Short Stories

Talking Turkey

iznik-tile-quartz-1-1The dark-eyed bellboy hovered at the door of the room, staring at Paul, expectant.

‘Thank you.’ Paul said, shutting the door in the boy’s face. ‘A tip for wheeling our cases all of one hundred yards down a corridor! Absurd.’ He flung himself down on the bed.

‘I think you’re meant to,’ Jen pointed out, opening her case, already wondering whether this weekend break in Istanbul was a mistake. She had met Paul at a company sales conference some weeks earlier, been easily seduced by his Hollywood good looks, and was hoping their relationship would be cemented by this holiday. When he told her they were flying BudgetAir, she had been slightly taken aback to hear him add, ‘I’m not doing priority booking or reserved seating. Flying’s a money-making scam these days.’

Despite a twinge of disappointment that he wasn’t splashing out to make the weekend extra special, Jen had just murmured her agreement.

Once she had unpacked, she put on her walking shoes. ‘Shall we explore?’ she suggested. ‘There’s not much of the afternoon left.’

As soon as they stepped outside the air-conditioned cool of the small family-run hotel, the unfamiliar heat enveloped them. The Blue Mosque was only a short walk away, but by the time they got there, sweat ran down Jen’s spine. She stopped to gaze up at the six minarets flanking the many-domed building that bellied up against the cornflower sky.

A couple of men approached them. Paul took her arm.

‘Hey, how are you?’ The smaller and swarthier of the two spoke. ‘You want guide?’

‘Ignore them,’ Paul muttered, urging her forward.

‘You want nice rug shop?’ The second man insisted. ‘Come with me.’

‘Didn’t you say you wanted a rug?’ Jen held back. ‘Perhaps we should.’

Paul’s grip tightened. ‘I’m not going to get ripped off by these guys. Come on.’

At that moment a European tour group came through the gate and diverted the touts’ attention.

By the time they returned to the hotel, Jen was fed up. Paul had advised her against buying her mother a present from a souvenir seller (‘expensive tat’), and refused to take a taxi (‘they fix the meters’) or a guide.

That evening they planned to eat in the Kumkapi quarter. While Paul was in the shower, Jen rang down to reception and ordered a taxi. Her treat, she told Paul. He insisted dinner would be his.

The streets of Kumkapi were buzzing with crowded restaurants. Paul ignored one waiter after another’s blandishments to come in. ‘You can’t trust them.’

Eventually, in desperation, Jen made the decision. ‘This looks perfect,’ she said, sitting at the one empty table on the street and immediately ordering them a bottle of Sultanye.

‘A bottle!’ Paul’s shock was undisguised.

Right then, Jen could have sunk an entire vat of wine.

The evening didn’t improve as Paul blanched at the prices, gasped when she ordered the most expensive fish on the menu – quite deliberately. He didn’t hesitate to agree when she offered to pay for the wine – and the taxi back to the hotel. Jen had never guessed such a skinflint was lurking behind that handsome façade.

The idea of another day together was disheartening. However, the next morning, Paul seemed in a more generous mood. They walked hand in hand through the milling streets, stopping to stare in windows, to explore the backstreets, buy fresh fried fish from the boats.

In the Bazaar, she left him in a carpet shop. When she returned he was putting away his credit card. ‘A bargain,’ he said smugly.

So he could open his wallet when the moment was right. Jen’s spirits rose.

‘Did you get anything?’

‘Just a tile. I unearthed it from a pile of pots on that stall.’ She indicated a jumble of dusty household furniture and bric-a-brac. ‘I got him down to eighty lira. You’d have been proud of me.’ She could see him doing the maths.

He burst out laughing. ‘Twenty pounds for that! What are you going to do with it?’

‘I like it.’ Once the grime was washed off, the red, green and cobalt blue would sing out on her marble worktop. ‘I’ll put it in the kitchen.’

He kissed her forehead, then laughed again. ‘ Oh, Jen. You’ve been well and truly had.’

For the next two days Jen endured the teasing apparently deserved by someone so easily fleeced. Knowing their time in Istanbul was limited, she put up with it, but the flight home couldn’t come soon enough.

A week later, Paul called her to say that he was taking his rug to a local ‘Antiques Road Show’. ‘I’m pretty sure we’ll find it’s worth something. Want to come?’

She didn’t terribly. In fact she had been at pains to avoid him since their return. But this she couldn’t resist.

They joined the queue snaking round the Town Hall at eight thirty the next morning. At eleven, they were in front of the resident expert who took all of three minutes to reach a conclusion. ‘You’ve been had, I’m afraid,’ he said kindly. ‘This is a modern carpet, probably made in China.’

‘But it cost eight hundred pounds … Here’s the certificate of authentication,’ Paul blustered, his face reddening.

‘Worth nothing like that, I’m afraid. You’ve got to be so careful.’

Jen almost felt sorry for Paul who looked near boiling point as she pulled her cracked tile from her bag. ‘And this?’ she said. ‘I’ve been reading about Turkish ceramics and I just wondered …’

The man’s face lit up.

Later that year, a London auction house placed a reserve of three thousand pounds on her authentic antique Iznik tile.

Despite the memory of his impressive physique, Jen didn’t return another of Paul’s calls

Fanny Blake’s latest novel, With a Friend Like You (Orion), is out now. The Secrets Women Keep is now out in paperback.