had no intention of spending so much money, but I fell in love with a cross made up of four identically sized jewels, and having no idea at all whether this was a good price or not, I trusted Niazi and paid the £150 that the son was asking for it. (We later had it valued at home and found out it was worth twice that amount.) Pat also bought something - an emerald ring. Some of the others from our group bought small things, and a few bought kalims or small pieces of carpet.
Pat had bought her son’s leather jacket (a real bargain she thought) and I had got a handbag. We also had both bought sets of apple tea cups and sauces, and a supply of the product itself
But I still had not bought the thing I had first thought about - a carpet from my friend Niazi.
So one morning we went into his shop to do the deal. It was very early and we were the first in the shop. It is traditional in Turkey to give a bargain to the first person you sell to as a gift to Allah, as it will be good luck for you for the rest of the day. So knowing that we had tradition on our side, I told
Niazi that I wanted to buy a carpet - and what I wanted him to do was to pick out half a dozen that would be within my prize range (which Ithink was about £30). I said, “I know you are a good Moslem, and you will not cheat me.” He looked so very uncomfortable when I said that. And his partner
glared at him from across the room. But he did what I asked, and he put five carpets down in front of us saying that we could have any of them for the price I mentioned. They were all beautiful and looked to be fine examples of the art of carpet making. I asked him to tell us what the symbols meant - and he did. The colours were significant too. In the end, he made the choice for me.
The next day was the only time I ever went into the carpet shop on my own. Pat had decided to have a Turkish bath and massage and I wasn’t tempted. But I wanted to have a chat with Niazi as we had been accustomed to doing each day, and didn’t see why I should change this part of my routine.
When I went into the shop, Niazi knew that I wasn’t going to be buying anything else, and that I had come just to see and talk to him. He looked very pleased to see me, but he told me that he had been given a severe tongue lashing from his partner after he had sold me the carpet the day before. No doubt they would normally have sold it for much more than he charged me.
I was keen to know more about his religion, and one of the questions I was curious about was whether or not he could have more than one wife, because I had heard that Mohammed had had
several. It was then that he replied, “I would like to take you to my bed, but my wife would kill me. She has women's problems and is of no use to me anymore, but she is still my wife,” and I quickly made an excuse to leave the shop, not knowing how to deal with my reaction to what he'd said.
When I met Pat back at her hotel, very pleased with the relaxing effect of her Turkish bath, she couldn’t quite believe it when I told her what he'd just said. “He must really fancy you!” she said, with a laugh that made it all very much of a joke.
I was more than a bit nervous when we made our way to his shop later that afternoon. We had been invited to meet Naizi’s wife, who was down for the weekend, and it was our last day in Cesme.
I dressed up in my prettiest brightly flowered dress, and paid more attention than I usually would have done to my hair and makeup. His wife, Nadine, was already in the shop and seated at the back when we arrived. She had on the traditional Turkish women’s clothes, fully covered in black with a head covering scarf. But what we could see of her she looked much older than Niazi, and she was obviously very shy. She could not speak English other than a soft, “Hello”, but Niazi translated for her what we said. Pat was very good at keeping the conversation going. She asked her about her children - and Nadine produced the ring on her hand to show us the work of her younger son,
the one who was hoping to become a jeweller. Somehow we managed to fill the hour or so that we were there, with polite conversation, but I was very relieved when it was time for us to leave. As we said our goodbyes, Niazi softly said in my ear, “You are very beautiful tonight.” I felt so awful - being praised in front of his wife who would kill him if she thought he was unfaithful.
I hadn’t intended to go back again on the next day as our bus was leaving before lunch to take us to the airport - but Pat had forgotten her glasses in the shop the night before, and she begged me to go back and get them. So filled with anticipation at once more seeing this man who fancied me, and dreading what he might say, I made my way into Cesme. There was a look of delight on Niazi’s
face when he said “I knew you would come to see me again.” But this time having found the glasses, I had no further reasons to prolong the visit, and I made my final farewell. Niazi kissed me on the cheek and said he knew we would meet again. But I could only wonder at what I had said or done to make him feel that I felt the same towards him. Fascination, yes. Interest, yes. Love, no. Passion, no. Flattery, yes. And Gratitude for making me feel young and desirable again.